Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Britannia



44 Kipling Street
London SE1 3RU

Whisky lovers willing to travel to south London simply must set a date to peruse The Britannia's ludicrously long list of Scotches at the very soonest opportunity. I have written elsewhere about the happy hours I spent exploring a good few of this pub's many malts during my first visit, last November, and on my return T and I somehow managed to restrain ourselves to a single dram each - he a 10-year-old Ardbeg (tasting note: seawater) and myself a 12-year-old Bunnahabhain (sweetish peat). Twelve down, 88 to go.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

White Hot




*Guest post by Tim*

Crown Posada
31 The Side
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear
NE1 3JE

You might not realise it from reading drinks blogs but it is possible to have a great drinking experience north of Islington. Forget ginger green tea foam, ultra-rare tequila distilled by Peruvian dwarves, or an acid jazz soundtrack. Much of the time (most of the time?) a pleasant drink in a nice setting with decent company is more than sufficient.

So to the Crown Posada, in the centre of Newcastle. This is a pub of the old school, long and thin with wood panelling and comfy green leather seating. It offers a handful of hand-pulled ales including, pleasingly, several from the local area. Pick of the selection was White Hot, brewed in County Durham, with fantastic refreshing grapefruit flavours. And what’s better, there’s change from a fiver after buying a round for two. In Islington, how much maraschino liqueur and orange blossom oil would you get for £5?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Negroni



My first ever Negroni, way back in 2009, came in a pint glass and filled most of it. That may sound reckless now, in 2010, but at the time W and I were simply following these simple proportions: one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, one part Campari. The ratio, at least, was right, so memorise it forthwith if you haven't already. And remember this too: if it's an aperitif you're after, or a little stimulation in the afternoon, the Italian Negroni is your friend.

Here I used Plymouth gin, Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth (the red stuff) and, er, Campari. While some recipes call for a burnt orange garnish (instructions here if you're hard enough), I took the liberty of adding a couple of dashes of orange bitters instead, along with a conventional orange twist. Since it was February, in England, I served it simply chilled - off the rocks, as it were.

Negroni

15ml (0.5oz) gin
15ml (0.5oz) sweet vermouth
15ml (0.5oz) Campari
Two dashes orange bitters
Orange peel to garnish

Add ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain into a small glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

The bitterness of the Campari ensures this little drink isn't for everyone, but then - what is? This was the first outing of my new bottle of Angostura orange bitters, and I loved what they did, providing a slightly sweet citrus twist and taking a little edge off the Campari, but not much. I believe W may have approved too, although come summer we may have to pull out the pint glasses again.

FACT! The Negroni was created in Florence in the 1920s when Count Camillo Negroni asked for a stronger version of the longer Americano (which was, and remains, sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water).

NEXT FACT! Tequila lovers should take a look at the Agavoni, which replaces the gin in the Negroni with silver tequila.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Harveys Sussex Best Bitter



On a visit to Bodiam Castle in freezing East Sussex, a shivering but determined guide reminded us that men and women of olde used to drink beer instead of water because it was safer, having been boiled as part of the brewing process.

The thought re-entered my head soon afterwards as I took a sip from a pint of Harveys Sussex Best - my first in a while. Smooth with a hoppy finish, this (4%) beer, brewed down the road in Lewes, is an old favourite of mine. Although a little potent to substitute for water, there's something essentially staple-like about this well-balanced, well-loved session ale, which surely would have found firm fans among the castle people of olde.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Star At Night



22 Great Chapel Street
London W1F 8FR

The Star At Night is a cute little bar hidden away on some quietish Soho side street. Its location, as with many of the best places, discourages passing trade, although given the time it often takes me to find the damn place one can only hope enough discerning drinkers have access to Google Maps. Moving inside, visitors are offered a 40s Gallic vibe and tables covered with classic red and white check. Then there's the extensive range of cocktails, which is of course my motivation here.

I ordered a Mint Julep (above left) for reasons of principle (I believe in bourbon) but also, and mainly, because I've never been sufficiently organised to make one at home. For this I blame the drink's demand for fresh mint, which I am yet to figure out how to grow successfully - or procure in a timely manner - and crushed ice. The bourbon and sugar syrup I can do, but without the other ingredients the trick would almost certainly fail to be done. Fortunately, The Star runs a well-organised, fully stocked bar, and the cool, minty bourbon drink it delivered made me pledge to look up a recipe at home when it gets a little warmer (August?).

My friend J kindly let me try her Cupid (above right), which was Plymouth Gin shaken with sugar, fresh lime and St Germain elderflower liquor. I'd never tasted St Germain before, and I can't reliably say what it did to the drink, but the overall effect was well received by us both.

No write-up of The Star could pass without a(nother) mention of the terrific rum blazer I enjoyed there a couple of winters ago - an aged rum, heated with brown sugar and orange peel, and set on fire momentarily to create an explosion of hot, spicy-citrus vapours, which warmed my bones. This bar is worth looking for.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Ysios Rioja Reserva



Lovely Rioja, one of our dwindling supply from our Spanish trip last autumn. Glorious aromas of oak, cedarwood, plum and chocolate. This 2004 vintage gives the impression of a rich, full-bodied wine without the density of one.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Hot Shake



ShakeAway
22 Lion Yard
Cambridge CB2 3NA

Everyone's had a milkshake, plenty have tried a hard shake. But a hot shake? This was a new one on me. I'm quite fond of ShakeAways, with their giant menus of ludicrous combinations (Farley's Rusk and caramel shortbread shake, anyone?). My favourite ingredient is Reese's Cups, which I put down to a formidable Marathon milkshake I had as a teenager, made from peanut butter and ice cream. Walking past a ShakeAway recently, on a day as cold as Greenland, I was confronted with the most provocative pink and yellow sign: "Winter warmers. Hot milkshakes." Which is how I ended up with a piping hot Reese's Cup shake. I think they must have used steamed milk in place of some, if not all, of the ice cream, because this drink was thin. Still tasty, mind: warming and peanutty and salt/sweet. If the weather stays like this for much longer I may have to go back for another one. But as soon as it's warm enough to remove my balaclava it's back to the ice cold thick shakes and no mistake.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Rake




14 Winchester Walk
London Bridge
London SE1 9AG

Can it really be that London's smallest pub is also one of its best? What makes The Rake outstanding is the nonsense-free way in which it functions as a simple room for beer lovers. The wall of fridges behind the bar contains dozens of different bottles and the bar staff are happy to let you browse before buying, offering the odd taste from the taps and giving their advice. Thanks to T for introducing me to this haven of hops.

Now, down to business. First up I tried Brewdog's Punk IPA (above right), described confusingly as a "post modern classic pale ale" but also, less confusingly, as "aggressive". The 6% hoppy kick is disguised by a benevolently light-coloured body and a pleasantly frothy head. But this dog bites.

Next up, a pint of Harvestoun Schiehallion (left), from the cask (4.8%). You might get away with calling this a lager, since it's brewed with lager malt and fermented with a lager yeast, but it tastes nothing like any lager I know. Imagine a flat, golden lager with tons of flavour but little aftertaste, and you'll be getting close. I imagine I could happily drink nine pints of the stuff. Lovely.

Canary (right) - from the tap. "Quaffable to the point of boring," read our notes. But still quaffable.

Easy Street Wheat Beer (pictured top), from Odell Brewing Company in Colorado - the same state as my beloved Blue Moon. The cereal aromas emanating from this bottle are extraordinary, like a giant bag of Maltesers. The taste is a little more subtle, but the bready maltiness is still noticeable, and pleasant. The lack of filtering gives the beer a cloudy appearance and leaves a little sediment in the bottle. Top beer.

Finally, Victory Hop Devil Ale (left), which for me was rich and full of flavour but also syrupy and unbalanced, with too much maltiness for its own good. I would have enjoyed this 6.7% beer more had it been served in a smaller bottle. A miniature, perhaps.

A quick public service announcement - mind the price tags on some of these. A number of bottles, usually imports, cost over a fiver and they were trying to flog some kind of Norwegian stout for £9 a pint! Check before you buy. In better news, plenty are more reasonably priced, and the beers on tap change regularly, I'm told, so there's every reason to return.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Late Red



Late Red autumn hop ale (4.5% vol) is another brew from Shepherd Neame, they of the Bishops Finger. A little on the heavy side for my taste, but it's certainly autumnal. If only it were autumn.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Gin & Tonic



I can't decide how to feel about gin and tonic. Some days the drink excites and refreshes me, others it leaves me unmoved. To recap, the G&T was created in British colonial India during the 18th century, when it was decided the quinine-laden "tonic" the oppressors were drinking to keep malaria at bay might be a tad more tolerable with the addition of gin. A dismal history indeed.

Due consideration must also be given to the following advice from Kingsley Amis, who argues that the only decent way to drink gin is with plain water:
"To pour sweetened fizz like tonic water into such a masterpiece of the distiller's art makes about as much sense as, well, putting tomato ketchup on caviar, I was going to say, except that that strikes me as rather a sound scheme providing you're sure you've got enough ketchup to spare. Anyway, you get the idea - leave your gin alone."
Nevertheless, having recently discovered Hendrick's Gin it seemed plainly anti-social not to try mixing it with some tonic water. For such an important occasion I followed the advice of other, more seasoned cocktailians and snubbed Sainsbury's own brand of tonic in favour of Fever Tree, which uses "the highest quality quinine from the original chinchona trees". Since I understand that modern scientific method requires a control group of some sort I made a second G&T using Plymouth Gin.

The appropriate proportions of gin and tonic are debatable. Some prefer equal parts gin and tonic, others like to drown a splash of gin in half a pint of tonic water (these people, I suggest, don't really like gin at all). I went for a compromise ratio of one part gin to 1.5 parts tonic.

60ml (2oz) gin
90ml (3oz) tonic water
Lime wedge to garnish

Pour gin over plenty of ice. Stir plenty. Add tonic water and stir again. Garnish with lime wedge.

First off, the Fever Tree was an interesting addition, less carbonated than the cheaper stuff I normally use, and slightly sweeter. The flavours were gentler, and the aftertaste much less medicinal than usual. Well done.

As for the G&Ts, results were as follows:

Hendrick's Gin and tonic: Mild, smooth, more subtle flavours, gentle, dry finish

Plymouth Gin and tonic: Sweet, stronger juniper, like pine trees.

And there you have it: cucumber versus pine trees. I ended up squeezing most of my lime wedges into the drinks, which was reckless since the citrus probably masked some of the more subtle flavours at work. But these G&Ts were the most enjoyable I've had for some time. I fully expect to re-partake soon.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Chinese New Year Cocktails



Having volunteered to make drinks to accompany our Chinese New Year celebrations I shamelessly fell back on the usual Asian clichés ingredients: lychee, ginger, green tea. And why not?

My task was made a great deal easier by the discovery of the fabulous 
Green Tea Gimlet on the Drink of the Week blog, a startlingly refreshing citrus cocktail that I hurriedly adapted and adopted. What follows is essentially the same drink except I infused my vodka with ginger to give it a further kick.

Ginger Green Tea Gimlet
(pictured above)


45ml (1.5oz) ginger-infused vodka*
30ml (1oz) green tea syrup**
23ml (0.75oz) fresh lemon juice

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds (you want as many tiny grains of ice in the drink as possible). Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with lemon wheel.

*To make ginger-infused vodka finely grate a teaspoon of fresh ginger into about 250ml of vodka. Shake bottle well and leave for 24 hours. Strain to remove bits before serving.

**To make the green tea syrup:

250ml (1 cup) water
250ml (1 cup) sugar
1 green tea bag

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour into container and steep tea bag in the liquid for 6-7 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Next up, I wanted to try a Chinese variation on the Kir Royale, and decided to replace the crème de cassis with lychee. Having exhausted myself making the previous drink I refused to worry about fresh lychees and used a tin for both the fruit and the syrup. The result, I'm told, was "amazing - lychee juice with bubbles".

Lychee Fizz (pictured below right)

45ml (1.5oz) lychee syrup
Sparkling wine
Lychee to garnish

Drop a lychee into a champagne flute before adding the lychee syrup and topping with chilled sparkling wine.

If I made it again I'd shove the tinned lychees and the syrup into a blender first and chill the resulting matter before serving to make the drink even more lychee-ee.

I may have tried to create a couple of other cocktails too - a lychee ginger martini, for one, along with a tiny shot of warm rum layered with a peculiar ginger foam, which I named the Tiger Tot. Let's just say they didn't quite make the cut. Until next year, then.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Sake



Feng Sushi
Festival Hall
Unit 9 Festival Terrace
London SE1 8XX

It is said that Japanese kamikaze pilots downed sake before embarking on suicide missions during the second world war. Now, leaving aside the toll such a potent brew might have taken on their ability to aim straight, it strikes me that if anything ought to convince a man of the folly of self-immolation it is this life-affirming rice drink.

I had assumed sake was rice wine, but god (Wikipedia) informs me it's made through a brewing process more akin to beer. Before the fermentation can begin the rice must be polished to remove protein and oils - the more polishing involved, the better quality the sake.

I couldn't say how much polishing went into my little ceramic flask of Ozeki Ginkan, at Feng Sushi, but I liked it a lot. For me, sake is like a smooth, milky wine, without any of the the acidity of fermented grapes. Not particularly sweet, sour, salty or bitter, I'm tempted to suggest the savoury presence of umame, the so-called fifth taste that characterises a good deal of Asian food.

We ordered our Ozeki Ginkan (14% abv) warm, partly because it was cold outside, but also because of the deliciously boozy rice-flavoured vapours that occur when sake is heated. I understand that premium sakes are generally served cold, since warming them is said to dull the flavours. If that is so I would strongly recommend sticking with the sub-premium ones. In any case, our Ozeki wasn't cheap, at £7 for 250ml. At least the tiny drinking vessels, known as choko, help such a serving last a good while.

For those with a more substantial sake thirst I prescribe a bottle of Sawanotsuru, from Waitrose, which at £7.25 for 72cl will tend to make one feel the opposite of suicidal.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Ramos Gin Fizz (Revisited)



As before, except this time rather than shaking with ice I added all the ingredients to a cream whipper and charged them with nitrous oxide to make the drink lighter - much, much lighter. I dare say this cocktail came within respectable proximity of the 69 Colebrooke Row version that inspired me all those weeks ago.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Palacio Del Marques



Apparently rioja is not the only wine-producing region of Spain. La Mancha, slap bang in the middle of the country, is the largest wine producing area in the world. And because it's not rioja, it's cheaper. I have Marks and Spencer to thank for this bottle of Palacio Del Marques 2008, a blend of tempranillo and syrah grapes that I picked up for less than a fiver. The first thing I noticed was just how boozy this wine is, at 14% (just look at the legs on that, etc). It practically smells of alcohol, in a nice way, and while it isn't very sweet - in fact it's fairly dry - it's extremely drinkable. Never mind the truncated finish, just take another sip! I doubt it will win many prizes, and it does suffer from a rather unrefined quality, at least by the standards of a more rarefied rioja, but I bet a few bottles would make for a terrific 'dinner party'. Chin chin!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Redemption Brewing Company



The Gunmakers
13 Eyre Street Hill
Clerkenwell
London EC1R 5ET

I ended my first evening at The Gunmakers, which was playing host to an ale sampling event, with at least twice as much beer knowledge as I had on arrival. Which probably reveals more about my ignorance of brewing than it does anything else.

The best thing about being schooled in beer is the beer - we were given free reign over the first pair of ales from a spanking new outfit in north London called the Redemption Brewing Company. They were introduced to us by the brewer himself, Andy, with support from Jeff, The Gunmakers' spirited landlord.

I refuse to be embarrassed to admit that I'm often a little bewildered by some of the language used to describe real ale (which, for total beginners, refers to unfiltered and unpasteurised beer that is matured by secondary fermentation in the cask or bottle and served without extraneous carbon dioxide). Those free of bewilderment can skip the next bit.

Beer school basics: what I know now

1. Malted barley (malt) is used in beer for its sugars, which are converted into alcohol. Thus, when someone describes a beer as "malty" they may be describing a certain sweetness, fullness, earthiness, or the flavour of toasted grains. This stuff tastes like cereal.

2. Hops are flowering plants used to contribute either bitterness or other aromas and flavours, depending on when they are added to the brew. "Hoppy" might therefore be used to describe a bitter tasting ale, or one with plenty of bite.

3. How to make beer: Add water to malt and extract most of the sugars from it, boil the brew then add hops at the beginning of the process for bitterness to balance the malt, and at the end for flavours and aromas. Add yeast to convert the malt sugars into alcohol. A secondary stage of fermentation occurs in the cask, which is why it's important landlords know how to handle real ale - most poor tasting beer is apparently the fault of the pub, not the beer.

Andy, who described the brewing process as "a little bit of science and a little bit of art", had been brewing his Redemption beers (in Tottenham) for barely a month before he came to share them with us at The Gunmakers, where both beers have been put on tap. He chose the name Redemption, if I remember correctly after a fair few pints of the stuff, to signify his intention to make amends following several years as a banker. On the basis of these beers alone he is already saved.

Redemption Pale Ale (3.8%): This was the session beer, made for chugging. Light, slightly citrusy and incredibly sociable. A fellow drinker suggested it was too light, with a quickly disappearing finish. I say it was refreshing and moreish.

Urban Dusk (4.6%): A beer that evokes twilight in the city - that ephemeral period between light and dark; pregnant with potential. The lightness here comes from Bramley Cross hops, which add a spicy, fruity feel; the darkness from pale chocolate malt, which produces a mild coffee flavour. I began the evening treating Urban Dusk as a slow-sipping, full-flavoured beverage but by the end was downing it with glee with everyone else. Remarkably quaffable, given its intensity.

Pleasingly, Andy spoke of his desire to continue making "reasonably balanced" beers rather than "extreme" beers, which often taste like they are brewed to challenge rather than delight the drinker. It is said that London used to be a hub for smaller-scale craft ale brewers, before entering a long period of decline. Redemption is a welcome sign of progress and it seems to me that everyone in London should get down to The Gunmakers sharpish and treat themselves to a couple of good drinks.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Ciocchino Hot Chocolate



Chocolat Chocolat
21 St. Andrews Street
Cambridge CB2 3AX

This tiny paper cup of hot chocolate was intense. I identified it later as Ciocchino "Italian-style" drinking chocolate. Forget cocoa powder and water, this drink was made from real dark chocolate blended with a "light dairy whipping cream alternative" (whatever that is), and was quite something. Indeed, it appealed to me far more than the rest of the shop's chocolates, with their fussy sprinklings and syrupy centres. This liquid chocolate's viscous, creamy texture and warming bitter-sweetness delivered exactly what Ciocchino likes to promise: "pure chocolate pleasure in an espresso-style shot". It also inspired me to consider what else I might mix with melted chocolate. Certainly to be continued...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hendrick's Gin



First Japanese whisky, and now Scottish gin? These are interesting times indeed. Hendrick's is especially interesting, since along with the usual juniper and sundry botanicals, this small batch spirit is infused with Bulgarian rose petals and cucumber. The taste is deliciously clean, and sweet, and when the spicy aftertaste kicks in so does the green fruit, gently. Hendrick's is, as the distiller insists, "a most iconoclastic gin", and one I feel privileged to have stumbled upon. I have seen the future and it tastes ever so slightly of cucumber.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Marqués del Romeral Reserva Rioja



I have an unfortunate tendency to trust experts, so when a critic described Marqués del Romeral's 2005 Reserva as one of his favourite M&S wines - "a smooth, mellow, vanilla rich tempranillo blend in traditional oak aged style" - only for M&S to copy and paste said description on to a little card and attach it to the shelf bearing said bottle - I felt compelled to try it. I'm glad I did. This rioja's heavenly aroma was precisely vanilla rich, while the taste was black cherries and oak. Made from tempranillo, graciano and mazuelo grapes, it was on the dryer side, but still finished smoothly. Thank goodness for experts.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Bitter 'n' Twisted



It's been said (at least, I've said) that whisky drinks ought usually to be left for the end of evening, when the carousing and revelry have evolved into a more thoughtful and reflective state. So when my Scotch-loving friend T suggested I set about making some whisky cocktails within the first hour of arriving for Supper I confess I paused for a good couple of seconds before lunging for his cocktail shaker.

The Bitter 'n' Twisted was inspired (stolen) from the Scotch Whisky Assocation's library of recipes, although here I upped the whisky content by 5ml for reasons of efficiency.

In the past I've used the good stuff for whisky cocktails, but I'm beginning to understand there are times when a robust blend of malts and grains will do the job just fine. Here I used Bell's.

30ml (1oz) Scotch whisky
Few drops of lemon juice
Two dashes Angostura bitters
60ml (2oz) ginger ale
Lemon slice

Pour the whisky, lemon juice, Angostura bitters and ginger ale into a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir well. Strain into a glass and garnish with a lemon slice.

This drink was well received, and not just by me. You could serve it on the rocks if you liked, but I reckon it worked well simply chilled: a perfect aperitif for a Night of Whisky.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Sampler



266 Upper Street
London
N1 2UQ

How to describe The Sampler? It's not your average vino merchant, that's for sure. This wine shop is also a never-ending tasting event, equipped with an array of hi-tech dispensing units that let you try before you buy. Ask one of the friendly members of staff for an electronic card (pictured right), charge it with however much cash you dare, and you're ready to begin drinking.

The wines are helpfully sorted into different categories, such as chardonnays, rieslings, merlots, red and white varietals, Italian, Spanish - that sort of thing. To help you choose, a little handwritten card with tasting notes is displayed alongside each bottle. The system is geared towards sampling rather than chugging - once you've decided on a wine you hold your glass up to the dispenser and push the button corresponding to the size of serving you're after (choice of three - 25ml, 50ml, 75ml, so even the largest isn't a proper glassful). Prices vary considerably, from about 40p a taste to more than a tenner (for little more than a gulp or three!) from a bottle in the "wine icons" section. But then, some of these wines are almost half a century old.

On our first visit to The Sampler we tried the following noteworthy wines:

Fritz Haag Riesling Spatlese 2004 - "Sweet, honey, faint carbonation, fruity, desserty - good picnic wine."
Reichstgraf von Kesselstat Estate Riesling 2007 - "Sweet, light, citrus."
Mandrarossa Fiano 2008 - "Sunshine, flowers and apples - smells like summer."
Bodegas Navajas Crianza 2007 - "Vanilla, oak, dryish, lightish."
Tour des Gendres Bergerac 2007 - "Smells better than it tastes, quite dry. Would like to try a bottle anyway."

And finally, my surprise favourite (a surprise for me because it was a white):

Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay - "Californian. Brioche, buttery, caramel."

Bear in mind that while some of the wines we tried sell for less than a tenner, many fetch more than £20 a bottle - and yet The Sampler enabled us to have a taste for just a few tens of pences. As if that wasn't enough, the 80 wines available for sampling at any one time (from more than 1,000 in stock) are rotated regularly, with different bottles put up every day and all of them changed every two to three weeks. You can even check which ones are hooked up to the sampling machines before you visit. A few chairs and a table are provided for those wanting to take a little longer over their glasses, along with free crackers to cleanse the palate between wines, all of which help make the place feel less like a shop and more like a venue. Did I mention the friendly, knowledgable staff, who are more than willing to give advice without the slightest hint of condecension? If I had one concern, it's that too much of the wine rigged up for sampling - and too much for sale in the shop - is too damned expensive.

Nevertheless, the concept behind The Sampler, a wine lover's cave of delights, is so obviously brilliant that I don't understand why these places haven't taken over already. Hopefully they will soon.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Yamazaki Whisky



Until relatively recently even the concept of Japanese whisky would have sounded bizarre to me, which is confirmation either of the Scotch industry's absolute stranglehold over British drinking culture, or of my embarrassingly parochial view of the world. The point is, the first Japanese whisky, Suntory Yamazaki, was created as long ago as 1924, and Japan is now home to at least 10 distilleries. Yamazaki's deliciously smooth 10-year-old single malt, tasted during an evidently treasonous Burns supper (thanks, J), reminded me of vanilla, orange, honey and caramel. I have it on good authority (a stranger once told me in an airport duty-free) that its 18-year-old is truly excellent. As if I didn't have enough on my plate with Scotland's 125 distilleries...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Bishops Finger



The offer of a "free" beer as part of a set meal at a provincial restaurant yielded me a Bishops Finger from the Kentish Shepherd Neame brewery. I was surpised to receive it chilled, since I'm used to drinking ales at or slightly below room temperature, a practice which generally I find enhances the taste. But after a few sips I realised the refrigerator can be a friend to stronger ales (this one weighed in at 5.4% abv). The chilling effect made it refreshingly easy to drink while the malty flavours were muscular enough to assert themselves through the cold. Pretty smooth, and not particularly bitter, I'd have Bishops again - and next time might even pay for it.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Caz's Dream



Caz's Dream, named after the friend for whose birthday it was created, is my first proper attempt at molecular mixology, the process of messing about with ingredients at a molecular level. It should not be confused with Cassandra's Dream, one of Woody Allen's worst films.

For my base I chose vodka (some simple Smirnoff), and since I wanted to make something fruity I opted to mix it with Innocent smoothie, which experience has taught me is a joy to corrupt with booze. This time I used one of their Superfruit drinks, with pomegranates, blueberries and acai.

The molecular part came in the form of a maple vanilla foam - largely borrowed from a recipe by Jamie Boudreau, who invented it for his Vessel 75. To make a foam you'll need a cream whipper (pictured right), which uses nitrous oxide cartridges to emulsify liquids into light layers of goodness in about three seconds.

Since I was making this as a party drink I produced it in batches - just multiply the ingredients for the single cocktail, below, keeping the proportions the same.

30ml (1oz) vodka
100ml (3.3oz) Innocent Pomegranates, Blueberries and Acai Superfruit Smoothie
40ml (1.3oz) chilled soda water
Maple vanilla foam*
Blueberries to garnish

Pour vodka and smoothie into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Pour into glass/plastic cup and top with soda water. Stir. Add a layer of foam on top of the drink, garnish with fresh blueberries and serve immediately.

*To make maple vanilla foam (for about a dozen servings):

4 egg whites
180ml (6oz) water
120ml (4oz) maple syrup
60ml (2oz) lemon juice
Few drops of vanilla extract


Place ingredients in a cream whipper and shake once or twice to mix. Charge with an N2o cartridge. Shake about 10 times. Place in fridge for a couple of hours.

If this looks awfully complicated for what is basically a fruity cocktail, you'd be right. Was it worth the hassle? For sure. As you can see from the photo (top), it turned out a little short for the glass, and I might have lengthened it with a touch more vodka and a little more smoothie and soda for presentational purposes. That said, the foam, sweet and creamy without any of the heaviness of actual cream, turned out to be a delightful foil to the fizzy, fruity vodka. I'm looking forward to disturbing many more molecules in the months to come.

WATCH: Jamie Boudreau demonstrating how to make his Vessel 75 maple foam cocktail.