Quiz: how well do you know whisky?

19 September 2014 by in Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

Now that the referendum is over and we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief over the fact that we won’t have to change our passports or bulk-buy haggis before the price rockets, we think that a drink is in order to celebrate the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So break out your whisky and, if you’re English, relish in the fact that import tax was just a bad dream! Glass in hand, why not try this quiz from Infinite Ideas’ newly signed book Spirits Distilled, by Mark Ridgwell, to see how much you know about the national drink of Scotland.

1.  In what year did an Excise Act lay the foundations of today’s scotch whisky industry?
A.   1644
B.   1707
C.   1823
D.   1827

2.  Scotch blends account for what percentage of all scotch sold in the world today?
A.   Over 75%
B.   Over 80%
C.   Over 85%
D.   Over 90%

3.  A mash for scotch may be distilled to what maximum level of alcohol?
A.   72% abv
B.   84.5% abv
C.   94.8% abv
D.   96.4% abv

4.  Which grain(s) are permitted in the production of scotch malt whisky?
A.   Barley
B.   Rye
C.   Corn
D.   All of these grains

5.  Single malts, bottled as such, gained global recognition in their own right from which decade?
A.   1880s
B.   1900s
C.   1930s
D.   1960s

6.  Which of these terms is a correct and legal description of a blend of malt whiskies?
A.  A vatted malt
B.  A blended malt
C.  A pure malt
D.  An individual malt

7.  Peat found in the Highlands typically contains what type of plant materials?
A.   Vegetable
B.   Seaweed
C.   Fruit
D.   Heather

8.  Which region in Scotland boasts the world’s largest concentration of individual  distilleries?
A.   Lowlands
B.   Speyside
C.   Highlands
D.   Islands

9.  Which single malt pioneered the current popularity of single malts?
A.   Glenfiddich
B.   Glenmorangie
C.   Glen Grant
D.   Glen Scotia

10.  In what year was a law passed requiring all Scotch to be aged for at least 3 years?
A.   1905
B.   1910
C.   1915
D.   1920

Answers will be posted on Monday. Good luck!

saltire

If you’re excited about the publication of Spirits Distilled, then why not take a look at the classic wine library too.

But what about the whisky?

17 September 2014 by in Current events, Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

This week, Infinite Ideas signed a new book, Spirits explained by Mark Ridgewell. We love spirits, and not just the ghostly variety, so this new signing will make an excellent addition to the our series on wines and spirits. However, in all the excitement, we forgot, for just a moment, the impending Scottish referendum and were reminded about Scotland’s most profitable export, whisky.

Tomorrow the polls will be open and the future of Scotland will be decided, but what does this all mean for the whisky business? With Scotland’s future as a member of the EU still very much in doubt if the vote is a solid ‘YES’ will this mean that we will have to pay import tax on Famous Grouse?

whisky tartanWhisky is as Scottish as haggis, tartan and highland cows, and the country thrives on the tourists who come every year for distillery tours and to sample their favourite spirit in its home. Whisky is to Scotland what Guinness is to Ireland. No longer will supermarket shelves be offering our good friends Bell’s, Glenfiddich and Johnnie Walker.

The drink is embedded in Scottish identity and yet with Alex Salmond unsure about which currency he will be adopting if the country votes yes (the pound, the euro, the oat?) whisky makers are concerned about the effect that the global market will have on their soon-to-be ‘priceless’ products.

Before you rush out to panic-buy your Scottish spirits in bulk, consider that the whisky business will flourish no matter what. An independent Scotland will still be providing us with the perfect nightcap (that is, unless they make an alcoholic irn bru) though it may be slightly more pricey, perhaps we will appreciate it all the more.

Visions of hordes of whisky-lovers queueing up at the Dumfries border smuggling whisky back to England is a far cry from what you can expect. But for all those who have yet to make up their mind before the polls, you may be swayed by a tipple or two. Consider the whisky. Consider the whisky drinkers. Consider yourself…on the fence?

If this final push from both sides has got you all in a flutter, you can download Nicholas Faith’s guide to cognac for free, and have yourself a drink to settle your nerves. Cometh the hour, cometh the vote.

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Great sherry tasting 2014

15 September 2014 by in Sherry, Wine and spirits

Today is the Great Sherry Tasting 2014, run by the Sherry Institute, where sherry connoisseurs will be readying themselves to test the bouquets of their favourite wine, and perhaps discover a few new ones with delectable palates.

In just over two months’ time, the long-awaited sixth edition of Julian Jeffs’ Sherry will be available, and you’ll be able to learn all about the history of this rather underrated wine. But if you can’t wait until then, and in case you missed out on tickets to the Great Sherry Tasting and fancied giving it a go at home, we’ve got some advice on the best way to serve your sherry.

Like all wines, sherry’s raison d’être is to give pleasure. And like all great wines it gives pleasure in complex ways appealing to all the senses. As soon as it is poured into a glass it shows its colour and clarity. A lot can be learned simply by looking at it. Then comes its appeal to the nose. The bouquet of a good sherry strikes the nose while it is being poured into the glass, sometimes even from the next room. The nose is a major organ of tasting, receiving the first sensations. For this to happen the wine needs room for the volatile compounds to collect and concentrate above its surface, contained in the space defined by the glass, which should therefore taper in towards the top and be big enough for the wine only to occupy about a third of it. The little thimbles sold as ‘sherry glasses’ with the wine filled to the brim do not give it a chance. Apart from the bouquet ascending to the nose, the colour and viscosity can be appreciated. These features reveal the character of the wine and lay the foundations for the pleasure it can give in the mouth. There is a difference between aroma and bouquet. The aroma is the smell of a young wine, while the bouquet develops with age as the wine matures, giving a complexity that can be immense, subtle and complex.

Chin, chin!

Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with Infinite Ideas and get more tips like this as we get closer to the release date of Sherry.

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Ideas for London cocktail week

8 September 2014 by in Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

It’s London cocktail week and whether you’re in the UK’s capital ready and waiting to sample some exciting drinks or just going to play along at home, we’ve got some tasty recipes that you can make easily for yourself. If you like these cocktails and are looking for some more ideas, download Nicholas Faith’s guide to cognac for FREE, yes, free and impress your friends with all your spirit(ual) knowledge!

Brass Monkey
A delightfully named cognac cocktail that can be traced back to the Napoleonic wars, when a common expression used by seafaring folks of the time was ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off of a brass monkey …’. The appreciation of brandy by the men of this time is what led to the creation of this cocktail. Today the concoction is still enjoyed in the smartest of cognac bars around the world.

Ingredients
2 parts VSOP cognac
½ part tawny port
½ part Benedictine
½ part fresh orange juice
3 dashes of orange bitters
ice cubes

Place the ice cubes in a tumbler glass and then stir all the ingredients together. Garnish with half a slice of orange and serve immediately.

Brandy Crusta
The precursor to the Sidecar, this is a great cocktail that’s noted for being served in a sugar-encrusted glass. Its origins can be traced back to the first ever cocktail guide by Jeremiah P. Thomas, The Bon Vivant’s Companion, published in 1862. Best served in a tulip glass or small wine glass, this easy to make cocktail is certainly one that will wow your dinner guests (they don’t need to know how simple it is to produce).

Ingredients
2 parts VSOP cognac (brand of your choice)
freshly squeezed juice of ½ lemon
1 part orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec)
½ part sugar syrup
1 lemon peel (with pith removed)
1 tablespoon crushed Demerara sugar, for the rim of the
glass

Prepare the glass by lining the rim with sugar and chilling. This is done by first wetting the rim of the glass with some lemon juice. Place the Demerara sugar on a saucer or small plate, turn the glass upside down and dip in using a twisting motion. Place the sugar-encrusted glass in the fridge for 15 minutes to cool. Put all the ingredients (except the lemon peel) into a cocktail shaker and mix well. Leave to cool. Pour into the glass and garnish with the peel of the lemon curled into the top part of the glass. Serve immediately.

Rolls Royce
As you’d imagine with such a prestigious name, the Rolls Royce certainly is royalty when it comes to cognac cocktails. But even with such a grand name, this is a simple cocktail to produce, and one that sits well on even the smartest of dinner tables.

Ingredients
3cl cognac (quality and brand of your choice – for a more
decadent cocktail go with a higher quality)
3cl Cointreau
6cl orange juice
1 egg white
ice cubes

Put the ice cubes in a tumbler or tall glass and then add the rest of the ingredients. Use a cocktail stirrer to mix well. Serve immediately.

Between the Sheets
Yeah, baby! This is one to spice up any party, and is definitely a classic cocktail. It’s also quite alcoholic, so be aware of this when sipping, as it doesn’t taste as lethal as it really is …

Ingredients
3cl cognac (quality and brand of your choice)
3cl white rum
3cl Cointreau
3cl lemon juice
1 slice of lemon
crushed ice

Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and mix well. Allow to cool, then pour into a tumbler, long glass or balloon glass and serve immediately.

Good luck experimenting, please enjoy responsibly! You can also read about the history of cognac, the world’s greatest brandy in Nicholas Faith’s extensively researched book, Cognac.

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FREE: Richard Mayson’s guide to vintage port

29 August 2014 by in Wine and spirits

Richard Mayson’s Guide to Vintage Port is the most up-to-date, authoritative information source on vintage Port and its producers, and Infinite Ideas is making it available free of charge as a PDF or ebook.

Updated on a twice yearly basis the directory also contains an introduction to the production of VP and expert tasting notes, drawn from the latest edition of Richard’s prize-winning Port and the Douro, published by Infinite Ideas in its Classic Wine Library.

cover

Richard Mayson’s Guide to Vintage Port is an invaluable resource for anyone who is interested in a free and regularly updated information source on vintage Port, and particularly:

  • Bar managers, supervisors and head bartenders
  • Hoteliers
  • Sommeliers
  • Restaurant managers
  • buyers and all Port enthusiasts.

This directory of vintage Ports is the fruit of the author’s thirty years’ experience in writing about Portuguese wine, visiting the producers and discussing their products with them. The guide to Port vintages takes each year in turn, noting relevant weather conditions, market considerations and the overall style of the wines, and highlights particularly successful shippers. Richard assesses each and every year back to 1960, which roughly coincides with the emergence of single-quinta vintage Port (SQVP) in between fully fledged declarations.

Richard Mayson’s Guide to Vintage Port provides full contact details and tasting notes for over 50 vintage Port producers and shippers.

To find out more about this unique resource you can download a copy from our website. Richard Mayson’s Guide to Vintage Port is available as a paperback, PDF or ebook.

Richard Mayson is a champion of a wine culture and a fresh and authoritative voice in wine literature.” Hugh Johnson

Richard Mayson has worked as a freelance wine writer and lecturer since 1989. His first book, the award-winning Portugal’s Wines and Wine- Makers, was published in 1992. He also wrote The Story of Dow’s Port, published to coincide with the company’s bi-centenary in 1998. The first edition of Port and the Douro, published in 1999, was short-listed for the Andre Simon Award and the second edition, published in 2004, won the Symington Award of Excellence. His book The Wines and Vineyards of Portugal won the André Simon Award for the Drinks Book of the Year in 2003.

Richard has contributed to a number of publications, including the Oxford Companion to Wine and the Larousse Encyclopaedia of Wine. He writes regularly for Decanter and the World of Fine Wine, and lectures toWine and Spirit Education Trust students and at Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London. Richard currently divides his time between his home and business interests in the Derbyshire Peak District and the Alentejo, Portugal where he owns a vineyard. In 1999 he became a Cavaleiro of the Confraria do Vinho do Porto.

Richard Mayson has been shortlisted for the International Wine Feature Writer of the Year, Louis Roederer Champagne 10th International Wine Writers’ Award 2014.

 

 

Cognac cocktails for your last summer party

22 August 2014 by in Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

Here in the UK next Monday is August Bank Holiday, a national holiday that signals the end of the summer. Traditionally that means gardening, DIY and meeting up with friends to squeeze the last drop of sunshine out of the season. If you’re having a lunch, picnic or barbecue with friends this weekend (wherever you may be), why not brighten your gathering with a cocktail (or two)? Cognac makes the ideal base for a range of cocktails. This may be a surprise if for you cognac conjures up images of stuffy, leather-chaired gentlemen’s clubs, huge balloon glasses and cigars. So here’s Nicholas Faith’s explanation from his book, Cognac: The Story of the World’s Greatest Brandy, which we’ve followed up with a few recipes from our friends at Cognac Expert.

Cognac is an ideal base for cocktails; as Pierre Szersnovicz of Courvoisier puts it: ‘other spirits provide purely alcoholic support for cocktails whereas cognac brings a definite character to any blend’. Every cognac brand offers such a complexity of taste that all a professional mixologist has to do is to identify one of the many flavours and aromas in the spirit and enhance it by blending it with complementary flavours. Because it is made from grapes, cognac is eminently suitable for cocktails that will not react too violently with the wine to be drunk later in the evening. The old wives told the right tale: grain and grape really do not mix. I can attest to the ill-effects, felt the next morning, of even the smallest tincture of whisky before drinking wine in any quantity. Cognac-based cocktails are healthier.

Cognac’s virtue as the spirit of choice for cocktail makers has come at a time when Britain has emerged as the cocktail centre of the world. The reasons are many: ‘They don’t make bad cognacs,’ says Dick Bradsell, London’s cocktail pioneer, aware that there is less quality control in the making of competing spirits. He and his colleagues are discovering that cognac is mellower and softer and has the necessary smoothness and balance. It helps that you don’t need relatively expensive VSOP; VS does fine for cocktails. Moreover, cognac was due for a revival because it had been out of fashion for so long. In Bradsell’s words, cognac ‘missed out on all the funny drinks of the 1970s and so doesn’t have any gimmicky connotations’. It also helps that, in the United States anyway, drinkers believe that cognac is stronger than competing spirits, possibly because it has more character and far greater complexity.

The basic formula for most of these drinks is relatively simple: something sour with something sweet to exploit the flavour and strength of the cognac, together with a touch of character from bitters or the like. The flexibility of cognac is also important. ‘Any mix is fine,’ says Dave Steward, a cocktail expert, ‘provided you can taste the cognac’ – a direct contrast to the distillers’ attempts to make a competitor like vodka as anonymous as possible and, as he points out ‘we hope that these mixes will lead us back to the better cognacs – drunk neat.’ Also in its favour is its capacity to provide a more interesting twist on classic whisky-based cocktails – barmen sometimes admit that they’re often doing the equivalent of merely reinventing the alcoholic wheel. But then some of these – notably the julep – were originally based on cognac only to be usurped by bourbon.

If you’re using lemon or even orange then obviously you want a richer style of cognac – say Courvoisier or Hennessy – to compensate for the bitterness of the citrus fruit. Ready made ones like Grand Marnier or Cointreau which combine orange and brandy can be replicated – after a fashion. There are obvious mixers apart from citrus fruit and other fruit like apples, such as cream, chocolate and coffee. Just think of the Brandy Alexander favoured by Anthony Blanche, a character in Brideshead Revisited – though Waugh is clearly painting him as a bounder. The Alexander normally uses dark crème de cacao and grated nutmeg, though Blanche obviously wanted cream with his. Either way it’s fine because although it’s inevitably sweet, you’re not overly conscious of the individual constituents but only of the blend.

Cosmopolitan
A classic cocktail that goes down well on any occasion. Once again, easy to make and provides a taste sensation that’ll delight the taste buds. A great aperitif to enjoy before any meal. Add Media

Ingredients
6cl cognac (quality and brand of your choice)
1.5cl Cointreau
1.5cl lemon juice
3cl cranberry juice
crushed ice
wedge of lime

Prepare and chill cocktail or martini glasses. Place all the ingredients except the lime into a cocktail shaker. Mix well and allow to chill. Strain into the glasses and garnish with a wedge of lime. Serve immediately.

The Summit
This was created in 2008 specifically for the occasion known as the International Cognac Summit, an event organised by the BNIC. Mixologists and other cognac experts joined forces to create the ultimate cognac cocktail. The cocktail had to be simple to produce, with easily accessible ingredients. It also had to look fabulous – and taste amazing. And the Summit cocktail was the end result.

Ingredients
4 slices of freshly peeled ginger
1 slice of lime
4cl of VSOP cognac (brand of your choice)
6cl of lemonade
a fine peel of cucumber, to garnish

Place the lime and ginger into a glass and add 2cl of cognac. Add the ice and stir to mix. Add the rest of the cognac and the lemonade, then garnish with the cucumber. Serve immediately.

Sidecar
This classy little cocktail is both simple and chic. It not only tastes fabulous, but looks just wonderful when served. It is believed that it was so named after the motorcycle sidecar in which an eccentric British captain in Paris during the Second World War was transported to the bistro where the cocktail was born. The first recorded listing for this cocktail can be found in the early 1920s books, Harry’s ABC of Cocktails, and Cocktails, How to Mix Them. In the USA the Sidecar is often served with a sugared rim, and is very popular. 

Ingredients
2 parts of VS or VSOP cognac
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part Triple Sec
dash of sugar syrup
1 twist of lemon peel for garnish

Place all the ingredients (bar the lemon peel) in a cocktail shaker with some crushed ice and mix. Allow to cool and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel and serve immediately.

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