Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Digesif review > Cynar

cynarCynar (pronounced che-nahr) is an Italian bitter or amaro, that has artichoke as its base ingredient. The drink takes its name from the Latin name for the artichoke plant, which is cynara scolmymus, and the artichokes form part of an infusion that contains a secret combination of 13 herbs and plant extracts. The artichokes used to make Cynar are grown exclusively in the Po valley – a valley in northern Italy that runs east to west across the top of the country, from the Alps to the Adriatic coast – and the production process is completely natural and maintains the health properties of most of the original ingredients.

Cynar is now an Italian institution and was originally launched in 1952. The popularity of the drink grew steadily, but really took off in the 1960s thanks to a series of television adverts by esteemed film director Ernesto Calindri. Some of these have been re-created recently as part of a new advertising campaign. In 1995, the independent company that produces Cynar was purchased by the Campari Group and they have since grown the brand internationally.

Cynar is now a market leader in both the 'digestif' and 'after dinner bitters' categories, as well as featuring in the world's Top 100 spirits for sales. The main market for Cynar remains in Italy but it has significant sales in other countries, especially Brazil, France, Germany and Switzerland. The drink can be served in a number of ways - traditionally it is taken neat and this remains popular in Italy, but other ways include over ice, mixed with tonic, soda or orange juice and even mixed with beer in France!

Our tasting notes
The colour of Cynar is a dark molasses brown, reminiscent of cola. The nose is aromatic and very herbal. There is initial sweetness but it is not long before a bitterness and the herbal notes take over. There are aromas of liquorice, molasses, cinnamon bark, vanilla pod, clove, mint and eucalyptus, with the overall feeling being earthy and very leafy. On the palate, this feels thick and mouth coating, with the distinct minty and eucalyptus notes hitting first before the more bitter molasses comes through. A great combination of characteristics then join the party - more liquorice, vanilla, slightly antiseptic cloves, green leafy herbs (imagine nettle and tarragon) and bitter raddichio leaves. Finally, there is some sweetness that is reminiscent of sugary black coffee. The artichoke element is really difficult to locate within all of this, but it must be contributing to the distinct leafy bitterness. The finish is very, very long and warming with the herbal bitterness grabbing the sides of your tongue and holding on. Most of the elements mentioned can still be identified some minutes later, especially the mint, raddichio and molasses.

What's the verdict?
This is absolutely delicious and one of the best digestifs that we have tasted to date. The distinct bitterness will not be to everyone's taste but the bitterness is what makes it what it is. We sampled it neat and in the recommended small dose - it would be hard work to drink more than this, even after dinner as it is recommended. We now have to try it with the tonic, soda or orange juice to see how they effect the flavours. Lovely stuff.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Whisky review > The Grant's blended range

the grant's blended whisky rangeThe Grant's range of blended whiskies are amongst the best selling in the world. The main markets are the UK (where the brand stands in 4th place behind Bell's, Famous Grouse and High Commissioner), France (who are the world leaders in whisky consumption with a staggering 48 million litres each year) and South America (especially Ecuador and Venezuela). Sales in other growing markets such as eastern Europe, Taiwan and the travel retail/Duty Free sector are increasing rapidly. Overall, the range sells 20 million bottles of whisky a year!

We have reviewed the whole range side by side and this includes the Family Reserve, Ale Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, export only 12 and 18 year olds and the soon-to-be released 25 years old. To read this full review on Whisky For Everyone - click here.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Rum review > Havana Club Añejo Blanco

havana club anejo blancoOne of Europe's favourites
Havana Club is a rum that is produced on the Caribbean island of Cuba. They currently operate two distilleries - one in Santa Cruz del Norte to the east of Havana, Cuba's capital, and the other in San José to the south. Most of the rum produced is exported, especially to the European market where it is the second best selling rum brand behind Bacardi. The distilleries and the Havana Club brand is joint owned by the Cuban government, who control the production, and drinks giant Pernod Ricard, who deal with the promotion and distribution. A staggering 30 million bottles of Havana Club rum was sold worldwide in 2006 and Pernod Ricard predict that this will be doubled by 2013!

Humble beginnings
Havana Club was founded in 1878 by a man named José Arechabala. He had arrived in Cuba from Spain in the 1860s, before setting up a small distilling business with the help of his family in the eastern town of Cárdenas. The original name of the distillery was La Vizcaya and the popularity of his rum soon grew, so he had to expand the facilities to cope with demand. The company name was changed to José Arechabala S.A. in 1921 and shortly afterwards Arechabala died in 1923. The distillery was taken over by his son-in-law and it remained in the family until 1959. It was then taken in to the control of the Cuban government after a combination of the Cuban Revolution and a tragedy in the Arechabala family. The family had returned to Spain and left the distillery without an owner.

A unique partnership
The Cuban government gave the rum its Havana Club name and had sole control of the distillery until 1994, when Havana Club International was founded. This was a company made up of the government and drinks company Pernod Ricard in a unique partnership. This partnership enabled Havana Club rum to be opened up to the worldwide market through Pernod Ricard's distribution channels. The popularity has grown so much that a new distillery at San José was opened in 2007 to help deal with the world's demand for Havana Club rum. Please watch the interesting film below that explains more about the history of Havana Club and the history of rum in Cuba.

This Havana Club Añejo Blanco has been aged for 18 months in a combination of ex-bourbon and Scotch whisky casks. All Havana Club rums are aged (the word añejo means aged in Spanish) and this rum has then been filtered through charcoal to remove most of the unwanted colouration that develops during the ageing process. It is bottled at 37.5% ABV and should cost £15-20.

Our tasting notes
The rum appears almost clear with no colour but has a slight yellow hue when held against a white background. The nose is fresh and vibrant with an interesting mix of sweet and herbal aromas. There are initial notes of sweet brown sugar, vanilla and tropical fruits (think of mango and papaya) and these are quickly joined by some woody and grassy aromas with a hint of witch hazel and surgical spirit. On the palate, this is again crisp and light with a more pronounced sweetness than on the nose - a lovely combination of maple syrup, sultanas, dried mango and brown sugar - and this is counteracted by a distinct citrus-like sharpness (imagine lemon zest) and a hint of spicy heat (think of red chilli). The finish has more of a bitter edge, that is reminiscent of burnt sugar, and leaves the palate with a slightly spicy alcohol burn.

What's the verdict?
This is a good rum that is slightly hard work to the untrained palate when consumed neat. However, it has plenty of character and an interesting flavour profile and these would make it very good for using with a mixer or in a cocktail. It offers decent value for money and makes us want to try other older Havana Club rums.

Beginner's guide > Where is rum produced?

The distillation of rum takes place in numerous locations across the globe. These are spread far and wide and include such diverse locations as the Bundaberg distillery in Australia, Stroh in Austria and the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius. However, the main regions for the production of rum are the Caribbean islands and the countries that border the Caribbean Ocean. Here, we split the rum producing nations of the Caribbean in to their three defined groups and briefly explain about each group. Naturally, there are exceptions to every rule! Further basic information about rum can be found by clicking here.

1 - Spanish speaking
These countries and islands produce a wide variety of rum styles but are most associated with the lighter white (blanco) and gold (oro) rums. These are most common on the islands of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico plus the Central and South American countries of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela.

2 - English speaking
The style of rum that these countries are most well known for are those of the darker and fuller bodied variety. These are also known as black rums. They are produced on the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, in addition to the Central American country of Belize and Guyana in South America.

3 - French speaking
These islands are renowned for the manufacture of rhum agricole - a style of rum that is made by fermenting sugar cane juice rather than molasses, which most other rums are made from. Islands that produce rhum agricole include Guadeloupe, Haïti and Martinique.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Rum review > Angostura 5 years old

The pride of Trinidad
Angostura is a rum that is produced on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. The distillery is located in the island's capital Port of Spain and produces a massive 20 million litres of rum per year. The distillery is known as the House of Angostura and is currently owned by a company called CL Financial. Angostura rums are well regarded around the world and continue to win many prizes and awards. The House of Angostura is arguably more famous for another product though - Angostura Bitters, the essential ingredient in any cocktail mixologists cabinet. This was invented by the founder of the original Angostura Limited in the 1820s and the story of the company's rum production becomes inter-twined.

Medical beginnings
Angostura Bitters was invented by a German army doctor named Johann Siegert in 1824. He was stationed in Venezuela in the early 1820s and was researching the healing properties of native plants, roots and herbs. As part of his extensive research to find a cure to aid the soldiers' poor digestion, he struck upon his unique blend. Angostura Bitters is still made to this original recipe today with its contents and the proportions of those contents remaining a closely guarded secret. By the 1850s, Dr. Siegert's 'medicine' had spread around the globe with the help of the expansion of the British Empire and he left the army to concentrate on its manufacture.

Moved to Trinidad
Upon Dr. Siegert's death in 1870, the factory in Venezuela was left to his brother and son. They moved production to their preferred site in Trinidad in 1876 and by the early 20th century they were also bottling rum for local producers, in addition to manufacturing Angostura Bitters. In 1945, Angostura Limited purchased Trinidad Distillers Limited and refurbished their old distillery in Port of Spain. They started producing rum in 1947 and now Angostura rum is exported to 140 countries worldwide. The name of Angostura was taken from the old Spanish word for 'narrow'. This was also the old name of Bolivar City, where Siegert was first posted in Venezuela, which was so called as it sits on a narrow stretch of the Orinoco river.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Angostura 5 years old is golden yellow and the nose is sumptuous, sweet and vibrant. There are immediate vanilla and caramel notes and these are joined by a lovely combination of other aromas - dried fruits (think of raisins and sultanas), toasted almonds, slightly burnt sugar (reminiscent of maple syrup), hints of wood spice (imagine nutmeg) and orange. On the palate, this feels smooth, rich and creamy. There are again plenty of elements present and the combination is very well balanced. Sweeter notes such as vanilla, butterscotch, soft brown sugar and dried fruits (those raisins and sultanas again but with the addition of apple) are stopped from being overpowering and too sweet by some other savoury elements. These include spices (think of ginger and nutmeg), toasted almonds and some oakiness, which adds a hint of dryness. The finish is short, sweet and tangy with an almost citrus-like quality (imagine that orange again).

What's the verdict?
This rum is bottled at 40% ABV (alcohol by volume - the measurement for alcoholic strength) and has been matured in ex-bourbon casks for a minimum of five years. A bottle should cost £20-25 and be available from specialist alcohol retailers and larger supermarkets. This is a delicious rum that is very well balanced and full of interesting characteristics. Its vibrancy and complexity would make it a very good sipping rum but it would be equally good over ice or mixed in a long drink or cocktail.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Beginner's guide > Types of rum

Most rum is made using molasses – a thick sweet brown syrup that is a product of the sugar refining process. From this basic starting product, plus the addition of yeast and water, comes the world’s vast array of rums. There are many different styles of rum and the choice can be confusing. Here we explain the main categories of rum and the differences between the styles. This may help you when choosing the rum that will best suit your taste, when faced with shelves of different bottles in the shop. We start with the lightest rum and move through to the heaviest.

a selection of rum bottles
White rum
These can also be called silver or light rums (blanco in Spanish) and are usually young. They have little or no colour, as they are only partially aged (or not aged at all, in some cases) and are then filtered to remove any colouration. White rums have pronounced sweet yet subtle flavours and this makes them especially popular for mixing and cocktails, rather than for drinking neat.

Rhum agricole
This is a style of rum that is made using fresh sugar cane juice rather than molasses. It is made mostly on the French speaking Caribbean islands and retains a greater amount of the sugar cane flavour in the final product. Rhum agricole translates from French as ‘farm made rum’ and this reflects the traditional manufacturing methods that are still used today. They are expensive in comparison to molasses based rums and offer light, fresh sweetness with distinct vegetal and spicy notes.

Gold rum
Also sometimes known as amber rum (or oro in Spanish), this style is aged in charred oak casks that have previously been used in the American bourbon industry. They can be aged for anything between one and 10 years. These rums have more flavour and colour than white rums or rhum agricole and are popular either with a mixer or drunk straight. This style of rum is the most common available.

Spiced rum
These rums use gold rum as their base and then have a blend of spices and caramel added. These spices can include cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, vanilla, clove and star anise. Spiced rums have a deeper warm flavour than the gold rums and are perfect for mixing in cocktails. However, they are also popular as a neat drink or over ice.

Dark rum
This style can also be known as black rum. This is due to the dark colouration that is picked up from the heavily charred oak casks used in ageing and maturation. They are also aged for longer than white and gold rums. They have a much richer, sweeter flavour and are full bodied with plenty of molasses and spicy notes. Popularly drunk straight, dark rums are also commonly used in cookery.

Overproof rum
The name refers to the old measuring unit for alcoholic strength, known as the ‘proof’. Overproof or ‘OP’ rums as they are sometimes known, refer to a rum that is over 100° proof (approximately 45% ABV in modern terms) and some can be up to 150-160° (around 80% ABV). These strengths are the natural strength of the rum as it comes from the cask after maturation. Most rums are then diluted with natural spring water to bring the ABV strength down to 35-45%. As a result, an overproof rum has more exaggerated flavours than other rums.

Premium and super premium rum
These rums are produced in small batches or are of greater age than most other rums on the market. They are often distilled by small producers or boutique brands and can be released in limited bottle runs or as a single cask release. Premium or super premium rums fetch high prices, as it becomes increasingly difficult to keep rum stable during maturation after a certain age. They show increased character, softness and subtlety in comparison to other styles of rum. One to sit, sip and enjoy!

Please note - the image used in this post is taken from www.macheterum.com via Google Images.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Bourbon review > Four Roses Single Barrel

Four Roses is an American whiskey distillery that is located in the town of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. It is currently owned by the Kirin Brewery Company from Japan and is one of Kentucky's largest distilleries, producing eight million litres of whiskey a year. This Single Barrel forms part of Four Roses' small core range, which also includes the popular Yellow Label and a Small Batch release. Single casks bottlings of American whiskies are rare, although this is changing as consumer demand grows.

For our full review and tasting notes of Four Roses Single Barrel, please click across to our post on Whisky For Everyone.