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.
The warning signs were everywhere at last night’s London launch of new Isle of Harris Gin. Not only were the G&Ts of industrial strength but drinks consultant Douglas Blyde was at the controls to show us how to make the perfect Martini. That was before the assembled throng were then encouraged to enter a Martini-making competition. Despite how messy it got there was one thing that shone through like a lighthouse beam and it was the spectacular umami of sugar kelp – the gin’s key botanical.
Gin has become such a phenomenon not just within the bars, restaurants and pubs that sell it, but with consumers who will happily try any new brand on the market. Such is the interest in gin it has now been given the big screen treatment with its own movie dedicated to the art of distilling and gin making.
Most people luxuriating in the balmy climes of South Africa might take to the beach or safari. At the very worst they might head to a winery to partake in some chilled Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay. Not our Roger Jones who heads for a mammoth tasting of spirits from many of the world’s top Brandy producers – trying to find out why South African Brandy has dominated international award ceremonies in recent years. And then he heads off for a tasting at a distillery. Oh, and there’s one bit where Roger has to turn off his phone and leave it outside the room. Don’t worry Rog your secret is safe with us!
Drinks guru and gin distiller, Nick Strangeway, has helped Britvic’s new incubator company WiseHead Productions develop its new range of premium tonics and mixers that he believes helps put the spotlight on the botanicals in a gin. The Buyer was on hand to see him and the new premium mixers brand, the London Essence Company, bring the tonics to life.
Phil Hunter attends the press launch and tasting of the new-look Metaxa 12 star brandy at which the company unveiled its new brand ambassador, South African adventurer Mike Horn and finds the spirit still uniquely standing out from the crowd.
Before it launches Ultis, its first ever blended malt whisky, Chivas Regal has opened a Pop Up near the City of London that extols the virtues of blending. Paying punters can take part in this immersive experience so we sent along Philip Hunter to see what all the fuss is about and get under the skin of Chivas Regal’s strategy.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE could have been a wine merchant if he hadn’t flunked his A levels. Instead he went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated explorers, racking up amazing feats of endurance and guile. Johnnie Walker sponsored this Explorer Series at Mr Fogg’s of Mayfair and supplied cocktails made of Blue Label just so the audience wouldn’t get squeamish at the amputation and frost-bite bits.
Beam Suntory launches Maker’s 46, its latest Maker’s Mark liquid, in London’s fashionable Mondrian hotel. The bourbon is extra oaked for an extra smoothness that the company calls a “crescendo of wood”. The Buyer was there to get the lowdown on the thinking that went behind the idea.
Having a break from daily wine and spirits tastings, The Buyer’s Drinks Editor heads to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. But, minutes after arriving in the city finds himself boarding a Hendrick’s-sponsored double decker and getting dropped off outside the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Leopard. Spots.