The shape and look of a bottle can really define a brand in the modern age, but does the liquid ever hold up to balance out the product? We’ve had Crystal Head within a skull, Mamont shaped like a tusk and 666 portrayed within a Devil likened bottle, but how about an alien head?
Outerspace hails from, well, Outerspace. Via the USA. But mock it all you wish, once you dive in a little, it all makes a bit of sense.
Launched in September 2015 in the USA (hitting 20+ States), Outerspace vodka is a mid-west American grain based spirit (Iowa corn to be exact) that is distilled 5 times, then uniquely filtered through meteorites that are more than 4 billion years old. But what does this give to us? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Outerspace – 40%
Light, thin earth notes upon the nose, with hints of mineral rock. A thicker feel on the palate though, with a slight sharpness to begin that slowly develops into a linger of a vegetal finish.
Not a bad vodka at all, and offers a different slant with the use of the Iowa corn. The flavour does make you think of the meteorites, and of course the look of the bottle does stand out to others. A one-trick pony? Honestly i don’t think so. One to impress and intrigue your friends with, especially when the brand suggests that it’s “best enjoyed by earthlings when released from a cryogenic freezer.”
E&J Gallo is one of the most well-known brands within the wine category here in the UK, and you have no doubt come across one of its expressions over dinner, a gathering with friends or trying one of the many cocktail recipes they like to release to show off its versatility. But what do we actually know about the brand itself?
Back on September 22nd 1933, brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded a winery at 11th and D streets in Modesto, California, and grew over the next 36 years to the point of recognition as the largest winery in the USA based on volume of sales. In the same year of 1966, they introduced their first range of sparkling wines, Eden Roc and André, which incidentally went on to become the largest selling brand in the USA. November 27th 1972 saw one of their biggest marketing recognitions as Ernest and Julio Gallo appeared on the cover of Time for an article titled “American Wine Comes of Age”, followed by the opening of their first International office in London and the release of their first vintage-dated wines, both in 1983.
1993 saw the introduction of the Gallo Estate Wines, but also the unfortunate passing of Julio Gallo at the age of 87. Before the turn of the century though, E&J Gallo was named “Winery of the Century” by the Los Angeles County Fair’s Wines of the America’s competition and “Best American Wine Producer” by the London-based International Wine and Spirits Competition in 2000. The acquisition of wineries and vineyards in Napa, Monterey and in the Central Coast over the next few years certified the continued growth of E&J Gallo, carrying on a tradition introduced with the first acquisition back in 1954 with the purchase of Cribari Winery in Fresno.
In 2005, they became the first USA based winery to receive the International Standards Organization’s ISO 14001 certification, and purchased the popular Barefoot Cellars brand before the passing away of Ernest Gallo in 2007. The family still live on within the company as Ernest and Julio’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have roles within, effectively becoming the world’s largest family owned winery and the largest exporter of California wine.
So how do their expressions fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes to the varieties I have had the pleasure of experiencing –
Gallo Spritz, Pineapple and Passionfruit– 5.5%
Gallo Pinot Grigio gently spritzed and blended with natural flavours of pineapple and passionfruit.
A soft nose of the well-balanced pineapple and passionfruit, with a natural sweetness and fresh grape aroma coming through. Light on the palate, with a slight burst of the fresh passionfruit, followed by the soft pineapple base. Bursts of the fresh Pinot Grigio comes through on the lingering finish.
Gallo Spritz, Raspberry and Lime – 5.5%
Gallo Grenache Rosé gently spritzed and blended with natural flavours of raspberry and lime.
Light notes of the raspberry and lime on the nose, with a fresh zest and soft sweetness following. The raspberry dominates a fresh and crisp palate, with the lime following to soften the dryness on the long, aromatic finish.
As you may have guessed, these are not your usual expressions when talking about wine, but the inspiration for me to look into E&J Gallo came from the introduction of the Spritz range this year (2015), itself inspired by the sun-drenched fruits of California. The Spritz expressions are said to be “perfect for those who like the idea of wine, but love fruity tastes and want something more informal”. The best way to enjoy is to serve each chilled or over ice.
Of course the more traditional expressions are available, including the base of the pineapple and passionfruit Spritz in the Pinot Grigio, as well as Chardonnay and Moscato, a Whtie Grenache and White Zinfandel if you prefer your rosé styles, and of course Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir amongst the expressions of red available.
The Spritz though are a great change to your normal sparkling choices, and well worth a try before the Summer turns to Winter!
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 *
60 ml Whistlepig straight rye whiskey
15 ml Sweet vermouth
15 ml Dry vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Lemon peel, for garnish
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.
McAfee’s Benchmark is a premium bourbon, but one that you probably won’t see on your bar travels as much as it probably should. As I’m one for highlighting some of the more ‘forgotten’ brands within my work, I took the time to dig a little deeper for you all.
The McAfee’s Benchmark brand was created by Seagram’s back in the late 1960’s. Named after the McAfee brothers who, being one of the first European settlers, surveyed a site just north of Frankfort, USA in 1775. It’s this sight that the brand is distilled and produced from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, part of the Sazerac Company. When the bourbon was born, it was branded simply as Benchmark Bourbon and sold within a decanter-style bottle adorned with a black label and produced at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The nod towards the McAfee brothers came much later, probably after the sale from Seagram’s to the Sazerac Company in 1989.
Aged in oak barrels, there is no age statement on their Benchmark Bourbon Old Number 8, although it is popular towards both the traditional sippers and the cocktail maestro. So how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Benchmark Bourbon Old Number 8– 40%
Plenty of caramel on the nose, with dashes of fruit and wood coming through sporadically. Light on the palate, with a good combination of oak, cherries and a growing warmth of leather.
A great dram, one that is seriously under the radar yet should never be. Possibly due to the other outstanding expressions available from the Sazerac Company is the reason why it is lesser known, especially here in the UK, but to really impress your friends, I’d grab yourself a bottle. Dare to try something that wins (gold at the 2013 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition and silver at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition too!)
At the recent Cheshire Christmas Festival, I showcased a variety of Christmas drinks to suit all moods during the festive period. One in particular went down very well over the two days, so I thought I’d recreate and showcase to you all, just in time for the holiday season!
Wine or rocks
Serves approx. 4-6
1 bottle of Gallo Merlot
500 ml Cranberry Juice
Punnet of Raspberries
2 tbsp Sugar
10 Mint Leaves
Combine within a jug the mint, sugar, squeezed lemons and raspberries. Mash them together, then add the cranberry juice and top with the Gallo Merlot. Stir and serve over ice.
Purchase a bottle of Gallo Merlot and impress your friends and family with a readily available and incredibly easy recipe!
The USA are probably well-known for their whisky and bourbon more than anything else. But some of the other drink categories are making a charge, with gin names such as No. 209 and Death’s Door coming over the Atlantic, as well as wine brands such as Firesteed and Napa Cellars and craft beers Brooklyn and Blue Moon featuring in many a bar. These are all relatively new, being brought out and released to much fanfare and admiration, but the USA market of anything but whisky may never have got a look in from distributors around the world if it wasn’t for an early 90’s vodka brand – Skyy.
Founded in 1992 in San Francisco by a gentleman named Maurice Kanbar, who had a vision to create an exceptionally smooth vodka. Coming before the likes of Belvedere and Grey Goose, and hot on the heels of a vodka boom during the 80’s with the rise of the Cosmopolitan cocktail, Maurice pioneered the innovative quadruple distillation, triple filtration process that would redefine industry quality standards. With this production method, he was able to achieve his goal of creating a smooth vodka and naming Skyy as a super-premium brand in the process. Skyy formed a partnership with Gruppo Campari, one of the biggest drink companies in the world, which would not only help it expand across the globe, but also give it the recognition Maurice Kanbar gave towards helping fund arts and educational institutes, as well as its many accolades over the years.
So how is it created?
Actual production and bottling of the product is conducted within the Frank-Lin Distillers Products in San Jose, California, whilst the distillation process is housed within a plant in Pekin, Illinois. It’s here that it’s distilled using the four column stills, before undergoing the triple filtration. The water used during the production process is the local Californian water.
So how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Clean on the nose with a slight dryness near the end. Smooth on the palate, with a developing sharpness that delivers a warm yet short finish. Second sip does last a little longer though.
Not too bad on its own, but maybe ask your bartender for one of these –
60 ml Skyy
30 ml Passion fruit liqueur
30 ml Campari
Splash of sugar syrup
Dash of fresh lemon juice
Pour all ingredients over ice and stir. Garnish with an orange slice.
Skyy have also branched out into the flavours market, with names such as citrus, raspberry and passion fruit available here in the UK (there are many more available on your travels including ginger and moscato grape), as well as Skyy 90, created for the connoisseur of Martini and bottled at the slightly higher 45% abv. Maurice hasn’t done a bad job at all, and i personally think he’s created a pretty smooth vodka. Try it for yourself, after all, there’s a reason why it’s won awards including silver in the San Francisco Spirits Competition.
Woodford Reserve is a brand that is a staple to many a bar around the world. But what makes it so? I mean, have you ever tried it? Neat? A cocktail maybe but as a huge believe in trying a spirit before you mix, this is a brand that should always come under this rule.
But before we come onto the liquid itself, lets take a peek at how Woodford Reserve became a dominant brand.
Woodford Reserve has been around since 1780, with its distillery built in Woodford County in central Kentucky in 1838. Originally going by the name of Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery (which its name graces each bottle and cork), the distillery is the oldest out of the nine bourbon houses that are still in operation. Originally established by Elijah Pepper, he passed the distillery onto his son Oscar (hence the name Old Oscar Pepper Distillery) and worked alongside Dr. James Crow in the mid 19th Century. Around this time, Dr. Crow established a set of activities that improved the understanding and quality of the bourbon making process including the sour-mash fermentation, pot still distillation and barrel maturation.
In 1878, the Pepper family sold the distillery to Leopold Labrot and James Graham who owned and operated the site until 1941 when the Brown-Forman Corporation took over until 1968. By this time the property was mothballed and sold the site in 1971. In 1993 however, Brown-Forman re-purchased the property and refurbished it into production in time for 1996.
Woodford Reserve is rather unlike other Bourbons in that it contains some percentage of whiskey made in copper pot stills and triple-distilled – just like the Irish style of whiskeys. Woodford Reserve uses a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, and also re-uses some of each run’s fermented mash in the next batch. The pot-still whiskey is combined with column-still whiskey and aged in new toasted oak barrels for between four and six years.
So a long yet interrupted history, and with a combination of two methods of distillation, how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes on the original, and further expressions.
Woodford Reserve – 43.2%
On the nose it gives off a good caramel scent with a smooth lingering vanilla aroma which carried on to the palate. The caramel becomes more subtle in flavour, and mixing with a little fruit, results in a smooth, silky lingering after-taste.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked – 43.2%
The whiskey is first matured in new charred white oak barrels, but before bottling it is transferred to a special heavily toasted, lightly charred finishing barrel.
Light on the nose with short cherry, dry oak and a slight maple syrup aromas coming through. Soft and smooth too. Incredibly smooth however on the palate, with fudge flavours mixing with plenty of oak, marshmallow, butter and a thin coating of vanilla. Slight underlining of sweetness creating a dry, slightly herbal lingering finish.
Smashing on its own, especially the Double Oaked, but how about combining it with other ingredients?
Highball / Julep Cup
75 ml Woodford Reserve
2 tablespoons mint syrup (recipe below)
1 sprig of mint
Fill a glass or julep cup with broken or crushed ice. Add mint syrup and the bourbon and stir gently until the cup is frosted. Garnish with 1 sprig of mint.
Mint Syrup – 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 13 sprigs of mint – Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes; do not stir. Pour over the 13 sprigs of mint in a heatproof bowl, gently crushing the mint with the back of a spoon. Chill, covered, for 8 to 10 hours. Strain, discarding the mint.
Traditional, and one that you will surely have if you ever have the chance to experience the Kentucky Derby.
There are other various expressions of Woodford Reserve, usually limited editions and special bottlings, as well as the highly sought out ‘Masters Collection’, most of which are available here.
Check out the rest of the photos, taken at The Circle 360, via my Facebook page.
Southern Comfort is a brand that everyone knows. Go to any bar and you will see it showcased with your favourite mixer or blended into a cocktail. But have you ever tried it straight? Over a couple of cubes of ice? It’s a rarity you ever hear this spirit called over a bar to be drunk neat, but for me, a spirit is created to be drunk on its own. Add anything to it means your after a longer drink. This trend is now the social norm, but Southern Comfort is one of those liqueurs that can easily start a resurgence in drinking on the rocks. Why I hear you ask? Southern Comfort is unique with its blends of spice, natural fruits and whisky flavours – and it’s been around since 1874. An old-timer to lead a comeback? Well here’s some reasons of why Southern Comfort is still considered the general from New Orleans.
Martin Wilkes Heron was born July 4th 1850 in St. Louis Missouri and made a living as a bartender. M.W. Heron was pouring drinks at McCauley’s Saloon in New Orleans when he realized his customers were after a smoother, more refined drink. So, he experimented with fruits, spices and flavors to create “Cuffs and Buttons.” M.W. Heron renamed “Cuffs and Buttons” as Southern Comfort and his creation was dubbed “The Grand Old Drink of the South” at the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. Even back then, Southern Comfort was in a category all its own and in 1889 Heron bottled Southern Comfort for the very first time. In 1898, M.W. Heron registered his Southern Comfort trademark with the U.S. Patent Office and printed the bottle with his promise, “None Genuine But Mine,” which you can still find on every bottle today.
At the Paris World Exposition in 1900, the world took notice as Southern Comfort was awarded a Gold Medal for quality and fine taste. Four years later, the world’s first Southern Comfort cocktail was created – the St. Louis Cocktail, showcased at the World’s Fair. Unfortunately M.W. Heron died in St. Louis, Missouri in 1920 but luckily entrusted his secret recipe upon his colleague, Grant M. Peoples.
After the end of Prohibition, Southern Comfort made a comeback with its new ‘flute’ styled bottle as well as the illustration of Woodland Plantation, located along the Mississippi River near New Orleans. Hollywood beckoned in 1939 as they celebrated the release of the film “Gone with the Wind” and created the Scarlet O’Hara cocktail. With this, the international market started to take notice and the UK experienced Southern Comfort for the very first time in 1945. In 1988, sales reached 200,000 cases worldwide.
So with a rather rich history involving a gentleman with a vision, how does Southern Comfort fare? Well below i give to you my tasting notes –
Southern Comfort – 35%
A slow release of spice on the nose followed by sweetness and aromas of fresh red fruit. The sweetness carries onto the palate with the fruit becoming riper. A little spice hit near the long end.
Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry – 35%
Sweet nose with lots of cherry aromas dancing. A well-balanced texture on the palate with fresh cherry flavours being drawn out over the long offering.
Now as mentioned, Southern Comfort is great on its own, and with their experimental flavours coming out with the likes of Cherry, Lime and Fiery Pepper they have started to claim a taste that everyone can enjoy. But if you do prefer a Southern Comfort cocktail, maybe try this –
45ml Southern Comfort
45ml Sweet and Sour Mix
45ml Orange Juice
45ml Pineapple Juice
Splash of Grenadine
Stir all ingredients together in an ice filled glass. Garnish with an orange wedge and cherry.
Easy, refreshing and delicious – on its own that is! Maybe give Southern Comfort a go over ice. Theres no harm in asking and if you think it needs a splash of lemonade or you would like to see it in a Southern Hurricane, then your bartender, or indeed you yourself at home, can easily create no trouble at all.
Check out the rest of the photos, taken at The Circle 360 and Exchange Bar & Grill, via my Facebook page.