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.

Vodka55

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.

Martini

Shaken
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.

Stirred
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.

Martini

Shaken
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.

Stirred
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… Heston Blumenthal’s Lemon and Earl Grey Gin from Waitrose

It’s been a bit of a Chase Gin week here on SummerFruitCup and today, whilst mooching along to our local Waitrose, Mrs. B. informed me that the Heston Gin has now arrived.*

‘Heston from Waitrose’ Earl Grey and Lemon Gin is a designed specifically for Waitrose by Heston Blumenthal and is manufactured by Chase Distillery. Like the new Great British Gin, this Waitrose-exclusive spirit is potato-based (and packaged in the same bottle) and is made using an array of 7 classic botanicals**. The gin is additionally infused with lemon and Earl Grey tea.*** It is bottled at 40%ABV and specifies its suitability for vegetarians on the label.

On its own:
Nose: Simply upon opening the bottle, the smell of the gin burst out: zesty, but sour lemon is followed by wet tea. Overall, it has the feeling of lemon tea, but could be better.
Taste: Smooth up front, very fragrant and very citrusy, with floral tea notes. There’s some coriander, too, but where this gin really stands out is with the lovely Earl Grey tea finish, which is long and delicious. With a drop of water, distinctly piney juniper and a sweet element of liquorice also pop up.

Gin & Tonic
This drink is really the litmus test for this gin, which is primarily designed for the off-trade market and, more specifically, the supermarket shoppers of Waitrose, the majority of whom consume their gin with a splash of tonic water.

A resounding pass with flying colours. Refreshing and zesty, it has some floral tea and orange elements, plus a hint of lemon verbena. I think that a nice, clean (not citrusy) tonic works best; Fevertree or Schweppes work well, although I’d be keen to try it with Fevertree Mediterranean or 1724 for a more herbal twist.

I initially tried it at 2:1 ratio, but also really like it at greater dilutions: 3:1 or 4:1. The drink still works for those who like a little more tonic, but, personally, I think I’ll stick to the 2:1.

Martini
Very lemony, with some orange blossom, as well as a crisp dryness from the tea. When I made the Martini (stirred), the gin seemed to have slightly louched, which gave it a misty appearance. I like the flavour of this cocktail: it’s quite complex, but I think that some will find it overly pungent.

Negroni
This makes an odd Negroni, which is quite soft initially, with floral citrus notes. The nose is very vegetal and, for me, a bit off-putting. There’s some bitterness at the end, but the cocktail overall doesn’t really work for me.

In Conclusion
Heston Gin had a lot to live up to, as I’d eagerly anticipated it for several weeks now. Noticeably, by adding flavours to a classic gin make-up and increasing the floral elements, they have produced a gin that is more like some of the contemporary varieties coming out of the USA or Australia.
Given these changes, I found that the gin doesn’t fit into all classic gin cocktails, but, with some tailoring, I think you could get some good results. It will probably lend itself well to some Spring cocktails, too.
As a cocktail ingredient, there is not a lot out there that can rival it (the Spectator Gin is less perfumed) in terms of application and, with some experimentation, some great drinks could be created.
In reality, any gin aimed at supermarket shoppers will be judged by how it works in a Gin & Tonic and Heston’s in works well, giving a slight twist to a familiar drink.

‘Heston from Waitrose’ Earl Grey and Lemon Gin is available exclusively from Waitrose Stores for around £22 for 70cl.

*The Heston Gin as I have eagerly awaited its arrival.
** Including Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Citrus Peel, Orris Root, Liquorice and Almond.
*** Heston seems quite keen on using tea to flavour things – I am quite fond of the Lapsang Salmon.
*** Interestingly, last night, I was tasting some of the MasterofMalt Spectator Gin that also uses lemon (this time lemon balm) and Earl Grey tea as an infusion with the spirit.