Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sipsmith Summer Cup: Testing mixers and beer cocktails

The calender may be telling us it's summer here in the UK but the weather is telling us a very different story. In an attempt to cheer ourselves up one rainy Sunday afternoon we decided a Sipsmith Summer Cup cocktail session was in order.

Sipsmith is the independent London distillery who have gained a fervent following of gin fans since their launch only three years ago. This year they released their second edition of Summer Cup, a gin based fruit cup made with Earl Grey tea, cucumber and lemon verbena. We decided to put it through a varied and thorough taste test ranging from the traditional to some slightly more off the wall ideas. I returned from the supermarket laden with fresh strawberries, lemons, cucumber, mint and a range of bottles. This was lining up to be a fun afternoon.

Traditional Summer Cup

First up, in the style of the traditional fruit cup, with strawberries, cucumber, mint and lemonade. This is a superb drink for sipping whilst tending to a barbecue in the rain. The zesty lemon verbena and strawberry refreshed me in front of the burning coals while the bitterness from the tea and herbs matched my mood as the rain continued to pour.

Gentleman's Wheat Summer Cup

This cocktail is inspired by Camden Brewery's Gentlemen's Wit, a limited release wit brewed with roasted lemon and bergamot. The roasted lemon gives the wit a refreshing sourness and a delicious burnt caramel note. The fragrant bergamot lifts this beer into another league and made it the most interesting Camden beer I've drunk. It got me thinking, would the combination of the lemon verbena and Earl Grey tea in the summer cup create the same blend of flavours with a wheat beer. It turns out it does.

1 part summer cup to 5 parts wheat beer with a garnish of a caramelised lemon slice* is something magical. I will make this cocktail again and again and I suggest you do too.

Cider Summer Cup

A 1:3 ratio with Henney's dry cider and a handful of sliced strawberries. The sweet flavours of the summer cup are up front with the dry cider following closely behind. As the strawberry juices begin to mingle it brings the whole this together as a fresh fruit punch.

Pale Ale Summer Cup

A 1:4 ratio with Sierra Nevada Pale ale and a slice of caramelised lemon* makes a balanced if very bitter cocktail. This comes across as bitter on more bitter but it works. Certainly a cocktail for beer lovers. 

 Summer Cup with Fever Tree ginger beer

I'm not going to give you the recipe. Don't even bother, the ginger beer kills the summer cup leaving a touch of cucumber and little else.

* to make caramelised lemon slices, dry fry some slices of lemon in a non stick pan for a minute on each side. 

Sipsmith Summer Cup is available from Waitrose and other drinks merchants. 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sipsmith Distillery

Our first taste of Sipsmith London Gin was at the Real Food Festival shortly after they had just started out. The Sipsmith distillery has only been in action since 2009, producing a London Gin and a Barley Vodka. I remember that we were both very impressed with the flavour profile of the gin, and when I found out about the visits I booked us a couple of places.  

The distillery is small - you couldn't really describe it as a tour, as it's just the one room, but you can see from the photos that they have some lovely kit. The visit starts with a gin and tonic, and our host then proceeded to tell us about the history of London gin, how the distillery was set up, and some details about the different processes used to distill their spirits.

We then moved on to a tutored tasting, first up was the barley vodka. The vodka is unfiltered, as the filtration process results in loss of character and flavour. To taste you don't get masses on the nose - mostly alcohol - but to taste you get a sweet and spicy flavour. It's surprisingly smooth and sippable, and you don't get the 'burn' you would get from a cheaper vodka. We thought it would be great in a martini.

Next up was the London gin. As much as I love a gin and tonic, I very rarely drink gin neat as I find it a bit much (the same goes for vodka), so I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and how complex the flavours were. Sipsmith are the only distillery to use fresh botanicals rather than concentrate, and this is reflected in the freshness and depth of the flavour. This also means that there is a potential to have slightly different flavour profiles between different batches. The predominant flavour is the juniper, but there are also floral, citrus notes which bring sweetness, and a spicy pine flavour.

The next tasting was the new summer cup, which is a Pimm's style drink. We tried it neat, but it would normally be mixed in a 1 to 3 dilution with a mixer. It's very dry as sugar isn't added to it, and is made with gin, lady and earl grey tea, lemon verbena, cucumber, herbs and spices. You can clearly taste the cucumber and the tea coming through. We both loved this and Sam will be following up this post soon with our findings from a number of cocktails we tried using the summer cup.

Last but not least was a limited edition (winter 2010) sloe gin. This is made with a fifth of the sugar that would normally go in a sloe gin, and the sugar is added at the end to adjust the sweetness accurately. Sipsmith feel that adding the sugar at the start blocks the extraction of the fruit sugars. It has a brown whiskey like colour and is boozy on the nose. To taste it's quite dry, Sam commented that he got jolly rancher boiled sweets, and we also got hits of plum jam. It tasted remarkably similar to one we made ourselves last year, but with a far more balanced sweetness and a much smoother finish.

Sipsmith's spirits can be purchased from selected Majestic and Waitrose stores, or online via the Sipsmith website.