Tag Archives: gin

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/

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A Blacksmith & a Toffeemaker walk into a pub…

10 Apr

The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker

Since moving to London, I have come to love the random names of pubs across this country. The“Bunch of Carrots”; “Dirty Dicks”; and “The Dog and Duck” all spring to mind.

So, when an email came through inviting me to check out a new, quirky pub on St John Street, between Angel and Farringdon, I was immediately taken by the name.

Called The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker after a song by former British singer-songwriter Jack Thackray, the pub is run by two young chaps – Marc Dalla Riva and Matt Rix. The former, a chef, and the latter, an events guru, love the place so much they even make upstairs their home.

While the interior has been redesigned with a Hoxton-ish interior (light colours, modular ’60s furniture, quirky vintage feel) the space manages to avoid being trendy and pretentious by feeling comfortable and laid-back. The aim is to create a place that gets back to the roots of what makes a great pub: good food, good drinks and good people. The pair are focused on providing a roster of impeccable British gins (things like Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Sipsmith and Sacred Gin) and a selection of high quality whiskies, such as The Balvenie, Laphroaig, Macallan and Auchentoshan, at some of the most reasonable prices I’ve seen in London. The pub also offers up real ales and is hoping to do more with British wine.

The pub's chic but cosy interior

It helps that both Marc and Matt are almost jumpy with a childlike enthusiasm for their new space, despite the long hours that go into running the place each week. They came up with the idea for the venture whilst travelling in the States. It developed over many pints and Marc says they couldn’t be happier with the way things are going. He also says their plan had always been to avoid being a “gastro pub” by focusing on high-quality drinks with food accompaniments.

A pork pie waits to be devoured

“The food was always designed to complement the drinks, rather than the other way around,” he adds.

This was partly because he didn’t want to be stuck in a kitchen 18 hours a day – like many chefs find themselves – but also because he wanted to do something a bit different. As such, the bar area features a beautifully streamlined deli counter with sumptuous looking pork pies, scotch eggs and potted duck and pickles.

“People like to see what they’re eating and it encourages people to eat,” says Marc.

There is also a limited selection of mains like burgers and lamb hot pots, in case one finds the gin going to her head. Ingredients are sourced as locally as possible from places like Smithfield market and organic vegetable growers in Kent.

The decision to move away from the “gastro-pub” tag was also because the team didn’t personally like that style.

“We decided it was the formality and, airs and graces that we didn’t like. We love pub culture and find the idea of a ‘gastro-pub’ detracts from that,” says Matt.

“The last thing I wanted was linen napkins,” adds Marc, laughing. “At the end of the day, you can feel relaxed. And you know the owners are happy.”

The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker is located at 292-294 St John Street. For more information about the pub, its events or more, visit the website here or follow the team on Twitter: @BlacksmithPub

Spirit of Victoria

5 Jul

On my continual quest to find good, unique booze, I recently came across a fantastic little outfit producing some of the best spirits I´ve  tried of late.

Nestled away up a country road on a former vineyard in Saanich, just outside Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, is the small, artisan distillery called Victoria Spirits, which produces Canada’s first premium gin – along with a selection of other products like hemp vodka and orange bitters.

It’s a family affair, with everyone from the mom and step-dad, to the son, daughter and in-laws contributing in their own small way, from marketing and label design to, of course, lots of taste testing.

It all begins in a small workshop with a wood-fired still, made by third generation still makers in Germany.

On the day of mine and my father´s visit, Peter Hunt, the master distiller, was whipping up a batch of hemp vodka. The golden pipes of the still were snaking around a large, copper orb where the various ingredients that comprise each tipple bubble and brew, like a witch’s cauldron on Halloween. Inside the 217 litre pot – which is sealed like a bank vault – were thousands of toasted hemp seeds bobbing around in liquid. It smelled oily, nutty and intoxicating, sure to cast a spell.

It’s a labour-intensive process – because it’s a wood-fired still, the process needs to be controlled throughout the full six hours and wood added every five to 10 minutes to keep the temperatures perfectly balanced. But this is what makes it a grand example of an artisan distillery.

After checking out the ¨lab¨ we headed upstairs to try out the final product. And I wasn´t disappointed.

The signature gin is rich and flavourful, with each of the 10 botanics that it is comprised of (things like orris root, coriander, star anise and, the classic, juniper) working together rather than overpowering. The Oaken Gin – or aged gin, which Hunt jokes is the “gin for whisky drinkers” is distinct, slightly oakey and a far cry from the products a corporate distiller would pump out, while the Left Coast Hemp Vodka is nutty and much fuller than any ordinary vodka, leaving an oily aftertaste that is pleasantly surprising and could easily be drunk on its own over ice.

The company is growing strong, and will soon be in stores across Canada – my only fear…everyone else will find out about it and I won´t  have any to myself!

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