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Tag: vodka

Dream Drams… with Joe Hall of Satan’s Whiskers

You miraculously find yourself on a desert island equipped with a beach hut bar and eight spirits of your choosing. What are you sipping? For Joe Hall, general manager at…

You miraculously find yourself on a desert island equipped with a beach hut bar and eight spirits of your choosing. What are you sipping? For Joe Hall, general manager at London bar Satan’s Whiskers, survival sustenance means frozen Cognac shots, amontillado Sherry and Piña Colada pineapple goodness…

It’s a dilemma we’ve all pondered at one point or another. If you should find yourself stranded on a remote island with little more than a selection of handpicked bottles to call company, which particular boozes would fill your glass?

We put the question to Joe Hall, general manager at laid-back neighbourhood hangout Satan’s Whiskers. For the unacquainted, Satan’s serves up some of Bethnal Green’s finest cocktails to a formidable hip hop soundtrack. The daily-changing menu is packed with riffs on classics so killer, the man himself would patently approve.

Satan’s Whiskers

Say hello to Joe Hall!

No stranger to the back bar, Hall’s career started at former north London bar Wax Jambu at the age of 18. After a few years he moved to Bristol – “a place that I still think has one of the best cocktail scenes in the country, with Hyde & Co, Redlight and Filthy XIII leading the charge at the moment,” he says before returning to London to Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, which won Best International Hotel Bar at The Spirited Awards 2015 during his tenure. Hall left The Savoy for a junior bartender position at Satan’s Whiskers, which almost four years on, he now runs.

“During my time at Satan’s I’ve learnt a lot, taken a great sense of ownership over the place and won a few competitions,” he continues namely Belvedere’s Grain to Glass 2019 and the Diplomatico World Tournament 2017, for which he was crowned the European winner “nowadays I’m much more settled and focused on the advancement and training of the staff at the bar. In my limited spare time, I’m also a certified Cognac educator on behalf of the BNIC.”

Being the first to tackle our ever-so-slightly shameless homage to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is a pretty big undertaking, but Hall did not disappoint. After raiding his metaphorical suitcase Border Patrol-style, MoM asked him to talk us through the contents. Here’s what we found…

Martell VSOP

Why? The perfect mixing Cognac. Clean, Borderies-only and lees-less liquid amazing in Harvards, French 75s, and Cognac and Tonics. Also, perfect for those frozen Cognac shots we all love right?

Cognac Frapin Fontpinot XO

Why? This is the Cognac you want to drink neat. Unbelievably flavourful product of single vineyard Grand Champagne grapes, aged for a long time in dry cellars. It’s rich and complex, but has remarkably distinct tropical notes passionfruit and pineapple. This is an amazing example of what, for me, makes Cognac stand out amongst other spirits.

Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleón

Why? Pleasant, accessible amontillado Sherry. Maybe too light for the ultra-serious sherry heads of this world but it’s perfect for clean, crisp mixed drinks. Makes my favourite [version of the cocktail] Adonis, and Sherry and Tonic or a Sobremesa, a drink of mine that contains sherry, sweet vermouth, cucumber and a touch of mezcal.

Satan’s Whiskers

Satan’s Whiskers, which we hear is a hell of a night…

Potocki Vodka

Why? Why isn’t everyone aware of this stuff?! It’s through distilling only twice with no filtration during the production process that creates this beautifully-flavoured and textured rye vodka from Poland. It makes Martinis that are absolutely out of this world.

Compass Box Hedonism

Why? I knew I wanted to include something from Compass Box, but picking which bottle is a real challenge. They have such a fantastic range, with some unbelievable blends on offer. As far as pushing the envelope and mind expansion goes, Hedonism has it all, showing that grain whisky can be 100% delicious too.

Kahlua

Why? You wouldn’t be able to make any White Russians without this.

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum

Why? The fondest memories in my entire career are of my time in Venezuela with Diplomatico and the rest of the European competitors. Such wonderful hosting, food, country, weather and… rum. This is the kind of rum you can drink in cocktails during the day, on ice in the evening, and straight out the bottle at night. And that’s just what we did.

Virginia Black

Why? As if I could do any kind of Desert Island Discs piece from a cocktail bar that only plays hip hop without referencing Drake. I like to think we’re the only small, curated industry cocktail bar that stocks it, let alone has it taking pride of place in the centre of the back bar. Tastes 100% acceptable.

Satan’s Whiskers

From frozen Cognac shots to Sobremesas, Hall serves up some of Bethnal Green’s finest

In-keeping with the theme, if you could take one book with you, which would you choose?

Champagne Cocktails by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. Apart from being an informative and succinct list of fancy drinks, this book does a fantastic job of evoking the convivial fun that drinking Champagne should be. Having this on a desert island would get some good celebratory nostalgia going!

And your luxury item?

My phone. Just for the Instagram. Can you imagine the photo opportunities? Coconut shell cocktails and banana leaves… My stories would go viral.

Finally, if you could only drink one cocktail there, what would it be?

On a desert island I’m going to need all the sustenance and nutrition I can get. So, out of necessity more than anything else, I’m going to pick the humble Piña Colada. Plenty of fresh pineapple goodness and calories to sustain me. If you’re going to get stranded on a desert island, you may as well get into it…

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How (not) to launch a drinks product

Today, we are delighted to announce a new series of columns from writer and former bar owner Nate Brown. This week he takes a not entirely serious look at how…

Today, we are delighted to announce a new series of columns from writer and former bar owner Nate Brown. This week he takes a not entirely serious look at how to launch a new drinks brand…

There has been an explosion of new products launched over the last couple of years. Every week we are introduced to something ‘new’. From so-called craft distilleries to the big boys, any excuse to launch a new expression will be hunted down and executed. We’re bombarded with whisky from TV shows (we definitely needed those), more pink gin expressions (really?) and so many cask finishes it’s a wonder there are any trees left standing.

There is one thing all these newbies have in common, and that’s the launch night. Get it right and the entire industry will be abuzz. Get it wrong and the entire industry, well, will be abuzz also. With so many launches to ‘enjoy’, you’d think the industry would have arrived at a fairly formulaic process: invite guests, show off, have a nice time. Everyone leaves a little wiser and a little happier. But oh no. No, no, double no. Again and again, a product launch party rolls around that makes my jaw drop, and not because someone is pouring something delicious. You’d think the hospitality industry would be better at hospitality. You’d be wrong.  

To illustrate this, I have collated a few steps of how not to launch a product. All of these have happened. Most of these have happened more than once. Some are repeated again and again and for the love of Christ, I have no idea why. Please don’t try this at home.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown in his natural habitat

Step 1

Choose a suitable location for the launch. Chances are you won’t have bothered with your own distillery, and instead contracted out production. Without a distillery, the world is your oyster. How freeing! Choose your favourite zeitgeist bar, preferably somewhere in whatever suburb of London you live. Just make sure that it’s a blank canvas, or at least has an identity of its own that has nothing whatsoever to do with yours. You know how confused journalists get, must be all that drinking! A cunning trick is to send the stock as late as possible, or maybe not at all, to make sure those pesky bartenders don’t drink any beforehand. Sure, you could partner with someone whose brand story overlaps with yours, and they could bring a host of folks to your party, but this is your party, why let them steal your limelight? Exposure is measured in seconds, people!

Step 2

It’s important to remind everyone of how cool you are, and how hard you’ve worked. This should be a party, and when do parties happen? Why, Friday nights of course! It’s not as if people will have anything better to do.

Step 3

With your raison d’être, a date and neutral location sorted, next is the guest list. There are two schools of thought: one is to invite industry players, although bar managers, bartenders, bar owners are all too flaky to come to things like this. I mean, if they can’t be trusted to sack off the bar for a Friday party celebrating how hard you’ve worked and how cool your brand is, then to hell with them. What do they know? The second, time-honoured approach is to invite the stalwarts of the trade press. It’s their job to report on what you do, which makes it a doddle. They won’t even need explanations, hosting or entertaining, and they’ll still pop a lovely little mention of how cool you are and how hard you’ve worked online. Everyone’s a winner, especially you. Now that’s value.

One thing we can agree on is do not, under any circumstances, invite those with a social media presence. Sure, they may have thousands of eager followers who hang on their every word and buy the most ridiculous skincare placebos for buckets of cash, but they don’t work in the industry, so you’d have to spend your entire evening curating some sort of explanation of the processes behind your wonderful brand. If they don’t know how exactly a Coffey Still works they’re beyond help.  Nah, just ignore them. This social media fad has no power and will never catch on anyway.

Having a great time!

They’re lovin’ it!

Step 4

That’s the guest list sorted. Now the easy bit the running of the evening. It’s a product launch; all your guests know the score and each other. Just have them turn up around 7pm and your work here is done. Better make sure they get some drinks, but this spirits game is an expensive business, so don’t go crazy. If you have a cheaper expression, offer them that instead. Bespoke cocktails are overrated. And bartenders all of a sudden seem to know their worth, so any Tom or Dick will do. Better still, just put an arbitrary cash tab behind the bar, that way your guests don’t even have to drink your brand. Remember, the slower the drinks flow, the longer the free bar lasts, the cooler this party looks. Simples.

Step 5

It is wise to avoid looking like you (or anyone for that matter) are in charge. Keep people guessing, it’ll give the guests something to talk about. Otherwise, you’ll spend the entire evening answering questions and putting out fires. It’s your job to start the fires. Look hot. Maybe get your flirt on. Alternatively, have that one member of your team you dislike the most wearing a branded tee (you can get these done super cheap online). That way they can act as question fodder for the annoyingly curious attendees, leaving you free to chat up the cool kids and the hotties.

Step 6

Do not even consider hiring a photographer. You want people to loosen up and let their hair down. Who wants that on record? No, in fact, don’t do anything that stands in the way of a boozy one. Think about instead confiscating people’s phones. We don’t want any embarrassing pictures online.

Step 7

If you really must, make some sort of speech to introduce the brand. But personally, I wouldn’t bother. Who likes to have their evening interrupted with a speech? This isn’t a wedding. Besides, these hermit-like journalists probably haven’t seen each other since yesterday’s launch, and will have plenty of catching up to do without you sticking your nose in. Just get drunk, get your team drunk, and have well-deserved blow-out. Lead by example. Better for everyone to talk about that totally epic party you had than to walk away sober.

Nate Brown

You want opinions? Nate Brown’s got ’em

Step 8

If things go according to plan, your guests will be so drunk that they’ll struggle to remember their own coats, so I wouldn’t bother with any takeaways or gift bags, they’ll only get left in the Uber.

Step 9

By which stage, you’ve achieved what you set out to do. You’ve unleashed your product to the world. Leave the journalists to do whatever it is journalists do, then wait for the orders to come rolling in. You’re a game changer. It’s time to enjoy yourself. Get your friends to come, just make sure they get there before the bar tab has run dry. Maybe even get on the old winking app and swipe right a few times. You’ll never look so glamorous to a stranger as when you’re hosting your own product launch. Guaranteed lay.

And there you have it. At least until next week’s launch.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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St George Spirits: The home of dynamic distilling

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team. Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco…

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team.

Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco – the confines of the street grids and the expanse of sky, the nostalgia and the novelty, the big business and the homelessness – is a startling stretch of nothing. After the colour, the noise, the sharp undulations of the city, arriving the St George Spirits Distillery in Alameda is disorienting.

Driving down West Midway and onto Monarch Street, you feel like you’ve landed on a different planet. The scale is extraordinary; cavernous buildings set back from the road, each in acres of space, barely another car to be seen. The proportions, the flatness, the emptiness are the opposite of the city across the water. I was half an hour ahead of schedule when my Lyft pulled up outside St George, one of the last buildings on the island. I’d enormously overestimated the time it would take to drive over from the city, and was feeling as worried about my early arrival as I was surprised by Alameda’s quiet. It all felt mildly post-apocalyptic.

St George Spirits

Storm incoming: the view from St George back to San Francisco on a grey day. We promise the city is there somewhere

The weather didn’t help. A winter storm was about to roll in; sensible types were already safely harboured from the forecast deluge. My driver had inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, dropped me on the wrong side, keen to get back over the bridges into the city before the worst of the weather. The St George building was as huge as all the others, and I wondered if anyone would hear my knock. They did. A warm, friendly welcome greeted me, completely at odds to the starkness outside; one of the distilling team led me through the impressive 65,000 sq ft production and warehouse space. There were two banks of gleaming stills, vats and tanks galore, and near-floor to ceiling racking – more on all that shortly. It somehow felt far smaller on the inside that it did from the outside, stack after stack of maturing spirits filling the vast space to the brim. Out the other side, right by the really rather obvious entrance I should have arrived at, was a generous visitor area, with two bars and a shop at the far end. Windows down the exterior wall provided a glorious view back to San Francisco, with all its towers. There’s nothing between the distillery and the city except for a wash of wetland, the Bay itself, and an expanse of concrete which turned out to be a disused runway.

St George Spirits roof

St George barrels and the original WWII hangar roof

“This is World War II construction, an old aircraft hangar,” confirmed Dave Smith, St George Spirits head distiller and vice president, an animated yet softly-spoken fellow who joined the team nearly 14 years ago. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me despite my poor timekeeping, and welcomed me with literal open arms. “The last squadron stationed in the hangar prior to the base’s retirement was Atkron 304, known as the Firebirds, which were made up of Grumman A-6 Intruders.” The scale of the buildings now makes sense, and when I looked into the site afterwards it turns out it was a Naval air base that only closed in 1997.

‘Creating a movement’

St George Spirits dates back to well before the airfield closed, though in a different location. Jörg Rupf, widely considered to be the father of American artisan distilling, set up St George way back in 1982 – long before hipster beards and ubiquitous quirkiness overran the territory marked ‘craft’. He travelled to the US on an assignment from the Ministry of Culture in his native Germany, but it was San Francisco, and his family heritage as Black Forest brandy makers, that shaped his course. It started with eaux-de-vie, pear in particular, made in a tiny “20ft by 20ft” room, Smith told me. Times might have changed when it comes to production scale (the team moved to the current site in 2004) but fruit brandy remains an integral part of the St George offering today.

St George Spirits

St George Pear Brandy in front of the distillery – a starting point for the brand

The breadth of the distillery’s product portfolio is one indicator as to why a visit to St George Spirits is high on the bucket list for so many drinks lovers, myself included. And that’s where we began, hunkered down at one of the gleaming bars as the storm swept in across the Bay. As he poured St George Pear Brandy, Smith was keen to stress just how much of a catalyst Rupf was for the US spirits scene. “Jörg was really thoughtful about helping other distillers,” he said. “He really had a sense of ‘all ships will rise’; he created a movement.” Under his mentorship, other distillers set up shop, and he shared his expertise in fermentation and distilling, especially with regards to eaux-de-vies and fruit spirits – drinks totally new to the market, at the time. It’s a category that makes perfect sense for California, with its lush fruit harvests.

And that’s what you get with Pear Brandy – a hit of fresh lushness. It’s made with Bartlett pears, and a lot of them: there are 30-35lb of pears in each bottle. Why Bartlett pears? “We want small fruit, so the essential oils are very concentrated,” Smith said. The cinnamon spice, pear drop notes develop during a two-week fermentation, with the spirit eventually made in a 250-litre pot still. “Our job as distillers is to be expressive of the raw materials,” Smith stated. It’s this pear spirit that is the base for so many other St George products, including the All Purpose Vodka. That vibrant pear note is like a signature sillage you pick up throughout the portfolio.

St George Spirits

All kinds of distilling options at St George

We tasted our way through the vodka line with California Citrus and Green Chile Vodka. It’s here that the St George philosophy to showcase raw materials really hits home. The spirit is made with five different chilies (jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros, then red and yellow bell peppers) in a mix of infusions and distillations, depending on what flavours, textures and heat levels each technique extracts. “We separate these things out, and then recombine,” he explained. “I can use alcohol as a solvent, I can distil, I can infuse… But I don’t want things to be complex for the sake of being complex.” The creativity, the technicalities, the detail… it’s mind-boggling. And this is just for one bottling among 20 or so – not including limited-run expressions.

Transparent production

We moved on from the vodkas to the trio of St George gins, each distinct, each characterful, but each clearly St George. We start with Dry Rye, which, as the name implies, uses 100% pot-distilled rye spirit as a base. It’s juniper-forward, with just five other botanicals: black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, grapefruit peel and lime peel, combining for a rich, warming hit, but never overpowering the rye character. “We’re trying to find things that are expressive, and that have a statement to make,” Smith said. Next is Botanivore, Smith’s “botanical leader” made with a whopping 19 botanicals with a mix of infusions, macerations and distillations. It’s deliciously complex on the palate, still with that vital juniper but with a St George eccentricity, too.

St George Spirits gin

The trio of St George gins

Next up: Terroir Gin, which was actually the first St George gin, Smith explained. It was master distiller and president Lance Winters who came up with the concept. “He was picking up his son from summer camp, when he had the idea,” he detailed. When you taste the gin, you can picture the scene: the mountains, the forests, the sea. It’s California in a bottle, an evocative, aromatic gin made with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, coastal sage and other local botanicals. The flavour is earthy, outdoorsy, and especially effective with a building storm as a backdrop.

Time to segue into whiskey. First stop: the latest batch of Breaking & Entering, an intriguing expression that blends sourced bourbon and rye with some of St George’s own California malt whiskey. “We want to be really transparent that we’re not making it all in-house,” Smith stated. “And as none of the four grains are more than 51%, there really isn’t a category that we can label it as.” The rye, barley, corn and wheat mashbill is balanced so that none is prominent, but all is delicious. The 2018 edition was bursting with rich, pastry notes, jammy red fruits and dash of menthol, all wrapped up in a sweetcorn smoothness. A treat, indeed.

Just one of the very many barrel types

The final thing we tasted before stepping back into the distillery was St George Single Malt, a fascinating expression that Smith described as a “brandy made from grain”. Winters’ background is brewing; combine that with the eaux-de-vie obsession that underpins operations, and this starts to make sense. The barley at the base of this bottling is malted in multiple ways, including smoking some over beech and alder wood. Different barrels, from ex-Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee, to Port pipes and both French and local wine casks, contribute all kinds of flavours. Maturation spans from four to 19 years. You’d expect it to be bonkers, but it works. It’s batch-produced and changes each year, but the 2018 expression was like a sweetly-spiced hot chocolate, with zesty orange top notes. Lovely stuff. And that’s just part of the portfolio; after the distillery tour we sampled the Raspberry Brandy, Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau de Vie, California Reserve Agricole Rum, Raspberry Liqueur, Spiced Pear Liqueur, NOLA Coffee Liqueur, Bruto Americano bitters and Absinthe Verte, complete with a mischievous monkey on the label. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a range from a single producer. Tasting the whole lot in one morning was quite an experience.

Influences and inspiration

St George lays claim to a number of American-firsts in that list, including the Absinthe, which Smith described as “the worst kept secret in the Bay Area for about a decade prior to its official release”. Many defy category definitions (can you even make Rhum Agricole in California? The answer is yes, as long as you drop the ‘h’), and walking through the production space it all starts to make sense. The team here has an infatuation with flavour and a mastery of raw materials and process. There are five pot stills ranging in size from 250 litres to 1,500 litres, including hybrids with column options and an old Holstein, plus a coffee roaster dating back to 1952. If they can possibly make it in house, they will.

St George Spirits

Creation station: All kinds of stills

Grain for spirit currently maturing is floor-malted down the road at Admiral Maltings (“if you think about the real-estate in the Bay Area and what you need for maltings…” Smith says, as an aside). New cask requirements are met by Burgundy-style barrels. The California climate does hit the angel’s share – as much as 10% is lost in the first year, with 3-6% evaporating every year after that. We stopped for a taste of something really exciting – some California Shochu, followed by some unusual cask samples. It was a real treat, and there were yet more examples of surprising ideas coming out of this distillery.

Cali shochu, anyone?

In terms of newness, the stakes ramp up even higher in the St George lab. We stepped into the experiential space and the energy from all the ideas was almost tangible. On the left was a library of samples. Single distillates, infusions and more stack from floor to ceiling. There were two test stills, one 10-litre, one 30-litre, and all kinds of tanks, one even styled to look like Star Wars’ R2-D2. There’s stuff on every surface – you couldn’t call it clutter because it all felt purposeful, like the next big idea could be in any of those little bottles.

St George Spirits

Dave Smith gets the cask sample spirit flowing

“It’s what we’re influenced by, what we’re excited by,” Smith said. “We need to do more than what we did yesterday, increase our repertoire and techniques.” Not everything is successful, he added. But it doesn’t need to be. There’s clearly no fear of failure here, which goes some way to explaining why the range of St George spirits is not just delicious, but incredibly diverse.

St George Spirits lab

Experimental lab stills!

We headed out of the room and back to the bar. The storm was in full swing; rain pounding against the windows, the old WWII wooden roof hollering in the elements. You couldn’t even see across the old runway, let alone make out any shape of the city beyond. Smith looked around back towards the distillery as if taking it all in, and summed up what seems to be the St George philosophy: “We create things because we can.” And what better reason is there than that?

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Vodka: Ultra-premium is out, terroir is in

Serious spirits fans often consider vodka to be mass-produced and dull, with little to shout about other than questionable marketing fluff – but if you follow the liquid from field…

Serious spirits fans often consider vodka to be mass-produced and dull, with little to shout about other than questionable marketing fluff – but if you follow the liquid from field to bottle, what you find might surprise you. We speak to distillers championing the category’s flavour nuances…

Over the course of the 25 years Jan Woroniecki spent working in eastern European bars and restaurants, he reckons that he sampled almost every vodka known to man. The “crass marketing” and “desperate search for a point of difference” adopted by many brands had left a bitter taste in his mouth, and so a dejected Woroniecki sought to do better. And so Kavka Vodka was born.

Frozen Kavka

Frozen Kavka

“A number of factors have determined the direction that mainstream vodkas have taken over the last century – industrialisation of production, economies of scale, cartels of producers, a drive to satisfy the lower end of the market – where if you can’t have quality, at least you can make it as inoffensive as possible,” he says.

“The idea behind Kavka was to fight back against the idea that vodka should be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or colour – the American legal definition of vodka and to go back to the production methods popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, when each distillery would produce spirits that emphasised taste and individuality rather than trying to filter them out.

For many, this mission begins in the field. For, William Borrell, founder of Vestal Vodka (based in London but the liquid comes from Poland), his “eureka moment” occurred after tasting potatoes grown in different fields. “They tasted completely different when cooked, and had almost tropical notes when taken from the soil and lightly steamed immediately after picking,” he says. “By using ingredients grown in different fields during different yearly cycles, you have both terroir and vintage much like viticulture in wine production.”

Vodka has “a long history of outrageous marketing”, Borrell continues, “filtered through diamonds, crystal skull bottles and ‘P Diddy* is my best friend’”. But over the last few years, in vodka and spirits in general the T-word has becoming increasingly commonplace.

Polish vodka Belvedere took terroir to the next level with the launch of its Single Estate Series a few years back. The brand works with only eight local agricultural sources to create Belvedere Pure, and honed in on two of those for the series, global brand ambassador Michael Foster tells me “focusing on the lakeside Bartężek and forested Smogóry to illustrate the variation of terroir on Dankowskie Diamond rye”.

Lake Bartężek looking particularly beautiful

Smogóry Forest is made from rye grown at a single small estate deep in western Poland, he says; a region “known for its vast forests, short, continental weather fronts, mild winters and fertile soils”. Lake Bartężek, meanwhile, is crafted from the same rye strain grown at a single farm in northern Poland’s Mazury lake district, “renowned for its crystal-clear glacial lakes, weather shaped by Baltic winds and long, snowy winters”. The former creates a “bold and savoury” vodka, with notes of salted caramel, honey and white pepper; while the latter is “delicate and fresh”, with notes of black pepper, toasted nuts and cream.

“For many years, there has been a long-standing assumption that all vodka tastes the same, and is largely a neutral spirit,” says Foster. “Although the nuances between vodkas are much more subtle than other liquids, as demonstrated by the Smogóry Forest and Lake Bartężek, there is an ability to develop vodkas that reflect the environment in which they were created.”

Then there’s the small matter of distillation. Say what you like about vodka, but there’s no scope to improve behind a decade in wood or a wine cask finish. Every step counts. Column still distillation – how the vast majority of vodka is produced – creates a high quality base spirit, “so long as it’s not over-distilled or over-filtered”, says Woroniecki, but using a pot still allows more character to come through, “as you can control the purity levels of the spirit and accentuate the flavours of the raw materials whether it is potato, rye or grain”.

Kavka vodka Martini

Kavka vodka Martini

Then there’s flavoured vodka. It has a long and noble history: not the saccharine birthday cake or Parma Violet flavours that plagued the early 2,000s, but rather herbs and botanicals used to make what’s known as a “bitters” style vodka, says Woroniecki, “Zoladkowa being a classic, as well as Zubrowka, which is made with a wild bison grass”.

“Macerating fruit is a classic country method, cherry being the most well-known,” he continues. “There are, however, subtler variations; traditionally Zytnia was made with the addition of apple spirit, while Stolichnaya used caraway to add extra depth.”

Woroniecki adopted some of these methods to create Kavka, which contains a blend of rye and wheat spirits along with small quantities of aged pot-stilled fruit spirits: apple and plum. “The fruit flavours are very much in the background but they combine to create a vodka with length, depth and character,” he explains.

This reflects the taste preferences of a more discerning drinker, says Foster. “With the rise of the ‘craft’ movement particularly in gin people are becoming ever more interested about the provenance of products, production processes and the source of raw ingredients,” he says.

“Now that we’ve passed the ‘Disco Era’ of bartending, quality has become the topic of discussion rather than quantity, and people are looking to expand their horizons to drink better. In relation to vodka, this has led to an upturn in the super premium category, and a wider understanding that vodka can have taste, character and substance.”

*Apparently he goes by “Ciroc Obama” now.

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Cocktail of the Week: Improved Blood Orange Punch

This week, we’re making a drink where all the hard work is done in advance, leaving you with time to amuse your guests with some top anecdotes. One of the…

This week, we’re making a drink where all the hard work is done in advance, leaving you with time to amuse your guests with some top anecdotes.

One of the great advantages that wine and beer have over cocktails is that they come ready to drink. Simply open and pour. Mixed drinks need work. Cocktails require you to concentrate on something rather than gossiping with your guests.

One answer to this problem is to convert your living room into a bar (if only there was a book that showed you how) and turn cocktail-making into the focus of the evening. And let’s face it, shaking up Daiquiris is much more fun than discussing house prices or Brexit with the neighbours. The downside is that you have to keep concentrating.

Mary Hoffman

Maggie Hoffman!

To solve this problem, you could hire a bartender or, and this is the clever bit, you could make your drinks in advance. Why didn’t I think of that? Now, to show you how to explore this brave new world of batch cocktails comes a new book called. . .  wait for it. . . Batch Cocktails! It’s been put together by American drinks writer Maggie Hoffman who has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Food & Wine and Serious Eats. Here she explains the idea behind the book:

“There’s nothing worse than scrambling at the last minute, trying to mix drinks as your guests walk through the door. It’s hard to hold a conversation while searching for lost bitters, knocking over the jigger on the counter and rattling a shaker full of ice. And without fail, just when you’re finally about to sit down, your friends are ready for a second round.”

Tell me about it. In the book, Hoffman has eschewed the obvious choices like the Negroni or the Old Fashioned in favour of signature cocktails from bartenders she knows. The book is full of good advice such as, “using fresh ingredients is essential when making larger quantities of cocktail”. Also, when making an individual cocktail, it will become diluted when shaking with ice so you have to make sure you add water in the right quantity when making a batch. Thankfully, she has done all the hard work: “I’ve calculated and tested and tasted the proper dilution for each recipe in the collection, so they’re good to go.” Very reassuring.

All the recipes look delicious, but I went for what she calls an Improved Blood Orange Punch (so much better than the unimproved version) because our local greengrocer has stacks of blood oranges piled up outside at the moment. It would be a crime not to take advantage of them when they are in season. The original recipe comes from Jen Ackrill of Sky Waikiki in Hawaii. I’ve had a bit of a play with it.Hoffman makes it with vodka but I think it’ll work with gin or maybe even white rum or Tequila. This is an incredibly easy drink to make and requires almost no work when serving, leaving you with more time to talk about how Brexit is affecting the housing market. On second thoughts…

Improved Blood Orange Punch

Improved Blood Orange Punch. You should have tried the unimproved version, you couldn’t even drink it

To make the batch:

360ml Wyborowa vodka (ideally straight out the freezer)
180ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur
720ml blood orange juice (freshly-squeezed)
360ml lemon juice (freshly-squeezed)

To finish:

1 bottle of Molvino Valdobbiadene Prosecco
Half moon orange slices

Makes about 10-12 servings

Make the batch about two hours before you need it (no more as orange juice loses its pizazz if left around too long). Pour chilled vodka, maraschino liqueur, orange juice and lemon juice into a bottle or jug. Stir, then cover and refrigerate.

To serve, fill a highball glass with ice, pour in 120ml mixture, top up with Prosecco, stir and garnish with an orange slice.

Batch Cocktails

Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion by Maggie Hoffman (£14.99 Ten Speed Press)

 

 

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Chase Distillery: Turning potatoes into liquid gold since 2008

On Chase Distillery’s 10th anniversary, we paid a visit and discovered how to make the ‘World’s Best Tasting Vodka’ (and excellent gin) from the humble spud. Chase Distillery is located…

On Chase Distillery’s 10th anniversary, we paid a visit and discovered how to make the ‘World’s Best Tasting Vodka’ (and excellent gin) from the humble spud.

Chase Distillery is located on Rosemaund Farm in Herefordshire. This part of England is a food and drink-lover’s paradise: there are cider apple orchards, Hereford beef cattle, and potato fields as far as the eye can see. The Chase family have been farming here for generations. In the early 2000s they weren’t getting a good price from the supermarkets, so William Chase cunningly decided to fry his potatoes before selling them. The result was Tyrells crisps. Then, according to William’s son James, “we started the distillery because we had a huge surplus of potatoes too small to make the crisps”. It was such a success that the family sold the crisp brand in 2008 to concentrate on making vodka.

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10 of the best super spooky Halloween spirits!

Whether you’re attending a party full of deadly debauchery or spending a quiet night at home treating yourself, we’ve got the tipples to tickle your festive fancy this Halloween… Halloween…

Whether you’re attending a party full of deadly debauchery or spending a quiet night at home treating yourself, we’ve got the tipples to tickle your festive fancy this Halloween…

Halloween has come around again, promising a day of ghosts and ghouls, spiders and scares and all things frightening and foul. But there is truly nothing more terrifying than the idea of enduring the endless barrage of begging children or the heaving town centres without a decent drink in hand (severed or otherwise)…

So, let us set the scene for spooky celebrations and paranormal partying this year. Spare yourself the tricks and instead treat yourself to these spooktacular offerings. We’ve compiled a list of spine-tingling spirits, each with the scariest of serves, from peculiar punches to creepy cocktails.

So come and join us – if you dare – and cast your eyes upon the most bewitching boozes around. Oh – and be sure to check out our Halloween 2018 page for more ghastly greats… Mwahahaha!

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The Nightcap: 5 October

The first week of October is almost Oct-OVER. Sorry. That was terrible. Sorry. Anyway, here’s The Nightcap, lots of booze news to be had. As it turns out, October is…

The first week of October is almost Oct-OVER. Sorry. That was terrible. Sorry. Anyway, here’s The Nightcap, lots of booze news to be had.

As it turns out, October is cold. It’s almost like there’s some type of scientific reason to do with how planets move and where stars are, all of which contribute to making the start of October startlingly chilly… Either way, the work week for a lot of folks is drawing to a close, so it’s time to grab a warming tipple and dig into our weekly round-up of news from the drinks world – The Nightcap!

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Avast! Treasure ahoy for International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Yarr, ahoy an’ yo ho ho! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so we gots a treasure chest full o’ treats to be showing off! Smartly read on,…

Yarr, ahoy an’ yo ho ho! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so we gots a treasure chest full o’ treats to be showing off! Smartly read on, ya swashbucklers!

If ye be noticin’ folk runnin’ around, hollering “Yarr!” at the top o’ their voice this morn’, ye best greet them with a rousin’ “Yarr!” of yer own, for it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! But avast – what does this have to do with boozes? Well, landlubbers, we gots a trove of tangentially-pirate-themed treasure for ye to gaze at through yer spyglass!

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How did The Glenlivet, Chivas Regal and Jameson perform in 2018?

With Pernod Ricard’s full-year sales results hot off the press, we take a peek at how the likes of Scotch whiskies The Glenlivet and Chivas Regal, Ireland’s Jameson, Cognac brand…

With Pernod Ricard’s full-year sales results hot off the press, we take a peek at how the likes of Scotch whiskies The Glenlivet and Chivas Regal, Ireland’s Jameson, Cognac brand Martell and Absolut vodka fared in 2017/18. Spoiler alert: Scotch wasn’t the star of the show…

It’s results season, folks! Big companies left, right and centre are publishing their annual (or quarterly) reports, giving us an insight into how they’re getting on sales-wise. Today it’s the turn of Pernod Ricard to disclose its full-year data to the end of June. We had a nose through the docs and crunched the numbers to see how some of the world’s biggest drinks brands got on…

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