Please don’t judge me, I know recent blogs have involved a lot of alcohol and I don’t think it’s about to change soon.
Last week I visited the basement bar of Hix in Soho to try a few different brands showcasing some of the best of London’s start-up drink companies.
The Duppy Share – a Caribbean Rum from Jamaica and Barbados
Pedrino – an alcoholic sherry tonic water
Mr Black – an alcoholic coffee liqueur and
Seedlip – the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit made with distilled botanicals
Of course, I tried them all and met the people behind the brands.
Duppies are well-known in Caribbean folklore as the spirits who journey between Islands, in the dead of night, stealing a share of the best rum on offer.
Jessica Swinfen (ex executive from Innocent Drinks) tells me that the wonderful label took its inspiration from a 1930’s travel poster. The bottle is attractive but how does it taste? The rum is a blend of three-year old Jamaican rum and five year-old Bajan rum and aged in Bourbon whisky barrels. The rum was the brainchild of George Frost (son of the late Sir David) whose earliest memories of Rum was on family holidays to the Caribbean. It’s distilled by fourth generation rum makers and blended in Amsterdam and bottled in London.
I had two, rather strong cocktails with The Duppy Share base. ‘An Old Fashioned Duppy’ – Rum, demerara sugar, bitters and a twist of orange in a short glass and the ‘Rum & Raisin’ – Rum over ice with a twist of orange and tonic, served long. The Duppy Share drunk on its own is, as you’d expect from a premium rum is incredibly smooth, packing a fruity punch. Think caramel, steeped raisins and mango notes, perfect with a couple of cubes of ice, lovely heated when the wind whips up in the Winter.
For tonic lovers, Pedrino is an alcholic tonic, blended with Pedro Ximénez sherry, citrus botanicals, quinine and spring water. Delicious on its own, it’s quite potent at 5.5% on the ABV scale. Add to gin, or indeed The Duppy Share rum and you have a whole new take on a spirit and mixer. The bitter citrus grapefruit balanced with a sweetness from blood oranges. Blackberry and white stone fruits finish the mix. The bitters recipe is partly a secret but natural quinine and quassia wood feature. It’s gently carbonated to lift the ingredients.
Mr Black whose slogan is ‘Late Nights Good Times’ is a rather wonderful cold-press coffee liqueur. Forget anything else you’ve tried with ‘coffee’ and ‘liqueur’ in the title – this is a stunning product. Made by Australians, who love coffee (and a drink) it seems fitting that it’s bottled into something that resembles a tall ink bottle. It’s distilled in their Central Coast distillery in New South Wales in batches of 300. I tried it over ice. The first thing that hits you is the fresh smell of espresso, then on the first sip a bitter intensity covers the palate leaving a toffee and treacle-orange finish. Espresso Martinis were invented for Mr Black.
There was one booze exception. Seedlip is a world-first. It takes its name from the basket used to hold seed when farmers sowed by hand and the man behind it, Ben, tells me that it’s been two years in the making. He looks a little like Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws (I’m sure I’m not the first or the last to comment on it) and sounds nothing like him. During his research into Medieval herb gardens he stumbled upon The Art of Distillation, published in 1651 and in it there were details of distilled, non-alcoholic remedies. His family has been farmers in Lincolnshire since the 1700s and it’s hoped Seedlip will have its own distillery on the farm where they used to sow seeds (using those Seedlip baskets).
The bottle is tall and has a large white sticker on the front which features a rather ornate fox. I’m sure it’s not modelled on the urban menace that roams the streets of London, it’s just too pretty. This non-alcoholic distilled spirit has six botanicals, blended together without alcohol or sugar. I had a measure with Fever Tree tonic and a squeeze of red grapefruit juice, served in a long glass. Equally, this works well in a Martini glass with a little brine. Like the ingredients you’ll find in a good gin, there’s two barks, two spices and two peels. The allspice might be a little too overpowering for some, and if you’re not a fan of cinnamon maybe not for you. The lemon oil is steam-extracted at source in northern Argentina. This is a great new product to market for those seeking an alternative to alcohol. I loved it and didn’t actually feel like I was missing out. Selfridges will stock Seedlip from October 21st.
It’s not too late to sample these for yourself, there are still events planned for November and December at the Maxilla Social Club in Notting Hill. Tickets available from Design My Night for a tenner and entry includes a free Duppy Share rum punch then all cocktails are a fiver.
Thursday 12th November – Sipsmith gin, join Pedrino Alcoholic Tonic and The Bloody Oyster. Seedlip will also be there.
Thursday 17th December – Black Cow Vodka, join Ban Poitin (pron Bawn Potcheen) and Belsazar vermouth along with Seedlip.