Sipsmith’s Damson Vodka and Sloe Gin

I’ve been much remiss when it comes to writing about Sipsmith, in as much as I haven’t really done so yet. I first realised that they existed when they supplied a stack of gin and vodka to the Blaggers’ Banquet, back in November 2009, the event that inspired me to start writing this blog. Since then I’ve visited the distillery a couple of times (first in May 2010, according to the email I just searched for) and have bumped into the folks from the distillery on numerous occasions. However, for one reason or another I’ve never actually done more that gushing about how lovely they are at people I meet in the street. So, to finally do that which I should have done before here’s some witterings about Sipsmith.

The distillery was started in 2009 by Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, formerly Fuller’s and Diageo reps in the USA, with writer and drinks historian Jared Brown coming in as master distiller and recipe guy. They bought a garage in Hammersmith (formerly owned, it turned out, by legendary beer writer Michael Jackson before he died), obtained (through a scary amount of effort) the first new distilling license for a copper pot still in London for 189 years, filled the garage with a beautiful 300l still made by Christian Carl that they named Prudence (after one of Gordon Brown’s favourite traits, so the story goes) and started making gin and vodka. They don’t do it alone, though – they also have a nice chap called Chris who does the day to day distilling. So, between the three of them, Jared being an occasional visitor, they produce a large amount of booze, the increasing quantity of which Sam seems genuinely shocked about.

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The Negroni

This post is in honour of World Gin Day – June 11th (this year coinciding with the Queen’s birthday). Started by Neil of Yet Another Gin, it’s a day to celebrate gin in all of its forms. So, along with tasting some Adnams gin when I popped into the Whisky Exchange shop today (We don’t sell it yet, but it is very tasty indeed) I’ve decided to write about my current favourite cocktail – The Negroni.

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Gin Roundup

The last few months have involved quite a lot of gin, which is no bad thing. Gin is another of those spirits that is so often just lumped together in the “it all tastes the same” category, and until recently I half believed it. However, as I try more of them I am starting to notice the differences and similarities, and my recent dabblings have been rather helpful.

At the London Cocktail Society Christmas party we were all handed a slip of paper. Mainly I noticed the bit on it which said ‘fill this in and win some gin’, but there was also space for you to write in what you thought your three favourite gins were – thought being the operative word. The lovely folk of the LCS tabulated results, ran whatever numbers they wanted to run and produced a list of the top 5 gins according to the tastes of the party goers. However, rather than just tell us they decided to do a bit of brain tweaking and put on a blind tasting of the winners to see what we thought when not confronted with the baggage of pretty bottles and brands. Hosted at gin loving bar Graphic, of Juniper Society fame, we were presented with 5 plastic cups, unmarked apart from a coloured sticker so that we could match them up later. As hoped they all tasted rather different, although my notes are rather light (and mainly from memory).

LCS Gin

  • Hendrick’s – Nice and spicy, good flavour, hints of sweetness.
  • Sipsmith – this one mainly sat in my mind has being the most ‘gin-like’. Solid juniper, quite dry and nicely balanced.
  • Bombay Sapphire – very lightly flavoured. Most repeated comment – ‘Is this a vodka you’ve slipped in as a joke?’.
  • Number 3 – the most complex flavoured with lots of juniper, clove, cinnamon, pine, butterscotch and a bunch more. My favourite
  • Tanqueray 10 – quite piney (which I think is the juniper coming out) and complex. My second favourite after the No. 3.

Along with that I also went to a Beefeater Gin evening at the Juniper Society (turning Graphic into a bit of a regular haunt), including some cocktail making as well as a talk through the creation of Beefeater with master distiller Desmond Payne. All three of Beefeater’s gins that I tasted (as well as the five above) are distilled gins, meant that the botanicals are added to neutral spirit before redistillation, rather than the cheaper cold compound method of having flavourings added to neutral spirit without redistilling. London Dry Gin has recently been defined as ‘a type of distilled gin’ in a similar fashion to Plymouth, although with a larger number of producers than the single distiller of the latter style.

  • Beefeater London Dry Gin – The botanicals in this are fairly traditional – juniper, Seville orange peel, coriander, angelica root and seed, almonds, oris root and ground liquorice root. Beefeater’s other trademark is that the botanicals are steeped in the alcohol for 24 hours before distillation to allow for greater infusion. The nose started with bitter orange and finished with some spicy coriander and liquorice. To taste it had a fruity juniper middle and some sweet liquorice at the end.
  • Beefeater 24 – A new premium gin recipe put together by Desmond, in comparison to the regular London Dry recipe which hasn’t changed significantly since the distillery’s opening in 1820. The secret ingredients in 24 are tea, both Chinese green tea and Japanese sencha, as well as a bit of grapefruit in with the other peels. It was inspired by the lack of quinine sources in Japan, leading to the use of green tea as a gin mixer rather than tonic water. The nose started off grassy with a big citrus middle. The taste was less sweet than the London Dry, with some bitter wood and a hint of tannin.
  • Beefeater Winter Gin – a special edition gin put out last Christmas, this added nutmeg, cinnamon, and lime and orange peels to the mix. While the London dry and 24 were noticeably different but similar, this was a total change – a nose of Christmas spice and a taste of almost gingerbread. Luckily it seems that there are a few bottles of this around still, although my urge to drink it neat might well lead to destruction.

On top of those two events I also had a couple of miniatures of gin knocking around that I’ve been meaning to taste for a while:

  • GinFirst up, I was sent through some samples of Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin. This is distilled and bottled in London and is mainly a distilled gin, although with pomegranate added afterwards to give it a distinctively pink colour. Botanicals-wise this has juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, sweet orange peel, cassia bark and nutmeg. The idea seems to have come, according to the bottle neck tag bumph, from the old idea of pink gin (gin with a dash of bitters, turning it pinkish, rather than the long drink of that with lemonade that you will normally find these days) but taking it in a slightly different direction. On the nose it has quite a lot of juniper, with some spiciness that I suspect is from the coriander and nutmeg. To taste it’s quite sweet, with a burst of fruit (it might be sweetened pomegranate, but that could be my expectations), orange and a quite flat finish with some sour woodiness. Most of all though, it is very pink indeed.
  • Lastly is Hayman’s Old Tom, which came in my goody bag from the previously mentioned LCS Christmas party. Old Tom is an, appropriately, old style of gin that is currently being revived by a few manufacturers, including Hayman’s. It’s similar to a London dry gin but, earning the former it’s ‘dry’ tag, is slightly sweetened. Hayman’s is a new gin with history, using a recipe from James Burrough’s recipe books (the founder of Beefeater and great grandfather of Christopher Hayman, current Hayman’s chairman) from the 1860/70s, and it seems to have kickstarted the rebirth of the style as a commercial proposition. On the nose it has quite a bit of juniper (which is slightly redundant when talking about traditional gins) and a little bit of sweetness. To taste it is noticeably sweet, with a hit of sugar syrup, which helps bring out lemony flavours. Mainly it’s overpowered by the sweetness.

So, that’s a gin roundup for now, and I didn’t even include the genever tasting I went to at the most recent Juniper Society. But as we were told several times on that evening – Genever is not Gin.

Many thanks to the LCS for putting on events and giving me goody bags, Sarah and Adam at Graphic for feeding me gin on Mondays, and Daisy at Ian Scott for sorting me out some samples of Edgerton’s. Also thanks to James Hayman who pinged me a mail telling me what I’d got wrong about the history of his family’s gin.

Hendrick’s Gin
Distilled gin, 41.4%. ~£25

Sipsmith London Dry Gin
London dry gin, 41.6%. ~£30

Bombay Sapphire
London dry gin, 40%. ~£20

No 3 Gin
London dry gin, 46%. ~£35

Tanqueray 10
Distilled gin, 47.3%. ~£35

Beefeater London Dry Gin
London dry gin, 40%. ~£15

Beefeater 24
Distilled gin, 45%. ~£25

Beefeater Winter Gin
Distilled gin, 40%. ~£20

Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin
Distilled gin with pomagranate, 47%. ~£30

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
Old Tom gin, 40%. ~£20

Grenadine and some uses

One of the things that seems to be happening a lot recently in the world of drinks is the revitalisation of things often considered to be passé or bad. For me there’s been reexamination of blended whisky (some of it’s nice, some of it isn’t), american beer (see previous parentheses), vodka (etc) and various other revisitings of brands that has confirmed and confounded my expectations. However, one drink that I’ve never really had a lot time for is grenadine – a pomegranate cordial named for the french word for its fruity base, grenade.

My first encounter with it was in France on a school trip where a barman with a small amount of English sold me and some friends a glass of grenadine and water, which he assured us was alcoholic, for a couple of francs. We assumed this was the bargain of a lifetime before we realised we had basically just bought some red flavoured cordial, with any booze watered down along with any flavour in the glass. It wasn’t until my days working in a student bar that I noticed it again, as one of my early duties was to run a satellite cocktail bar on busy Friday nights. We sold 4 or 5 cocktails including Sex on the Beach and The Slow Comfortable Screw, both chosen for their name and thus appeal to students as well as the simplicity of their construction and ingredients. However, we also did Tequila Sunrises, delighting drunken rugby teams as we rosied up jugs of tequila and orange with slugs of bright red grenadine.

Earlier this year an article popped up on American Drink, one of the finest drinks blogs on the web, talking about grenadine and including a variety of methods of making it. Being a fan of constructing drink ingredients in my kitchen I bookmarked it, bought some pomegranate juice and promptly forgot about it until this weekend. On the site they give three methods of making grenadine and due to forgetting to buy fresh pomegranates I decided to go for the ‘hot method’:

IMGP6250For 500ml of Grenadine:

  • 500ml of pomegranate juice
  • 250ml sugar

Bring the juice to the boil, reduce the heat and reduce by half. Remove from the heat, add the sugar, stir until dissolved and leave to cool.

As you can see from the picture, the results are a lot darker than the bright red scary grenadine you’ll often see on the back bar. Flavour-wise it’s just about as sweet but also has a nice fruitiness behind the scenes that I don’t remember from bought grenadine, which I suspect is made of sugar syrup, red food colouring and the concept of pomegranate.

I used Pom (aka Pom Wonderful) whose producing company is currently ‘working with’ the US Food and Drug administration to work out which of the various health claims on their website and bottles are allowed to appear. Reductions in prostate cancer, LDL cholesterol and erectile dysfunction are on the debated list but whatever the claims towards the wonderful super-food properties of pomegranates, the fruits themselves taste quite nice (even if they are a git to peel). However, the juice is often quite tart and not particularly tasty – while mine was cooking down it smelled, as warned by the LCS‘s Mark Gill, rather like turnips, and not in a necessarily good way. My grenadine is non-alcoholic and I suspect that the main reason for making alcoholic versions, as it’s way too sweet to drink on its own or in quantities high enough to spike up a drink, is to add shelf-life – if I don’t get through mine soon enough it’ll probably start fermenting, which will most probably not lead to tasty results and will mainly make the cork pop out of the bottle as CO2 builds up…

IMGP6237Along with grenadine recipes I also looked up some cocktails that use it – without some way of mixing it I would have to drink it mixed down as cordial, an experience that I don’t particularly want to revisit. The first and most obvious drink is the one I mentioned earlier – The Tequila Sunrise. Probably the second-most popular tequila cocktail after the margarita, it’s one that seems to appear on the ‘lesser’ cocktail menus, pubs and student bars that are all about pumping out fruit juice laced with a bit of booze in a high volume/low cost kind of way, and it’s easy to see why – white tequila, orange juice and a splash of grenadine: three fairly cheap ingredients that you can charge a chunk for simply by adding a swizzle stick and calling it a cocktail. It seems to have appeared in the 30s or 40s, invented by Gene Sulit at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and along with the recipe I used there seems to be another less well known one (which I suspect is the original) – tequila, creme de cassis, lime juice and soda, which I think would give a more extreme dark to light sunrise, as well as some more interesting flavours. I decided to use slightly better ingredients than the usual nasty mixto tequila and Mr Juicy OJ, using 1 measure of Tequileño Blanco, 3 measures of not-from-concentrate juice and a splash of my homemade grenadine. If you pour the gloopy, heavy grenadine directly into the middle of the drink it sinks to the bottom and gradually mixes upwards, creating the signature sunrise effect. A couple of ice cubes in the top and my drink was done.

With my darker grenadine the red-through-yellow effect wasn’t quite as strong (being more a brown-through-yellow) and I was at first rather dismissive of the drink. However, after a couple of sips I had a bit of a reassessment – the pepperiness of the tequila works quite well with the orange juice, and the sweet fruitiness of the grenadine obscures the citrus sourness of the orange juice, bringing the whole lot together. Not something that I’d generally drink, eschewing fruit juice based cocktails as I do, but something I might have to try again when I finish writing this.

IMGP6243Unfortunately after the Tequila Sunrise I was fresh out of cocktail ideas for grenadine, but luckily the internet was there to aid me. A bit of searching through uninspiringly named, boring cocktails of the form ‘lots of juice, 2 shots of booze, splash of grenadine, enough garnish to impress a customer’ I came across one that intrigued me a little bit more – The Monkey Gland. Also known as the McCormick at the time, it was created in the 1920s by Harry MacElhone of Harry’s Bar in Paris and named for the experiments of Serge Voronoff, a man much interested in the use of monkey testicle transplantation to reinvigorate the sex drive and retard or reverse the aging process. The version I made was 2 measures gin (I used Sipsmith) to 1 measure orange juice and 1/4 measure grenadine, shaken hard with ice, strained into an absinthe washed glass and garnished with an orange twist. Or to be more exact a rubbishly cut strip of clementine skin. This is on the edge of what I consider to be too fruity a cocktail for me, with the original recipe calling for equal parts of orange and gin, but the single measure of juice creates a cloudy but translucent cocktail that allows the the flavours of the gin to come out. The orange and grenadine mix yet again work their magic leaving a sweet and sour base behind the gin that accentuates the botanicals, and the absinthe washing imparts a slug of anis to the nose and a little bit to the flavour. A nice one for the summer, but probably not one for an evening where I’m wearing two t-shirts and a jumper while sitting at my desk waiting for the first snow of the year. There are, as ever, many variations on the theme with a dash of absinthe being added to the drink (which was in the original recipe) as well as being substituted for Pernod or other anise, but my love of the absinthe washed glass forces me to champion the recipe I used.

I can see why grenadine isn’t all that popular these days – not many drinks use it and those that do aren’t generally considered ‘refined’ by the new wave of cocktails bars, featuring way too much fruit juice as they often do to fit in with the old fashioned ‘all must be booze’ approach that is becoming popular again these days (and has always been popular chez moi). Cocktail snob that I am it’s not something that I suspect I will be seeking out, but for those evenings when I think I haven’t quite got my five-a-day, adding a slug of home-made concentrated red goop into a glass of tequila and orange must make the drink count for at least two portions.

Blaggers’ Banquet – The Drinks

Blaggers' Banquet

I’ve already written about the inaugural Blaggers’ Banquet over on my other blog, but as I was a barman I thought I’d post something here about the cocktails we banged out during the evening.

Firstly, due to the donation of a case of Sipsmith Vodka and Gin, we acquired a bottle of vermouth (later complimented by the bottle on the bar at Hawksmoor when we ran out), some lemons and olives, and made Martinis. All the bar staff had, as is tradition, a different idea of what made a good Martini, and after some customer interaction most people seemed to slide under the table, pleased.

Gin/Vodka and tonic doesn’t really count as cocktails in my head (along with ‘Screwdrivers’ – just because you give it a fancy name doesn’t jazz up the fact that it’s vodka and orange) but as we were using Fever Tree tonic they were slightly different to normal. I’m a big fan of tonic water – I’ve got 3 litres of it in the fridge at the moment, the only carbonated drink therein, and I drink it on its own, untouched by alcoholic beverage. When I’m not drinking booze when out, tonic or orange and tonic is my drink of choice, and for years the only one I’ve been able to drink is Schweppes. I think it must be baked bean syndrome – if it’s not Heinz then they don’t taste right – as while I rather liked Fever Tree it wasn’t Right. Schweppes made be full of aspartame (a substance that makes me feel ill in any other drink than tonic or, randomly, Lilt Zero) but it has a certain bite to it that was softened out in the Fever Tree tonic, relegating it to a worthy second place in my heathen brain. It did make an excellent gin and tonic though, especially when combined with my OCD wiping of lime on the glass and other ritualistic G&T construction. A special thanks goes to @degs123, who later in the evening announced to all and sundry that I made the best gin and tonic in the world. Even when we ran out of gin and switched over to vodka…

Next up were our three cocktails:


Picture by Mark of FoodByMark

Cornish ‘Champagne’ Cocktail

What:
1 cube sugar
1 teaspoon of quince liqueur
1 glass of Chapel Down sparkling british wine

How:
Combine in the order above. Serve. Simple…

I didn’t get a chance to try one of these, but having tasted the ingredients separately (including popping a sugar cube) I’m suspecting they combined together to form a very sweet Kir Royale. I don’t really drink fizzy wine (formerly due to it giving me headaches, these days due to me being an unappreciative heathen who it’s wasted on) but the few people who braved the cornishness seemed pleased.

Black Velvet

What:
1/2 a glass of Chapel Down sparkling British wine
1/2 a glass of Curious Brew Admiral Porter

How:
Combine, trying not to make it explode everywhere. Wine then porter should help, if the porter’s cold, but it generally exploded everywhere.

A take on the Guinness and champagne black velvet and another I didn’t get a chance to try. I did manage to blag a few bottles of the porter on the way out and it was a rather nice dark malty porter that I think would have gone well with the wine. However, it was very lively and if it’s not very chilled then there is distinct potential for porter detonation, as happened to me as I cracked a bottle on the way home after the banquet.


Photo by Carmen Valino

Blagger-tini

What:
2 shots Chegworth Valley Apple and Raspberry juice
2 shots vodka
1 shot Galliano Balsamico
Lemon wedge and basil to garnish

How:
Put ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake. Strain into a champagne coupe (or whatever vaguely fancy glass you can find in the fridge of the nice bar who are hosting you), garnish with basil and a lemon slice.

Invented just before the doors opened by Mel Seasons, this was the success of the night, polishing off the whole bottle of Galliano Balsamico (which was weird but nice and blagged by Huw Gott, Hawksmoor bossman. There may be some more up for grabs in the auctions soon…) and most of the vodka. It took several iterations to iron out the alcoholic punch to the face (ably assisted by official drink guinea pig and 1/2 of the music for the night, Julian of Georgia Wonder) and in the end it was an interestingly sweet and savoury drink, nicely complimented by the flavours of the garnish.

Anyways, the Blaggers’ Banquet fund raising machine continues, adding to the nice pot already netted for Action Against Hunger, with a set of eBay auctions for some more blagged stuff. There may be some booze appearing on there, depending on eBay rules and whether we had anything auctionable left, but as of now there’s tea at the Ritz, a visit from a chocolate van and a REALLY BIG PIE amongst other things. Bid on the shiny, you know you want to.

The bar team were me, Mel Seasons, Dan, Ben Bush, Tim Hayward and Elly