Friday, 3 December 2010

Health Benefits of Alcohol? Merry Christmas!

Christmas. It’s the season to eat, drink and be merry – something most of us will embrace whole-heartedly. Unfortunately, despite all the revelry of the festive season, January will be lurking just around the corner, replete with guilt and remorse following our over indulgences.

Gym memberships will hit their yearly peaks, and cutting back on alcohol will inevitably feature in New Year’s Resolutions lists across the country. But booze hasn’t always been the bad guy.

Alcohol has enjoyed and endured a range of roles during its lifetime. It has been revered as a miracle cure, and reviled as the bane of society. The New and Old testaments make over 190 references to alcohol being used medicinally, but the temperance movement (which led to prohibition in America) considered it the root of all evil.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Christmas is coming...

Following in the footsteps of our awesome homemade Wedding Limoncello, my super wife and I have been busily preparing for Christmas... by making spiced rum.
I've just had the pleasure of tasting it, and despite being batch numero uno, it's the dogs biscuits.
As such, I'm more than happy to share the recipe (which we kind of made up as we went along) with the world at large.
From memory, it went something like this:

70 cl Havana Club Especial
Peel of one 2 oranges
4 Jalepeno Peppers
4 x Birds Eye Chillis
About a dozen whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Small handful of All Spice Berries

We then sat and waited for about 35 days. I reckon you could probably do something useful in that time, rather than just sitting and watching a bottle infuse, but that's entirely up to you.
Be warned - it's got quite a kick to it!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Plantation Rum @ Trailer Happiness

Trailer is a legendary bar for a host of reasons. Their fantastic tiki menu, bewildering rum range, and ability to create world famous bartenders being just three of them.

Furthermore, the infamous ‘rum club’, an event which sees innocent rum representatives (such as myself) succumbing to the allure of alcohol in the name of education.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Cigars and Cognac

Another great event – can you believe I get paid to do this?!
On the 20th of April, 2010, a group of Cigar and Cognac aficionados gathered at 10 Manchester Street, a gem of a boutique hotel, to learn about, and enjoy, cognac and cigars.
The speakers for the day, Jimmy McGhee from  Hunters & Frankau cigars, and yours truly! For today I would be speaking about a cracking cognac, Pierre Ferrand’s Selection Des Anges.
This cognac is a blend of grand champagne eaux du vies, with an average age of some 30 years. Typically, for Pierre Ferrand, they do not feel the need to slap ‘XO’ all over the label. The delimitation itself only guaranteeing a minimum age of 6 years, it only really serves to impress rappers and fashionistas in New York. The connoisseurs, however, know better what to look for.
This 100% grand champagne cognac is a deep mahogany colour, with a nose of jasmine, honeysuckle and walnut. On the palette it is rich with candied fruit, ginger, honey, and nutmeg. Rancio flavours are abound, which made this cognac ideal for the cigar matching – the purpose of the evening.
I’m pleased to say my choice of cognac went down very well, and the assembled group seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. My thanks to 10 Manchester Street for the invitation to speak on the evening, and I’m pleased to accept their invitation to return.

Fame at last!

Did I mention I now have a monthly article? No? Well, I have - and very proud of it I am too!
From March 2010 I will be writing a monthly 800 word article for The University Catering Magazine.
If you're remotely interested, you can see my debut intoxicology insight here (it may download as a pdf).

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

700 Years of Armagnac

It’s been a while since my last blog, due, in part, to the number of fantastic events I’ve been lucky enough to attend of late.
Not least of which was the 700th anniversary of Armagnac. Hosted in the luxurious surroundings of the Connaught Hotel, those of us able to evade the army of Mercedes and Bentleys whilst crossing the road were handsomely rewarded on arrival.
The event started with a short lecture from Ian Wisniewski, who never ceases to amaze me (and everyone else present) with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Armagnac (and, ostensibly, any other category he sees fit to discuss).
The inevitable comparisons with Cognac were drawn, but not in the ‘me too’ manner which you might expect. For today was Armagnac’s day to shine in its own right.
I will not be attempting to replicate the information given by Ian in this blog for two reasons:
1 – His fantastically entertaining and informative lecture was obviously the result of many weeks of dedicated research. For me to simply cut and paste it here would be highly dubious.
2 – I couldn’t write quickly enough. The man is a machine!
So, with Ian’s introduction well received, we were set loose on the tasting room.

With some 75 spirits on offer, the obvious threat of inebriation was a real and present danger. As your man in the field, however, I heroically put research before self-preservation and got stuck in,
For the sake of brevity, (and because my tasting notes veered towards the undecipherable), I shall provide you with just my top three highlights, in no particular order.
The Samalens Singles 12 year Grand Bas Armagnac was outstanding. Plenty of roasted, woody flavours brought prunes, fig and almonds to the palette, with a luxurious and light finish.

My biggest surprise of the day was courtesy of Janneau for their 12 year offering. Sweeter than I had anticipated, and delicate to boot. Dare I say, a more feminine take on the Armagnac style? Certainly, something more akin to the Fins Bois cognacs style than the single distillery Armagnac it is.

Moving up a notch in age took me to the Larressingle 21. Being a Tenereze Armagnc, I had expected a heavier, richer spirit. I had not expected, however, such luxurious richness. Certainly, it was a more full bodied spirit, but the power and balance of the developing rancio flavours left it perfectly proportioned. This Armagnac received a very rare 4.5/5 in my tasting booklet, and is something I will definitely be drinking again.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Future of Tequila? El Tesoro @ Cafe Pacifico

What happens when you get a load of London bartenders together in a room, then fill it up with Tequila?
Well, probably not quite what you are expecting. This would be due, in part, to the bad reputation which still lingers (undeservedly) around the tequila category. And, to be fair, the reputation which continues to thrive regarding London's bartenders!
February 1st saw the launch of the El Tesoro Tequila competition, in which competitors can win themselves a trip to Mexico to visit the 'La Altena' distillery, home of not only El Tesoro, but also Ocho and Tapatio.
Gathering in Covent Garden's Cafe Pacifico were bartenders and managers from some of the most easily identifiable 'key' Tequila venues in the country: Crazy Homies, Green & Red, Navajo Joe's and, naturally, Cafe Pacifo itself, as well as a host of other influential cocktail bars.
The competition kicked off with a tutored tasting, hosted by Tomas Estes, the European Tequila Ambassador, followed by discussion of what the future holds for Tequila.
Having won the Imbibe Ice Awards taste competition by a Mexican mile, as well as being the proud winner of more awards than any other Tequila on the planet, I need not go into the details which came out of the tasting here (but will do so separately). 
Instead, the focus of this blog entry will be the ideas and comments of the group regarding the past decade of trends in the Tequila market, and where they see this leading in the coming decade.
Interestingly, Tom Estes pointed out that the UK (and London in particular) is really not a large market for Tequila, in global terms. It is, however, one of great kudos within the Tequilaros of Mexico, giving great status to those brands successful within the city. This apparent incongruity seems to stem from the high regard in which bartenders from our capitol are held worldwide. 
It is fair to say that, in this country at least, Tequila still suffers in the eye of the public from a relatively negative perception (see my previous article from a Tom Estes talk). Slowly but surely, this appears to be changing. 100% agave tequila is now the fastest growing spirit category in the country (although the agave itself isn't growing much quicker).
Evidence of this can be seen quite easily: there are now many venues dedicated to all things Mexican. And not just in a kitsch, 80's kind of way, either. The likes of El Camino, La Perla, Cafe Pacifico, Green and Red, Wahaca, and Cafe Sol are bringing serious quality to the market.
Furthermore, in Westbourne Park Road's Crazy Homies we now find a dedicated tequila bar! That's right, a venue which serves exclusively Tequila, and no other spirits. The public's increasing interest in the Tequila category can be seen here on a daily basis.The team were keen to point out that articles in mainstream publications such as the Guardian and Observer (oddly, seems to have passed them by...) are engaging the middle classes, bringing them through the doors actively seeking to know more about the spirit. And Homies are delivering, in a big way. They bought along for discussion a proof of their new, soon-to-be-launched menu / bible. In this mighty tome, we see a full four pages dedicated solely to Tequila; a full menu including tasting notes for each tequila on their shelf. It is very hard to imagine this happening ten years ago.
And it's not just happening in London. Leeds has a strong following emerging, with the likes of Azucar and Neon Cactus. Further afield, Glen Morgan (of Soho's Lab), recently back from Tokyo commented on the aptly named 'Agave' there, stocking more than 360 Tequilas and Mezcals.
All of this attention, and increased sophistication, is a far cry from the standard serve of a dirty shot glass, salt and lime of years ago.
But how is it happening? The marketing machine behind Patron Tequila has been credited with influencing the market to a large degree, especially when it comes to American customers. Many bartenders are also actively selling tequila, educating their customers, and passing on a passion for this much mis-understood spirit. Order a rum and coke in Crazy Homies, for example, and you'll likely walk away with a Batanga, a little bit more knowledge, and a smile on your face.
And that, we all agreed, is where the future lies.
Tom Estes may be the Tequila Ambassador, but everywhere he goes he seems to create small armies of ambassadors in their own right, each carrying the passion, and passing it on wherever, and whenever, they can.

By the way, if you're interested in joining the competition to win a trip to the distillery, it is running in February, March and April of 2010. You need to be a bar / restaurant / club in the UK, and be prepared to share some Tequila love! Contact for more details.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Bartenders vs Sommeliers Superstars Competition

On Wednesday the 20th of January, bartenders and sommeliers from across the country converged on London’s Saatchi gallery for the undisputed (by me) industry highlight of the year: The Bartenders vs Sommeliers Superstars Competition. The drinks professionals were there to pit their skills head to head, in order to win not only an all expenses paid distillery tour trip to Cognac, but also to take home the highly coveted ‘Superstar’ title, currently held by the bartenders.
Of course, the 7,000+ bottles of wine which were there for the Bibendum Annual Tasting may also have helped to coax them through the doors, but let’s not get bogged down in minor details.

The concept was simple (though, arguably, not simple enough for some): bartenders and sommeliers prove their expertise in their own realm, before trying to beat each other at their own game.
The competition tested two key areas of both disciplines: pouring accuracy, and tasting ability.
To be fair to both sides, we took two ‘bar’ measures (25ml & 50ml) and two ‘wine’ measures (175ml and 250ml) and asked our hopefuls to freepour the designated amounts after just one practice run (not counting their entire professional career, of course).
In the tasting element, both sides first tackled two wines, followed by two spirits. During this section, their task was simply to identify the variety of wine / spirit in the glass, together with the vintage.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, maybe not. In all fairness, this was one tough test. We threw in some real curveballs with the tastings – to the extent that not ONE competitor correctly identified all four our mystery drinks! James Kowszun, the very first competitor of the day, set the bar incredibly high. So high, infact, that he remained in pole position for almost seven hours!
Below you see the final scoreboard of the day. A quick bit of mathematics will lead you to the conclusion that the sommeliers team has won back the title from the last years winners. Many congratulations to all involved.
This highest score of the day was Valeria Rodriguez, although as a Bibendum employee, she was not eligible for the top prize of the trip to Cognac. Instead, this goes to our highest scoring sommelier: Johnny Walker. Proving his perfect palette and astounding accuracy was enough for Johnny to secure his place in the hall of fame, as well as his seat on the Eurostar. Well done Johnny!
Honourable mention must be made to Dan 'Beluga' Ngyau of Epernay, Leeds, for the most accurate pour test of the day, Mark Pope, of Alimentum, Cambridge, for the highest wine tasting score, and Ben Williams of Bibendum for the best score of the day in the spirit tasting.
I’m also very proud to point out that the Bibendumites scored very highly across the board. Well done all!

And now for the big reveal...
  • Wine 1:  Pinot blanc, 2004
  • Wine 2:  Pinot Noir, 2007
  • Spirit 1:  Armagnac, 1967
  • Spirit 2:  Rum, 1999
Bartenders – it’s time to up your game. Let’s bring the title home in 2011!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Name That Cocktail!

Fancy winning yourself a bottle of LP Ultra Brut?
Of course you do! Well frankly, it could be much easier than this.
Take a look at the simple cocktail I've put together in the video below, think up a name for it, and you're in with a chance.
This competition will run for one week from today (Jan 13th), and the winner will be announced on the Bibendum Times website, which is also where you should go to enter.
If you're into competitions generally, you should definately try to get yourself to the Bibendum Times tasting on January 20th (click for more info). On the day I will personally be hosting a competition in which one lucky person will win an all expenses paid trip to Cognac! Full details of the comp can be found here. Good luck!!