Finalists Announced at NRB19 Cocktail Competition with Ms Better’s Bitters

bannerFinalists announced for Northern Restaurant & Bar 2019’s national cocktail competition, sponsored by Ms Better’s Bitters, with the chance to win a VIP visit to Canada with guest shifts in Vancouver and Montreal.

Following a series of regional heats, the finalists have been announced for Northern Restaurant & Bar’s annual cocktail competition, sponsored in 2019 by Ms Better’s Bitters.

The winner will join Ms Better’s Bitters on a scenic trans-Canada trip with guest shifts in Vancouver and Montreal! Second place is a majestic treat filled day with Ms Better’s Bitters strolling along the River Thames, with third place being a trip to a London city farm followed by dinner and drinks with Ms Better’s Bitters.

Competitors were asked to submit a unique drink using at least one of the Ms Better’s Bitters range for their Big Beautiful Cocktail Competition! Regional semi-finals were held in February and early March in London, Birmingham, Leeds & Newcastle and the four finalists have been announced as:

1. Raven Ridge by Luke Bensley, Nocturnal Animals, Birmingham
2. Mr Brightside by Erion Bardhoci, Mezemiso at Crowne Plaza Albert Embankment, London
3. Wanderlust by Dan Smithson, Below Stairs, Leeds
4. Dillon Scott / Pleased to Meet you, Newcastle upon Tyne

“We have been exhibited at Northern Restaurant & Bar for the last 5 years and seen many other competitions take place. This year we felt we had a product in Ms Better’s Bitters that would give our entrants the freedom to express themselves and their talents. We set a very loose brief and were very pleased to receive nearly 60 entries. The finalists all showed great brand knowledge, creativity and quality drinks to earn their places and we are now really excited to welcome them to NRB19 in the Drinks Live theatre to see who will win the trip to Canada,” said Jonathan Braham-Everett of JBE Imports, UK distributor of Ms Better’s Bitters

Each finalist is invited to the final of the competition in the Drinks Live theatre at Northern Restaurant & Bar 2019 at Manchester Central on Wednesday 20 March 2019 at 15:15.

Northern Restaurant & Bar is the North’s hospitality show. As well as the Ms Better’s Bitters cocktail competition, the Drinks Live theatre features a line-up of tutored tastings and masterclasses from some of the best names in the business including the Schofield Brothers, Northern Hospitality and the BEAT team from Pernod Ricard. The theatre is surrounded by a curated selection of sprits from across the UK and around the world.

Free trade only tickets are available now at


Canada is perhaps not your first choice of country when talking gin. Europe yes, even Oceania and Asia perhaps, but from the UK’s standpoint, whiskey is the tipple most associated with Canada in the likes of Canadian Club and Crown Royal. It’s to a vibrant introduction to my gin experiences then that Ungava comes along, hailing from the northeastern part of the country.

The Ungava name comes from the Ungava Peninsula, which can be found at the northern tip of Quebec within Canada. Ungava is proud to state that its six rare botanicals, native to the Arctic region, form the basis of the gin. These include Nordic Juniper, Arctic Blend, Cloudberry, Crowberry, Labrador Tea and Wild Rose Hips, each handpicked in the wild during the fleeting summer season. Due to the botanicals used, the yellow colour of the gin is completely natural, the result of the plants and berries of the tundra releasing their aromas and colours.

It’s with intrigue then that below, I give to you my tasting notes –

Ungava – 43.1%

Very light and subtle upon the nose, with honeysuckle and soft rose appearing. A developing boldness on the palate, with green berry and fresh herbal notes dominating. A fresh, striking finish.

A good gin to sip over ice, but this signature serve offers a great use for Ungava –

Ungava Beach

Glass – 

Old Fashioned

Ingredients –

45 ml Ungava gin
60 ml Coconut water
45 ml Soda
15 ml Simple syrup
1 Grapefruit wedge and 1 grapefruit slice

Method –

Squeeze the grapefruit wedge into an old-fashioned glass. Add ice cubes and then the gin, simple syrup and coconut water. Finish with the soda and garnish with the grapefruit slice.

Canada sure know how to create a spirit, whether whisky or gin! An interesting brand look, but backs itself up with the flavour as Ungava should be reserved a place in your drinks cabinet for sure. Great to mix with too if you’re inviting friends and family round to impress.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The 86 Company

86 Company


The lifeline of any country when the serving of drinks is concerned.

The connection between bottle and customer.

The guys and girls every brand needs to get on their side to really make a splash in the bar world.

Welcome then to The 86 Company.

The 86 Company was formed back in September 2012, launching four expressions that have been worked on closely by some of the worlds best distilleries and distillers available, all with feedback and inspiration from bartenders. So from here on, we’ll be taking a look at what company has come up with, and lets see if they’ll catch your eye too.

Aylesbury Duck Vodka

Aylesbury Duck is a Canadian vodka, made from soft white winter wheat sourced directly from local farmers in the Western Rockies close to Calgary. The distillers create their own mash from the winter wheat, which is then fermented for three days and results in an abv of between 9.5 and 11%. From here it will go to the beer holding tank and onto the beer still for distillation. The spirit will be continuously distilled in three separate copper plated column stills, with all three being built back in the 1940’s, and using Canadian glacial water. In the first still (The Beer Still) the spirit is distilled to 65% abv then moved to stills 2 and 3, or the rectifying stills. Here, it is distilled to a proof of 96.5% abv.

The distilled vodka is then shipped to a bottling facility in California where water from a well in Mendocino County is added by Domaine Charbay Distillers.

So how does it fare?

Aylesbury Duck – 40%

Clean on the nose with hints of the winter wheat, and a slight potato notes near the end. Slightly sweet on the palate, with the flavours of the wheat, baked caramel and a slight light citrus to experience.

A cracking spirit on its own, but how about one of these?

Duck Martini

Glass – 


Ingredients – 

5 Parts Aylesbury Duck Vodka
1/2 Part Dry Vermouth

Method – 

Stir over ice, pour into a Martini glass and garnish with a lemon peel

Caña Brava Rum

Caña Brava is named and made from sugar cane grown in the region of Herrera, Panama. The rum is produced in the Las Cabras Distillery, which was first erected in 1919 as a sugar mill until the mid-nineties when Francisco “Don Pancho” J Fernandez (a Master Distiller for 45 years) and Carlos Esquivel discovered the neglected warehouse and copper column still. It is here that they boil the harvested sugar cane juice to crystalize the sugars, which are then removed by centrifugal spinning, leaving behind the molasses. The molasses are then diluted and fermented with the aid of “Don Pancho’s” distinct natural pineapple yeast.

The fermented liquid is then distilled through five continuous stills to an abv of between 92-94%. The first 4 stills are copper plate whilst the last still is 100% copper and brass. Once distilled, it is cut to a proof of 75% abv and placed into new American oak barrels and aged for 18-24 months. After the time period, the spirit is cut to 49% abv and moved to used American whiskey barrels (a mixture of bourbon & Tennessee whiskey barrels) and aged for a further 12-24 months.

After ageing, the rums are blended with older rums for consistency, then tried and tested in Daiquiri’s and other famous mixed rum drinks to choose the final blend before being filtered three times – Carbon filtration, Millipore Cellulose filtration and cold filtration.

So how does it fare?

Caña Brava – 43%

Very light on the nose with a slight hint of vanilla, citrus and oak combining. Very smooth on the palate, with soft hints of toffee, oak and cocoa leading a lingering finish.

Of course, works well in a Daiquiri.

Daiquiri Classico (1898)

Glass – 


Ingredients – 

60 ml Caña Brava
30 ml Fresh Lime Juice
15 ml Simple Syrup (2:1)

Method – 

Shake all the ingredients over ice and strain into a coupette. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Fords Gin

Fords Gin is distilled in London at Thames Distillers, and is the result of a partnership between 8th generation Master Distiller Charles Maxwell and Simon Ford of The 86 Co. Using a mix of 9 botanicals including juniper, coriander seed, bitter orange peel, lemon peel, grapefruit peel, jasmine flower, orris, angelica and cassia) that are steeped for 15 hours within a base spirit of neutral grain spirit made from English wheat. Two stills are used at Thames Distillers, Tom Thumb and Thumberlina in a distilling process that lasts 5 hours. The finished distilled spirit is shipped to San Francisco where it is cut with water from a well in Mendocino County.

So how does it fare?

Fords – 45%

Light on the nose with a slightly dry citrus note. Aromatic hits of the jasmine and juniper come through. A developing spice on the palate, slight oily texture with a good kick of rind from the grapefruit and orange on the lingering finish.

Great on its own, but how about one of these –

White Negroni

Glass – 


Ingredients – 

50 ml Ford’s Gin
25 ml Suze or Gran Classico
30 ml Lavender infused Dolin Blacn Vermouth

Method – 

Stir ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Strain over fresh ice within a rocks glass and garnish with a lemon wheel.

Tequila Cabeza

Tequila Cabeza is made from 100% estate owned agave that is grown in the Los Altos region of Arandas in Mexico and produced at the El Ranchito Distillery since 1994. The agave are grown by the Vivanco family, who have been cultivating agaves on their 800-hectare mountainside land for five generations, and hand-picked by the Jimadores at seven to nine years of age when the agave has a sugar content of 23-28%. Once harvested, the piñas are cooked in brick ovens for 24 hours at 100 °C and are then left to cool for 24 hours
before being fed manually into the shredder. Here, the agave juice is extracted and the fibres are separated. Natural spring water is added during the process too.

The resulting agave juice (mosto) is fermented with the aid of a Champagne yeast in cooper tanks during the winter months (the cooler temperature allows for an extended mash period (approximately 10 days). Once the fermentation is finished,
the mash sits for two days before distillation. Distillation occurs in two separate copper pot stills, the first being the destrozador still that produces the ordinario at 20-22% ABV, which is then filtered. The second distillation, in the rectificator still, produces tequila at 55-56% abv. There is no filtration after the second distillation, but distilled natural spring
water is added to bring it down to 43% abv. The spirit is then rested in stainless steel for 60 days before bottling.

But how does it fare?

Tequila Cabeza – 43%

Very smooth agave notes on the nose, with hints of coriander spice that follows onto the palate. A citrus and earthy combination blends well, with hints of black pepper but plenty of agave kicks on the long finish.

Way back at the beginning, I spoke about how bartenders have influenced the four expressions above. 4 spirits created for some of the worlds most famous cocktails, versatile in use and a bottle to match. But did you notice, each spirit has a different bottle finish? The neck, for example, has been designed to easily hold with a full hand, whilst there is a ridge in the middle of the bottle for bartenders with smaller hands and is weighted for the perfect pour! Now that’s looking after bartenders, and ultimately giving you a better experience too.

Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying these yourself at home, and they offer a difference to your usual classic cocktails. Grab some bottles for your drinks cabinet, or head to your local bar and see the bartenders in action with their favourite, bartender in mind, bottles of spirit.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



What is the purest vodka available in the world? Grey Goose? Belvedere? Crystal Head? Imagine my surprise when Iceberg came to me and mentioned that they are number one, due to the low mineral content of the iceberg water that they harvest in Canada. Always intrigued to find out more, I’ve had a look at their claim and to see what they are up to for the year ahead.

Iceberg has been available in the UK since 2010, and prides itself on being the only company to obtain a licence from the Newfoundland and Labrador government to harvest 12,000 year-old icebergs (naturally detached from Canadian Arctic glaciers) in the North Atlantic ocean, a process that takes 3 months at a time. Ontario sweet corn is used as the base grain, harvested and distilled four times within column stills. From here, it is taken to Newfoundland at 96.7% abv.

The alcohol is run through a basic charcoal pad filter to remove any contamination, then 30,000 litres of Iceberg water is added once it has been pre-filtered from 15 microns to 5 microns before blending. The slow blending of the water with the corn takes 3 days and is filtered overall 7 times. The end product produces a vodka that is free from manmade contaminates and one that is said to be the ‘most naturally pure vodka in the world’.

So how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –

Iceberg – 40%

Very clean on the nose, with soft hints of the sweet Ontario corn offering a smooth butter aroma. Smooth upon the palate, although a developing sweetness of butter and sea salt comes through to leave a bold, very long and a rather clean finish.

An interesting premium vodka, one that definitely took my by surprise on the first take. Although no signature serves seem to be offered by the brand, I can imagine it would give a great offering for a wet styled vodka Martini. Grab a bottle for a unique vodka experience today

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



The UK has a new whiskey from the US, and it’s landed with fanfare in many of the influential icons of the drinks world laps as the bar trade is scrambling for a piece of what is known as WhistlePig. The oddly named is a straight rye whiskey, and is heralded as one of the best rye’s in the world today. But how did it earn such a moniker? Lets take a look.

Born in 2007, WhistlePig started its life when Raj P. Bhakta bought WhistlePig farm, containing 500 plus acres in Shoreham, Vermont. He joined forces with ex Makers Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell and set about finding the best batch of rye available in North America within a 5 year plan to bring rye back into the USA. The first day of 2010 saw Raj and his family clear out an old barn, and in 2013 they harvested their first crop of rye. WhistlePig prides itself as being the first ever ‘single malt, one-stop rye shop’, with all the stages of the whiskey process happening on site. Finally, in 2015, the single-estate farm distillery is open, with the first run of distillation scheduled for July 4th 2015.

So how is WhistlePig fairing within the first few years?

Until July, the WhistlePig has been distilled in western Canada, but once the summer rolls around and the whiskey flows from the WhistlePig farm, the whiskey will be matured within a warehouse located just a few feet away. It’s here that the spirit is within new American charred oak barrels (or early use bourbon barrels) for at least 10 years, braving the open warehouse elements.

So how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –

WhistlePig 10yr – 50%

Aged for 8 years in new American oak, then early use bourbon barrels for 2 years. Good depth on the nose, lots of aromas with soft spice and fruit. Subtle oak aromas combine well. Spice on the palate with a high, lively sweet and floral flavour, mixing well with the rye to create a very long, warm finish with a creamy texture.

A great spirit, which has caught the bartenders eyes a little –

World’s Greatest Rye Perfect Manhattan
World’s Greatest Rye Perfect Manhattan

World’s Greatest Rye Perfect Manhattan *

Glass – 


Ingredients –

60 ml Whistlepig straight rye whiskey
15 ml Sweet vermouth
15 ml Dry vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Lemon peel, for garnish

Method – 

Combine all liquid ingredients into an ice-filled mixing glass and stir briskly for about 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel after running the inside of the peel around the lip of the glass.

There are one or two other expressions that you may see popping up soon, including TripleOne, aged for 11 years and at 111 proof (55.5% abv) and Boss Hog 2014, selected from among the oldest barrels from Bond 77, which entered wood on April 5, 2001. Something different and exciting for your drinks cabinet, and despite the price, worthy of a cocktail or two as well. Enjoy.

* Recipe from The Five O’Clock Cocktail Blog

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Canadian Club Tasting Notes

Canadian Club

I’m guilty. I forget that Canada is also a whisky producing country. I have no explanation for it, it’s just one that i only seem to remember when i come across a brand hailing from the country. To be fair, there are not many brands that can say they hail from Canada, Crown Royal the most notable, but one that most would answer to if ever asked the question of ‘name me a Canadian whisky’ would probably mention Canadian Club.

Canadian Club (or C.C as it’s apparently more commonly known by) began production in 1858. Established by a gentleman named Hiram Walker, he produced his first batch in 1854, and founded his distillery in Detroit, Michigan in 1858, originally naming his brand Walker’s Club Whiskey. With the onset of Prohibition, Hiram Walker upped and moved his distillery across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario where he was able to export his whisky with relative ease. With the popularity of his whiskey in the late 19th Century, many gentlemen’s clubs in the US and Canada began naming it ‘Club Whisky’. Soon after, Hiram Walker positioned his whisky as a premium liquor due to its length of the ageing process – aged in oak barrels for a minimum of five years. This set him apart from the rest of the whisky’s in production at the time as they all aged for less than a year. With popularity souring, American distillers campaigned for the inclusion of the world ‘Canada’ on the bottle so it would distinguish it from their own. Initially they thought it would slow down the sales of Hiram Walker’s whisky, but it ultimately backfired as it made Canadian Club more exclusive. In 1890, the label officially read ‘Canadian Club Whisky’.

Walker’s distillery went to his sons upon his death in 1899 and is still in production today. Canadian Club has also received the royal warrants of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II making them the only North American distiller to have this.

So with the royal seal of approvement, as well as being aged for a minimum of five years, how does this Canadian whisky fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –

Canadian Club – 40%

Burn sugar and aniseed blend on the nose with the palate enjoying a softer sweetness. Slight hints of spice with honey flavours coming through too. Warm ending that lingers for a long finish.

I can see why it’s received its royal blessing, but would they enjoy this? –

London CC Churchill
London CC Churchill

London CC Churchill

Glass – 


Ingredients – 

25 ml Canadian Club
25 ml Lime juice
25 ml Sweet Vermouth
25 ml Triple Sec

Method – 

Shake the ingredients together with ice, and strain into a rocks glass.

A good all-rounder whisky from Canada, one that I can now see why it is so popular. Question is, why is it never seen as much over in the UK? Lets do something about it. 

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Crystal Head Vodka Tasting Notes

Ever heard of the legend of the 13 crystal skulls? Found around the world and dated between 5,000 and 35,000 years old, it is said that they were carved over a period of hundred of years, with no reasoning behind them. Many however believe that they offer spiritual powers. Two such men who are fascinated with this story are Dan Aykroyd and John Alexander. Using this inspiration, they decided to produce a spirit that resembles the spiritual power and enlightenment of the 13 crystal skulls, which results in Crystal Head avoiding the use of additives during creation.

The bottle itself is in memory of the 13 crystal skulls, and created by John Alexander who is a veteran fine artist. After more than two years in development, the glass depiction of a head was complete with Milan-based manufacturer Bruni Glass declaring it to be a bottle of unsurpassed complexity and quality. With the bottle complete, the decision was made to create a unique vodka using unique ingredients. First, Newfoundland, Canada was the choice of the water source, using the deep glacial aquifer at the easternmost landmass in North America. This water seeps to the surface through a bed of porous rock which serves as a natural filter. It was here that the founders decided to call the place home for the Crystal Head distillery.

Production of Crystal Head Vodka starts with grain grown in the Kent/Chatham region of Ontario. These grains are then processed and distilled four times to produce a neutral grain spirit at 95% abv which is then reduced down to 40% abv using the water taken from the deep aquifers in the Newfoundland. Crystal Head Vodka is then triple charcoal filtered and then finally filtered three times through 500-million year-old crystals known as Herkimer Diamonds. These quartz crystals are found in very few places in the world, including Herkimer, New York and regions in Tibet and Afghanistan.

So how does Crystal Head do after being filtered through very rare diamonds? Well below i give to you my tasting notes –

Crystal Head – 40%

Smooth and light on the nose with hints of vanilla gently making its way around. A slight kick when it first hits the palate, but it mellows quickly into a smooth offering. A slight peppery kick at the end, but a long mouth-watering sensation dominates it.

A great vodka with a long flavour does well for the sipping drinker, but it also creates some fantastic cocktails –

Crystal Head – Bare Bones Pomegranate

Bare Bones Pomegranate

Glass –


Ingredients –

50ml Crystal Head
25ml Pomegranate juice
25ml Fresh lemon juice
5ml of 2:1  sugar syrup

Method –

Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with fresh berries.

Crystal Head – The Crystal Cooler

The Crystal Cooler

Glass –


Ingredients –

75ml Crystal Head
50ml Orange juice
50ml Passion fruit juice
25ml Fresh lemon juice
Dash agave syrup
Soda water

Method –

Add Crystal Head Vodka, orange juice, passion fruit juice and fresh lemon juice into a shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice.  Top with soda water and garnish with orange slice.

Crystal Head is already winning awards too including San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2011 Double Gold Medal, San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2009 Silver Medal and LA Spirits & Wine Competition 2009 Silver Medal and Special Jury Award for Unique Packaging.

I’ve been seeing Crystal Head pop up in bars over the past year, so if you can, give it a go or ask your bartender to create you one of the recipes above. Enjoy and enjoy you shall!

Check out the rest of the photos, taken at The Circle 360, via my Facebook page.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.