The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
The last six weeks have seen me travel (almost) the length of the country to recruit, and then to judge, the regional heats of the No3 Gin cocktail competition. The brief was very wide simply asking bartenders to make a “twist on the gin & tonic” and it was amazing to see all the different directions they took this.
We have seen tonic ice tubes, homemade tonics, classic cocktails twisted together and we cannot wait to see the final five at the Royal Albert Hall No3 bar on 17th June where they will recreate their winning cocktail and create a “freestyle” option too – no holds barred! The finalists are:
- Suzie Wong from Epernay bar Manchester, “The Key to the Secret Gin Garden”
- Charles Montanaro from Nola London, “Key Quina Tonic”
- Ehren Khoo-Steel from Merkaba Birghton, “The Parlour”
- Matt Fairhurst from Milk Thistle Bristol, “The Curious No.3”
Our neighbours, Quaglino’s on Bury Street, have launched a pop up for the summer to bring back all the glamour of the 1920’s. The Hutch Club will be offering a brilliant line up of live jazz and best of all, this is accompanied by classic No.3 Gin cocktails and No.3 Gin and tonic popcorn. That has to be worth a visit!
The month of May also included a trip to the Scotch Whisky Research Institute to spend a day on their Sensory Course. This was absolutely fascinating, especially learning how the trained tasters sit for several hours smelling the whisky as it develops and writing down particular smells and the time it occurred to compare to the chemical signs the machine can read. It just goes to prove that no matter how advanced technology gets, nothing will beat the human senses; and we can enjoy it whilst analysing the elements too! Not only that but it gave myself and our Eastern European brand manager plenty of ideas for The Glenrothes so look out for some exciting “sensory” events to come.
July will be the big month for The King’s Ginger liqueur, with a request from the palace to Berry Bros. & Rudd as a double royal warrant holder to create a special coronation cocktail. This was created by The Cocktail Lovers (www.thecocktaillovers.com) and encompasses all things British with sparkling wine from our fair shores and local produce. You will have to wait till next month for the reveal but if you cannot attend the Coronation Festival do not worry; we will share the recipe on facebook and twitter too.
And as for Pink Pigeon, our senior spirits team are there as I write, visiting the distillery, absorbing the culture and no doubt enjoying a Pink Mojito or two whilst they are at it. I have no doubt there will be plenty of envy inducing pictures posted on their return.
- No.3 Gin cocktail competition final on 17th June, keep an eye on @No3Gin’s twitter account for updates throughout the day.
- The Glenrothes will be at Harvey Nichols on 14th June and at Selfridges on 15th alongside The King’s Ginger, a perfect Father’s day gift and you can try before you buy!
- 15th June is also World Gin Day and there will be a No.3 Gin giveaway in the run up so do not forget to visit www.worldginday.com for more details.
- On the evening of 1st July No.3 Gin will be at Charlotte’s Bistro Gin School so if you are near Chiswick come along for a G&T and a chat about why No.3 Gin was voted “Best in Class” at the International Spirits Challenge
I cannot believe that six months have already passed since I made the leap from the fine wine industry to join the small but perfectly formed spirits team of Berry Bros. & Rudd, based just opposite the institution that is the No.3 St James’s Street shop.
It is often forgotten that Berrys Bros. & Rudd’s two royal warrants state wine and spirits and although we have grown our portfolio rapidly in the last four years, spirits have been a very important aspect of the company from vintage cognacs to the game-changing Cutty Sark. However it is quite some portfolio that I have been given to work with as Product Trainer. My heart lies mainly with gin, whisky runs a close second, and I have thoroughly enjoyed running masterclasses across the UK on the wonderfully traditional No.3 Gin named after, you guessed it, the shop. As if that was not enough, I have only managed to chip the surface of the award winning range of Berrys’ Own Selection whiskies and rums though needless to say my first purchase was a Speyside from my birth year though this is packed away for a special occasion for now; I will report later!
And then there is The Glenrothes Speyside Single Malt, where I was sent in my first week to visit the distillery, experience the magic of lake fishing in the rain and the subsequent enjoyment of a Ginger Mac – 50:50 The King’s Ginger and The Glenrothes – to warm up. The Glenrothes was the first distillery to release whisky by vintage i.e. when it is ready to drink as opposed to age statement, and has captured my taste buds with the 1988 but I look forward to this year’s new vintage releases to discover another side of this exciting product. As well as exciting packaging since the 1970 Extraordinary won “World’s Best Design” at the World Whisky Awards in March.
Slightly off the wall is Pink Pigeon, a vanilla infused single estate rum from Mauritius - a wonderful ingredient to keep in your cabinet for some tasty and creative cocktails; after all, who doesn’t love vanilla? However with its first international competition completed in March, I will leave brand manager Luigi to tell you more about this one in his own blog post. Prepare to swoon at photos of this stunning island.
And last but not least, as well as the oldest of the bunch, is The King’s Ginger liqueur. An “emphatically ginger liqueur” first designed in 1903 for King Edward VII, spreading the story of this brand, both to bar tenders and customers, has been a pleasure as they all appreciate the real history and the sense of fun too. So I am delighted to present you with the newly released Spring Daisy, the most recent in a line of seasonal recipes we release to ensure that your bottle does not gather dust on the shelf. This is Spring-fresh and easy to make, with ingredients that you are more than likely to have already or won’t mind adding to your collection!
30ml The King’s Ginger
25ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
2 dashes of Fee Brother rhubarb bitters (optional)
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Double strain into a pony glass and serve with a sprig of mint to garnish.
Look out for my next post when I will report back on my trip to Scotch Research Institute Sensory workshop to learn how to really appreciate The Glenrothes as well as why it smells and tastes as good as it does.
- Amanda Baxter, Berrys’ Spirits Team
The shop team picked up the gauntlet to find the best wine matches for great British beef and fine artisan cheeses and tasting tables and master classes were laid on to help customers discover the best matches.
Sarah Purdon made a welcome return to the shop with her mouth-watering Belted Galloway Beef. She’d specially made some delicious meatballs which customers could try plain or with a choice of two sauces. The beef match of the day was the plain meatballs with 2009 St Joseph Rouge, Domaine Michel et Stéphane Ogier Although Finca Allende’s 2006 Rioja Tinto and meatballs with Armenian Jajig was an excellent match too. Recipe cards to takeaway were available on the day and were snapped up by customers eager to try them out for themselves.
Nick Page, our enthusiastic shop manager – who is renowned for his food and wine matching expertise – and Graham Goodall of The Cheese Stall conducted the cheese and wine master classes. After a whirlwind tour of the fascinating similarities between wine and cheese – yes, familiarities such as how terroir affects the flavour, quality and ripeness of both cheese and wine; and like grape juice, milk can be fermented into an alcoholic drink – the ‘class’ was treated to a lesson in matching wine with cheese. Nick had done a great job of selecting the wines and cheeses and all the combinations worked well, but the stand out pairings were:
Crottin de Chavignol and 2011 Sancerre Blanc, André Dezat
Mimolette and 2009 Ch. de Pressac, St Emilion
Stichelton and 1997 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port
This Saturday, 20th April, there’s another event in the Bin End Shop. The theme this weekend is ‘Whisky’. Two master classes will be conducted:
11.30am Battle of the Bottlers – Adrian Lancer (Rocky) will be comparing our Berrys’ Own Selection bottlings with distillery bottlings – will you be able to taste the difference amongst the line-up of superb Whiskies?
2.00pm Lost Distilleries – our very own canny Scot, Alex Ross, will show you a selection of irreplaceable Whiskies from some now closed distilleries, which will offer an opportunity to taste some rare Whiskes that will soon be lost to the world forever.
Plus, as is always the case on these special days, there’ll be some superb spirits heavily discounted which you can peruse on the day.
Leon Reilly, Berrys’ Bin-End Shop
March is probably the month I most look forward to each year. After the hustle and bustle of December in my main job in our Bin End Shop in Basingstoke, and the necessary eight or so weeks rest afterwards, it traditionally heralds the start of the Whisky Festival Season.
As well as working at out Bin End Shop in Basingstoke, for the last four years I have also travelled around the country pouring and promoting Berrys’ Own Spirits on many Saturdays throughout the year.
The majority of these are festivals run by a company called The Whisky Lounge, who also happen to be the sister company to the UK wholesale distributors of the Berrys’ Own Spirits range the Great Whisky Company. The Whisky Lounge events are intended to be a relaxed and accessible way to enjoy whisky, with very reasonable entry prices (which unlike some festivals give you unlimited access to all the whiskies on the various exhibitors’ tables), a glass to taste with and then take home, some tokens to try special “under the counter” drams and even access to some free masterclasses.
Emma Brown, our resident foodie in the Basingstoke office, didn’t take much convincing when I asked her to put together a couple of easy haggis recipes for Burns’ Night. Emma loves creating her own recipes using seasonal ingredients, so for this ‘Burns’ Night Challenge’ I asked her to come up with two easy recipes using haggis which would be a great match for malt whisky. Below Emma shares her recipes for Haggis Scotch Eggs and Haggis and Pork Sausage Rolls.
Haggis and Pork Sausage Rolls
500g Homemade or readymade puff pastry
250g Good Quality Haggis
250g Good Quality Sausage meat (at least 85% Pork)
1 egg plus 1 extra egg yolk beaten (for pastry egg wash)
Haggis Scotch Eggs (Makes 6)
250g Good Quality Haggis
250g Good Quality Sausage meat
1 tbsp. Scotch whisky
Salt and Ground Pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Our whisky expert Rob Whitehead has narrowed down our extensive selection of whiskies to a selection of five which he thinks are perfectly suited to haggis dishes, and great accompaniments to any Burns’ Night celebration. View his selections on our website.
Here in the Bin End Shop we are all fully immersed in the festive spirit. The Christmas lights are on, the decorations are up and there’s a smattering of frost on the ground. So what better way to celebrate the season of good will than with a Dickensian style Spirit of Christmas Saturday, which we held on 1st December.
As well as an extra flourish of bin end bargains, we also laid on a couple of Master Classes. These fun, educational events have grown in such popularity over the past year that this time we moved the venue from the back of the Bin End Shop to our state-of-the-art tasting room in our brand new building next door. This impressive facility also provides additional space for our fast-growing Customers’ Private Reserves.
After eight years in the alcohol trade, many of them involved with Whisky (having been a part of the Berrys’ stand at almost every UK festival for the last two years), at the end of October, I finally decided it was time to significantly increase the count of distilleries I have visited from a paltry two.
Seeing others’ shock that I had never yet been to the famed Whisky isle of Islay, I made this the focal point of my recent trip.
Sometimes, when re-reading tasting notes I have written, one word or phrase rather sticks out from the rest. Often, it’s a flavour or aroma that is not commonly associated with spirits or their un-distilled brethren, wines and beers. Sometimes it’s a texture or taste of something most people would be unlikely to put in their mouths. On occasion, a descriptor of something illicit or downright dangerous is the only way I can describe what I am experiencing. This obviously causes a quandary as to whether to leave it in and risk people being, at best, confused or, at worst, deceased.
The first whisky I’ve tasted this week contained just such a ‘challenging’ taste sensation:
On a dreary evening at the end of April, we welcomed 75 Cellar Plan members to the Napoleon Cellar at No. 3 St. James’s Street for the first Cellar Plan Fine Whisky tasting. Berrys’ has a long history of selling whiskies, most notably with Cutty Sark blended whisky, but has been a long standing independent bottler, particularly of single cask, rare whiskies and this was a great introduction to these spanning four decades of a gamut of differing styles.
Following the recent revelation that a couple of questionable bottles of whisky purporting to have been bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd in the 1970s have recently been offered for sale, I have taken steps to remove any fakes from circulation. Having seen the damage wrought in fine wine circles by a few unscrupulous individuals, some of whom are now facing criminal proceedings, I am adamant that we will do what we can to prevent a similar situation arising in the world of single malt whisky. We cannot purport to be experts in all whisky forgeries but we can be certain when it comes to our Berrys’ own bottlings.
Apparently coming from an Italian source, one bottle was advertised as a single malt from the 1930s, the other from the 1940s. An examination of the bottles, cross-checked against our extensive archives, quickly established that neither bottle was genuine. The bottles were subsequently withdrawn from sale.
We trust this is an isolated incident but, should you have any doubts regarding a bottle of Berry Bros. & Rudd whisky you own, please send the bottle in question to Douglas McIvor, Spirits Manager (email@example.com).
If genuine, the bottle will be returned with a certificate of authenticity. However, should the bottle be a fake, we will destroy it.
Firstly, allow me to make a swift apology to anyone reading this after our current heat-wave has inevitably subsided. Please feel free to remember it wistfully/irritably depending on your own personal preference.
There is something deeply reassuring, I often find, in our ability, as Brits, to malign our weather, opine about our weather, foolishly attempt to divine our weather and, occasionally, even rhyme about our weather. Whatever you ‘blether’ about weather, one thing I can attest to is the strong negative correlation between days of record high temperature and the number of enquiries I see from customers in our London Shop about Scotch Whisky. This week two new, Cask strength, single cask, Berrys’ Own Selection bottlings arrived and both show how wrong we are to sometimes turn away from whisky at this time of year.
“Austerity” in a whisky can be, in my opinion, a bit of a strange concept. It gets wheeled out by whisky writers and ‘experts’ now and again, and usually is seen as a positive descriptor. From my reading of other people’s tasting notes: if a whisky is structurally hard and crisp but this clashes with the flavours/aromas then this is described as lean or thin; whilst if the crispness balances well with the other components of the whisky, this magical word ‘austere’ seems to regularly appear. Tangentially, this word seems to be used exclusively to describe Whisky – as opposed to Whiskey – perhaps the Irish and Americans are less enamoured with this aspect of their spirit?
As I’m sure we’ll all agree in such interesting times as these, austerity, whilst sometimes wholly necessary and hugely useful, is rarely sought-after or something to look forward to in everyday life. Here though, people whose opinion I respect hugely seemed to be relishing this aspect of a whisky. There are times when we all need austerity in our ‘real’ lives, but here, relating to a drink I find gustatorially desirous and intellectually nourishing, people were expounding the desirability of a facet I didn’t want in a liquid I physiologically didn’t need.
In life, many a Thursday evening can pass with a glass of something whilst cooking, a moan at the lack of decent television and an early night in preparation for the weekend ahead. Last night was no such evening. I sashayed along to Cocktail Hour & Champagne at No. 3 St James’s Street for Berrys’ only Champagne and Cocktail specific event of the year, where special guest ‘bacchanologist’ Mark Jenner of the Connaught was shaking up an exciting range of drinks. The development of Spirits within Berry Bros. & Rudd is further acknowledgment that Cocktails are more exciting than ever and not just for the stereotypical demographic but more about a genre of drinks that can integrate with our everyday lives.
Back to basics this week with some more detailed thoughts on my recent tastings. Twitter is a great outlet for quick splurges of joy or vitriol, but to really wade into the meat (or fruit, peat or wood!) of the subject, I often feel some longer notes are needed.
Personal highlights include the Clynelish 1997 – and we’ve recently bottled another sister cask, so hopefully even more Brora-based deliciousness soon. Along with the Glenlivet 1994, yet more proof of the sheer brilliance of the spirit from this iconic distillery.
Oddball whisky of the week was definitely the Glen Keith, which as well as being only the second ever Berrys’ bottling from this distillery is the only whisky so far to make me use mirabelle and samphire in the same sentence!
With the weather alternating between miserable and outright apocalyptic, cask strength single malt has been, rather unusually, at the top of my gustatory thoughts of late. I say unusually as normally in the middle of July I find myself turning much more often to cognacs or rums, at least as far as aged spirits are concerned.
Being Berry Bros. & Rudd’s newest, youngest buyer has its fair share of challenges and a tremendous plethora of benefits. After five years, to have responsibility for around one fifth of the range of products Berrys sell is a real honour. Let no-one in my position tell you they don’t love their path through life. Equally, let no-one in my position tell you they could do any other thing. If they tell you they don’t love it or tell you they could stop it, then they’re simply not doing it right.
So, for those of you who need a bigger fix of spiritual passion than @BBRrob on Twitter can provide, allow me to expound some more fully furnished musings on the various Spirits I’ve had the ‘arduous’ task of tasting for you this week:
As the temperature continues to drop this week, there is simply no better drink to have in your hipflask than The King’s Ginger. This emphatically ginger liqueur was specially formulated by Berry Bros. in 1903 for King Edward VII. Rich and zesty it was created to stimulate and revivify His Majesty and has been appreciated by bon viveurs, sporting gentleman and high-spirited ladies ever since. His Majesty was a man with a peerless sense of fashion, so we have spoken to our friends at esteemed hatters, Lock & Co, and they have agreed to make a bespoke, made to measure Edwardian hat for one lucky winner in our new competition.
Four lucky people will get the chance to become The Glenrothes Whisky Maker for a week following a worldwide competition launched this week. The successful candidates will be recruited to work as The Glenrothes Whisky Makers in the heart of single malt production, Speyside, Scotland.
As part of this opportunity, the successful candidates will learn the time-honoured art of making The Glenrothes and the time-honoured skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. The winners will spend time working at each stage of the whisky-making process: testing the purity of the water source at the distillery’s two springs; milling the malt to achieve the golden proportions of husk, grits and flour; mashing to ensure maximum extraction of sugars in the wort; adding yeast to the washbacks and overseeing fermentation; slowly and carefully distilling new make spirit in our tall copper pot stills. From there the winning Whisky Makers will be involved in making casks at the cooperage, laying down casks for maturation and rolling casks to the warehouse.
This has been a momentous week here at BB&R.
Eighty seven years after it was born in the parlour at 3 St James’s Street, the Cutty Sark brand has been sold. For as long as I can remember the familiar yellow label has been part of our identity. Somehow this always seemed to be paradoxical: very few of our UK wine customers automatically associated BB&R with an international whisky blend, but the reality is that the wine division of our business would never have survived, let alone prospered, if it hadn’t been for Uncle Cutty paying the bills for forty years or more.