Sorry, I’ve been away… have some Tequila?

Hi all. I’m fraid i’ve been busy yet again but do not intend to take up space with meagre apologies. Instead, i have written a little something for you!

For those of you who aren’t sure what i’m up to, i’m still doing work with SAF over in shoreditch and can be found there randomly. I’m also still permanently doing work with Shaker as well as private training and consultancy. On the quiet, i’m involved with a TV series which i’ll discuss as and when.

Anyway, to the topic of today…TEQUILA!

As far as much of the bartending community is concerned… Tequila is the shit! Despite all efforts by the industry, Tequila is still very much tarnished with the brush of dodgy shots and awful hangovers. Like many of my peers, I love Tequila but I can’t help but feel that Tequila is reserved as a sort of Bartender’s drink.

For sure, efforts have been made. The Oaxaca Old Fashioneds and Tommys of this world have done huge amounts for trying to engage those people already fond of cocktails with the peculiar spirit animal that is Tequila. For many, a sense of enlightenment regarding aged Tequilas as a sipping drink has been revelation enough for them to swap out those mild sipping rums for something a little more exotic.

For the bartender it seems, it is a slightly different story. Not Anejos, rather, Blanco is best and the more pungent the better. Forgetting the likes of Patron where the commercial viability of a 100% Tequila has surely been tested to the max, I’m talking here about Tequilas with genuine character (btw this is not brand assassination!). Tequila here is about the pure expression of Blue Agave character and how it is best harnessed (mixtos/’Tequila’ will not really come into the picture even though they still account for around 75% of Tequila consumed in the UK). For the bartender the raw, herbaceous, peppery citric delight of good Tequila is considered a passing gift to fellow bartenders – the quick layback, the cheeky shot, the night finisher.

I introduce Tequila in this manner as of late I have been having a rediscovered passion for talking about it. And as it happens, Carlos Camarena, 5th generation distiller of the Altena distillery in Mexico who produce such legendary bottlings as El Tesoro, Tapatio and the now infamous Ocho, came to visit London last week. It just so happens that I was one of the lucky ones who managed to attend his whistle-stop talks in 3 venues around London. Are you ready…this may take a while.

So, I’m sat in the basement of Barrio Central (just of Poland St in Soho and a perfectly suited venue for such a talk – wicker chairs, bright colours and painted wood), reading a book about Grecian attitudes to wine production and waiting for the talk to start. I’m told that Carlos is running late due to overrunning at the last venue, and whilst I know this to be true, it marks the start of an afternoon which seems so peculiarly, well, Mexican!

Carlos is a short man (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying) and arrived with an entourage of rather large looking Mexican gentlemen. From the moment he started talking, I had no doubt that he could have drank his entourages body weight in Reposado! I’ve never been to a tasting where the distiller has gulped down every single glass of product, but this he did as he expertly guided us through a wonderful tasting of his four bottlings in their Blanco state… the 3 previously mentioned as well as his new creation which is the purpose for his visit: Villa Lobos.

Carlos comes from a family which has a history of producing 100% Blue Agave Tequilas. He mentions along the way that only as far back as 1987, there were just 3 ‘Pura’ Tequilas being made: Herradura, Chinaco and El Tesoro. At that time, they were very much the minority of production. In 24 years, these Tequilas have gone from forming 10% of all Tequila made to now being part of a Pura Market which accounts for 52% of all Tequila made.

It seems obvious to Carlos that you should only make 100% Blue Agave Tequilas, after all, you wouldn’t make Pork Sausages out of 51% Pork and expect it to sell as quality. His pedigree as a distiller is unquestionable and it is easy to see his passion for the spirit as he talks us through production whilst quaffing suitably large measures of the good stuff.

He starts us off by talking about the harvest. For the Altena distillery, things are kept in house. Rather than buying Agave Pinas (the heart of the plant) which is the norm for many of the larger scale production houses, the Altena distillery is a single estate which grows and harvests all of it’s own Agave. He wants good quality Tequila with high levels of fructose for his Tequilas so rather than ‘speed growing’ or using enzyme technology in greenhouses, his Tequila is grown for the lengthy 7 to 9 years it takes to mature. He claims Tequila produced in this way is what gives you that special buzz, which he spuriously claims to be due to minute levels of mescaline present in the final distillate as a result of mescaline being a derivative of fructose. But I digress…..

Once the Tequila has been harvested, it’s necessary to convert any starch but more importantly inulin into fermentable sugar. Inulin is a complex polymer which contains fructose and glucose which can be broken down. This must be done by slow heating and will release the sugars locked within, though be warned says Carlos, if you try to rush your Tequila, your sugars get burned and go beyond being fermentable. This is why stainless steel autoclaves (which resemble a sort of miniature Hindenberg), whilst being effective, can produce poorer quality products. It is the traditional clay ovens, Carlos insists, which are the best as they will also remove any of the ‘honey’ or moisture which forms during the baking process which in the final product can become bitter.

(NB – It is worth noting here that it is the processing of Inulin which causes confusion over Agave syrups suitability to sufferers of Diabetes. Inulin and the sugars within cannot be broken down via the human digestion system, making it safe for diabetics. However, some Agave syrups may well have been heated and are therefore not guaranteed as suitable.)

Once the Pinas are baked, they need to be mashed or pressed to extract the liquid used in fermentation. The Pinas are crushed using a large stone wheel, crushing the pinas down into their fibres and sugary liquid. In much of Tequila production, this is done via the additional use of acids and enzymes which can increase yield though can also tarnish the product with a bitterness which is hard to shake off in distillation. At the Altena distillery, the fermentation also takes place in wooden vats using natural yeasts. Engineered yeast strains can generate more alcohol and less aldehydes which might increase potential congeners in the final product. However, it is these aldehydes which retain the raw flavour of agave and it is the distiller skill to separate these.

The final process of distillation should then be simple. However, it is commonly misunderstood. In all other distillation processes, you have a complex ‘wash’ which will contain water, raw material, ethanol, methanol, fusel oils, aldehydes etc. Normally, in distillation, Methanol will be the first to come off… the heads of the spirit. Then will come the middle cut and finally, the fusel oils (some of which will be retained depending on the product but mostly discarded as they are heavy, bitter and drastically affect texture/mouthfeel). In Tequila, it happens differently. Fusel oils will be the first compounds to come off the still and the art is in never raising the temperature high enough for the Methanol to come over. This 1-Carbon molecule will stay in the wash part of the still during the whole process so long as the temperature doesn’t exceed 85 degrees. (If anyone wants a further scientific discussion, email me, otherwise I’ll leave this here as I’m wary of becoming boring.

Villa Lobos bottle No.6

At the end of the presentation, Carlos gave us a taste of Villa Lobos. We were the first of a few people to taste the product as it is truly an experiment. Carlos seems to think there is merit in it, and as such, so does his crew! It was the result of an open tank of Tequila which was accidentally left to oxidise for a few months. Through a little trial and error, Carlos turned this into an expression of Tequila which is quite remarkable. Retaining the raw agave character but with a smoothness you would associate with filtration of some kind. It’s mouthfeel is rich with a light tannin which sits only at the front gums. It has great smokiness and green peppercorn freshness with a nose that is really alive with fruit and grass. It is only for initial release in the UK and will probably reach us next year and I for one, can’t wait!!!!



Slow Drinks at Imbibe!

Slow Grown Fruit Cup


Again, sorry for the absence but the summer was real busy for me, back to it and hopefully i can get back to it. News is that i am sstill working with training at Shaker, writing a few menus, working on some exciting concepts for new bars with shaker too. The most exciting being Nightjar, soon to open in Shoreditch with the awesome Marian Beke at the helm!


Though for now, i just found this and thought i’d share it, it relates to the slow drinks movement at Imbibe over the summer.

The key to the drink is that the freshness of the garnishes are what give it its true character


And here is the recipe which i failed to provide!

Slow Grown Fruit Cup

25ml Gin (i used Brockmans though really, any Gin will obviously give this drink a different dimension. Beefeater works well, as does Blackwoods, Bloom etc

5ml Cointreau

25ml Beetroot-infused vermouth
(to make the vermouth, take 3 homegrown beetroots, peeled!!, boil whole in 1 pint water for 20 -30mins then add 50 to 70g caster sugar to taste and reduce mixture. Blitz all together in a food processer and fine strain. Add to 2/3 bottle Martini Rosso) nb. it is normally better to boil beets with skins on but this works better for this application.

I added the following garnishes to the glass, just brushing them loosely to release their aroma, along with some sliced lemons. Though really, fruit cups should be garnished with whatever is in season and the most aromatic at the time of year. You can also switch to brown spirits with more spices for winter.

2 Lime leaves ripped
2 -3 slices lemon
1 Lavender sprig
1 Rosemary sprig

I then topped it with Rose lemonade from Fentimans, though ginger ale, gingeer beer, sicilian lemonade all work well.

The key to the drink is that the freshness of the garnishes are what give it its true character. the beetroot gives colour but provides an eearthiness whihc is needed when working with floral/green aromas.




Bar Show Season

Hello Everybody

Last week at an event, i put my back out so finally have some time to write a blog.  Recently, I had a brief chat with Dan Priseman, Four Roses Ambassador and writer of the brilliant Bitters and Twisted blog http://www.bittersandtwisted.com/

We talked briefly about the difficulty of writing and maintaining a blog. It can take some time to find something you want to write about, or it will be the case that you have done something you want to write about, but then ‘lose the moment’.  That means that the event passed and its kind of too long ago now for it to be relevant.

I have wanted to write about quite a few things of late, but as i’ve not had much chance, i thought i’d be cheeky and post some links to fellow bloggers who have already covered the material! I do also intend to write something, but in terms of covering events, please see the links below.

I attended the Elements Eight Re -Invent the Daiquiri comp which was AWESOME fun. A round up of which can be found here.


As for Bar Show 10, this was also something i was going to write on, Dan has covered it here…

http://www.bittersandtwisted.com/content/raising-bar-show there – are also some interesting -comments around Imbibe.

Personally, i thought Imbibe rocked. If they can move the Drinks Factory talks from Bar Show to the Imbibe show, they’ll have it nailed. I thought it was fantastic. Bar Show was an absolute mess. Entry charges, then no entry charges. Distinct absence of product to try. Poor layout.

As for Distil, or as a friend of mine called it, the Mexican Spirits Show, a long way to go to taste products that may never reach the UK market. The wine section, obviously, is superb. Actually overwhelmingly good and so much to take in i had to go twice.

There are obviously some shows left this year, as well as London Cocktail Week (being put together and hosted by CLASS) which will coincide with the brilliant http://www.rumfest.co.uk and then a little later in the year, http://www.boutiquebarshow.com

So we still have a lot of stuff to see before the summer is over and the night draws in.

Oh, you Londoners should also check out the Freepour site on Facebook. This is a competition which this year will see Londons finest pitched against the South West (my home turf). Held in Falmouth. There is also a bar show element to the day.


Finally, i hope everyone at Tales of the Cocktail is having a wonderful time and i hate you all.

Big Love




Grow Your Own

Hi All

When I heard that Anistatia and Jared at Mixellany were going to be talking Slow Drinks at the Imbibe show, I jumped at the chance to join them. I will be there on the 13th to talk organic and homegrown. In the meantime, I’d thought I’d prepare a little something for readers here. Sorry I’ve been absent. Lots of training work at the bar school and a new role as ambassador for Brockmans Gin has kept me busy.

Check out these links.



How does your garden grow?

Herbs, fruits, berries etc are the most common ingredients used in the production of cocktails and mixed drinks. Yet they are the most difficult to control in terms of quality, aesthetic, taste and price. Citrus fruits often arrive into bars with signs of blight, mould and various other imperfections. Berries that are squashed. Dried up Pineapples. Herbs already blackened. The price of a punnet of blackberries can vary from 1.50 to 3.00. These perishable items are vital to quality drinks yet a challenge for even the most rigorous and exacting bar managers. It is on the back of this premise that one drinks giant has spent serious money on researching and launching another range of pre mix cocktails, designed to help out the recession struck home cocktail enthusiast. It’s true, fruit can be expensive and needs to be carefully controlled, but there are ways to ease the pressure whilst delivering a real point of interest for your menu.

As the country shifts its focus to quality, organic and locally sourced ingredients, the pressure to deliver this in the service and hospitality industry is moreso than ever. But why so difficult a task…? Working with fruit suppliers has always been a part of this trade, from the local grocer to the food wholesaler.

When we look at cocktail books of times gone by, the appearance of fruit is common to all and essential, though there are few fresh ingredients which are consistent.  As is still the norm, bars use a staple of citrus fruits, mint and berries to create their drinks, with extras dotted around. In the age of the supermarket, it is possible to buy all manner of produce from all over the world. Exotic fruits, cheaper spices and ingredients whose shelf life has been extended. The bartenders larder has increased in size and everyone is looking for the newest flavour.

Should it be the exotic that defines a cocktails remarkability? I think most people here would argue, no. As bartenders prepare more infusions, syrups, tinctures, home made ingredients. The arts of the past are being resurrected.  Old cocktail books abound with recipes not only for cocktails, but also distillations, syrups, essences and waters. The reason…? it would be nigh on impossible to keep the raw fruits or herbs for certain flavours the whole year around. It is part of alcohols heritage as a preservative that we should try to hold on to the flavours and benefits of fresh produce.

Elixirs, Liqueurs and the modern Pimms Cup extol this virtue. Chartreuse, Benedictine, Bitters, Fragoli, Chamberyzette Vermouth, Absinthe. All of these hold a common idea, the use of and preservation of, fresh ingredients and an extension of their normal shelf life. Dressing these up with seasonal fruits of the time can change how they are perceived. You can use cloves, orange and rosemary with Benedictine in November but then bring out something completely different in the summer using cucumber, mint and lavender.

It is difficult to grow enough fruits and herbs to supply a cocktail bar, and even more difficult to find a decent sized allotment in Soho for less than 1/4 million. My point is that, the ability to do this functionally is almost impossible but a place to start is at home, or in a window box and grow something. Even if it’s a garnish, for one drink, for a month. It’s a start.

I’d like to mention the work done by Joe McCanta over at SAF in Shoreditch.  An abundance of homemade syrups and infusions make up the modest organic menu. Whilst in the courtyard out the back, there is a domestic greenhouse (which is also a functioning bar) surrounded by window boxes, a grape vine, a lime tree….all with the POTENTIAL to be used, just when they are at their best. How is this functional…? A nursery off site which can feed the bar once it has been used up. They are able to use ingredients right from the soil, which gives everything a remarkable freshness and sense of vitality.

They have been kind enough to allow me access to their garden to prepare a drink I’ve been making for Brockmans Gin. This drink is a classic fruit cup style drink, all the rage right now at Wimbledon with Pimms. It is one of the most versatile for demonstrating seasonality and how garnish can alter flavour.

Brock’s Summer Cup

25ml Brockmans

25ml Martini Rosso

5ml Cointreau

Splash Orange Flower Water

Top with ginger ale

Garnissh glass with borage leaves, nasturtium, alpine strawberries, lemon slices.

NB Whilst preparing this article, I learned that Fyffes (no.1 fruit importer in Europe and of Banana fame) took over Hudson grocers in London in the latter half of the 19th century. It turns out that Escoffier (the chef who changed English restaurants and dining, whilst inventing the peach melba) and Carlton Ritz (one time manager at the Savoy then namesake of Ritz Carlton Hotel, now New Zealand House) were sacked for a number of reasons, one of them being a commission pay off by Hudson grocers to make sure that they were main fruit supplier for the hotel! Check out the article below.



Bourbon Quote

I’ve just finished reading Henry G Crowgey’s book ‘Kentucky Bourbon – The Early Years Of Whiskeymaking’

What a great read. Crowgley was Professor of history at University of North Carolina and his scholarship is reflected in the expert treatise on the subject of the history of Whiskey making. He breaks down the subject into chapters including the early colonial settling of the United States, movements around the Mississippi, the progression of technique in distilling, the effects of Taxation (not just the whiskey rebellion! and the evolution of Bourbon ‘defined’.

A must read guys and gals…. i leave you with the following excerpt which i love, and perfcetly surmises that feeling when you have just finished your last sip of a great Bourbon.

Ben Perley Poore, a celebrated journalist, editor and author from the mid 19th century, gave the following rhyme in response to a toast in 1857….

“Long, long be my heart with rich memories filled,
Like a vase in which roses have once been distilled,
You may break – you ay ruin the vase if you will,
But the scent of that Bourbon will linger there still.”

Isn’t that just peachy!



Makers 46

Hey Guys

So i’ll start with my usual apology for the delays in posting. I have a few posts to follow up on so expect to be inundated soon with a piece on punch and Courvoisier, the distil exhibition and the march of tequila and a piece on Brockmans gin.

In the meantime, let me tell you a little story about a place called Loretto.

I’ve never been to this wonderful land and i think if i went i would find it hard to return.  The home of Makers Mark, by far my favourite all rounder Bourbon, has been brewing some excitement of late due to the experimental acitvity of one, Kevin Smith, Master Distiller. It has been his charge to make Makers Mark to the best of his ability and to keep the Red Wax Sealed bottles flowing onto shelves across the world.

Kevin is a down to earth guy who seems humbled to be talking about his product. Upstairs at the All Star Lanes in Brick Lane with around 25 die hard Makers fans from the top bars in the industry, Kevin stood, with his wife Gretchen sat close by, and talked about his background in making Bourbon. The man is of good pedigree.

Jim Beam, i made some of that for a while. Heaven Hill, i worked there… (casts his eye across the back bar) I bottled that gold one over there, all the Makers you got right now too.

You get a real sense of Kentucky distillers and their camaraderie. Kevin talked of monthly lunch meetings where they all get together and jibe each other. “Kevin puts caramel in his Whiskey, arf arf arf!”.

Though Kevin wasn’t here to talk about regular Makers, the Star Hill Farm and the charms of living in Kentucky. There was a more pressing issue. You may recall form an earlier blog, mention of a new Whiskey expression called Makers 46


This gathering of Makers lovers was put together by the UK ambassador, Jane Connor and was an invitation to try the Makers 46. Sadly, this product is only available, for the meantime, in the US. Though obviously things may change depending on its success.


The product. Made using regular, fully matured Makers, they take the barrels and re-open the top. Inside, they place ten staves of toasted (not charred) French Oak that has been seasoned for 3 years. This slow process and light burning brings out the more spicey notes in the wood ( a type of oak which is known for its spicy characteristics anyway). The staves are slotted in and fixed with screws before being left for 9 weeks to reinteract with the Bourbon.  Interstingly, this oak finish brought up a valid point. Does the extra finishing affect its Bourbon status….? No, not at all. You can finish Bourbon in ANY new charred oak, not just American, ANY! How about that huh?

Whilst sat listening to Kevin talk about his product, i struggled with the concept and how it would appeal to consumers.  I had interpreted it as a kind of wooden tea bag to give extra flavour and with a necessary increase in price on the product, i felt unsure about its positioning as a higher premium Whiskey. Kevin softly reminded us the whole way through that this project is not about creating an older Makers or better Makers, just a different Makers Understanding it like this, yes, yes it is.

I think i still prefer Makers and i don’t want to give a bad impression of 46 but i found it too spicy for my own taste. I could definitely find a place for it on my back bar. It has that initial softness of Makers, before feeling the gentle heat of the alcohol at the back of the mouth, before coming back to the front where you sense a tingling spice and bitterness which feels strange for a Bourbon. When asked have you ever tasted anything like that before and although my initial response was no, i think i have. It reminded me of early experiments of making bitters, of cardamom and cinnamon infusions where the spice makes your tongue tingle at the front. Of fishermans friends also, that spicy heat.

I think i could sip this after dinner and as an occasional thing. I think it would struggle with bitters added to it in any and would need to be mixed with a soft and expert eye. However, i do like the product and hope that it comes to the UK.

Kevin said that at Makers, they listen to their consumers, and i believe its true. If any of you have had the chance to taste Makers White Dog, their new make spirit before it goes into ageing, WOW! I love that stuff, and i made sure Kevin knew it. Lets hope we get to have a trio of Makers on our back bar, the good juice, the 46 and the White Dog.

Hmmm, manhattan time for me i think.


Make Some Gin!

You may recall some time ago that i mentioned Plymouth Gin’s plan to introduce a Make Your Own Gin tour. Well they did it. And its awesome!

The Connoisseur Tasting Room

For 40 quid, you are taken on the Master Distillers tour which gets you the full historical works of Gin and specifically Plymouth and its production (which, by the by, is a very detailed explanation).  You also get to do a comparative blind tasting of 5 gins, awesome in its neutrality! You can taste the Sloe Gin too. You also get to then make your own gin recipe, distill it, reduce it, label it, take it home with you, via the Refectory Cocktail lounge in the Medieval part of the distillery for a free gin and tonic! How cool is that!!!

I worked there for quite some time and am very jealous not to be near that facility all the time, the fun you could have! If you want to plan a jolly trip, i highly recommend this the next time Icelandic Volcanoes ruin it for you.

So, rather than explain the process, I asked my good friend and tour guide at the distillery, to explain the process of making a ‘small batch’ when you do the tour (see below).

Happily Holding my creation!

I was very excited and heeded the advice of Ed who has been doing this a fair bit. You need very small amounts of botanicals at this levels and goes to show how difficult it is to write a good gin recipe ( i kinda feel guilty now for slating those gins i dont like, it’s tough!). I used a mix of very traditional botanicals but in very small quantities.  Juniper was obviously predominant, with a fair amount of Angelica ( i wanted depth and length to my gin).  I then used lemon, orange peels, orris root, coriander, licorice, cubeb berries and a small amount of cassia bark.

It turned out rather well. The results are now safely tucked away somewhere so i can’t just drink it all.

I highly recommend you contact the distillery and go do this, it is awesome!


01752 665292