Tag Archives: Rum

Maison Ferrand & The Launch Of The Belgian Cocktail Book

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.

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Mr. Alexandre Gabriel, Master Blender and Owner of Maison ferrand. This man is very high spirited!

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).

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Tasting in progres

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.

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After the tasting all the bartenders jumped behind the bar and made their cocktail from the book. Here from left to right: Ben Belmans (Bijou), Olivier Jacobs (Jigger’s), Vitas Van de Cauter (Uncle Babe’s)

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!

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Bruno Simons (Mixing Tales) and Ran Van Ongevalle (The Pharmacy).

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!

 

 

 

Saint James Rhum Cocktail Competition

Last week one of the cocktail competitions we judged was the Saint James Cocktail Competition. Fifteen candidates squared off against each other in the lovely ‘La Tricoterie’ in Brussels in the hope of winning one of the great prizes – amongst them one of the last bottles of Saint James 250 for Belgium.

Saint James Rhum is an underestimated product I believe. It is virtually unknown in Flanders (Belgium) even by people who call themselves rum-lovers and that’s a shame, because it is a wonderful product. Saint James is a typical rhum agricole with a very funky character. The very first incarnation of this rhum was called “guildive”, which actually means “Kill Devil” and that is saying something! Relax, it is much less “hellish” now than its 18th century ancestor, but it still carries the heritage. I had the good fortune to be able to visit the picturesque distillery of Saint James on the beautiful tropical island of Martinique and it was there that I really started to understand what rum is in my opinion.

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A rainy day at the Saint James Distillery or was it too much sun?

You really can taste the island in its rum. And that’s no illogical thing to say, considering the wild yeasts and the sugar cane. My impression was that they approach their sugar cane like wine grapes, which is also reflected in their rum range with lots of ‘cuvées’ and ‘millésimes’. It makes more sense to me than some brands who try to approach their “rum” as a whisky, you know: ageing it for decades in a gazillion of different barrels hoping something tasty will come out. Knowing that the ageing process in the Caribbean goes at least twice as fast than it does in Scotland, the number on your bottle needn’t be so big. In fact their unaged ‘Coeur de Chauffe’ is one of the best rums I ever drank, that’s a lot of ‘hogo’ in one bottle.

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A cocktail by one of the competitors surrounded by fresh fruit

Back to the competition. It was a very colourful competition, a wide spectrum of skillsets performing on stage (or trying to). I especially recall Michel Van Hecke‘s (Thon Hotel) variation on Ti Punch. I like Ti Punch, especially with a good agricole, it’s fun, it’s simple, it tastes great. But instead of going for the simple, lime, cane syrup and rum combo, Michel enthusiastically veered off course with chamomile and cucumber, amongst other things. My first thoughts when listening to him were: “Oh no, the horror!”, but actually it fitted together quite nicely. It was a very original take on the Ti Punch, quite daring, and he received a well deserved third place in the competition.

Another cocktail I liked a lot was the drink made by Cathy Mutis (Boos Bar). It tasted so different from all the other cocktails (i.e. it wasn’t too sweet and/or drowned in fruit juices), it was refreshing, a little sharp even. There was a strange note that went very well with the Saint James, but I couldn’t immediately lay my finger on it. She had used ‘essence de muscade” from Martinique itself! Ah, rum and nutmeg, always a good combo.

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Cathy on stage

And then the winner, Mr. Filoo About from Vagabond Barrr made us a very yummy Tiki in nice glassware with a beautiful garnish. A Tiki with Tonka syrup and Thai bitters served in a skull, we couldn’t say no to that!

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And the winner is…Filoo About

And we close this article with a final remark: next time there is a Saint James competition, please allow the competitors to bring their own home made syrups instead of using commercial ones and make it mandatory to use freshly squeezed fruit juices, instead of commercial ones. Saint James Rhum deserves no less.

 

Bar Convent Berlin 2014 – Too soon for the next trend in cocktails and spirits?

BCB or Bar Convent Berlin, is easily the biggest cocktail and spirits convention of Europe. Now having successfully closed it’s 8th edition and welcomed more than 9000 visitors it should call itself EBC – Berlin (European Bar Convent – Berlin). Because – and we quote a female bartender standing in the waiting line – “Holy smoke! Everybody’s here! Really everybody!”
A wild, but fashionable legion of bartenders eager to learn, explore, taste and meet new stuff @ BCB 2014
A wild, but fashionable legion of bartenders eager to learn, explore, taste and meet new stuff @ BCB 2014

A Bartender’s Christmas

And she was not incorrect, I mean 2 days, 9000 visitors, 3 taste forums, 1 big mixology stage, 27 workshops (!), 72 speakers and 3 halls filled with 300 brands later, you really got a good cross section of who’s who in the European Bartending and Hospitality Industry. You also get a weird craving to become a multi-headed octopoid, outfitted with jet engines and the biggest shopping cart on earth. There’s too much to see, hear and taste in two afternoons. Like Ian Burrell – Global Rum Ambassador – said: “it’s a Bartender’s Christmas.” Yet the jingling you hear, is not bells, it’s literally thousands of ice cubes.

Very fashionable, as you can see they easily match their cocktails to their baseball caps
Very fashionable, as you can see they easily match their cocktails to their baseball caps

Trend Spotter’s Heaven

All this makes BCB a trend spotter’s heaven. Some dare say that it was the huge launching platform for the G&T invasion of our country (Belgium). I don’t know if that is entirely correct, but I do understand that if you spot something new and in abundance on BCB, you know that it will hit your deck too, sooner or later. Whence we were drooling with anticipation and excitement. What was going to be the next hit? Who will take over the crown from Gin and his buddy Tonic?

Alas, the ‘big revelation’ did not occur. We forgot that trends rarely follow a Julian calendar. And that they are fed by the consumer public, not even the best and most creative bartender can change that. That is because the best bartender serves people and they don’t force-pour drinks in somebody’s mouth screaming: “this is better, drink this!”

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One thing is for certain Jigger's is really amongst the 10 most influential bars of Europe. Also fox hunting is on the rise, foxes unfortunately not.
One thing is for certain Jigger’s is really amongst the 10 most influential bars of Europe. Also fox hunting is on the rise, foxes unfortunately not.

Rise & Fall?

A few things didn’t go unnoticed though. First: Gin is still wearing the crown (about 50 different brands that we saw). Second: there’s a lot of rum to explore (we stopped counting at roughly 42 brands). Thirdly: Tequila and Mezcal (27 brands) are rising, but will it break through? Fourth: no less than 12 different Vermouth brands ( most people only know one or two, without even knowing that it is a vermouth). Something’s definitely moving here, but it is still yawning and groggy. Then again, if we think of the country that has a rising number of ‘vermouterias‘ and vermouths, realising that it is the same country that restyled the G&T… Does that prove anything, no, of course not. Then again, it isn’t exact science also. We especially loved the Belsazar Vermut (German, yes).

A cracking Belsazar Dry Martini.
A cracking Belsazar Dry Martini.

Apart from that we had the rest of the usual suspects, like whiskey, cognac, sherry, vodka, pisco, grappa, sake, absinth, … you name it. A lot of Bourbon and Rye, but that could have something to do with the USA being the guest country for this year. Michter’s was new for me and a bloody delightful surprise it was!

Mr. Matthew T. Magliocco of Michter's, a dedicated man, very passionate about his product.
Mr. Matthew T. Magliocco of Michter’s, a dedicated man, very passionate about his product.

Lot’s of tonic too, of course. Thomas Henry, for instance, came up with some new mixers, namely: mango, grapefruit and a new cherry blossom tonic. Nice for home bars and garden parties, club scene maybe, but not something you will find soon in any high-end cocktailbar, I think.

Thomas Henry and the new pretty and colourful lemonades
Thomas Henry and the new pretty and colourful lemonades

Also, a funny thing to observe was the large, revolving, circular bar with Campari, Wild Turkey, Appleton and Hendrick’s amongst others. At first you don’t realise it is turning and you feel a bit weird, but then you know it and you happily keep on walking after your drink. A comical sight… and damn good Negronis.

A sartorially stirred Negroni, sir? Certainly, sir.
A sartorially stirred Negroni, sir? Certainly, sir. Please, try to keep up, while I prepare it for you.

Belgium in Berlin

We were also very happy to see more than a few famous Belgian bartenders participating in the fair:

Ben Belmans, who shared the stage with famous Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Jeffrey gave us an amazing workshop on cocktail technique. Question everything, was the big message!

Mr. Ben Belmans introducing Jeffrey Morgenthaler and one of the greatest workshops of the Convent.
Mr. Ben Belmans introducing Jeffrey Morgenthaler and one of the greatest workshops of the Convent.

Hannah Van Ongevalle who (wo)manned the World Class Bar at the fair for a good couple of hours to show her signature cocktails to the public. And they were appreciated a lot.

Hannah working her magic at the World Class bar.
Hannah working her magic at the World Class bar.

Her brother Ran Van Ongevalle who became an ambassador for Belsazar Vermut and made us a wicked Dry Martiny.

Ran Van Ongevalle, our own Belgian Belsazar Ambassador
Ran Van Ongevalle, our own Belgian Belsazar Ambassador

Bart Neirynck proprietor of the famous Bar Herman in Berlin, specialising in – yes of course – Belgian beers.

Bart Neirynck, a Belgian beer ambassador in Berlin. Photo by Jan Zappner
Bart Neirynck, a Belgian beer ambassador in Berlin. Photo by Jan Zappner

Conclusions

BCB is big, maybe too big to see in only two days. Plan who and what you want to see very carefully.

Trends? Difficult and too early to say, but we personally will keep an eye out for rum (especially if ACR keeps on going like this), agave based spirits (if they get a foothold in the bars and I don’t mean only for the bartenders 😉 ), vermouth (but it will take some more time to reach the larger Belgian public). And we will keep a fourth eye on amaro’s (just kidding…or not?). As I said, very difficult to say, while we are sipping our second – excellent – Bourbon Highballer. 😉

Cheers! Enjoy some more photos:

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Cocktails in Cuba – No way Hemingway

De robijnrode Chevrolet uit 1953 boorde zich langzaam een weg door de tropische chaos van Havana; de zinderende hitte valt als een hete douche over je heen. Na 12 uur op de vlieger en 3 uur in de taxi, kan je maar aan één ding denken: “I need a drink”.

Cuba is het land van Mojito en Daiquiri, ze gieten het quasi over je heen.

Ik was op reis vertrokken met de naïeve gedachte dat het ook de beste zouden zijn.

Helaas.

Bij de eerste teleurstelling dacht ik: goh ja, misschien is het gewoon een toeristenval, wat ook deels waar is, maar toch zie je de Cubanen zelf ook in grote getale hun nationale cocktails drinken. Is de mojito echt Cubaans van oorsprong? Er kan over gedebatteerd worden. Eigenlijk was het een Brits middeltje tegen scheurbuik voor de matrozen op de Caraïben.  Voor het eerst gebruikt door Francis Drake, vandaar de oude naam voor het drankje “El Draque”. Aguardiente, guarapo (suikerrietsap), limoensap en munt. De oorsprong doet er eigenlijk niet toe en het brouwsel past ontegensprekelijk veel beter bij Cuba dan het koude, mistige Engeland.

Cubaanse mojitos zijn enorm waterachtig; je smaakt een beetje rum, suiker en een dubieuze vorm van limoensap. Er zit een takje munt in je glas ter versiering of om het gewoon te herkennen als zijnde een mojito. De munt zelf smaak je niet. De eerste keer denk je gewoon dat je de verkeerde bar bent binnen gestapt, maar algauw blijkt het gewoon echt zo te horen. Enkel in de (staats) yachtclub van Cienfuegos kregen we een mojito waar met liefde aan gewerkt was en daarbij heel lekker. Dat kwam waarschijnlijk ook omdat we quasi de enige klanten waren die avond.

Het blijft altijd persoonlijke smaak natuurlijk, maar ik vond de Daiquiris ook maar niets. Ze serveren ze steevast “frappe” – crushed ice en alles in de blender totdat je een soort sorbet drankje krijgt, heel verfrissend en smaakloos. Horden toeristen zwelgen het bij liters naar binnen.

Zo ook in de legendarische Floridita bar in Havana. 

Een prachtige bar, fantastisch etablissement met levensecht bronzen beeld van Hemingway aan de toog en een gigantische blender achter de toog die constant blijft draaien. Gelukkig is er een groepje muzikanten op elkaar gepakt naast de ingang. De salsa overstemt het monotone gedreun een beetje, het geluid deed denken aan een enorme malaria mug. De bar zit tjokvol toeristen, elke dag zijn dat de enige klanten (ik heb 2 dagen gecheckt), de prijskaart verklaart waarom: 6 CUC voor een cocktail is duur in Cuba.

Terwijl ik de cocktailkaart aan het doornemen was viel mijn oog op een andere Cubaanse uitvinding: de El Presidente. Rum, witte vermouth en marachino in dit geval (oorspronkelijk met curacao of cointreau, vergeet de grenadine), mijn vriendin ging voor een Manhattan met rum. De barman leek verheugd te zijn met onze keuze – kon hij eindelijk eens wat anders maken dan mojitos of “blenderquiris”. Het resultaat was verbluffend. Perfect geserveerd, perfect afgewerkt, heerlijk complex evenwicht van smaken, juiste temperatuur, veel meer waard dan 6 CUC. De Manhattan idem. Het was als het ware of de bar kreeg wat terug van zijn glorie uit de jaren dertig. Hij was zo lekker dat ik er drie van gedronken heb. Alle drie even goed.

Als je dus ooit in Havana terechtkomt, laat dan de in massa’s geproduceerde mojito’s en daiquiri’s voor wat ze zijn en kies eens iets anders of drink je rum gewoon puur met een lekkere Cohiba sigaar erbij.