Another gin, you say? Yes, people don't seem to get enough of it. Which recently lead to the quaint discovery that our blood vaguely tastes of juniper. A fact which largely broadened our Transylvanian fanbase by the way. Read below why you should try Steam Gin.
Steam Gin is the product of a unique cooperation between the Van Damme Distillery, Small Distillery Lede and VDS Distillery. And there is at least one reason why we got interested in this gin, namely, it’s distilled by Van Damme Distillery…
Van Damme is better known for its fantastic genever products, especially Balegemsche Graanjenever 54° – aka: Ol’ Blue One. Further more Van Damme distillery is the only farm distillery left in Belgium. We used to have hundreds, but one law and two world wars later, there’s only one left. What’s so special about a farm distillery you wonder? Well, a farm distillery produces its spirits entirely by itself. So everything, except for the bottle, is made on the farm, beginning with the grain. They have one expression which sounds great in Flemish and much less so in English nevertheless I will enrich you with it: “Van de grond tot in de mond!”, translated this becomes: “From the soil to the mouth!”
So, apart from growing, malting and distilling their own grain they also have on or two other special features. They use open fermentation and next to this barrel stands a huge f***ing steam engine that heats their column! It dates from 1862 and was recently completely disassembled, cleaned, lubricated and put together again. It’s quite an impressive sight and it rolls like a dream! It’s also – like you might have guessed – the origin of the name for this gin.
We especially like the bottle design, which is custom created in Italy and took longer than Caesar to arrive in Belgium apparently. The scorched cork and pewter seal are nice details. We couldn’t fathom, though, the need, reason and meaning of the motto: “we saw taste”. It’s only later, when you turn the bottle around, and read the poem on the back of the label that you see the origin – yet still not the reason – for it. In light of good taste we suggest to dispose of the motto, as well as the poem.
The taste is rather good and well balanced, a nice mixture between flower and spice with distinct juniper and cardamom notes. It works very well in G&T with a grapefruit twist, less suitable for Dry Martinis, but surprisingly superb in Negronis and very nice neat over ice. So get steaming!
Every year Maison Ferrand launches a cocktail book in a different city, this book represents the (cocktail) culture and bartender scene of the country the city is located in. It started 5 years ago in Paris, followed by Berlin, London, Singapore, NYC and now Antwerp, Belgium. The good people of Maison Ferrand immediately spotted how surreal our country is and decided without a single drop of hesitation to adopt the famous painter Rene Magritte as inspiration and leading theme.
'Ceci est un cocktail book." was born. Location: Ben Belman's beautiful bar 'Bijou'.
After introductions Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender of Maison Ferrand took the stage. Well, stage is a big word, we cramped him in a corner where at least 75% of the attendees could see him. I mean this bar was filled to the brim with Belgian bartenders… and some press. A few exceptions give or take, I believe that everybody ever mentioned on this blog was there. The place was vibrant with enthusiasm. Just like Mr. Gabriel, this man was on fire. Not literally of course, but he was the proverbial waterfall of passionate fact- and storytelling, all of it interlaced with brilliant quotes. He started off immediately with: ” A good spirit is like a great book. Not a good book. ‘Good’ is not good enough, it has to be memorable!” Meaning that you need not necessary like the spirit, but it has to leave an impression on you. By that he wasn’t referring to splitting headaches, a hole in your tongue or diabetes, but more something like, you know, worth remembering.
When asked to describe Maison Ferrand, he replied: “We’re one of the oldest cognac houses in the world. The family goes as far back as 1610.” Quickly followed by “We’re also a bunch of misfits who like doing things differently!” How exactly? “By don’t sticking to the guns, as a Master Blender I always wanted to revisit the spirits, approach them from a different angle and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with our little company.”
Don’t walk the beaten path is basically what they’re doing and I love that. Next there was a tasting of their spirit range and we started off with the 1840 cognac (not a bad start don’t you think?). “I love young cognacs… that are made more than a hundred years ago!” said Mr. Gabriel and we couldn’t agree more. If your spirit needs to retire for several generations in a barrel before it starts to resemble something palatable then there must be something wrong with your distillation method. There’s a lot of spirits these days that taste like a wooden plank dipped into some sort of marmalade or fudge, soulless junk in my opinion. Not so with the 1840 cognac, I loved it, it’s all grapes and standing on rolling green hills with the occasional wild flower under a summer sun, finishing with the distant humming of a single bumblebee. For the record, it is not made in 1840, but it is made in the fashion and style of an 1840 cognac (in this case a Pinet Castillon).
Next up was the Cognac Pierre Ferrand with Banyuls finish. Although not our favourite, again a good example of Maison Ferrand ‘doing things differently’ and you gotta love them for it. For ages people thought it was illegal to store cognac in wine barrels, but Alexandre and some other people started to dig in the past and question this. After extensive research they concluded that: “it is legal, but you better not tell anybody.” That’s exactly why they put “Banyuls Finish” on the label… are you beginning to see why I love these people?
The following bottle was a familiar friend: Dry Orange Curaçao. This is amazing, you have to try this, it’s an absolute wonder potion in cocktails, but also nice to taste neat. Somebody once said when asked to describe it that it tastes like Cointreau only less sweet. That does not nearly begin to describe it! Less sweet, sure, but also the cane sugar is toasted and barrel aged and the liqueur is distilled in the same pot still as the cognacs. Taste and try!
Next up Citadelle Reserve Gin. I always liked the Citadel range, it’s straightforward and delivers the goods as a good gin should. Very unlike some of the neo-gins which are described a lot like shampoos containing strawberries and lychee or lapsang and yuzu. That’s not approaching a spirit from a different angle, that’s running away from it. Actually yuzu is in the recipe of Citadelle Reserve, but you know, it’s done differently! Alexandre said: ” a great gin is not a Caesar’s salad!” And right he is. The Reserve is a ‘yellow gin’ , meaning that it’s aged for a while. In this case exactly the amount of time it would take you to smuggle a barrel out of the port of Dunkirk ( in what we now call France, but used to be Flemish and a real pirate hole too) and bring it to London. Why? Because it happened on a regular basis after 1775.
After that it was the Plantation Jamaica 2002, which is a fine rum, very intense. A real slice of Jamaica. And last, but not least, we tasted the famous Plantation Pineapple Rum: Stiggins’ Fancy. It is a rum created by Alexandre Gabriel and none other than David Wondrich. Pineapple rum was already a thing in the 19th century to such extent even that was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers where a reverend named Stiggins enjoyed a sip of pineapple rum before and after every sermon so to speak. This spirit is an absolute delight, it’s good in cocktails but we equally enjoy it neat. It is made by infusing the skin of Victoria pineapples for one week in Three Star Plantation Rum and afterwards distill it in the pot still. In the meanwhile they have infused the fruit of the pineapple for three months in the Plantation Original Dark, then they marry the two spirits together into Stiggins’ Fancy. Sheer bliss!
The cocktail book, you ask? Well it’s a booklet of a hundred pages long, filled with beautiful pictures by Evy Ottermans and recipes from about every self respecting cocktail bar and their best bartenders in Belgium. A must have, we believe.
As a conclusion I must say that Maison Ferrand is a house that I could call home. It’s small, cozy, visionary and passionate. It rebels, does things differently, producing a unique vision on spirits and a range with character and history. A toast to you, with this fine Plantation Angels Share. Cheers!
No doubt Sipsmith, as a relatively new gin, has earned its place among the classics and will keep it for a long while. Fairfax, Sam and the well known Jared Brown took their first steps into sip smithing with prudence, which also happens to be the name of their first small copper still. A few steps later, due to high demand "Constance" and "Patience" were installed. Make no mistake "the one with the swan" will survive many other 'new' gins.
Smithing a sip, that’s actually where the name comes from, a distiller that creates a drink like a blacksmith would create a fine blade. I had no idea. I, until recently, believed it honestly was somebody’s surname, you know, a Mister Sipsmith… probably connected to the usual story: being somebody from the 19th Century who made a gin everybody forgot about until some seven years ago, when suddenly somebody – with thunder and lightning – discovered the ancient recipe and considered it his sacred duty to reproduce it even though he himself was an IT consultant from Fordwich and could spell distillate as well as Tatcher could spell empathy.
That’s not what happened here! This about three men who want to prudently, constantly and patiently hammer good drinks into life. And they do know a lot, if not everything, about distilling the finest of spirits. And Sipsmith is a fine spirit indeed.
Sipsmith is a London dry in the truest sense of the word. It’s a very traditional and classic London dry, tasting quite dry with hints of citrus and being distilled in London itself. It’s a well balanced gin with a capital G. You know that lovely dry, herbal tartness with juniper and citrus flavours. This gin is like born to make Dry Martinis with, they’re fabulous! And we happily approve of this, for many of these new “gins” are made solely for the purpose of producing a (dreadful) Gin Tonic. We hardly can call those “gins”. Not Sipsmith, Sipsmith is Gin!
If you ever wondered why there’s a swan’s head in the logo, it’s a reference to the ‘swan neck’ copper still they use. Speaking of old swans, the Queen turned 90 recently and everybody knows Lizzy enjoys a good drink, therefor the three at Sipsmith released a limited edition bottle to honour her, draped in imperial purple and with a little Union Jack upon it. The Queen especially loves the following sensation before lunch:
3cl Sipsmith London Dry
stirred over ice
garnish with lemon wheel
The protocol demands to sip it with a majestical gesture!
And please, remember, be prudent and drink responsibly, because if there’s one thing you’d want to avoid it’s being hammered by a sip-smith!
Today marks the start of the Negroni week. That means that until the 12th of June every Negroni consumed in the bars that volunteered for this project will result in 1€ going to a good cause. Besides that the Negroni is starting to burst out of craft cocktailbars and high end speakeasies straight into dive bars and even living rooms again. The Negroni is an immortal classic and we love it.
Gin has a day (World gin Day), Negroni’s got a week! An entire week from the 6th to the 12th you can drink Negronis and support a good cause at the same time. It’s perfect, I can imagine it already: “Now Honey, I know it’s 2 AM, but it’s for a good cause!”.
Seriously now, it i s already the fourth edition of this project and it is doing great. The first time in 2013 exactly 100 bars signed up to join the project, last year however in 2015, no less than 3533 bars joined the ranks. If you’d put that on a graph you’ll be painting the ceiling! 321.000 dollars were collected in 44 countries, that’s a lot of Negronis. And whether you believe it or not, our small country Belgium, scored number 5 regarding the number of bars joining the project. This week 41 countries registered to join and I am sure Belgium will do its best to toast to the “count”.
I don’t know how to describe it, but if you look at it (in Belgium), the Negroni is kinda like a “sniper hype”. A silent trend. Which is good, I think. More and more people know what a Negroni is and – very important – know how to make one. It has found its way into people’s houses again and that’s great. You know, you don’t have to be a tattooed master mixologist startender to make a decent Negroni. It’s actually quite failsafe: equal parts of gin, red vermouth and amaro (Campari). And it’s a modular recipe (aren’t they all) you can substitute almost anything with anything else as long as you have a spirit, amaro and vermouth combination. But it’s not like the G&T roller coaster hype, ordering you to put a plethora of extra botanicals in your glass, you know, as a “garnish”, or just making a f***ed up vodka and selling it to you as a gin that’s made for tonic… No, the Negroni hype is more modest, humble and real. It is a great way to dive into vermouths, amaro and the better gins.
To augur the cocktail and spirit trends for 2016 is more like horoscopes, tarot and disembowelling lamb to check their livers for strange spots. It’s not hard science. So instead we take a look at what we saw in 2015 and what we would like to see in 2016, mixed together with what we could possibly see in the future. Also we’re talking mostly about Belgium here and not the UK or USA.
Cocktail bars are slowly shedding their retro vibe
So less bowties and suspenders walking around in 1930’s speakeasies or 1920’s flapper parties, chique American Bars or Café de Paris. I still love those bars, most of them are great. In my opinion it is exactly the same thing as the old Tiki bars, where they wanted to transport you to a Polynesian island and experience a tropical vacation without leaving town. The speakeasies and retro bars want to transport you back into time and serve you 19th century cocktails in a 1930’s bar. And we enjoy that very much.
It is logical that we took a few steps back into time to relearn what cocktails, hospitality and bartending are, considering the republishing of Jerry Thomas’ recipes and the beginning of the cocktail renaissance. But after these few steps back, we’re ready to lunge forward and actually interesting times are ahead of us to see and observe the new concepts of cocktail bars that are coming. The signs were already there for a while, like for instance the influence of star restaurants which introduced new techniques, products, textures, etc… or pre batched cocktails on tap or the “highballisation” of drinking culture. You name it. One thing remains definite: the future brings new things. Sometimes so fast that we start to wonder whether the greater public will be capable in keeping up. Or will it be reserved for the few who always remain hip & trendy? The question brings us to our next observing.
Less classy, more dive bars
Don’t get me wrong, classy is fun too. It doesn’t necessarily equals stiff and boring. I can really enjoy a classy bar with waiters and bartenders dressed in starched white bowing to you in humble servitude fixing your drink with ice-cold perfection like they were performing a hart surgery. On the other hand I also love the more upbeat bars, where everything is pleasantly chaotic and the bartender looks like a tattooed hermit covered in locusts, preparing your cocktail like an Italian chef would make his personal pasta recipe. As long as the drinks, the service, the atmosphere and the company are good, people will normally enjoy themselves. All the rest depends on moods and preferences.
Interesting to notice is the fact that three of the last bars that opened here in 2015-16 are a distinct move away from the “classy” ones. You got the Dirty Rabbit – former (classy) Josephine’s – a rock n roll cocktailbar, then there are the two side projects of Jigger’s: Pony’s and Ganzerik. Pony’s is a ‘no brand’ cocktailbar with about 8 cocktails on the menu – if I remember correctly – all of them 10€. And Ganzerik is more like a local pub with beer, local food and simple cocktails. It’s on my top to visit list. All three have one thing in common: they scream “cocktails are for everybody”! And they’re absolutely right.
Considering the cocktail renaissance it’s a logical step in my opinion. Before that cocktails were nothing more than spiked lemonades and we needed to convince ourselves and the public that there was more to it than that. That a bartender was more than an underpaid school dropout, but somebody with a particular set of skills and knowledge who can do more than just fix you sickly sweet shit. That bartending is about serving people and making a visit to a bar an entire experience. Actually an entire drinking-culture became reinvented and we brought back from America and the UK: Speakeasies, pre-prohibition bars, bowties, suspenders, tattoos and awesome drinks. Amazing concepts and experiences were created, we still love them all. (cf the first observing above)
Actually the bartenders and cocktailians did their best so hard that it scared some people away (apparently) who thought it was too classy for them or misunderstanding that most of those “bar rules” are written in great fun and mostly mere suggestions. (The bartender is not going to flip a shotgun from under the counter and shoot your head off when you start talking into your cell phone. He might do that in his mind, you see but he’s not going to spit in your drink. If the conversation is a hindrance to other customers he will ask you to continue your phone call on the terrace or something.) Some people got scared that they would misbehave in some way or another. Or think it’s just for the rich people, it’s too expensive (those people prefer to sip on their Malibus, Pisangs and Safaris somewhere else).
I actually remember one person who asked the oft repeated question: “where can I get a good cocktail?”, I answered by naming and describing a well known Belgian cocktail bar whereupon she interrupted me, gasping: “Oh, no! That’s the bar where you have to ring the door and then they put you in the cellar!” I replied: “Well you make it sound horrible, but it’s actually quite enjoyable. They’re the nicest people with the best drinks you can imagine!” Large hazel eyes stared at me in doubt and disbelief. “Am I not underdressed for the place?”, she squeaked. My turn to blink in disbelief at the late twenty-something lady, my eyes snapped 160cm down and back up again. “Look, you don’t have to worry about that at all, nobody has to, actually. You can walk in there sporting a mohawk, 21 different face piercings and a stench-core punk shirt and they will still serve you!”.
And I heard more comments like that on cocktail bars in general. These people are mistaking obviously, but it doesn’t stop the bartender/owner – creative as he/she is – to think about some solution. And the “solution” is simple: create a “normal” dive, beer, people, music bar and serve cocktails too, apply everything you’ve learned about hospitality and tada! I think Attaboy in New York was the first to come up with the idea one or two years ago and now it’s here. Here end the two most important observings, what follows are just a few points you should remember.
Low alcohol cocktails will continue
Yes they will. We’re practically forced to. Considering insane taxations on spirits and the delusional political opinion that when you’ve had 2 ounces of navy strength rum you’ll step into your four-wheeled killing machine and mow down an entire village. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against low alcohol cocktails, I love them, but I just hate the reason why people tremble in fear at high or even normal proof spirits. It’s not their fault though… money is. Anyways, there’s a lot of creative and exquisite low alc cocktails around now, so you can safely drink two or three.
Not another gin
I’m sorry, but I’m good with what’s on the market and frankly there’s so much derivative work that they’re almost making categories for it. Remember how we f***ed up genever?
In regards to gin, I don’t want a vodka that smells like bath salts or potpourri. I don’t want a miscreant distilled from the garbage they even wouldn’t dare to give to cattle mixed up with a dozen disgusting aromatic oils to – literally – cloud the bad base product in the first place. “Here’s shit covered in flowers, thank you for your 40€!”. I want juniper berries and a few other botanicals in a smooth distilled product made from quality grain. But that’s just my opinion… you know, Gin! Not something else. I love the few beer distillations that are going round, but please, stop calling them gin! It’s not. Invent another name, another kind of spirit, maybe?
They call it the new tonic, well f*** you, it isn’t. It’s ginger ale. And it’s good. And more and more companies are creating their own, which is good. But if somebody starts to add flowers or whatever to it to create “that very distinct and unique ginger ale” then please reconsider. Ginger ale is a fantastic product and you can make great cocktails with it.
Mezcal and tequila will keep their steady, slowly rise. There’s a recent book by Kobe Desmet and Isabelle Boons that introduces you to this spirit if you want to know more about it. Mezcal is amazing and a bartenders favourite for over two years now.
This is something I’d like to see in bars in the future. Just a single spirit, a little tweaked up regarding the taste of the customer. I started doing this with genever, stirred a few seconds over ice and served straight up with a lemon twist and a scrape of nutmeg. It’s amazing and you can think of thousands of variations using any spirit you have. It’s well worth a try.
Tanqueray’s Master Distiller Tom Nichol has created his final Tanqueray gin: the Bloomsbury. We love its masterfully balanced modesty. The gin possesses a quintessential purity in itself without losing character or the Tanqueray personality, so much that it almost becomes an archetype of gin itself.
Let me explain the above. For starters it’s not boring, that’s not what I meant. It’s a beautiful balance between juniper berries, coriander, angelica and crushed cassia, just like the bottle says. And frankly, we were almost moved by this honesty. Many contemporary gins try to combine so many flavours and aromas resulting in the loss of their own identity of gin and consequently more resembling a startled skunk in a fireworks factory. But no worries, if you put an entire bottle of tonic over it, something eventually will shine through.
Not this gin. This one can stand on its own or take tonic without losing character and more importantly it can take other things besides tonic and works beautifully in cocktails. It makes one hell of a Dry Martini for instance. Actually when you taste it, it feels like the grandfather of Tanqueray Ten. You know, without the grapefruit or citrus notes and much more rounded, smooth with that little hint of cassia and all the blessings of juniper berries.
Grandfather may be an apt title for it, because Tom Nichol based it on an old recipe from Charles Waugh Tanqueray ( the son of Charles Tanqueray who took over the company after his father’s death in 1868) himself. ‘Waugh‘ was actually the first thing I said when I tasted it. Well, Mr Nichol, if this was the last gin you made for Tanqueray I would say it is a daring masterpiece and a fitting farewell. Because somehow, this day and age, it seems easier to continually diversify than to make the actual real thing. Which you did!
Located in the beautiful ‘La Pharmacie Anglaise’ and decorated by Max Colombie of ‘Oscar And The Wolf’ Hendrick’s ‘Chambers of The Curious’ really aced its Pythonesque revelry of ‘The Weird’. Also seeing that team behind the bar gives us clear evidence that the big train of Brussels Mixology is slowly starting to roll.
The place is absolutely beautiful, inside and outside. The building is actually a 19th century neo-gothique pharmacy designed by famous architect Paul Saintenoy for a famous Belgian pharmacist who sold chocolate as a medecine (he is now better known for his cooky factory that still bears his name: Delacre). If Mr Delacre would be able to see what has become of his fabulous pharmacy, he wouldn’t mind at all! The outside of the building looks like it was ripped out of a Disney movie, complete with a woman living on the upper floor who likes to chat with mirrors. The inside is warm, cosy and f***ing crowded if you arrive on a Friday night at 21hrs.
There’s an unusual labyrinthine feeling about the place, there’s always another door leading to another stairs leading to another room. An unusual experience especially since every room seems to be filled with a mixture of objects which obviously must have belonged to Mary Shelly, Terry Gilliam or an extraordinary successful cucumber producer. Some of the rooms had weird experiments going on… “Should I like to be tested?” “No, sir, thank you! I’ll try my luck at the bar!”
The bar is obviously located in the former pharmacy’s shop, complete with wooden cabinets and balcony. Behind the stick were two familiar faces, good bartenders, who both competed in the Belgian World Class Competition: Alexis Mosselmans and Ennio Campanaro. Energy, enthusiasm and 100% passion for the Craft. They form such a dynamic duo that I hereby baptise them “The Sultans of Sling” (sling is not a typo, but a type of cocktail if you were wondering). It is good to see the Brussels Cocktailbar Scene flowering and producing specimens like Alexis and Ennio. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more cocktailbars very soon in Brussels.
Do go and visit, you have the chance until the end of October. It is located at Coudenberg 66, Brussels, a stone’s throw away from the Central Station. If you want to have yourself tested make an appointment.
What happens when you combine beer and gin? It shouldn’t surprise you that Belgians came up with the idea since it is the country with the most beers and through their genever harbours the origin of gin itself. Lindemans, famous Belgian family brewery, producing Belgian cherry beer since 1822 and De Moor, famous Belgian family distillery, producing genevers since the early 1900s, put their passion together and created the first cherry beer gin.
The gin is made by distilling Old Lindemans Cherrybeer Cuvée René together with 15 carefully selected botanicals. It is a very small batch (250l) en bottled by hand. The Lindemans Gin comes in two versions: a clear one and a red one.
The clear one is citrusy with a hint of cardamom and an aftertaste of sour cherries. In my opinion it is balanced out brilliantly (a trademark from De Moor). Not sweet, not too fruity or floral, but everything’s there. When tonic is added the cherry flavour grows more intense and pairs well with the bitter tonic. I assume it would do well in Gin Fizz too.
The red variety is made in the same fashion except for the addition of the juice of sour cherries (whence the colour). The difference in taste is more cherry flavour obviously. Pairs well with tonic too. Another combination that worked out very well for me was red vermouth. Just 2 parts gin and 1 part red vermouth served over ice with an orange zest. Very tasty and easy to make.
If you’re a fan of Belgian beers and gin you should definitely give it a try, it is extremely refreshing when the temperatures get tropical.