The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
A common dilemma.
For a lot of people, though they might not be able to agree on exactly where it is, they will be able to agree on a number of common attributes.
We have asked Florence Castarède, the sixth generation of the family at the helm of the Armagnac house of Nismes-Delclou to speak to us about the Armagnac, the region and the spirit. Florence took over the reins of the Estate over a dozen years ago, and continues to drive it forward, by combining innovation with the savoir-faire of six generations. She is a passionate ambassador of the region and the drink, constantly travelling around the world to teach people about Armagnac.
Can you tell us about your estate in Armagnac?
Nismes Delclou is the oldest firm producing Armagnac, having been established in 1832 by my ancestor Jules Nismes and his wife Elisabeth Delclou. The old cellars are located in the town of Lavardac, in Armagnac, next to the river Baise (a tributary of Girronde) and hold an impressive collection of very old vintage Armagnac, dating back to 1888.
Armagnac and the associated wine trade thrived in the 19th century. From Lavardac, the river allowed merchants to transport their products by boat to the port of Bordeaux, and from there to the rest of the world. The house has remained under family control and now the Castarede family, descendants of the Delclous, is at the helm. In 1979 the family acquired the historic Château de Maniban in Mauléon d’Armagnac. Mauléon is in the heart Bas Armagnac, widely regarded as the home of the very best Armagnac. The Château is surrounded by vines of Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche. The former is the dominant variety from which Armagnac is made, the later variety adds elegance and floral aromatics to the spirit.
Tell us about your estate in Mauleon d’Armagnac.
Château de Maniban belonged to the Seigneurs de Maniban, an influential and powerful family in Gascony that had a major influence throughout South West. The property is classified as a historical monument and is a classic example of Gascon architecture. It includes 3 parts: the oldest, a magnificent fortification with two round towers, dates back to 1544, while the cellars originate from the 18th century. The main residential building was built in 1810. Since the 1990s the repair work in the old part of the Château, initiated by the Castarede family, has restored ancient frescos that were once adorned the walls of the « great hall » (Grande Salle)
What are the differences between Cognac and Armagnac?
Armagnac has a longer history than Cognac, probably produced by the Moors in the 12th century, and certainly from the 15th century onwards. Isolated from efficient transport links, it remained very much a locally consumed product until the middle of the 18th century. But the differences go further than this:
The Geographic location
The region of Cognac is situated North of Bordeaux. That is to say Western Central France. The climate is very much influenced by the Atlantic with high humidity. Armagnac is located in the South West and inland, with a drier, sunnier climate. The soil of Cognac is dominated by limestone, whereas Armagnac is sandy soil with clay. This gives the distinctive richness to Armagnac.
The Grape varieties
Cognac is almost entirely dominated by one variety, Ugni Blanc. In Armagnac there are more than 10 permitted varieties, the principal ones being Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, Bacco and Colombard. This allows a much broader range of flavours to be found in the final spirit.
Distillation is the main difference between Armagnac and Cognac. The process used in Cognac is classical double distillation as found in Scotland to make Whisky. The method used in Armagnac is more basic and less industrialised than in Cognac.
Unlike a double-distillation pot still of Cognac where the spirit is typically at 72%, Armagnac uses a small continuous still called an alembic, to produce a spirit between 52% and 60. This lower-alcohol spirit retains many more flavour components that double-distillation. In their youth, these flavour components can make the spirit rustic and slightly raw. Given time (10 or more years) in cask these elements develop an impressive aromatic complexity
Armagnac is traditionally aged in 400-420 ltr casks from the forest of Monlezun in the Armaganc region. Cognac uses predominantly Limousin oak. Gascon oak tends to be tighter and richer in tannins for slow ageing and less sweetness in the spirit, while Limousin oak imparts a distinct vanilla sweetness.
These are almost unique to Armagnac, where the traceability of the stock enables a full range of vintages to be offered. Vintages are rare in Cognac, where until very recently legislation has rendered them almost impossible to produce. However, the labelling rules are the same for the Armagnac and Cognac.
What are the different styles of Armagnac on the basis of ageing?
The age statements on the label, excluding vintage Armagancs, always refer to the age of the youngest eau-de-vie in the bottle.
Armagnac VSOP has been prescribed a minimum of 5 years in cask by Armagnac regulations, although Nismes Delclou’s VSOP spends no less than 10 years in cask.
Armagnac Napoléon or XO spends 6 years in cask, although Nismes Delclou’s XO spends no less than 20 years in cask and 15 years for the Nismes Delclou Napoleon.
Armagnac millésimé (Vintage Armagnac). All the above age statements refer to blended Armagnacs – a mixture of various vintages, various sub-regions and various distillation types. They aimed to promote taste consistency, so that, as in Cognac, an VSOP or XO bottled e.g. in 1980 tastes the same as a VSOP or XO released in 1990.
A vintage Armagnac is distilled from grapes originating from a single vintage. It is placed in cask without any blending with other vintages and by law, it has a minimum 10 years of ageing. The date of bottling is as important as the year of production. For example a 1979 vintage bottled in 1990 will be different from a 1979 vintage bottled in 2008, as the former has undergone 11 years of ageing, as opposed to 29 years for the latter. With the Vintage Armagnac from Nismes Delclou, we bottle in very small batches and my cellar master hand writes the date on each bottle. Vintage Armagnac is much sought after by connoisseurs but it is also an excellent choice as an anniversary gift. Nismes Delclou features more than 50 different vintages, the oldest available from bbr.com is currently the 1917.
How do Armagnacs from different decades (1950s, 60s, 70s) differ from each other in taste?
Each Armagnac is different because it reflects the characteristics of the vintage from which the wine for the distillation comes from. The quality of the wine, (which starts from the vineyard and its soils and the climatic conditions of the vintage, and continues with the distillation) as well as the ageing of the eau-de-vie (the type of casks used) all leave a variable, distinct stamp on the resulting Armagnac.
It is difficult to generalise, however when comparing Armagnacs from different decades, one thing is certain; each decade has its own distinctive style:
Armagnacs from the 1950s
are sweet and perfumed, with intense aromas of spices, prunes, dried fruits and rich vanilla overtones. These are mellow, round, complex Armagnacs, having slowly evolved from around 50 years in cask.
Armagnacs from the 60s
have a more floral nose complemented by vibrant aromas of fruit jam. Also notes of tobacco and wood have often developed. The 1970s produced distinctively fruity Armagnacs, with intense and vibrant flavours on the palate; there are more lemon-citrus and floral notes, with overtones of ripe prunes and cinnamon spicy.
What sort of dishes does Armagnac accompany well?
Dishes that match Armagnac very well are the traditional dishes of the south west of France. The staple of Gascony cooking: Foie Gras, game in rich sauce (wild boar, venison, pheasant, pigeon) and the local speciality Magret de Canard (breast of ducks raised to produce Foie Gras. These breasts are thick and have a much beefier taste than ordinary duck breasts).
Blue cheese (e.g. Roquefort , Stilton), most fruit-based deserts and tarts (e.g. apple, lemon, flambé banana) and even deserts based on chocolate are an excellent complement to Armagnacs. Fish is difficult to match with Armagnac; however a Shellfish Gratin cooked in white Armagnac sauce works very well.
More on the subject of gastronomy and cooking with Armagnac in the book by Florence Castarede will be published in spring 2009 by Editions Sud Ouest.
On 31/10/08 the 5 star resort Grand Old House in Cayman Islands staged a luxurious dinner, on which Nismes Delclou Armagnac was served with each one of the courses. Can you tell us how the food and Armagnac match worked?
What better way to appreciate the beauty of Armagnac than to indulge in a lavish dinner that includes a pre-selected Armagnac to accompany each course. Foie gras terrine started this unusual but exciting dinner and this dish required an Armagnac of intense and powerful fruitiness, as the sweetness of the fruit helps balance the greasiness of the meat. The 1970 vintage was just perfect.
After the starter, a lemon sorbet with (a novel, light, unaged style of Armagnac) White “Blanc” Armagnac was offered. This provided a little relief to digestion in the middle of the meal and was simply delightful. Armagnac XO – 20 years was served along with Confit de Canard because Armagnac XO Armagnac is round and sweet, perfectly matching and balancing the flavours of duck confit.
The cheese course required a powerful, structured Armagnac that would be able to stand up to the robust and pungent flavours of the Roquefort. VSOP 10yo was chosen and wonderfully complemented. A vintage 1979 accompanied the dark chocolate tart dessert and this full-bodied Armagnac, with its intense complex flavours, was still able to shine through despite the profound sweetness of this type of dessert.
Very old Armagnacs from the 1908, 1900 and 1893 vintages were served alongside a selection of chocolates and provided a fitting conclusion to the end of the meal.
Translated from French by Eva Polaki