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.
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.
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? 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:
On whisky with 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.
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.
So finally, without further ado, here’s the first podcast:
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: ABV 40%, released late 2014, aged in toasted oak casks. RRP£35 available online from Amazon
Cardhu Amber Rock: ABV40%, released early 2014, aged in ex-bourbon toasted barrels. RRP£41, available online from Amazon
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the Isle of Skye in Scotland for the launch of Talisker Port Ruighe, the latest release from Talisker and a new permanent addition to the Scotch malt whisky’s portfolio.
The name, Port Ruighe, is a nod towards the Gaelic way of writing Portree, the location of the distillery on Skye, and the port casks that the whisky has been finished in. In essence, Talisker Port Ruighe is the Talisker 10 finished in casks that had previously contained port.
In the company of journalists from UK, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere in Europe, we tasted both the Talisker Port Ruighe and Talisker Storm (another recent release).
While Talisker Storm is spicy, smoky and an obviously more potent version of Talisker 10, Talisker Port Ruighe was a softer, silkier and, for me, more elegant expression. The fruit is brought forward while the spice and peat is pulled back by the port cask finish which worked really rather well. It’s noticeably sweeter too but perhaps that doesn’t work so well for everyone.
We tried two other approaches to the whiskies – tasting with food and an blending exercise.
In the food session, we tried both Taliskers with food that picked out aspects of the whisky such as black pepper for the spice and strawberries for the fruit. While it highlighted what the blender, Maureen Robertson, had tried to achieve, it also helped to show how they might be paired to food, and desserts in particular.
In the second session, which is sadly not available to the public, we tried our own hand at blending. We were given three liquids (whiskies at various stages of ageing) which we had to blend by taste and by smell to try and achieve a mystery liquid. Let’s just say it’s significantly harder than it sounds and it already sounds pretty impossible.
The sessions and the trip itself was a great insight into how much of a skilled task blending whiskies is; it’s certainly hard not to be in awe by the end.
There’s nothing more refreshing than a cool glass of G&T at the height of summer, but the simple drink is not always treated with the respect it deserves. A G&T is not just a G&T. Each gin has different characteristics, as does each tonic. Then there’s the garnishes to contend with. Preferences will vary from person to person, but finding a harmonious blend is like striking gold.
To my taste, The Hinds Head has one of the best combinations sorted. They do a fabulous G&T with my favourite gin – Gin Mare (pronounced mar-ray) – and perk it up with a floral tonic and some unusual garnishes.
Even on gloomy rain-filled Sundays, a taste of its heady blend of citrus and herbal aromatics takes me back to the roasting summers day when I first discovered it at the Hinds Head bar.
Here’s a guide to that ‘perfect’ G&T. It’s just a guide because, as with everything, it should be done to taste…
a tall glass
wedge of orange
sprig of rosemary
25ml Gin Mare
Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic to top up
Fill your tall glass with lots of ice, bigger cubes will melt more slowly. Throw in your wedge of orange and sprig of rosemary. Pour over Gin Mare and top up with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic as desired. Enjoy.
Sake, that illusive Japanese drink which, despite its increasing popularity in restaurants and elsewhere, remains a bit of a mystery to the public.
For one, there is often misconceptions about what it is. Despite the fact that basic versions are now widely available in supermarkets, it is still often mistakenly called Japanese rice wine. In reality, the process of making sake is more like that of beer – the starch in rice must be converted to sugars before it can be fermented using yeast. And in Japan, the establishments which make sake are called breweries.
Then there is the matter of how to drink sake. Should you have it warm or cold? And how does this then affect that food you might have with it? After all, sake is reported to have completely different characteristics on the palate compared to the nose.
Luckily these, and other intricate matters, are covered in the first and only sake sommelier course in the UK.
Held in the private room of Harrod’s wine shop, the course is run by the Sake Sommelier Association and offers an introduction to the history of sake, its making and its characteristics. Although the course is only intended as an introduction, you do get a serious overview of everything. Particularly useful, perhaps, is the classification of sake – a very confusing matter when you realise there are names for every variation!
Theory aside, you will also get to sample a few sakes from different categories and at different temperatures – everything from super polished to slightly aged. The tasting is tutored and with specially designed glasses by Riedel as well as more traditional glassware so you leave with a great set of tasting notes and ideas on how to match particular sakes with food. And as you leave, you will receive a sake sommelier certificate too. Just think, a newly qualified sake sommelier in just one session.