Cocktails with… 55 Vodka

55 Vodka is a new vodka distillery located in Lynton and comes at a time when there is a renaissance in British distilleries, but many of these focus on making gin and eventually whisky and usually work with grain spirit. 55 Vodka is different in that they currently only make vodka and they make it from potatoes.

The distillery opened in 2014 and make a range of unflavoured and flavoured vodkas. The latter include: coconut, pineapple (both of these use a maceration of the actual fruit/nut to add flavour), and toffee (this is made using toffee in syrup form). All are free from artificial colours and flavours. Whilst this article will feature on the unflavoured spirits, it is great to see some British distillers leading the fight back against the wave of bizarrely-flavoured (and what is worse, poor quality) flavoured vodkas.


Pure Vodka – 37.5% ABV
Their flagship vodka, made with 100% potatoes.

Room Temperature
Nose: Clean, with a touch of juicy citrus blossom and apple.
Taste: This has a good texture: the vodka fills the mouth and the texture is initially smooth, but has a little warmth and a touch of residual pepper heat. It is easy to sip, with some fruity notes as well as cracked black pepper and cubeb, with the addition of vanilla on the finish.

On the Rocks
With ice, the vodka is soft, but still has character, with a light creaminess and slight berry fruitiness that makes me think of a mix of strawberries and raspberries and cream.


A clean and soft Martini with a good freshness to it. Despite the % ABV, lots of flavour still comes through and the drink is far from weak or bland.

A well mixed and integrated drink that chills down really well. There are hints of cream and red berries. This is a really lovely drink and clear proof that a Martini does not have to use extra-strength alcohol.

Vodka Tonic
This makes quite a fruity tonic serve, with a little sweetness, too. A wedge of fresh lime offsets this sweetness really nicely, creating a fresh and lightly tart thirst-quencher.

Pure Vodka – 56.0% ABV
This is 55 Above’s high-strength vodka, also made with 100% potatoes.

Room Temperature
Nose: An exciting mix of fresh salad leaves and peeled stone fruit. There’s a suggestion of sweetness, but – overall – it appears dry.
Taste: There is a dry complexity upfront, which reminds me a little of some Lowland Scotches, plus lots of dry fruit – perhaps cherry or apricot – but there is very little sweetness at all, save for a little vanilla spice toward the finish. Exceptionally smooth for a 56% spirit, this is very sippable with a warm glow that builds towards the end.

On the Rocks
Excellent: dry fruit notes come through, which start to remind me of dry vermouth or a high-end Soju. There is a still a little spice and creaminess, but it is really toned down. Given the complexity of this serve, it could make a good alternative to whisky on the rocks.


A very silky texture, with plenty of flavour. The fruitiness is a little more curbed, although hints of apple and slightly tart stone fruit still come through, making this very enjoyable and particularly smooth for the ABV.

Absolutely superb. The vodka is smooth on its own and, when stirred, this character really comes through. The vermouth adds a little complexity and works well with the spirit’s fruitiness.

Vodka Tonic
Another very smooth drink, with lots of complexity, too. There are dry stone fruit notes as well as a little herbal complexity, with just a touch of lemon and thyme. No garnish is needed, but a twist of citrus peel adds yet another dimension.

In Conclusion
I am very impressed with both spirits. It’s not easy to distill from scratch with potato, but 55 Above have certainly managed it. The 37.5% was very good and had plenty of character, making it versatile for mixing. I was particularly impressed with the 56%, partly because a potato vodka over 40% ABV is rare thing (I know of only one outside of Norway), but mostly because it is a great spirit with excellent complexity that remains amazingly smooth.

Cocktails with… Griffon Gin from Washington State, USA

Made at the Double V Distillery in Battle Ground Washington State, USA, Griffon Gin is grain-to-glass; that is, they distill the whole product themselves, including both the base spirit and the redistillation of botanicals.

The base is made using a mix of locally grown corn (80%) and barley, and their botanicals include juniper, coriander, and cardamom. It is bottled at 40.0% ABV.

Griffon Gin

The Taste

On its own
Nose: Creamy and sweet with a touch of stickiness to start, but then there are some dryer, floral (lavender) elements that are followed by stalky, vegetal notes. A tempting aroma that encourages you to take a sip.
Taste: Coriander and light citrus upfront, followed by spice (cardamom) and then some dryer notes. The spirit is relatively smooth, although there is some warmth, along with more citrus, on the finish.

Gin & Tonic
This is quite a sweet Gin & Tonic with a lots of spice; cardamom is the most dominant, but there is also ginger, cassia, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Citrus and a bit of dryness comes through at the end. Fresh and tasty.

Clean, with lovely pine notes and lots of spice. There are hints of cedar wood, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Very tasty and complex. Delicious.

Another spicy cocktail, this time with some crisp, fresh notes, too. This is a well-integrated drink with a bitter finish, but one that is curbed slightly by the hints of cassia. Delightful – near perfect.

In Conclusion
Whilst Griffon is certainly a very spicy gin, the spice does not dominate the entirety of its character and other elements, such as the citrus and pine/juniper, add balance.

All of the drinks that I tried were excellent, but the Negroni just takes it for me.

Cocktails with… Sloemotion No7 Fruit Cup

Summer is on the way and with it, the need for cool and refreshing drinks. Often, the mind moves automatically to summer fruit cups (rather fitting, given our site’s name) and the most commonly available of these is Pimm’s, but increasingly more varieties are being released by other companies.

Today, we are looking at SloeMotion No7 (so named as it is their seventh product), which is a blend of gin, hedgerow, orchard, and field fruits, as well as hedgerow blossom and herbs. The suggested ratio for the serve is 1 pt SloeMotion Cup to 4 parts lemonade. It is bottled at a respectable 25% ABV.

SloeMotion No7 Fruit Cup FINAL bottle

The Taste

With Lemonade (I used the Sainsbury’s own brand, as recommended by SloeMotion)
Bold, rich, and fruity flavours with plenty of luscious berry notes, as well as a touch of spice and crisp, leafy notes, which are emphasised by the cucumber garnish. Even with lemonade it’s not too sweet, which adds to the drink’s refreshment.

With Bitter Lemon
This produces a much tarter version of the drink, but, given how well bitter lemon mixes with sloe gin, it is not a surprise that it works well with the SloeMotion No7. There is an additional, delightfully earthy quinine bitterness on the finish.

SloeMotion No7 Fruit Cup FINAL Lemonade

With Ginger Ale
This is the sweetest of the drinks that I tried, but it is still rather good; I like the gentle warmth that the mixer provides and it works well with the herbal and fruit notes of the drink. It’s also slightly less fizzy than the lemonade version, which will appeal to some people. Another tasty version.

With Soda Water
For those who prefer less sugar in their drink, this is an excellent choice. The greater subtleties of the fruit cup come through well, including some oaky, tea leaf tannin notes, plus citrus and some more fresh, leafy notes. Exceptional refreshment.

In Conclusion

I think that SloeMotion No7 brings something a little different to the category of fruit cups, providing a greater complexity than many of the mainstream brands and embracing fruit flavours, especially when compared to the more herbal characteristics of other excellent cups such as Plymouth or Sipsmith.

I enjoyed it most with lemonade and plain sparkling water.

Cocktails with… Blackwater Gin

Blackwater Gin is made by Blackwater Distillery in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, Ireland. I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery during my trip to Dungarvin for the West Waterford Food Festival, where we hosted an Irish Gin tasting. The release of Blackwater Gin comes at the beginning of what I think is a very exciting time for Irish distilling.

The gin is bottled at 41.5% ABV and its botanical mix includes juniper, coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Local water is used for bottling.

On its own
Nose: Bold floral, citrus, and spice, with a pleasant zestiness that is followed by chocolate, cardamon, and a warm, woody cassia note with a touch of vanilla.
Taste: Juniper upfront, with a very silky, viscous texture. The start is classic in style, but followed by a pop! of intensity with coriander, bright floral notes, and citrus peel. The profile then develops into warm, sweet spice notes that lead onto the finish, which is long, lingering, and dry. This is a great example of how a distiller can achieve a procession of character and varying intensity in their gin.


Sipped straight from the freezer, coriander and floral citrus come to the fore, followed by some woody angelica and spice, moving from nutty to aromatic and bright. Again, there’s a long, lingering finish of ginger-like warmth and dry crispness.

Gin & Tonic
A brilliant and spicy Gin & Tonic with plenty of citrus and complex spice. Truly excellent; the gin integrates well with tonic to create an exceptionally refreshing drink. As you sip more, the various botanicals come through and different characters come to the fore, especially with a little ice melt. This is a full-flavoured drink that really evolves as you sip – near perfection.

Diamond Martini
Another cocktail with a good level of flavour: lots of spice and some piney notes, too. The floral and the citrus are a little more subtle with this serve, but a twist of lemon would bring these characters back. The alcohol comes also through in a robust fashion, although there is no burn. An excellent pre-dinner choice.

Stirred Martini
Very soft and smooth; you could certainly enjoy more than one of these in an evening. The variety of botanical characters shine, including: juniper, angelica, and coriander, followed by more subtle, sweet spice such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom. On the finish, there is some bright, dry citrus.

The gin comes through well, but doesn’t overpower the other ingredients. There is a rich, plump fruitiness, as well as a piney dryness in the middle. Notes of slightly sweet, woody spice gradually build before an earthy, bitter finish of medium intensity.

In Conclusion
This is a superb and delicious gin, and one that I highly recommend seeking out. They also have other products in the pipeline, which I have high hopes for, too. My favourite drink was the Gin & Tonic.

Blackwater is one of the first craft gins in Ireland and, if distillers on the island continue to produce gins to the same high standard as the likes of Blackwater and Shortcross, then the world is really in for a treat.

Cocktails with… Smooth Ambler Old Scout Straight Bourbon

As many of you will, no doubt, be aware, last Saturday (16th May) was 2015’s World Whisky Day. Now, we don’t need an excuse to drink whisky, but will nonetheless happily accept one.

Today, I’m taking a look at Old Scout Straight Bourbon Whiskey from Smooth Ambler Spirits in West Virginia. This is a merchant bottled whiskey, which means that Smooth Ambler don’t distil it themselves (although they do distil their own), but that they found it, loved it, and decided that they wanted to take it under their wing and independently bottle it.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon

This particular example is a “high rye” whiskey, being made with a mash that is 36% rye (60% corn and 4% malt). It is aged for a minimum of seven years and is bottled at 49.5% ABV. The carefully handwritten label also tells me that this spirit is from batch 100, bottled on 4th December 2014 by Sarah, which I take to be a good omen!

On its own
Nose: A spiced, malty richness is accompanied by dry raisin, wood polish, and lovely hints of dark chocolate and cherry.
Taste: Explosion of warm spice at the start, then the leafy freshness of eucalyptus that is followed by rich, but dry wood. The result is a delightfully refreshing flavour with a full bodiness helped by notes of creamy vanilla, a touch of apple, and the remnants of that mintiness.
Finish: Rich, warm wood and a subtle hint of dark chocolate and peppermint. At the very end of the finish, there’s a creamy dryness reminiscent of coconut.

Whiskey Soda
Fresh, with delightful sweet, woody notes, as well as a little added complexity from some dry notes of stone fruit. This works well both in a strong drink (3:1 ratio) and in a longer, lighter version, say 6:1. It is a very pleasant way to enjoy the whiskey in a long, refreshing drink.

Whiskey Ginger
The whiskey adds creamy, full-bodied notes of vanilla (like an amazing vanilla ice-cream), plus an array of fruit notes that range from rich notes of dark cherry to much lighter, refreshing pineapple. This flows neatly into the flavours of the ginger ale. Perfect.

Old Fashioned
The whiskey integrates marvellously into this cocktail, with notes of spiced rye and a little black pepper, before the dry vanilla and wood notes of the whiskey take over. The finish is fresh and leafy, like eucalyptus.

To start, there’s a pleasant, fruity tang from the vermouth, along with a quick burst of spice and savoury cherry, before a long finish of dry wood notes with lots of vanilla and a little leafy sappiness.

In Conclusion
This is a marvellous whiskey. On its own, it’s got a lovely, rich, and delightfully refreshing flavour, and in all of the drinks that we tried it in, it integrated well, adding body and flavour. I struggle to choose a favourite, but it’s either the Whiskey Ginger or the Old Fashioned. I get the sense that most of this, though, will be enjoyed neat and shared with good friends.

– Mrs. B.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Yr Old Bourbon is available for around £55 for 70cl from Master of Malt.

For more on Smooth Ambler check out their Website or Twitter.

Cocktails with… Star of Bombay Gin

Star of Bombay marks a busy couple of years for Bombay Sapphire, with the release of Bombay Amber, the relaunching of Bombay Dry, and, of course, the opening of their own Distillery and Visitors’ Centre in Laverstoke, Hampshire.

Star of Bombay takes its name from the precious stone from Sri Lanka – a 182-carat sapphire. I’ve often heard that this was the inspiration for the “sapphire” in Bombay Sapphire. The stone has an interesting history and is thought have been given to Mary Pickford by Douglas Fairbanks (both stars of the silent age of cinema). Upon her death in 1979, Pickford bequeathed the stone to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., where it remains on display to this day.

It is made using the ten classic Bombay Sapphire botanicals and adds to that mix bergamot (a citrus fruit often used in Earl Grey tea) and ambrette seeds (the seeds of yellow hibiscus). It is also worth noting that the vapour infusion distillation process is slowed down, to allow a more intense flavour to be extracted. The gin is bottled at 47.5% ABV.

Star of Bombay Bottle Bombay Sapphire

On its own
Nose: A little citrus upfront, as well as coriander, some lightly briney, herbal, leafy notes, and a touch of chopped nuts. Juniper and angelica come through towards the end as the gin opens up.
Taste: Floral upfront, with the bergamot adding citrus and aromatic floral notes, which are followed by the spicy citrus-florality of coriander. As the flavour develops, more of the classic Bombay Sapphire notes come through, with a slightly oily citrus flavour and then dry juniper and pine, before woody menthol pepper on the finish.

Overall, Star of Bombay is a more intense and complex gin than the classic Bombay Sapphire.

Gin & Soda
This has a good level of flavour and allows lots of refreshing botanical notes to come through. In this drink, the floral citrus of the bergamot is a particularly pleasant addition.

Gin & Tonic
Star of Bombay makes a dry Gin & Tonic with a pleasant citrus freshness, as well as just a touch of sweetness towards the end. With a little ice-melt, it settles into a refreshing and cooling drink.

Smooth, spicy, and citrusy, with peppery juniper on the finish. I think that a lemon twist works well in this cocktail – the oil makes the gin even more aromatic. This is a smooth, but intense Martini with a leafy crispness and bold intensity to it.

Strong flavours come through from the gin, Campari, and the vermouth, with an intense, earthy bitterness on the finish. It is a smooth cocktail, with the floral citrus of the bergamot again coming through well. Bold and intense.

Star of Bombay Intense Gin Tonic Bombay Sapphire

Intense Gin & Tonic
[Equal parts Star of Bombay and tonic water – garnish with orange peel.]
Bright and delicious, oily and fresh, this drink has a wonderful interplay between the dryness of some of the gin’s botanicals and the tonic water, and the sweetness of the orange peel. A lovely drink to kick-off an evening.

In Conclusion
Star of Bombay is a more intense version of the classic Bombay Sapphire, with additional floral citrus from its new botanicals. The gin stands up well to mixing, especially in long, cooling drinks. My favourite, though, was the intense Gin & Tonic, turning a classic from a long drink to a short one.

Star of Bombay is available for around £32 for 700ml from Waitrose

Cocktails with… West Winds Cutlass and Sabre Gins

At the moment, there are not a lot of Australian distilleries whose gins are available in the UK; one is Four Pillars, and the other is West Winds.

West Winds gins are owned by The Tailor Made spirits company from Dalkeith, Western Australia and was established in June 2010. They produce two gins:
Sabre (40.0% ABV) – Described as an “Australian expression of a traditional gin”, this is made with botanicals including juniper, lime peel, lemon myrtle and wattle seed.
Cutlass (50.0% ABV) – West Winds’ second gin is described as a gin with “Australian character and a combination of juniper and uniquely Australian elements”. Its botanicals include cinnamon, myrtle, lemon myrtle, coriander, and Australian bush tomato.


West Winds Sabre (40.0% ABV)

On its own
Nose: Bright and zesty citrus, with notes of coriander and hints of vanilla spice, as well as citrus blossom.
Taste: Lots and lots of citrus: lemon, lime, and others, with coriander and a note of menthol pepper towards the end. This has a good flavour that’s contemporary, intense, and long-lasting.

Gin & Tonic
Fruity and juicy with a luscious vibrancy that makes this very refreshing. There are notes of dry juniper and angelica, especially at the end. This is a pleasant cooler that I could sip all afternoon.

Rich and fruity with floral notes, too, as well as a touch of grape, light, sweet spice, and bright, zesty citrus. There’s no need for a garnish in this Martini.

A floral, slightly juicy Negroni with plenty of citrus that makes it fresh, bright, and refreshing. There are some lovely light, sweet berry notes, too.

West Winds Cutlass (50.0% ABV)

On its own
Nose: Less citrus, but more spice. Notes of dark chocolate and lime combine into notes of chocolate limes.
Taste: Lots of citrus towards the end. This is typically more gin-like than West Winds Sabre, with more juniper and angelica, and some coriander, too. The finish is then vibrant with notes of citrus sherbet and milk chocolate.

Gin & Tonic
Bright and brilliant – full of zesty citrus, which invigorates the drink. This would make a great first G&T of the evening, with the 50.0% ABV adding a little punch.

Very smooth, and with lots of citrus, with notes of coriander, lemon, and lime. This also has a lovely texture; fresh, with hints of juniper and spice on the finish.

This makes a smooth and thick Negroni with a good level of flavour: bitter herbal notes and bright citrus, making for an intense and delicious cocktail.

In Conclusion
It is fair to say that both of the West Winds gins are fine examples from the growing community of international gin distilleries and the increasing number of Australian craft distillers. I like the straightforward nature and flavour intensity of the Sabre, which is a great gin for everyday drinking, and the Cutlass has additional complexity and a bright, more contemporary flavour.

I was impressed with both gins from West Winds and the approach to have two different gins in a portfolio. I especially enjoyed the Cutlass Gin & Tonic and the Sabre Martini.