Earlier this week we were lucky enough to attend the Boutique Bar Show 2009 in London, which is one of the UK's biggest trade shows for spirits. We sampled a number of whiskies at the show - you can read our reviews of these by clicking here - and while we were there we had the chance to try some other quality spirits. We have decided to 'branch out' away from whisky reviewing just this once and review this range of other spirits that we tried. The list looks long we know, but each one was served in a thimble sized sample glass (honest! ... well OK, there were one or two exceptions!).
Caorunn (pronounce ka-roon) is a new handcrafted gin that is distilled in small batches at the Balmenach whisky distillery in Scotland. It is a pure grain spirit that is then infused with six of the traditional gin botanicals (angelica root, cassia bark, coriander, juniper berry, lemon and orange peel) and five exclusive Celtic botanicals (bog myrtle, Coul blush apple, dandelion, heather and rowan berry). Caorunn is dry and crisp with an aromatic nose that is floral and citrusy. The palate has some sweetness and is fresh, fruity and spicy. Very good stuff that would make the perfect G&T. Check out their website at www.caorunngin.com.
Isake Umeshu de France plum wine
Umeshu is a plum wine that is traditionally made in Japan, but this version made by Isake is different. It is made using plums from the premium plum growing Moissac region in southern France. They are then macerated in grape spirit and matured in French oak casks. The result is a drink that is a vibrant golden colour with a sweet plum and honey aroma. The sample was served to us with ice and was lovely, rich and silky with gorgeous plum flavours. This would be very good on its own or with soda or prosecco as a mixer. Take a look at their cool website for the range of premium sake www.isake.co.uk.
Karlsson's Gold vodka
This is a premium vodka from the Cape Bjarne distillery in southern Sweden. It is made from 100% new potatoes and is distilled only once so as to preserve the maximum flavour. The vodka is aromatic with a lovely sweetness and earthiness and on the palate feels rich and creamy. Again, the sweetness and earthiness is present. We had it served to us chilled with some ice and freshly ground black pepper and it was absolutely lovely, with the peppery spiciness bringing out the flavours even further. Check out their website www.karlssonsvodka.com.
The Laird family have been producing applejack, an American form of apple brandy, at their New Jersey distillery since 1698. The only time that it has been out of production is during the Prohibition period between 1920 and 1933. Applejack is made from premium apples and is blended using 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirit. The colour is like apple juice and the aroma is a combination of sweet, crisp apples and carameled sugar. On the palate, the neutral spirit is more evident but the apple sweetness starts to overtake and make the experience more pleasant. The finish has more of the brown sugary caramel and is reminiscent of an apple pie or crumble. Not bad on its own but would be lovely in a cocktail or with a mixer.
The Nardini company have been distilling fine grappa since 1779 in the town of Bassano del Grappa in northern Italy. We sampled some of their excellent products and you can view their full range at www.nardinigrappa.com. First on the sample list was the 'Rosso', a soft, sweet and rich aperitif that is reminiscent of drinks like Martini Rosso or Aperol. It is dark red in colour and has a bitter edge and is excellent as it was served to us with some soda and lemon. Next up was the 'Bianca', one of Italy's premium grappas and a multi award winner around the world. It is one of the best grappas we have tried with a balanced sweetness on the palate and aromatic herbal nose. The 'Riserva 15 Anni' (15 years old) was next and is aged in Slovenian oak casks for 15 years. Darker in colour, this is richer, woodier and softer than the 'Bianca' and is strangely like a whisky. Next up was the 'Ruta', which contains a large leaf of the ruta herb. This gives the grappa a green tint and a bitter, astringent flavour that is a bit more of an acquired taste but very pleasant. The 'Ginepro' was our final sample and is a grappa based liqueur that is infused with juniper berries and a secret mix of Italian botanicals. It is sweet, aromatic and reminiscent of a gin, making it ideal for a cocktail. An excellent range of products.
Sipsmith was established in 2008 and is the first new distillery to be set up in London for 189 years. Based in west London, they produce handmade small batches (no more than 500 bottles at any one time) of artisan gin and vodka made from English barley and water from one of the springs that is a source of the River Thames. The 'Barley Vodka' has a slightly nutty nose and is smooth and creamy on the palate with a lovely sweet graininess, that nuttiness again and a hint of wood spice. The 'London Dry Gin' is distilled using 10 classic gin botanicals (angelica root, cassia bark, cinnamon, coriander seed, ground almond, juniper berry, lemon peel, liquorice root, orange peel and orris root) and has a floral, zesty nose. On the palate, it is smooth with some spiciness, zesty citrus and juniper. It begins beautifully dry before becoming sweeter. The finish is dry and mouthwatering. Check out the informative website www.sipsmith.com which includes a great working diagram of how they distill their vodka.
Van Wees Genever gin
Van Wees have been distilling gin since 1782 and are the last authentic distillery to be operating in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. They produce a range of gins produced in the Genever style (one of the oldest styles of gin making where they distill maltwine and the fore father of the London gin style). They use a range of traditional botanicals including fruit, flowers, plants, roots and seeds to infuse flavour in to the gin. The 'Zeer Oude Genever' (Very Old Genever) is matured in oak casks for a minimum of a year and is highly aromatic and quite fruity. The palate is rich, smooth and fruity with a hint of peppery spice. The 'Amsterdamsche Oude Genever' is fairly similar to the 'Zeer Oude' but is sweeter on the palate before turning dry and quite herbal on the finish.