Limoncello – Volume Three of the Liqueur Library

If Italy had an equivalent to Swedish Punsch, Japanese Umeshu or British Sloe Gin, Limoncello would surely be the answer. Many Italian families have closely-guarded recipes and the creation and consumption of homemade varieties of this liqueur is an annual event.

Limoncello is a lemon flavoured liqueur, which is made by simply infusing lemon zest in un-aged alcohol, typically vodka (although some folks use Grappa), with added sugar. It’s exceptionally easy to make, which is probably why so many create it at home.

Limoncello goes by many names (and spellings), including: Lemoncino, Lemoncelloe and Limoncetto. These are all, essentially, the same product, although the term “Limoncino” is more common in Northern Italy and “Limoncello” is preferred in the South.

For those of you who don’t want to make it at home, there are plenty of commercial brands available, made in various countries, including Adnam’s in the UK.

Adnam’s Limoncello was originally released in 2011 and, due to its popularity, Adnam’s made another batch with an improved production method in 2012. It starts life as a batch of three-grain vodka (wheat, barley, oats), which is kept at 90% ABV whilst the lemon zest is infused; the higher strength spirit makes the extraction of the lemons’ aroma, flavour and colour fuller, quicker and easier. This maceration is left for three weeks, at which point the zest is removed and some sugar and water is added, bringing the ABV down to its bottling strength of 28% ABV.

The Taste

1) Own
Nose: Very fresh, with lots of strong, zesty lemon. Natural tasting, almost like a home-made variety.
Taste: Soft and very smooth; silky, with a touch of honey and lovely, fresh, zesty lemon citrus. Lemon-y tang at the end. All-in-all, a product that tastes authentic and far from artificial, just like some of the best home-made versions that I have had. Excellent.

2) Chilled
The liqueur becomes much thicker when chilled; this is how they often drink it in Italy. The flavours are more complex and an initial sweet floral aspect is followed by lush, zesty lemon and a touch of more bitter lemon at the end. Simply top-notch!

3) Over Ice
[50ml Limoncello, One Large Chunk of Ice]
I thought this was another lovely way to drink the liqueur. Interestingly, the sweetness seems to come through a little more. It is also very visually appealing, as the little torrents of melting ice create viscous ripples in the Limoncello. Most importantly, it tastes good.

Cream Cocktail

Cream Cocktail

4) Cream Cocktail
[20ml Gin, 20ml Limoncello, 15ml Cream – SHAKE]
A smooth and creamy lemon cocktail somewhat reminiscent of lemon cheesecake, tart au citron or lemon syllabub. Quite rich and very much a dessert cocktail to drink after dinner.

5) Collins
[25ml Gin, 25ml Limoncello, 100ml Soda Water]
This was a very crisp and refreshing cooler. For extra tartness, add a little (10ml or so) fresh lemon juice. Very light and easy to drink, this could easily be served by the jug or pitcher. There’s a sweet, creamy lift at the end, which pleasantly rounds off this delicious drink. One of the few ways to make Limoncello even more refreshing.

Limonata

6) Limonata
[40ml Citrus Vodka*, 10ml Limoncello, 20ml Lemon Juice, 10ml Sugar Syrup – SHAKE]
A refreshing and zinging drink, luscious and lovely. A hint of jammy citrus, touch of creaminess, spiciness care of the vodka and a sweet, lemon curd,  lift at the end. Really very good indeed, highly recommended.

7) Adnam’s Flyer
[30ml Adnam’s First Rate Gin, 10ml Limoncello, 5ml Creme de Violette – SHAKE]
A tasty little liqueur-like cocktail. The dry gin flavour was followed by the neat sweetness of the Limoncello and the floral creaminess of the Violette. Lovely as an after-dinner cocktail.

Tryst in Trieste

8) Tryst in Trieste
[20ml Orange Liqueur**, 20ml Scotch, 15ml Limoncello – SHAKE, then add 10ml Soda Water]
Soft, citrus-heavy nose. To taste, this was a most interesting combination: it had a sherbet-like mouthfeel throughout, with the smoky woodiness from the Scotch fading in after a few moments. The orange notes bridge the strong lemon and whisky flavours nicely. It ended with a lovely, neat, citrusy finish, making for a refreshing and light whisky cocktail.

9) Suffolk Sour
[30ml Vodka, 15ml Limoncello, 15ml Cherry Brandy, 15ml Lemon Juice – BUILD]
A tart and crisp drink, with the initial tart citrus followed by the richer flavours of the cherry. A sweet vanilla from the Limoncello then comes into play. The balance works, but the sour outweighs the sweet. Very tasty.

Lemoncello & Whisky Cocktail

Lemoncello & Whisky Cocktail

10) Limoncello & Whisky
[Recommended by Adnams Head Distiller John McCarthy. 2 parts Scotch, 1 part Limoncello, Ice – STIR]
This was another lovely, light dessert cocktail. It had a refreshing, zesty freshness, with the sweet, cream citrus of lemon curd complementing the drier, woody notes of the whisky. This creamy sweetness – just like that of a lemon tart, reappears on the finish. Very pleasant, indeed.

In Conclusion
I’ve been drinking Limoncello for a quite a few years and must have made my own at least ten years ago, but I’ve never really drunk it much in cocktails. Today’s tasting makes me think that I’ve missing out.

My favourite drinks were the Limonata and the Collins, as well as sipping the liqueur chilled on its own.

Adnams Limoncello is available for around £20 for 50cl from Adnams.

* I used Stolichnaya Citros.
** I used Grand Gala.

Yellow/Aged Gin Tasting – 8 Varieties Compared

At the end of last year, I posted a short introduction to Yellow Gin; this was a prelude to an event that took place this week: a Yellow Gin tasting.

Yellow Gin is the collective term for aged, matured or rested gin, i.e. any gin that has had contact with wood in order to modify its character. These terms will be used interchangeably in this article.

Aged gin is not something new; it’s almost as old as gin itself. In the early days of London Dry Gin, the spirit was not shipped in bottles or stainless steel tanks, but in wooden casks. Now most gin would have been drunk so quickly that the wood would have had little impact, but, of an occasion, some batches would be left for longer than others, giving the wood time to affect the gin. In particular, any gin being shipped a great distance in barrels would be affected in this way.

At some point, someone realised that this serendipitous approach to ageing imparted some pleasant and desirable characteristics on gin and so brands such as Booth’s began to deliberately “mature” their gin by storing it in casks for 6-12 weeks. In doing so, they created a more sophisticated product that they could charge more for.

Since the demise of Booth’s Gin, few others have bothered to set up this interaction between the spirit and wood, with the exception of Seagram’s, who have always rested or matured their gin for 3-4 weeks.

Things began to change in 2008 with the release of Citadelle Reserve, an gin that had been aged for 6 months. Since then, over 20 varieties of Yellow Gin have appeared on the market. These range from Hayman’s 1850, which is “cask rested” for 3-4 weeks, to Alembics 13yr Old Gin, which is “aged” for 11 years in whisky barrels and finished off in a Caribbean Rum Cask for two years.

A lot of innovation comes from the USA, where a lot of the stand-alone small distilleries make whisky as well as gin and so are used to the aging process. That said, the majority of Yellow Gins are only aged for less than 18 months. The general consensus from producers is that, after this time, the character of the gin – its juniper – is overwhelmed by that of the wood.

In part, we intended to see if this was genuinely the case during our tasting.

The Tasting

1) Seagram’s Extra Dry

This is the first of two gins in this tasting from the Canadian Brand, Seagram’s. Both are made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA. Seagram’s Original was introduced in 1939 and is mellowed for 3 months in charred white oak whiskey (ex-bourbon) barrels. It is bottled at 40%ABV.

Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: Quite light, juniper with coriander and citrus.
Taste: Quite smooth, with juniper, coriander and a touch of orange. Quite similar to a normal London Dry Gin with a slight mellow note of cream/vanilla/oak but it seems like the wood has more of an effect on the texture than the flavour.

Some of the panel didn’t think they Would have recognised the wood interaction if they hadn’t been told.

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2) Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve

This was introduced in 2006 and is bottled at 51%ABV. It’s a blend of the best gins from Seagram’s Extra Dry, post-mellowing and bottled at cask-strength.

Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: the nose seems less intense than the original with some juniper and citrus
Taste: Firstly the texture is quite different, viscous, silky and smooth. Most of the panel agreed that this was unusually smooth for a gin at 51%ABV. As well as juniper there was sweet liquorice and floral and citrus flavours.

Although other Seagram’s are aged for the same period of time the oak notes were far more pronounced in this version.

The oaky flavour became even more pronounced when a drop of water was added to both of the Seagrams Gins.

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3) Citadelle Reserve 2008 & 2010

Launched in 2008, this was the first in a new wave of Yellow Gins to come to market. The vintage released in the first year (2008) was a straightforward aging of the original 19-botanical gin. The gin is aged in French white oak, ex-Grand Champagne cognac casks; the exact length of the aging varies, as it is not bottled until it is deemed to be ready. Typically, the length of time lies between 5 and 9 months.

The botanical mix of the original gin for the 2009 vintage was tweaked to increase the floral notes of the spirit and likewise with the 2010 but this was in favour of more floral notes.

ii) 2008 Vintage
Colour: straw yellow – like Lillet Blanc
Nose: thick, floral anise and juniper, with some sweetness
Taste: oak and vanilla came through; this almost seemed halfway between whisky and gin. Very nice indeed

ii) 2010 Vintage
Colour: As above
Nose: perfumed, juniper and lemongrass
Taste: juniper and then some more floral notes, lavender violet and some rose, much more perfumed with high notes than in the 2008. Very discernible difference.

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4) Hayman’s 1850

This was created by the Hayman’s Family, who also make a variety of other gins, including Old Tom and London Dry.

Bottled at 40%ABV, Hayman’s 1850 harks back to the style of gin produced before William Gladstone (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) the Single Bottle Act of 1861 legislation was passed when gin was stored and transported in barrels.

As such Hayman’s 1850 is “rested” in barrels for 3-4 weeks.

Colour: clear with a very pale straw yellow
Nose: Juniper, with some spice and a hint of floral notes.
Taste: Juniper, floral, a little bite of citrus and a smooth, mellow finish with a hint of creamy vanilla. Quite smooth and subtle.

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5) Few Barrel-Aged Gin

Bottled at 65.4%ABV, this has been aged for 4 months in New American Oak.

Colour: light amber orange.
Nose: sweet wood and mint – bourbon

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Taste: dark sugar and treacle, minty wood, liquorice too. Good doses of sweet spice and gingerbread and ginger cake were mentioned by some panellists. Others picked up on aspects of candied peel. All round a charming product still reminiscent of some gin character but with the impact of the wood being definitely felt.

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This was enjoyed by all of the panel with the overall feeling that the balance between gin & wood flavours was just about right.

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6) Myrtle Gin

A very unique product, this is produced for the Spirit of the Coquet and is the result of a Scottish Gin, aged for 10 years, and infused with Northumberland Myrtle. It is bottled at 47%ABV

Colour: deep amber-brown, rather like apple juice.
Nose: Initially wood and whisky, then some smokiness (akin to the smoke of smoked salmon) then some vanilla notes and a floral herbal mix.
Taste: Full flavour at the start, woody followed with leafy herbal notes and a growing peaty character towards the end with a dry juniper finish that last for quite a long time.

Overall the panel agreed this was rather whisky like, with the big whisky fan of the group being particularly praiseworthy. One member really likes gin, is not much of a fan of Scotch, but very much liked the Myrtle Gin. Most agreed that it was complex and intriguing although one member dislike the smoky peatiness.

7) Alambics 13yr Old Caribbean Gin

Bottled at 65.6%ABV, this is created in Scotland for a German company using a “well-established” gin. It is distilled, matured and bottled in Scotland, but each run is of just 272 bottles. Uniquely, prior to bottling, it is aged for 11 years in old whisky barrels and then finished for two years in ex-Caribbean Rum casks.

Colour: medium amber
Nose: oak, vanilla, treacle with juniper at the very end
Taste: smooth to start with a slightly almost sticky texture, coriander, citrus with a slight burnt orange biscuityness. Growing strength with a pine/juniper dryness coming at the end and once you’ve swallowed. Long finish.

With a drop of water more of the woody rum elements come out. All the panel agreed that this was surprisingly little burn for a cask strength product.

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8) Ransom

Bottled at 44%ABV, this is made by Ransom Spirits of Oregon, USA. It is described as a historic recreation of the type of gin that was in fashion in mid-1800s America and the recipe was developed in collaboration with David Wondrich.

Colour: medium orange-brown
Nose: Pine, sap, a hint of cedarwood and cardamon.

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Taste: There was a little smooth silkiness at the start, followed by sappy, piney juniper, some vanilla and oak. There were herbal hints, too, and a little tingle towards the end. The wood comes through again, very much like freshly cut wood, rather natural and forest-like.

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Some Reflections

Broadly, the Yellow Gins we tried could be placed into three groups:

#1) Light Wood – In these, the effect of the wood is much lighter and, in some cases, tricky to pick out.

Examples include: Seagram’s Original, Citadelle Reserve and Hayman’s 1850.

#2) Medium Wood – There’s more of a balance between the flavours of the gin and the wood, with each playing almost equal parts in the character of the finished product.

Examples include: Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve, Few Aged Gin and (possibly) Ransom.

#3) Heavy Wood – This category is heavily impacted by the wood, to the point where some of the gin character is lost. In some cases, it may not be instantly recognisable as gin.

Examples include: Myrtle Gin 10yr Old and Alambic’s 13yr Old Caribbean Cask.

After our tasting, discussion turned to how we would make our “perfect” Yellow Gin. The general consensus was to go with a gin with a pretty classic botanical mix: anything with up to about 8 traditional botanicals, such as: juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, orange, lemon, liquorice, or almond. We thought that a heavy botanical mix, with a good juniper hit, would be needed to ensure the gin was not lost by the woody notes.

The Results

Unusually, the panel members struggled to pick an overall favourite of the bunch, so everyone picked, in no particular order, their top three. Each choice received a point and the final scores were:

#1 – Few Barrel-Aged Gin
#2 – Myrtle Gin
#3 – Alambics 13yr Old 

But that’s not it; there will be a follow up article feature a rather unusual smoked gin coming soon.

For a list of aged gin that we have not yet tried click here.

A special thanks goes out to: Adam S, Adam P, Paul, Roz, Chris, Few Spirits, Aaron, Matthew, James, Jared, Olivier, Sam, Clayton, Billy, Emma, Sara and of course Zack & his team at Graphic.

Pink Lemonade Tasting (Mixer Companion Chapter IV)

After the flamboyant floral fizz of last week, we thought we’d continue the flamboyant finesse and look at Pink Lemonade.

Lemonade, Just PINK?

Pink Lemonade is usually sparkling, but can be still, too (Minute Maid make such a variety in the USA) and products fall into two main characters:

i) Coloured
This is regular lemonade that has had dye added. The flavour is not changed, although sometimes extra sugar is also added.
ii) Flavoured
In this instance, the colour comes from something that also adds extra flavour to the lemonade, such as: grenadine, cherry, strawberry, cranberry, red grape or raspberry.

HISTORY

The exact origins of Pink Lemonade are disputed, but here are two popular versions of its history:

1) The Circus

In 1857, Peter Conklin (a clown) was in Texas with a travelling circus. He was making lemonade that sold very well; so well, in fact, that he couldn’t keep up with demand and eventually his water supply ran out.

With no well or springs to hand, Conklin continued to search for water until he came to the dressing tent where Fannie Jamieson, the bareback rider, was wringing out a pair of pink tights, the aniline dye colouring the water a very pretty shade. Desperate by this point, Conklin grabbed up the tub and ran. He added some acid and the lemons and called out:

“Come quickly. Buy some fine strawberry lemonade.”

His sales doubled that day and, since then, Pink Lemonade and the circus have been closely linked. However, that method particular of production was short-lived, with strawberries soon being added as well as lemons in order to add the distinctive colour.

W.H.A. Tobey, William Henry Griffith, red blankets and red spangly dresses all feature in similar stories.

2) The Candy

At the age of fifteen, Henry E. Allott ran away with a circus and obtained the lemonade concession. One day, whilst mixing a tub full of the orthodox yellow kind, he dropped some red cinnamon candies in by mistake. The resulting rose-tinted mixture sold so surprisingly well that he continued to dispense his chance discovery.

It certainly seems that Pink Lemonade and the circus have been linked for a very long time, whichever (if either) of these two versions is true.

Finally, I found an interesting reference to a Pink Lemonade stand in Minnesota being used as a front for the illicit sale of alcohol; if a punter gave the right password, they’d get the hooch.

TASTING

For our tasting, we have a variety of just-coloured and flavoured-and-coloured pink lemonades. It is noteworthy that 4 out of the 6 that we tasted were made in France (but purchased in the UK). Here are our thoughts.

#1) Lorina Pink Lemonade

A light salmon pink, we found this to be tangy, with notes of lemon and lime and a hint of creaminess. It had medium fizz and was altogether rather tasty and very refreshing. Slightly sweet, but not cloying or sickly. Great.

Lorina Pink Lemonade is available for £2.46 for 750ml from Waitrose

#2) Belvoir Raspberry Lemonade

This is made with pressed raspberry and lemons, mixed with sparkling spring water. It’s a bright brick red with some sediment. Its nose is distinctly of strong, ripe raspberries; Mrs. B also got a more savoury hint of tomato. There was minimal fizz; almost none. It was very tart from the combination of raspberry and lemon, with a fresh flavour that wasn’t very sweet at all. Very refreshing and thirst quenching. I really liked it, but Mrs. B found it a bit too sour.

Belvoir Raspberry Lemonade is available for £2.19 for 750ml from Waitrose

#3) Aldi Pink Lemonade

A light pearly pink and slightly translucent, almost as if it has louched, this was pleasant, with a crisp nose of fresh lemon. It was very fizzy, with strong, small, intense bubbles. To taste, there was some lemon and it was very sweet, but a bit cloying at the end. The main characteristic is the effervescence, which dominates the flavour. Nice, but could be better.

Aldi Pink Lemonade is available for £0.99 for 1 Litre from Aldi.

#4) Marks and Spencers Raspberry and Lemon Soda

This was a delicate, rose pink and tasted jammy, just like the jam in a jam doughnut. On the nose there was also a little citrus. It had medium fizz and was nicely balanced. Quite sweet, with a creamy raspberry flavour, similar to the combination of raspberry jelly and ice-cream. Drinking it reminded Mrs. B of eating a jam doughnut (the combination of the doughnut’s sugar coating and the jam). There was also a little lemon tartness on the end. Overall, it’s quite a confectionery beverage, but – overall – quite nice.

Marks and Spencers Raspberry and Lemon Soda  is available for £1.99 for 750ml from Marks and Spencer

#5) Effervé Pink Lemonade

Another pearly pink soda, but this one has a little silver shimmer to it, too. There was very minimal nose; maybe a tiny bit of lemon. Medium-to-high fizz. There’s minimal taste with some lemon, but there’s a very short finish and it’s rather cloying. There’s not much going on; this was rather one-dimensional.

Effervé Pink Lemonade is available for £2.49 for 750ml from TK Maxx.

#6) Marks and Spencer Cranberry Lemonade

A deep, rich scarlet in colour. This had a jammy, fruity nose, with hints of summer berries, cranberry and lemon. Great. It had medium-to-high fizz and was full of flavour; it was tart and slightly sour from the cranberry, with hints of mint and lemon. This was really nice and a great cooler. Mrs. B additionally got some sour notes that reminded her of fizzy strawberry laces.

Marks and Spencers Cranberry Lemonade  is available for £0.69 for 1 Litre from Marks and Spencer

RESULTS

#1 Marks and Spencer Cranberry Lemonade
#2 Lorina Pink Lemonade
#3 Marks and Spencers Raspberry and Lemon Soda

COCKTAILS

1) Double Pink

A Pink Gin with a zip of Pink Lemonade. The lemonade lightens the drink, making a bitter-sweet cooler. It was fresh and works even better with vodka.

2) Allotta Fizz

A nod to the Henry Allott origin story: 15ml of Cinnamon Liqueur added to 35ml of Vodka; top up with 100ml of Pink Raspberry Lemonade.

Cocktails with… Viking Gin (from Latvia)

Dzins (Gin) Vikings is made by Latvijas Balzams from Latvia and, as of 2006, they were the biggest alcohol producer in the Baltic States; they have a 50% market share in all of the alcoholic drinks in Latvia.
Latvijas Balzams has origins dating back to 1900 and make a wide range of spirits, liqueurs and other alcoholic beverages. In addition to Dzins Vikings, they make two other gins: LB Gin and the grain-based Gin Kristofors, which are both bottled at 40%ABV. Latvijas Balzams are also the bottlers for Stolichnaya’s international exports. The S.P.I. Company (who make Stolichnaya) own nearly 90% of the shares in Latvijas Balzams.I could only find minimal further information about the gin; the label speaks of a strong aroma and juniper berries, as well as it being balanced and highly mixable in cocktails. It is bottled at 47%ABV.

 

The Taste
1) On its own
The nose is quite strong on the alcohol and juniper, with some sweet vanilla.
To taste, it is initially smooth, followed by a little tingle/heat, with notes of juniper and fruit. After a couple of seconds, the flavour evolves to be like pine, earthy and bark-like. There’s a medium finish of earthy juniper, which isn’t particularly clean on the palate. It reminds me of Juniper & Cedar Vodka.

2) Gin & Tonic
This drink was quite fresh, but also earthy and dry, with quite a lot of pine and juniper. I found it to be rather reminiscent of a Gin & Tonic made with some Czech, Russian (Veresk) and Swiss (Studer) gins. Not classic, but still nice.

3) Martini
Warming and quite sweet, with big flavours that are not at all subtle. Some heat builds up after a while, but then the gin is bottled 47%, so this could be expected. Overall, this was a powerful and punchy Martini. Whilst I quite liked it, it certainly takes no prisoners.

4) Negroni
Quite soft initially, followed by a crescendo of herbal elements and an increasing bitterness. There’s a pleasant, bittersweet finish.

5) Gimlet
This cocktail was very fresh and very, very crisp. I thought it was rather delicious, with a distinctively bitter herbal twist at the end. Rather refreshing and good for having with dinner.

6) Gin Old-Fashioned
This was full of flavour, but it seemed a bit unbalanced and a bit rough. There’s a slight burn, so it is quite warming, but it doesn’t have the delicate clarity of flavour that I would expect from this gin drink. Not that great, really.
Having said that, Mrs. B quite liked it, describing it as “spicy gin”; she proceeded to finish the glass.

7) Fruit Cup
Refreshing, but rather herbaceous; the red vermouth and ginger go well with the herbs of the gin and there is also a nice bitter lift at the end. I thought that it was similar to a Campari Soda

8) Pink Gin
Again, the heat is still present in this cocktail, but the bitter herbal notes go well with the juniper-earthiness of the gin. I found it rather bracing and thought it could be smoother, but – still – it wasn’t bad.

 

In Conclusion

Dzins Vikings is, without a doubt, a strong alcohol product, full of flavour and, in particular, herbal notes. Whilst not the smoothest spirit in the world, it certainly has character. The Gimlet and Fruit Cup were my personal favourites from the cocktails that we tried, although the Martini was pretty interesting and rather robust.

Dzins Vikings is available from The Whisky Exchange  for around £15.49 for 50cl

Thomas Henry Mixers Review – Tonic Water, Bitter Lemon Etc…

Thomas Henry Tonic Water is just one of a range of mixers produced by this German firm that we shall be reviewing today.

I’ve long been interested in tonic water and, after a recent tot-up, I realised I have now tried over 50 different varieties; so you can imagine my intrigue when Simon Difford’s digital version of Class Magazine gave first place in their Tonic Water tasting to a product that I had never even heard of, let alone tried.

Needless to say, I quickly got on the phone to Germany to find out more about it. I spoke to Sebastian Brack, who told me that, in addition to the acclaimed tonic water, they also make Bitter Lemon, Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer and Soda Water; he was kind enough to send me samples of the first four of these.*

Thomas Henry was an apothecary from Manchester, England. He is attributed with the first production of carbonated water (the first fizzy drink/soda) in 1773; he made this  in 12-gallon barrels. The technology he used was based on the system by Joseph Priestly (who invented/discovered carbonated water in 1767). It wasn’t until 1794 that Jacob Schweppe started production of his sparkling water.

Tonic Water

1) Own
Clean, crisp, fresh and light. This is not too heavy in terms of citrus and has a balanced sweetness. It has a high-to-medium level of fizz and a good depth of flavour, with some earthy bitterness and a touch of sweet citrus at the end.
2) Gin & Tonic
i) As always in my tonic water tastings, I used Plymouth Gin for this Gin & Tonic. The drink was excellent: the full flavour of the gin comes through, with added bitter and fresh characteristics from the tonic. It was clean and crisp, with a brilliant balance; exactly how a Gin & Tonic should be.
ii) For a second G&T, I used Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin. Superb; I was surprised at how much of the flora and fruity elderflower notes from the gin were brought out by this tonic water. There was a touch of sugar at the end, but the cocktail is neither too sweet, nor cloying. This was a great way to enhance the gin and a very tasty Gin & Tonic.
3) Vodka
I used Beluga Vodka. With Thomas Henry Tonic, this made a pleasant drink, with the underlying vodka coming through. This drink seems quite clean and refreshing, and citrus notes are more prominent. Once again, the mixer complements the spirit, rather than overpowering it.

Bitter Lemon

1) Own
Good levels of citrus, sweetness and bitterness. Medium fizz with a full, but not overpowering, flavour. There’s also a good tang at the end, as well as a crisp bitterness, rather than a nasty cloying effect.
2) With Xoriguer Gin
This is a traditional way to drink this Xoriguer Mahon Gin, from Menorca; the floral and herbaceous flavours of the gin are very strong and cooling, and the bitter lemon provides a crisp, citrus finish. This gin can also be used to make a great Gin & Tonic.
3) With Sloe Gin
I used the Marks & Spencer Sloe Gin (made by Boudier, In France) Delicious; a gentle way to lengthen your sloe gin in the summer. The bitter and tangy citrus contrasts nicely with the sweet, fruity and marzipan characteristics of the sloe gin.

Ginger Ale

1) Own
Thomas Henry’s Ginger Ale has a typical ginger ale nose, with ginger, citrus, and a hint of sugar, all of which are quite light. It has a medium-to-high fizz and quite light flavours, including subtle ginger. There’s good effervescence, although it’s a touch cloying. Still, it is a fresh and unobtrusive mixture that should work well with most spirits.
2) Gin Buck
Quite nice, with a ginger-nut biscuit fieriness. Flavours of the gin come through strongly and the drink is not too sickly, although in vast quantities it may become so.
3) Horses Neck
An unobtrusive mix: the ginger ale gives the brandy room to breathe and the flavours come through. For my taste, it’s a tad sweet and could do with some more fire, but it’s still rather good.

Ginger Beer

1) Own
A very familiar nose of a good standard ginger beer. Reminds me of my standard when using the soft drink, D&G’s Old Jamaica. A cool start, with medium-to-high fizz, musky ginger and then sweeter, with medium fire from the ginger. A very good mixer and comparable to Old Jamaica, but not better.
2) Moscow Mule
Works well; the ginger beer is not too intrusive, but does add something to the mix. The drink isn’t sickly or overpowering and is a good standard for the Moscow Mule, but not spectacular.
3) Dark ‘N Stormy
Pretty tasty. The ginger beer let’s the dark burnt sugar of the rum through, whilst adding the fresh combination of lime and ginger, as well as a fiery kick. Very tasty and above average, but not exceptional.

In Conclusion

I think that it’s clear from my review that I am impressed with Thomas Henry mixers overall, the Ginger Beer and Ale being of a good standard and the Bitter Lemon being better than most of its competitors (it was the bitter-sweet balance that did it). But Thomas Henry’s Tonic Water was the real gem of the tasting; it is truly exceptional and possibly the best I have ever had (a blind run-off of my top 5 is in order, I think).
Overall, this is an excellent range. I hope that they find a UK distributor soon so that we can all get a chance to try and enjoy them.

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The Thomas Henry Products are not available in the UK but if you are and importer/distributor and think it may be of interest please Contact Them Here.

.* Sebastian seemed a little bemused at how much e-mail interest he had been getting from the UK in the previous day; once I had explained about the article (and e-mailed him a link) it became much clearer.

Fruit Cup Tasting – Beyond Pimm’s

Many readers will be familiar with the most popular brand of Fruit Cup, Pimm’s, but let me introduce you to its lesser-known competition. What is a Fruit Cup? It’s a spirit or fortified wine-based drink bottled at between 10% and 30%ABV it is infused with various herbs and spices and if often lengthened by adding lemonade, ginger ale or apple juice. A fruit garnish and plenty of ice is part of the typical serve.

With the sunny start of the Bank Holiday, we took the opportunity to take to the garden and taste a variety of fruit cups. We mixed 35ml of cup with 105ml of lemonade (our preference was R Whites), we added ice, and a garnish of lemon, orange, cucumber and mint. We assessed each drink in terms of the overall taste, how refreshing and how “moreish” (did you wish to drink more) it was.

Summer Fruit Cups: From Left to Right: Jeeves, Pimms, Plymouth, ASDA, Stones, Players, Austins, Pitchers.

Here are the results:

Player’s Original Punch21.5%ABV                                                   j  Produced by Lamb & Watt of Liverpool, Player’s may be a little trickier to come by, and appears to be mostly found in specialist off licences these days, but it is well worth the effort. Player’s sweet, fruity style is what one would typically expect from a good summer fruit cup. This summery drink is very refreshing and perfect to enjoy on a sunny day. If you are looking for a very traditional, yet refreshing, fruit cup flavour, this would be your best bet.

Player’s is now available from Asda at around £6 for 70cl

Austin’s – 21.9%ABV –                       Available from Aldi                               y Aldi’s offering has an attractive price tag. It has a similar flavour to Pimm’s and I know folks who use it as an affordable substitute. That said, it does not have a very strong flavour and when mixed with lemonade it struggles to add anything to the flavour of the mixer. With time, ice melt and the infusion of the garnish the flavour improves but it is not nearly as refreshing nor is it as moreish as some of the others we tried. A garnish is essential with this one.


Pimm’s No.1 Gin Cup – 25%ABV      Available in most supermarkets and off-licences   Owned by drink’s giant Diageo, Pimm’s is the oldest and the best known fruit cup. Although there are other varieties of Pimm’s (such as Vodka No.6), we tasted No.1 (gin based). The Pimm’s flavor was surprisingly not as strong as some of its contemporaries and was also quite sweet. The aftertaste of sherbet lemons was both unique and pleasant. A drink that was both refreshing and relatively moreish. This was Mrs B’s favourite before we started and, although we both enjoyed it, in comparison to the others it was rather middle-of-the-road.

Jeeves – 17.5%ABV Available from Tesco           This drink clings to the mouth, it has a strong but unpleasant flavour, similar to bitter herbs which was somewhat reminiscent of old vermouth. This was neither refreshing nor moreish. Less than half the price of Pimm’s, but not even half as good. However, the drink did improve as the ice started to melt.

Fruit Cup, Lemonade and Garnish – Lovely

Plymouth Fruit Cup – 30%ABV            Available from Plymouth Gin Distillery and selected off-licences.                                                                                           A complex flavour of herbs and spices, which reminds me of Italian vermouth with a good balance of sweetness and bitterness. This cup has the highest alcoholic strength, which gives it a little more of a punch but it’s certainly not too much. With the exception of the Stones cup, this was the most unique with a flavour which is full, but not overpowering. Plymouth Fruit cup produces a cool and refreshing drink and certainly leaves you wanting more.

It also worth noting that Plymouth also suggest trying mixing their cup with ginger ale; we tried this later and were inclined to agree that it improved the drink further. Definitely one of our favourites.
I’m not sure how much more of Plymouth Fruit Cup Plymouth will be making, so if you want some, buy it when you see it.

ASDA Summer Fruit Cup – 15%ABV Available from ASDA             This divided opinion (who would have thought a fruit cup could be controversial!), one of us enjoyed the low-key sweet fruitiness and more prevalent herbal notes, which are somewhat reminiscent of peppered celery; the other found the taste and smell overpowering, and the drink unrefreshing.

Stones Summer Cup – 13.5% ABV                                                                     This is produced by the makers of the famous Ginger Wine of the same name and is marketed as a light version of their ginger wine. This has a different flavour but it was a break-away that worked well, it stands away from the crowd and looks pretty good. The flavour has a little spice and a small hint of ginger: it is fresh and refreshing. The drink was complimented nicely by the garnish.

It is worth noting that Stone’s suggest mixing their drink one part of cup to four parts of lemonade. When we subsequently tried another drink, mixed to these proportions, the difference was a very pleasant surprise as the edge of the flavour was taken off and the drink became incredibly refreshing and easily the most drinkable. An excellent option, particularly if you are looking for an option which isn’t as strong as Pimm’s.
This Product is now, very sadly,  discontinued however I find a mix of 2 parts Stones Ginger Wine and One Part Red/Sweet Vermouth is a good substitute.
Pitchers – 25% ABV Available from Sainsbury’s                                            Very close in terms of flavour, strength and even packaging to Pimm’s and priced at over £10 a bottle, this is the most expensive of the more generic varities we tried. However it is one of the better ones; although it clings a little to the mouth initially, the drink was refreshing with a balance of sweetness and spice that was, fortunately, not too sweet. This, made up in a jug, and shared with friends would be lovely…
Sipsmith Summer Cup – % ABV – Available from Waitrose & Majestic                                            V
Oxford Originals – % ABV –                                             V

In Conclusion

My favourite was Stones Fruit Cup (although the home-made substitute is easy to make and also pretty good) so now the clear winner is Plymouth followed by Players. Pimm’s clearly beats most of the supermarket own-brand and whilst Pitcher’s puts up a good fight at a price similar, or sometime above Pimm’s is worth switching?If you want a cheap alternative that is still pretty good I would suggest Austin’s or, even better, a home-made mix of ginger wine and red vermouth – I have used even the cheapest of ingredients; Ginger Wine £4 a litre, Bellino “Vermouth” £2.50 for 70cl that works out at just £3.83 a litre.

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*more varieties of Pimm’s used to be available (No2-5; Scotch, Brandy Rum & Rye, respectively) and we keen to experiment with Tequila, Bourbon, Cachaca, White rum etc. too. Pimm’s No7…?

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Vodka Tonic Taste Test

Not Just Gin

A Vodka Tonic Taste Test

After thoroughly enjoying the Tonic Tasting that I had the opportunity of helping to organise at Graphic Bar, I started wondering about what to do next. I’ve had an excellent suggestion regarding Ginger Ales (something that I will definitely pursue), but whilst perusing the Fevertree website, I became aware of their new Mediterranean Tonic, which has been developed specifically for vodka. This got me thinking about mixing vodka with tonic, or similar alternatives, and thus we came to test six such products, all mixed with Brannvin 1467, a smooth Swedish vodka.

From Left to Right: Schweppes Tonic Water, Fevertree Lemon Tonic (Bitter Lemon), Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic, Schweppes Russchian, Fevertree Tonic Water, Schweppes Bitter Lemon

Fevertree Lemon Tonic
Originally, I thought that this was another new product, but, after speaking to a helpful lady from Fevertree, I discovered that this is essentially a re-branded version of their Bitter Lemon, specifically for supermarkets (the on-trade version will still be called Bitter Lemon).
When served ice cold, this was really nice and had a taste similar to Sicilian Lemonade; it was rather tart and fairly bitter (it contains Quinine). Unfortunately, when mixed with the vodka, it lost most of its flavour and didn’t make a very refreshing drink.

Schweppes Bitter Lemon
Being a rather lurid aquamarine, this was strikingly different in appearance to Fevertree Lemon Tonic. In addition, it had a nose somewhat like orange pith. To drink, it was quite sweet, but rather bitter at the end; it was less refreshing than Fevertree’s version and tasted more artificial. However, I did really like this when it was mixed with vodka. In conclusion, this wasn’t bad, but was a lot better when mixed.

Schweppes Russchian
This is known in Schweppes’ ancestral home as Russian Wild Berries and was invented in the mid-1980s, created specifically to partner with vodka. It seems to have a small, but cult-like following among drinkers. I first encountered it during my last years of secondary school and really liked it; however, I’ve not had it for a few years.
Russchian is a light pink colour, was very fizzy and had a berry flavour, which reminded me of blackcurrant Opal Fruits (Starburst). The tremendous fizz actually warms the throat somewhat, but was very refreshing when served chilled. When mixed with vodka, I thought that it gained some sickly characteristics normally associated with alcopops: it was too sweet and lacked balance.

Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic
A new member of the Fevertree family and designed, like the Russchian, specifically for Vodka. It contains quinine as well as flavours of the Mediterranean coast such as lemon oil, thyme, geranium, rosemary and thyme.
The flavour of this Mediterranean Tonic was a pleasant mix of tonic, lemonade and soda water. It was fresh, with little notes of herbs and spices and other savoury notes in the middle. When mixed with vodka, it added a freshness to the spirit that lengthens it; very good indeed.
I think this a smart edition to the Fevertree range and certainly addresses a gap in the market.

Schweppes Tonic Water
A familiar face to many, this came out very well at a recent blind tonic tasting at Graphic bar in Soho.
Sweet with a short flavour, this was quite drinkable on its own. It made a good, standard vodka tonic that was smooth, easy to drink and not too fancy.

Fevertree Tonic Water
On its own, this seemed cooler and was quite fizzy; it was bitter in the middle and rather clings to the tongue at the end. I thought that it needed a little more flavour.
With vodka it was bitter, with a little citrus. It was cooling and moderately refreshing. Initially, it was not a great vodka tonic, but with a little ice-melt, it really improved.

In conclusion
My favourite was certainly the Mediterranean Tonic with Mrs B. favouring Fevertree’s Lemon Tonic (Bitter Lemon) followed by the Schweppes Russchian. I enjoyed revisiting a drink and it’s associated mixers that I had tried in a long while and, for once, got me to think that there may be something beyond Gin.

Summer Fruit Cup Will Return In “Cocktails With… Hayman’s London Dry Gin”