Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Presenting... Whisky Sqaud Tasting #84

It was a long time coming, but I finally attended my first Whisky Squad tasting, run by
industry stalwarts Jason Standing and Billy Abbott, at the King and Queen in Fitzrovia. 14 whisky aficionados got together to discuss Non Age Statement Whiskies. So we started with a few ideas about where they fit in, or if they do at all, quality and what lies behind them, then started the tasting:

Whisky #1: Prime Blue (Morrison Bowmore blend made in 80s for Asian market)

-          Nose was fruity with marzipan and vanilla and developed toffee with time

-          Palate was richer than the nose, more wood influence, round in the mouth and was best without water

Whisky #2: Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve (from Japan)

-          Nose was sour fruits, citrus, green apple and nail polish, richer with time

-          Palate was sharp with a sweet finish then bitter length, very highball style

Whisky #3: Old Pulteney Duncansby Head (Travel Retail)

-          Nose is very malty, almost hops and bleu meat, gets sweeter with time

-          Palate is very spicy (46% abv), gets some round buttery rounds and has some furniture polish on finish, develops coffee on finish

Whisky #4: Talisker 57° North (NB very deep gold colour)

-          Sweet smoky bacon nose, described by others as drinking “hot dogs”

-          With water is develops Islay style bonfire notes and germoline profile but it is from Skye!

Whisky #5: Ancnoc Flaughter newly released peated range)

-          Lightly smoked like slow cooking lamb, sweet, polish, green apple, another big 46% abv

-          Sprightly little thing, smoke levels out to a gentle finish


Whisky #6: Glenmorangie Companta (limited release, sold out)

-          Lino, rubber nose with banana underneath and polish

-          Buttery bananas on the finish, metallic, nose definitely better than palate, 46% doesn’t show
Despite the newness of some of these whisky releases, NAS whiskies have been around for a while and will continue to lend another depth to an already fascinating range of age and vintage single distillery whiskies and blends too. I have found my favourite from this line up, try some yourself, especially fun on whisky "snob" friends who are rather too interested in age over liquid...

Friday, 4 April 2014

Presenting… Monkey Shoulder DIY Drinks Kitchen with The Bon Vivant

If I am honest, it was not the best start as this London Cocktail Week pop up was running both a bar upstairs and a DIY kitchen event downstairs and we were a bit confused which queue was which; most annoying when it is also raining. But we got there in the end, and joined the crowd around three large butcher block type wooden tables to enjoy an evening with The Bon Vivant’s team from Edinburgh.

Now this was all the way back in October so I cannot remember exact details, but I know there was:

- Cured salmon and pear
- Smoked duck and fig
 Monkey shoulder infused Christmas cake

And along with all this food we watched then tried to replicate the cocktails we were taught, a mixture of stirred, shaken and then the infused whisky straight. Here are some lovely pics to give you an idea of the evening:

It was good, with a nice crowd of people and the cocktail styles covered all palates. However, we were just starving – and tipsy – by the end and the cake infused shot didn’t do it for us which was a shame – in theory it should have been fab. All I do know is that every time you go to Edinburgh, you should visit these guys. They really know their stuff. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Presenting... Vermouth Wars

It was quite a task that Andrew Scutts, of Boutique bar Show, took on trying to organise a tasting from 4 different vermouth makers from different importers/agencies, all for the industry. And I am glad he did as I know very little about the category (apart from a TV show that visited Noilly Prats last year) and this line up was fascinating.

Just for those as ignorant as me:
wine + alcohol + sugar + botanicals (always wormwood) = VERMOUTH

And my, has the category come on in recent years! This is due to countries out with the traditional France/Italy getting involved in vermouth production, due to the rise of the classic cocktails and one producer claimed making products without the mistakes of the long standing brands!

We tasted these in the order extra dry, dry, amber and red and unfortunately I did not have time to stay for their signature serves; however I am going to group them by brand. Starting with:

MANCINO (Italian)

Presented by the very personable Giancarlo, he started by making much of his time behind the bar (with Salvatore and at The Lanesborough amongst others) and his determination to make a vermouth ‘worthy’ of his martinis. He assures us that his vermouths will last, open, for up to 6 months if correctly stored due to the 9 months taken to prepare each batch.

Secco: 1.87g sugar per bottle, 18 botanicals, trebbiano wine
Nose sweetness like vanilla, some herbal notes
Palate sharp, bitter yet clean as well with the lemon, orange and lemongrass coming through

Bianco Ambrato: 200g sugar per litre
Nose lots of elderflower
Palate where the quinine really comes through, first that high sugar but bitter finish

Rosso Amaranto: 39 botanicals including juniper, rhubarb, vanilla, orange…
Nose very light, delicate
Palate same on the palate, very delicate. I like it by itself but not sure how it would sit in a cocktail

For those with £150 spare there is also the Vecchio, only 60 bottles in the UK, and is an enhanced version of the Rosso with great balance


Each expression has 12 base botanicals then different variants have additional fruits and spices. This is the team also behind Ciroc Vodka and G’Vine Gin, with an emphasis on the vine flower.

Extra Dry: pinot de charentes wine and cognac eau de vie
Nose some earthiness, a bit chlorine?
Palate a bit like Riesling, burnt toffee, some of that chlorine from the nose?

Blanco: 5 botanicals added to the base 12
Nose elderflower but further chlorine, not getting along with these!
Palate elderflower and a healthy dose of liquorice

Rouge: there is some chocolate, maybe prunes, but sweet and still…chlorine

Unconvinced but perhaps these are better in cocktails


An very old company, who have been producing vermouths from Turin for centuries on and off, and have a recipe that went to the kings of the day.

Extra Dry: high quality DOCG wine base, 25 botanicals, master blender ensures consistency of each batch
Nose quite strange, fresh grass, mint?
Palate smoky, almost bacon finish

Nose like liquorice, bit sickly, wears off
Palate balanced sweetness to floral notes, cinnamon, surprise FAVOURITE of the group

Rosso:27 botanicals including orange, sherry, red fruit
Nose wormwood
Palate quite bitter, long finish, ok but not stand out


From Ian and Hilary Hart producing their award-winning gin amongst other products from their living room in Highgate. Very distinctly different from other countries.

Spiced English Vermouth: three choirs English wine and 24 botanicals including plums, cherries and thyme
Nose really blackcurrant jam nose
Palate more blackcurrant, elderflower, well balanced

Rose Hip Cup:
Nose blackcurrant
Palate really quite floral, bitter, not one for me straight but no doubt great negroni twist

A captive audience
Thanks to the Bassoon Bar at The Corinthia for hosting, they did an amazing job getting everyone in and seated! 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sager + Wilde, Hackney: 19/20

Location: 193 Hackney Road E2 8JL


Visit: From 5pm or 2pm for Sunday indulgence!

To Note: It's not just wines they do well, their toasties are fab!

Ambiance 4/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5 

I had been waiting for this opening for quite a while, not only after their pop up last Christmas on Old Street roundabout but also seeing their regular photos of the bar developing. And I was not disappointed; Located almost opposite the old QuiQuiRiQui mezcaleria, about a 5 minute fast walk from Shoredtich High Street, wooden venetian blinds and a simple SAGER+WILDE above the door cannot hide that the windows were already steamed up on a cold night and already half full just a few minutes after opening - the East End has been waiting for such a venue!

And yes, this is an East End establishment which means full beards, army surplus jackets and designer glasses abound but mixed in with a range of different ages, in couples, big groups or even locals having a quick glass and chat to the staff. To be honest if you have got a seat here you also have the right to look smug. It is not a cheap night but it will be a good one, especially if you nab a stool at the old street paving bar to get Mike (Sager)'s wisdom on wine choice. 

There are some sherries and vermouths but the wine is what you come for with a daily changing range of whites and reds by the glass and available to take away - often rather special - and if that is not enough the "special list" by the bottle as well. And the staff are well versed and most importantly passionate about their choices so come armed
with just a few preferences (dry/sweet, fruity/full bodied etc) and let them be your guide. 

If you get hungry, their toasties are divine or opt for a cheese and meat board - they will also help you choose by the wine you are enjoying!

This is a wonderful little addition to Hackney Road and one I hope to return to again and again. Well done Mike and Charlotte!

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Blind Pig, Soho: 20/20

Location: 58 Poland Street, London, W1F 7NR


Visit: Every time you are free!

To Note: Enjoy some nibbles if you cannot get a dinner table downstairs

Ambiance 5/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5 

The Blind Pig. From the minute I walked in (through the wrong door, take the wooden door to the right of the restaurant which has both a pig's head on it and is under the optician's sign) I felt like I may have found another of those gems on the bar scene - and the proof is that I keep going back.

The decor is reminiscent of Hawksmoor with lots of leather and dark wood alongside burnished metal. (It is not a speakeasy by any standards but) the low lighting and cosy booths make this place feel wonderfully illicit, even if you are sitting on the exceedingly comfy leather bar stool watching the magic happen. 

The drinks - as group bar manager and legend Gareth Evans says - are already being copied elsewhere in the capital and we all know this is the sincerest form of flattery. In particular their thermo-nuclear daiquiri - though not a recipe that they can claim - is served with bio-hazard tape and a glow stick so look out for this serve! Cereal killer is served in a clear plastic milk carton and garnishes are divine. And the menu is well proportioned with all the bar staff working together to ensure a menu that covers the bases without overwhelming you. I have tried several drinks over my visits and the currently trending Slap and Pickle - yup, gin with pickle juice - still stays with me as both intriguing and worth another order! 

Speaking of staff, these guys are polite and friendly, and under the tutelage of Gareth Evans (Diageo's World Class star 2012) are also knowledgeable in both spirits and cocktails. 

I cannot say enough good things about The Blind Pig; and they have followed up this success just a few months later with Berner's Tavern in Editions Hotel. It is barely 5 minutes walk away and utterly decadent - Jason Atherton's empire knows no bounds and long may this continue. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Presenting... Glenmorangie and Cigars at Boisdale

I'll be honest. The title of this article is rather a gentlemanly pursuit. And yes, there was only one female. That does not mean that this was not a completely unexpected night of great times. It was fab!

So, on a slightly shivery evening 10 of us, mainly cigar aficionados rather than whisky, sat down at Boisdale Canary Wharf's cigar terrace to get educated. Although mainly men, the average age was much lower than you'd expect, early thirties for most. Apparently, the trend for cigars is going the same way as whiskies; younger consumers are coming in both better educated and looking for more knowledge. 

We started with a fascinating break down of the cigar by Dan Pink of Hunters and Frankau, THE cigar wholesalers of the UK since 1790. He told us that the definition of a Cuban Cigar (still the world's best) is that 
(a) it is made in Cuba!
(b) it is hand rolled and 
(c) it is long filled...

Let me explain. You take apart a cigarette or a cheap cigar and the tobacco inside is all chopped up into shreds. You take apart a Cuban cigar and there are ONLY 5 leaves running the length of the whole thing, amazing! So once Dan had shown us (me) how to cut and light the cigar, this was paired with Glenmorangie Whiskies from the Highlands. 

(FYI The cigar was a Cohiba Madura 5 Genios)

There was the Original, the Lasanta, Quinta Ruban and Nectar D'Or. What was really interesting was that each whisky was the Original with 2 years in an additional finish. So the Lasanta was 2 years in Sherry casks and that added the spicy, slightly lino-y notes. Quinta Ruban - my favourite - was 2 years in Port. This lent a depth of colour and a sweetness. And Nectar D'Or was 2 years in Sauternes casks which I think is too tame a wine to lend much but everyone had their favourites. 

The surprise of the night was that the cigar - a "medium to full" - was really very enjoyable. Yes, I had to re-light it 4 times due to not drawing in smoke enough but as a first timer it was great! And Boisdale are far from the stuffy "Scottish" members club you may be imagining and is a modern airy space with great food and a stupendous bar with regular jazz to boot. Don't hesitate to book a (somewhat pricey) night here if any of this sounds appealing. You will not be disappointed. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Presenting... Sette Vie Liqueurs

Kensington Place Restaurant, perhaps not the first place you would think of to host a "Cocktail Academy" but that is exactly what they are doing, once a month.

We turned up in September to see what Sette Vie liqueurs were all about. The class started with a glass of prosecco, very civilised, and then we sat down on a big table and Paul Pavli of Boutique Brands explained how they first came across this family company and their shelved recipes, now restored and relaunched. All local herbs and flavours are used from their region of Abruzzo (for the wine lovers).

Brief history done, we moved onto tasting where we started with my favourite of the evening and something I have not come across before - Ratafia. This is a cherry and almond liqueur that can simply be described as bakewell tart in a bottle. This was then made into a twist on the French 75 but we preferred it over ice.
Christmas present for friends all round!

Then came their amaretto, universally declared as better, more real shall we say, than the "biggest name on the market" and made a delicious Amaretto Sour (shake with lemon juice, gomme and egg white). This was topped with a Ratafia soaked cherry, yum.

And lastly my nemesis of sorts as there are not many things I won't drink but Limoncello is one of them. I just think it tastes too much like cleaning product but no doubt this is a psychological block from my adolescent drinking experiences! However, mixed with vodka, lemon juice and sugar - I know, I also thought that would not work! - it became the best cocktail of the evening.

This is a lovely way to spend a Monday evening and we stayed for excellent fish pie too. The next one is in November - Dalmore Whisky - and they fill up fast so pop onto the website and join Imants and his fabulous bar team as soon as you can!