Cocktails with… Ballantine’s Brasil

As I left the house this morning, a definite chill lifted the hairs on the back of my neck. As I scrambled around in my pockets for my gloves, I pondered where the recent hint of spring had gone. Well, one product that certainly calls for warmer climes is Ballantine’s Brasil.

Ballantines Brazil BOTTLE

Inspired by George Ballantine’s love of blending whisky, the company wanted to make a spirit designed to be used in mixed drinks. After some initial experimentation, further inspiration came from Brasil, where drinkers regularly drink their whisky with lime.

Brasil starts life as a specially designed Ballantine’s whisky, which is then flavoured in the cask with Brasilian lime peels, before being combined with some vanilla extract (the real thing, none of that artificial flavouring), and just a dash of sugar syrup. The combination of strong flavours and its destined use for mixing means that Brasil is bottled at 35% ABV, making it a “spirit drink” or flavoured whisky, akin to those produced by a variety of American whiskey companies, like Jim Beam’s Black Cherry.

The rather lovely Ballantine Brazil press pack - note the sugar cane shaped glass and the pocket for the lime.

The rather lovely Ballantine Brasil press pack – note the sugar cane shaped glass and the pocket for the lime.

On its own
Somewhat intrigued by the use of natural flavourings throughout, I did sample some of the spirit on its own. The lime and vanilla come through, fresh and bold, on the nose, reminding me a little of a Whisky Ginger with a lime wedge. The same flavours came through on the palate; the citrus making for a very “bright” flavour, and the vanilla neatly balancing it out. The finish was refreshingly tart and dry.

Highland Samba
[50ml Ballantine’s Brasil, 150ml lemonade (or lemon-lime soda) – pour into a long glass with ice – garnish with a lime wedge.]
A delightfully simple drink to make, but one that allows you to enjoy the spirit in a long, thirst-quenching drink. The lemon flavours of the soda work well with the lime tang of the spirit, as well as the fresh lime garnish. Whisky and lemonade may not be a usual combination, but, in this case it really works. On the finish there are some light spice notes, including cinnamon and vanilla, which sign the flavours off nicely and adds a pleasant and unexpected complexity.

Highland Samba

Highland Samba

In a similar style to the above drink, this also works well with Champagne Ginger Ale (e.g. Canada Dry or Fevertree), providing a lighter and more accessible version of the Whisky Ginger. Even without a fruit garnish, the lime sings through.

Glen Rio
[50ml Ballantine’s Brasil, 150ml Apple Juice – pour into a long glass with ice – garnish with apple slices]
A smooth drink with tart apple upfront and then the warmth of the spirit, as well as some spicy woodiness, then vanilla and lime. I think this is improved with a dash of bitters (Angostura is fine). It also has some potential for a toddy-like hot drink, which would work well with a cinnamon stick garnish.

Flower O’Brasil
[50ml Ballantine’s Brasil, 25ml Elderflower Cordial, Squeeze of one lime wedge – STIR]
Lime and vanilla are, again, centre-stage in this cocktail, but it’s initially a little sweeter than some of the other drinks. About halfway through, the floral notes from the cordial really make themselves known; the sweetness also tones down a tad, before a lovely, dry finish of elderflower. This could easily have been dominated by any of its flavours, but it’s perfectly balanced – a brilliantly engineered cocktail.

Ballantines Brazil FRUITCUP

Ballantine’s Brasil Fruit Cup

Ballantine Brasil Fruit Cup
[50ml Ballantine’s Brasil, 30ml Red Vermouth, 10ml Orange Liqueur]
A tasty and refreshing drink. The vermouth adds a pleasant, herbal complexity, whilst still allowing the underlying flavours of the Ballantine’s to come through. The fresh lime adds a nice, tart finish, creating a very refreshing drink.

Girl from Ipanema
[50ml Ballantine’s Brasil, 25ml Red Vermouth, Orange Bitters – SHAKE ]
Another simple drink inspired by the classic Brasilian cocktail Rabo de Galo (although this uses cachaca and red vermouth), but despite the simple recipe, the result is a drink that is full of a whole array of flavours: some woody spice, the tart lime that goes well with the bitter herbs of the vermouth and then some sweetness, too. The orange bitters add depth and stop it from being too confectionery.

Girl from Ipanema

Girl from Ipanema

In Conclusion
Brasil isn’t a whisky and isn’t designed to be drunk like one; it’s a refreshing cocktail ingredient, made using natural ingredients and just the right amount of sugar. It makes a whole array of tasty concoctions, which all seem to taste like more than the sum of their parts. It should maybe be avoided if you don’t like lime or vanilla, but otherwise, I’d recommend giving it a try – it feels more like sunshine’s just around the corner with one of these cocktails in your hand! My personal favourite was the Flower O’Brasil.

– Mrs. B.

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Still Lemonade Tasting

HISTORY

The original lemonade predating the rise of fizzy pop.

Today, this enjoys much greater popularity in the U.S. than in the U.K. and Europe, where it is more common to see Fizzy Lemonade or Cloudy Lemonade, both of which are sparkling. In fact, in the U.K., Still Lemonade seems to be sold just as much as a healthy juice drink as a recreational soft drink.

TASTING

1. Marks & Spencer

This one had real bits of lemon floating in it! I thought it had an authentic texture, being both smooth and tart; the balance of tartness and sweetness was just right. Pretty good.

2. Tropicana

Still, this was slightly refreshing and very bitter. It started off with the flavour of fresh, cloudy apple juice, followed by a strong pang of grapefruit and a bit of lemon. Despite being 100% fruit juice, this managed to not be too sweet and was – understandably – very fruity. I liked it, but didn’t think it was a typical lemonade**.

3.  Snapple Lemonade

Quite crisp but also very very sharp and also pretty sweet, it really lacks an balance and leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Not refreshing either.

4. Minute Maid

Quite nice initially, with lots of lemon flavour, after a few sips, this became cloying and watery, clinging to the teeth. If served with lots and lots of ice, I thought that this was okay (tasting somewhat like a melted ice lolly), but not on its own.

5. Waitrose Still Lemonade

Not bad; this was quite tart, but in a fresh, crisp way. The primary taste was of lemon and the flavour tastes like it hasn’t been interferred with at all. Not too sweet, this was well-balanced and refreshing. I thought it was rather close to homemade lemonade, actually; what you would expect from a classic style.

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6. Luscombe

Very crisp and quite fresh, pleasantly it is neither to sweet nor harshly tart. I gather that the vanilla helps to soften the flavours. This is very easy to drink and I think has wide-appeal. If you really like a tartness in a lemonade that sucks your cheeks in then this isn’t for you. But as a simple delicious way to cool down on a hot day, here you go.

MAKE-YOUR-OWN

Of all of the types of lemonade, this must be the easiest to make; mostly because no carbonation is necessary. Although additional flavour embellishments can work well, Still Lemonade consists of three fundamental ingredients: lemons, water and sugar.

50ml Sugar 100ml Lemon Juice 500ml Water

Combine ingredients, in  a bottle and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to dissolve sugar. Refrigerate.

Given the importance of the water in this recipe, I suggest giving it some consideration; whilst you might not want to use expensive bottled water, I would advocate filtering your water through a Brita device or some such system before using it. Given that we live in a hard-water area with a high calcium carbonate  content, this is essential for us.

6(a). Homemade – made with tap water

Clean and quite tart, this was fresh and had a long, lemony finish. There was some sweetness to balance out the tartness although ti was quite subdued. I thought that this one was more distinctive and recognisable than the other homemade lemonades, whilst also being more straight-forward.

6(b). Homemade – made with Figi bottled water

This made a much softer lemonade; the edge seemed to be rounded off of the tart lemon flavour, producing a very clean, but less crisp taste. Very, very soft.

6(c). Homemade – made with Highland bottled water

Again, this lemonade was very crisp and clean, but also seemed slightly sweeter and duller than the others. I thought it was refreshing and liked it.

COCKTAILS

1. Lyndnburg Lemonade

[30ml Jack Daniels, 15ml Triple Sec, 100ml Still Lemonade]

Fresh and delicious the tartness of the lemonade contests nicely to the sweetness of the Triple Sec and the sweet oaky elements of the Jack Daniels. Simply superb and very refreshing.

2. London Lemonade

[50ml Dry Gin, 50ml Tonic Water, 50ml Still Lemonade]

3. Lemon-Aid

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* I don’t think that the Tropicana is made in the “classic” style, but I nonetheless think that it’s a good drink and, ultimately, for me, that is what really matters.

** Tropicana has received a bit of flack recently and was even features onthe BBC Watchdog consumer rights programme. Why? Because it contains 67% apple juice, 24% grapefruit juice, and only 9% lemon juice. Whilst I understand the complaints, I can also see how difficult making a 100% fruit juice lemonade with no added sugar would be; it’d be quite a challenge. After all, we wouldn’t just want a bottle of lemon juice!

However, it’s also worthwhile noting that, despite the fact that the Tropicana advertises itself as having no added sugar, it contains only slightly less (albeit natural sugar) than the Waitrose (with sugar); they have 9.5g and 10.3g per 100ml, respectively.

Cocktails with… Tanqueray Rangpur

I remember hearing about Tanqueray Rangpur before it was released in its test markets of Maryland and Washington DC. I must say, I was rather jealous of these folks and it seems that something similar is soon to be happening with Bombay Sapphire East.*As time went on, it gradually became available in specialist import shops like The Whisky Exchange and now you can even buy it in Waitrose, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s now truly arrived in the UK.I received a request to review this gin a few weeks back and as, this weekend, three separate people also asked me about it, I think it’s time to put pen to paper.What makes Rangpur different?
Tanqueray Rangpur is flavoured with Rangpur Limes, which is a nod to the Colonial British who once used this citrus fruit to take the edge off of their gin.** The name of the fruit comes from the town of Rangpur in Bangladesh; it’s also known as the mandarin lime or the canton lime. Despite the name Rangpur Lime, the fruits are actually more similar to a lemon-mandarin hybrid than most other “limes”, but this is a mere trifle.
Botanicals
Juniper
Coriander
Angelica
The Secret Tanqueray Botanical
~
 with the addition of fresh:
Rangpur Limes
Ginger
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There has been a history of lime-flavoured gins, with versions made by both Beefeater (now discontinued) and Seagram’s (still made). I have had the fortune to try both of these gins and my bottles are now enshrined down at the Plymouth Gin Wall. I’ve not seen any mention of a Gordon’s Lime Gin***, but if anyone has, please leave a comment.
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The Taste
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Own
The liquid is clear, although the bottle is tinted a light green. There’s lemon, lime and juniper on the nose and a hint of sweetness, similar to that of Rose’s Lime cordial. To taste, there are strong flavours and it seems a little fizzy. There’s bold lemon and lime flavours and hint of juniper and coriainder. It’s finish is similar to that of lemon sorbet.

From the freezer
Very viscous and just short of freezing. OK to drink, but it seems to have been polarised, with the citrus now being more dominant and the more subtle flavours being lost.

Gin & Tonic
Not great: there’s some bitterness and although the lime flavour is there, when mixed with Schweppes Tonic, the resulting drink is a bit sickly. I’d recommend using a dryer and cleaner tonic, like Fevertree or Thomas Henry, when mixing Tanqueray Rangpur.

Martini
Some sweet lime, quite clean and moderately crisp. Quite pleasant; I think that some folks may not like the sweet citrus at the end, but, then again, some will.

Gimlet
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Gin & Cranberry Juice
The cranberry and lime flavours go really well together and, in this drink, they create a very fresh and very tasty tipple. This is not a drink that I would have initially thought of, but it is a great way to enjoy the gin.

Fruit Cup
Fresh and zingy; the lime and ginger work very well together. Less crisp and not quite as refreshing as most fruit cups, but, still, it is rather good.

Negroni
Great: softer than most Negronis, but the drink is picked up by some citrus zing and a touch of tartness. Some notes of Key Lime Pie.

In Conclusion
Since its creation in 2006 and subsequent release internationally, Tanqueray Rangpur has obviously had commercial success. For me, although, it made some other nice drinks, I am still to be convinced of the merits of using it in a Gin & Tonic. Despite this, mixing it with cranberry juice was superb and I also enjoyed the Negroni.

*Bombay Sapphire East is a new product that has black peppercorns and lemongrass in addition to Bombay Sapphire’s existing 10 botanicals; it is being tested in New York and Las Vegas from September. See our review here.
** Add a little quinine and sugar, and you’d be close to an early G&T.
*** Gordon’s have made Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit and Spearmint Gins so it does makes me wonder why I’ve never heard of a Lime one.

Hendrick’s Garnish Taste Test

Anyone who has ever bought a bottle of Hendrick’s will know that Hendrick’s and cucumber go hand-in-hand. When I first tried it six years ago, I have to admit to being a tad surprised at being served a glass of gin & tonic with a slice of cucumber in it; surprised, but ultimately delighted, as it was delicious.

Since then, I have come across other gins that suggest garnishing drinks with one of their botanicals, two examples being:
– Pink Grapefruit with Tanqueray No. 10; and
– Cape Gooseberries with Whitley Neill.

I’ve been asked why companies don’t just add more of that botanical’s flavour to the spirit to negate the need for additional garnish. It’s a good question and I’m not sure of an answer.
However, aesthetically, a slice of cucumber or a handful of strawberries makes the drink more appealing, not to mention the fact that you get a little snack you get once you’ve finished the drink.

Hendrink’s is pretty versatile when it comes to garnishes: I have had it served with cucumber, lemon, lime, strawberries, and even rose petals! After I received a bottle of the 44% (Export) Hendrick’s from relatives returning from abroad, I thought I would evaluate each of these garnishes alongside one another in a blind Hendrick’s & Tonic Garnish Taste Test.

Our garnishes were as follows: lemon, lime, cucumber, rose petals, strawberries,  and plain (no garnish, as a control). We tried all six with both the 41.4% and the 44% strengths of Hendrick’s. The gin & tonics were mixed in a 1pt Gin : 2pts Tonic ratio and served in covered coffee cups (thanks to my local Café Nero for supplying those), as we thought this was the best way to avoid identifying the garnish by sight.

Prepared garnishes, clockwise from top left, Plain, Lemon, Lime, Cucumber, strawberries, Rose Petals.

Hendricks 41.4% ABV – (UK Domestic)

No Garnish: The tonic comes through a lot more in this one; there is an initial bitter tang followed by floral perfume notes.

Cucumber: Strong cucumber with a fresh, slightly watery element; it tastes more of the skin than the flesh, but is very fine nonetheless.

Lemon: Exceptionally well-balanced, with subtle citrus and hints of vanilla. Very popular.

Lime: Fresh, citrus and a hint of cucumber, although this was possibly a touch on the bitter side and too sharp.

Strawberries: Hints of cucumber and sweet notes of strawberry. This adds a new flavour to the drink that complements the already summery profile of Hendrick’s. Bright and flavourful. Simply delicious.

Rose Petals: Soft and light, sweet and a touch syrupy, but well-balanced overall.

Hendricks 44% ABV – (USA)

No Garnish: Slightly savoury, with a subtle pepperiness. Well-balanced and complex.

Cucumber: Very strong flavours of cucumber, which dominate the drink. Quite fresh and rather pleasant.

Lemon: A strong bang of citrus, which pleasantly complements the gin, and a fresh sweetness akin to cool lemonade.

Lime: The most bitter and dry of the gin & tonics that we tired. Slightly fruity, but not very sweet.

Strawberries: Very good indeed; sweet and juicy, a touch of strawberry jam.

Rose Petals: Fresh, floral flavours, that aren’t overpowering; sadly lacking in flavour.

In conclusion, we both really liked the strawberries as a garnish as it made the drink rather summery, I was quite fan of the cucumber but Mrs. B found it a little over-powering. In contrast she like the delicacy of the rose petal garnish whereas I thought it too weak. A lemon garnish with the 41.4 also scored well.

The real conclusion we can draw is that we both preferred the 41.4% in a gin & tonic and that my wife and I don’t always agree!

For our coverage of our Tasting of 11 Scottish Gins, click here.