Aquavit – Spirit of the Summer

IMG_9143

It turns out we’re in the middle of a gin boom. Still. For those of us who were bartending back when Mojitos were the latest thing and Aperol hadn’t yet been Spritzed, there’s a certain feeling of ‘job done’: having spent years extolling the virtues of gin to a largely uninterested vodka-swilling crowd, we can now hardly keep up with the barrage of new gins, gin newspaper features and gin festivals.

12615394_10153982021684009_4685198135349112508_o

In the on-trade this is old news, of course. Gin started outselling vodka in some of the more cocktail-oriented venues several years ago, although it’s probably fair to say that none of us could have predicted the subsequent deluge. On the other hand, as a friend pointed out, looking at the bigger picture it’s simply back to business as usual: the British drank an awful lot of gin from the 1690s right through to the 1960s, when the rise of vodka proved something of a distraction. From this angle, we’ve merely taken a 50-year break from gin and will now have another 300 or so of riots, acts, bathtubs, martinis, sophistication and everything else associated with our national nip.

12240339_10153835500669009_5025242489606568782_o

So, gin is unquestionably ‘now’. The question, as ever, is: what’s next? Aquavit, close cousin of gin, is starting to make waves outside of its traditional Scandinavian situation and is increasingly finding its way onto bars and cocktail lists. In many ways, this is a natural progression: gin is essentially alcohol flavoured with juniper plus other stuff, aquavit is alcohol flavoured with caraway and/or dill and other stuff. The difference in their flavour profiles is largely based on the choice of botanicals. As gins have pushed and challenged the limits of the category, with juniper firmly taking a back seat in many modern styles and brands have sought to differentiate themselves with different botanicals (there’s even one made using Harley Davidson motorbike parts as a ‘botanical’. Seriously, look it up.), the distance to aquavit has steadily decreased, making aquavit a logical next step for the inquisitive gin enthusiast.

OP Anderson

Aquavit is remarkably easy to make drinks with; it happily replaces gin in many cocktails – O.P Anderson makes a great Negroni, Aalborg Dild & Tonic is a wonderful apéritif. For those looking for a wider palate of flavours to mix with, aquvait provides an exciting base, which is how bars at the vanguard are giving their drinks lists, a new twist. Check out our upcoming ‘Aquavit Cocktail of the Month’ blog for more details and inspiration. Aquavit has long been the spirit of the summer in Scandinavia, where it lubricates many a naked Midsummer party*; this summer we’re seeing the spirit reach a wider public. Possibly with less nudity.

*this may not actually be true.

By Phil Duffy (Amathus Head of Spirits) 

Knightsbridge Soho City Shoreditch |

Follow @AmathusDrinks | Like us on Facebook

Advertisements

The Birth of a New Tequila – Calle 23 Criollo

In the old-town of Guadalajara is a square called Nueve Esquinas – ‘Nine Corners’ – that encapsulates everything Sophie Decobecq loves about Mexico. It has a bustling yet tranquil atmosphere, punctuated by the sounds of children playing around the fountain and thick with the hum of live music and mariachis overflowing from the birrierías, the restaurants that serve the traditional goat stew – birria – that is a regional speciality of Jalisco. The colours are bright and vibrant, and a calm exhilaration permeates the whole scene, enticing and inviting. It is a wonderful place.

Calle 23 sign

Halfway up the wall of one of the birrierías is a defunct old street sign, identifying a road that no longer exists. It is above eye level and blends in subtly with the wall behind it, so is easy to miss, but its dated appearance combined with the fact that it is there at all gives it a shabby charm: there’s something enjoyably quaint about signage that has outstayed its relevance or utility. This is the sign that Sophie spotted during a laid-back lunch with some close friends, when every part of her tequila was finished, other than the name. As a snapshot of a moment and of the Mexico that Sophie loves it was perfect, and so the obsolete sign for ‘23rd Street’ found new life as the name of Sophie’s tequila: Calle 23.

Sophie Decobecq Calle 23 Tequila 244 - Simon Difford

Sophie has been in Mexico for over 17 years and now lives a short walk away from the square and the sign, in a beautiful house that we visited to see her two new arrivals. As we settle into the most comfortable tasting I’ve ever been to (a wicker chair with a cushion, under an open sky, in the gentle warmth of a Mexican ‘winter’ – honestly, nothing short of a comparative Piña Colada tasting in a hammock is going to beat it) Sophie’s young son, Abel, comes to see his mum and play around us.

The Creation of Calle 23

C23-Trío70cl bot antigua

We begin with a tasting of the Calle 23 range – blanco, reposado & añejo – which until recently was the whole family. I’ve known and worked with Calle since the start and it’s still always a pleasure to hear Sophie talk about it. Firstly, it’s a good story: a French biological chemist specialising in fermentation gets a posting to Mexico, falls in love with the country and with tequila, decides to make her own for personal use and ultimately ends up exporting it to the whole world. Beyond that is a treasure trove of geeky delight, as you would expect when someone with Sophie’s background develops a passion for something.

C23. Campo agave #5

Right from the conception of her tequila, Sophie brought an expertise to her new passion that led her into the agave fields with a stack of petri dishes and a needle. Sterilising the needle – primitively but effectively – with a cigarette lighter she gently scraped different parts of the agaves to collect wild yeasts native to the fields, which she then incubated in her petri dishes. Once these cultures had developed she began separating the yeasts: taking sections of each petri dish, transferring it to a new one and incubating again, then repeating the process, progressively having fewer strains until each yeast was isolated in its own dish. Having decided on highland agaves as being perfect for the tequila she envisioned, she then set to work fermenting batches of cooked agave with different yeasts and combinations of yeasts.

This gave her a number of suitable bases to distil and she began making different tequilas with them, blind-tasting the results until finally she arrived at the blanco she wanted, bursting with the distinctive flavour and aroma of cooked agave. At the same time, she tested and blind-tasted between autoclave– and horno-cooked distillates, settling on the former (this is one of the things I love about Sophie’s methods: she, like many of us, would have preferred a horno for the appearance and the romance, but through strict blind-tasting she discovered that the result she wanted was best achieved through autoclave). The blanco was then put into old ex-bourbon casks to create the reposado. Sophie always uses old casks as the character she looks for in all her tequilas is that of agave, of the aroma she fell in love with on her first visit to a tequila distillery. After about eight months – and tasting every step of the way – the reposado was ready. There was, however, a complication. During this time Sophie had carried on experimenting and had found a different set of yeasts that made a blanco that she preferred, meaning she had two blanco tequilas.

Calle 23 - Cocktail Cullinan - Le 1905 - Paris

A further complication arose after this second blanco was aged: when it was ready she found she preferred her initial reposado. Leaving both versions in the casks for around 16 months to create two añejos, her preference was different again. The result of this is that Sophie effectively makes two blanco tequilas, differentiated by the yeast strains they are fermented with. One of these is released as the blanco, and also put into cask to become the añejo; the other is all put into casks and becomes the reposado. As far as I’m aware this is unique in the whole of tequila. This relentlessly scientific approach to taste may also be the secret to the consistency of Calle 23. Tequila as a category can be hugely variable, with even great brands tasting different from year to year (something that Ocho does a brilliant job of celebrating with their terroir-focussed releases). Calle is still the liquid I remember first tasting a decade ago and is still delicious.

A New Arrival

For 15 years the blanco, reposado and añejo have been the whole Calle 23 family, but over time Sophie has kept a notebook of various ideas and experiments she would like to do. From her first visits to the agave fields of Los Altos – the highlands of Jalisco – she had noticed plants known as criollos. These are blue agave, but of a type that remains at a smaller size even when fully mature; they are occasionally in whole fields, occasionally just in part of a field, and are usually just combined with the rest of the crop. Watching them being harvested she discovered they have a distinctive aroma and are sticky to the touch, indicating high sugar content. Immediately the idea of a tequila made exclusively from criollos came to mind, which she wrote down in her notebook.

20160209_090210_HDR.jpg

This was all but forgotten until a couple of years ago when she became pregnant with her son. Wanting to mark the occasion with a special tequila to celebrate her new arrival she began rifling through her notebook where – amongst ideas for yeasts, cooking methods and ageing – she remembered the blue agave criollos and the idea of a tequila made only using these special plants. There was some difficulty in convincing her distillery that this was a good thing to do – or even whether it would be any different – so, characteristically, Sophie did a blind-tasting of blue agave alongside criollo blue agave. That, ultimately, was enough to persuade the doubters and so Calle 23 Criollo was born: a single batch, utterly unique, one-off tequila.

DSC_0602

This being a unique release, Sophie wanted to make every part special. The bottle is hand-blown, and the liquid is bottled at a higher strength than usual. Sophie’s preferred strength – decided by blind-tasting, of course – was 49%, but as the water was added little by little during the dilution phase the tequila tasted so good at 49.3% that she stopped there. Serendipity also played a large part in the beautiful label. At a tasting that overran (by a few hours) Sophie met the brother of an artist, Rose Guerrero, another French lady with a passion for Mexico. Rose’s artwork is rich in Mexican symbols and imagery and was exactly what Sophie was looking for, so she asked Rose to create the hand-drawn design. The blue agave and the smaller criollo are on one side; a snake – an important symbol in Mexican culture – carries a penca stolen from the latter. A rose – the artist’s name – nestles alongside another important Mexican symbol, the skull. On the other side the swallow, symbolising new arrivals, carries an image of Mayahuel (the goddess of agave) on her wings and wears a necklace announcing the two arrivals: an agave for Tequila Calle 23 Criollo and the letter ‘A’, for Abel: Sophie’s son. Framed by all these images is an old street sign, with a shabby charm, which will be familiar to anyone who has looked up at the wall of the Birriería las 9 Esquinas in the old town of Guadalajara.

By Phil Duffy (Amathus Head of Spirits) 

 

Knightsbridge Soho City Shoreditch |

Follow @AmathusDrinks | Like us on Facebook

A superb family owned and sustainably managed Champagne house

Brut Reserve in situation 1

Amathus Drinks is delighted to announce the partnership with Champagne Duval-Leroy. From April 2nd Amathus will be the exclusive UK distributor for this prestigious house. Family-owned since 1859, today Duval-Leroy is under the stewardship of Carol Duval-Leroy, ably supported by her three sons Julien, Charles and Louis. Located in Vertus in the Côte des Blancs, the house works with an unusually high proportion of their own 1er and Grand Cru vineyards, many of which are worked organically. Chardonnay is the dominant grape throughout the range and top quality rosé is also made alongside a selection of special cuvées from historic varieties. A combination of stainless steel, oak barrels and old reserve wines are used to create wines of great precision and complexity.

Duval-Leroy is a leader in promoting sustainability in both winery and vineyard, not only listing a fully organic wine but also certified completely vegan across the range. Widely carried by Michelin-starred restaurants, Relais et Châteaux and prestigious hotels across the globe, in addition Duval-Leroy has been awarded Best Champagne in the World by CSWC (Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships) for three consecutive years, confirming their reputation as a producer of the highest quality.

Jeremy Lithgow MW, Amathus Drinks’ Head of Wine said “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such a prestigious house. The quality across the range is outstanding and we’re excited to be working with another family owned company which shares our desire for quality and ambitions for growth in the UK market.”

Knightsbridge Soho City Shoreditch |

Follow @AmathusDrinks | Like us on Facebook

 

Your Easter Drinks Menu Awaits…

happy_easter_newsletter2 (003)

From England to Germany to America, everyone is drinking gin and tonic. When served correctly, gin and tonic sounds, looks, smells and tastes incredible. With the current gin craze taking over the world, you can forget about the simple gin and tonic with a splash of tonic and a slice of lime; as we see more of our favourite mixologists creating mad-hatter libations with liquid smoke and all sorts of weird and wonderful garnishes.

If you’re bored of the same old gin and tonic, we’ve come up with a few ways to spruce up this classic mixed drink, using fresh ingredients and substituting your choice of gin for a different type of spirit: turning it from your average tipple to a masterpiece in mere moments. With Easter weekend just around corner, what better excuse to try these concoctions out.

Beyond the G&T

contratto (002)

Contratto Vermouth Bianco & Tonic

Long tarred by the brush of the 1970s naffness, vermouth is now being recognised for the fine apéritif it is. Top 60ml of Contratto Vermouth Bianco with tonic and garnish with lemon peel.

calem (002)

Cálem White & Dry & Tonic

Set to be the new drink of 2018, white port ticks the lower-alcohol trend box and is a wonderful alternative to gin. Serve over ice, with tonic, a slice of lemon, lemongrass and cucumber to garnish.

shrubb (002)

Clément Créole Shrubb & Tonic

Unlike the vinegar and fruit macerations that share the same name, Clément Créole Shrubb from Martinique is a spiced orange liqueur; perfect with tonic, a slice of orange and a dash of grapefruit bitters (optional).

dolin (002)

Dolin Chambéryzette & Tonic

Dolin Chambéryzette is a blend of Vermouth de Chambéry and strawberry liqueur; ideal for the one with a slightly sweeter tooth. And yes you’ve guessed it… best served with tonic and strawberries and mint as your choice of garnish.

Four Bottles for Easter

bernard

Bernard-Massard Brut Cuvée de L’Écusson NV

To kick off any gathering sparkling wine is essential. Bernard-Massard Brut Cuvée de L’Écusson NV ticks all the boxes with its elegant buttery nose and expressive aromas of fruit and citrus.

monte pio (002)

Monte Pio Albariño 2016

Albariño is definitely one of Spain’s best kept secrets. This crisp, dry, aromatic Albariño by Monte Pio makes the ideal companion to your Easter fish course.

ochoa (002)

Ochoa Gran Reserva 2009

The mighty red; the centrepiece of every Easter table. Opt for the Ochoa Gran Reserva 2009, a classic style of wine with glorious notes of black fruits.

nel

Nelstrop’s Pedro Ximenez

The ultimate after dinner delight, Nelstrop’s Pedro Ximenez; vintage Sherry and single malt whisky combined and aged for 2 years in oak… enough said!

Wishing you all a very happy Easter…

Knightsbridge Soho City Shoreditch |

Follow @AmathusDrinks | Like us on Facebook

A Tale of Two Shrubbs

Unlike the vinegar and fruit macerations that share the name, shrubb in Martinique is a spiced orange liqueur. Both Clément and Rhum J.M now have a shrubb, which share similarities but can be used in quite different ways.

Clement

The base is a blend of white and aged rhum (J.M contains more aged, Clément more white) which is then combined with a blend of spices: nutmeg, cloves, orange zest, cinnamon and a little vanilla. The spices are individually macerated in white rhum to extract the flavour, and the resultant essences are blended into the base in different ratios – the exact difference is a secret, but in terms of flavour Clément tends to be a clearer orange, whereas J.M has more rounded spiciness. Cane sugar and bitters are the final additions, again in different amounts. Shrubb is the Christmas Punch of Martinique!

Shrubb JM

When it comes to ways in which to drink them, less is more (in terms of ingredients): both taste fantastic served chilled on their own as an aperitif or after dinner drink. Clément Créole Shrubb is perfect with tonic and a dash of grapefruit bitters, for a great long drink in summertime (or while hoping for the summer to come).

Shrubb & Tonic 2

J.M lends itself perfectly to a Rhum Old Fashioned, with 60ml J.M V.S.O.P and 15ml Shrubb J.M stirred down for a late-night drink at any time of year.

Old Fashioned

Shrubb is an extremely versatile liqueur, which means it works exceptionally well with an array of other spirits. Try it in a Reverse Margarita with 35ml shrubb and 25ml tequila (opt for a blanco tequila with Clément, and a reposado with J.M) and lime juice to taste.

Knightsbridge Soho City Shoreditch |

Follow @AmathusDrinks | Like us on Facebook

A Trip to Oaxaca

DSC_8557

“I think we may have to stop for a minute”. We’d been on the road from Oaxaca City for a little over an hour and a half, along winding, bumpy roads at an altitude notably higher than our natural habitat. It would be fair to say that we were beginning to appreciate the remoteness of our destination, the Sola de Vega region of Oaxaca and the family ranch of the brothers behind Los Siete Misterios, Julio and Eduardo Mestre. Eduardo kindly pulled over at the next suitable spot – a good twenty minutes later – and we got out to stretch our legs and have a few well-deserved deep breaths. Julio went on a mercy mission for some water, crisps and marshmallows, and I noticed a friendly stray dog. I stroked it, thinking about what a lovely man I am, when Eduardo opened the boot of the car, pulled out some dog food and popped a nice portion on the floor for our new friend. The brothers, it transpires, are dog lovers and always keep a pack handy in case they come across a stray. I need to up my game.

Once we’d regained our composure we piled back into the car for the final leg of the journey, gratefully pulling into the ranch a little over an hour later to receive an enthusiastic welcome from the 10 dogs – all from the same litter – who are also a part of the family. The brothers’ mother, Angela, and her husband Eduardo have lived here for two years now and have converted a former cattle ranch into a Palenque, an agave field and a nursery.

IMG_2773

There are around 200 known species of agave, most of which grow in Mexico, and roughly 45 of these are used in some form of distillation (estimates vary, but over 30 is certainly a safe bet). The Sola de Vega region is home to about 18 of these, cultivated and growing wild. Unlike in tequila production, where the blue agave is cultivated by means of hijuelos, and hence clones of the same plant, at the nursery the emphasis is on letting the quiote sprout from the agaves and gathering the seeds, which are then planted and nurtured. Some species of agave, particularly the ‘wild’ varieties (notably the legendary Tobala), are thought to not shoot hijuelos and can only be propagated in this way. In terms of sustainability this is becoming more essential: during our trip we heard several reports of hillsides being stripped of immature wild agave. Suspicion falls on the agave syrup industry – which requires a lower level of brix than mezcal – but in truth no-one is sure.

We took a stroll through the nursery, after applying a healthy layer of suncream, and cooed over the baby Tobala we found there. Antonio, the master palenquero, joined us as we continued into the field to see an impressive range of agave growing side by side: jabali, barril, mexicano, sierra negra, arroqueno, espadin, tobala and more, with a staggering range of size and appearance that contrasted sharply with the regimented lines of blue agave we’d seen in Jalisco. Somewhat overexcited I quickly became a self-declared expert in agave identification: sierra negra has black tipped teeth on the penca, hence its name (‘black saw’); tobala looks ‘like an angry cabbage’ (according to my personal botanical notes); barril has a small ‘trunk’ beneath the plant and looks a bit like a small yucca palm (in Sola de Vega barril tends to be used to refer to agave from the karwinski family so some of these were madrecuixe, tobasiche and others).

DSC_8593

At the ranch Antonio was preparing to cook a batch of barril agave, the thin, woody piñas arranged in a neat pile next to the oven, which holds three tons of agave per cook: enough for just 150 litres of the finished mezcal. After cooking the agave are smashed up in a hollowed-out log (a canoe, basically) with a large homemade mallet, which is great fun to wield. Antonio’s mezcal is distilled in traditional small clay pots (as are all the Siete Misterios Mezcals, with the exception of Doba-Yej) and he took a break from stacking the stones in the oven to taste some with us, while Eduardo talked us through the distillation.

IMG_2820

After this comprehensive tour everyone sat for a wonderful lunch of Angela’s Oaxacan food and enjoyed the warm Mexican hospitality, and we tasted the range. Julio and Eduardo work with a number of palenques in the Sola de Vega region, sourcing some of the finest traditional single agave varietal mezcals. The brothers first discovered mezcal when taking road trips from Mexico City: they would drive to the coast and pick up mezcal from the villages on their way. This was always popular with their friends, and after requests for more they began to take plastic jerry cans back to Mexico City; the best of these mezcals eventually became the Siete Misterios range. Over lunch we started with the ultra-rare, earthy mexicano, moved onto the fruitier coyote, the herbaceous arroqueno, and then the buttery barril: all with some of the nicest home-cooked food I’ve ever enjoyed. Oh, and some dried grasshoppers.

DSC_8682

After a long afternoon in this idyllic setting we left much later than we planned, meaning that the return journey was in darkness. This didn’t improve it much, but a bellyful of great food and mezcal and a soulful of hospitality certainly helped. Also, Eduardo drives fast. We finished with a couple of beers and mezcals in one of Oaxaca City’s nice bars and headed to bed.


 

Day 2 started with a quick quesadilla and hot chocolate in a local café before Misty and Gabe from Del Maguey picked us up and drove us to Teotitlan del Valle, where the bottling is done and some very special casks are resting. Del Maguey was my first real encounter with mezcal – the best part of a decade ago – so I spent the whole day in a perpetual near-dream state, starting as we tasted the now immense range with Misty – after she’d personalised our copitas for us. Sticking to the Del Maguey rule, of course: sip, don’t shoot.

77628_4830652169912_2013976975_cymk_resized

After a quick burrito stop (yep, a burrito in Mexico. I think Jon is still in shock.) we drove to the first of the two palenques of the day, in San Baltazar Chichicapam. When Ron Cooper started Del Maguey way back in 1995 Chichicapa was one of the first two he brought to the world, accompanied by San Luis del Rio. Correspondingly, this was also the first real mezcal I ever had the pleasure of tasting, and I still remember the feeling of a whole new world opening up as my taste buds tried and failed to find a suitable reference in the memory bank of spirit flavours. It would be fair to say I was excited to be here, and not a little overwhelmed. This was only compounded when Faustino joined us: it is always a privilege to drink with a producer, and to sit and enjoy a mezcal (okay, many mezcals) with him and his son Max was something of a dream realised for me.

Next stop was Santa Catarina Minas, where Minero is produced. If Faustino’s Chichicapa first drew me into mezcal, it was the clay pots of Minero which ensured I was hooked. Like the majority of the Siete Misterios range, Del Maguey Minero is made in the artisanal fashion, meaning that along with the use of clay stills the agave is smashed by hand, or rather with big bats: molinas (stone wheel mills) powered by horses or donkeys are the alternative (mezcal is ‘craft’ and ‘small batch’ long before those terms were invented, let alone desirable). We gave this a good go. I must confess I’ve wanted to try my hand at agave smashing ever since I heard about it, and I would have patted myself on the back were it not for the fact that both my hands were blistered to the point of bleeding after about 20 minutes. A batch takes around five hours, admittedly by someone with better technique than me.

IMG_3090

Luis Carlos and his wife Alejandrina sat and drank mezcal with us as we caught our breath (this took some time), and admired the view of the sunset, and attempted to make friends with the goats. Well, I did at least. We enjoyed the mezcal, the company and the view for some time before reluctantly having to take our leave.

We returned to Oaxaca City to meet with Michael, Steve and Jaime from Del Maguey for the evening; dinner followed by a visit to In Situ, a local mezcaleria, for some of the rarer agave and dasyrylion (sotol) distillates before retiring happily to our flat for a couple of rounds of backgammon. Mezcal, for all its virtues, doesn’t improve my technique.

IMG_3051


 

Day 3, our final full day, we met Jaime Munoz of Los Danzantes and Alipús. Jaime – who is incidentally one of the nicest characters in mezcal – drove us to their under-construction new distillery. For anyone with a geek-leaning temperament this was paradise. Tradition combined with science and sustainability, from the heat-conserving arrangement of the stills, to the use of different fuels, to the plans for a solar powered tahona, to the agave ‘museum’ and nursery in the grounds. Jon and I spent at least half an hour taking photos of the labelled agaves outside. Running a little late thanks to this over-enthusiastic agave snapping we moved to the original distillery that Jaime set up in the ‘90s. Los Danzantes was started by Jaime and his twin brother, Gustavo, as a restaurant in Mexico City with a focus on top-end Mexican food (at a time when ‘top-end’ and ‘Mexican food’ were unusual bedfellows); its success led to the second restaurant in Oaxaca City. The emphasis on cuisine led the brothers to bottle their own tequila early on, and it didn’t take long for them to move to mezcal, which continues to be Jaime’s passion.

Brighton Map

If the new distillery is a geek’s paradise, the original is a salve to those of us who like organisation (if you’ve ever arranged your spirits in the same order as the stock take sheet, or changed the bar setup to make people move more efficiently, then this is the distillery for you). The set up allows the agave to arrive at one end, where they are put into the traditional oven. The oven is on a raised level a little higher than the fermentation vats, which are on wheels for added ease. The stills are then on a slightly lower level. The whole production is in a line, working with gravity, and the cellar (more of a chai, in that it’s above ground) is at the end; the finished product leaves the distillery at the opposite end to which the agave arrives. There’s a deep beauty to this kind of organisation and whatever’s the opposite of your skin crawling, this does it to me.

IMG_3214

We tasted the Los Danzantes range with Jaime, and spent a long while talking in the cellar/chai, (which even shares characteristics with the equivalents in Cognac, such as gravel on the floor to regulate the humidity), before getting back in the car to head to San Baltazar to meet one of the Alipús producers.

LD 2

The Alipús project was started by Jaime to support the indigenous growers and distillers of the region. As with Del Maguey and Los Siete Misterios he works with a number of producers, with the mezcals bottled under the Alipús label. At San Baltazar we again encountered the mix of tradition and sustainability at the heart of Los Danzantes and Alipús: Don Cirilo and his family are close to completing the construction of their new distillery and home, built with the proceeds they have made from Alipús and using technical advice from Los Danzantes. Modern as this seems we are abruptly reminded of how remote we are by Jaime translating Spanish with Cirilo, who then had to translate into the indigenous Zapotec for his father, Don Cosme. By now we were accustomed to the kindness and hospitality of the people of Oaxaca, but no less thankful to be on the receiving end. The warmth between Cirilo and his family and Jaime was emotional to witness. Jaime treated us to a stunning dinner at the Los Danzantes restaurant that evening, and I may have over-indulged on some strong mezcal. My backgammon skills took a further dip.

LD 3

On our final morning Jaime and Sten, who is responsible for production and sustainability at Los Danzantes and Alipús, presented us some of their projects for the conservation of agave and the industry surrounding it; their passion and commitment is incredible.

IMG_3166


 

Quick guide: Del Maguey

DM-Original-Line-Med-Res-Transparent.png

Del Maguey – the original Single Village mezcal – was started in 1995 by artist Ron Cooper, and is a firm bartender favourite the world over. The first four villages (Chichicapa, San Luis del Rio, Santo Domingo Albarradas and Minero) are still the core range, along with the house pour level Vida and the dangerously moreish Crema de Mezcal, but an impressive variety of different villages and agaves now form part of the range.

Quick guide: Los Siete Misterios

SK3A7752-Editar copy.jpg

Single agave mezcals from the Sola de Vega region, distilled in clay pots and bottled by Julio and Eduardo Mestre. Each bottle is numbered and has the name of the master palenquero who produced it. Doba-Yej (a local name for espadin) is a copper-pot distilled mezcal designed to be a house pour.

Quick guide: Alipús

San Juan

Mezcals from villages around Oaxaca, sourced by Jaime of Los Danzantes as part of a project to support the locals. Five villages form the core range: San Baltazar, San Andrés, San Juan, Santa Ana and San Luis.

Quick guide: Los Danzantes

raneg

Owned by Jaime Munoz (a strong contender for nicest man in Oaxaca) and originally produced for the restaurant of the same name. A blanco, reposado and añejo are distilled at their distillery, soon to move to the newer site.


 

Glossary

flower

Quiote – The flowering stem of the agave, which shoots up from the mature plant. This is usually cut off in tequila production as it takes sugar from the plant. When they have flowered and gone to seed the plant dies.

h

Hijuelos – Small clones of a plant that sprouts up around the main plant after the 4th year of its life (though at the Siete Misterios nursery they have witnessed it in agave as young as 1 year). The most common form of agave propagation is to take these and replant them.

planque

Palenque – Mezcal distillery

DSC_8985

Molina – Big volcanic stone wheel in a pit for milling agave (called a tahona in Jalisco)


 

By Phil Duffy (Amathus Head of Spirits) 

 

Knightsbridge Soho City Shoreditch |

Follow @AmathusDrinks | Like us on Facebook

Calvados and its Brandy

Do you like apples?

pommesdevantchatGF

Calvados is back. Well, ‘back’ is perhaps putting it a little strongly – it’s debatable whether there was ever a time when calvados was the apple (sorry) of the bar world’s eye – but there’s definitely something going on. Rather than sourcing one unconsidered bottle, destined for a life of gathering dust, bartenders are now paying attention, and restaurants may have a number of calvados options on the back bar covering different styles: Coupette in Bethnal Green boasts an impressive range and features a calvados of the month. It is no surprise that the definitive apple brandy is finding its way onto more and more cocktail menus throughout the country.

A short history of the Calvados region and its brandy

Calvados part 2

Cider making has a long history in France, dating back at least to the Romans. In the 13th century it became the drink of choice for the lower classes in the Normandy region, and by the 14th century cider sales in the North were greater than wine. The first record we have of the distillation of cider is from 1553, when a nobleman called Gilles de Gouberville recorded the process of making eaux-de-vie in his diary.

During the 19th century, calvados and cider became very popular in Paris, partly due to the phylloxera crisis crippling the wine trade. ‘Café/Calva’ became a favourite with the working man and is a tradition that continues to this day.

Calvados Pays d’Auge was granted AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status in 1942, along with 10 regions granted the looser AOR (appellation d’origine réglementée). These 10 were incorporated into the general AOC Calvados in 1984; the third and final AOC was added in 1997: AOC Calvados Domfrontais.

A castle and its apples

ChâteauDuBreuil

Built in the early 16th century, the Château du Breuil is classified as an historical monument, reflecting the typical Pays d’Auge architecture. The two half-timbered towers of the castle are from the 16th century; the central part is from the 17th century. In 1954, Philippe Bizouard bought the castle to set up his own distillery and created the Calvados Château du Breuil.

Château du Breuil has around 22000 apple trees within two orchards (42 hectares) in the Pays d’Auge region, and also works with farmers from the neighbouring towns. The higher rainfall in the region combined with the shallow soil provide perfect growing conditions for apple trees. It takes around 27kg of apples to make one litre of calvados; each tree produces 50-200kg each harvest (depending on the age of the tree, the rootstock and a number of other factors!)

Harvesting takes place in October and November, with up to 40 varieties of apple arriving at the Château to be pressed. The blend between these varieties is the first step to creating the unique flavour profile of the ciders. Fermentation is 100% natural and takes at least 6 weeks (the legal minimum is 3 weeks), yielding a 4.5% cider.

alambicGF

Distillation begins in the winter in Château du Breuil’s two copper pot stills. For Calvados Pays d’Auge the stills may be heated with a steam coil or naked flame; Château du Breuil uses flame. The first distillation produces les petites eaux at 28%, which are then returned to the still for the bonne chauffe, when the eaux-de-vie exits the still at 71% ABV, ready for its long slumber in oak that will yield the finished calvados.

The young spirit is put into 350 litre barrels, firstly in new wood for two months, during which time the spirit takes tannin and colour, before being transferred to older casks for maturation. Unusually (for calvados at least), Château de Breuil also have some cask finishes, where the spirit spends an extra few months in a sherry or sweet wine cask, adding extra layers of complexity.

XO-CIRE-006

 


The Three Appellations of Calvados

TCregardverre

AOC Calvados (approximately 71% of production)

  • Geographical area in Normandy: the Calvados department and some parts of Mayenne, Sarthe and Oise
  • No distillation method specified, but most is column stills (to a maximum ABV of 72%)
  • Made of apples and/or pears (permitted varieties are specified in the AOC)
  • Minimum two years’ old

AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge (approximately 28% of production)

  • Geographical area mostly in the Calvados department, on clay and chalk slopes
  • Must be double-distilled in pot stills with a maximum size of 30hl, to a maximum ABV of 72% (similar to Cognac)
  • Made of apples (with a maximum of 30% pears permitted)
  • Minimum two years’ old

AOC Domfrontais (approximately 1% of production)

  • Geographical area in the Orne, Manche and Mayenne departments
  • Must be single distilled in column stills heated with naked flame, to a maximum ABV of 72% (similar to Armagnac)
  • Made of apples and pears (with a minimum of 30% pears)
  • Minimum three years’ old

For all the appellations the whole process must be carried out in the geographical area: harvest, fermentation, distillation and ageing.


Ages on the Label

VS, ‘trois étoiles’ or ‘trois pommes’ – 2 years’ minimum

‘Vieux’ or ‘reserve’ – 3 years’ minimum

V.S.O.P, VO or ‘vieille réserve’ – 4 years’ minimum

X.O, ‘hors d’age’, ‘très vieille réserve’, ‘très vieux, ‘extra’, ‘Napoléon’ – 6 years’ minimum


 

by Yves Calabre (Amathus Brand Sales Manager – Rums & French Agency Spirits) 

 

Knightsbridge Soho City Shoreditch |

Follow @AmathusDrinks | Like us on Facebook