vodka

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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.

The Tesco Real Food cocktail challenge

 

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.

Spirit and Cocktail gifts, all wrapped up

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!

 

traditional spirits made the sloe way!

 

If you’ve been to and English fete and flower show you probably spent some time in the ‘home produce’ marquee – the location where you’ll find the finest home-made jams, pork pies, bread, chocolates, wines and spirits that the village has to offer.  Well the recent launch of a small batch sloe gin and damson vodka by artisanal spirit producer Sipsmith, was a little like that; a celebration of all that’s good about making your own food and drink.  Those attending received a warm village welcome to the ‘garage’ that’s home to Prudence, Sipsmith’s beautiful hand-made copper still (and the first in London for almost 200 years).

 

The evening had a festive feel to it: tinkling glasses, sparkling lights and the aroma of home-cooked food, easily blended with the merriment of writers and clients who clearly loved being immersed in the hand-crafted ambience of Sipsmith.  To enhance the festivities and emphasise the ethos of Sipsmith, guests had been encouraged to make a food item using sloe berries and damsons plums and, in true village fete tradition, their efforts were duly tasted and judged for ‘best in show’.   The aromas of home cooked pie, pungent cheese and the finest small batch spirits wafted down the narrow row of houses in this Hammersmith back street. 

 

The devil is in the detail, part 2

 

As promised in last week’s blog, I’m back with part two of my look at the rules and regulations of spirit production. Once again this isn’t a short or light update, there’s a lot of information here that hopefully will go a long way to explaining how each spirit category must be made and what some of the differences are between one type of spirit and another. I've chosen to leave out liqueurs as I've written about those rules very recently.

 

This time we’ll be looking at vodka, tequila and mescal, and several types of brandy. So if you’ve ever wondered what makes cognac different from other brandies, or why rums from different countries taste so unique, then stir yourself a manhattan, put on your reading glasses and let’s have another look at the rules and regs!

 

Just because you have style, doesn't mean you have taste

Last month I wrote about vodka and my attempts to embrace it as a spirit category. With some help from Pete and Rich at Hawksmoor, I managed to find a way of approaching vodka that left me more willing to experiment with it in cocktails. My conclusion after several hours of sipping and chatting was that it can, and should be, appreciated neat, but that it can also be a valuable base spirit in cocktails where you want to celebrate and support other ingredients without having the spirit get in the way.
 
 
I promised to follow up that blog with my thoughts on some of the brands that grace back bars and speed rails in fine cocktail bars around the world, but to do so I thought I’d better enlist some help once again. I gathered a small group of friends together and headed for the amazing bar at The Zetter Townhouse. The group was made up of a bartender, two bloggers and a cocktail enthusiast, in other words a mixed spectrum that I hoped would represent all types of drinkers. In order to make sure that there would be no bias or preconceived ideas, the tasting was conducted blind.
 
 

Love it or hate it... it's vodka!

What is it about vodka that makes it so popular? It sells by the bucket load in the UK, in fact it is the top selling spirit by a country mile. Consumers can’t seem to get enough of it and a new brand seems to launch every week. Personally I’ve never understood its popularity, dress it up any way you want (and brands find some of the most ridiculous ways to dress up a bottle of vodka these days) it still seems like pretty boring stuff to me. No colour, very little flavour, not much happening on the aroma front either. I hold it personally responsible for the bastardisation of the Martini and couldn’t tell you the last time I was even tempted to order a vodka based cocktail… It’s safe to say I’m not a huge fan of the stuff.
 
 
The bitters&twisted drinking room is fairly well stocked with most spirits, there are over 60 American whiskies, 50 or so rums, 25+ tequilas, hell I even have 25 gins to choose from, but when it comes to vodka there are currently only 5 gracing the shelves. While in the past I was quietly proud of this fact, it recently occurred to me that maybe I should at least attempt to get over this bias and see if it’s possible for me to gain an appreciation of this popular spirit.
 

Belvedere dream job?...

The drinks industry is a pretty amazing one to work in. The pay isn’t usually great, the hours can be pretty rough and you do have to put up with being looked down on by ‘real professionals’’, but on the upside we eat and drink like rock stars, get to travel to far flung countries to visit distilleries and get to do the jobs that we love. Admittedly the burnout rate is pretty high as most people can only take being broke and over-worked for a few years before they want something more from life. The question is what to do when you’re tired of tending bar?
 
 
These days there are more options than ever, with people opening bar schools, starting consultancies or opening their own dream bar once they decide to step out from behind the one they're working at. But more and more bartenders seem to be turning to the spirit brands looking for a job as a Brand Ambassador to pay the bills and keep them in the industry they love. While these jobs are more common than they used to be, they are still few and far between, so when one comes up for grabs there is usually pretty fierce competition.

A Little Bit of Favouritism

Looking at my drinks cabinet I have just realised that there are certain bottles that get used a lot more than others. Havana Club 7 year old Rum, Geranium Gin, Siete Leguas Tequila, Sagatiba Velha Cachaca, Wild Turkey 101, these bottles seem to need replenishing rather often. But why is it that I have formed a bond with these brands? It’s not as though I don’t have other great rums or tequilas to choose from, but I seem to often find myself drawn to my old favourites.
 
 
The same is true when I’m sat at a bar, staring at the back bar and pondering what to drink first. I always smile when I see a few of my favourites on the shelf, knowing that I have some choices that are bound to hit the spot. 
 
 
Of course a lot of it has to do with finding products that taste good and I find myself going back to them simply because I enjoy the flavour, but sometimes there is a deeper pull towards one brand over another. I think there are a few reasons for this emotional attachment that go beyond simply liking the taste of the liquid in the bottle.

A Few of Our Favourite Things

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me, with distillery visits, new products being sent to me, catching up with master distillers and the first Imbibe bar show, not to mention a food and cocktail pairing hosted by Courvoisier and Bompass & Parr. I guess I can’t complain when every day there seems to be something new to try or someone new to meet.
 
 
So today I thought I’d share a few of the best tipples that I have stumbled across recently and drop a few teasers for the series of updates I have planned for the bitters&twisted blog over the next few weeks.