Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Presenting...Patron Naughty or Nice

House of Wolf opened its doors to a huge Patron Tequila party last night, and its only running for two more nights (Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th).  I wish I could say hurry to buy your tickets but the advance ones are sold out so head to the doors about 10pm and hope that someone will drop you you to squeeze in. Its runs till 4am so chances are pretty good! 

We started in the naughty room - obviously - where we had a Tequila Sunset with a pomegranate yolk, a Chilli Stimulant (espresso martini style) and a Chocolate Apaixonado before sneaking behind the pigeon holes for a quick fortune telling. Apparently I will be in the Himalayans in 4 years time and will be collected and taken to Vegas in a golden

Then we were allowed to be nice where in a spacious upstairs bar we had Juan Collins and Mexican 75s, not as good as downstairs I do not believe but interesting canapes including hay-infused potatoes (?) and ceviche sea bass with tequila jelly. 

When the live music started at 10pm we headed all the way to the ground floor and enjoyed my favourite drink of the night, Black Mexicans, with Mexican Mules and good ol' fashioned rock and roll. Yes, I was the idiot dancing all night, so shoot me. I enjoyed myself! 

Great night, great drinks, great team (360 Communications) and great friend Sarah for allowing me to be a part of it!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Brixton Village #2 : Happy Dumplings, Mama Lan and Relay

I love Brixton Village. I think everyone knows that. And I have been trying to eat my way around it, and to eat enough each time that I can offer a valid opinion. I have had a buckwheat crepe and a chocolate chili cake but do not real ready to review those two yet, I will have to return! I am afraid that I still have not worked out opening hours, basically a Saturday is good, but here is where I have been enjoying:

Happy Dumplings

We could not tell if it was open or closed. Yes, a couple were eating outside, but all the tables had been put away in the shop. When we showed interest they pulled a table and chairs out straight away and started making recommendations. This was just to be a quick meal so we opted for 20 dumplings (they are small!) between two people and turned down – this time – the shredded duck. We were also told that this wold be quick, as if they were closing, curious. And then negotiated to ensure these were steamed and then pan fried, for a crispier coating. This was not as easy as you’d think; I am not convinced either of the – lovely – owners speaks English.

By the time the chili and soy sauces had made it to our table, the dumpling were not far behind nestled on a salad of carrot, cabbage and cucumber which I enjoyed nibbling between dumplings. Ah, the dumplings. Steamy, packed full of fillings, flavoursome (though we cannot say which was which, we ordered a mixed batch). They even offer cookery classes on Sundays however I cannot imagine where the space is for that. And I am a little apprehensive that my Chinese is not at the necessary level to understand!

Without a doubt I will be back here. It is open when the rest of the market is shut (week nights). It has tasty food and friendly service at great prices. I want to try the duck.

On the way back an hour later (grazing the other sites for dessert) we noticed that people were still being drawn in, with a table brought out for you if interested. I wonder if they ever manage to shut…

Mama Lan

Bejing Street Food. I had been looking forward to this for a very long time just to put my expectations into perspective. And I was not disappointed.

We sat outside – again, inside space is limited in Brixton Village – but came prepared with spare jumpers and the restaurant themselves had a basket of fleecy rugs. And since we were “eating round the village” as we say (kind of like tapas hopping from place to place where space appears) we only ordered the spicy chicken wings and pork and chive dumplings. Now this should have been tough. Happy Dumplings set the bar high on, well, dumplings. And Riding House CafĂ© did the best Wings I have ever had with Bread Street Kitchen an exceedingly close second.

So how were they? The dumplings were tasty, steamed and full of fillings though perhaps lacking as much flavour as their rivals across the road. The chicken wings were fabulous. They were sticky and hot and spicy and so good we forgot to take pictures, so here are some from the website!

Drinks, overpriced as most of the village and with no toilet in any but one of the sites (Seven) we opted out, however have since found a well maintained public toilet the end of this street so do keep that information for your own visit, an a 20p!

I am not sure the menu offers enough variety to return for a second time. But I am glad to have been and recommend a visit to you if passing.


Look out Bourne and Hollingsworth, there is a new kid on the block. Well, not really.

However there is a similar idea going on in the ever innovative Brixton Village. A little space has been occupied in the Market Row side (5th Ave) called Relay Boutique/Tearoom (@relay_3) which combines cocktails and cake in your Granny’s front room. Now this may have started as a tea and cake kinda place but what I went for was the after hours option – cocktails and cake. We sat outside with the inside being full – as with so many areas in Brixton this space is compact at best – but never fear, there were rugs available in case we got chilly. The menu, in fact the whole place, is run by Jess. Jess is a man by the way, and more than happy to personalise your cocktails. We opted for a Pink Secret (£8) and a Daily Tribute (£7.50) with a slice of Victoria sponge cake on vintage crockery.

My Daily Tribute was really interesting, in a good way, with Four Roses complemented by camomile flowers muddled with mint. The Pink Secret, as girly as it sounds, also had a lovely sweet/sour balance between the raspberry juice, grenadine and bitters. Great froth too. The cake was moist and was a generous slice too.

So, are there any negatives? We were on our way to the cinema and due to a lack of space, Jess’ attention to customers and the need to hand crush ice we got rather tight on time. But it was worth the results. Tasty all round. And even better you can wait here if Honest Burgers is full (it will be) and they will come to get you when a table is free. Brilliant! 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Brewdog, Shoreditch: 17/20

Location: 51-55 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA


Visit: Several occasions, always early evening

To Note: Underdog to open soon…oh and don’t trust google maps to get you there!

Ambiance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Drinks: 5/5
Staff: 4/5
Extra LBS star: Not this time, perhaps when the bar opens proper…

I had heard a lot about Aberdeen-shire based Brewdog before I first tried the beer – at a fine bar in Borough Market called The Rake (see here). My first experience was the classic “Punk IPA” and then I moved onto “Trashy Blonde”; I loved both but they are unusual beers, not for everyone and nothing wrong with that either.

Brewdog Imperial Nail
So I have watched the expansion of the Brewdog “pub” empire with interest from their arrival in England in military tanks to their share purchase scheme and two days ago I finally organised a meeting with friends at the new Shoreditch venue. We arrived at 4.30pm on a Saturday to find there were no free seats but plenty of standing space not obstructing the bar and 30 minutes in and we managed to bag a booth, made for 6 or 8 really friendly people. You need to be close anyway with all the old wall tiling and concrete everything (floor, ceiling, pillars) the sound has nowhere to be absorbed and a few hours in it was hard not to shout across the table.

You come here for the beer, our one non-beer drinker had a choice of two ciders. I wouldn’t even ask about wine. And what really makes this place great is the staff. I explained that I loved their Punk and Trashy, they suggested an Imperial Nail which looked like Guinness but tasted really fruity. I was offered a taste and when I ordered a pint was advised it came as a 2/3rd, because at 8% a pint is a little too much. Then I reverted to a lighter, fizzier (perhaps one for imported larger drinkers) Dead Pony IPA at just over 3% and the last one… a small glass of 14% Isle of Arran which, frankly, just tasted like Port. Very nice but the glass I had was more than enough.  It is a sign of London living that £4 a pint seems reasonable, but I have paid more than that for bad Stella in this city so have no issue at this price for excellent beer with knowledgeable staff and a really nice buzz. We also had a great time trying each other’s different beer choices, a conversation starter really from the name “tactical nuclear penguin” to the taste.

It is not accurate to say Brewdog is a “pub” despite their beer emphasis, it is kind of a bar/pub which serves innovative Japanese snacks to complement the drinks list. And in a short while their “Underdog” will be open too. The downstairs area has already been host to some live music and the new vintage of hops tasting but there is more to come, just follow here… @Brewdogshored. I look forward to many more beer sessions here though watch the percentages, you have been warned! 

Monday, 29 October 2012

London Cocktail Week : Friday - West London Crawl

It was my last free day to enjoy LCW and it had been pretty busy so far. Being well acquainted with East London I thought it was time to see what the West had to offer. And I was impressed, here are my mini reviews:

We started at Westbourne House

Ambiance: laid back but with an edge that given a few more hours the dancing would start...
Decor: upmarket gastro pub, tables round the edge of what would no doubt be a busy area
Staff: knoweldgable, friendly
LCW cocktail: a whole week's work of Grey Goose drinks to chose from, the key lime was OUT OF THIS WORLD, with a delicious sharp drink topped with sweet meringue, YUM

Then onto Beach Blanket Babylon Portobello

Ambiance: bit snobby with lots of stiletto and LBDs, dinner still going on further back, but friendly enough
Decor: Pans Labyrinth meets Jean Paul Gauthier, absolutely fabulous, so many nooks and crannies to explore, however if you haven't booked a table it'll be a long night on your feet
Staff: Dreadful; on arrival one barman knocked over the raspberry drink he was preparing, covered my bag (and boyfriend's shoes) with no apology, no napkins, nothing. It was left to us to reach over the now-pink bar and grab tissues
LCW cocktail: they didn't even tell us what it was despite asking, it was overly sweet even to my friend's taste who loves sugary drinks. They also added 50p per drink tip AFTER SPILLING DRINK OVER ME!!

We stayed long enough to finish our drinks, keen to move on, with Portobello Star within sight

Ambiance: laid back and friendly
Decor: simple, clean and hilarious watching people try to get in/out by doors only open during market days!
Staff: friendly, knowledgeable
LCW cocktail: I was not at the bar to see it made but not too was tasty yet but was simply a Gin (Portobello Road) and tonic in  a glass. No ice, no garnish but a shot glass in the bottom. Perhaps the key was in the preparation...

And then finally Trailer Happiness

Ambiance: PAAAAAATY, but quite a squash!
Decor: tiki happy, bit 70's
Staff: dealt well with a busy bar and serving everyone in time
LCW Cocktail: a nuclear green daiquiri and delicious it was too, i'll be trying Midori with mine next time. In fact I would have stayed for more having bumped into the Bacardi team but alas, LCW got the better of me and flu was acomin'! 

So top West London bar: Portobello Star
Worst West London bar: BBB but I doubt they care if their barman's attitude is anything to go by

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Rhuby Cocktail Competition

Rosie Paterson, Voodoo Rooms

Rhuby Liqueur. From Rhubarb.

Its pink. For girls.

And so was the cocktail competition – Pink Your Drink - with the aim to support Breast Cancer Awareness as well as female bartenders.

So it was that I popped into the LCC Shaftsbury Avenue (with its female manager Sarah) to witness my first ever all female cocktail competition. And my, wasn’t it pink! From the hair and make up to the clothes to the Rhuby with prosecco drink. But despite the support that the girls had for each other they were also in it to win it.

The seven finalists from across the UK had a tough job on their hands with just minutes to make two cocktails as well as putting a Rhuby twist on a classic – chosen from a hat before their turn “on stage” – all the while entertaining the judges and crowd.

There were great drinks and even better stories playing on family ties and holidays but in the end the winner – by 0.5 points – was Naomi Fletcher from Hawksmoor with:

Flip It Twice
50ml Rhuby Liqueur
25ml Arette Blanco tequila
10ml Vanilla syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Whole egg
Small piece of lemon zest

Combine all the ingredients in a Boston tin and dry-shake first without ice, then again with ice. Double-strain into a chilled Sours glass and serve straight up. Garnish with grated nutmeg.
What struck me more about this competition than any other I have attended was the camaraderie. As the girls awaited their turn, chewing nails and running through supplies, the others were all there offering support, encouragement and friendship. Frankly, this is lacking at other events where bars form cliques around their contender. I wonder why no one thought of this before…?

Oh and the Rhuby liqueur itself? Ridiculously heavy yet beautiful bottle. Tasty surprisingly balanced drink. Look forward to playing with it soon.

London Cocktail Week meets Chocolate Week

Chocolate Tales from Dean Street

It was in the steadily increasing rain that a small queue of chocolate and cocktail lovers were standing outside 68 Dean Street. This was a timely collaboration as these two important weeks met and what an event it was. I will mainly do this by pictures, because when it comes to chocolate and cocktails what more do you want?

On the ground floor we had Damian Allsop and Martin Millers Gin, with a two tunnel truffle with one blackcurrant meringue and one green tea covered in ganache to go with the deconstructed Bramble with a ganache and macha powder rim! 

Next floor up was the delectable Santa Teresa Rum (I discovered it last year) forming a Hot Buttered Rum which was divine and paired to another favourite - Rococo Chocolates - and their  salted rum truffle. 

They also had an orange and coffee based liqueur that have been added to their range to try. This is definitely a rum worth looking up. Next door Johnnie Walker Blue were doing their thing with William Curley, a much awarded chocolatier. Johnnie Walker was neat in this case, to work with the complexity of the dessert which was a creme brulee centered chocolate mousse on a whisky soaked raisin sponge base and apricot sauce. William was on hand and very helpful with all my little questions. 

Onwards and upwards to the top floor and the first room was an aperol spritz cocktail with a salted caramel disc from Artisan du Chocolat. The cocktail was served with a cocoa pulp sorbet that did not work well, and this was the room where I saw more leftovers than anywhere else where it was empty glasses ahoy! 

So then onto the final room and one of my favourite chocolatiers - Paul A Young, a name that all Londoners should be familiar with. He was working with AquaRiva tequila - very drinkable - and started us off with a Parmesan chocolate to balance and work with the salt, and then another, I forget which, but god it was tasty! 

Overall this was a lovely evening with everyone talking to each other, people by themselves, with friends, in groups and all determined to have a good time. And it was a dinner in itself if not the most healthy one! Bravo @donalde, Kate and the team for such a sterling effort and such a turn out. 

London Cocktail Week : Tuesday - Johnnie Walker

This is Kabir, the very tall Johnnie Walker Reserve ambassador who packed out the room downstairs from the London Cocktail Week hub. Literally, there were queues of people hoping to get a last minute space!

And in front of us we had three glasses, which we could not touch, as the barman (sorry, didn't catch the name!) from Quo Vadis was mixing us a up Sazerac to get us started. This was done with 50ml Johnnie Walker Black, 5ml sugar syrup, 2 dashes of Peychaud bitters all stirred and strained into a Chartreuse washed glass and garnished with  citrus twist. A lovely smokey/sweet balanced drink. Now down to business!

#1 Johnnie Walker Gold - deep orange/gold colour. Caramel and vanilla nose becomes a little cardboardy (?) with a touch of smoke. There is a lot of smoke and spice on the finish and with a creamy vanilla expression lingering too.

#2 Johnnie Walker Platinum - medium orange/gold, sour pears nose but somewhat artificial, develops more sweetness with time. Thick, smooth and long dry finish but a little disappointing, doesn't pack the punch with spice or flavour...bland?

#3 Johnnie Walker Blue - medium gold/orange, more complex with honey and a memory of smoke, sherried, orange peel, nutty, spicy... Less oily on palate, smokey finish, long, delicious

Little facts for you

  • The main whisky in the gold blend is Clynelish, where gold was discovered in the water, hence the name
  • The first blends that Johnnie Walker (original) sold were old in a red label and very old in a black label, hence the label colour calling nowadays 

London Cocktail Week : Monday - Smatts Rum Shack

After the whisky show it was straight to my first official LCW event held at Smatt's Rum Shack, a pop up in Seven Dials, for an event hosted by "Terror" Tim (try calling him that, he loves it) of Twist London who now have an offshoot - Twisted.

We started off with a Dark 'n' Stormy and a brief history of Smatts, which I had not come across before. Smatts is the lovechild, shall we say, of two school friends. Having gone to university and launched their careers, they both felt something missing in life - rum. Ashley Smatt, one of said school friends, was from Jamaica, a rather important fact considering company laws there, and went about sourcing where their rum was going to come from both in terms of location and distillery to use. The number of distilleries on this island has dropped from 600 to 6 over 150 years so they also wanted to invest in the heritage to revive the industry. They have a white rum and a 5 year old gold rum.

So to the event, 3 cocktails twisted (see what I did there?!) into 3 very alcoholic ice creams.

#1 Dark and Stormy - very nice drink, very nice ice cream. Quite different, with the ice cream showing more ginger, which as a ginger fan I loved, and was also yoghurty. Finished with some fire and gingerbread. Note these also have 1 unit of alcohol per serving and it is all too easy to forget this after an hour's tasting...

#2 Smatt's Passoin - I am afraid that I have a deep psychological issue with passion fruit in drink so not one for me however I loved the showmanship of the fire to finish these off (other events were called ice and fire!) and the drink was very close in taste to the ice cream. The smell was like a banana brulee!

#3 Apple Crumble - ice cream won here again witha spicier more complex "drink" and it would have been even better with a crumble through the ice cream for texture. 

I have made alcoholic ice cream myself and the creamy texture is very easy to achieve with the alcohol preventing ice crystals however I am not sure mine were ever 1 unit per scoop! It was an interesting session, and would have been up there as excellent if one or two unnamed had not been enjoying the drinks and ice cream down to the last drop/lick...sore heads for some the next day I believe...

Good effort, look forward to more from the Twisted guys in the near future. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - LCC DIY Mojito

I love the London Cocktail Clubs. There. I have said it. You already knew it.

So how could I resist popping into Goodge Street whilst in the area to see their offering for LCW?
DIY Mojito! In a bento box! Oh, JJ, you have done it again!

So you get your mint, raspberries, rum, sugar syrup, ice and muddler. I was told that if you asked for advice the bar staff would advice on how to put it together but I had a lot of fun making this up and drinking it too. If only drinking in London was always this much fun! 

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Tanqueray Todd

Colin Dun of the whiskies.
Jill Saunders of the gin.
Diageo with the money.
Callooh Callay as the setting. 

This was Tanqueray Todd's Barber Shop. 

I started at the front with Mrs Lovett's LCW cocktail, which was delicious though I forget what was in it!

Then with my party arrived we were shown through that famous wardrobe door and into Colin Todd's (!) world of butchery and... pies. Yes, the deal here was pie and cocktail for £10 or pie, cocktail and a hot shave in the Jub Jub for £15. 

On being told the various pies that were on offer we then had four Beef and Potato thrown down.The service wasn't a problem - that was all very in character - but we had no choice as well as the pie being a tad hard. Oh well, soon our drinks followed in beautiful, specially made Tanqueray tankards complete with CC logos and glass bottoms. The mulled drink was delicious,  

We asked why there were glasses on the table and told it was for tastings. When we asked if we were going to get to taste anything some gin came over but with the caveat that most people don't get to taste. I think this was just a mix up with so many people coming and going for Colin to see.

And in between all this was the ever brilliant Colin Dunn circulating the tables as the gory Sweeney and recounting history to the soundtrack of rather scary music from Sweeney Todd the musical, at times making conversation with the person beside you impossible as the screaming crescendo-ed, very atmospheric!

We peeked upstairs at the barber shop and it seemed rather strange (to me) to lie, legs up, in a reasonably busy bar. However i was reassured by the hosts that the hot towels across the face is the most relaxing thing. Well! Not quite as good as last year I think, but a fine effort, far exceeding most bar's this London Cocktail week, and always different. 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

London Cocktail Week : Friday - Beefeater24 Competition

Another day, another cocktail competition.

This time Circus and Beefeater24 were hosting and it was another 1pm to 5.30pm marathon of tea-themed cocktails - The G&Tea Perfect Host competition.

And once again I wasn't able to do the whole session but I caught the last seven and they were very impressive. Not only was a huge selection of teas being used - English breakfast, Japanese, Indonesian... and presentation wise these were definitely the best of the week. 

There were cocktails served Japanese tea ceremony style in ceramic cups with mini scones on the side. There were cocktails in teapots with homemade gingerbread biscuits on the side. There were homemade bitters, and syrups, and the judges tasted all of these. And Beefeater and Circus also provided G&Ts and other cocktails to keep the crowd going. 

Nathan O'Neill from The Merchant Hotel, Belfast, walked off with the title. And with it, a trip to Japan for the global final!

Here is the winning recipe:  Mr Burroughs' Reviver

40ml Beefeater24
10ml Aalborg Taffel Akvavit
15ml Lemon juice
10ml Green Tea syrup
2.5ml almond water
2 dashes of absinthe infused with lapsang souchong tea

Shake and strain into a coupette and garnish with a lemon spiral

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Golden Bee

After 4 events I thought I was heading home but there was the chance to hit one more bar taking part in the £4 offer... so it was with foodie/drink-ophile Wilkes ( that I took advantage of a dry evening to visit roof top Golden Bee. 

This can be found above the aptly name "adult bar" The Horns and the door is just off Old Street. One flight of stairs, in which hangs an elaborate chandelier that would look tacky anywhere else, brings you to a rather spectacular display of bling. The bar was, I initially thought, sponsored by Finlandia but actually that was just one "swirl" (see pic) and they had a good range of products. Outside is the first level with seating and a mezzanine level which would be great to curl up in with a group of friends. But don't bother with all this. Take the spiral stairs up to the top - there is a bar there too - and snuggle under the rugs near the heat lamps to enjoy the views. OK. There are not like Paramount, this is old street after all. But it is a unique perspective on an area I know well. 

There were two barmen, one was training the other when we went, and since this was the first time he made the drink I say kudos to him, it was well put together. I suspected that Golden Bee may have missed the boat only opening at the end of the summer but on a dry winter evening they are certainly doing everything they can to keep you warm up there. The manager - who barely looked old enough to drink! - was friendly and helpful when he heard us discussing when it opened and informed us that it was generally pack Friday and Saturday nights with a clubby feel and the dancefloor will rock, So one to bear in mind if you are looking for a boogie in the area. 

I have heard some people complaining that it is tacky however I think you need to take Golden Bee for what it is: fun, roof top cocktail bar that doesn't take itself too seriously. I think I will be back, but if you go do take someone to snuggle up to as the temperatures drop! It may even be quite special in the snow...!

London Cocktail Week : Thursday - gaz Regan

I could not believe that I scored a place to meet industry legend gaz Regan. This was taking place at the excellent 69 Colebrooke Row and it was absolutely packed. They also offered round delicious negronis and manhattans to whet the whistle. 

Never noticed this at 69 before!
Advertised - and originally planned - as a talk on the legends of the industry, gaz instead chose to talk us through some of his eclectic and personable customers he encountered in the early 80's in the New York "English pub" called the North Star. There was the "father", the WWII night, the St Patrick days; he has described his time here as his favourite years in the industry. 

It was entertaining and insightful. And best of all was watching this legend. gaz Regan (with a small g) is a few inches over 5 foot, in his 50's, with his statement black eyeliner on one eye ("why not?" he says) and quietly spoken. Yet he held the room's attention the entire way through, he made you feel this is how bartenders should be - approachable, interesting, interested - and I hope that I may the opportunity to speak to him more in the future. 

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Monin Cocktail Competition

First cocktail competition of the week was hosted by Monin Syrups and the interesting aspect was that two cocktails were to be made - one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic. This started at 12 and ran to 5pm and i stayed for a few hours but it is dedication do do the whole session. Saying that, it ran smoothly with two prep areas so one contestant can prepare whilst the other presents. And the canapes were very tasty!

Monin has a huge range of flavours and the alcoholic cocktails presented a really interesting range but there were a few non alcoholic daiquiris going on so either not as much thought or great minds thinking alike! There were also two categories, under and over 27 years old. 

My favourite - and the only bar tender that I knew! - was the legendary Andy Mil. He set his mind to the competition with his usual flair pairing his creations to food and adding spectacular presentation. The non-alcoholic drink was a spicy hot chocolate which - inspired by the old fashioned flips - he heated with his wife's hair straighteners wrapped in foil... this was served in a mug decorated with a stripping lady (classy), marshmallows, squirty cream, and biscuits. The alcoholic was inspired by horror movies with beetroot to give a deep red colour and served in a martini glass with a Shining inspired picture and a mirror to reflect the details on the back ,Trust me, it was genius. (And Andy will be missed from LCC as he moves on soon!)

And the winners were...

Creme de la Creme by Susie Wong, Epernay Champagne Bar, Manchester (over 27)
45ml Cariel Vodka
15ml Cointreau
3 drops orange bitters
20ml Lemon juice
20ml Monin Butterscotch syrup
Shake and strain into a sundae glass, top with 50ml of soda water and garnish with a sugar nest and scoop of ice cream

Oliver's Rose by William Humphery, Hausbar, Bristol
60ml Poire William
25ml lemon juice
15ml Monin Bubble Gum syrup
1 fresh egg white
Shake, strain and garnish with hundreds and thousands

Oh and check out the amazing views from the Paramount bar in the centre point (add photo)

London Cocktail Week : Tuesday - Mini Ginstitute

So, first event of London Cocktail Week, and something I was sooooo excited about. It was a mini version of Jake Burger's Ginstitute usually based above the Portobello Star, a fabulous Portobello Road bar. Do not miss their Whisky Mac No 2 if you pass by.

The Ginstitute Batch Still
This had moved from west to east and set up shop in Seven Dials. On arrival we were offered a gin drink straight off with their own - very tasty - gin, Portobello Road. Then we settled in for some gin history from Jake himself. I have worked in the gin industry for almost year and I would say that about 40% of what we were told was new to me so totally interesting, even for the pros.

Then we had a quick break, moved on a Gin Collins, and started tasting. We had about 25 botanicals to work through, both smelling them and tasting them. We started with juniper, obviously, which Jake suggests makes up at least 40% of a gin. (Remember a gin by definition is a juniper forward distilled spirit) Then we worked through the spices from angelica to liquorice to cardamom. Next up was the fruits like lemon, lime, apricot stone and lavender. All the while we were taking notes as the important part was still to come...making our own!

Mixing Up My Gin!
I was up first and spent a few minutes discussing my favourite gins with Jake to decide which direction to take the gin. The conclusion - 'masculine', spicy, with body. Jake's assistants then stepped up and started measuring out my gin in a huge test tube. We then tried it and (very) happy with the results it was bottled, labelled and numbered so that Jake has my recipe when I want to reorder. And I will.

I did ask if anyone has tried their gin and sent it back to try again. Apparently not but that is why Jake is there, to guide you through the process, and advised you choose between 8 and 14 botanicals. I was hoping to be in the lower range but ended up with 11.

Bar Hopper Gin
The surprise of the day was the Yorkshire tea botanical. As a non-tea drinker I thought this would not be my favourite but I added a generous whack into my gin. It was slightly sweet and added nice tannins. This was specially designed between Jake and Yorkshire tea so I am not surprised it tastes so good!

I would thoroughly recommend this experience to everyone. It is not cheap but you do get a complete history of gin, you are surrounded by history and you leave with your own bottle that can be re-ordered for £37/bottle.


Monday, 17 September 2012

Presenting… GINSTOCK

8 gins. 8 bars. Offering 8 cocktails. This was Ginstock.

It was a great start as the sun beat down on the Fifteen sponsored British Street Food Award vendors. Shame that they almost to a man ran out of food just a few hours in but we won’t go into that, I’m sure others will…

PKD's Rhubarb
I was there for the gin, and not to forget this was also a competition. Here is how they rated in my humble opinion:

#1= Sipsmith and Zetter Townhouse with The Gimlet

This was utterly beautifully balanced with 2 parts Sipsmith gin to one part homemade orange and cassia cordial and lemon twist. So drinkable and love the tiny martini glasses for such a potent drink. Went back for more.

#1= Martin Millers and Powder Keg Diplomacy with Gin and Rhubarb Tonic

Another really well balanced drink with the sharpness of homemade rhubarb tonic working really well to created such a fresh drink and loved the stripy cinema popcorn cups too. Well done Matt!

#3 Gilpins and Liberty Lounge with The Herbalisor

Loved the story here, loved the passion of those working for Gilpins, loved the mini g&t sorbets, and although their berry cocktail was more “my thing” the boys loved The Herbalisor, very fresh

#4 Williams and Worship Street Whistling Shop with A Smoked concoction!

This was an interesting combination of citrus and smoke, though it was mainly smoke. Nice, but it could have been any gin in there 

Gilpins Berry Cocktail
#5 Bombay Dry and London Cocktail Club with a Custard Cream topped concoction

Bit forgettable but loved the custard cream!

#6 HVEN and Danger of Death with Dirty Bomb Martini

Good lord, why would you swap olive brine for MEZCAL?! Barely drinkable

#7 Beefeater and Polpo with Negroni

This pre-mix was way WAY too bitter, and I was not the only one saying it, given away

Not tried: Bombay Sapphire and Nightjar with Singapore Sling

I was advised not too so since we were several drinks in I heeded that advice!

Gilpins G&T mini sorbet
Top surprises

§         Williams Gin new Extra Dry Gin offering - delicious, great progress
§         Gilpins Gin and Tonic sorbet in mini cones with a touch of absinthe – world’s BEST hangover cure – as well as their range of tonic waters

Thanks to the band (I recognised the lead singer and pianist from Nightjar) for great music, thanks to all the guys representing their bars and gins who were all more than happy to take the time to tell you about what they are doing and to @tweat_up for making it happen

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Presenting…For One Night Only: Monkey Shoulder

I was delighted to attend the second event of the series that Monkey Shoulder are currently running in secret locations across London to the end of the year – this one was Whisky Punch. The invitation gave very little away with this tantalizing message:

We’re hosting a rumble in the jungle! …Indulge in some ringside rivalry as you get in touch with your macho side. Train to get your speed (pouring) up to scratch, learn how to make a knockout punch…All the boxing puns you’d expect, none of the fighting.”

On arrival we had our names ticked off and when a little group had formed we were led into an East London warehouse and given our first brief along with drinks tokens and a boxing glove (I wish I could say each but they had run out!) First, a drink, a whisky drink, obviously. It was a Cold Whisky Punch by a 300 year old recipe made to the old mantra:

One part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong, four parts weak

In other words lemon juice, sugar, whisky, water and some spice. David Wondrich would have been proud, it was delicious. We took a turn round the room, got pictures with the batman style “KAPOW” signs and then headed to the back room for some training for the tasks ahead.

(1)     Pare an orange: not too challenging, pare a nice piece of orange peel with as little pith as possible to earn the right to a Cut & Jab (with pineapple juice)
(2)     Flair: now we’re talking! Impress the bartender with your flair skills, either go
      for the straight up single rotation of the cocktail shaker or if you want to be fancy, try the sideways wrap around the wrist. This earned you an Uppercut  
      but it seems there was so much trouble getting it right here that they gave up 
      an hour in and just took your token!
(3)     Lastly, the one I found the hardest – speed pouring! Pour an exact 50ml serve for your Haymaker with the smokey Lagavulin. So the trick is counting but it seems that I am rather stingier than I thought and I am so glad that I have this skill now – yes, I think it is a skill to free pour 50ml!

And whilst all this was going on, besides having a really good chat with nice people and playing with this (go mental like with table football is the only way to win):

There was also…BOXING! Get up in pairs, pull on the sumo suits and have a go at your friend in 3 rounds. It looked great fun (although with some scary sounding thumps too!) but frankly after several people has braved the ring I was not prepared to brave the sweaty suits so just enjoyed the show. It all wrapped up just after 11pm but we had so much fun it seemed like it had lasted longer.

Great night, great drinks, great hosts (Thanks Olivier) and I cannot wait to sign up for further events before the year is out. The fireworks looks especially fun…

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Presenting…Bowmore & Paul A Young Chocolates

From perhaps the most famous – and certainly most distinctive – of the whisky regions comes the Islay Single malt of Bowmore. One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, they choose to dry their malt with hot air for 45 hours, and peat for just 15 hours, so it does not have the power or an Ardbeg or a Lagavulin but it does make for easier drinking and a good one to start Islay novices on. Bowmore is also mainly aged in ex-Bourbon casks and these come from just two sources - Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey. So introduction over and our host Phil Nickson (clearly a Colin Dunn fan!) started us off with some tricks when tasting:

-     Try to smell the whisky with your mouth open
-          Little sniff first so you do not burn the senses with ethanol
-          Put your hand on top and shake (or pour a little into palm), rub till dry then smell your hands

Our first whisky was Bowmore 12 Years Old (40%) paired with Sea Salted Caramel filled chocolate.

Colour of golden syrup
Smell of bonfire smoke, TCP, BBQ char and vanilla really comes through with a bit of time in the glass
Taste is sweet at front, more of that vanilla with sharp brine on sides of the tongue
The match? The dark chocolate coating finishes the whisky really well adding bitter notes to the vanilla

Then onto Bowmore 15 Years Old (43%) with a Dark Chocolate Truffle

Colour is darker gold from more sherry influence
Smell is liquid caramel with some medicinal notes and a lot of (fresh) fruit
Taste is spicy from extra 3%, deeper sugary richness and has a coffee finish, yum!
The match? Not as strong I do not think but again a nice bitter/sweet match

The third was Bowmore 18 Years Old (43%) with a birds nest type thing of Dark Chocolate and Nuts

Colour was darker again from extra barrel time
Smell was even sweeter, sweet chestnuts roasting and fruit cake – Christmas anyone??
Bowmore and peated malt
Taste was spicier still, with milk chocolate and nuts
The match? I don’t like nuts so…No Comment!

No onto the big boys and Bowmore 10 Years Old Tempest Batch 3 (55.6%)

This whisky is aged by the sea wall in their warehouse so there is a lot of salt on the palate and this is really very much bonfire smoke. There is also a bigger punch at this alcohol level so a bit of water goes a long way to bringing out the complex web of flavours. At around £45 if you are looking for a special present for a whisky fan this may hit the spot

And lastly a whisky that cost £300 a bottle, which only has (now!) 119 bottles available in the UK and sits at cask strength 52.3%: 1985 Bowmore. All I can saw is a heady mix of TCP and honeycomb. What a treat, one to enjoy without tapping away at the tasting notes!

As ever, thanks to Callooh Callay for hosting these awesome tasting opportunities - and for the incredibly tasty mini hot dogs too! 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Presenting… The LCS at The Hide Bar

This special evening was all smoke and mirrors…well smoke and bubbles at least. The Hide Bar team had got their hands on some new equipment and they wanted to play, with an audience to play for. Enter The London Cocktail Society. The evening was all about twists on the classic based on four base spirits; we started with gin.

Paolo made 6:1 martinis with Bermondsey Gin – we were, after all, on Bermondsey Street – and a Noilly Prats and a squoosh of lemon scent from their antique atomizer. This was not the gin I would choose for a martini but one of my favourite drinks nonetheless.

Then. THEN. They took the martini and added it into what I can only describe as a time-capsule-soda-stream. You put the liquid into this glass cylinder, attach the CO2 can and add till full. Shake firmly. And there you go, fizzy martini. “Was it good though?” I hear you ask. It was interesting, the bubbles softening the alcoholic kick but did nothing more than that. Then our bar tender added a few martinis to a decanter and then with the help of a rubber pipe smoked that drink with freshly lit wood chips. Block up the top. Swirl it around a bit. (Don’t worry, it won’t over smoke). And how did this one perform? It had hints of black BBQ char and finished with a smokey bacon note. Don’t get excited, it was not that tasty. And lastly – a fizzy smoked martini. This sat undrunk once tried…

So onto the next classic spirit that was tequila and the classic margarita. The process of fizzing, smoking and fizzy smoking was the same. The result was very different. This is because tequila already spends some time in charred barrels during the aging process so the smoke automatically integrates better. The best of the lot was the straight up smoked.

NB Despite this being a one-off event, The Hide Bar has many unusual drinks on the menu including a smoked tequila drink so pop along if you are intrigued.

Next the team presented a Mint Julep and a Rum based Old Fashioned. Unfortunately I had other commitments that evening but I was informed the smoked Mint Julep was the triumph.

A lot of fun. A lot of great Christmas present ideas for cocktail and food geeks. As for the taste, I am yet to be convinced that my classics need these specific twists. 

(Many many thanks to Mark at for the photos - mine got lost in transit!)