Category: Other Drinks

#HOTGV: On sake with Elyse Li of Japan Gourmet

For this episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with Elyse Li, a London-based sake specialist to talk about the traditional Japanese beverage.

Elyse Li

Elyse is the co-founder of Japan Gourmet, a company that supplies premium sake to some of the best restaurants in London and around the UK.

In this episode, she explains some of the basics of sake – including what it is, how it’s made and the best way to drink it.

We also delve into the different styles of sake, including cloudy and sparkling varieties, as well as sake made with the help of a centrifuge.

Finally, we talk about matching sake with food and whether it makes for a better pairing than wine.

Join us now as we explore a small part of the world of sake.

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Photos c/o Japan Gourmet.

#HOTGV Episode Seven: On coffee with James Hoffmann

For this episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I spoke to James Hoffmann, founder and CEO of Square Mile Coffee.

James Hoffmann Square Mile Coffee

I met James at the London Coffee Festival earlier this year where I attended one of his tutored tasting sessions. As a coffee enthusiast, I was excited to learn about the terroir potential of coffee.

Keen to learn more, I headed to their roastery in East London for this podcast. There, over a fresh brew of filtered coffee, we talked about this stimulating drink.

roasters Square Mile Coffee

I think what surprised me was that even amidst all the coffee geekery, James was impressively level-headed about the business side of things.

Yes, there are many interesting things we could learn and do with coffee but no matter how much we are in pursuit of a fine product, at the end of the day, it is a commercial entity.

So join us now as we discuss this business of coffee.

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Photographs C/O James Hoffmann

#HOTGV: On Innis & Gunn with Dougal Sharp

A while ago, I went to Edinburgh for the film festival. I was a guest of Innis & Gunn who were sponsoring the event. I wasn’t familiar with the brand at the time but it seemed like a good way to get to know the friendly bunch behind the brand.

Fast forward a few years and the business has grown into a multi-million pound company. I must admit, although I’m much more familiar with the products, I still didn’t know that much about the company.

Dougal Sharp, Innis & Gunn

So last month, when Dougal Sharp, the founder and CEO of Innis & Gunn, came to do a home-brewing demonstration at The Tramshed in London, I took the opportunity to interview him for Heard on the Grape Vine.

Beer matching dinner with Innis & Gunn

The Innis & Gunn story began in 2002. Dougal was working for another brewery when a chance encounter with a whisky company led to the accidental discovery of oak aged beer.That idea sparked into Innis & Gunn, a sizeable beer brand that’s now available all over the world.

It was late and we had just finished a beer matching menu so bear with us as we explore a small aspect of this big brand.

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#HOTGV: On fine teas with Jameel Lalani

It’s been a little over a month since the first episode of Heard on the Grape Vine went out and we’ve had great feedback – so thank you! If you’ve enjoyed the first episode, don’t forget to subscribe.

Amateur Wine » HOTGV Podcast

Oh yes, and we’re also up on iTunes now so you can subscribe there too —> #HOTGV on iTunes <—

On fine teas with Jameel Lalani

For this second episode, we’ve gone zero alcohol. I met with Jameel Lalani, the founder of Lalani & Co, specialists in single batch teas, to discuss the world of fine teas.


The first time we met was perhaps five years ago to talk about the Japanese green tea matcha, a topic which we revisit here. We also talk about the ageing ability of teas, food and tea matching and Lalani’s tea projects in Hawaii and east Africa. And some other fine tea related stuff.

Listen in here:

Some notes of thanks

If you’ve followed the saga of my podcasting mistakes, you might be interested to know that this is the first full episode made with the Roland R05. See my additional podcasting notes here.

#HOTGV: On whisky with Sir Colin Hampden White

#HOTGV? What could this be? Why it’s a new drinks podcast, which, in long form, spells out Heard on the Grape Vine.

Heard on the Grape Vine, or #HOTGV

Heard on the Grape Vine will, I hope, be the audio version of Amateur Wine in that it seeks to both entertain and educate the amateur wine lover who wants to learn more. Although primarily focused on wine, it will also feature spirits and other drinks.

If you think you’ll already love it, subcribe here:

Amateur Wine » HOTGV Podcast
On whisky with Sir Colin Hampden White

Sir Colin Hampden White

For this first podcast, I was joined by Sir Colin Hampden White, the launch editor of Whisky Quarterly, to talk and taste whisky. Expect thoughts on chilling whisky in Kenya, lipped glassware, kosher whisky and more.

(You can find out more about the podcasting process at

Some notes of thanks

As well as Sir Colin Hampden White who participated in this first podcast, thanks are also due to Roland, who kindly loaned me a Roland R05 to make the recording, and Cardhu, who sent some special releases for us to taste.

The Podcast

So finally, without further ado, here’s the first podcast:

The whiskies

In case you were interested in finding out more about the small flight of Cardhu whiskies we tasted, here are some details below:

Cardhu Gold Reserve Cardhu Gold Reserve: ABV 40%, released late 2014, aged in toasted oak casks. RRP£35 available online from Amazon
 Cardhu Amber Rock Cardhu Amber Rock: ABV40%, released early 2014, aged in ex-bourbon toasted barrels. RRP£41, available online from Amazon
 Cardhu 21 Year Old Cardhu 21 year old: ABV 54.2%, special release in 2013, distilled in 1991, aged in ex-bourbon American oak casks. RRP£160, available from The Whisky Exchange

Mount Gay Black Barrel

Mount Gay Black BarrelThe spirit: Mount Gay Black Barrel

The producer: Mount Gay rum

They say: Mount Gay Black Barrel is a small batch handcrafted blend made of aged double pot still distillates and aged column distallates, finished in deeply roasted and charred Bourbon oak barrels. The unique technique releases aromas of spice balanced with oaky vanilla and almond overtones, the signature notes of Mount Gay’s smooth and refined Barbados rum.

We say: Lightly spiced with fruity intensity giving into a complex nose. Lots of vanilla, slightly woody on the finish with a little citrus. At 43%ABV, it’s on the potent side. One to get to grips with over ice or in cocktails.

Price (RRP): £29.99

Available from: The Whisky Exchange

Additional notes:

Louis XIII and cigars

As far as cognac goes, Louis XIII de Rémy Martin is pretty iconic.


I’m not just saying that because they retail to the tune of £2,000 a bottle, though they do, but because it’s one of those cognacs that gets named in iconic films. You might remember it from the film that made Tom Cruise’s name, Cocktail.

It’s pretty hard to understand the concept of a £2,000 drink when you compare it with the standard Remy Martin VSOP which can start as low as £29.99, both at 70cl.

What makes this drink a serious luxury necessity? Trust me, the irony isn’t lost on me here.

The Louis XIII is a blend of some 1,200 eau de vie, made from Grande Champagne grapes and aged between 40 to 100 years old. Each bottle is individually handmade by the craftsmen at Baccarat Crystal.

I’d love to share just how much Louis XIII is out there but they are very tight lipped about that one.


My first taste of the good stuff came at The Wellesley Hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, where the cognac is on display in its own locked case. It’s one of the few places in London which stocks the Louis XIII jeroboam.

As you can imagine, there’s an art to serving the cognac.


The golden caramel liquid is extracted using a pipette before being carefully transferred to the specially designed crystal glasses so that not a drop is spilt. The glasses themselves have grooves at the base which helps bring light to the cognac – apparently very important because the eau de vies have spent so long in darkness. The way that the light becomes fractals, in sync with the crystal jeroboam, is pretty spectacular.


On this occasion I tried the Louis XIII with a Cohiba Aniversario Linea 1492 paired by The Wellesley’s resident cigar expert, Giuseppe Ruo. It’s a rich and smooth cigar reminiscent of Brazilian Bourbon coffee.

Of course you want to know what the cognac actually tastes like.

It’s extremely fragrant to begin with, and there’s lots of floral notes on the nose. Jasmine was called out. On the palate, it was a heady blend of caramel, Christmas fruits, spice, figs, sultanas and more. What really hits you is not the intensity, because it’s a very delicate drink, but the complexity. It can only be described as having the depth of flavour of whisky and soothing softness of wine.

It is incredibly exciting to drink.

Incidentally on the day that I had my first taste of Louis XIII, Pierrette Trichet, Louis XIII’s cellarmaster, was busy setting down eau de vie for the next three generations of master blenders. That’s another thing that’s hard to imagine – she will never see the fruits of her labour.

But there’s something rather poetic about the way that Louis XIII flows from the hands of one cellarmaster to the next, generation after generation and decade after decade. Rather like the way the flavours of the cognac seem to go on and on.

Remy Martin hosted the tasting in London. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Dalston Cola: The real, real thing

Pssst. That’s the sound of the small East London bottling plant where a fresh batch of Dalston Cola, a stripped down version of the eponymous soft drink, is being carbonated, ready for distribution in the neighbourhood’s independent cafés and bars.

Dalston Cola, photo by Anna Gudaniec

Dalston Cola, photo by Anna Gudaniec

Created by the people behind Treehouse Kitchen, Stephen Wilson and Duncan O’Brien, the drink was conceived just over a year ago for events at Passing Clouds arts club, and is fast becoming the mixer of choice for Dalston’s foodie scenesters.

It was while investigating the ingredients in Coca Cola, with its famously closely-guarded recipe, that Stephen discovered kola nuts, the original flavouring for cola. “The nuts were grown on trees indigenous to Africa, and played a large part in ritual behaviour. Drinks made from the nuts were originally medicinal, with many of the other spices in the drink having healing properties,” says Stephen. Surprisingly, by speaking to people at his local markets, he discovered that fresh kola nuts could be found right here in London. It was then that he decided to start making this soft drink, but with less sugar than you’d expect. When he added the nuts to apple concentrate and muscovado sugar for sweetness, organic ginger to add to the bite, a little vanilla, some lemon and orange zest, and some spices to create Dalston’s own secret formula, he realised he’d stumbled across something special.

Initially Dalston Cola, as it was soon christened, was only sold in syrup form. But after consulting Evin O’Riordain from Maltby Street’s The Kernal Brewery, Stephen and Duncan decided to start experimenting with bottling. By March 2012, Treehouse Kitchen was producing 250 bottles of the drink’s sparkling form a week, as well its Raw Fiyah Ginger Beer, which includes lots of fresh organic ginger, Fairtrade sugar, organic apple concentrate and a few herbs and spices that shall remain secret.

Both products can now be found on the shelves of Passing Clouds, The Russet in Hackney Downs, E5 Bakehouse, Tina We Salute You, The Vortex Jazz Bar and Betty’s. But these two ‘Davids’ against the Goliaths of the soft drinks world don’t want to fall into the trap of just being an edgy East London company. Treehouse Kitchen was started because the pair wanted to create a company which serves food that’s ‘good for people and the planet’; where they know where the ingredients come from, how they’re produced and what the labour conditions are like. So there’s a striking (red and white – of course) logo, but they’ve steered away from funny shaped bottles and the fashionable ‘ye olde England’-style labels and won’t be “scrawling any philosophical ramblings” on the product any time soon, says Duncan. Instead, they are concentrating their efforts on market research, including, of course, learning more about a certain global multi-billion dollar competitor.

(First seen in The Jellied Eel)

Visiting Elixir d’Anvers

Elixir d'Anvers, Antwerp, Belgium

Earlier this year, I visited Antwerp in Belgium.

As well as plenty of beer, Antwerp was also home to Elixir d’Anvers.

Situated on an obscure residential street, the humble location of its distillery is not altogether different from the set up at Sipsmith gin. Except Elixir d’Anvers has been around since 1863. And the same distillery also produces advocaat, Elixir de Spa and some jenevers.

You’ve probably seen Elixir d’Anvers as part of a cocktail menu. It’s one of those age old cure-all liqueurs invented by a chemist to, well, cure-all. Made with 32 exotic herbs and spices from all over the world, it’s a viscous canary yellow liqueur with a distinctive flavour.

Can you tell what’s in it by the taste? Unlikely.

Removing distillates, Elixir d'Anvers, Antwerp, Belgium

When I visited its distillery, I was lucky enough to be in time for the end of the distillation when all the herbs and spices were being removed from the still. Recognisable were the coriander seeds and citrus peels but beyond that, after hours of maceration and distillation, it all looked a bit like steamy brown mush.

Indeed the liqueur goes through a complicated and lengthy process of production.

The ingredients are first macerated in pure alcohol before being distilled. After distillation, the “alcoholate” is then blended with pure water, sugar from sugar beet and yet more alcohol. Finally, the mixture is aged in French oak barrels for at least five months before being released for consumption.

Warming, complex and seriously intoxicating, it’s easy to see why after so long in production, it’s suddenly seeing a revival on the cocktail scene.

FX de Beukelaer, Haantjeslei 132, 2018 Antwerpen

Kamm & Sons Sunshine Mary

Kamm & Sons

All tomatoes are red right?

Well, not so much. You probably knew that they also exist in green and yellow and probably just about every shade in between.

The reason why I’m talking about tomatoes on a drinks website is because Alex Kammerling has put his fortifying ginseng spirit Kamm & Sons into a new cocktail – the Sunshine Mary.

Instead of the deep salmon red of your average tomato, Kammerling has used a vibrant yellow tomato juice from the Isle of Wight. Throw in a whole bunch of salt, pepper, celery salt and of course Kamm & Sons and you have yourself a Sunshine Mary.

Delicious stuff for a brunch.

Here’s the recipe (but the word on the street is that Kammerling has bought the whole of this year’s production of this sunshine tomato juice):

Kamm & Sons

Sunshine Mary 

  • Serve: Highball.
  • Method: Build over ice and stir in the glass, or mix a larger quantity in a jug.
  • Garnish: A fine sliver of yellow capsicum pepper or yellow tomato.


  • 35ml Kamm & Sons
  • 150ml yellow tomato juice
  • 15ml fresh lemon juice
  • 6 dashes green Tabasco
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Pinch of celery salt
  • Touch of horseradish

Kamm & Sons hosted an event to introduce their new cocktail. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

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