The First Lady of Vodka: Claire Smith of Belvedere

 

I’m not generally good at interviews, as most of my conversations seem to take place over a drink or three, and I generally forget to take notes or press the record button. That being said there are a few people in the drinks industry who truly inspire me, so I’ve decided from time-to-time I should share their stories on b&t. One character whom I find remarkable is a good friend of b&t, Claire Smith, of Belvedere Vodka.

If you’ve been lucky enough to spend any time around Claire, then you’ll now that she’s a pretty disarming character; she’s personable, friendly, quick to laugh and quick to drink… basically all the qualities you’d expect from someone whose role includes, (but is not limited to) being the Brand Ambassador for one of the world’s leading super-premium vodkas. What you might not have realised at first glance, is that there’s a lot more to what she does than meets the eye.

Bloody Mary? Bloody Maria? Bloody good idea!

 

I don’t know about you, but this year the span from Christmas to New Year had a lot of potential for hangovers. For once though I was prepared for the silly season as I had decided that my first update of 2013 would be on the subject of everyone’s favourite morning after cure. The Bloody Mary is one of those rare ubiquitous cocktails, found on menus the world over, and known to every bartender in one form or another. But why is it such a popular drink, and how has it come to be such a well-loved cocktail?

I personally see the Bloody Mary as the ‘last man standing’ in a very old tradition of morning drinks. I’ve written before about Corpse Revivers, and it’s well documented that many cocktails started as ‘bracers, eye openers, revivers or pick-me-ups’ and yet these days the Bloody Mary is really the last remaining drink that it’s socially acceptable to be seen drinking before noon. That alone is enough to give it a fond place in most people’s heart, that and the fact that it is seen as the drink that helps you on your way to recovering from your hangover.

A year of cocktails and spirits: b&t 2012

It’s been a hell of year in the world of bitters&twisted, and now seems like as good a time as any to have a look back at what’s happened in 2012, one drink (or article) at a time. It’s kind of strange reviewing the year, and seeing which moments were absolute highlights, what brands and drinks made a lasting impression, which characters we shared good times with. It actually creates a pretty interesting picture of what’s happened in the cocktail scene in the last 12 months.

From shaking drinks with Jim Meehan and Colin Appiah in New Orleans, to creating drinks to serve to some of the best bartenders in the world, I've been busy. There have been new friends to meet, new products to drink, new distilleries to visit and new cocktails to drink. Yes sir, 2012 has been a hell of a year!

I’ve been thinking recently that we live in an interesting moment in time, in terms of the history of drinking cocktails. There’s definitely a huge resurgence in the popularity of mixed drinks, with cocktails making it more and more into people’s everyday lives. So here’s a little snap shot of what happened, from my point of view. I hope it makes interesting reading for you too.

The spirit of giving: cocktail and spirit gifts for this Christmas

 

Well it’s that time of year again, when the bars start getting crowded and the smell of mulled wine fills the air, which of course means that Christmas is fast approaching. I’ve held off on posting a Christmas list blog post for as long as I can, as frankly I hate seeing this season exploited in November, but as we get closer to the big day I thought I should share a few of those ‘must have’ present ideas for the cocktail enthusiast, bartender or hardened drinker in your life. So below you’ll find some of the things I would be happy to find waiting for me under the tree, as well as a few of the things that I’ve been especially pleased with owning this year.

If, like me, you fell that one of the few saving graces of the festive period is the excuse to have a few ‘festive’ drinks to drown out the hectic month of December, I hope you’ll find this list helpful. Maybe it’ll give you a few things to put on your own Christmas list, or inspire you to buy something booze related for a loved one. If all else fails nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bottle of good Whiskey and some tumblers to drink it from, and the best part is getting to share the gift you’ve just given!

Unmasking a bootlegger: Stephen Myers of Ilegal Mezcal

 

Sometimes it seems like the drinks industry has become a little bit formulaic, especially when it comes to spirit brands. New Gins come to market shouting about their unique botanical, new Whiskies find a story to make up for their lack of heritage, Vodkas find a funky spelling for their newest flavour… it’s all a bit predictable all too often. Of course there are exceptions; not everyone follows the usual routine, but there are too few passionate individuals who find pioneering ways to launch something new to market. So when a couple of years ago I was told by a friend that I really needed to meet some guy named Stephen and try his new Mezcal, I’ll admit I was expecting a run of the mill story behind his brand.

Unfortunately for me I missed that chance two years ago in New York, but I was lucky enough to get a sip of his Ilegal Mezcal and thought ‘well at least it’s good liquid’. Fast forward to July this year and you’d find me stood outside a firing range in New Orleans drinking Mezcal from a bottle with the man behind the brand, Stephen Myers. The first thing to mention is that Stephen is one hell of a nice guy, the second is that his Mezcals are fantastic, and the third is that there’s a real story behind the liquid. You see Stephen is a modern day bootlegger, a passionate advocate of his category of spirits, and a dangerous man to drink with…

11 Bourbons you should be drinking

 

Firstly may I apologise for the length of time between updates, but as it has been ‘Bourbon Heritage Month’ I felt I should dedicate myself to promoting this fine spirit in various countries across Europe! Last month I shared with you a few things that everyone should know about Bourbon, so it seems only right to share some of the Bourbons I enjoy drinking. To be honest, for me narrowing it down to just 11 has been challenging as there are over 80 Bourbons in the b&t drinking room at the moment. Of those 80, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a bottle that hasn’t been opened, and most of them get enjoyed on a regular basis.

In tackling this task, I considered breaking them up into different styles to make sure that Bourbons with high rye, corn or wheat recipes were well represented, but somehow that didn’t balance out, as I tend to be a little biased towards rye heavy Bourbons. Then I tried breaking them down by distillery, but there are just too many distilleries! Doing it by price seemed like a reasonable course, but once again I didn’t find the balance I was looking for, so instead I have done something a little less formulaic. Below you will simply find a selection of Bourbons that I like, with a description, and a cocktail for each. There is everything from super premium to entry level Bourbon, some made with wheat some with rye. There are lots of Kentucky Bourbons, but also a few from newer distilleries in other parts of the US. The main thing that they all have in common is that they’re tasty examples of this fine and versatile spirit.

11 things you should know about Bourbon

 

Over in the US it’s ‘National Bourbon Heritage Month’ which is a celebration of Bourbon as America’s native spirit, so it seems only right that I dedicate a bit of time to my favourite spirit. Bourbon has an amazing history, and given its rising popularity a very bright future; yet as a category it is still often misunderstood. Back in March and April I wrote about rum, posting a blog titled ‘9 things you should know about rum’ and then following it up with ‘9 rums you should be drinking’ and as they both proved incredibly popular I thought I’d follow a similar format for Bourbon (although apparently I have 11 things to say on this subject!).

I hope that my thoughts below will inspire you to explore this amazing spirit category and truly get into the swing of Bourbon Appreciation Month. There are so many wonderful products available today, especially with smaller producers popping up at an astonishing rate, that hopefully with a bit of understanding and perhaps a few pointers towards some of my favourites, you’ll find something new to enjoy.

Honouring our UK Spirited Awards winners!

 

It has been a good year to be British so far: our Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne by throwing a party in London and giving us an extra day off, the 2012 Olympics rocked, giving us a chance to show the world how it should be done, and our bars and bartenders showed that London is still the cocktail capital of the world. The first two reasons may have grabbed more headlines, but honestly they pale in significance when compared to our achievements at Tales of the Cocktail this year. You see every single ‘International’ category at the Spirited awards was won by a UK bar or bartender (Angus, we’re still claiming you even if you spend more time away from the UK than in it, you have the accent, you’re ours!)… yep, every single one! Now I’m not one to gloat, but that’s pretty amazing really!

Having been at the awards I can tell you that I felt proud to know all the award winners and consider many of them to be friends, and the feeling of seeing one after another walk onstage to collect their trophies was amazing. So upon arriving back in the UK my first thought was that we should get all those trophies together and make a few drinks to toast this amazing feat. To be honest I’ll be surprised if we scoop so many awards again, with bars from the US, Australia and many countries in Europe nipping at the heels of London when it comes to cocktails.

What is it about Tales of the Cocktail?

If you’re in the drinks industry or a serious cocktail aficionado, you might just have noticed a lot of talk recently about New Orleans and Tales of the Cocktail. Now that the week-long gathering has passed and we’ve had a couple of weeks to recover, I thought I’d have a stab at trying to understand what makes this gathering the biggest, and arguably the best of the year when it comes to all things cocktail and spirit related. When over 20,000 people travel not only from across the US but from around the world, you know there must be something special about it: but what?

If you really think about it New Orleans is a strange place to hold a cocktail and spirit related event. It certainly has a history when it comes to cocktails, with drinks such as the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Sazerac hailing from this city as well as the famous Peychaud’s bitters, but history alone isn't enough to make it a cocktail epicentre of the world. There are many other cities that have a much more developed modern cocktail scene, with New York and London immediately springing to mind, and in fact there are only a small handful of bars in new Orleans where you’ll find it easy to get a great cocktail. So why do so many people make this pilgrimage every year?

stocking your home bar

 

There are some interesting drinking trends being attributed to the current economic climate, and two in particular jump out at me. The first is that people are drinking out less frequently these days, but looking for better quality experiences when they do. The other is a trend for trading up to higher quality products when buying spirits to take home. It looks like consumers are trying not to compromise their drinks quality when drinking at home so we’re seeing a rise in premium spirit sales. I guess when you’re going out less often, it makes sense to have a few nice bottles of spirits at home to enjoy on a night in.

These trends, coupled in the resurgence of a cocktail culture that is reaching into the mainstream at last, mean that having a well-stocked drinks cabinet is becoming standard. So if you’re a cocktail lover, who’s willing to turn your hand to home bartending, how do you go about stocking up the home bar with everything you might need for happy hour? It can be quite daunting to try to build a good selection of spirits, vermouths, liqueurs and bitters, not to mention rather expensive, but below are a few thoughts on how to build up your home bar without breaking the bank!