I love a liqueur I can sip. Just one that you can crack open no matter what time of day it is and enjoy. Even better if it’s versatile enough to mix simply within some classic drinks. St Germain is a staple to my drinks cabinet because it does just that. Question is, out of all the elderflower liqueurs on the market these days, why this one?
Lets take a look.
St Germain was the pioneer, the original elderflower liqueur. When third generation distiller Robert Cooper, he of Chambord fame, saw the importance of non-alcoholic elderflower cordials in London around 2002, and worked on creating a world first. He went for hand-picked elderflower petals from the French Alps in Haute Savoie (preferred due to the abundance available) which flower for a few weeks in late spring but are only at their ripest for about a week. A group of local French farmers harvest the flowers by hand, with the results macerated in grape neutral grain spirit (a blend of Chardonnay and Gamay grapes) within 48 hours of being picked.
Once completed, he then adds 180g of Caribbean cane sugar per litre and bottled within the now distinctive Belle Epoque eight-sided shape. The bottle itself was created as a tribute to the vibrant art deco period in Saint-Germain-des-pres, a place that Robert Cooper would name his liqueur after falling in love with its character and café’s whilst developing his brand on trips to the Alps and the distillery after flying from Paris.
So, how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
St Germain – 20%
Delicate, with plenty of sweet aromas of elderflower on the nose. Rather rich on the palate, but mellows quickly with citrus flavours cutting through. Short, but an air of elderflower lingers.
Fantastic on its own, but with something like this, could change the perspective of your day –
St Germain and Champagne *
Champagne flute or Coupette
15 ml Chilled St Germain 120 ml Chilled Dry Champagne Spritz of Orange Juice
Add St Germain and Champagne to a flute or coupette glass then add a spritz of orange juice.
Amazing! Perfect for any time of year, and should be a staple to any drinks cabinet or night out. And in case you need any more reasons to experience St Germain, each bottle is individually numbered and marked with the vintage year. Uniqueness at its best.
Bramley and Gage – a company that is making a bit of a scene in the bartender arena. Despite being around for over twenty years, bartenders are taking notice of their thirteen strong portfolio, using the brand within new cocktail creations and simple serves. But who are Bramley and Gage?
Back in the mid 1980’s, Edward Bramley Kain and Penelope Gage started experimenting in the kitchen of their South Devon farmhouse with strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant liqueurs. Using fruits from their fruit farm, the recipes they were creating followed the traditional French method of maceration. Going traditional became a success, and they started selling their products to local off-licences, delis and tourist attractions.
Ten years after starting up, Edward and Penelope sold the farm and moved to a more suitable premises with its own bottling line. Using locally sourced fruit, and all created by hand in small batches, the Bramley and Gage range falls under both fruit gins and liqueurs, with new lines being brought out as they experiment with the fruits of Gloucestershire by the team of Michael and Felicity (son and daughter of Edward and Penelope).
So how do they fare? Well I’ve been lucky enough to try some of their range, so below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Plum Liqueur– 18%
Soft plum notes on the nose but becomes rather sharp once onto the palate. Plenty of acidic notes are present on a fairly short finish.
Creme de Cassis– 18%
Intense blackcurrant aromas on the nose, with a slight sweetness. Soft on the palate with the hit of blackcurrant stepped down a notch. Rather sweet with a lingering finish of currant flavours.
Organic Sloe Gin– 26%
Bold notes of sloe berries on the nose, with a rather sharp yet sweet flavour emerging on the palate. Dark cherry flavours come through, with subtle dry hints of juniper.
Elderflower Liqueur – 18%
Very floral with lots of sweet elderflower aromas on the nose. A blend of citrus and elderflower on the palate creates a long yet slightly dry finish. Fresh.
All great on their own, but have you tried one of these –
50 ml Bramley and Gage Organic Sloe Gin
25 ml Fresh lemon juice
12.5 ml Bramley & Gage Blackberry Liqueur
Shake the Sloe Gin & lemon juice with ice and strain over fresh ice into an ice filled glass, top with soda and float the blackberry liqueur. Garnish with fresh blackberries and a lemon slice.
Bramley and Gage are also rather versatile –
Pheasant Breast with Sloe Gravy
2 pheasant breasts
Zest of an Orange
Strips of Pancetta or Streaky Bacon
Butter for frying
Chicken or Pheasant Stock
A little plain flour
Pre-heat the oven to 200C / 400F / Gas Mark 6. Take the skin off the breasts and remove any shot! Remove the false fillets and mince them with fresh parsley, orange zest, a few crushed juniper berries and seasoning. Flatten out the remaining breasts between two sheets of cling film
Place the minced meat onto the centre of the pheasant breasts and then roll them up in the pancetta or streaky bacon.
Pan fry in butter to get the bacon coloured and then place the pan the pre-heated oven 5 minutes.
Remove the breasts to a warmed plate to rest for 2 minutes then slice.
Meanwhile. make the gravy in the pan used to cook the breasts. On the hob, sprinkle a dusting of flour over the hot fat and meat residue and leave to brown then add stock and Sloe Gin and whisk until smooth.
Serve on buttered savoy cabbage or kale and dress with the rich gravy. Accompany with a few roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Fantastic and very British! And you’ll be drinking award-winning spirits too as Bramley and Gage have been given many awards from prestigious food and drink competitions, including Taste of the West, the Great Taste Awards, the Quality Drinks Awards, the International Wine and Spirits Competition. Worth a purchase for your cabinet. And while your at it, grab a hold of their 6 O’clock gin too!
The year 2006 saw a name come into the drinks industry that covered not only liqueurs, but also the lesser known bitters category – The Bitter Truth.
Bitters were essentially the ingredient that distinguished cocktails from other beverages and were an essential component of any good cocktail creation. Many classic cocktails use bitters and still stand the test of time today – Manhattan and Sazerac to name a few. Prohibition, as we all know, cut the drinking establishments down to size, but bitters held their ground due to their medicinal properties. Since then, and especially in the modern era, bitters have made a firm comeback and are regularly used within new creations.
Enough about bitters in general, how did The Bitter Truth come about? *
At a bar show in 2006, Munich bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck gave birth to the idea of producing and distributing cocktail bitters on a large-scale, as they were hard to find in Germany and of inferior quality. Both of them had already gained a considerable amount of experience in producing handmade cocktail bitters for the bars they were working at and in addition, Stephan owned a large collection of current and historical bitters, some of which hadn’t been produced for decades. Thus, he knew how the most well-known bitters of the world tasted and was considered a specialist in this area. They used the criteria of the choice of flavours mainly provided by old cocktail recipes that could no longer be mixed true to the original because one crucial ingredient had been missing i.e the correct bitters.
In August 2006, the first products from The Bitter Truth were released: an Orange Bitters and an Old Time Aromatic Bitters. Shortly after that, a Lemon Bitters was released. Since then, two additional flavours have been added to the range: the Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters, Creole Bitters and a Celery Bitters, which won the award as Best Spirit of the Year 2008 at the Mixology Bar Awards in Germany. In addition, The Bitter Truth has released a SloeBerry BlueGin‚ which is flavoured with fresh sloeberries, and a range of fine liqueurs: an Apricot Brandy, a Crème de Violette and a Pimento Dram. ELIXIER, a digestive liqueur in the grand tradition of the Alps. was added to range to make the bridge between the bitters and the liqueur range.
In 2016, to celebrate their 10th anniversary, The Bitter Truth released four expressions in their ‘Drops and Dashes’ range, showing off the all natural four parts of the tree of life; roots, wood, blossom and nut.
I’ve been lucky enough to sample some of their range, so below, I give to you my tasting notes –
The Bitter Truth Drops and Dashes, Nut– 42%
Soft green walnut on the nose, with subtle almond coming through. Rich tobacco leaf and walnut on the palate, with notes of coffee bean and dry oak.
The Bitter Truth Drops and Dashes, Blossom– 42%
Light, scented floral notes of blossom on the nose with hints of lemon rind. Intense lavender and rose, with flavours of earth and prune coming through on the finish.
The Bitter Truth Drops and Dashes, Root – 42%
Rich smoked notes of liquorice on the nose, with sweet, fresh flavours of root blended with the bitter quinine note to finish.
The Bitter Truth Drops and Dashes, Wood – 42%
Very light, thin notes of oak and cedar wood on the nose. Softer on the palate, with bold, sweeter notes of the root coming through for a long, smoked finish.
The Bitter Truth Elderflower Liqueur– 22%
Fresh elderflower on the nose with scents of honey coming through. Sweet elderflower flavours come through on the palate, with a soft, velvet texture that creates a hint of spice. Lingers for a short while.
The Bitter Truth Apricot Liqueur – 24%
Very light and fresh on the nose with apricots dominating. Refreshing on the palate, with a light almond that lingers with a hint of sweetness. Creates a slightly dry end.
The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur– 22%
Very light with a slight violet aroma on the nose. Thin flavours of the violet carry onto the palate and produces a smooth offering with a slight sweetness.
The Bitter Truth Pimento Dram – 22%
Rich with a dry spice and a little sweetness coming through on the nose. Quite aromatic on the palate, with a dry yet sweet offering on a short finish.
The Bitter Truth Golden Falernum – 18%
Very rich and sweet on the nose with scents of fresh almond and ginger. Rich on the palate too, with plenty of sugar, vanilla and almond blending together. A subtle finish.
The Bitter Truth Elixier – 30%
Rich on the nose with a fresh bitterness of herbs. Sweet on the palate, a slight spice kicking in with caramel following. Plenty of herbal notes on a rich finish.
The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic Bitters – 39%
Rich with plenty of herbal notes on the nose, and a dry pepper finish. Spice flavours of cinnamon and cloves dominate the palate, with a short, dry finish.
The Bitter Truth Tonic Bitters – 43%
Plenty of citrus and rich green tea aromas on the nose, albeit it a dry experience. Very dry on the palate, with the citrus rather harsh, although the green tea combats to a bitter finish.
The Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters – 39%
Fresh lemon on the nose with a slight sweetness coming through. Rich, dry lemon flavours on the palate, with a bitter and short finish.
The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters– 44%
Fresh grapefruit on the nose, with a rich, bitter finish. A bitter development on the palate, although fresh and produces a long finish.
The Bitter Truth Original Celery Bitters – 44%
Rich, slight spice and a dry aroma on the nose. Soft and subtle once upon the palate, with a slight fresh spice on the finish.
The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters – 39%
A rich hit of fruit on the nose with a bold, fresh aromatic scent. Dry on the palate, with fennel and anise dominating a bold finish.
The Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters – 44%
Rich with a very dry cocoa aroma on the nose. Sweeter on the palate, with a roasted cocoa flavour which produces a long yet slightly dry ending.
The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ Bitters – 30%
Fresh on the nose with a slight herbal and citrus blend. Fresh spice and bark on the palate, producing a short yet dry finish.
The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters– 39%
Ripe orange rind on the nose with hints of orange flesh making an appearance. Sharp beginning on the palate but mellows very quickly with orange dominating. Slight spice develops soon after on a short offering.
The Bitter Truth Peach Bitters– 39%
Bold peach notes at the beginning, with hints of freshness following. Ripe peach on the palate with a spice following that produces a mouth-watering finish.
The Bitter Truth Rose Water – 0%
Very fresh on the nose with plenty of aromatic rose aromas, albeit a little dry. Very light on the palate, producing a long, fresh finish of rose.
The Bitter Truth Orange Flower Water – 0%
Very aromatic on the nose with plenty of fresh orange scented flowers. A lingering soft orange flavour on the palate produces a slightly bitter finish.
As you can imagine, many a cocktail has been created using The Bitter Truth range –
50 ml Bourbon Whiskey
20 ml Sweet Vermouth
20 ml Brut Champagne
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters
Stir and serve straight up, add Champagne on top and garnish with a cherry.
It’s always worth having a bottle or two of the bitters in your own drinks cabinet, and you’ll find many uses for the liqueurs too. If you see them in your local bar, challenge your bartender to see if they can come up with something creative! Especially as the range is still winning awards. At the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition 2010 The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters was crowned with a “Gold Medal” and voted “Best in Class”. In addition to that The Bitter Truth`s Original Celery Bitters and Creole Bitters won a “Silver Medal”. At Tales of the Cocktail New Orleans 2010 The Bitter Truths Celery Bitters took away the top price for “Best New Product”.
*History and awards taken straight from The Bitter Truth website. Subtle changes made for narrative purposes.
Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to try the spirits that UK-based Chase Distilleries offers to the trade, so after completing my tasting notes on their core range, I’ve decided to combine them all onto one page for your viewing pleasure.
A little history first (1) –
A farmer of 20 years, William Chase had been growing potatoes to supply to the supermarkets as a commodity, but started to feel disheartened after he receives no feedback from the end customer. With prices rising, William decides to branch away from the supermarket scene with the idea of turning his potatoes into chips. During 2002, he travelled the world sourcing equipment and recipes to make potato chips. By the summer, ‘Tyrrells’ was rolling out, kick starting the homemade chips scene.
The creation of vodka though? That was more an accident. Whilst in the USA in 2004, William stumbled upon a small distillery whilst searching for packaging equipment – the distillery was producing potato vodka. So with his very own eureka moment, he sourced a bespoke rectifying column and started work on creating his very own homemade potato vodka.
From the idea in 2004, it took until April fool’s day 2008 to make the first of their potatoes and then make the first batch of vodka in June 2008. Despite having only a small volume output of 1000 litres for 16 tonnes of potatoes in its first run, William Chase prides himself on supreme quality over other mass-produced vodka.
So how does Chase create its award-winning products?
The first stage of the vodka making process is to convert the potatoes into sugars. The potatoes that we grow on the farm are old-fashioned high starch varieties such as Lady Claire and Lady Rosetta. They are harvested in late summer and stored in wooden boxes for the rest of the year. They tip them out of the boxes and into a water bath. Any stones that might be mixed in with them sink to the bottom, but the potatoes float and are drawn off into the peeling machine. The peel is mainly fibre and cannot be fermented, so they take it off and spread it on the fields as compost. The naked potato that they are left with is basically starch and water. They mash them and heat them up to produce a runny mashed potato. This cooks the starch so that the enzymes can get to work, but because they are destroyed by heat, they have to cool the mash to 60°C before they can add them.
The next stage is fermentation. The yeast starts to feed on the sugars that have been made out in the mash vessel and start to reproduce. This process has three waste products: alcohol, carbon dioxide gas and heat. They keep it cool at first to keep the rate of fermentation under control and after a week or so end up with a potato wine of between 8 and 10% abv.
When the fermentation has finished they then start the distilling process. As they gently heat the fermented mash, the alcohol will boil off preferentially and is condensed and collected. By law vodka must be taken to 96% alcohol by volume (abv) and then diluted with water back down to the bottling strength, which is 40%. In order to achieve this, it is distilled five times. The first distillation run is called a stripping run where they simply extract as much as possible from what they have fermented. Most vodka is stripped these days on a continuous stripper which is very efficient and can extract pretty much all the alcohol. Chase have gone back to using the more traditional batch pot still and although it only extracts 85-90% of the fermented alcohol, they are able to keep more of the character. The still is also handmade. It is completely copper which helps produce a smoother distillate by removing sulphates.At the end of the process, they end up with the Low Wines at around 45-50% abv.
Some of the substances in the Low Wines need to be removed as well as the need to concentrate the alcohol using the rectification column. This is over 70ft tall and extends up through the ceiling, up through the floor above and into a tower that had to be built on the roof of the distillery (again it is all hand-made from copper). They put the Low Wines back into the pot still and heat them up again. The vapour then passes up the rectification column through 42 bubble plates to the top where there is a condenser with cold water running through it. This condenses the alcohol vapour causing it to trickle back down to the bottom of the column leaving a thin layer of liquid on each bubble plate before it runs back into the still to be re-boiled, re-evaporated and sent back around the loop again. As the vapour passes up the rectification column again, this time it is forced into the layer of liquid on each bubble plate. As a vapour entering a liquid it will naturally condense, but because energy cannot be created or destroyed, something has to give, and so something also has to evaporate from the layer of liquid, and because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, it tends to be the alcohol that evaporates preferentially. The result is that as the vapour passes up through these bubble plates it gets progressively purer and purer and more concentrated.
Once the ‘heart’ of the spirit run is removed, it is diluted with water from 96% abv to around 50% abv. The water is sourced from the aquifer underneath the orchard at the bottom of the valley. From the borehole they run it through a reverse osmosis filter and de-ioniser column to purify it. The next step is chill filtering. At low temperatures, long chain protein molecules can precipitate out of the spirit, and if not removed, the vodka could become hazy when stored in the freezer. So they chill the spirit down, allow the protein to precipitate out and then filter it again. They then add more of the pure water to adjust the product to 40% abv.
All the bottling is done by hand. The bottles arrive at the plant with the design already printed. They are then put upside down onto a turntable which rinses them out. After being put on a basic but accurate filler which fills the bottle to the required level, a cork is put in using a rubber mallet and a strip or capsule over the top.
So with a rather unique development, how do the finished products rate?
Chase Vodka – 40%
Gained the gold medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2010 Best Vodka category. Aromas of vanilla and butter mix well in the nose as the flavours of potato, butter and slight almond/vanilla surround your taste-buds. A smooth feel with a mellow aftertaste with great longevity. Slight black cracked pepper finish.
Chase Marmalade– 40%
Created using Chase vodka and marinated with Seville orange marmalade in the gin still. It is then boiled up and infused with Seville orange peel in their copper still. Giving a slight clear golden colour when poured and on the nose it gives off a subtle marmalade and orange aroma that smells fresh and inviting. On the palate, the marmalade gives off a stronger scent with a rather sweet and a slight bitterness from the orange, leaving a warm feeling and goes down well with a long lingering follow-up.
Chase Smoked Vodka – 40%
A small batch production of just 1000 bottles. Light smoke notes on the nose but bursts out as it hits the palate with a creamy potato textue. A long finish, albeit dry.
Chase Potato Bramley Apple Vodka – 40%
Bramley Apples are distilled with Naked Chase Apple Vodka. Light with kicks of apple on the nose that follows nicely onto the palate. A tangy yet crisp mouth feel gives a short profile.
Chase Rhubarb Vodka – 40%
Slowly cooked Herefordshire Rhubarb marinated with Chase vodka. A light, fresh scent of rhubarb aromas dance on the nose and palate, with a slight sweetness coming through as it nears the end.
Chase Bourbon Cask Vodka– 62.4%
Barrel aged vodka using casks that previously held Kentucky bourbon whiskey. Lots of dry oak swirl on the nose with vanilla, whilst the palate enjoys a mix of fudge, caramel and spicy black pepper to create a long finish.
Chase Raspberry Vodka– 40%
Very delicate and slow releasing of the raspberry on the nose which becomes rather fragrant once it hits the palate. A little sharp near the end but it soon mellows into a long offering.
Williams Gin– 48%
Distilled from organic apples, there’s lots of fresh green apple aromas on the nose which carries on to the palate, although a little bolder flavour. Hints of citrus mix to produce a smooth, longevity.
Williams Chase Seville Orange Gin – 40%
A sweet nose with slight orange aromas coming through slowly. Rather smooth on the palate with a slight ting on the long end. A lovely warmth.
Warm notes of cinnamon mix well with faint juniper aromas on the nose. Extremely soft on the palate with a kick of spice once it hits the throat. A little dry with the bold notes of citrus but the warmth of the cinnamon comes through a little more. Very long.
Chase Raspberry Liqueur – 20%
A deep, ripe raspberry nose bodes well as it creates a very smooth texture on the palate. A slight sweetness against a velvet offering produces a long finish, albeit a little dry.
There are many more variations that the Chase Distillery offer, including a smoked and a naked version of their vodka, a bramley apple and sloe gin, and rhubarb, elderflower and blackcurrant liqueurs.
Chase Elderflower Liqueur– 20%
Won gold at the Liqueur Masters 2009, sweet and floral on the nose, with the elderflower rather subtle on the palate instead of the hard hit you may expect. A refreshing long finish with a sweet after-taste that lingers.
Chase Rhubarb Liqueur – 20%
Very light and subtle on the nos, with a smooth sweetness of rhubarb which bursts as it makes it was to the back of the throat. A fantastic long flavour.
Chase Blackcurrant Liqueur– 20%
Soft nose of blackcurrant that doesn’t overpower the senses, although becomes bolder on the palate. A rather short offering with a little dryness near the end.
You’ll be able to find the Chase products on many back bars and homes these days – a testament to the brand from Herefordshire for traditionalism, hard-work, and determination to bring the UK something British! Worthy of a place in your drinks cabinet.