- One of the most anticipated cocktail bars to open in NYC, The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog recently flung open the doors of its landmark building to much acclaim. Founders Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry of the award-winning beverage program at Belfast’s Merchant Hotel have done their homework to create a cocktail menu that honors the mid-19th century drinking scene in gangland New York. On the first level, a pub-style bar room complete with sawdust on the floor serves up classic cocktails, bottled punch, draft beer and Irish whiskey, while upstairs a more refined lounge serves an expansive menu of meticulously crafted drinks. On a recent visit, I sipped the Automobile (Marie Brizard Parfait Amour, Pernod Absinthe, celery cordial, Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Brut Champagne and Bittermens Orchard Street Celery Shrub), the Ale Flip (Sixpoint Cask Conditioned “Dead Rabbit” Ale, Jameson 12 Year Irish Whiskey, spiced egg batter, muscovado sugar and nutmeg), the Bankers Punch (Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength Irish Whiskey, Dead Rabbit Jamaican Rum Mix, fresh lime juice, raspberry cordial, Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters and dashes Graham’s LBV Port Wine), and a complimentary teacup of Grandieur Punch (Bols Genever, Varnelli Anis, lemon sherbert, lemon juice, orange flower water and peppermint tea). Everything was incredibly tasty, and the wait time for drinks was not long at all, a stunning feat considering there were only two barmen behind the bar and the room was full on a Saturday night. This Monday, Feb. 25, mixology master Gaz Regan will serve as guest bartender from 7 p.m. onward–so don’t bloody miss that. The Dead Rabbit, 30 Water Street.
- Speaking of new bars, Dipsology has a nice list of recently-opened and soon-to-open cocktail bars in NYC, including Attaboy, taking over the Milk & Honey space. Time Out New York interviewed Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy and rumor is they will open their doors later this month.
- Beefeater Gin recently got the green light to open London’s first gin distillery visitor center, expected to be completed later this year. As someone who has been fortunate enough to visit Beefeater’s headquarters in Kennington, I am thrilled for Master Distiller Desmond Payne and his team. Desmond is profoundly passionate about the making of gin and will do a great service to the public by showcasing the distillery’s process. (Check out the video announcement here.)
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”–Humphrey Bogart
London — the city where gin was both indulged in to the point of near societal ruin and, later, perfected by distilleries as London Dry Gin, is a capital oozing with cocktail history. Recently, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit both the Beefeater Gin distillery in Central London and the Plymouth Gin distillery in Plymouth, England.
The trip, organized as “A Tale of Two Cities,” provided an in-depth education on the histories and distillation processes of both brands as well as visits to some of London’s best bars and cultural institutions. (Disclosure: Travel and accommodations were provided by Access PR and Pernod-Ricard.)
We began the week with a tour of the Beefeater distillery in Lambeth led by Master Distiller Desmond Payne, one of the most experienced distillers in the world, who has been charged with upholding the original 1876 recipe created by founder James Burrough. Of course, if you have been following Beefeater news over the past couple of years, you know that Desmond has branched out the brand a bit with the creation of Beefeater 24, Beefeater Summer and Beefeater Winter–all of which maintain the integrity of the original Beefeater. “Tiny changes can affect the balance of the gin,” said Desmond. “This is just a way of keeping interest in the brand.”
Desmond showed us the cold storage room where up to two years’ supply of juniper berries are kept after being selected from growers in Umbria, Italy. Beefeater purchases roughly 40 tons of juniper each year to supply the 2.3 million cases of gin they produce each year. Desmond said that selecting a consistent supply of juniper is the most important part of his job, and if the crop has a bad year, he has the extra in storage for backup.
Beefeater purchases neutral grain alcohol made from UK wheat at 96.5% ABV. In order to be considered London Dry Gin, nothing can be added to the gin after distillation. What makes Beefeater unique is its 24-hour steeping process. Water and botanicals are added to the copper pot stills first, then the alcohol, and then the mixture steeps for 24 hours before distillation begins. This allows the botanicals to release their full character–Seville orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root, juniper, coriander seed, orris root, almond, liquorice and angelica seed.
Once the gin is distilled (minus the heads and the tails, which Desmond determines), a week’s worth of production is then blended and prepared for bottling. Soft purified water is added to reduce the alcohol content to 40% ABV. What is most amazing about Beefeater’s production is that other than the bottling process, only five employees work at the distillery.
Following the tour and a blind tasting, we were led to a cozy cocktail bar within the distillery where Dan Warner, Beefeater’s Global Brand Ambassador, mixed a dizzying array of cocktails employing Beefeater and Beefeater 24 as the main ingredient. From the Pink Lady to the Ramos Gin Fizz, these were tasty and certainly held our attention. One delicious drink that was new to me and seemed easy to make was the Army & Navy (2 parts gin, .5 part lemon juice and .25 part orgeat syrup).
Later in the week, we embarked on a train journey through the English countryside to Plymouth on the southern coast of England. Famous for being the port where the historic Mayflower took off for the New World in 1620, the town offers much pre-colonial charm to this day. Equally charming was the Black Friars Distillery, home of Plymouth Gin and more than 600 years old.
Established in 1793, Plymouth Gin was imbibed by the British Royal Navy and thanks to the navy’s travels around the world, it was widely popular in the 1880s as the cocktail movement took off. “Plymouth Gin is the most listed product in the Savoy cocktail book,” said Plymouth’s Master Distiller Sean Harrison.
However, the brand suffered several ups and downs over the years due to damage from WWII and changes in ownership. But thanks to the return to classic cocktail recipes in recent years, the brand has enjoyed a resurgence, with New York City representing about a quarter of its market.
Sean explained that Plymouth’s neutral grain spirit is chosen for its “buttery” mouthfeel, and distilled in a 155-year-old copper pot still with seven botanicals (juniper, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root, angelica root, cardamom pods and coriander seeds). The water that is blended with Plymouth to reduce its alcohol content is sourced from a nearby granite-based reservoir, giving the gin its distinctive smooth finish. Again, I was impressed to learn that the distillery here has a small staff–just three employees including Sean.
Following our tour and a blind tasting, we each got to distill our very own blend of Plymouth Gin using micro-distillation equipment. I chose a bit too much lemon peel for my botanical mixture, resulting in what I called “Plymonade.” I think the best part of the experiment was seeing Sean’s reactions as he sampled everyone’s results.
The next morning, we took a ride to the Dartmoor Resevoir where the water for Plymouth Gin is sourced. To prove how drinkably soft the water is here, Sean led us to a quiet oasis and made us Pink Gins (gin, water, Angostura Bitters) using water directly from the source.
In Plymouth, we stayed at the elegant St. Elizabeth’s House. In London, we stayed at the posh Duke’s Hotel and, for our last night, the funky Zetter Townhouse. Fun excursions during the week included a trip to Tony Conigliaro’s Drink Factory, a molecular mixology lab where Marcis Dzedelanis showed us high-tech twists on classic cocktails. A rhubarb gimlet was made using gin and a rhubarb cordial made by centrifuging rhubarb puree. We also learned how to carve ice into the shape of a horse’s head at the Below Zero Ice Bar–although some in the group made carvings that looked more alien-like. We were even treated to the Ceremony of Keys at the Tower of London.
Nighttime bar crawls included visits to the newly-opened Worship Street Whistling Shop, which features its own lab for techniques such as sous vide, rotary evaporation and barrel aging to produce off-the-wall ingredients such as chlorophyll bitters and walnut “ketchup” (port wine, green walnut, chocolate, saffron and spice). With a Victorian decor transplanted into the 21st century, the vibe here was refreshingly unpretentious, despite the meticulously-executed drink program.
Other highlights included The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel, where legendary bartenders Ada “Coley” Coleman and Harry Craddock, author of The Savoy Cocktail Book, once stood behind the stick, and The Connaught Hotel Bar, which won Best Hotel Bar in the World at the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail. I couldn’t get over how fast the bartender at the Connaught made drinks, all while maintaining poise and a sense of class not often seen stateside. Add to that the Connaught’s impeccable interior design and a tableside martini trolley, and drinking here was definitely a highlight of the trip.
If you can’t make the trip to London, do yourself a solid and try some of the cocktail recipes at ginandtales.com. Then you too, can be #ginning at life!
Get ready to kick your winter cocktail game up a notch with Beefeater London Dry’s Winter Edition, coming to the U.S. in late November-early December, with an official launch in NYC on Dec. 6. Following the success of Beefeater’s Summer Edition, Master Distiller Desmond Payne created this holiday-inspired gin featuring notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and pine shoots. Although I haven’t tried it yet, if it’s anything like Beefeater Summer, I know I’m in for a treat.
From the press release, Desmond says, “I wanted to create a gin that would enhance the traditional Beefeater recipe and make it even more suitable for hot punches and cocktails that are popular during the winter months. Beefeater Winter captures the familiar aromas of the season using a balanced combination of botanicals that are synonymous with that particular time of year.”
To get you in the holiday mood, here’s a recipe for Winter Punch:
50ml Beefeater Winter Gin
10ml lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1 tsp brown sugar
1 pinch cinnamon (ground)
1 pinch nutmeg (ground)
In a saucepan, gently heat all ingredients—do not let the mixture boil. Decant into teacups or toddy cups and serve.
With 80-degree weather coming our way for Derby Day tomorrow, everyone’s thinking about seersucker suits and mint juleps served over crushed ice. As summer nears, I also start to dream of crisp, refreshing gin. And wouldn’t you know it, Beefeater London Dry Gin is launching a limited-edition Summer Gin on June 2. Following the success of Beefeater 24, Master Distiller Desmond Payne created Beefeater Summer Gin to celebrate the season with prominent floral notes including elderflower, blackcurrant, and hibiscus.
“It has a slightly lighter characteristic,” said Payne, who took a moment to speak with me by phone recently. “Beefeater 24 is aimed more at bartenders and for mixing in more high-end cocktails, while the Summer Gin is more for the consumer. Think summer parties and BBQs, and with pomegranate or cranberry juice, it makes a lovely long drink.”
Payne, who has been making gin for 42 years, said he is “having a great time” experimenting with new varieties of Beefeater while upholding the classic method of distilling. “It’s a chance to spread out a little bit, but very much in the Beefeater way,” he said. “This is an interesting and exciting time for gin.”
“Martinis are like breasts: one’s not enough, and three’s too many–and four’s a party.”–Simon Ford
While hordes of foodies went to burger bashes and stalked Rocco DiSpirito, my NYC Wine & Food Festival experience was much more liquid-oriented, as I mentioned previously. So in no change of pace I found my weekend booked with two seminars featuring spirits that, just a few years ago, were on opposite ends of the popularity spectrum–gin and tequila.
At “Gin Joint” at 5 Ninth, Plymouth Gin Brand Ambassador Simon Ford admitted that when he first moved to New York from London, gin had a bad rap. “I’m sure many of us had a bad experience and got sick drinking it from our parents’ liquor cabinet,” he said. But now that less-junipery gins are on the market, gin is finally having a moment again, at least here in New York. After “cleansing” our palettes with French 75s (Beefeater Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, Perrier Jouet Champagne), Simon took us through a tasting of six gins representing the history of the distilled juiper elixir traced back to monks in the 11th century.
Naturally, we started with Bols Genever, based on the 19th-century recipe for Holland-style gin. Its subtly sweet, malty taste was a hit with British troops fighting in Holland against the Spanish in the Thirty Years’ War, who dubbed it “Dutch Courage.” So when the British appointed a Dutch king to the throne (King William of Orange) in 1689, the gin craze officially took off. By the mid-1700s, gin was so popular in England that 11 million gallons were being produced a year, and at that time the spirit was known as “mother’s ruin” for its detrimental effects. Thankfully, the 1830s brought the invention of the coffee still, leading to the column distillation method for what is known as London dry gin.
Next, we tried Beefeater, a classic London dry gin, which features notes of juniper, citrus, and angelica root, and Plymouth Gin, which is made in the town of Plymouth, England, and manages to balance juniper with citrus, spice, and floral notes. By the 1890s, the gin rage crossed the pond to the U.S., where it was a classic cocktail ingredient until Prohibition. We also tried Boodles, a classic London gin with juniper and coriander notes founded in 1762, Beefeater 24, a new gin released earlier this year with prominent citrus and tea notes, and Magellan Gin, which features a blue tint and floral nose due to its use of iris root. We were also served a dry martini (Plymouth Gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters, and a lemon twist) and a “Breakfast Martini,” featuring Beefeater, Le Combier orange liqueur, lemon juice, and orange marmalade.
The highlight of the session for me was chatting with Simon and Jamie Gordon afterwards and getting a sneak peek at Jill DeGroff’s “Lush Life” book, a collection of her stunning caricatures of well-known cocktailians set for release on Nov. 1. Jill, wife of “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff, has close ties with many of the people she illustrates, and her anthology captures the warmth and spirit of these animated “characters.”
For my last day of the NYCWFF, I attended a tequila tasting at Los Dados by Jaime Salas, National Brand Ambassador of Tres Generaciones Tequila, distilled by Sauza. A refreshing cocktail of Tres Generaciones plata, creme de cassis, ruby red grapefruit juice, and Sprite was served to prepare us for straight tastings of tequila, sans lime or salt. Jamie told us how blue agave, “maguey,” was fermented and drunk by pre-Hispanic emperors before the Spanish distillation process was introduced in the 16th century. In 1873, Don Cenobio Sauza was the first to call the agave spirit “tequila,” named after the region in the Jalisco state of Mexico, and the first to ship it to the U.S.
To be labeled tequila, the spirit must be at least twice-distilled, and it must come from the state of Jalisco and a few other areas. It must also have at least 51 percent of the fermented sugars come from the blue agave; the remainder may include cane or brown sugar, although this is considered less premium. Jamie said tequila is the costliest spirit to produce because agave takes eight to 12 years to ripen and then is harvested manually. Tres Generaciones is 100 percent blue agave and is triple-distilled, leaving smooth and clean agave flavors with a slight pepper finish. We tasted the plata, which is unaged (lightly sweet, citrus and banana notes); the reposado, aged four months in oak (vanilla, light caramel, and smoke); and the anejo, aged at least one year in toasted oak barrels (vanilla, toffee, and white pepper). Needless to say, this was not a bad way to start a Sunday afternoon.
A few facts Jaime shared: chilling tequila suppresses the flavor; in 2007, the U.S. surpassed Mexico for tequila consumption; and the margarita is the most-requested cocktail in the world.