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!) 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Sebright Arms (with Lucky Chip) Bethnal Green 16/20*

Location: 31-35 Coate Street, E2

Visit: Wednesday Evening

To Note: Tucked away off Hackney Road but regular buses from Liverpool Street, Old Street and London Bridge, worth the schlep  

Scores (for the pub)
Ambiance 3/5
Design 3/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBC star: * for getting the fabulous Lucky Chip in for residence

I don’t often review pubs, normally stick to the cocktail bars, but with the additional of my one true love – BURGERS – to this one I thought it worth a few words.

A bit of a schlep from South of the river for me but I think this was well worth it. On finding the pub (A to Z and GPS at the ready but totally unnecessary, it was right by bus stop) I was tempted by the benches outside in the lane that runs by the pub since it was a warm night but since we were eating and I do hate people smoking over food I explored the inside options instead. And there are plenty. You can take a leather couch like we did (not practical for eating), perhaps curl up in the smaller room set behind the bar, gather round a barrel in the main room or take a table up a few stairs by the windows. It is all traditional but with that feeling particular to London that I love – this is not an “old mans pub” but a local.

There was an extremely impressive range of beers and ales. As a side note I am often asked what wine or cocktail to order in a pub. My answer: don’t. You would certainly find something for every palate and in this case the helpful bartender guided me to Camden Pale Ale whilst my friend had Meantime. Then onto the food.

I do not know what they did before but now they have LUCKY CHIP. I went for the “Kevin Bacon”, my friend the “Royale” and fries to share. Mine was a delightfully pink patty with beautiful slab of bacon and gooey cheese with pickles all held together in shiny bun that held to the very end. The Royale – I though strangely – came in a seasame seed bun but there were no complaints from my friend, in fact very little talk at all, before we turned to the fries that were clearly hand chipped and very tasty.

There is regular live music and although it got louder as the night went on, I can safely say that I will return to The Sebright Arms – I like their style – and my friend is delighted by her new “local” too. 
Square Meal