Bartenders Review Spirits: Session Two

Our new take on spirit reviews went down so well we got the band back together for round two.

We thought that you, dear readers, wouldn’t want to hear what me and Andy thought of new products and we were right. What you want to hear is what your peers think of new products to the market. The unbiased, honest and knowledgable thoughts of some of the industry’s most respected bartenders, and Jamie Jones.TS-group

The format of each session will be the same. We sit the group down, try the products, discuss them openly and then jump behind the bar to see what cocktails, classic and original, they work in best.

Once again our panel consists of:

  • Alastair Fraser – Bartender at Little Bat
  • Jamie Jones – Group bars executive at The Social Company, Jason Atherton
  • Kyle Wilkinson – Head bartender at The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy

This month Jamie very kindly allowed us to use Blind Pig in Soho for the session, extra thanks to Tiarnan, Frank and the rest of the team for looking after us so well.

N.B. All of the brands provide us with the stock but are told in advance that we will report what the group says, good or bad. There is no editing of comments by the brands and they are relying on the quality of their product to produce positive results for them.

Wild Knight Vodka – 40% ABV

What they say: TS-WK
Using water drawn from the ancient chalk aquifers that run under Eastern England, Wild Knight Ultra-Premium English Vodka is distilled by hand in small batches from the finest English barley. Our master distiller has created a vodka so pure and smooth, that only a single distillation is needed.

Wild Knight Ultra-Premium English Vodka is exceptionally smooth. Soft on the palate, full of character and with a smooth long finish. Liquid silk is our favourite description. Enjoy with friends and food, over ice, or as we prefer it, sipped at room temperature.

What we say:
Jamie – It’s definitely well presented but immediately makes me think of style over substance.
Kyle – I think it would appeal to consumers over bartenders. I tell you what though, it doesn’t taste 40%; that is very drinkable.
Alastair – It is very interesting and is actually great on the nose but perhaps a little short on the pallet.
Jamie – It’s got a really nice creaminess to it, got a slight sweetness. It’s actually got character to it which is rare for a vodka.
Kyle – I compare vodka these days to lager. No-one wants piss lager anymore, even if they are lager drinkers they don’t want Fosters they want a lager with flavour and depth, and vodkas are now going the same way.
Jamie – I think bartenders are looking at vodka differently now with the likes of Gaz Evans and Rico giving it a lot more kudos. It’s cool now to be the anti-cool which is bringing vodka back into the fore, blue vodka will be next.
Kyle – I would chin this vodka with soda water.
Alastair – In a blind tasting of vodkas it would do really well.
Kyle – I agree I think it would be right up there. If you tasted it against any of the mainstream vodka brands you would pick it out as it is not only good but different, it would really stand out.
Jamie – They do need to get rid of the Ultra-Premium label though.

Classic cocktail ideas – Martini obviously, or a vodka Old Fashioned.

The Winning Drink

Alastair – Knights Who Say Ni

  • 50ml Wild Knight Vodka
  • 10ml Cocchi Americano
  • 2 Dash orange bitters

Stir and serve straight up with a lemon twist.

Plantation Pineapple Stiggins Fancy – 40% ABV

What they say:TS-PP
This rum was created by Alexandre Gabriel, cellar master for Plantation, and David Wondrich, author of the book Imbibe! It is a tribute to the esteemed Reverend Stiggins whose favorite drink was the “pineapple rum” in the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Not intended for sale, the rum was created to share among colleagues and friends at Tales of the Cocktail 2014. “Victim” of its own success, it is now available in the US and UK.

The pineapples are peeled by hand and the rind is infused in Plantation 3 Stars White Rum for a week before distilling in pot stills. The flesh is infused in Plantation Original Dark Rum for three months, at which point, the rind and fruit infusions are married together and rested in casks for a further three months. This six-month process enables the rum to deliver its distinctive, delicate pineapple flavour.

What we say:
Kyle – It smells amazing
Jamie – The nose is incredible
Alastair – It’s a rum first but the pineapple is not hidden, they both compliment each other so well.
Kyle – Pineapple is the Ryan Cheti of the fruit world….. it can do no wrong. I think the Plantation is delicious.
Jamie – Is it too good to mix with?
Alastair – A pineapple daquiri with this is amazing, normal specs just with this instead of rum, only served over ice.
Jamie – Having not tried it until today but having heard so much about it I was expecting it to be disappointing. I thought it was going to be drier and spicier, more agricole-esque. The reality is it smells nice, it feels nice and it finishes nice. It’s not the best thing in the world but I really like it.
Kyle – I’m not sure I’m going as crazy about it as the rest of the bar world but I do really enjoy it, it’s delicious.
Jamie – If I was stocking my bar I would have it for a certain drink on the menu rather than as a must stock product.
Kyle – The question is would I stock this, which again I really like, or would I make my own in my kitchen and serve that? I think I could make something that tasted better myself.
Alastair – You might be able to, but would it be consistent? Would a cocktail you used it in taste the same one month to the next.
Kyle – No……

Classic cocktail ideas – Stirred down Mary Pickford, El Presidente style drink. We also tried a round of the pineapple daiquiri suggested above which went down very well indeed.

Winning Drink (picked by 2015 Bacardi Legacy champion Frank Dedieu):

Jamie Jones – I’ll Get Back To You With A Name

  • 50ml Plantation Pineapple Stiggins Fancy
  • 15ml Cocchi Americano
  • 5ml Maraschino
  • 2.5ml Grenadine

Stir and served straight up.

Jim Beam Double Oak – 43% ABV

What they say: TS-JB
Jim Beam Double Oak is first aged in charred American white oak barrels, then we pour it into another freshly charred barrel to mature for a second time. The added interaction with the oak wood results in a liquid intense in flavour, smooth in taste.

For a bit more information BarLifeUK have found out it is aged for 4 years as normal then transferred into a new charred oak barrel for 3 – 6 months depending on the time of year it is laid down.

What we say:
Kyle – So it’s 43%, a bit stronger than normal Jim Beam so I’m happy about that.
Alastair – I like the bottle, it’s a good intermediary between the standard bottle and the Single Cask.
Jamie – Innovation is a good thing, Scotch has now started to realise you can’t be as stuffy and say no, no you can’t mess with it. They are now using different finishes etc. Bourbon is now being that brave and venturing into it.
Alastair – I agree but I also worry that, in a time when people are saying there is a shortage of barrels, brands are playing around with double ageing etc.
(At this point there was a long and very geeky conversation about bourbon, American whiskey, Lincoln county process, barrels and all sorts…. we will save you from it)
Jamie – There’s a hint of smokiness coming through, a white pepper finish on it so you are getting that fresher oak element that the double ageing has imparted. It definitely doesn’t dominate, it hasn’t revolutionised the way Jim Beam tastes, it’s a nuance.
Alastair – I think you lose some of the sweetness from the regular Jim Beam.
Jamie – This is sipping Jim Beam.
Kyle – (on finding out the Gerry’s price of £26 a bottle) That is a really good price. This is one of those products you could sit down drink and put the world to rights with your mate.
Jamie – It’s a session sipping whiskey.
Alastair – It would be great in a whiskey highball, that extra flavour would come through and at that price point you could easily do that.

Classic cocktail ideas – Manhattan, Boilermaker, Whiskey Sour, Whiskey Highball

Winning Drink:

Kyle – Once, twice, three times a lady

50ml Jim Beam Double Oak
10ml Creme de banane
Top with lemonade

Served over ice in a highball glass.

Elements of Islay Peat – 59.3% ABV

What they say: TS-P
Elements of Islay was launched in 2006 as a range of single malt whiskies from the different distilleries of Islay. With great whisky and attractive packaging, it has become a must-have for enthusiasts and collectors, as well as attracting interest from younger whisky drinkers.

Peat is a new release that has been created to appeal to a wider audience and is the first ongoing expression in the Elements of Islay range. It is a blended malt, from a handful of Islay’s distilleries. By marrying these malts together we have taken the distinct characters from each distillery and brought them together to focus on Islay’s most famous element: Peat.

Peat is the perfect expression of smoky whisky, with all the full-on coastal character you would expect from an island whisky, as well as balanced sweetness. On its own, in a cocktail or served with soda and ice, it is the go-to peaty whisky, balancing a big smoky flavor while not taking itself too seriously.

What we say:
Kyle – Wow that’s ballsy isn’t it?
Jamie – It’s nicely put together and packaged.
Alastair – On the nose I really like that.
Kyle – So I’m going to guess it’s non-chill filtered, there is no caramel and the oldest whiskey in there is 15 years maximum and that is absolute max in the blend. The thing is Islay whiskies tend to be a bit more fiery when they are younger anyway, which is the way I like them.
Jamie – Even with water in, it has that spice to it.
Alastair – I’m not the biggest peated whisky fan but with a drop of water in I like it a lot.
Jamie – I actually preferred it without the water, I would rather have taken my time with it without. I think there is almost too much spice when it’s diluted.
Kyle – I think it’s nice. I think it’s very young which makes it punchy. I’m not sure it has loads and loads of depth to it.
Jamie – There’s a pleasantness about it and I would sip it happily.
Alastair – It’s not quite introductory peat whisky and it’s nowhere near the heavy spicy end it’s somewhere in the middle of the category.
Kyle – They’ve been very clever with it. The scotch whisky world is going to non-chill filtered, cask strength, barrel strength route with no caramel and so, apart from putting an age statement on it, they have hit all the marks.

Classic cocktail idea – Penicillin

Winning Drink:

Kyle – In the peat of the moment

  • 40ml Elements of Islay Peat
  • 35ml apple juice
  • 15ml honey mead
  • 5ml lemon juice
  • 15ml Cocchi Americano