The Kavey Eats Pete Drinks Christmas Gin Guide

I came late to gin. Very late. In my early forties in fact.

For years and years (and years and years) I thought I didn’t like gin but it turns out I just don’t like tonic – or at least, not the big brand stuff that’s most prevalent. It wasn’t until I tried a Gin & Tonic made with one of the new generation of mixers that I had my revelation. I bloody love gin! And I like it even better neat – preferably chilled or served over ice.

I have a whopping twenty five ginless years to catch up on!

And catching up is exactly what I’ve been doing by going on a gin crusade to try as many brands of gin as I can. I’ve quickly come to favour many smaller brands – less focused on producing an appeal-to-the-masses product, they are more adventurous with the botanicals they use, their methods of production and even with their base spirit! In fact some of the bigger brands are now realising the appeal of more unusual flavours and producing some of their own small batch offerings.

Here, Pete and I share some of the great gins we’ve been tasting (and where you can find them). Please note that this post includes Amazon affiliate links.

Sacred Original, Christmas Pudding, Cardamom & Pink Grapefruit Gins

Sacred_Gin Sacred_Christmas_Pudding Sacred_Cardamom_Gin Sacred_Pink_Grapefruit_Gin

Sacred Gin are the very definition of a small batch craft gin brand. Made in their family home in Highgate (North London) by husband and wife team Ian and Hilary Whitney, Sacred is also our most local gin distillery! And I love the story behind the brand.

A keen gin enthusiast, Ian had long thought about creating his own London gin right in the heart of London and in 2008 he started experimenting. An interest in science lead him to turn traditional gin production on its head by using vacuum distillation rather than a traditional pot still. As vacuum distillation occurs at a much lower temperature (35-45°C) than pot distillation (85-95°C), the flavours from the distilled botanicals are much fresher and richer in flavour. Experimenting with different botanicals – some well known and others more obscure – Ian created recipe after recipe, which he shared with friends at a local pub. The enthusiasm for his 23rd experiment persuaded him that he’d found a winning recipe. Containing 12 botanicals including juniper, cardamom, nutmeg, it was the more unusual Boswellia Sacra (aka frankincense), that resulted in the distillery’s name. And it’s supplied by the Sultan of Oman, no less!

Ian continues to collect and experiment with unusual botanicals – such as buddleia, oak bark and lemon verbena – and has created a range of spirits including Spiced English Vermouth (made from English wine from Chapel Down in Kent plus 24 botanicals), Rosehip Cup (a fruity alternative to Campari) and Bottle-Aged Negroni.

However it’s the Sacred range of gins that interest us. As well as the original Sacred Gin (and an organic version), there are 7 additional gins focusing on a particular key botanical. So far we’ve tried the original Sacred Gin plus their, Cardamom Gin, Pink Grapefruit Gin and Orris Root Gin.

They also have a fantastic seasonal gin in the range that is absolutely perfect for Christmas – their Christmas Pudding Gin. This is not just a case of throwing in a few pudding ingredients, oh no! Ian makes a whopping 14 kilos of Christmas pudding (to his Great Aunt Nellie’s recipe) before macerated them with grain spirit and distilling them into a Christmas Pudding Gin. This is definitely the one to buy as an unusual Christmas gift for the gin lovers in your life.

Tasting Notes: Although we enjoyed all of the Sacred Gins we tasted, our favourite was definitely the Christmas Pudding Gin. From the moment you smell the enormously evocative Christmas pudding aroma, you know you are in for a treat. On the palate, Pete picked up sweet dried fruits and a touch of maltiness. For me it was a revelation to taste the pure flavours of Christmas pudding without any of the sweetness – I loved the brandy notes, dried fruits and nuts and a wonderful warm spiciness.

For cardamom lovers, the Cardamom gin offers a clean and very punchy hit of that most aromatic of spices. Pink Grapefruit provides a sweet and gentle citrus aroma and flavour, a mild juniper note and some peppery alcohol heat in the finish. Orris root is the choice for those who love their bitters – there’s an almost violet-like bitterness on the finish that works very well. The Original is also well worth trying – it has light citrus and lime on the nose and delicious fruitiness and juniper on the tongue. If you want to buy someone a gift set of gins from a single producer, this is a great choice though we wouldn’t say no to a bottle of their Christmas gin on its own!

Stockists: Buy from Sacred’s online shop. Also stocked by North Hill Food and Wine, Prohibition Wines in Fortis Green, and Gerry’s Wine and Spirits on Old Compton St in Soho.

 

Harrogate Tipple’s Harrogate Gin

Harrogate Gin and Bag

Harrogate Tipple founder Steven Green launched his Harrogate Gin just last month, naming it for its use of Harrogate spring water, botanicals from RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate and a wildflower honey also produced locally.  The gin itself was developed by Tom Nichol (formerly the master distiller for Tanqueray, and the recipient of a lifetime award by The Gin Guild) and once all the permits come through, it will be made in an old smokehouse in the centre of Harrogate, lovingly restored by Steven and wife Sally, to create a home for their new distillery.

Donnie the otter, who declares the bottle to be ‘otterly delicious’ was chosen as the mascot for Harrogate Tipple because the Greens wanted to highlight the plight of this increasingly rare animal; they also donate 5 pence from the sale of every bottle to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, which encourages the growth of a healthy otter population by creating suitable habitats for them.

Tasting Notes: The inclusion of lavender and pink grapefruit in the botanicals gives Harrogate gin a lovely aroma which reminds Pete of breakfast grapefruit. It has a spiciness to the nose, and clear juniper aroma. On the palate I find it rich, sweet and herby and very smooth. We both note a lack of bitterness in the finish, making it an ideal gin for those who aren’t fond of bitter tipples.

Stockists: You can buy Harrogate Gin online here. For those living in or near Harrogate, you can also find the gin in Weetons.

 

Rocklands Colombo Seven

Colombo Gin Bottle

Like others below, Rockland’s Colombo Seven is a historical gin recipe revived, and I love the story behind it as much as the gin itself.

Back in the days of the British Raj, British Excise offers did not believe that a good quality London Gin could be produced outside of the UK. In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), a young Asian distiller called Carl de Silva Wijeyeratne decided to prove them wrong. Having founded Rockland to produce arrak in 1924, he went ahead and developed a gin which was very well received. Indeed, new regulations were drafted to allow gin to be made in Ceylon for the first time, under the label of Ceylon Made Foreign Liquor.

During the second world war, it became difficult to obtain foreign-grown spices, so Carl created a new recipe focusing on ingredients that could be grown in Colombo’s Cinnamon Gardens with only juniper and angelica root brought in from overseas. However, once the war was over and trade routes reopened, this original recipe was abandoned for a return to a more traditional London dry gin.

Two years ago, Carl’s grandson Amal de Silva Wijeyeratne – the present day MD of Rockland – decided to revive that war time recipe as a new brand. Colombo Seven is that modern-day recreation of Carl’s uniquely Sri Lankan gin. The economy has made business in Sri Lanka very challenging in the last few decades, so this seems a lovely way to focus on past achievements and to celebrate his grandfather, mentor and greatest friend.

As the name suggests, Colombo Seven uses just seven botanicals; the primary four are juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica and liquorice root, with additional flavours from Sri Lankan cinnamon bark, curry leaves and ginger root. These last ingredients are what make the recipe uniquely Sri Lankan.

The label is decorated with a beautifully drawn gaja-singha – an ancient mythical beast with the head of an elephant to symbolise wisdom and the body of a lion to represent courage and strength. In the case of Colombo Seven, this echoes the wisdom of that original Ceylonese pioneer and his courage in using ingredients that were not the norm.

Tasting Notes: Both of us liked the wonderfully mellow and balanced aroma, nothing harsh, everything nicely melded together. On the palate Pete enjoyed lots of citrus and a pleasant fruitiness. For me I really liked the hint of cinnamon spice followed by a sweet and floral aftertaste. We both found this gin fabulously smooth making it a great choice for those who like their gin neat or on the rocks.

Stockists: You can buy Colombo Seven gin online from Amazon, Gin Box Shop, The Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt and others.

 

Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin

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The first gin made in Yorkshire, Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin is a London Gin (distilled together with its botanicals). Like several in this gift guide, it has a lovely back story about how it came to be made.

A few years ago, Karl Mason sent his wife a message via Facebook asking her to have a G&T ready for him when he got home from work. In response to the post, other friends started sharing photos of themselves enjoying a G&T and thus a Facebook group was born – one which resonated with the wider public and had 10,000 followers within a year.

Before long, gin companies started to send Karl samples to promote to that audience. And he started to realise that many of the gins he was trying tasted the same. He wondered if he could create a new gin that tasted distinctly different from the rest. That question resulted in the development of Yorkshire’s first gin, launched on World Gin Day in 2013.

The Lavender Edition and the Tea Edition followed two years later, launched to coincide with Masons second birthday last June. For the first, Yorkshire-grown lavender is added to the classic Masons botanicals. For the second it’s Taylors of Harrogate’s finest loose leaf tea – I know at least one gin and tea lover for whom this would make the perfect gift!

Tasting Notes: All three Masons gins are bottled at 42% and a fiery kick of alcohol is evident in each one. The regular gin has a really wonderful complex aroma with citrus and juniper registering first, followed by warm sweet notes. On the palate we both pick up lots and lots of cardamom, sweet citrus, juniper and a peppery heat. In the tea gin, Pete finds it easier to pick out the aroma of a milky ‘builders tea’ than I do, and likewise on the palate, he detects the tannin of black tea. For both of us, the cardamom that’s front and forward in the regular gin comes through clearly in the tea version. The Lavender gin also has that cardamom aroma and flavour, joined by a lightly medicinal lavender that also brings some perfume aroma.

Stockists: Online you can buy 70cl bottles of all three Masons gins from Amazon, or both 70cl and 20cl from their website. They are also stocked by a range of stores, check their site for the full list.

 

55 Above Orange Gin

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Alan Gilchrist launched 55 Above in 2014 with a range of small batch vodkas distilled in a copper pot but it wasn’t long before he branched out to make gin. The brand name is a reflection of Alan’s Scottish heritage and refers to Scotland’s latitude above 55° North.

When I tasted the Orange Gin, I was blown away by the zingy hit of citrus. Alan combines juniper and other classic botanicals with tangerine, Seville orange and lemon zests plus coriander, bay leaf, and macadamia nuts, to create this punchy gin. I like it on it’s own but it’s also a winner in a classic G&T and would work superbly in a range of cocktails.

Tasting Notes: Pete and I really pick out different smells for this one – for me it’s sugar and citrus whereas for him it’s pith and peel. On the palate, it’s a huge and enjoyable citrus hit – neither sweet nor bitter, it’s a clean smooth orange flavour. It’s lovely on its own but we think it’d be an absolute cracker for gin cocktails too.

Stockists: Buy 55 Above Orange Gin from Amazon or directly from the 55 Above shop.

 

Zymurgorium Manchester Gin

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This one scores on taste, brand name and the story behind it – all three make me smile.

Several years ago, when founder Aaron Darke went to uni in Aberystwyth he decided to undertake that classic student hobby – homebrewing. Unlike most students, the first drink he made wasn’t a boring beer but a Gorse flower mead. The hobby quickly became an obsession and Arron experimented with cider, beer, wine, sake as well as more mead. Next came the art of distillation. At this point, his brother Callum and their father came onboard, helping to create a still made from a pressure cooker and some copper piping.

After graduating from university, Aaron continued to make spirits and established his brand name as Zymurgorium – a portmanteau of zymurgy (the scientific study of brewing and distilling) and emporium. In 2014, Aaron won a competition for new entrepeneurs run by the Carnegie UK trust, resulting in a grant of  £10,000. This allowed the Darke brothers to take their business full time, since when they’ve created an ever-increasing portfolio of inventive and tasty drinks.

Their Original Manchester Gin is distilled from mead and takes additional flavour from over 20 botanicals including cardamom, ginger and bayleaf – earning it the nickname of the pilau rice gin! Indeed, it’s name reflects the concept of representing via the botanicals the wide culinary range of Manchester’s population. The bottle shape is based on a traditional genever bottle, glazed in black and adorned with a ‘retro-modern’ label.

Also worth trying are the range of gin liqueurs which are perfect for cocktails. The violet one is a must for lovers of Parma Violet sweets! For each one, a unique gin is distilled with its own blend of botanicals to balance with the headline flavour.

Tasting Notes: When we tasted this gin, neither of us had yet seen the reference to pilau rice, so it was quite a shock to given that my notes on the aroma of Manchester gin read ‘very punchy aromas, lots of spices, a hint of medicinal, kind of like pilau rice’! On the palate, that still holds true – the cardamom comes through clearly but the other spices are clearly present too – it’s a wonderfully rounded spice-heavy gin. For Pete, that cardamom makes it a less appealing choice, though he likes the almost menthol-like cooling effect on the tongue. Although the obvious suggestion is to pair this gin with Indian food, I suspect that would hide the amazing flavours. Try it neat over ice to appreciate the unusual flavour profile.

Stockists: Buy online at Amazon or the Zymurgorium shop. See here for additional stockists.

 

Gin Lane 1751 London Dry Gin

Gin Lane 1751 Royal Stength Dry Martini Gin Lane 1751 full range

Another relative newcomer to the market, Gin Lane 1751 launched last summer – a collaboration between Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers, and The Bloomsbury Club – a group of gin lovers and industry professionals. The brand is named to mark the Gin Act of 1751, which was somewhat motivated by reaction to artist William Hogarth’s depiction of Gin Lane, which painted gin as an addictive liquor drunk to excess by the working class. The act banned the sale of gin in prisons, workhouses and any shops selling everyday staples and thus gin became much harder to distribute and purchase. Ironically, this resulted in an increase in both price and quality, and by the Victorian era, gin was considered a respectable and desirable spirit.

Gin Lane 1751 offers four products, their classic London Dry (40% ABV), a London Dry Royal Strength (47% ABV), a rather pretty Victoria Pink Gin (40% ABV) and an Old Tom Gin (40% ABV).

The eight core botanicals are juniper, orris root, Seville orange, angelica, Sicilian lemon, star anise, cassia bark and coriander. The pink gin is infused with spiced bitters and the Old Tom with star anise and natural sugars.

Tasting Notes: The London Dry has far more aroma than many classic gins of the type. On the nose we both pick up a green leaf freshness, plus citrus (orange for me, lemon for Pete). The pine resin-like juniper comes through clearly too. The flavours are sweet and peppery to start with a lingering bitterness at the end. Pete picks up fleeting hints of satsuma and brown sugar sweetness at the start, replaced by a bitterness that comes through to the aftertaste. If you’re looking for a gin that has plenty of flavour, this is a good choice.

Stockists: Buy Gin Lane 1751 online from Amazon or thedrinkshop. Also stocked by Selfridges.

 

Brockmans Premium Gin

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I love the Brockmans black glass bottle – yes I’m a sucker for packaging design. But of course, this gin delivers on taste too.

Brockmans combines many of the most commonly used botanicals with citrus and wild berries to give a fruitier flavour. They pride themselves on the quality of their ingredients, sourcing angelica from Belgium and Germany, bitter almonds from Spain, blueberries and blackberries from Northern Europe, cassia bark from Indo-China, citrus peels from Murcia and Valencia, coriander seed from Bulgaria, juniper from Italy, liquorice from China and orris root from Italy.

Tasting Notes: This is an unusual gin in both aroma and flavour. The nose talks to me of sunshine – sweet citrus fruits and the intense aroma of dried mango. For Pete, it’s all about blackcurrant Chewits (does everyone else remember those too?) and lots of sweet fruitiness. Both of us think immediately of blackcurrants when we taste it, almost cassis like but without any of the sugar or thickness of the blackcurrant liqueur. I particularly appreciate the lack of bitterness in this one. Pete admires how well balanced the flavour is. This one is a great all rounder – neat, with tonic or in cocktails.

Stockists: Online, you can find Brockmans on Amazon amongst other online retailers. They are also stocked by M&S, Harvey Nichols, Oddbins, Wine Rack and others.

 

Gin Nautilus via Portuguese Story

Portuguese Story gin-nautilus

I was introduced to Gin Nautilus by Portuguese Story, a business that represents and distributes Portuguese drinks in the UK. Their mission is to change peoples’ perceptions about Portuguese produce by showcasing locally made, unique and high quality products. Gin Nautilus is produced in Evora, a historical town in the southern region of Alentejo, in an artisan distillery called Officina de Espiritos. Joao Malhero and his team make their gin using a sugar cane alcohol, mixing in thirteen botanicals before the third distillation – these include coriander seed, citrus peel, root of angelica, and juniper. But the one that stands out is sea lettuce, an edible algae that is high in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

The algae gives this gin a uniquely marine aroma and flavour, one that is an absolutely perfect match to enjoy with fresh oysters.

Tasting Notes: This gin is divisive! Pete hates the ‘slimy pond weed’ aroma and taste. But I adore the refreshing sea brine smell, it makes me think of rock pools and sea breezes and fresh oysters eaten right by the docks. Interestingly, I find that salty seaweed aroma much more subtle on the palate, where the key flavours that come through are citrus and juniper. I would absolutely serve this with an iced seafood platter, and I can imagine it working well in cocktails too.

Stockists: You can buy Gin Nautilus online here. It is also stocked by The Grocery, Fortnum & Mason and Taberna do Mercado in Spitalfields.

 

Gin Nao via Portuguese Story

Portuguese Story _Gin_Nao_Portugus_Bom_Gourmet_Portugal

Also distributed in the UK by Portuguese Story (see Gin Nautilus) is the unusual Nao Gin. A London Dry Gin distilled in a London distillery, the gin then spends 4 months ageing in old Porto wine barrels in Porto during which time it takes on a distinctive flavour and tinge of colour. The name comes from 15th century multi-masted sailing ships known in Portuguese as nau; these ships travelled around the globe in that grand era of trade and discovery.

Tasting Notes: This is the gin that is not like a gin! For me it smells like brandy. Pete picks out citrus peel and a faint woodiness. When it comes to the taste, I’m put in mind of yet another spirit – whisky this time – and richly oaked too. Pete – a big whisky fan – agrees. He likes the combination of an underlying fruitiness with the unusual woody finish. If you want to buy a surprising and unusual gift for a whisky or brandy lover, this would be a perfect choice.

Stockists: You can buy Gin Nao online here or via Amazon. It is also stocked by The Grocery, Fortnum & Mason and Taberna do Mercado in Spitalfields.

 

G’Vine

GVine bottle-floraison GVine bottle-nouaison

It’s no secret how much the French love their wine, and by extension, the vines themselves. Made in the Cognac-producing region of South West France, Maison Villevert’s wonderfully unconventional G’Vine gins are made from grape spirit (rather than grain). The spirit is distilled from the Ugni Blanc grape – known best as the base for Cognac. To this ten botanicals are added including juniper berries, green cardamom, nutmeg, cassia, root ginger and the exclusive vine flower. This is quite a feat as the flower blossoms just once a year in mid-June, for just a few days before it begins to form into a grape berry. G’Vine pick the flowers as soon as they bloom to capture the evocative fragrance and flavour.

G’Vine Gin comes in two expressions – Floraison (flowering) and Nouaison (setting). The first captures the splendour of spring, the second is an altogether more intense and spicy spirit capturing the metamorphosis from flower to berry.

Tasting Notes: The smell of Floraison put us both in mind of a sweet shop. For Pete it was lemon sherbert, for me bubblegum! On the palate, that candy aspect came through, balanced by just a hint of bitterness and some alcohol heat. The Nouaison was completely different, a much more classic gin aroma of lemon and juniper and much the same in taste, with a gentle fruitiness also present. These two gins are a fascinating experiment, the first I’ve tried based on grape spirit and the Floraison in particular is a really unusual result. For those who want to move on from the classic and try something a little different.

Stockists: G’Vine Floraison and G’Vine Nouaison are available online from Amazon. They are also available at Oddbins.

 

Boxer Gin

boxer gin2

Boxer Gin, created in 2013 by Mark Hill, is a classic London Dry Gin with a really punchy flavour. Wheat grain spirit is distilled in a 108 year old copper pot still with ten botanicals to create the core of the gin. This is then blended with distilled extract of Himalayan juniper berries (at source, to retain freshness of flavour), and cold-pressed citrus oil extracted from bergamot peel, to dial up the flavour.

The branding pays homage to 19th century boxer, Thomas King, also known as ‘The Fighting Sailor’. Thomas King was a sporting celebrity in gin’s golden era in the late 18th century, following the repeal of the Gin Act.

Tasting Notes: Although it’s only 40% this gin tastes stronger. The nose is classic lemon citrus, rather a lovely perfumey citrus. In the mouth, the citrus really explodes and the bergamot comes through clearly – and that hint of earl grey is just wonderful! It works beautifully against the other botanicals creating a very refreshing and punchy gin. We like this one neat but its also superb in a G&T.

Stockists: Available online from Amazon, the Whisky Exchange, Drinkshop and Master of Malt, and in stores including Selfridges.

 

The gins above are relatively recent launches, made by smaller producers, or producers that are not yet widely known.

Below are a few choices from some of the big guys, but which we think are worth seeking out. They are also more widely available in shops across the UK.

Whitley Neill, JJ Whitley London Dry Gin & Liverpool Gin

Whitley Neill Whitley London Dry Liverpool Gin

All three of the following gins are part of Halewood International’s portfolio, one of the UK’s leading drinks manufacturers and distributors.

Whitley Neill Gin is a unique recipe created by Johnny Neill, an eight generation descendant of Thomas Greenall, founder of Greenall’s Distillery back in 1762. Gin has always been part of his life, even before he was old enough to drink it! Keen to create his own gin, Johnny turned to his South African wife’s homeland for inspiration. There he experimented with over 25 uniquely African botanicals including the Protea flower, the hoodia cactus and various fynbos plants, but none of them gave the flavour profile he was looking for. He eventually found the perfect flavours in the cape gooseberry (also known as physalis) and the fruit of the baobob tree. Both, when distilled, create unique citrusy flavours that work beautifully in gin. The recipe was quickly perfected, and is now distilled in one of the UK’s oldest copper still pots, over a century in age.

J.J.Whitley London Dry Gin, on the other hand, is inspired by the British countryside and features eight classic botanicals including juniper, liquorice, coriander and sweet citrus peel.

Liverpool Gin is an organic gin blended with hand picked organic botanicals, a classic selection including juniper berries, corianders, angelica root and citrus fruit.

Tasting Notes: Whitley Neill first. This one has lots of citrus aroma and the juniper comes through too. The flavour is wonderfully rich, lots of fruit, a very nicely balanced sweetness and bitterness. I find it quite spicy too, though very smooth. For those who like gins with lots of flavour.

J.J.Whitley is a light and refreshing fin, a rather simple grapefruit and lemon aroma which comes through lightly on the palate but is overtaken by a strong juniper hit and bitterness in the finish.

Liverpool Gin is another gin that reminds us both of a sweet shop – sherbert, parma violets and lemon drops. I pick up cardamom too. That sweetness comes through in the mouth along with cardamom and other woody spices, citrus fruit zing and some unexpected floweriness. Definitely not your run of the mill gin, this has a lot of flavour and is a great all rounder.

Stockists: Online, find Whitley Neill, JJ Whitley London Dry and Liverpool Gin on Amazon. Also available at Sainsbury’s, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols amongst others.

 

Thomas Dakin Gin & Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin

thomas-dakin Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin Bottle on white

Thomas Dakin is an absolutely classic London Dry named for ‘the forefather of English gin’, who created his first gin in 1761. It is distilled in small batches in a traditional copper pot still, a revival of a recipe handed down through generations of Dakins. The selection of botanicals and creation of the gin are overseen by Joanne Moore, the master distiller at G&J Greenall Distillers. The recipe’s eleven botanicals include English coriander, horse radish (known as red cole in Thomas Dakin’s time), orange peel, and a properly punchy hit of juniper.

G&J Greenall’s Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin is a London Dry Gin inspired by the ancient Spice Route along which merchants travelled long and slow, trading exotic spices and herbs from East to West. Botanicals include spicy cubeb berries from Indonesia, black pepper from India and coriander from Morocco. The name comes from a legendary region famed for its wealth and riches during the reign of King Solomon – its location is unknown but believed to be along the Spice Route.

Tasting Notes: The Thomas Dakin has a fabulous aroma! Lemon peel, a whack of punchy pine-resin juniper and some pleasing fruitiness, the smell positively races up out of the glass and floods your senses. It’s equally strong on the palate, with a medicinal savouriness that no doubt comes from the horse radish.

As its name implies, Opihr is one for the spice lovers amongst you. I really like the cardamom-heavy blend of spices that come through on both nose and palate but for Pete the cardamom is overwhelming. Like some of the other cardamom-heavy choices in our guide, this one would work beautifully in cocktails as the cardamom should still come through, along with black pepper and citrus.

Stockists: Thomas Dakin on Amazon | Opirh Gin on Amazon Both brands are widely available in supermarkets and off licenses across the UK.

 

Kavey Eats received product samples of some of the gins included in the guide, after initially discovering most of them at specialist food and drinks events. Not all gins sent for tasting made it into the guide, as they did not meet our criteria or taste preferences. Amazon links are affiliate links; please see my sidebar for more information.

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Want to Learn About Sake? My Sake Guide For Beginners

Today is World Sake Day. Kanpai!

Sake is a drink I’ve been learning more about over recent years and I’ve come to really appreciate it. I seek out new sakes whenever I can.

Here’s my beginner’s guide to sake.

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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, the process is more akin to brewing beer, where you convert starch to sugar and then convert the resulting sugar to alcohol. In wine making, it is a simpler process of converting sugars that are already present in the fruit. Of course, brewing sake is 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 flavour is intrinsic to 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 them 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 that has 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 is 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 strained or pressed to extract the liquid, and the solids may be pressed again 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 some of the solids have been pureed and mixed back 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 to be 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 could 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 tried it 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 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.

Sparkling, Sweet and Flavoured Sakes have become increasingly popular as sake brands look for ways to appeal to new demographics to widen their customer base. Sparkling and sweet sakes are often marketed to women but worth seeking out as a light, refreshing and summery alternative to the classic styles. Fruit options, such as peach, plum and yuzu are also popular.

 

I hope this guide helps you to understand more about this wonderful drink and you are encouraged to seek it out and try for yourself.

If you are interested to read more about Japanese food and drink and travelling in Japan, please check out my other Japan posts.

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Raise a Glass to Tipple Box | Review Giveaway

This decade is the decade that food and drink subscription services took off. Whether it’s British charcuterie, recipe meal kits or cheese toasties through the post, the selection of fantastic treats now available to buy online for delivery direct to your door has never been so wide and it continues to proliferate with new ideas and brands popping up every month.

Tipple Box is one such service, sending monthly craft cocktail boxes featuring spirits, mixers, extras and recipes for you to make two delicious cocktails each month.

Launched by Sonny Charles in December 2014, I first tried Tipple Box at the beginning of 2015. Back then, I thought it was promising but needed a few tweaks. I wanted to see small batch spirits by indies (rather than the big brands I could readily find in my supermarket) plus higher quality mixers and custom-made extras such as flavoured syrups, bitters or salts. I also suggested dropping the jam jar to focus solely on ingredients, and making sure the recipes worked flawlessly and deliciously every time.

All these suggestions have been taken on board, and Sonny’s latest box is a far more professional and appealing proposition.

Tipple Box (2016) on Kavey Eats--3 Tipple Box (2016) on Kavey Eats--4

There is more focus on smaller brands now – the kind I may not readily find in my local supermarket – and Tipple Box also work directly with small producers to provide own brand ingredients.

All cocktail boxes include at least four 5cl bottles of spirits plus any other ingredients you will need. Recipe cards are clear and easy to follow.

Tipple Box (2016) on Kavey Eats-8842
French Martini

My box contains two recipes – a French Martini and a Bloody Mary. For the French Martini, pictured above, I have Ruby Blue Vodka, Tipple Box Raspberry Vodka Liqueur, Strawberry Sugar Syrup and Frobishers Pineapple Juice. Egg white is listed as an optional extra, though I made my cocktail without it. The Bloody Mary ingredients are the same Ruby Blue Vodka plus a Chilli Pepper Vodka and a bottle of Isle of Wight Tomato Juice.

The cocktails are delicious, and there’s enough to make at least two of each, with some ingredients left over to experiment with further.

Tipple Box also offer a Batch Spirits subscription of three 5cl bottles from a different producer each month.

Tipple Box (2016) on Kavey Eats- Tipple Box (2016) on Kavey Eats--2

The craft cocktail box is priced at £24 (including delivery) for a one off, with the price per box dropping for 3, 6 and 12 month subscriptions. For the batch spirits box, it’s £15 for a one off, with similar discounting for subscriptions. There are also a range of tasting sets and cocktail boxes available to select and buy from the site’s online shop.

GIVEAWAY

Sonny is giving away one Kavey Eats reader a three month subscription to the Tipple Box monthly craft cocktail box (RRP £69). The prize includes delivery to a UK address.

HOW TO ENTER

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

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
What is your favourite cocktail and what do you love most about it?

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 @TippleBoxUK craft cocktail boxes by mail from Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsTippleBox16 #KaveyEatsTippleBox
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle to 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

  • You must be over 18 to enter this giveaway.
  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 2nd September 2016.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries 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.
  • The prize is a three month subscription to Tipple Box’s craft cocktail box, one box per month. Delivery to a UK address is included.
  • The prize is offered by Tipple Box UK and cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • 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, entrants 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 relevant 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 sample from Tipple Box.
The winner of this giveaway is Sandra Henderson, who entered via a blog comment.

Tipple Box (2016) on Kavey Eats (tall)

BSFIC July Roundup | Dairy Free

A quiet month this month, but I still have some delicious dairy free frozen treats to share with you for Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream.

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First up are these whimsical Finding Nemo Popsicles from Jessica at The Healthy Mouse. The Nemo pops are orange creamsicle flavoured and the Dory ones are blueberry lemonade flavoured. Jessica has used both coconut milk and dairy free yoghurt in these recipes, a healthy homemade alternative to ready-made popsicles.

pimms ice pops

Claire at Foodie Quine is a girl after my own heart with these adult-only Pimm’s O’Clock Ice Lollies featuring Pimm’s and lemonade with strawberries, cucumbers and lemonade. Can I put in an order for a big bowl of these, please?

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I really love the idea for these Summer Pudding Ice Lollies by Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen. Having made a summer compote with freshly picked summer berries, a moment of inspiration lead her to transfer it into lolly moulds for a cooling summery alternative.

Nectarine Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops on Kavey Eats (Landscape Text Over)

For my own dairy free challenge, I too went for an adult-only option – creating these Nectarine, Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops in a large ice cube tray. Very quick to make using my Froothie Optimum power blender, and deliciously decadent and cooling.

Strawberry_oreo_lollies_

Our last entry for the month is another gorgeous ice lolly idea – these Four-ingredient Oreo and Strawberry Popsicles by Lucy at Supergolden Bakes. I love her vintage moulds, the wooden spoon lolly sticks, the flavour combination itself and the way the biscuits poke out of the bottom!

IceCreamChallenge

I hope you’ve enjoyed these summer frozen treats as much as we have!

Do look out for August’s BSFIC, where I’ll be calling for your fruit-based concoctions – ice creams, sorbets, ice lollies, granitas, you name it!

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Nectarine, Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops

The last couple of weeks have been a scorcher and I’ve been turning to home made ice lollies (popsicles) to cool down. My mango lassi ice lollies made with fresh mango and natural yoghurt were superbly refreshing and so too are my latest batch – combining fresh nectarines, maple syrup and bourbon in mini ice pops for grown ups.

These will work equally well with peaches or nectarines or you could even use apricots if you have some to hand.

Nectarine Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops on Kavey Eats (Portrait Text Over)

As I’ve used the darkest grade of Canadian maple syrup which is much stronger in flavour than light, medium and amber grades, I used half sugar and half maple syrup in my mixture to keep the maple flavour from overwhelming. However if you are using medium or amber syrup, you can use 100% maple syrup as your sweetener if you prefer.

Nectarine, Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops

Makes approximately 12 mini ice pops depending on the capacity of your moulds, or you can make a small number of regular sized ice lollies instead.

Ingredients
300 grams nectarine flesh, skin on (about 3 nectarines)
4 tablespoons dark maple syrup
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon

Note: You can substitute peaches or apricots for nectarines in this recipe, if you like.
Note: If your fruit is very sweet and ripe, you can reduce the volume of maple syrup and sugar a little.
Note: As I used a power blender to blitz my mixture, I left the nectarine skins on as my blender purees them very well. You can peel the fruit if you prefer.
Note: I used half and half dark grade maple syrup and regular sugar. If using medium or amber maple syrup, you can replace the sugar with another 4 tablespoons of maple syrup if you prefer.

You will also need ice cube moulds (or regular ice lolly moulds) and lolly sticks. Because of the alcohol and maple syrup, this recipe remains a little sticky once frozen, so make sure you use flexible plastic or silicon moulds to allow for easy removal of the finished pops.

Method

  • In a blender, blitz the nectarine flesh until smooth.
  • Add three quarters of the maple syrup / sugar and blend again.  Taste before deciding whether or not to add more. As freezing changes the way we taste sweetness, the mixture should be a little oversweet to your taste at this stage.
  • Add bourbon and blend again.
  • Pour into your ice cube mould or into regular ice lolly moulds if you prefer.
  • Insert a lolly stick into each one.
  • Freeze upright for 24 hours.
  • Once frozen, unmould individual ice pops by stretching and flexing the mould and gently teasing out the ice pop.
  • Eat straight away, returning the rest to the freezer immediately if not serving.

Nectarine Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops on Kavey Eats (c)-154519 Nectarine Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops on Kavey Eats (c)-154549
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I used my Froothie Optimum power blender to blend my nectarines into a super smooth smooth pulp, much as I use it to make smoothies. The powerful motor can also blend solid frozen fruit straight from the freezer to make an instant sorbet. I’ve also made several delicious soups in it as well as custard-based ice creams – it’s a great no-fuss way to make custard from scratch and fruit curds are also a doddle.

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Nectarine Maple & Bourbon Mini Ice Pops on Kavey Eats (Landscape Text Over)

This is my entry into this month’s Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream, which has a theme of dairy free. All bloggers are welcome to join in, please check the challenge post for information. This is also my post for Munchies & Munchkins’ Al Fresco challenge.

IceCreamChallenge mini

Save for later on Pinterest using this handy collage pin.

Nectarine Maple Bourbon Mini Ice Pops (Pinterest Tall Pin)

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Enjoying Ice Wine | The Vineyards of Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario

I adore dessert wines. The syrupy liquid nectar is too sweet for some, but I truly love the intensity of flavour that the best dessert wines bring to the glass.

Some of my favourites are produced by noble rot, the action of Botrytis cinerea, a fungal mould that causes infected grapes to partially shrivel, raisin-like, on the vine. This concentrates the sugars, resulting in a delightfully sweet wine, though of course, far more grapes are required to produce a bottle than for regular wine. French Sauterne, Hungarian Tokaji and German and Austrian Beerenauslese are all made in this way.

But there is another method that produces similarly sweet results and that is ice wine. Here, the grapes are left on the vine until a cold snap freezes them – of course it’s mainly the water content that freezes, rather than the sugars and other solids within the grape. Pressing while still frozen means that only a small volume of sweet and concentrated juice is extracted, with the water left behind as ice. This is a tricky wine to produce since the vintner must hope for the right weather conditions to grow healthy grapes, and then for a suitable cold snap during which to harvest. Harvesting is usually done by hand, on the first morning it’s cold enough, and there’s a brief 6 hour window during which the entire harvest must be picked and pressed. For this reason, ice wine is not produced in great quantities, and there are only a few regions with the requisite climate to do so. Canada and Germany are the world’s largest producers; with the majority of Canada’s ice wine being produced in Ontario.

During my visit to the region last year, I enjoyed visits to a number of vineyards in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area. Of course, all these wineries produce regular red, white and rosé wines as well as their sweet ice wines, so they are well worth a visit even if ice wine is not for you.

 

Two Sisters Vineyard

Two Sisters Vineyard is the first one we visited, on a balmy early-autumn evening, the sun casting a golden blanket across the beautiful stonework of the vineyard, and the fields of vines surrounding it. We ate our dinner on the terrace, probably my favourite menu of the vineyard restaurants we visited. Kitchen 76 offers rustic Italian food at its best – superb fresh ingredients cooked and served simply but skillfully to bring out their inherent flavours.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-1625 Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-1618

For starters, we shared pizzas, salads and charcuterie boards laden with locally made meats, cheeses and breads.

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For mains, superb pastas – the rabbit ragu pappardelle was a winner, plates of lamb chops with guanciale potatoes and a ribeye steak topped with a potato croquette that was to die for.

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Vineland Estates Winery

Three of us really arrived in style to our lunch at the Vineland Estates Winery, dropped off by the helicopter that had just given us spectacular aerial views of the Niagara Falls. (The rest of our party went by road, a beautiful drive in its own right).

Lunch was served on the outdoor terrace, a perfect spot in the gorgeous sunshine. Of course, there are plenty of tables inside, for when the weather is less amenable!

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From a wine perspective, this was hands-down the best meal for me; Vineland Estates produce not one but several different dessert wines, some made with late harvest grapes and some ice wines. I was served a flight of delicious sweet wines throughout my meal, switching between wine types, grape varieties and years of harvest. It was a wonderful opportunity to identify the flavour profiles of the grapes, not to mention the difference that weather makes, year on year.

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Food was again excellent. A very different style to Two Sisters, but very similarly focused on the superb quality local ingredients. I particularly enjoyed Chef Justin Downes’ home-cured charcuterie and home-made rillettes, patés, pickles and chutneys.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9795 Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9792

These were followed by an incredible smoked tomato bisque, perfectly cooked beef top sirloin served with cauliflower puree, mustard jus and some blue haze blue cheese. After, a New York cheesecake with brandy-marinated necatines, blueberry gelato and crushed pstachios. Everything was stunningly plated and suitably delicious.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9802 Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9809
Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-9820

The one I bought a bottle of was a delicious classic Vidal ice wine, 2014.

 

Inniskillin Winery

Inniskillin Winery was the only brand I was already familiar with, having come across it’s ice wine in the UK. Founded by Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser back in 1975, the name comes from the Irish Regiment to which one Colonel Cooper belonged in the 1800s; Cooper was the previous owner of the farm where the vineyard was established.

Unlike the other wineries we visited, Inniskillin don’t have an onsite restaurant. But they did organise for chef Tim MacKiddie to cook us a multi-course meal to enjoy with their wines, served in one of the spacious private rooms at the winery.

Before and during dinner we were talked through the wines by the enthusiastic and hugely knowledgeable Sumie Yamakawa, Inniskillin’s Visitor Experience Manager.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0096 Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-0093 Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Canada - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-211602

The wine that absolutely floored me here was the incredible sparkling Vidal ice wine, 2014 vintage, and this is the Inniskillin bottle I purchased to bring home. This is truly amazing, well worth a try if you can find it!

 

13th Street Winery

Located right next door to Whitty Farms (more of which in this recent post), 13th Street Winery is the vision of Doug and Karen Whitty and their friends John and June Mann, but the man behind the wines is Frenchman Jean Pierre Colas, formerly the head winemaker at the Domaine Laroche in Chablis for 10 years, during which time he produced many award-winning wines.

First into our glasses is a sparkling rosé blend of pinot noir and chardonnay plus a little gamay to add a deeper colour and more fruitiness to the flavour. The colour and sparkles are beguiling and the others in the group confirm, for those with less of a sweet tooth than mine, that it’s delicious.

During our tasting Jean Pierer explains that red gamay is the flagship wine of 13th Street, though of course, they produce other wines too. Having worked in Beaujolais as a student, gamay was a grape he knows how to handle and it grows well here in Niagara; “there is something unique in Ontario that allows us to produce crazy, beautiful, strong, charming gamays”. And gamay is also a wine that is made for food, as the pastry with basil, tomato and Grey Owl blue cheese helps us to confirm.

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13th Street are one of the only wineries in the area not producing ice wine. As Jean Pierre puts it, “we don’t have to be like everybody, we don’t have to do like everybody”. I ask him why and he quips that he has “no interest to pick grapes in the winter and to freeze my arse outside!”

After the gamay, we try 13 Below Zero, a sweet riesling with far less residual sugar than ice wine. With my super sweet tooth, they’re still too acidic for my liking, but are much-liked by the others in my group.

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The owners’ love of art is shared via a selection of modern pieces hung within the winery’s main building and displayed in the beautifully planted gardens just outside.

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Hopefully I’ve given you a taste of the Niagara-on-the-Lake region’s excellent wineries, and especially the ice wine that many of them produce.

It’s a perfect destination for a self-drive holiday, with plenty to see and do, many charming independent hotels and bed and breakfasts, and some truly world class eating and drinking to enjoy, both at the wineries themselves and in the area’s many top quality restaurants.

Kavey Eats visited Ontario as a guest of Destinations Canada. With additional thanks to Anna and Michael Olson for being our hosts, and Diane Helinski for being our tour manager and guide.

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Kavey’s Pick of Tasty Tipples 2016

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.

Learning About Sake + My HyperJapan Sake Experience

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.

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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.

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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.

Umeshu Night at Chisou’s Sake Club

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.

Meet The Blogger | Steve Lamond

I’ve told before the story of how my husband Pete’s beer, whisky and coffee blog came to be – for a year he wrote a series of guest posts here on Kavey Eats before I finally kicked him off in October 2011 to launch PeteDrinks.com. Not long after that, we both went along to the 2012 European Beer Bloggers Conference in Leeds, a weekend long conference focusing on the beer industry.

There we met many many other beer bloggers, writers and industry professionals including blogger Steve Lamond, who writes Beers I’ve Known. Since we met, we’ve kept in touch online and both Pete and I read Steve’s blog regularly. We hope to meet up at another beery event soon.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

I’m Steve and I’ve been writing Beers I’ve known since May 2011 with 300 posts since then. I mostly write about beer and pubs but also feature other drinks when it takes my fancy. I try to provide a focus on beer in Northern Ireland as there wasn’t much to document this when I started. Since then there has been an explosion of breweries and bloggers; so my original goal is now somewhat moot but I still enjoy writing about and trying new beers! I’m also a cheese fiend; so that often sneak’s into the odd post too.

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Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I used to help organise a zine fest in Brighton; one of the interesting ones was an anonymous booklet called “Nuns I’ve Known” cataloguing the various nuns who taught the author at a Catholic school. A fellow organiser suggested I begin a zine called Beers I’ve Known (such was my verbosity on the subject even then!) but due to (mostly) laziness and the ability to reach a wider audience that became a blog.

Why did you choose to blog about beer?

I write about beer because it interests me and generally people seem interested in what I have to say. I don’t think knowledge is something to be hoarded. I also like the social side of discussing with other bloggers/ readers some of the topics that arise. As touched on above I want to show the locals here in Ireland and further afield that we do produce some fantastic beers and ciders here and its not just about the macrolagers and ubiquitous black stuff produced in Dublin. But overall I just enjoy trying new beers, expanding my palate experiences, travelling and searching for that elusive “perfect beer”.

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Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

Its important to keep notes because it can be difficult to remember the following day, especially if a few beverages have been consumed! In Northern Ireland the difficulty is finding beers to write about because most pubs/bars do not stock anything of note. Thankfully I rely on a selection of decent mail order firms and the occasional trip away to keep me armed with plenty to write about. The challenge now is finding the time (and motivation!) to write the posts!

Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

I’m polyamorous when it comes to beer, there isn’t one particular style I stick to above all others but of course I have my preferences. A decent session strength porter goes down well at any time of year, I love Belgian farmhouse styles (saisons and flemmish red/ oud browns) hop-forward beers like IPAs and wild/sour ales.

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Which single beer could you not live without?

A tricky question; I could probably live without any given beer as there are plenty that do a similar job to my favourite examples. I’ll pick Butcombe bitter here as it was my first cask beer which led me on this journey in the first place and I still enjoy after having sampled 4000 others.

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

I’m not particularly keen on doppelbocks and dunkels, nor anything OTT on the booze front. Something to do with the sugars used to hit the higher ABVs perhaps. Nothing is over-rated other than perhaps macro lager! Of course there are trends in productions of different styles but that helps to keep things fresh and interesting.

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

The current trend is canning beer; I think this a fantastic development and have an upcoming blog post to discuss why. There is always a “flavour of the year”, some of which I enjoy, others not so much. In recent years they have included, goses, black IPAs, fruited berlinner weisses and session IPAs

Tell us about your pet controversy in the beer world.
I’m a defender of Wetherspoon for bringing variety in beer choice and increased recognition of cask beer to the UK and now to Ireland at affordable prices. Many people do not agree with this…hilarity ensues.

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How did you get into whisky?

Whisky was the first booze to pass my lips at a mere 46 days old; though it would be a good 16 years before I’d try it again! I enjoy the breadth of flavours possible from a single ingredient and exploring what different ageing regimens can bring to the table. Whisky is of course just unhopped distilled beer; so its not that unusual to be interested in both drinks.

What is your favourite style of whisky?

I love Scotish Single Malts and whilst I’m now a big fan of the peat-forward smokey Islay drams, there will always be a place in my heart for the spicey and warming highland malts.

What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?

A great pub first and foremost needs to be comfortable to drink in, both in terms of furnishings and facilities but also the atmosphere of the place. A real fire or historic features help but not as important. Second most important is a good selection of beer at reasonable prices. But what will turn a good pub into a great pub is the level of service and welcome received. That’s what is likely to turn a one-off visit into a repeat occurrence. I have favoured watering holes up and down the country but I think the York Tap has to be my most favoured, because it satisfies the above three criteria in abundance plus is easy to get to, sells tasty snacks and a great atmosphere.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?

If a pub doesn’t have anything interesting to drink I’ll turn around and walk back out again. Cleanliness is important though unkemptness is forgivable.

What’s the best thing that’s happened to you in a pub?

The generosity and hospitality of fellow drinkers is the best thing about pubs. When I was a poor student I’d often be bought drinks in my local, an oil rig worker I struck up a conversation with in a Scottish pub picked up my bar bill and a chap we met when celebrating our engagement bought us a round. I try to share the love now I can afford to!

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I’m not sure that it has changed all that much, though I have made a conscious effort to make sure my posts have a point behind them, rather than just being a collection of reviews.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Finding the time and motivation to write the posts. I have a number of posts in draft that just need polishing and pushing into the light.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

The amazing variety and enjoyment of beer and other drinks and the community of people involved in producing and writing about them.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates them from traditional journalists?

Bloggers can often react more quickly to breaking news, especially as blogging isn’t a 9-5 job. There’s also the aforementioned social interactions but also the lack of financial motivation means topics covered interest the author and often that leads to a more interesting story.

What are you absolutely loving drinking right now?

I am enjoying well made British lagers, hop-forward session beers and playing with my new Aeropress for my coffee fix.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Somehow it’s the roundup post after hosting #TheSession (a beer blogging monthly chosen communal topic) for the second time. Topic – beery yarns.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Its always surprising which posts do get the views but I’d have thought more people would be interested in where to get good beer in Vienna.

Anything else?

After long-suffering my blogging affliction my wife Daisy is going to join me in writing a blog Drinks We’ve Known to cover all our travels, cocktail experimentations and other non-beery libations. Coming to a computer screen near you soon!

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Blog URL www.beersiveknown.com
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/officialbeersiveknown
Twitter handle @beersiveknown

Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of my Meet The Blogger series, here.