Clairin is the fifth-fastest trending rum brand in the world and yet it has only just recently been put into a bottle. Made for centuries in Haiti with traditions and techniques passed down from generation to generation it is a handcrafted, artisanal, small-batch spirit that embodies the local terroir and rural communities that produce it. Like Mescal was in the 1990s, Clairin is both very old and very new. As Spirit of Haiti releases its sixth in a series, Clairin Sonson, Peter Dean has an audience with Daniele Biondi, a spirits explorer, and the man responsible for bringing this ‘jewel’ away from its Caribbean home.
Portobello Road Gin has only been around for ten years but in that time it has established itself as both a bartender and consumer’s favourite. Part of the secret of their success has been that the distillery was set up by bartenders. One of those, co-founder Jake F Burger, took Fiona Holland through the thinking behind four of their classic expressions and why the company has one foot in the past in order to take two steps into the future.
The newly-released Hine Bonneuil 2010 Cognac is the fourth in a continuing series of single-estate, single harvest Cognacs. Limited to just 18 casks for each vintage released, it is Hine’s attempt to bring a winemaking philosophy to Cognac which expresses its terroir and the specificity of a given (great) vintage. Peter Dean caught up with the team responsible and tasted all four vintages.
Over the last couple of years some of the most exciting new spirits appearing in the best back bars in the world are from ever more surprising and diverse sources as the number of countries now producing quality whiskies, gins, vodkas, rums and more grows and grows. If you are looking for something a little different to give your drinks list a punch going into the new year then here is The Buyer’s selection of what we see as being amongst the most interesting spirits from some of the more non traditional spirit producing countries (with a few familiar countries thrown in).
Set up by former Chivas Brothers’ Laurent Lacassagne and Patrick Venning the Brixton Distillery Company is setting out to capture some of the boutique end of the premium spirits market. Its inaugural release is Market Row Rum which adds botanicals and spices to a Caribbean rum blend – all of which come from nearby Brixton Market. Victor Smart put on his most colourful shirt, adjusted his extensions and turned the Eddy Grant to 11.
Not one to shirk a challenge, Suntory decided to launch its new world travel retail brand Ao during a global pandemic, when international travel is at an all-time low. The spirit itself was also quite a feat, being a blend of whiskies from the five countries where Suntory owns distilleries – Scotland, Ireland, United States, Canada and Japan – with the concept behind it being a whisky that is all things to all whisky lovers the world over. How could it possibly succeed? Suntory’s Mike Miyamoto, whose brainchild Ao is, explained to Geoffrey Dean the thinking behind the brand which involved an ingenious tasting of different components to illustrate what each country’s whisky brings to the party.
Three new gins from Norwich-based boutique distiller Gyre & Gimble are genuinely rather strange. But then seeing as they were inspired by the imagination and works of Lewis Carroll, use the look and feel of a craft beer and were conceived and made during the first national Lockdown, that is hardly surprising – one uses sea water as a dilutant while another is infused twice with fresh cherries. But these gins are also rather good as Peter Dean discovered when he tasted a Coastal Gin, Cherry Gin and excellent London Dry with the distillery’s co-creator Craig Allison.
So what can the North Americans teach us Brits about gin? Well, quite a lot as it happens, as Victor Smart found out when he tasted a range of contemporary American gins under the careful tutelage of top barkeeper Christy Pope. Juniper takes a back seat and other botanicals come to the fore like kumquat, cinnamon, nutmeg, bergamot oil and cucumber. Maize is often used as the base spirit and get the alcohol levels… a cool 92% abv in the case of one barrel-aged spirit.
It’s been 10 months since 18 year-old Yasmin Dean has had an alcoholic drink, before then she was rarely seen without one. Too many parties later she decided to quit, has never looked back and was a natural to taste through the range of Lyre’s non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ when they got sent to The Buyer. But drunk neat and in mocktails do they match up to the real thing? How do they compare to Seedlip? And which would she pick and feel happy drinking when she was out partying?
The ghost of gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S Thompson is never far away from the life of a spirits journalist. And this was certainly the case when Neil Hennessy-Vass traveled to Barbados to visit Foursquare Distillery with a copy of of the good doctor’s The Rum Diary under his arm. Producers of the Doorly’s range of aged rums, Foursquare is often referred to as the best rum producer in the world – well that’s what our hack thought when he was handed a glass and told to drink whatever he wanted to… What could possibly go wrong?
With a history dating back to 1270, Frapin Cognac might not seem the most obvious candidate for a cutting edge re-invention of the cocktail but, thanks to a pioneering partnership with an importer of fine teas, that’s just what’s taking shape at the world-famous Brown’s Hotel in London’s Mayfair. ‘Aperi-TEAvo’ is a new initiative from Frapin’s importer Louis Latour Agencies with Lalani and Co, supported by an elegant tasting menu. Cognac fan and cocktail lover David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus, took a tea for the team.
With a cocktail of: one measure of sleek bar, a slice of good company and a chance to blend your own whisky the result was bound to be interesting, it turned out to be a Rat Pack riot of an evening with bar legend Jason Scott at the controls. Neil Hennessy-Vass was there for The Buyer to see if he could do what J&B Rare has managed to do for all these years, namely craft a perfect blend from 42 different malt and grain whiskies.
Four Roses is the only bourbon distiller to combine two mash bills with five historic yeast strains to produce ten distinct bourbon recipes. Bourbon expert Neil-Hennessy Vass travels to Kentucky, meets master distiller Brent Elliot and tastes the Four Roses 130th Anniversary limited edition small batch release in its 10, 13, 14 and 16-year old varieties.
St. Moritz is the birthplace of winter sports, of course, but also home to the world’s largest selection of whisky available in one bar. Called The Devil’s Place and, with 2,500+ bottles of whisky and bourbon on sale, whisky and bourbon expert Neil Hennessy-Vass ditches his skis and sets up residence, finding that they even have a whisky specially made for the Playboy Mansion. This is a lot more fun than winter sports, argues Neil, although after this Mecca, most other bars will surely be downhill all the way (boom tish!)
He calls himself a ‘bourbon aficionado’, we call him a ‘bourbon nut’, so when we were looking around for someone to go and try a range of barrel strength whiskeys and bourbons we just had to send photo-journalist Neil Hennessy-Vass. After all it was 9.45am on a Monday morning.
The Cognac industry suffers more than most from the tyranny of the world’s economic cycles, but it is currently in rude health, with annual growth at 10%, driven by the high-value premium market. For the 300 year-old Cognac house, Rémy Martin, projects such as Carte Blanche which has a price tag of £350, are an important part of its super-premium offering. It also gives its Cellar Master Baptiste Loiseau an amazingly free hand in choosing the style of Cognac he wants to be making.
“I have been given the keys to the car and it’s up to me now to drive it.” That’s how Michael Saunders reflects on the chance he has been given to take back his old job as chief executive of Bibendum-PLB as its new owners, the C&C Group, look to kick on from the disaster of Conviviality PLC, and find a safe pair of hands to not only bring much needed stability to the business, but push forward and drive margins and profits through the company.
When we asked bourbon nut Neil Hennessy-Vass to cover a tasting of the new Four Roses Small Batch, Cask Strength Bourbon with master distiller Brent Elliot, we didn’t expect him to swallow. Neil did. And he left tasting venue Hedonism with a hedonistic smile. A big one. Beauties like this only come along once in a year. Take it away Neil….
The evening of the Diageo Special Releases is always a key date in the calendar for whisky aficionados. Now into its 16th year this is when Diageo shows off the latest releases of fine and very rare whisky – with price tags to match. The Port Ellen, a deceased distillery, is now being offered for £2,625 a bottle. The company used the occasion to launch a new product, a blend, called Collectivum XXVIII which got the thumbs up from Philip Hunter.
Philip Hunter taste-tests the three single grain whiskies that form the new blend Chita, which has just had its UK debut. He drinks it a number of ways and ends up rather taking to it, even though his initial reaction was to have a problem with the musky phenolics.