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!