It’s been a while since I wrote a ‘what we’re drinking’ article, but lately I’ve been over run with interesting bottles and new products launching in the UK. So with that in mind I’ll share with you a few of the more interesting ones that have arrived at b&t HQ. I don’t use a star rating system on these reviews for the simple reason that what appeals to one person, doesn’t necessarily appeal to another, instead I just offer up some interesting spirits that are well worth a try.
It’s fair to say that a few of the products bellow might even prove to be quite divisive in terms of their popularity. I haven’t gone for obvious choices, instead I’ve chosen the products that have made me stop and consider them. It’s often the case that I get a new Gin and simply think ‘yeah, that’s pretty good, I bet it makes a good bramble or aviation’, but it’s rare that I get one that I feel is different and interesting enough that it makes me really want to play around with it.
So below you’ll find what I hope are a handful of interesting products, a few of my thoughts on them and of course a few cocktail ideas that should showcase them well. Oh and before I get the usual comment from someone who doesn’t know how b&t works, no this is not a paid for article, I simply select the products I find interesting and offer them up for you to think about. I hope you’ll give them a try!
I was chatting to some friends in the drinks industry the other day about the challenges facing new-to-market brands in the UK. As tends to happen over a few beers, we started setting the world to rights, as well as drowning our sorrows about the challenges smaller brands often face. With a handful of large companies holding a portfolio of leading products, it can be hard for smaller brands to find their place in the market, and even good products don’t always last long. The conversation stuck with me (despite the beer drinking) and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this subject. It’s an important topic, as actually it comes down to how bartenders and brand owners have to work together in order for good brands to survive in one of the most competitive drinks markets in the world. I’m sure many of the things mentioned below will ring true to those of you working in other countries too.
I should start this by pointing out that this is not me taking a swing at the larger drinks brands, or disrespecting what they add to our industry. In fact one of the things that we all agreed on was that we wouldn’t have such a vibrant industry, or nearly as many great events, without the financial clout of the larger spirit brands. Without their sponsorship and marketing spend, many great bar shows and cocktail gatherings wouldn’t be possible at all. In fact global brands such as Bacardi, Absolut, Gordon’s or Jose Cuervo, form the backbone of our industry and have paved the way for smaller brands to reach a larger audience.
I read an interesting article the other day on the Los Angeles Times website, about how clear spirits are the trend in Southern California at the moment. The article talks about ‘light drinks for sunny days, meant to refresh’ and goes on to say that ‘clear spirits often get the job done better than the dark stuff’. While I totally agree with much of what the article says, especially about treating these clear spirits with a delicate touch to stop them from being overpowered by other ingredients, it also got me thinking about how we often unfairly compartmentalise spirits to be for a certain occasion or time of year. So below are a few thoughts I have about not forgetting ‘the dark stuff’ when it comes to summer drinking.
I should start by saying that I love white Rum, Gin, blanco Tequila, and am even slowly growing fonder of Vodka. But having said that I’m often drawn to the complexities of dark spirits as a base for cocktails as well as for sipping neat. When the sun is shining I’ll admit that a Daiquiri, Margarita or Caipirinha are great thirst quenchers, or that a refreshing Collins can be hard to beat. But likewise there are some pretty amazing dark spirit drinks that fulfil the same role for me. A Mai Tai, Mint Julep or even a Whiskey Sour are pretty remarkable summertime cocktails.
There’s a lot of colourful, descriptive and evocative language used when describing spirits, and while the imagery called to mind can make a spirit sound inviting, the descriptions themselves can sometimes be a bit over-the-top. Generally the language used to describe a spirits aroma, flavour and mouth-feel isn’t quite as elaborate as with wine tasting (can you really smell the fresh dew on a dandelion petal in the morning sunlight?) but to someone who’s new to smelling and tasting spirits, it can still be intimidating.
To a lot of people bourbon smells like whiskey, gin smells a bit piney and vodka smells like alcohol, so when they read that they should be smelling dried apricot, pencil shavings and vanilla fudge, they wonder if they're doing something wrong. So I thought I’d take a look at the language we use to describe the effect alcohol has on our senses and the way we approach identifying the characteristics of different spirits. Take this as a beginners guide to the language of tasting spirits, if you will.
Our previous update “9 things you should know about rum” proved to be surprisingly popular, in fact at one point the b&t website crashed because it couldn’t handle all the visits, ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. So since the sun has continued to shine (up until today!) and I have rum on my mind, I thought I’d use this excuse to follow up with a look at some of the rums I’m particularly enjoying at the moment and maybe even throw in a few rum cocktails while I’m at it. Well it gives me an excuse to spend the some time sipping cocktails as ‘research and development’ for this blog.
This post could easily be titled ’39 rums you should be drinking’ but that might be a little impractical honestly, after all, developing nine new cocktails kept me pretty busy. So if you don’t see your favourite rum below, that doesn’t mean I don’t like it, I simply wanted to tell you about a few that I’m particularly enjoying at the moment. I’ve included a new cocktail recipe for each, as well as a few of my thoughts, which I hope will inspire you to grab a bottle of good rum, a few fresh ingredients, and a shaker.
Rum is such a huge and diverse category of spirits that you could spend a lifetime studying it and still have a lot to learn. I can’t think of another style of spirit that offers such a range of styles, flavours and products, well apart from whisk(e)y maybe, and even then I think rum has it trumped. So as the sun has just started shining here in the UK, and spring is on its way, I thought I’d take a moment to look at this wonderful family of spirits and share nine things I think everybody should know about rum.
I hope the thoughts below will inspire you to explore the amazing world of rum a little bit, and maybe find the styles of rum that you can enjoy the most. Even if you don't think you like rum, you should definitely open your mind to the possibility that there might just be a rum out there that's perfect for you. For me this will be an excuse to dig into the b&t back bar and sip a few old favourites and remind myself why I love rum so much. It seems that every year, with the first burst of spring sunshine the rum section of the b&t drinking room starts calling out to me. In fact I may have to pause here to shake myself a daiquiri before I continue writing.
Right, that’s better! On with the blog and my thoughts on rum…
I’ve heard a few people say recently that they think the tiki craze is over, and I think I know what they mean. Tiki was heralded as the ‘next big thing’ much as tequila was before that, and while it has grown in popularity, and become more mainstream it has never really exploded in the way that was predicted. That’s not entirely surprising as it’s a niche style of drinking, but to say it’s dead seems a bit of an exaggeration to me.
Tiki, as I’ve written before, is a style of drinks inspired by Polynesia and tropical island culture and is predominantly based around rum, with plenty of exotic fruits, juices, syrups and liqueurs thrown in for good measure. It was originally popularised in the 1940s America when these enticing flavours from far-flung shores were a welcome bit of escapism after the gloom of WWII.
A few years ago there was a definite resurgence of interest in this style of drinking, with Tiki bars and nightclubs popping up on a regular basis. Of course many were quick to jump on the bandwagon to exclaim that Tiki would be the next big thing. Even if that promised explosion has somewhat failed to deliver, Tiki has still managed to establish a firm place within our global drinking culture. In almost every major city you will find at least one or two bars dedicated to tiki drinks, and on many cocktail menus you’ll find not only the classic Mai Tai or Zombie, but other modern tiki inspired cocktails. So to say that tiki is dead, to me at least, seems too strong a statement. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that tiki has found its place within modern cocktail culture, and has indeed added to it. Tiki isn’t dead, it’s alive and well, but in a limited way, and for that reason I say tiki is here to stay.
It’s undeniable that we’re in a new 'golden age' of cocktails; you can tell that this is true by the fact that cocktails are making it into mainstream culture. Want proof? Look no further than programmes such as Madmen and Boardwalk Empire. Want proof a bit closer to home? Well take a look at Tesco’s ‘Real Food’ website and you’ll notice a new cocktail section that’s gone live recently. Now maybe like me when you hear the word ‘cocktail’ you don’t immediately think of a national supermarket chain, but sure enough Tesco have caught on to the cocktail craze. So when they contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to come up with a Christmas cocktail or two from a box of random ingredients, I pushed aside fears of being sent a box of unusable ingredients and said yes.
A week later a large red box arrived and I eagerly unwrapped it, filled with equal parts excitement, trepidation, and of course hope at what the contents might be. Now before I tell you what was in the box (the photo to the left might give it away!), I should make it clear that I have enough self-awareness to know that I’m a bit of a spirit snob, I like my bourbons premium, my rum well aged and my tequila 100% agave. But I’m also a realist, so I knew I wasn’t going to be greeted by a bottle of El Dorado 15yo and a crystal mixing glass, but I was quietly hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
Well it’s that time of year again, the weather’s turned cold, the shops are packed full off people battling to spend their money as fast as possible and every bar has mulled wine or hot spiced cider bubbling away. Yep the run up to Christmas is in full swing, like it or not. So I thought rather than simply trot out a few recipes for hot cocktails or recommend where you should go for your office party, I’d instead work up a list of booze related presents to suit every relative or friend. So below is the official b&t cocktail and spirit Christmas list.
The great thing about giving spirits or cocktail related goodies for Christmas is that you’re likely to be able to share in the enjoyment of the gifts. I know they say that the pleasure is in the giving rather than the receiving, but as far as I’m concerned the pleasure is also in the sipping. So below you’ll find some of my favourite tipples, bits of cocktail equipment and booze related paraphernalia that should help you to have a very merry Christmas indeed!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to cocktails and spirits, so it’ll come as no surprise to you that I spend a good amount of time sat in bars staring at the back bar or the cocktail list. I’m always fascinated by the choices made by bars as to which products they buy into and choose to use. Obviously you have your house pouring spirits, which are often selected based on finding a balance between quality, price and support offered by the brand, but then you have a whole back bar of products that tell you something about the venue you’re in.
It’s interesting when visiting other countries that you find certain products that consistently appear on the back bars of the best cocktail bars. Many times they are the same from country to country, but sometimes you notice something different. Not necessarily a product that is local to that market, but maybe a brand that has caught on in one place but not in another for reasons unknown. So the last time I was in New York I found it strange to see Banks 5 Island Rum almost everywhere I went, when it’s so seldom found in UK bars. It made me think that I should probably take another look at this product.