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.

Macallan Scotch Tasting (5 varieties) – Just like James Bond!

When DTS & I went to see the latest Bond film, Skyfall, I was pleased to see a strong whisky presence, in particular from The Macallan (this was especially nice, given some of the scenery). Most visibly, it was seen alongside and on the drinks’ tray or desk of Dame Judi Dench’s M – praise, indeed.

As we left the cinema, we immediately started formulating plans for a tasting of Macallan whiskies. A few weeks later, a surprise birthday present arrived for me…

In the box were the 10 and 12 Year Olds for both the Fine Oak and Sherry Oak varieties, plus something new and a little different: Macallan Gold, which is one of the distillery’s new range of whiskies classified by colour rather than age. Although this selection of miniatures would make for a perfect compare-and-contrast tasting, I knew immediately that I wanted to have one of our blind tastings so that I could more easily establish which I liked best. DTS very kindly helped with this and here’s what I thought.

#1) Fine Oak 10 Year Old
First of all, we have a whisky that makes a very sneaky appearance in Skyfall, when Bond is at a beach bar. It has been matured in a mixture of fine bourbon and sherry oak casks.

Nose: Light, but sweet; a smooth transition from vanilla cream, to creamy coffee, subtle marzipan, before finishing with a light, vanilla woodiness and faint, fruity sherry and fruit cake. Light, but delicious, with lots to delve into and explore and no harshness whatsoever.
Taste: Smooth, but with a warmth building at the back of the throat from the outset. Exceptionally balanced, it nonetheless has lots of delicate notes of leather, barley and fresh, dry, white wood and a clean dry, almost bitter, finish.

#2) Fine Oak 12 Year Old
Next, we have the slightly older Fine Oak 12 Year Old. Unlike it’s slightly younger “sibling”, it has been “triple cask matured”, using a mix of European and American oak casks seasoned with sherry and American oak casks seasoned with bourbon.

Nose: Notes of marzipan, light coconut and freshly shaved pencils are accompanied by hints of creamy, tropical citrus (pineapple and lemon) that remind me somewhat of jelly and ice-cream.
Taste: This is thick and silky, almost chewy; it also seems a lot sweeter than the 10 Year Old. The flavour starts out woody, with hints of wood ash and smoke, before moving to a creamy sweetness with measured notes of vanilla, reminding me of a very good quality bourbon. The finish has lots of dryer wood notes, but nowhere near the bitterness of the previous whisky.

Macallan Fine Oak 12 Year Old has now been discontinued, with the 10 Year Old due to follow imminently, to be replaced with a new range of whiskies that move away from age statements.

#3) Macallan Gold
Macallan Gold was released in 2012 as a part of this range of new, colour-themed bottlings. It has been matured in both first fill and refill sherry casks and is said to sit between the Fine Oak 10 Year Old and Sherry Oak 10 Year Old.

Nose: Rich, slightly bitter fruit cake that’s been soaked in brandy. Also, sweet, creamy notes, like a custard that was heavy on both the sugar and the milk, or custard flavoured boiled sweets.
Taste: Rich and sweet to start, with a dash of marigold, floral soapiness at the beginning, followed by sweet wood and a more dry, but still distinctly woody, finish with hints of coconut. This seemed generally less warm, but more flavourful, than the previous two whiskies.

#4) Sherry Oak 10 Year Old
Returning to Macallan’s age-statemented whiskies, we turn to another 10 Year Old; this one having been matured in oak casks that have been filled with sherry in Spain.

Nose: Sweet wood, accompanied by caramel and light notes of banana. These are followed by more traditional, dryer sherry notes.
Taste: Dry, but warming, with the sherry coming through more towards the end. The finish is decidedly dry. Although this is pleasant enough to drink and contains very genuine, solid notes of oak and sherry, there wasn’t anything about it that really “stood out” to me.

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#5) 12 Year Old Sherry Oak
Finally, we have another whisky that appears in Skyfall; this time a 12 Year Old matured in Spanish sherry oak casks that sits centre-stage on M’s desk. Fortunately, my tasting was blind, otherwise I might have had raised expectations!

Nose: Fresh and fruity, with lots of peach and apricot. Sweet and soft, there’s also some sultana (it’s similar, but not quite as heavy as, raisin).
Taste: Silky, but both more flavourful and warmer than the 10 Year Old and the Gold, this is full of dark, sweet wood, spiced raisins, and slightly tarter notes of sherry. There was also a lot of rich, genuine, warm wood on the finish, plus a little of the dryness of liquorice root. All in all, this has everything that I hope to get from a good Scotch – lovely!

In Conclusion
I love that so many of The Macallan whiskies are available as miniatures (and at very reasonable rates of postage on their website), making them perfect for a tasting such as this. My favourite was, without a doubt, the 12 Year Old Sherry Oak – I can see why M keeps a bottle on her desk!

– Mrs. B

Macallan 10 Year Old Sherry Oak is available online for around £29 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

Macallan  12 Year Old Sherry Oak is available online for around £41 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

Macallan 10 Year Old Fine Oak is still available online for around £28 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt

Macallan Gold is available online for around £36 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt.

Singleton of Dufftown 12yr Old Scotch – Father’s Day Special

Around this time every June, I start pondering what to get my wonderful dad for Father’s Day. Since I’ve discovered my love of Scotch whisky – a passion that me & my Dad share – more often than not, his present is in the form of a bottle of something different to try.

If you’re looking for something special, in addition the vast range of bottlings available in the supermarkets and in specialist shops like The Whisky Exchange (where I’m sure they’ll also be very happy to offer some excellent advice, if you need a little inspiration), you might want to consider getting a gift pack. Today, I’m having a look at one from the Dufftown Distillery in Speyside. The pack contains a 70cl bottle of The Singleton Single Malt Whisky and two whisky glasses, all three of which look pretty impressive (I practically had to use two hands to hold one of the glasses).

Singleton is distilled in at the Dufftown distillery in Speyside, well-known for its production of single malts; whisky has been produced at the distillery since 1896. As such, their methods are definitely ones that have been passed down through the ages, and include taking their time when both fermenting their barley and distilling their spirit. After distillation, the whisky is rested in a combination of American and European oak casks and left to mature.

I found the American casks immediately evident on the smooth, sweet nose of rich, polished wood, followed by baked apple and caramel. I could just keeping smelling this nose for ages – there weren’t even the faintest hint of harsh alcohols.

To taste, the whisky was surprisingly savoury, but with a smooth texture. It had lots of rich, woody notes that, nonetheless, had a light, sweet edge to them, making this a rather refreshing whisky. Despite this, the finish was good and warm, and touched with a hint of liquorice. After a while and a little warming up, more fruity elements emerged, like those from rich fruit cake, plus blackberry; but the flavour remained refreshing with a savoury, coffee-like edge.

In Conclusion
This was a wonderful whisky that I would definitely consider a good staple of my drinks cupboard; it has the perfect combination of warmth and freshness, and sweetness and more savoury notes. Most importantly, I know that my dad enjoys it, because we gave him a bottle last year and it’s all disappeared! This gift pack, then, comes highly recommended, all the more if the lucky recipient is fond of a good Speyside whisky.

– Mrs. B.

The Singleton 12yr Old with Glasses Gift Set is available online for around £39 for 70cl  from Selfridges.

The Johnnie Walker Red Tin Giftset is available from Waitrose priced at £15.50 for 70cl.

Magic Happens on The Darkest Nights – An Unique Evening with Bowmore 15yr Old Darkest

Last week, DBS & I had a rather surreal, but impressive experience featuring Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old Whisky. The “theatrical” evening was set in an atmospheric Victorian house in London, and started out in a dark, grey and very sparsely populated lounge (and when I say “sparsely populated”, I’m talking minimalist-Dickensian). As we crunched on canapes, sipped our whisky cocktails and mingled, conversation was naturally sparked by the candlelit mantlepiece, creaky floorboards and intriguing array of items being pinned to our collars (see below).

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We quickly discovered that the shadow-filled house, filled as it was with an intense character of its own, was also full of a number of additional characters. First of all, we were introduced to the owner of the house, who treated us to a little background on the story behind Bowmore. Before we knew it, DBS & I were divided – off on our own adventures for the evening, each set in a different room.

Spooky Stories

The first that I found myself in, with fifteen or so others, had a roaring fire and a lovely Scottish chap who told us a story involving headless fiends and bottles of whisky being smashed; it was all very sad, but nowhere near as odd as DBS’s experience in the same room…

Chocolate, only better

As I made my way up the steep, uneven stairs, I lightly pondered on how much whisky I trusted myself to sip whilst knowing that I would still have to get myself back down them in one piece! Fortunately for me, the contents of the second room left no question about whether or not a sample was in order; one step into the room and the overwhelmingly rich scent of dark chocolate hit me. But, as amazing as that smell was, it was nothing compared to the exquisite drink being handed round in cute teacups: this was the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted in my life.

On top of this, we were given a Bowmore Darkest bonbon – each, I’m told, containing a shot’s worth of whisky – to stir into it. I struggle to find the words to describe just how delicious this was; rich and creamy (in texture only, as it was dairy-free), but retaining that wonderfully intense cocoa flavour, the drink worked remarkably well with the whisky, which added a lovely, dark, fruity note, like raisins or fruit cake.

The wonderful creator of both the drink and the bonbons was chocolatier Paul Young, who taught us all about how best to enjoy whisky in our chocolate (the key being to add it cold, as part of a ganache, to avoid burning off the alcohol). He was also very patient whilst we all expressed, repeatedly, how good the hot chocolate was. I have no doubt that DBS & I will be making our way to one of his shops before too long to see what other wonders he’s created.

Mysterious keys
Everyone in my group – somewhat reluctantly – then made our way to our third room, where we found “Mrs. Fig”: a little old lady who sat in bed, talked about cats (specifically Smokey, the distillery cat), and collected keys on red ribbons, which had at some point been given to members of our group in previous rooms. I don’t recall exactly what the keys were all about, but the character of Mrs. Fig and Smokey the Cat definitely added to the surreal, Dickensian feel of the evening.

Breathtaking Darkness

This room was my favourite. When DBS first told me that this event was due to involve whisky, chocolate and a kind of planetarium experience, he knew that I’d be excited; three of my favourite things!

This room was at the very top of the house, up some almost ladder-like stairs. Here, we were treated to an excellent and inspiring talk by Gary Fildes from the Kielder Observatory near the Scotland/England border.

Gary talked enthusiastically about the observatory and astronomy, impressing us with some stunning photographs of the night sky that literally made everyone gasp as we sat, cross-legged, with a straightforward glass of Bowmore Darkest. Despite the fact that the naked eye can’t see as much as the Hubble Space Telescope, by the end of Gary’s talk, I have no doubt that a majority of his audience was longing for a night of stargazing with good friends and a bottle of whisky, even if they’d never considered it before!

The spirit behind it all
I somewhat reluctantly followed everyone away from the astronomy attic and down into the basement, where Bowmore’s Brand Ambassador, Gordon Dundas, took us through a tasting of the spirit of the evening: Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old, along with some Bowmore 12 Year Old, for comparison.

Needless to say, I was so wrapped up in the evening’s events that I forgot to take any detailed tasting notes, but the 12 Year Old immediately took me back to our Bowmore tasting on the coast back in January (this has some more in-depth tasting notes). Smooth and with incredibly well-balanced flavours, the 12 Year Old contrasted with the richness of the evening, with its savoury wood notes and a hint of peat on the finish. The 15 Year Old (Darkest) was much sweeter and heavier, with hints of raisins, almond and darker wood notes.

The evening concluded with singing along to traditional tunes and enjoying a final glass of Bowmore. Although bizarre and very theatrical, I found that the event nonetheless managed to capture a very real and genuine enthusiasm for an excellent whisky. I highly recommend both the event (if they’re running any more, or anything similar) and Bowmore, for which my fondness has deepened even further.

– Mrs. B.

Bowmore Coastal Tasting

My quest to explore more Scotch Whisky, beyond liqueurs, has recently led me to Bowmore. I know different people have different thoughts on the best tasting method but I really like trying whiskys of the same range together to get an idea of what a distillery is about.*

Bowmore is situated on the Isle of Islay and was established in 1779. Much of the barley for the Whisky is grown on the Isle of Islay but as supply is insufficient some barley has to be shipped in.** Given the connection with Bowmore and the sea we decided to take a little walk down to a secluded coastal spot for the tasting.

Bowmore 12 Year Old
The nose was fresh and salty, matching the sea air. A slight sweetness came in at the end, but, otherwise, the nose was straightforward and revitalising.
My initial response upon taking a sip was to say, “Ooh, lovely!” (diligently recorded in DBS’s tasting notes). A salty start, probably boosted by the salt on my lips from the sea breeze, was followed by a very smooth, progression from heavy, dark wood notes to lighter ones. The lightest hint of peat appeared on the finish. The comforting, mellow collection of raw, woody notes reminded me strongly of woodland walks during my childhood.
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Bowmore 15 Year Old
The nose of the second whisky was a lot more prominent, in my opinion, although – again – there was lots of wood. On top of this, though, there were some more harsh, varnish-like notes.
Tasting much stronger, the wood notes to this one also had a more substantial and lasting finish of toasted or burnt sugar that had a bitterness to it. I found it considerably less easy-to-drink; as such, it seemed more grown-up; the older brother of the 12 Year Old.
Despite the strength, this was definitely better uncut; even a few drops of water seemed to unbalance it and make it watery.
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Bowmore 18 Year Old
This nose was more like the first than the second, being lighter and fresher, without any notes of varnish. Indeed, there was a rather pleasant hint of burnt toffee.
Like the nose, the taste of this one returns to the style of the first that we tried, only it had a softer mouth-feel, like soft water. Alongside the prominent wood notes were those of oatcakes, reminding DBS of Burns Night – drinking whisky with a plate of haggis, tatties and neeps – prompting him to describe it as “Scotland in a glass.”; a conclusion with which I thoroughly agree. Delicious, and easily my favourite of the three.
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In Conclusion

Although I’m sure some people would disagree with having a whisky tasting so exposed to the elements, no doubt stripping away any more delicate notes or flavours, I thought that our surroundings brought a lot more than they took from our tasting; especially as Bowmore is made by the sea. More than that, it reminded me why I really enjoy whisky; it was great to share and explore both a glass and good conversation whilst winding down, made all the easier by the fresh air.

My favourite, when tasted outdoors, was – without a doubt – the 18 Year Old, with its fresh, but sweet nose, mellow softness, and warm wood and oatcake notes. It is the best whisky that I’ve tried in a good while and one that I look forward to revisiting in the comfort of a cosy armchair.

– Mrs. B.

*Also known as a vertical tasting.

**  Interestingly the waste heat from the distillery is used to heat a public swmming pool in the MacTaggart Leisure centre.

Ginger Ale Cocktails

With the approach of the Ginger Ale Tasting at Graphic on the 17th January, I thought that I would look at some other drinks, beyond the Gin Bump (or Buck), that use ginger ale as an ingredient. Of course, the Horse’s Neck is one of these, but I will skip over this, as it will be the subject of another post.

 

Clockwise from back left: White Horse,Ginger Daisy, Happy Thought, Brunswick Cooler, Sloe Gin Bump, Dog's Day, Postmaster.

Postmaster
This cocktail is quite similar to a Gin Bump, although it less tart, without the citrus. For that reason, for me, it has a little edge on the Bump. I think it is important when making a Postmaster (or a Bump) to use a gin of moderate strength, around 42%, and one that isn’t too over-powering.

Happy Thought
A rather different non-alcoholic cocktail, this is a good take on an iced tea. We found the extra fizz from the ginger ale quite pleasant. Mrs. B got a lot of gingerbread flavours from this drink, found it quite yummy and thus it was her favourite.

Dog’s Day
Rather reminiscent of a rum and soda to start, with a slight smokiness from the whisky on the finish. The orange adds a little spritz of freshness to the drink.

Sloe Gin Bump
The sloe gin that I used, a home-made variety, was deliberately dryer than most, so it was interesting how the ginger ale brought out the sweetness in the gin. But it was still quite tasty; typically, I prefer my sloe gin with ginger ale to tonic water, with my ultimate preference being bitter lemon.

White Horse
A very tasty cooler; the ginger, Scotch and orange blend well together. I found this most refreshing, although Mrs. B thought it could use a touch more flavour; perhaps another splash of bitters was in order?

Ginger Daisy
To be to the point, this tasted very much like a brandy and ginger ale, but took a good deal more effort to make. Given the minimal improvement to the flavours of the simpler version, I’m not convinced that this is worth the bother. I was also surprised at how little the gin came through.

Brunswick Cooler
A lovely, simple cooler. This was so cooling that the cold went down my throat and chilled it like a good whisky warms it. Most unexpected; I have only ever had this twice before, both times  with Martinis (and one was made using liquid nitrogen). It still eludes me as to what exactly caused it, but a great drink nonetheless.

In conclusion:
It seems clear that ginger ale is a particularly good ingredient in non-alcoholic cocktails, as it was included in some of the best I have ever tasted. When mixed with alcohol, it seems that the simple cocktails are the better ones; good examples of this being the Postmaster, Dog’s Day and Sloe Bump.

Top Alcoholic Cocktail recommendation: Postmaster
Top Non-Alcoholic Cocktail recommendation: Happy Thought