A limited edition 19 year-old English Harbour rum and boutique gin distiller are two major discoveries when Geoffrey Dean visits the Caribbean island of Antigua. The rum is to mark the 90th anniversary of Antigua Distillery, whose Calbert Francis gives the back story to this very special spirit. By contrast Dean also visits the much smaller distiller on the island, Antilles Stillhouse, where David Murphy is producing two gins using local, unique botanicals, a ‘fevergrass’ spirit as well as an Antiguan pastis.
A basic rum punch recipe involves: one part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong and four parts weak, but how else can we pimp this Caribbean cocktail and make it stand out from the next bar? To find out, Marina Ray travelled to St Kitts & Nevis to take a two-day Kittian RumMaster course, then sampled a wide range of differing rum punches from bars by the road, on the beach, in the bush and in the swankiest of hotels. Rum punch is served everywhere here, 24/7, which does mean… rum punch for breakfast.
After almost three decades producing rum in Barbados, Foursqure is still considered a newcomer, but with Mount Gay no longer producing 1703 Master Select, this most enterprising distiller senses a gap in the market, says Geoffrey Dean. Reporting from the Caribbean, Dean tours the plant and tastes through Foursquare’s range whose premium rums have a distinctive second maturation in a variety of used casks.
Premium, pre-prohibition, artisanal whiskey and bourbon from Leiper’s Fork are the latest grain-to-glass spirits to hit these shores since the Tennessee distillers’ renaissance began. For Pol Roger Portfolio it is the first American whiskey producer to be taken on. Robert Mason met Leiper’s Fork distiller Lee Kennedy, tasted the Bottled In Bond spirits range and discovered the properties of sweet-mashing that make these exciting new spirits unique.
Spirits and fortified specialist Kate Hawkings found plenty to be impressed by at last week’s Specialist Brands portfolio tasting – liquids that were on-trend towards lighter long-drink styles and ones that play to the post-Covid stay-at-home-mixologist. She talks to all the key players, picks a Top 10 that definitely need your attention, plus highlights market innovations such as Boatyard’s 2.8 litre refill pouches of vodka and gin that help the on-trade save 25% over the same drink in bottle.
For number one whiskey and bourbon fanboy extraordinaire, Neil Hennessy-Vass, the chance to try new spirit, Drew Mayville’s Signature Blend, alongside the man himself was an opportunity too good to miss. Mayville is a Goliath of blending, sitting as he does at the helm of Sazerac the company that owns The Last Drop Distillers, that is managing this exclusive release and whose 28th rare liquid this is. With only 1500 bottles produced you’ll have to be quick to grab a bottle, and you’ll have to have a cool £3,100 in your wallet…
Sake is not just a drink, it’s a world all of its own. For wine and spirits lovers, especially in recent years as exports have increased, it is providing another frontier of production techniques, styles, history, and culture for us to all to “geek out on” whilst enjoying a truly iconic set of products. We sent sake newbie, Mike Turner, to a recent Gunma Sake event in London to find out for himself.
Are Edwards 1902 Rhubarb Vodka and its new potato vodka perfect examples of terroir-driven spirits? Drinks expert Mike Turner thinks so. Mike gets lost in the Rhubarb Triangle of Yorkshire and the potato fields of Lincolnshire as he road-tests these new spirits and puts a case for more British spirits’ Protected Denomination of Origins – in the same way that Sussex is doing with English sparkling wine.
Already making a name for itself on the Irish and UK bar scene, Joe McGirr’s Boatyard Distillery has got expansion plans, new product lines and a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2023 which includes its own chocolate bars made with spent botanicals. Douglas Blyde met up with McGirr and the Boatyard team to hear the plans at a boozy brunch held at Homeboy Bar’s newest venue at London’s Embassy Gardens.
Brandy finished in casks that have contained Sauternes and also dark Barbados rum, are the two latest additions to St-Rémy’s Cask Finish Collection which is an attempt to court the younger spirits drinker, but also to allow master blender Cécile Roudaut the opportunity to be creative and just a little daring, writes Victor Smart. So how do they taste and what do you pair them with?
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?