Last week I took my life into my own hands and attended the London Spirit Show. I was there as a guest of Brighton’s Mixology Group. They would be exhibiting at the show and I was there for research purposes. This was work, not a piss up. I will not go into my main reason for being there at this stage, hopefully news on that in the future, but it was interesting to see what is going on in the booze world.
These trade shows are a great way to discover what the movers and shakers are up to. You also get to sample some superb products without having to shell out for a whole bottle. I have been learning more about this industry in recent months and came with a new perspective on the spirits business. It was with this newly found critical eye that I boarded my train from Worthing, making the long slog up to the dreaded capital. Sorry London folk, I find it hard to enjoy any visit up your way. To lighten my mood, I went for a nostalgic playlist consisting of Deftones Adrenaline and Slipknot’s eponymous debut. People = Shit and all that. So, with the mood set, what did I discover during my day.
Enough is enough
I don’t want to start on a negative, but I feel I must. No more gin people. I am a gin fan, I’ve been drinking it for years, but enough is enough. It felt like 80% of the stalls at the show were yet another boutique gin. It is getting silly now. I know that there are some truly exceptional gin producers out there. People who are producing their own NGS, or at least souring it from a local/trusted source, and putting care and attention into their product. These people I have no issue with. There are too many gins out there that are just a marketing project, cashing in on the boom. It is time to move on. I for one am tired of it all. We need to focus on what we mean by the words “boutique” or “artisan” or “hand crafted” when it comes to gin. It is a category of spirit that I enjoy massively. This oversaturation of the market is taking its toll on me as a consumer, and I cannot be the only one that has become disinterested as a result.
Going back in time
Now that I’ve had my moan, I can move on to the great producers that were in attendance. My first stars of the show had to be the Sip or Mix stand where I met Jenny and Ted. Ted Breaux is not a name I was aware of, but a very glad to have met him. It turns out he is a bit of a legend in the spirits industry. Not only did he singlehandedly legalise absinthe in the US, it had been banned since the early 1900’s, but he also creates some stunning drinks from traditional recipes. Ted is a chemist and has gone all Jurassic Park on absinthe, reverse engineering recipes from 19th century bottles. This is amazing stuff. I tried the range and it was sensational. Like most drinkers, absinthe has always held a mythical status with me. I’d only ever tried cheap nasty creations before, and this vintage spirit blows it out of the water. Elegant, refined and aromatic. I had to purchase a bottle of the Espirit Edouard for home. Check out www.bestabsinthe.com for the full story and to also read about Ted’s amazing tobacco liqueur.
Ted produces his absinthe at Combier distillery in Samur, France. Jenny took me through a range of their products that were also on show. My personal highlight was the original recipe triple sec, pre-dating Cointreau, which had a stunning depth of flavour. Fresh oranges exploded from this delightful drop and I instantly wanted to get some. Combier Kummel was another liqueur that I was not aware of. This Dutch/German drink is flavoured with cumin, caraway and fennel that gave a huge aromatic nose and a clean anise finish. Finally, Jenny introduced me to St Nicholas Abbey rum. I think rum has been disregarded for some time now. It is time to start drinking good rum again, and this would be a great place to start. This Bajan rum is high quality stuff that is produced on the island. The white rum was creamy and fudgy with a great depth of flavour. I also tried the 5 year old which was more complex and rich, but still with a bright grassy flavour to it. Be sure to check out Sip or Mix by visiting their site here www.sipormix.co.uk you will not be disappointed.
A VIP experience
I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the VIP area of the show where some truly exceptional spirits were available for tasting. Here I tasted something that I doubt I will get to try again. Old Man Rum is a world first. A blend of seven exceptional rums, the youngest of which was 25 years. No one has blended aged rums before, many believe it would be sacrilege, but it was the dream of one man to do so. Now his son Ian has fulfilled his fathers dream. Expressions No.1 is a rum that was beyond anything I’ve ever tried. Using only pot stilled rums of exceptional quality, the blend was truly stunning. The nose was incredible, so powerful and sweet. The taste was of deep caramel and molasses and so smooth it could have wooed the pants off anyone in the room. Delightful. This all comes at a cost. A bottle of this rum will set you back £3750, so it is not for everyone, but to have tasted it was a real joy.
Welcome back old friend
Ah vodka, we have had a chequered relationship. One that ended many years ago after one too many bottles of Chekov during my late teens. Vodka, however, is coming back. There are many brands of vodka out there, many of which are uninteresting or indistinguishable. Scottish distillery Arbikie are one of the UK’s best producers. Their dedication to creating exceptional spirits is second to none. Going back to my gin rant, these guys are one that you can trust. I tried their chilli vodka at the show which really impressed with its smoky chipotle flavour and notable spicy kick. The strawberry vodka was also a stunner with its fragrant and natural flavourings. Check those guys out people.
Vestal Vodka are another producer that hugely impressed. They produce vintage vodkas from a variety of different potatoes. The limited release bottles each have a distinctive flavour depending on the potato used and the conditions around their growing. You will never have tasted vodka like this. Some are coloured whereas others are clear depending on the potato used. The flavours were distinguishable, no flavourless spirit here, with a notably creamy texture and full mouthfeel. I can highly suggest checking them out if you are a vodka fan.
Next year’s big thing
Mezcal. I have been meaning to learn more about this delightful elixir from Mexico and was able to sample some at the show at the Pensador stand. This is a new Mezcal that is being imported to the UK following some extensive research. It was so new in fact the bottles had only arrived that week. I think Mezcal is going to be huge. It has much more depth and variety than tequila, and the smoky rich flavour is much more rewarding that its cousin. I think I will dedicate my 2018 to trying more of this stuff. There is so much tradition behind this spirit and it is often produced in very small batches. This makes it hard to find truly great mezcal, and that is the sort of thing connoisseurs look for. The plants used in production can take years to real maturity and the methods used to create the drink date back to the 16th century.