If you’ve not already checked out this year’s Christmas Gift Guide, do have a browse.

In the meantime, enjoy my 2015 picks of alcoholic treats.

inniskillin sparkling ice wine vidal

Earlier this year I enjoyed the most wonderful press trip to Canada which included a food and drink tour of Niagara-on-the-Lake. We visited several vineyards, one of which was Inniskillin, well known for their top quality ice wine. I loved most of the ice wines I tasted at a number of different vineyards but my absolute favourite (and one of two bottles I bought to bring home with me) was Inniskillin’s Sparkling Ice Wine, made with Vidal. Available from Drinks Direct (£48.95 + PP £5.99), The Drinks Shop (£44.84 + PP £4.99) and Wine Direct (£45 + PP £7) – note these may be different vintages.

 

liquor-2

Demijohn describe themselves as The Liquid Deli and that’s a very apt description. At their four shops (in Edinburgh, Glasgow, York and Oxford) or via their online store you can buy a variety of alcohol, oils and vinegars by the measure, starting from 40 ml and going up to a whopping 3 litres. A lovely touch on the website is the information provided on the individual producers, and there are drinking / serving suggestions too. The Chocolate Rum Liqueur is made by infusing cacao in Golden Caribbean Rum and the result is a beautifully grown up drink – both the rum and chocolate flavours come through clearly and it’s far more complex than the usual one-dimensional chocolate liqueurs I’ve tasted. Toffee Liqueur combines butterscotch and caramel with Scotch whisky for another complex and appealing liqueur with the taste of the underlying whisky still wonderfully clear. Prices are by 100 ml and are reasonable. UK regulations prohibit filling into customers’ own containers, so you are obliged to buy a bottle too. A nice touch is that they hand-label the bottles with a liquid paint pen and can add personal messages. The ink is semi-permanent, allowing for it to be cleaned and the bottle re-used. Being familiar with wholesale prices for glass jars and bottles, these seem on the pricy side to me – however Demijohn do offer refills into containers purchased from them previously, which is good news for repeat customers.

 

whiteways apricot whiteways cherry

I’ve not tried this pair of sweet fruit wines by Whiteways but at this very low price, I’d be willing to take a punt. I’d like to try them as they are over ice, served with vanilla ice cream (or perhaps even added to the mix before freezing) and mixed with soda water or lemonade. Whiteways Apricot Wine and Whiteways Cherry Wine, £4 each from Morrisons.

 

gekkeikan-horin-junmai-daiginjo-sake gekkeikan-sawayaka-fruity-nigori-sake gekkeikan-unfiltered-yuzu-sake-yuzu-nigorishu gekkeikan-umeshu-plum-wine
gekkeikan-utakata-apple-sparkling-sake gekkeikan-fruity-beauty-wine-assortment-umeshu-and-momoshu-furoshiki

The more sake I drink, the more I come to love it and the more I narrow down my personal tastes and favourites. If you would like to know more about sake – how it’s made, the different classifications and types, read my post on Learning About Sake.

Gekkeikan is a well-respected Kyoto sake producer that is readily available in the UK. Japan Centre stocks a wide range including Gekkeikan Horin Junmai Daiginjo Sake (300 ml for £10.75, 720 ml for £36.90), Gekkeikan Sawayaka Fruity Nigori Sake (500 ml for £18.90), Gekkeikan Unfiltered Yuzu Sake (yuzu in a nigori sake, 500 ml for £12),  Gekkeikan Umeshu Plum Wine (720 ml for £19), Gekkeikan Utakata Apple Sparkling Sake (305 ml for £7.25) and this sweet gift set, the Gekkeikan Fruity Beauty Wine Assortment (Umeshu And Momoshu) wrapped in a Furoshiki Cloth (2 x 300 ml plus furoshiki for £18).

 

korean-plum-wine

Since the end of March I’ve been working for a client in New Malden, and exploring the many local Korean restaurants during lunch. Usually, there’s only time to grab a takeaway and bring it back to the office but occasionally, it’s nice to sit down to a meal in a restaurant instead. Yesterday, my colleague and I celebrated the end of a crazily busy week in Kangnam, the newest kid on the block and decided to try Korean plum wine with our meal. I guessed it would be much like Japanese umeshu and that was exactly right; it is made from the same fruit, Prunus mume, known in Japan as ume and in Korea as maesil. The fruits are soaked in soju with either honey or sugar and left to steep until the alcohol is redolent with the flavour of the plums, with a lovely balance between sweet and sharp. Sous Chef sell the same brand we enjoyed, Sooljoongmae Korean Plum Wine (375 ml for £8.50 + PP £2.99).

 

Bruichladdich-the-botanist-gin

I’m a very late comer to gin, having always thought I disliked the taste only to realise in the last year that it’s actually the bitterness of tonic water I can’t abide. So I have over 3 decades of gin enjoyment to catch up on! On our latest trip to Islay, I fell for Bruichladdich’s The Botanist, described as “an exploration of the botanical heritage” of Islay. Available from Bruichladdich’s online shop (70cl for £33, 20cl for £13.99 + PP £7.19) or slightly cheaper via Amazon (70cl for £32.99, free delivery in UK).

 

pickerings gin

In Spring Pete and I spent a lovely few days in Edinburgh, exploring the food and drink of the city. During the trip we made a visit to Pickering’s, a relatively new distillery based in Summerhall and producing fantastic gin in a tiny space. We admired Gert, the beautiful copper still in which botanicals are distilled with spirit to an old and secret recipe and were given the low down on production methods. The finished gin is still bottled by hand next door. Their original Pickering’s 1947 is (£29.48 + PP £5.75). They also sell a Navy Strength version and small batch editions.

 

gin foundry botanical odyssey

Given my recent gin birth, I’m coveting this gin tasting pack from Gin Foundry. Although the core botanical for all gin is juniper (from which it takes its name) there are, of course, many other botanicals that are also used to create gin – it’s the selection of these that give gins their individual characteristics. This set has been created to explore four key flavour profiles – Citrus, Floral, Herbal and Spiced – and comes with a booklet that provides more information about the botanicals and also gives recommendations for other commercially available gins that you may enjoy if you like one or other of the four gins. Available from Amazon (£75, free delivery in UK). On a similar bent, check out Gin Foundry’s Anthology of Gin tasting pack which covers the four key gin styles – Genever, Old Tom, Navy Strength and London Dry, also available via Amazon (£79, free delivery in UK).

 

woodford-reserve-bourbon-whiskey woodford-reserve-double-oaked

Pete has been a fan of Woodford Reserve (Kentucky Bourbon) for several years – it’s readily available in the UK and a very reasonably priced easy drinking whiskey. Last year, during a short trip to Washington DC and Virginia, he came across Woodford Reserve Double Oaked which he also really liked; the second maturation period is in a barrel that is deeply toasted then lightly charred – this adds a deeper sweet oak character to the bourbon. Woodford Reserve available from Master Of Malt (£30.96 + PP £6.95) or Waitrose Cellar (£23.50, free delivery), also available in store at the same price. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked available from Master Of Malt (£46.09 + PP £6.95) or Waitrose Cellar (£50, free delivery).

 

Harveys VORS PX

I listed this one in my 2013 guide and I’m suggesting it again this year so I’ll just quote what I said previously: “I adore PX; an intensely rich,  gloriously sticky, syrupy-sweet sherry with its flavours of figs, prunes and raisins is utterly redolent of Christmas. Made in Jerez, in the heart of Cadiz province in Andalusia, this is a drink I enjoy all year round. I have tried many brands over the years and this is one I go back to again and again. Harveys’ VORS tag tells us this PX has been aged using the traditional solera process for at least 30 years. A shot over good quality vanilla ice cream makes a simple but decadent dessert.” Harveys Pedro Ximenez VORS Sherry £21.99 from Ocado or £21.84 + PP £4.99 from Amazon UK.

 

greekred

Another recommendation I’m carrying over from 2013 is this Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras, a dark red dessert wine made in Greece. A friend introduced me to it years ago and I’m a big fan of the full-bodied black berries and dried fruits richness. As I explained last year, “the mavrodaphne is a black grape variety indigenous to the Achaea region of Greece (the capital of which is Patras). The wine is vinified in large vats exposed to the sun; once matured, distillate prepared from previous vintages is added, and then the wine is transferred to underground cellars for maturation; there, the solera method of adding older vintages to new ones is used to create a balanced blend.” Available from major supermarkets including Tesco for £5.

 

For more ideas, especially on the sweet side, check out my 2013 sweet-toothed drinkers’ guide and my 2014 Christmas gift guide.

Prices correct at time of publication. Where products are available from multiple online retailers, I’ve provided a link to one or more vendors, but others may also be available. Some of the links are affiliate links (please see sidebar for more information), which means that I will receive a small commission for any purchases made.

 

Once upon a time, the Old Man of the Moon decided to visit the Earth. Disguised as a beggar, he came across three friends who lived together in the forest – Fox (Kitsune), Monkey (Saru) and Rabbit (Usagi) and asked them for something to eat. Monkey leapt up into the trees to gather fruit and nuts; Fox ran to a stream to catch a fish; these they presented to the old man. Rabbit raced around the forest grassland finding nothing but grass and returned forlorn to the teasing of his two friends. Desperate to help their visitor, Rabbit asked him to build a fire. Leaping into the flames, he offered himself to the old man to eat. Quickly the beggar changed back to his true form and pulled Rabbit from the fire, restoring him to life. He thanked each of the forest friends for their generous kindness but to Rabbit he said, “Your selfless sacrifice was the kindest of all. I will take you to the moon with me!” To this day, if you look up at the moon, you can see Rabbit there, pounding mochi in his mortar and pestle.

This is the story of Tsuki no Usagi (Moon Rabbit), told to me recently by a Japanese friend.

The myth originated 2400 years ago in the Indian Buddhist Jātaka tales, stories about the previous lives of Buddha in both human and animal form. One such tale tells the story of a monkey, an otter, a jackal and a rabbit, similarly called upon to find food for a beggar. When the rabbit offered himself in the fire, the beggar revealed himself as a god and drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see.

As is often the case, the details of the story changed as it spread. In China, the rabbit pounds medicinal herbs to make an elixir of life for Chang’e, the Moon Goddess.

Only in Japan is Rabbit thought to pound rice for the creation of delicious mochi (rice cakes).

Short-grain japonica glutinous rice (known in Japan as mochigome) has a higher protein concentration and less amylose in its starch than other types of rice, which results in a soft but firm consistency – it is delightfully chewy, the gummy elasticity a highly prized texture.

Traditional mochi are made by pounding soaked and steamed mochigome into a smooth paste. The paste is formed into a variety of shapes, often with a filling of sweet azuki bean paste. In other variations, flavourings are mixed into the paste itself, and these days there are many different fillings to choose from. Mochi is enjoyed in many dishes, savoury and sweet; one of my personal favourites is mitarashi dango – solid balls of mochi served on a stick with a sweet-savoury soy sauce glaze.

Another popular sweet is mochi ice cream – a ball of smooth, delicious ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of chewy mochi. These are a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing for the first time in the early eighties but they have quickly gained popularity across Japan.

Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7671 Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7684

I first encountered Little Moons mochi ice creams two years ago, at a pop up dinner by United Ramen. Asking afterwards about the utterly gorgeous ice cream mochi dessert, I learned they were made by Little Moons, a fledgling company launched by entrepreneur siblings Howard and Vivien Wong. Several months later, I came across them again when I visited Kanada-ya ramenya just after they opened. Today, Little Moons are served by several Japanese restaurants across London including Bone Daddies, Tonkotsu and Shoryu Ramen. Ramenandmochitastic!

Howard and Vivien worked with Nobu’s head patisserie chef, Regis Cursan to develop their range, and have updated the new Japanese classic by using artisan gelato fillings in six flavours – currently Vanilla, Toasted Sesame, Coconut, Matcha Green Tea, Mango and Raspberry. Little Moons mochi are hand-rolled in London to the traditional Japanese method, and the range is free from artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives. The mochi are also gluten free and less than 100 calories per ball.

The Wongs have also created a second brand, Tsuki Mochi under which they sell mochi truffles. The Dark Chocolate ones are filled with Belgian chocolate ganache and dusted with cocoa. Tsuki Mochi also make a Yuzu Lemon Cheesecake edition which I must, as a yuzu addict, try soon!

Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7674 Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7681
Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7676 Little Moons Tsuki Mochi on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7683

Last weekend I hosted a lovely afternoon tea featuring all six Little Moons mochi ice creams and the Tsuki Mochi dark chocolate ganache mochi. We enjoyed these with some delicious Adagio Teas served in an absolutely beautiful Japanese teaware set with an elegant metallic grey finish.

The mochi ice cream were as good as I remembered (though I do miss the wonderful pineapple flavour I first fell in love with at the ramen pop up dinner). My favourites were the mango and the matcha, though I loved them all. Pete’s favourite was the toasted sesame – he also loved the flavour of the raspberry gelato but wasn’t sure it worked so well in a mochi wrapping. Our guests both favoured the rich vanilla, flecked with vanilla seeds, with the coconut and mango also winning high praise.

All four of us adored the mochi truffles – these had a superbly rich, dark chocolate flavour and a light mousse-like texture within.

On the tea front, we started with Adagio’s kukicha, a blend of green tea leaves and stems. The tea had a powerful aroma as it brewed, but was light and refreshing to drink. Later we switched to genmai cha, the nutty flavours of toasted popped rice were particularly satisfying on a cold November day.

Of course, mochi are far more than a sweet treat to enjoy with afternoon tea – they make superb desserts after a meal, particularly the mochi ice cream which are stored in the freezer and need just a few minutes to soften before serving. Although small, they are surprisingly filling and just one or two balls would be perfect after a meal.

Little Moons come in a box of six and are currently stocked by Whole Foods (£5.99) and Partridges (£6.95). Tsuki Mochi truffles come in a box of four and are available from Selfridges (£4.50).

Kavey Eats received product samples from Little Moons / Tsuki Mochi plus a Japanese teaware set and Adagio teas, to host a Japanese afternoon tea.

 

When you’re married to a beer lover, the beer menu can be just as important as the food menu, and it’s good to have a few places up the sleeve that will tempt said beer lover into town!

Handily, The Three Johns in Angel is easy to get to – just a couple of minutes’ walk from Angel tube station.

It’s also in the close vicinity of other drinking gems such as The Craft Beer Company , The Lexington (great for American beer and bourbon) and The Earl of Essex (brewpub), not to mention recently opened chocolate palaces Damson Chocolate (London’s new bean to bar chocolate maker) and Jaz and Jules (purveyors of very fine drinking chocolate).

Three Johns 5145 Three Johns 5108
Three Johns 5131 Three Johns 5047
Images provided by The Three Johns

The space is rather grand, certainly when it’s not too busy it’s easy to appreciate the beautiful copper tiled ceiling and huge windows, with the space divided into two rooms – the main one with the bar and a second one off to one side. It’s an appealing space and the only real downside for me is that lighting is very low; it’s almost as dark inside as the November night outside.

The food menu at The Three Johns is short and simple. There are nine sourdough pizzas, three salads and a couple of desserts to choose from. But, as long as you like pizza, that’s plenty – the pizza toppings are so damn appealing it’s hard to narrow it down and pick just two.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7663

In the end we select Chilli Con Carne, Tomato, Smoked Mozzarella (£9) and Fennel Sausage, Chilli-Roasted Sprouting Broccoli, Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmesan (£9.50), a white pizza, without the usual tomato sauce, with the intention of sharing both. Both are excellent; the base is so good that I even eat some my crusts – if you’ve ever shared a pizza with me you know this is a rare thing – and the toppings we chose are as good as we hoped.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7662

The chilli con carne is fiery hot, and generously smeared over the base, reminding me of a Turkish lahmacun with Mexican flavours.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7659

The fennel sausage and broccoli go together wonderfully, and this pizza my favourite of the two. Since Pete likes the other one best, we’re both happy bunnies.

The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7657

The beer list is extensive with a good range on draught and an impressive list of bottles. During our visit we tried:

  • Gypsy Hill Bounder – Pete liked this old-fashioned draught ale, a “very classic best bitter, perhaps a touch watery, nice English hops more leafy than fruity”.
  • Stod Fold Dark – Like the previous pint, Pete appreciated the traditional nature of this pint, also on draught, and described it as a “a classic Porter, toasted malt, fairly dry, not much in the way of hops… very nice, very traditional”.
  • Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black – Pete was quite a fan of this bottled beer, noting that it was a “very curious, clean crisp Porter that [was] joined 2 seconds in by buckets of grapefruit hops. Unusual but everything you’d hope from a south pacific Porter. Cracking. Very craft!
  • Heretic Evil Twin – Pete’s notes for this one were short and sweet, he described it as London Brewing Co’s “Mad As Hops in a can”.

Pizza at The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7666 The Three Johns Pub in Angel London on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7668

For dessert, you can have a sweet pizza spread with nutella and toasted hazelnuts (£6) – we added strawberries to one half and bananas to the other; or some very decent ice creams (bought in from Snowflake Gelato, £2.50 per scoop) – the peach was utterly delicious and I appreciated it being peach ice cream rather than sorbet, peaches pair so perfectly with cream.

With my food fixation, even a venue that’s primarily about the beer needs to offer tasty food to make my shortlist. It’s great to have another such pub which will keep both Pete Drinks and Kavey Eats happy.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of The Three Johns pub, courtesy of Barworks.

The Three Johns Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

 

Food and drink books written by an American authors don’t always translate well for a UK audience but Wild Drinks & Cocktails  by Emily Han is one of the exceptions; the recipes list ingredients in both Imperial and metric units, and the vast majority of ingredients are familiar and available across both sides of the pond.

Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home is packed full of recipes for drinks you can make using ingredients that can be grown in your garden or readily foraged – in the countryside or even in the urban landscape. Of course, you can buy many of the fruits, herbs and spices in shops and markets.

Wild Drinks & Cocktails

Before sharing recipes, Han runs through some key introductory topics: First, a guide to foraging, which stresses the importance of absolute certainty in plant identification, and provides a gentle reminder to consider the ethics of harvesting rare species or plants that local wildlife rely on for food or shelter; Next, how to harvest, with techniques for leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and roots and suggestions of harvesting tools you may find useful; After that, an ingredients primer which covers herbs, spices and a comprehensive list of sweeteners from processed sugars and molasses to honey, agave nectar and maple syrup; and last, a list of kitchen equipment for making the recipes, including a guide on sanitising and sterilising tools and containers.

Recipes are divided into six chapters:

  • Teas, Juices and Lemonades
  • Syrups, Squashes and Cordials
  • Oxymels, Shrubs and Switchels
  • Infusions, Bitters and Liqueurs
  • Wines and Punches
  • Fizzy Fermentations

At the start of each chapter, Han explains the origins and methods for each type of drink it covers, so if you don’t know your infusion from your dedoction or your shrub from your switchel, you will soon! Likewise, many of the recipe introductions are enormously informative about ingredients and recipe history. In many cases, there is guidance too about health benefits of certain ingredients or concoctions, though there’s a wise reminder in Han’s introduction that the contents of the book should not be taken as medical advice. On a personal note, it’s good to see the world of western medicine waking up to the claims of traditional medicinal systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese about a variety of natural ingredients, many of which are now being investigated scientifically and several of which have been found to have beneficial effects.

Interspersed in the recipes for teas, cordials, vinegars, wines and so on are suggested cocktails – a great way to use some of your home made items.

Not every recipe has an accompanying photograph, but most do, and these are bright and appealing.

The recipes also provide an indication of how long you can keep the finished product. Although the liqueurs have a long shelf life, my only disappointment with the book is that many of the other recipes have surprisingly short one – for me, one of the key reasons to make cordials, vinegars and syrups is to preserve the season’s bounty to a time of the year when that ingredient is no longer available. I would have thought that cordials and syrups with a high sugar content – if made in clean equipment and stored in sterilised bottles – would surely last much longer than 2 weeks.

What I do like is that these are not just the run-of-the-mill recipes we’ve all encountered time and time again – instead Han brings an inventiveness not just in terms of some of the ingredients she uses but also in the combinations she suggests for well-known ingredients.

The good news is that I have two copies of Wild Drinks & Cocktails  to give away. Scroll down for the chance to win this beautiful book.

In the meantime, enjoy Emily Han’s delightful recipe for Vin D’Orange.

Wild Drinks and Cocktails Vin dOrange crp

Homemade Vin D’Orange

Here’s a vital bit of kitchen (and wildcrafting) wisdom: some recipes are meant to be enjoyed right away, while others are lovingly prepared for future pleasure. Vin d’orange falls into the latter category. Infused with winter citrus fruits, it reaches its prime in spring or summer—and that’s when you’ll thank yourself for having such foresight. (It’s also when you’ll lament that you didn’t put up more!) Served as an aperitif, vin d’orange is traditionally made from bitter oranges and dry white or French-style rosé wine. Depending on where you live, bitter oranges may be hard to locate, so this version calls for more readily available navel oranges plus grapefruit. The result is a wine that’s pleasantly bittersweet—delicious on its own over ice, or mixed with a little sparkling water.

Makes: about 940 ml / 1 quart

Ingredients
2 large navel oranges (preferably Cara Cara)
1 small grapefruit (preferably white)
1⁄2 vanilla bean, split
1⁄2 cup (100 g) sugar
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) vodka
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) brandy
1 bottle (750 ml, or 31⁄4 cups) dry white or dry rosé wine

Variation: To use bitter oranges, replace the oranges and grapefruit with 3 Seville oranges.

Method

  • Rinse and dry the oranges and grapefruit. Trim and discard the stem ends. Cut each orange into 1/4-inch-thick (6 mm) rounds. Cut the grapefruit in half and then cut each half into 1/4-inch-thick (6 mm) half-circles.
  • Combine the oranges, grapefruit, vanilla, and sugar in a sterilized quart (1 L) jar. Pour the vodka, brandy, and wine into the jar and push the fruit down with a wooden spoon to submerge it as much as possible (it will insist on floating up). Cover the jar tightly.
  • Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 1 month, shaking it daily to moisten the floating pieces of fruit with the alcohol mixture.
  • Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids.
  • Bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
  • Age for at least 1 month before drinking: the Vin d’Orange will continue to improve with age. Serve chilled.

Recipe extract from Wild Drink and Cocktails by Emily Han, published with permission from Fair Wind Press.

GIVEAWAY

Fair Winds Press are offering a copy of Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han to two lucky readers of Kavey Eats! Each prize includes free delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me about your favourite drink made from fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a copy of Wild Drinks & Cocktails by Emily Han from Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsWildDrinks #KaveyEatsWildDrinks
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet or your entry will be considered invalid.
Please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)

RULES, TERMS & CONDITIONS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 4th December 2015.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog and twitter) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each (of two) prizes is a copy of Emily Han’s Wild Drinks and Cocktails published by Fair Winds Press, and includes delivery within the UK. We cannot guarantee a pre-Christmas delivery date.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Fair Winds Press.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contact.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message.
  • If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Wild Drinks and Cocktails. Published by Fair Winds Press, a member of the Quarto Publishing Group, this title is currently available for £14.99 (RRP).

 

One of my food and drink goals in recent years (and certainly for the next few too) is to learn more about sake. Not just how it’s made (which I understand pretty well now) and the different categories of sake (which I finally have downpat) but – most importantly of all – working out what I like best in the hope of reliably being able to buy sake that I love.

Here, I share what I’ve learned over the last few years plus some of my favourites at this year’s HyperJapan Sake Experience.

shutterstock_242208511 shutterstock_197942948
shutterstock_300266855 shutterstock_252428479
Images from shutterstock.com

What is Sake?

Sake is a Japanese alcohol made from rice.

Although it is referred to in English as rice wine, it is often pointed out that the process is more akin to brewing beer, where one converts the starch to sugar and the resulting sugar to alcohol. In wine making, it is a simpler process of converting the sugars that are already present in the fruit. Of course, it’s not entirely like beer making either as the sake production process is quite distinct.

Wine is typically around 10-15% ABV. Beer is usually lower, with most beers coming in between 3-8%, though there’s been a trend towards ever stronger beers lately. Sake is brewed to around 18-20%, but often diluted to around 15% for bottling.

Until a few years ago I’d only ever encountered cheap sake served warm and was not a huge fan. However, since trying higher quality sakes served chilled, I’m an absolute convert.

In terms of typical flavours, my vocabulary is woefully lacking, but for me the core flavour is a subtly floral one – perhaps this is intrinsic to the rice and rice mould? The balance of sweetness and acidity varies though classic sake is not super sweet. Sometimes it is fruity and sometimes it has a more umami (savoury) taste. I am often able to detect clear differences on the palate but unable to define these in words – clearly I need to drink more sake!

 

How is Sake made?

Sake is made from rice, but usually from varieties with a larger, stronger grain with lower levels of protein than the rice varieties that are typically eaten.

The starch sits within the centre of the rice grain, surrounded by a layer of bran, so rice is usually polished to remove the outer layer before being made into sake. The more the rice is polished, the higher the percentage of starchy centre remains, but of course this is more expensive as it needs far more rice to produce the same volume of alcohol.

After polishing and being set aside to rest, the rice is washed, soaked and steamed. kōji rice mould (Aspergillus oryzae) is sprinkled over the rice which is left to ferment for several days. This mould helps to develop the amylase enzyme necessary to convert starch to sugar. Next, water and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are added and the mixture allowed to incubate. Water and yeast are added multiple times during the process. The resulting mash then ferments at 15-20 °C for a few weeks.

After fermentation, the mixture is filtered to extract the liquid, and the solids are often pressed to extract a fuller range of flavours.

In cheaper sakes, varying amounts of brewer’s alcohol are added to increase the volume.

Sake is usually filtered again and then pasteurised before resting and maturing, then dilution with water before being bottled.

These days you can also find unpasteurised sake and sake in which the finer lees (sediment) are left in. I’ve even had some very thick and cloudy sakes where more of the solids have been pureed and mixed in to the final drink.

 

What are the different categories of Sake?

Because the most desirable bit of the rice is the core of the grain, the amount of polishing is highly relevant. Labels must indicate the seimai-buai (remaining percentage) of the original grain.

Daiginjo means that at least 50% of the original rice grain must be polished away (so that 50% or less remains) and that the ginjo-tsukuri method – fermenting at cooler temperatures – has been used. There are additional regulations on which varieties of rice and types of yeast may be used and other production method restrictions.

Ginjo is pretty much the same but stipulates that only 40% of the original rice is removed by polishing (so that up to 60% remains).

Pure sake – that is sake made only from rice, rice mould and water – is labelled as Junmai. If it doesn’t state junmai on the label, it is likely that additional alcohol has been added.

So Junmai daiginjo is the highest grade in terms of percentage of rice polished and being pure sake with no brewer’s alcohol added.

Coming down the scale a little quality wise, Tokubetsu means that the sake is still classed as ‘special quality’. Tokebetsu junmai means it’s pure rice, rice mould and water whereas Tokebetsu honjozu means the sake has had alcohol added, but is still considered a decent quality. In both cases, up to 60% of the original rice grain may remain after milling.

Honjozo on its own means that the sake is still rated above ordinary sake – ordinary sake can be considered the equivalent of ‘table wine’ in France.

Other terms that are useful to know:

Namazake is unpasteurised sake.

Genshu is undiluted sake; I have not come across this yet.

Muroka has been pressed and separated from the lees as usual but has not been carbon filtered. It is clear in appearance.

Nigorizake is cloudy rather than clear – the sake is passed only through a loose mesh to separate the liquid from the mash and is not filtered. There is usually a lot of sediment remaining and it is normal to shake the bottle to mix it back into the liquid before serving.

Taruzake is aged in wooden barrels or casks made from sugi, sometimes called Japanese cedar. The wood imparts quite a strong flavour so premium sake is not commonly used for taruzake.

Kuroshu is made from completely unpolished brown rice grains. I’ve not tried it but apparently it’s more like Chinese rice wine than Japanese sake.

I wrote about Amazake in this post, after we enjoyed trying some in Kyoto during our first visit to Japan. Amazake can be low- or no-alcohol depending on the recipe. It is often made by adding rice mould to whole cooked rice, allowing the mould to break down the rice starch into sugars and mixing with water. Another method is to mix the sake solids left over from sake production with water – additional sugar can be added to enhance the sweetness. Amazake is served hot or cold; the hot version with a little grated ginger to mix in to taste.

 

HyperJapan’s Sake Experience

Last month I tasted a great range of sake products in the space of an hour’s focused drinking as I made my way around Sake Experience in which 11 Japanese sake breweries shared 30 classic sakes and other sake products.

Once again, this was my personal highlight of HyperJapan show.

For an extra £15 on top of the show entrance ticket, one can visit stalls of 11 Japanese sake breweries, each of whom will offer tastings of 2 or 3 of their product range. You can learn about the background of their brewery, listen to them tell you about the characteristics of their product and of course, make up your own mind about each one.

One reason I love this is because tasting a wide range of sakes side by side really helps me notice the enormous differences between them and get a better understanding of what I like best.

A large leaflet is provided as you enter, which lists every sake being offered by the breweries. A shop at the exit (also open to those not doing the Sake Experience) allows you to purchase favourites, though not every single sake in the Sake Experience is available for sale.

HyperJapan 2015 - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-110415

 

Kavey’s Sake Experience 2015 Picks

My Favourite Regular Sakes

Umenoyado’s Junmai Daiginjo is made using yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 16% ABV. The natural sweetness is much to my taste and the flavour is wonderfully rich with fruity overtones, and a spicy sharp piquancy that provides balance.

Ichiniokura’s Junmai Daiginjo Kuranohana is made with kuranohana rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. This one is super fruity; the brewery team explained that they use a different yeast whch creates a different kind of flavour. There is less acidity than usual, which emphasises the sweetness.

Nihonsakari’s Junmai Ginjo Cho-Tokusen Souhana is made with yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. To me, this Junmai Ginjo represents the absolutely classic style of sake; it has a hint of dairy to the aroma and a typical sake flavour, subtly floral and very crisp.

My Favourite Barrel-Aged Sake

Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Taruzake is barrel-aged and bottled at 15% ABV. The wood flavour comes through clearly, though it’s not overpowering – this is a clean, dry style of sake with a hint of greenery. Although it’s not hugely complex, it’s well worth a try.

My Favourite Sparkling Sakes

Ichinokura’s Premium Sparkling Sake Suzune Wabi is made with Toyonishiki and Shunyo rice varieties and bottled at 5% ABV. Unlike some sparkling sakes on the market that are carbonated artificially, the gas is 100% natural, produced during a second fermentation. This sake is sweet but not super sweet, with a fruity aroma balanced by gentle acidity. If I understood them correctly, the brewery team claimed that they were the first to develop sparkling sake, 8 years ago. Certainly, it’s a very recent development but one that’s become hugely popular, a way for breweries to reconnect with younger markets who had been turning away from sake as their drink of choice.

Shirataki Shuzo’s Jozen Mizuno Gotoshi Sparkling Sake is made with Gohyakumangoku rice and bottled at 11-12% ABV. Although most sparkling sakes are sweet, this one breaks the kōji (mould, kōji, get it?) as it’s a much dryer style, though not brut by any means. I can see this working very well with food.

For the sweeter sparkling sakes (which are usually marketed almost exclusively to women by the breweries), Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Mio and Ozeki’s Jana Awaka are
sweet, tasty and affordable.

My Favourite Yuzu Sake

Some of the yuzu sakes I tried were perfectly tasty but very one dimensional, just a blast of yuzu and nothing else. One was a yuzu honey concoction and the honey totally overwhelmed the citrus.

Nihonsakari’s Yuzu Liqueur is bottled at 8-9%. The yuzu flavour is exceptional, yet beautifully rounded and in harmony with the sake itself. It’s not as viscous as some of the yuzu liqueurs certainly but has some creaminess to the texture. Be warned, this is one for the sweet-toothed!

My Favourite Umeshus

Learn more here about umeshu, a fruit liqueur made from Japanese stone fruits. Umeshu can be made from sake or shochu, but those at the Sake Experience were, of course, sake-based.

Urakasumi’s Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. Made with fruit and sake only, no added sugar, it’s a far lighter texture than many umeshu and has an absolutely beautiful flavour, well balanced between the sweetness and sharpness of the ume fruit. Because it’s so light, I think this would work well with food, whereas traditional thicker umeshu is better enjoyed on its own.

Umenoyado’s Aragoshi Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. A complete contrast from the previous one, this umeshu is super thick, in large part because the ume fruit, after steeping in sake and sugar, are grated and blended and mixed back in to the liqueur. The flavour is terrific and I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of this one to bring home.

My Favourite Surprise Sake

Ozeki’s Sparkling Jelly Sake Peach comes in a can and is 5% ABV. The lightly carbonated fruity liqueur has had jelly added, and the staff recommended chilling for a few hours, shaking really hard before opening and pouring the jellied drink out to serve. The flavour is lovely and I’d serve this as a grown up but fun dessert, especially as it’s not very expensive at £3 a can. I bought a few of these home with me!

 

HyperJapan in Images

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Kavey Eats attended the event as a guest of HyperJapan.

 

The Chemex Coffeemaker is an iconic design; a beautiful narrow-waisted glass jug with polished wooden collar and simple leather tie. The sleek coffee apparatus is so timeless you could be forgiven for assuming the Chemex is a recent creation but it was invented in 1941 by German inventor Peter Schlumbohm.

Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle - 9093 withtext

Schlumbohm’s Most Famous Invention

Conscripted into the army during World War II, Schlumbohm returned from fighting in France unwilling to take on the reigns of his father’s successful paint and chemical business, as was expected of him. Instead he signed away his rights to inherit in return for the family’s financial support to keep him in education for as long as he wished to study. Alongside chemistry, he studied psychology, keen to understand what had lead to “the mess of a war”, his experiences on the battlefield inciting him to call for the abolition of the military and a technocratic leadership for Germany.

After graduating in chemistry Schlumbohm became an inventor, specialising in vacuum and refrigeration, the former being a key component in the latter. After visiting the United States in the early 1930s to market some of his inventions he eventually moved there, filing thousands of patents during his lifetime for a variety of chemical, mechanical and engineering breakthroughs.

For Schlumbohm, the Chemex – which he originally patented in 1939 as a laboratory ‘filtering device’ – held far less promise than the refrigeration device he exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and which he believed would make his fortune. Looking for financial investment to take the refrigerator prototype into production, he raised capital by selling a minority interest in the filtering device, setting up The Chemex Corporation to produce and market it as a coffeemaker later that same year. It was the Chemex that became Schlumbohm’s most successful and enduring invention.

Within a couple of years, Schlumbohm had simplified the design , eliminating the spout and handle in favour of a simple pouring groove. The classic Chemex design was born.

Launching in the wartime years was a challenge, requiring approval from the War Production Board for allocation of materials and production, which was eventually undertaken by the Corning Glass Works. The lack of metals in the product meant no competition over supplies with armament producers and other core industries.

The Chemex tapped perfectly into the design sensibilities of the era, which valued functional objects with a simplicity of shape and construction; indeed it complimented perfectly the influential Bauhaus aesthetic, bringing together creative design with practicality of form and skill of manufacture. It was quickly lauded by the Museum of Modern Art, cementing its place as a design classic.

In subsequent years, Schlumbohm focused on building the public profile of the Chemex by way of trade shows, prominent advertising and strategically gifting products to those in a position of influence – artists, politicians, authors and film-makers.

Today the Chemex is much loved across the world and has experienced a renaissance in recent decades, as coffee lovers around the world rekindle their love-affair with pour-over filter coffee.

How To Make Pour-Over Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker

To use the Chemex you will need:

  • Chemex Coffeemaker (mine is the 10 cup size, which equates to approximately 1.4 litres)
  • Chemex filters *
  • A set of scales, accurate to within a gram or two
  • Whole beans coffee ^ + a coffee grinder with adjustable grind setting
  • Filtered water ~
  • A measuring jug or pouring kettle
  • A timer / stopwatch

* Chemex filters are much thicker than standard filters for regular coffee machines. The thicker paper traps sediment more effectively, and removes a higher volume of coffee oils, resulting in a unique taste when compared with coffee brewed using other methods. It also has an impact on how quickly the water drips through.

^ If using pre-ground coffee, look for coffee that has been ground fairly coarsely, usually labelled for use in cafetières and filter coffee machines. Espresso grind is much too fine.

~ Filtering water before using it to make your coffee (or tea, for that matter) removes unwanted substances that are present in most tap water supplies. This has a significant positive impact on the clarity and taste of your finished coffee.  You can either use a filter jug to clean your water before boiling or use a kettle with a Brita filter incorporated into the design to filter and boil in one step.

How Much Coffee To Use

Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9071 Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9072

The ideal ratio for Chemex coffeemakers is between 55 grams and 65 grams of coffee per litre of water.

Simply scale those ratios up or down depending on how much coffee you want to make. For 500 ml of water, use 27.5 to 32.5 grams of coffee, and so on.

The exact amount of coffee will vary according to the variety and roasting levels of the coffee you choose, the grind you’ve applied and your personal preferences in how you like your coffee. Heavy roasting not only intensifies the flavour of a coffee bean, it also makes it lighter in weight, so 50 grams in weight equals many more heavily roasted coffee beans than lightly roasted ones. Don’t be afraid to adjust each time you switch to a new coffee – the ratios are just a starting point.

How To Assess The Grind

Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9079 Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9088

Do a test run. Weigh and grind your coffee, noting down the grind setting used.

Make your coffee following the instructions below, timing the process from the moment you pour hot water onto the coffee to the moment it pretty much stops dripping through.

It should take around 3.5 minutes for the water to drip through.

If it takes significantly longer, the grind may be too fine – water takes longer to work its way through finer grounds as they naturally pack more tightly within the filter, and so extracts a lot more from the grinds as it passes through. You may find the resulting coffee too strong and bitter. Adjust your grinder to achieve a coarser grind and try again.

If your water makes its way through much faster than 3.5 minutes, the grind may be too coarse – the resulting coffee may taste weak and insipid. Adjust your grinder to achieve a finer grind and try again.

Keep in mind that the outcome will also be affected by the individual coffee – dark roasts result in stronger, more bitter brews than light roasts and the variety, origin, growing conditions and many other factors affect the taste.

The 3.5 minutes is a guide to make adjustments again, not a fixed rule.

How To Make Pour-Over Coffee

Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9084 Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-9076

Weigh and grind the coffee beans.

Place a Chemex filter paper into the funnel of the Chemex, with the triple folded side centred against the pouring groove.

Filter your water in a filter jug, or use a filtering kettle to boil sufficient water for the amount of coffee you want to make, plus a little extra.

Pour a little hot water into the filter to wet the paper. Pour this water out of the Chemex jug and discard.

Place your ground coffee into the dampened filter paper.

Measure 500 ml of boiled water and start pouring slowly and steadily into the Chemex, starting the timer as you start to pour. Rather than pouring only into the centre of the coffee, use circular movements to distribute the water across the surface area of the coffee. Pause during pouring if you need to, to keep the level of water a couple of centimetres below the lip of the Chemex.

Stop the timer once the coffee pretty much stops dripping through.

Gather the top edges of the coffee filter together, pick it up and quickly set it aside in a mug or on a plate. The paper and coffee grounds can be composted, if you have a compost bin.

Your coffee is now ready to pour and enjoy!

Making Pourover Coffee in a Chemex Coffeemaker - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle - 9066 withtext

 

Kavey Eats attended a Chemex coffee making class run by the DunneFrankowski Creative Coffee Consultancy at The Gentlemen Baristas coffee shop as part of Brita’s #BetterWithBrita campaign. Kavey Eats received a Chemex coffee-making kit, Brita filter jug and Morphy Richards Brita Water Filter Kettle from Brita.

 

Green smoothies are all the rage.

But I’ve just not developed a taste for kale, spinach, broccoli or any other green vegetable in my smoothies and prefer to stick to my fruit concoctions.

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A banana is a great start to the day. In recent years, bananas have received some bad press because they do not score as low on the Glycaemic Index (GI) as many other fruits and vegetables. But, as this really excellent guide explains, there are weaknesses in using the GI to assess food – you have to eat a lot more of some foods to hit the 50 grams of digestible carbs on which the score is calculated than you do for others – although bananas have a GI score of around 50 (depending on ripeness) you’d need to eat 3 bananas to hit that 50 grams of digestible carbs. It’s also worth remembering that the GI doesn’t take into account the nutritional benefits (or lack of them) of different types of food – crisps are only a touch higher than bananas in terms of their GI score! A banana for breakfast not only keeps me feeling full for quite a few hours, it is also a good source of fibre, potassium, magnesium and vitamins C and B6.

Recently I’ve been drinking even more matcha than usual, after writing an article all about it for a recent issue of Good Things magazine. Although the method of grinding tea leaves into a powder originated in China, it was not until the practice reached Japan by way of Zen Buddhist monks that it developed into the drink we know today. Matcha is traditionally made by stone grinding green leaves of shade-grown tea (gyokuro). Before grinding the leaves are dried, de-veined and de-stemmed, in this state they are known as tencha. Growing tea in shade slows down the growth, stimulating an increase in chlorophyll levels. This turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the production of amino acids, in particular L-Theanine, which provides a distinctive umami flavour. L-Theanine is also claimed to reduce stress, sharpen cognitive performance and improve mood, especially when combined with caffeine, as it is in matcha.

Prunes – dried plums – have long been used as a mild natural laxative, although there’s no real evidence that they’re any more effective than other fruits and vegetables that are good sources of dietary fibre, bananas included. But I love their rich flavour, and they’re a great natural sweetener.

Of course, the dark colour of prunes turns what would otherwise be a brighter green smoothie into a less visually attractive brown one, so feel to substitute with dried dates or apricots, or a generous squirt of honey or maple syrup, each of which will create a quite different flavour profile for your 3 ingredient smoothie.

3 Ingredient Breakfast Smoothie | Banana, Prune & Matcha

Ingredients
1 large banana, peeled – about 125 grams peeled weight
2-3 teaspoons matcha (Japanese green tea powder)
60 grams pitted dried prunes*
1 cup of water, or more for a thinner smoothie

* substitute with dried dates, dried apricots, honey or maple syrup if preferred.

Method

  • Place all ingredients into a blender and blitz until smooth.
  • Pour into a glass and drink straight away.

Tip: My Froothie Optimum power blender makes quick work of even the toughest dried fruits, but if yours is not as effective, soak the dried fruits in water for 30 minutes before blending – you can use the soaking water in the smoothie too.

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For more fruit smoothie inspiration check out:

 

In the last few years I’ve discovered that I have a taste for sake. I’ve learned the basics about how it’s made and the different types available, but haven’t sampled enough to get a handle on my preferences. There’s a very distinctive taste that most sakes have in common, despite their many differences and it’s a taste I like very much. But having one or two sakes in isolation once every few months serves only to let me choose my favourite between the two – such tastings are too few and far between for me to build up a coherent library of taste memories in my head, and thereby gain more confidence on choosing well in the future. One of the outstanding items on my Food & Drink To Do list is to immerse myself more fully in the world of sake and work out which styles, regions and even producers I love the most.

The Chisou restaurant group have been running a Sake Club for about a year now, a regular evening of tutored tastings with matched Japanese snacks provided. I’ve been meaning to attend since they launched, but have singularly failed.

What finally spurred me to action was actually a deviation from the norm – a special umeshu tasting.

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The tastings are held in a private room – in Chisou Knightsbridge this was the upstairs dining room – properly separated from regular diners. We shared a table with a couple who were also first timers to the Sake Club, Gareth and Nirvana, and had a lot of fun talking about food and drink, life in London and visiting Japan.

Chisou’s Marketing Manager Mark McCafferty hosted the evening and started by giving us an introduction to umeshu, though a printed crib sheet was also provided for each guest. He introduced each of the six drinks, and the snacks that were served with them, sharing tasting tips and notes throughout.

Although umeshu is usually described in English as plum wine, the ume fruit is not actually a plum; although nicknames include both Chinese Plum and Japanese Apricot, it’s a distinct species within the Prunus genus (which also includes plums and apricots); if a comparison is still needed, the ume is a stone fruit that is closer to the apricot than to the plum.

Why did Chisou decide to hold an umeshu night as part of their Sake Club series? Because umeshu is traditionally made using surplus sake or shōchū – a distilled spirit made from a variety of different carbohydrates – or to use up batches which have not turned out quite as planned. That said, as it’s popularity has increased, many breweries make umeshu as part of their standard product range, and some use high grade sake or shōchū and top quality ume fruit to do so.

The method is very straightforward and will be familiar to those who’ve made sloe gin or other fruit-based spirits – strawberry vodka, anyone? Whole ume fruit are steeped in alcohol – the longer the period, the more the fruit breaks down and its flavour leaches into the alcohol. Some umeshu is left to mature for years, allowing the almond-flavour of the stone to become more pronounced.

In many cases, additional sugar is added to the umeshu, to create a sweeter liqueur. Many households make their own umeshu when the ume fruit is in season, as it’s a very simple drink to make.

The whole fruits are often left in the umeshu – both in home made and commercial versions – and served alongside the drink. Take care, as the stone is still inside!

The welcome drink, as everyone settled in and we waited for a few late arrivals, was a Kir-style cocktail of prosecco and Hannari Kyo umeshu. With this we enjoyed orange-salted edamame beans and wasabi peas.

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Next, an Ozeki umeshu on the rocks served with a generous plate of pork scratchings with individual bowls of an umami-explosion shiitake mayonnaise. In Japan, the highest quality of fruit is often very expensive, and Mark explained that this particular brewery use top quality ume for their umeshu. For Pete, this was “reminiscent of a sherry” and Nirvana liked the “aftertaste of almond”. I loved this umeshu, one of my favourites of the evening.

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Third was a cloudy version – Morikawa umeshumade with a ginjo sake (using highly polished rice), so quite unusual. For me, this tasted stronger than the previous one, but in fact it was a slightly lower ABV – I think this may simply have been because more bitterness was evident in the taste. Mark suggested we should “warm it up like a mulled wine, to make the most of it’s spiciness”. Gareth particularly enjoyed the “mouthfeel” of this umeshu. Pete thought it would an amazing match with a cheese – a perfect replacement for port.

With this came a small skewer of smoked duck with apple cider, miso and fresh ginger, served theatrically beneath a smoke-filled dome. I could have eaten an entire plate of these, instead of just one!

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I was surprised how much I liked the fourth option, as I couldn’t imagine the combination on first reading the menu. The Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu combines traditional shade-grown green tea with umeshu to add a rich umami note to the finished product. Oxidisation means the drink is amber rather than green, but the meaty and medicinal notes are evidence of the presence of green tea.

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Next was a cocktail combining Hannari Kyo umeshu with Yamagata Masamune sake, lime juice and angostura bitters. I found this a too bitter and dry for my tastes, so asked if I could taste the Hannari Kyo umeshu on its own, as we’d only tried it with mixers thus far. It’s a lovely umeshu but couldn’t compete with the Ozeki umeshu or the Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu for me.

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Last, we were served a cup of good quality vanilla ice cream with warm Morikawa umeshu to pour over the top, affogato-style. As you’d imagine, the sweet and sour notes of the fruit liqueur really work well with cold vanilla ice cream, making it what Nirvana called “a very grown up ice cream”. As Mark commented, “warm it up and it really comes alive”.

Pete and I decided to stay on and order a few dishes from the food menu to soak up the alcohol before heading home, umeshu-happy.

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agedashi tofu, gyoza, pork with kimchi, chicken karaage

After such a great evening, we are keen to attend more Sake Club events. Umeshu night was very well priced at £40 per person and was a great learning experience, a fun social evening and very delicious. If you book Sake Club, do take care that you go the right location. The club is alternately held at different branches of the restaurant and it’s not uncommon for regulars to go to the wrong one, resulting in a mad dash across town.

Kavey Eats attended the Umeshu tasting as guests of Chisou Knightsbridge. The additional dishes pictured at the end were on our own tab.

 

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Matcha Masterclass by Jameel Lalani, founder of Lalani & Co.

Not long before, I wrote an article about matcha for which I spoke to several retailers of high grade Matcha, Lalani & Co included. (Look out for the article in the March issue of Good Things magazine). During those conversations, Jameel recommended his recipe for a matcha and fruit smoothie, which sounded rather delicious. I was later invited to the masterclass to taste his tempting smoothie recipe and to learn how to make a matcha latte.

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Hosted by Curators Coffee near Oxford Circus, the evening class lasted one and a half hours, during which time Jameel not only introduced the class to matcha – what it is, how it’s made, how one assesses quality, how best to use high grade and regular matcha powders – but also took us through how to make matcha (both usucha thin and koicha thick style), matcha latte (with lessons on latte art from a member of the Curators Coffee team) and a matcha breakfast smoothie. Each of us made our own matcha and matcha latte, the smoothie was made in one batch, while we crowded around the blender.

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Little sweet treats were provided by Curators Coffee, very much in the matcha tradition; matcha is usually served with wagashi – Japanese confectionary. It was a lovely evening, and everyone really enjoyed it, none more so than the giggling gang of students celebrating a birthday and the latte addict who’d attended another class with Curators just the evening before.

This is an ideal class for anyone looking to learn a little more about matcha and, more specifically, how to drink it. Book via Curators Coffee. The class is priced at £40 per person, and includes a jar of Lalani & Co Matcha Gold to take home; this is a top grade stone milled Matcha that retails for £29.

Kavey Eats attended a Matcha masterclass as a guest of Lalani & Co.

 

Tombo, Japanese for dragonfly, is a small deli and cafe in South Kensington, just a minute’s walk from the tube station. It offers a small menu of modern Japanese food and quality tea. I’m a particular fan of it’s Japanese desserts, which often feature ingredients such as azuki (red bean paste), matcha and sesame.

On my latest visit, I tried the Tombo Afternoon Tea; served from 3 to 5pm, this is a lovely variation on traditional sandwiches, scones and cakes.

The standard afternoon tea (£12.90 per person) includes your choice from Tombo’s selection of teas, or for £19.90 you can upgrade to sparkling sake instead. I went for genmaicha which Tombo unusually combine with matcha. My friend chose peppermint tea, as she was looking for a non-caffeinated option. The teas were excellent and hot water is provided for top ups, automatically – a nice touch.

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For the savoury course, we enjoyed temari sushi (salmon and prawn) and maki sushi rolls (salmon and french beans). Having checked it was possibly before our visit, my friend requested that all seafood items were switched for vegetarian/ chicken ones, she is currently on a restricted diet. I would ask Tombo to take more care with requests such as this – one of the sushi rolls served on the non-seafood plate contained salmon. That aside, in terms of quality and flavour, the sushi was very enjoyable.

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On the lower layer of the slate food stands came a selection of desserts. On my visit these included azuki doriyaki (filled pancake), matcha cream doriyaki, matcha gateau, azuki gateau, a pink macaron and a chocolate. My friend wasn’t as keen on the azuki doriyaki or matcha gateau – she preferred the other desserts in the selection. My favourites were the matcha gateau and the macaron.

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Both of us really enjoyed Tombo’s afternoon tea – the sushi alternative to sandwiches is a really novel and welcome approach and the price very reasonable for the quality of food and drink.

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Press images courtesy of Tombo Deli & Cafe

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Tombo Deli & Cafe. Thanks also for the two additional images of cafe exterior and afternoon tea stand.

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