Tag Archives: Cocktail

Finding the perfect match

1 Oct

The new gin from Heston.

Pairing food and drink is becoming a particular interest of mine. I love playing around with how a food tastes when paired with one wine or another or, even more so, with one whisky or another. And it’s something I’m seeing more and more companies and restaurants taking on board. We’ve suddenly moved past simple wine and cheese matching, into whisky and food, and beer and food combinations.

Recently, I was invited to try out some of the new collection of beers and spirits being released by Waitrose. And while it was rather delightful to have access to a room full of whatever alcohols I fancied trying (including the new earl grey tea and lemon gin being released by Heston Blumenthal) I was mostly keen to check out its food and alcohol matching class.

On hand to take a group us through the various matches were Alex Buchanan, marketing manager of Thonbridge Brewery, along with Jamie Baxter and Alex (the new distiller) from Chase Vodka, along with chefs from the Waitrose cookery school.

We started out with a damson vodka infused wild salmon gravalax with a fennel salad paired with the Sipsmith damson vodka. The vodka was served icy cold and the fruitier flavours were meant to bring out the fishy and acidic flavours in the dish. While I enjoyed it, I found the damson vodka too sticky and jammy for my taste buds, but I bet a lot of people who enjoy densely sweet drinks would like this match.

We then moved onto Thornbridge’s Wild Swan ale matched with dressed crab. This, for me, was a glorious coming together of flavours. The ale is crisp and wheaty, with hints of lemon and grapefruit, which really brought out the fishy goodness of the crab. I recommend!

The next two dishes – a rich meat stew and a sausage stew – were paired with a few beers. The former matched, for me, best with the Fuller’s ESB because, while the ale is malty and rich, it has fruitier flavours which helped to cut through the intensity of the beef. The latter, meanwhile, paired perfectly with the Beglian Tripel Karmeliet (one of my favourite beers) due to the yeasty sweet flavours in the beer, which helped accentuate the slightly sweet flavours in the dish.

The event was finished off with a pairing of one of the most gorgeous trifles I’ve ever tasted (concocted from roasted panettone soaked in gin, with jelly, gin-soaked figs and spices) and Janneau Armagnac. This was, quite simply, gorgeous. And while I don’t normally opt for puddings when out, if this were in a restaurant I would happily snap it up.

Matchings such as these are taught at the Waitrose Cookery School’s cocktail and canape class, which the company says is about “showing customers how versatile spirits can be.” But it also does classes on more traditional matchings, such as a wine and gourmet food class coming up on 10 October, which is being put on in conjunction with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

After trying all the lovely foods and innovative drinks coming from British distillers and brewers, I felt thrilled to learn of new things I could try at home. And I recommend all of you to give it a shot (or, if all else fails, have a shot) – whether in a class or at home. It’s a great way to learn about flavours and how your personal palate responds to different groups of foods and drinks. Plus, you’ll probably have a rather pleasurable time doing it!

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Gin, jazz and teacups – The Langham’s Palace

24 Sep

A London gin palace of the 19th century.

In the early 19th century, gin palaces were all the rage. They sprouted up like mushrooms around London, pulling lovers of ‘mother’s ruin’ easily into their web and fascinating people with their use of gas lights both inside and outside of their buildings. They were known for being overly inviting, with riche interiors, and were – along with the huge numbers of beer houses – responsible for helping many on their way to drunkenness.

Fast forward nearly 200 years and one of London’s most luxurious hotels – The Langham – has resurrected that 1820s style by installing a Sipsmith ‘gin palace’ in the hotel’s Palm Court, an opulent ground-level tea room normally known for serving up teas and cakes.

The Langham’s version of a gin palace.

Now, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, patrons will be able to eschew petit fours and tea for hot jazz and G&Ts, concocted by Sipsmith’s master distiller, Jared Brown, and The Langham’s head mixologist Alex
Kratena.

The boy and I headed there on opening night to find out what it was all about.

Outside, throngs of teenage girls lined the pavement (an odd sight, indeed, until we realised a certain Canadian teen idol was stalking the floors). Once we’d realised they weren’t there to welcome us in, we headed into the grand, marble lobby and up into Palm Court. We could already hear the gentle reverberation of jazz as it drifted out the doorway and, once inside, we swiftly found a comfy chaired corner and coddled glasses of champagne to get the night going.

The room was dimly lit, with gold flecked walls picking up the sparkling lights from the oversized chandeliers. All around us, the well-heeled circulated the room with glasses of gin cocktails, while perfectly turned out waiters carried heavy looking, glass orbs filled with a bright orange liqueur that was being poured into tea cups. It seemed to be a cross between Victoriana and Alice in Wonderland.

After the first jazz set, we took a ‘turn about the room’ picking up some saucy, spicy ginger and lily cocktails on our way. Served in a leggy cocktail glass, this drink was sharp but satisfying, heating the taste buds with the gin and ginger combination, before ending with a wee sweet hint garnered from the lily cordial. It was delicious and if they had made cocktails like this in the early 19th century, I think there would have been even more turning towards the dark side of gin consumption.

With one cocktail down, we decided to have a rest in another lounging chair and opt for the teacup cocktail. Gin in a teacup – how could I resist?

This drink – called the Ginervistic – is made from a Dutch gin-style liqueur called Loyaal Zeer Oude, along with Sipsmith gin, lime and lemon juice, Champagne and The Langham syrup. It was mouth-puckeringly sharp – a bit too much for my taste. But, as the waves of sulty jazz rolled over us, and as I asked for a refill of my teacup, my taste buds became more accustomed to the bite of the drink.

When finally we decided to leave the cushy surroundings and head back into the chilling autumn air, it was with a sigh. The Langham does luxury like few others (maybe that’s why the Beibermeister – who the boy and I just missed apparently on our way to the loo – decides to rest his pop-fuelled self there). And the hotel’s gin palace is just as divine. Cocktails are of the higher-end London varietal (£15) but if you can spare the change, I recommend taking in the surroundings over just one cocktail and allowing yourself to be transported back to a bygone age. After all, it’s not everyday you’ll drink gin from Wedgwood china.

For more information on The Langham’s Gin Palace at Palm Court, visit: http://www.palm-court.co.uk/#/gin-palace/

(Ab)sinthe (Fab)ulous!

29 Oct

When I say the word “Absinthe” what do you think of?

The “Green Fairy” right?

Well, so did I up until a recent absinthe tasting during which I saw no sign of her fluttery wings. Moulin Rouge had it wrong all this time! Instead, it was my taste buds, rather than my psyche, which was treated to some delicious delights.

The night it all occurred was grey and drizzly – the type of typical Autumnal weather that makes us Brits begin to fantasize about log fires and cozy evenings in. And what better way to embrace this change of season than to get some super-strength liquor down my gullet?

The boy listens intently to tales of the history of absinthe

So the boy and I headed out of the rain and into the quaint downstairs bar area of Knightsbridge restaurant Brompton Bar and Grill – aka: London’s first absinthe bar. It serves up La Clandestine Absinthe and its brand ambassador – Alan Moss – was there on hand to take us through the intriguing and tasty history of the drink.

Moss and La Clandestine’s distiller, Claude-Alain Bugnon, began working together in the early noughties. The product is handmade in the birthplace of Absinthe: Couvet, in Switzerland. Moss regaled us with tales of its rise to fame in the 1800s (from when the French gave it to their troops in Algeria to fight off malaria, to when wine and cognac were nearly wiped out because of a root disease, making people turn to absinthe), all the way to its decline in 1910, when it was banned under the guise that it made you mad.

However, absinthe was never banned in the UK – as such, a Savoy cocktail book from the 1930s has more than 100 drinks containing absinthe (and only four with vodka).

Over the evening’s historical tales of underground absinthe making on family farms and its resurgence into glory, the boy and I tried a multitude of cocktails containing absinthe: from Hemingway’s own invention, Death in the Afternoon, to a whisky-sour style drink called Morning Glory Fizz and the bar‘s own take on a Caipirihna, made with absinthe. My favourite, however, was just the neat absinthe, dripped slowly through iced-water fountain. I loved those bitter, aniseed flavours that always transport me straight back to Paris.

A delicious serving of absinthe sits waiting to be consumed

The one thing that was clear, was that Moss loves what he does – well, who wouldn’t really? – and he is clear about wanting his product to remain more of a work of art, than a mass-market seller.

“I may be selling it in 22 countries, but if I only sell it to a few bars in each one, that’s fine. I want to serve my absinthe where people enjoy it,” he told me.

Various bottles of La Clandestine sit pretty

Moss added he hopes it becomes more recognised as a slow-sipping, fine drink, like a good scotch or cognac.

“We hope that most people respect it and we want to start with people who make it and serve it properly,” he said.

That I can heartily agree to. Gwiltypleasures always says a big cheers to the little guy, trying to make great products that thrill the taste buds whether neat or in a cocktail. And that’s just what Moss is doing.

La Clandestine is available at all fine specialty drinks companies, such as The Whisky Exchange, Gerry’s Wine and Spirits, and Liqueurs de France, amongst others.

Feeling Frisky for Whisky

4 Oct

As many dear readers may know, I rather looooove whisky. So, it is with great eagerness that I have been preparing my liver for the rather exciting TWE Whisky Show, happening this weekend in London – I even went to a bar last night and drank only tomato juice! Not a hint of bloody mary mix or vodka in sight. Shocking, I know!

The Whisky Show is set to bring more than 40 exhibitors to Vinopolis, near Borough Market, on Friday and Saturday. Although, for you unlucky souls without a ticket yet, Saturday is not an option as it’s already completely sold out!

Billy Abbott, who works with The Whisky Exchange – the fantastic online retailer of whisky, cognac and other fine spirits putting the event on – told me recently this show is not only for those already educated in whisky.

“The intention is to create a show that will appeal to almost everyone, with education at its core. The exhibitors on the stands are just as happy to talk general whisky appreciation as they are whisky geekery and combined with our food pairing, an area where most visitors won’t have much expertise, and cocktail bars we’re hoping that there will be something for everyone,” he explained.

Attendees will not only get access to more than 200 (! – did you just hear me giggle in joy?) whiskies, but also get to choose two “dream drams” from a range of 30. This, too, is different from previous years and Abbot says he hopes guests will be impressed.

“Previously guests have had one token that they could exchange for a dram of a super premium whisky, whereas this year we are giving everyone two. In addition we’re making things a bit more fine-grained with whiskies up to £1000 a bottle costing 1 token, £1000-£2000 2 tokens and over £2000 3 tokens. We’re also allowing people to buy extra tokens to give them the chance to try more of these impressive and in many cases exclusive whiskies,” he said.

For those whisky “geeks” heading to the show, there will no doubt be cries of joy when they realise those rare drams to hand will include a 1973, 30-year-old Midleton (bottled eight years ago, which sold out nearly on release) and a bottle of £3500 Drambuie Jacobite.

All in all, it sounds very impressive. And I can’t wait to get myself to the show on Friday and immerse myself in (vats? barrels? casks?) of whisky! As I’ve told my liver…this is all in the name of writing! And also in the name of indulging in Gwiltypleasures…bring it on!

Tickets cost £95 and include entry to the festival, all tastings, two “dream dram” tokens and a two-course meal at the show brasserie, with a menu designed by whisky and food writer Martine Nouet. For more information, visit: http://www.whisky-show.com

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