Win With Ballantine’s Brasil!

Ballantine's Brasil Cocktail Kit 2

To celebrate the launch of Ballantine’s Brasil, a brand new lime-infused spirit drink from the world’s No 2 Scotch whisky brand, I’ve teamed up with Ballantine’s to offer one lucky winner the chance to win their very own Brasil Cocktail Kit!

Ballantine’s Brasil has been created by selectively cask steeping Scotch whisky with Brazilian lime peel, deliciously fusing the traditions of Scotland with the passion of Brazil. Featuring a combination of citrus, complemented with vanilla notes, the taste is both smooth and consistent, with the sweet and creamy flavours of Scotch perfectly balancing the refreshing lime.

Peter Moore, Global Brand Director for Ballantine’s, said: “There is a huge opportunity for spirit drinks that are made with whisky, as it’s an exceptionally dynamic new category that is already demonstrating a strong rate of growth. Ballantine’s Brasil is a venture into new territory for us, but we’re excited to have a product that can take advantage of this opportunity and one that can truly inspire those who have not yet found their perfect way to enjoy a Scotch whisky drink. We hope that Ballantine’s Brasil will excite a new generation of consumers with the combination of Scottish authenticity and Brazilian passion!”

Ballantine’s has developed some great Brazilian-themed cocktails, from the signature ‘Highland Samba’ to the elegant ‘Flower O’Brasil’, with interactive demonstrations available to view on the website www.mixitwithbrasil.com – perfect for learning how to mix it with Brasil using your own cocktail kit!

To be in with a chance of winning, simply visit www.mixitwithbrasil.com and tell me the name of your favourite serving suggestion, tweeting your answer to @DrinksEnthusist and using the hashtag #BallantinesBrasil. Terms and Conditions apply.

Good luck!

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

By entering this competition, you agree to the Terms and Conditions which can be found below.

“By entering this competition, you agree to the following terms and conditions of entry: You are of legal drinking age and entering from and resident of one of the eligible countries listed below.  The competition closes at 11.59pm on Sunday 27th April. To enter the competition, you must tell me the name of your favourite serving suggestion, tweeting your answer to @DrinksEnthusist and using the hashtag #BallantinesBrasil. One winner will be randomly selected from all complete & correct entries. One entry per person, no bulk or third party entries. The prize is a Ballantine’s Brasil cocktail kit which includes a 70cl bottle of Ballantine’s Brasil. There is one prize to be won, and no cash or prize alternatives. No purchase necessary. The winning entry will be drawn at random from all valid entries received before the deadline. The winner will be notified by email and no responsibility is taken for incorrectly supplied email addresses. The winner must provide sufficient legal proof of age to Drinks Enthusiast (passport, drivers licence or as otherwise notified by them) as a condition of accepting the prize; and you will personally need to accept delivery of the prize from Drinks Enthusiast or Chivas Brothers Limited. We reserve the right to check proof of age on delivery as well. You give consent for Drinks Enthusiast and Ballantine’s to use your name and photograph on Drinks Enthusiast and Ballantine’s website/social media, in association with this competition. Drinks Enthusiast reserves the right to amend, vary or withdraw the Competition at any time owing to circumstances beyond its reasonable control. This competition will be governed by laws of England & Wales. The Promoter: Drinks Enthusiast, 30 Gawsworth Close, Timperley, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA15 7EG.

Countries eligible to enter the competition: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom.

Competition closes on Sunday 27th April, the winner will be selected at random and notified on Monday 28th April.

 

Chivas Celebrates The Skill Of The Master Bartender With Exclusive New Cocktail Competition

Chivas Masters

Chivas Regal, the world’s first luxury Scotch whisky, is celebrating the craftsmanship at the heart of bartending with the launch of its first-ever global cocktail competition, The Chivas Masters.

The Chivas Masters sees the iconic brand highlight its rich heritage by challenging the world’s best bartenders to create classic cocktails from four of the great cocktail eras – the Classic Age (1880-1920) which saw the birth of Chivas Regal; the Post War Boom (1945-1965) during which time, Chivas 12 was introduced; the Disco Years (1975-1990) which saw the brand become a truly global icon, and the present modern Age of Revivalism, as Chivas continues to build its reputation as an icon of timeless luxury, renowned for its exceptional quality.

The high level of expertise required from entrants into the Chivas Masters is highlighted by the involvement of world-renowned, award-winning* bartender, Agostino ‘Ago’ Perrone of London’s prestigious Connaught Bar. A previous winner of the World’s Best Bartender award at Tales of the Cocktail, Ago has created an exclusive cocktail in celebration of the Chivas Masters and will also use his unique expertise as a member of the panel of judges during the competition.

The exclusive competition culminates in a two-day grand final, to be held in New York in July which will be judged by a distinguished panel of leading bartenders, past and present, from New York’s bar scene. They will be tasked with judging competitors on various criteria, including their knowledge of each era’s cocktail heritage, their creativity and ability to bring the story behind their serves to life for the judges, as well as the name, appearance and quality of their cocktail creations. The overall winner will be announced at an exclusive ceremony in New Orleans at the world’s premier cocktail festival, Tales of the Cocktail.

Richard Black, Global Brand Director for Chivas Regal, comments: “As one of the only truly global brands that has been present in each of the great cocktail eras, Chivas has a long association with the global on trade. We respect the hard work required to become a highly skilled mixologist, just as bartenders around the world respect the quality of Chivas.

“The Chivas Masters aims to harness this mutual admiration and demonstrate how relevant Chivas remains in today’s global bar scene, over 100 years since it first took the US by storm. We hope that the unique format of the Chivas Masters will inspire the world’s best bartenders to get involved and create a timeless classic cocktail – as timeless as our iconic brand.”

The Chivas Masters UK national final will take place June 5th in London. Over the next few months, heats will be taking place in an additional ten markets, including China, Japan and Chile. Only one competitor from each market will be selected to travel to New York to take part in the grand final in July.

Hoptimum Prime Roll’s Out’ To Pubs

Hoptimum Prime pump clipHoptimum Prime, Robinsons’ spring seasonal ale, has ‘rolled out’ across the country. This carefully crafted 4.1% ABV amber ale has returned and is exclusively available to pubs until the end of April.

Returning for a second year, this delicious quaffable brew exhibits a rich array of malt flavours which are complimented by a crisp, dry finish. Brewed using only the finest British hops and barley malts, the unique flavour of Hoptimum Prime changes as each individual ingredient combines to tease your taste buds and satisfy all of your hoppy needs.

Hoptimum Prime has been going down a storm with drinkers, selling over 66,000 pints in a single month and becoming Robinsons 4th best-selling ale for March, chasing the heels of their beer champions: TROOPER, Unicorn and Dizzy Blonde.

Hoptimum Prime is available nationally via listings with Heineken, Carlsberg and Punch, and regionally via selective Robinsons’ pubs across Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, Wales and Staffordshire. Available only until the end of April – so get it while you can

A Night Of Living Ventures In The Suburbs

Hale Bar and Grill

Guest writer Keeley Watts experienced once of my spirit evenings a few weeks back. Take a look at what she thought of the expressions I had on offer;

Most drink related events in the North West tend to take place in Manchester City Centre. This is great for me as I live there so can just wander out but I know friends who live in the suburbs really struggle to get to some of them. Quick to recognise this was The Drinks Enthusiast who joined forces with Hale Grill for a spirit tasting with a difference.

We started with a chat about what spirits we liked and disliked. Lucky for me I had tried all the spirits Dave brought to the tasting but it was lovely to listen to others in the group who had never been to an event like this.

Dave started with Grey Goose vodka and the fascinating story of Sidney Frank. Frank was responsible for the promotion and development of Jagermeister in the States which, was huge, and decided he wanted to hit the market currently enjoying Absolut vodka. He was originally beaten by Belvedere being recognised as a premium brand. Not deterred he upped his game and decided to search for a brand in France rather than the more traditional vodka producing countries of Russia and Poland. He found an excellent base in winter wheat which gives the vodka a smooth and light taste ideal for sipping.
The product has ‘slow legs’ in the glass showing no sugar has been added. On the nose are notes of butter and almond with this buttery taste coming through on the palate. It is sweet and smooth; so unlike any other vodka I have tried.

Up next was a personal favourite of mine, Portobello Road gin. Now I like gin, this isn’t a secret. But then it comes to a sipping gin I prefer something smooth and slightly sweet with no spikiness. That is exactly what you get from Portobello Road which was brought to us by Jake Burger, Gerard Feltham and Paul Andrew Lane. Juniper is quite heavy on the nose as is lemon anise and liquorice. The liquorice is prominent on the palate too which is likely to be thanks to the cassia bark, coriander and nutmeg used in the distilling process.

A whiskey followed with Monkey Shoulder. I’m not a fan, the flavours just don’t work for me but if you are thinking of trying whiskey for the first time, this is definitely one to start with. It is a blend of whiskeys from Speyside and other none whiskey drinkers in the room described it as incredibly drinkable. Dave had a few converts on the night!

Last but most definitely not least was Old J spiced rum. Formulated by Tom Hurst in 2009 who tried 60 varieties to find the perfect blend, this rum is delicious. Butterscotch and slight honey aromas on the nose yet toffee, vanilla and lime are prevalent on the palate with a gentle spice kick.

Hale Grill has launched their new summer cocktail and invited us to try one of two cocktails featured. I chose the honeyed rum daiquiri which blends honey, lime and Old J spiced rum. A classic this is slightly sweet with the lovely toffee flavours coming through from the rum. I also got to try the apple, mint and raspberry cosmopolitan as other guests ordered this on the evening. Stoli raspberry, Cointreau, mint and apple juice gives a fresh twist to the classic cosmopolitan whilst the mint provides a lovely freshness.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening and a feast for the senses, it was really interesting to hear what beginners thought of the spirits neat. All are readily available at your favourite bar in the City but this just goes to show that you don’t need to venture too far to get your fix.

Two UK Bartending Superstars Win Colombia Lifetime Experience

Walter Pintus of The Ritz, LaHechiceraWinner2

Alex Lawrence from Orchid bar in Aberdeen and Walter Pintus from The Rivoli Bar at The Ritz London have been selected from over 60 entrants to win one of the most intrepid prizes in cocktailing history. As the two winners of La Hechicera Rum’s #WanderlustColombia challenge, they will go to live and work in the vibrant and exotic capital of Colombia for a full month, later this year.
They will fly to the capital Bogota, and also travel to Cartagena the fashionable Caribbean city. A bespoke programme hosted by the Riascos family will immerse them in the bar-life of both cities’ most prestigious bars. Accommodation and salary will be paid during the month. The visit will also include blending their own rum with the Maestro Ronero (master blender) of La Hechicera.

The hotly contested grand final took place with 15 competing finalists at MASH in London on 7 April 2014, cheered on by their peers. Co-founder Miguel Riascos arrived from Colombia to judge the final and commented, “We were very excited to host such a range of finalists, from popular bars through to 5-star hotel bars. All showed inspired and creative originality, and many were keen to challenge convention. Our judging panel was treated with
unexpected flavour combinations, adventurous mixing with exotic rare fresh ingredients and the results of refined techniques such as dry-smoking. At the end of the day, the winning cocktails were judged on taste.”

Winner 1 – Alex Lawrence, Orchid bar in Aberdeen

Lady Colombia

60ml La Hechicera Rum
20ml Martini Extra Dry
5 ml Mozart Dark Chocolate Liqueur
5 ml maple syrup
2 dashes house blend bitter, pinch of sea salt

Stir over ice and strain into an old fashioned glass.
Garnish with lemon zest.

Winner 2 – Walter Pintus. The Rivoli Bar. The Ritz London

The Rum Baroness

50ml La Hechicera Rum
20ml Tintilla De Rota fortified wine
10ml maple syrup blended with Tahitian vanilla beans and
Egyptian chamomile blossoms, house-made cocoa bitters
3 drops of cocoa oil

Stir over ice and strain into a large stemless wine glass.
Garnish with fresh caviar lime and serve with chocolate truffles

Bowmore Launches New Luxurious Range

BowmoreBowmore Islay Single Malt Whisky, one of the world’s most prized and beloved whiskies, is launching a new range of luxurious single malts, exclusively available in Travel Retail & Duty Free
shops worldwide. Reserved solely for the discerning traveller, this selection of premium single malts has been inspired by Bowmore’s extraordinary home, the island of Islay.

Beautifully packaged, the new range takes inspiration from the magical and remote island of Islay, widely regarded as Scotland’s whisky island. The trio of whiskies, including Black Rock, Gold Reef and White Sands 17 Year Old, celebrate the rich diversity of this unique and enchanting environment, whilst communicating the provenance, tradition and craftsmanship of Bowmore, #pieceofislay.

Upholding its commitment towards whisky connoisseurs and collectors, Bowmore has created a premium and highly giftable range that pays tribute to its previous collection – Bowmore Black, Bowmore Gold and Bowmore White, which is one of the world’s most collectable single malt ranges.

BOWMORE BLACK ROCK

At the heart of the range is Black Rock, an incredibly rich single malt named after the jaggy outcrop that’s clearly visible in the bay across from the distillery, which has stood on the shores of Loch
Indaal since 1779. Matured predominately in first-fill ex-Spanish sherry casks, the result is a delicious balance of peat smoke, treacle toffee and orange.

BOWMORE GOLD REEF

Venture further out to sea, deep beneath the waves, and you’ll be greeted by the island’s reefs. The warm glow of the sun’s rays reflecting off the coral seabed can be seen in the deep golden hues that catch your eye inside every bottle of Gold Reef. A satisfyingly smooth malt, it’s matured mostly in first-fill ex-bourbon casks with notes of vanilla, citrus fruits and coconut milk.

BOWMORE WHITE SANDS 17 YEAR OLD

Bowmore White Sands 17 Year Old is the pièce de résistance in the range. Not only is it Bowmore’s Master Distiller Eddie MacAffer’s personal favourite, it has also been inspired by the stunning beaches of The Big Strand and Laggan Bay, a stretch of coast just south of the Bowmore distillery.
The whisky has been matured for 17 years in Bowmore’s legendary No.1 Vaults, the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland. Savour notes of rich treacle toffee and ripe exotic fruits bound together by warm peat smoke.

TASTE OF ISLAY

Founded in 1779, Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay; an archaeological treasure trove and a haven for whisky aficionados around the world. Standing proud on the shores of Loch Indaal, the
distillery’s proximity to the sea, along with the combination of peat, barley, sea breeze, water, wood, people and tradition together create the perfectly balanced warm and smoky character of Bowmore Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.

Spirits and Cocktail Masterclass at The Hale Grill

Hale Bar and Grill

Guest writer Rowan Molyneux attended one of my spirit based events last week, taking advantage of learning about some of the venues most favourite spirits to offer;

On a grey Tuesday afternoon, I hopped on a train heading out of Piccadilly towards a part of Greater Manchester I’d never explored before. Well, technically Greater Manchester, though being just on the outskirts, Hale feels far more like Cheshire, darling.

My trusted wingman Ruby and I were off to The Hale Grill, part of the Blackhouse family, for ‘The Spirit of Hale’: an evening of tasting spirits and mixing cocktails. It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it..! Rocking up at the venue, it immediately struck me as somewhere I’d love to bring the in-laws. Classic, good quality décor, a warm welcome, and a relaxed atmosphere; yet all of these paled in comparison to the Portobello Road gin and Fever-Tree tonic which was handed to us on arrival, garnished with an elegant curve of lemon zest. These guys know how to do things right. Already a fervent Fever-Tree convert (I have been known to wax lyrical to my long-suffering friends about the importance of good tonic water), Portobello Road gin was new to me, but I soon discovered how its soft citrus sweetness worked perfectly in this simple drink.

Before long, we were invited upstairs to the private dining room, where nibbles were served: chicken satay skewers, extravagantly tentacled calamari, little fishcakes and remarkably tasty spring rolls. This glorious array would have rather derailed most groups, but we had our eyes on the prize – a tantalising array of bottles lined up at the front of the room. We were told that we were going to sample four spirits, each available at the bar downstairs.

A Drinks Enthusiast-led tasting session, Dave poured us all a generous slug of Grey Goose vodka, and gave us a brief history of the brand. Only widely available in the UK since 2001, this French vodka was the brainchild of Sidney Frank, who wanted to create a premium vodka, sippable and luxurious. Frank decided on France as the origin of his vodka, touring distilleries and wineries – it’s alright for some, eh? – and thoroughly immersing himself in the alcohol culture which has such a long and excellent pedigree. Grey Goose uses soft winter wheat, which gives it a smooth, creamy quality. Those of us who are familiar with drinking cheap supermarket voddy (oh, those heady student days!) will be delighted to know that Grey Goose does not have the harsh burn which many of us are familiar with, instead lending a delicious warmth. Members of our group with particularly well-trained palates identified a hint of fresh green apple, accompanied by a suggestion of almonds and butter. Though I’m no sommelier, I put all of my palate training to the test, and thought I got a faint sense of dried apricots hidden away in there. All in all, a delightful vodka, and one I hadn’t experienced before.

For our second spirit, we took a trip back to our earlier g&t, this time sampling the Portobello Road No 171 London Dry gin without the Fever-Tree tonic. In addition to the pre-requisite juniper, Portobello Road featured lemon peel, bitter orange, orris root, liquorice, angelica root, nutmeg, cassia bark, and coriander seeds. A pleasantly citrus-forward gin, the liquorice adds depth but is not intrusive, and the coriander rounds it all off with a slightly peppery finish.

Next up was Monkey Shoulder, a blended whisky. The unusual name comes from an injury (thankfully, now confined to history) frequently suffered by workers shovelling grain all day, whose repetitive lifting motion would lead to a one-sided stoop. Charming! The whisky itself was smooth and light, intended as a gateway to the whisky world. Sweet in a typical Speyside fashion and very accessible, this whisky launched in 2005 and has been converting non-believers ever since. I’ve been assured that it absolutely sparkles in a cocktail.

The last of the spirits, we came to a particular favourite of mine: Admiral Vernon’s Old J Spiced Rum. Technically a rum-based spirit, as it only weighs in at 35%, it is nevertheless outstanding in its category. So full of vanilla, toffee, honey and cinnamon, this sweetness is balanced by the ever-present lime. A historical character, Admiral Vernon enforced a reduction in the strength of the rum ration received by his crew. When the men complained, he implemented the addition of lime and spices, to create a deliciously palatable drink which more than made up for the loss of ABV. Perfect with all of your standard rum mixers – rum and coke, rum and ginger, rum and Ting, rum and milk! – this remarkably versatile spirit works with them all. Their newly launched overproof version, Tiki Fire, 75.5%, rocked my world the other week at the Northern Restaurant and Bar show. Keep your eyes peeled for it in bars around town.

Four spirits sampled, and lots of fascinating info absorbed! But the night was not over yet. We trotted downstairs to the bar, where we were presented with a choice of two cocktails: An Apple, Mint, and Raspberry Stoli Cosmopolitan, or an Old J Spiced Rum and Honey Daquiri. Well, Ruby and I decided that the only sensible thing to do was order one of each and share. The Cosmo was beautifully delicate and freshened by the mint, while the Daquiri was remarkably piquant, its potentially heavy sweetness lifted by a whole load of lime. Some of our group even decided to step behind the bar and mix their own cocktails under the expert eye of the bartender; a highlight of the night, and an experience which The Hale Grill actually offers to the public in their Cocktail Master Classes.

Ruby and I also decided to explore the cocktail menu a little further; well, it would have been rude not to! I ordered a Black Forest Martini which was possibly the most decadent cocktail I’ve ever had – the cream float layered over a sea of deep purple fruit liqueurs was insane – and Ruby decided on the Sloe Gin Crush. How can you say no to a combo that involves sloe gin, elderflower and passionfruit? Both were elegantly presented and tasted fantastic. If these cocktails are tempting you, get a new skill under your belt by learning to make them yourself! You can book in on a Cocktail Master Class in a private area of the restaurant and practice making your choice of classic cocktails in a lighthearted environment, under the expert tutelage of professional bartenders.

The Hale Grill are currently in the process of revamping their cocktail menu for the summer months, bringing in some light, refreshing, seasonal treats, and for those of you who fancy something hoppy, they have a frequently rotating beer menu, featuring some of my old favourites – Thornbridge Wild Swan, anyone? They also have an extensive wine selection for you grape fiends.

Thanks to Kerry of The Hale Grill for her hospitality, and to Dave for talking us through a great selection of spirits. A fantastic evening, and one sunny afternoon I’ll definitely be making the short train ride back out to Hale to sample their new summery cocktails. Cheers!

Northern Restaurant and Bar, and The Changing Face of American Craft Beer in the UK

Guest writer Rowan Molyneux visited this years Northern Restaurant and Bar in Manchester to offer us her view on the highlights to look out for;

On Tuesday 18th and Wednesday 19th of March, the Northern Restaurant and Bar Show was in full swing. The North’s biggest hospitality event, NRB played host to scores of exhibitors, and members of the hospitality industry converged on Manchester Central from all over the UK. With almost 7000 people pouring through the doors over the course of the show, the mood was vibrant and jolly, with visitors and exhibitors alike making connections, exchanging business cards and tips, and of course, sampling the food and drink which was flowing freely as companies proudly showed off their wares. The two-day event was frequently punctuated by masterclasses, talks and demonstrations from chefs, brewers and brand representatives, with the Chairman’s Reserve Cocktail Competition showcasing the skill of bartenders from across the UK. Also present was an exclusive pop-up bar created by Almost Famous, epitomising the restaurant’s irreverent vibe on a more compact scale; let it be known that their aniseed and chilli alcoholic slushie was a force to be reckoned with!

With hundreds of products on show, it’s been inordinately difficult to whittle down the amazing offerings to a manageable list, but eventually I managed to put together a little selection of the brands and events which particularly piqued my interest over the two days. Without further ado, I present to you ‘Molyneux’s Northern Restaurant and Bar Picks 2014′.

First up, an unusual product from God’s own county: Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin. Produced in small batches, this 42% highly sippable gin showcases interesting flavours – mingled tones of fennel, black pepper, zest, juniper and pine result from a mix of citrus, their own juniper bushes, and a secret botanical blend. Recommended serves include lime, green apple, orange peel, or, intriguingly, grapefruit and black pepper.

Next is Penderyn, a single malt Welsh whisky. Wales seems to be a lot more visible in the drinks world these days, being the home of amazing craft beers from breweries such as The Celt Experience and Tiny Rebel. Now Penderyn, the only whisky distillery in Wales, are making their mark with their single malt. Recently featured in a Guardian article showcasing five of the best whisky masterclasses around, their core range consists of a trio of 46% whiskies. Madeira is aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in ex-Madeira wine casks, giving it lots of toffee and dark dried fruit flavours. Sherrywood is aged in Oloroso sherry casks, allowing a dryness to briefly interrupt the rounded sweetness of caramel and sultana. Their Penderyn Peated is, of course, full of sweet smokiness, interspersed with vanilla and a hint of citrus. At the distillery they also produce Brecon Five Vodka, Brecon Gin, and Merlyn Welsh Cream Liqueur – as an Irish Cream devotee, I’m desperate to get my hands on a bottle of this!

Vodka has to be pretty good to impress me, but Snow Queen has done just that. At 40%, this organic vodka from Khazakstan uses organic wheat and pure spring water, and is distilled five times. Snow Queen is so remarkably silky smooth that you can sip it, straight, at room temperature. I don’t know about you, but my days of putting vodka in the freezer are over..!

Another spirit which I found highly enjoyable without it being chilled down was the newly launched Admiral Vernon’s Old J Tiki Fire Spiced Rum, 75.5%. You’d never have guessed the ABV just by tasting it; there is a huge hit of warmth there, but the harsh burn you might expect from a rum this strong just isn’t present. In its place, there are heavy vanilla flavours, and a little lime at the back of the palate. This is a rum with power and impact, and I look forward to seeing it being used in cocktails soon.

With regard to events, the Chairman’s Reserve Cocktail Competition was an amazing showcase for the talent of cocktail bartenders at the top of their game both in Manchester and further afield. The winner, Adam from Corridor (#UnderNewManagement) in Salford took showmanship to the next level with the help of his glamorous assistant ‘Hilary the cow’, who roamed the room dispensing alcoholic goodness from her udders while Adam talked the crowd through his cocktail, mixing it with efficiency and flair. He was a worthy winner, and he – and the very close runner up, Tom from Kosmonaut – will be visiting St Lucia for the rum trip of a lifetime later this year.

One talk I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing was ‘The Changing Face of American Craft Beer’, led by Will Evans of Cave Direct on behalf of Kona Brewing Co – a brewery with the charming tagline, ‘Liquid Aloha’. Those who know me will be aware that I am, first and foremost, a beer geek, having been firmly entrenched in the industry for the last five years, in which time I’ve seen the availability of a wide selection of American craft beers skyrocket. Using the Hawaiian brewery Kona Brewing Co’s core range as an example, Will spoke about how to slowly introduce standard lager drinkers to craft beer, one step at a time – but first, he provided us with a little history. In the 1970s, the state of brewing in America was pretty dire, with only 44 breweries in the whole country; many of them making dull, insipid lager. This lack of any decent choice led to the homebrew revolution as Americans began to make the flavoursome beers that they themselves wanted to drink. Microbreweries sprung up, and today there are around 2500 breweries making craft beer in the United States. Every American has a relatively local craft brewer, and this is also gradually becoming true of the UK, with the range and quality of lovingly made beers skyrocketing over the last few years. Consumer demand has risen sharply, and customers who have previously habitually swilled back pints of ‘premium’ lager have become open to trying a more artisanal product. So, how do we convert fans of mainstream lager to craft beer, which often contains flavours which can be challenging to the unsuspecting? It’s all about the progression.

The first Kona beer we try is Longboard Island Lager: a German-style pilsner at 4.6%, its big malt character balanced by the high alpha acid Hallertau hop. This makes the beer clean, refreshing, and above all, accessible. Pilsners are marvellous gateway beers, eminently quaffable, gradually introducing more flavour than a mainstream lager without being a shock to the system. From there, the next step in the journey is to introduce your customers to a pale ale. Still nothing too bitter or strong– now is not the time to try and get them drinking Magic Rock’s Cannonball! – but here is where you move into ales and introduce a fruitier hop profile with a big aroma. Big Wave is Kona’s golden ale at 4.4%, showcasing Galaxy and Citra hops with a huge passionfruit aroma and tropical fruit on the palate, supported by apricots and dried fruit. The hop profile absolutely is the star attraction, but this is still a light and easy-drinking beer. The low ABV makes it an accessible next step up from lager. Will tells us that this beer would be wonderful paired with a pineapple and pulled pork burrito. Now that sounds like a plan!

And then, of course, it’s onwards and upwards to the full on, uncompromising beers that craft beer geeks obsess over. We’re talking hugely bitter fruity double IPAs, deep dark rich imperial stouts, and mouth-puckering lambics. This is a level which not everyone will enjoy, but it’s the top rung of the artisanal beer ladder. The last beer in our tasting session, Kona’s Fire Rock pale ale at 6%, is towards the less extreme end of this level, but its ABV may scare off the more traditional beer drinker. It’s a hop-forward beer with higher bitterness, but this is balanced by the caramel flavours from the strong malt backbone. This beer, Will opines, would be best paired with barbecue food, as the caramelised meat complements the malt, and the hop bitterness cuts through the char. Drinking beer with meat: always good advice! This talk gave a concise history of where American craft beer has come from, and provided industry folk with an easy-to-follow map for gradually introducing one’s customers to more interesting beer. Cheers Will, and thanks for the samples!

The show will return to Manchester on the 17th and 18th of March, 2015. If you missed out this year, put it in your diary now – I’ll see you there.

Double Award Sucess For Black Bottle

Black Bottle

The distinctive new look of Black Bottle, Burn Stewart Distillers’ premium blended Scotch whisky, has won the ‘World’s Best Relaunch’ category at the World Whisky Design Awards. The award was announced at a ceremony in London on 20th March – just a few days later, Black Bottle gained further recognition for its recently relaunched whisky with a Bronze Medal win at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Recognising excellence in bottle, label and pack design, the World Whisky Design Awards are judged by an international panel of design experts who also consider factors such as breakthrough in category, inspiration, confidence, craft skills and insight. The San Francisco World Spirits Competition is considered the most respected spirits competition in the world, with over 1,400 spirits blind-tasted by a selection of the industry’s leading spirits experts.

Commenting on Black Bottle’s distinctive black glass bottle, which replaced the previous standard green bottle, the World Whisky Design Awards judges described it as: “A beautiful, superbly crafted bottle, that is a real move on from the existing design and which picks up on the brand’s heritage to present a compelling and authentic looking product.”

Black Bottle, a premium blended Scotch Whisky acquired by Burn Stewart in 2003, was re-launched in October 2013 with a new look and new liquid, both of which were inspired by the original vision of Gordon Graham dating back to 1879 when he used his tea blending skills to create his first whisky, initially only for close friends and family. This new look is a modern interpretation of the iconic black glass bottle, which gave rise to the Black Bottle name over a century ago and of which only a few intact examples still exist today.

The new liquid that earned Bronze at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition was created by Burn Stewart Master Distiller, Ian MacMillan, who took inspiration from the original recipe of Black Bottle and re-introduced a richness to balance the smokiness of the blend. The result is a curiously rich and slightly smoky whisky that maintains the distinctiveness of Black Bottle but adds another layer of depth to the liquid.

Marco Di Ciacca, Global Marketing Manager for Black Bottle, said: “We are thrilled to win these awards for Black Bottle and are particularly proud of the new design as it has real stand-out when compared to other brands in what is a fairly traditional category. It is also a significant departure from the previous design and we believe this award is further evidence that we have taken the brand in the right direction.”

Find Your ‘Whisky Clan’ At The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

the scotch malt whisky society

Whisky club opens its doors to members and non-members alike, for Clans & Drams, a month-long celebration of flavour during Homecoming Scotland’s Whisky Month.

Clans are famously associated with territorial battles and bloody skirmishes. But this May, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is putting ancient rivalries aside with the launch of Clans & Drams – a month-long celebration of ‘whisky clans’ based on flavours that takes place during Homecoming Scotland 2014’s Whisky Month.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society believes that the pleasure of exquisite whisky supersedes any family feud or clan dispute. So instead of battling over bloodlines, everyone (Scot or not) is invited into the Society’s members’ rooms in Edinburgh, Leith and London during May to ally themselves to a whisky clan.

The Society, which bottles single cask single malt whiskies from a huge range of distilleries, has created 12 special whisky clans based on flavour profiles. Every traditional family clan has a reputation that defines them, attributes such as bravery, honesty or dexterity. The Society have taken real clan mottos and personalities and attributed these to their flavour clans. Whether you’re the fiery ‘Spicy and Sweet’, or the majestic ‘Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits’, there is a whisky clan for everyone.

Mark van der Vijver, UK Sales Manager for The Scotch Malt Whisky Society said: “Here at the Society, we believe it’s really important for our members not to have any preconceptions based on traditional whisky regions or distillery brands when choosing a whisky; we encourage everyone to focus on the flavours within each whisky so they don’t miss out on discovering something they may not usually try. Clans & Drams embodies this concept by taking a playful approach to traditional clans and creating our own flavour-based whisky clans.”

Caroline Packman, Homecoming Director adds, “The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is one of the world’s most renowned whisky clubs, and their Clans & Drams events will give visitors a unique tasting experience this May. Homecoming is a great opportunity to place the spotlight on Scotland’s greatest assets, with Whisky Month set to celebrate our national drink through a series of innovative and engaging events.”

As well as opening its doors to non-members throughout May and pairing its latest release of whiskies to the 12 flavour clans, The Society is hosting a number of events – from ‘Clan Whisky Feasts’ featuring unique kinships of delicious whisky and food pairings, to The Bon Vivant’s Stuart McCluskey hosting ‘Clan Cocktails’ in the Society’s secret Bothy (see full list of events below). The Edinburgh Members lounges will also host the official signature event of World Whisky Day on Saturday 17th May.

Every one of the Society’s whiskies in Leith, Edinburgh and London have been assigned to a whisky clan, including those in the new May outturn of bottlings, so drinkers should be prepared to adopt an new clan whenever they choose a dram.

Find a full list of events attached and by clicking here.

Freelance Bar Advisor/Consultant, Events Organisation/Collaboration & Reviewer, Taster & Guide to the World of Drinks

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