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!
First up we have a great new Mezcal, which has literally just launched in the UK. San Cosme is a perfect example of what Mezcal is all about, but for those of you wondering what I mean by that I should probably start out by explaining what Mezcal is and what the fuss is all about.
Mezcal is the frankly under used cousin of Tequila, make using traditional methods and produced in relatively small batches. The process involves cooking the agave hearts or ‘pinas’ often in oven pits, which helps to impart the distinctive smoky flavour into the liquid. Mezcal is made from one of 18 recognised species of agave, and in the case of San Cosme they use Angustifolia Haw. The juice is extracted from the roasted pinas by crushing them, traditionally with a stone wheel pulled by a donkey or horse, and the resulting juice is then diluted and fermented in large tanks. The final step is to distil the liquid, usually twice, and in either clay or copper pots, to create a smoky, vegetal and potent spirit. Mezcals can be up to 55% abv although they are often bottled lower than this to make them more accessible.
San Cosme is bottled at 40% abv and is only available as a ‘joven’ or unaged Mezcal. It is non-chill filtered; meaning that as much of the flavour and mouth feel is retained as possible. In fact it is almost oily in the moth it is so rich and intense.
On the nose you immediately get sweet roast agave notes, as well as a deeper, earthy aroma and hints of leather and dry wood. There’s only a hint of smoke to it, which for me is refreshing as many Mezcals can be so smoky they almost smell like burning rubber. As it opens up there’s a touch more smoke, but the dominant aromas remain agave based. Upon taking a first sip you’ll find it coats your mouth, offering a gentle sweetness that’s followed up with creamy, almost caramel like roast agave, a hint of spice and as it slowly finishes a hint of smoke that lingers pleasantly. There’s no doubt this is one of my favourite discoveries and will be a spirit I enjoy drinking plenty of in the future.
Based on some of the flavours found in the Mexican sauce mole, this cocktail plays with chocolate, herbs and spice, which results in a luxurious slow sipping twist on an old fashioned. Oh and if you don’t know what mole is, first Google it, then find a good Mexican restaurant and prepare to be amazed!
50ml San Cosme Mezcal
15ml fino sherry
10ml yellow Chartreuse
2ml Bitter Truth pimento dram
2ml coffee Heering
4 dashes Bitter Truth spiced chocolate bitters
Stir all the ingredients down with cubed ice until well chilled and diluted, then pour over fresh ice cubes in a rocks glass and garnish with a small lemon twist.
The flavours should be subtle, with hints of smoke, spice and herbs lingering on the finish along with an almost savory chocolate note. Be warned though, just like mole itself, this is damned addictive and you may find yourself wanting several more!
I’m going to start by telling you that this is one of the few new American Whiskies that I’ve instantly loved. Now before I get hate mail from other producers, I’m not saying that there aren’t good Whiskies coming out of the US at the moment, in fact there are lots of very interesting and well made products finally making their way into the UK, but this one is exceptional.
You see, I like the idea of corn whiskey, I always have, but traditionally the ones that have become commercially available have been a little underwhelming to me. Here at last we have a corn Whiskey that offers something different, a full rich taste, a hefty punch of alcohol, and above all else a liquid that has depth and character.
Balcones True Blue is made from Atole, a Hopi blue corn which adds an earthy nutty note to the whiskey. It’s punchy at 50% abv, but well balanced with an intense corn flavour supplemented with hints of spice and dry wood. The finish is long and lingers nicely on the tongue. This is a big bold whiskey, but that’s exactly what corn whiskey should be. Personally I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, and it’s the first commercially available corn whiskey that I really rate.
50ml Balcones True Blue corn whiskey
15ml fino sherry
10ml Fratello hazelnut liqueur
2 dashes angostura bitters
Stir all ingredients with cubed ice until well chilled and diluted, then strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a small orange twist.
While La Hechicera has been on the market for a few months in the UK, I have to say it’s only recently that I took the time to get to know it better. It’s Columbian rum, but made with a strong influence from the Cuban style. The distillers of La Hechicera learned their craft in Cuba, before taking their skills back to Columbia and developing their own unique style. The resulting rum is soft and light bodied in the Hispanic style, yet flavourful and with a most unusual finish.
There are no additives to this product, no caramel or sugar added, but the really unique thing is how short the finish is. Now usually most people tend to think that a long lingering finish is a good thing, but in the case of La Hechicera they celebrate the fact that their rum leaves the palate clean and fresh ready for another sip.
It takes a couple of sips before you realise that this really is a pleasant experience, but soon you find yourself savouring the initial flavours, sweet toffee, dry wood and gentle dry spices, and as the flavours fade quickly in the mouth you look forward to the next sip. In particular I’ve found that this experience works exceptionally well when you drink the rum while enjoying a nice mild Cuban cigar such as a Trinidad.
LESS IS MORE
60ml La Hechicera rum
10ml Mozart dry chocolate spirit
5 ml maraschino
2 dashes bitter truth Creole bitters
Stir all ingredients with cubed ice, until slightly diluted and chilled, be careful not to over dilute, as this will soften the rum too much. Strain into a rocks glass filled with cubed ice and garnish with a small piece of good quality dark chocolate. The first sip should be a touch on the strong side and the last sip should be absolutely perfect leaving you wanting another!
This is a gin like no other on the market. Labeled as an ‘oriental spiced’ London dry gin, it features botanicals that reflect the ancient spice route including cubebs, coriander and black pepper all of which combine to create a truly unique flavour profile. To be honest from what I’ve seen this is a bit of a ‘marmite’ product with people either loving it or hating it when they try it neat, but how often do we drink gin neat? To me the spicy, earthy notes offer a great platform to build around when using it as a base for cocktails. Oh and I should probably add that I fall into the love it camp, even neat.
When tasting it you’ll immediately find that it’s got plenty of juniper upfront as well as a good citrus note that fades away leaving earthy and dry wood notes as well as hints of spice and pepper. It’s almost savoury as slowly fades into a nice dry finish. I’m not sure it would be my first choice for a gin and tonic, but for cocktails it offers plenty of scope for experimentation, and as a gin that stands out from the rather crowded shelves this one isn’t just a gimmick, it actually is a well made gin.
While it works well in clean classics such as the Martini or Martinez, I was curious about how it would work with citrus, so immediately turned to an old favourite, the Aviation. It worked perfectly in the classic version with violette, but to make things interesting I tried replacing the floral notes with spice instead and was pleased with the results.
50ml Opihr gin
20ml lemon juice
20 ml maraschino
1 dash bitter truth pimento dram
Stir all ingredients with cubed ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cinnamon shard and lemon twist. Pimento dram can be an overpowering ingredient, so it you don’t have it in a dasher bottle just be careful not to add too much or you end up with too much clove masking the lovely flavours of the gin itself.
Now this is something really special! Every year sees the release of a limited edition rum celebrating the history of this great distillery, and this year their third edition is due to be released very soon. Having had a sneak preview of this amazing liquid I can tell you it’s definitely one to look out for when it hits the shelves.
Unfortunately since it hasn’t been released yet, I’m reviewing the second edition… well I say unfortunately but actually it’s still very special liquid and frankly you should get your hands on a bottle before it disappears entirely. In 2011 they released the first edition to celebrate 80 years of distilling, and frankly every year the liquid seems to get better and better. The second release was a blend of seven and twelve year old rums, the younger adding a lively note, balancing out the depth and complexity of the older rums in the blend.
As you can see the bottle is beautiful, without being over the top as some more limited editions tend to be (as much as I love a pretty bottle, a hand blown crystal bottle with silver top and a custom made rare wood box does tend to add a lot to the price!), and gives a hint of how good the liquid itself is.
On the nose it’s complex and rich with exotic dried fruit, coffee, chocolate and toasted oak notes coming through. On sipping it you’ll find a lovely toffee sweetness, dried papaya and mango, followed by dry wood and hints of spice. As the flavour starts to fade the more subtle leather and dark chocolate note linger forming an aftertaste that you’ll want to savour.
Frankly there’s only one way I think this should be enjoyed… neat, in a nice heavy rocks glass, with a good cigar on the go.
With that said I’m off to the smoking terrace to savour this rum and enjoy a Cohiba! I hope you’ll give at least some if not all of these wonderful products a try soon.