Thursday, 8 August 2013

Gincident 2013, by The Liquorists

Awesome photograph taken by the talented  Pete Sheppard of Tone Photographer

The notion of a 'booze cruise' first entered my consciousness at the tender age of thirteen, on a family holiday in the Greek islands. Having previously developed a taste for melon flavoured 20/20, it probably would have been right up my street, had my parents been reckless enough to allow me out of their sight long enough to get cast away. Fortunately the days of teenage holidays with parents are long gone, my penchant for alcopops has developed into a full-blown love affair with good quality spirits, and the concept of a 'booze cruise' has a brand new meaning, thanks to the Liquorists 'Gincident'...
Messa-GIN a bottle. CHORTLE.

By no means seasoned Liquorist trailers, we did once before experience the delights of copious amounts of educational booze on the Ceylon Arrack trail. Though a fun-filled evening, the hopping from bar to bar left us feeling older than our years, and so the idea of a nice long sit down accompanied by gin delights left us experiencing sheer delight that we could both booze and wear slippers.

As soon as we stepped on board the good ship Liquorists, a very fine G&T was thrust into our hands. The boozy tour guides impressed upon us the importance of the Fever Tree tonic. None of that Schweppes shit here, ladies and gents, only the finest on one of these ol' trails. It is actually pretty damn good, and when I'm feeling a little flush I splash out on the good stuff. If it's good enough for Ferran Adria, it's good enough for me. Oh and the G in that tree was Martin Miller's. He does hotels too. Gin and hotels? OF COURSE.

Cured salmon and cucumber. Saved me from a hangover.
We were eased in gently to a night of gin, ensuring we had a good ol' feed. All of the food was served 'sharing style', which was surprisingly tidy considering we were on a floating vehicle, and was also bloody delicious. The best dish of the night was a juniper-cured salmon, served with a delectable cucumber and dill salad. It was so good, the braver-than-I Good Gobble stole a portion from the next table for me. Thanks guys! We also devoured posh chicken wings and a couscous dish served with ham hock, which universally appeared to be the best couscous dish anyone around our table had ever eaten.Whilst it's certainly not about the food on a Liquorists trail, it's good to know it's a whole lot more than an afterthought, and we were ready for our boozing completely sated.

For the uninitiated, the Gincident cruise takes place on a barge, meandering around Manchester's canals. Floating on the water, the cocktails - ya know, the reason why we were here! - are a tasty accompaniment or distraction to the weather out there, so it's worth a trip come rain or shine. We were lucky to be on board on one of the nicest days of the year. OH YEAH, THE COCKTAILS...

Hogarth's Fizz
First up was Hogarth's Fizz. IT WERE REET GOOD. Sorry, that must have been the um, Northern sailor in me. (No, no, not Alan). Something akin to a gin fizz, using Plymouth gin, it was given the Liquorists treatment with an addition of camomile syrup. Now I'm more used to drinking the earth apple (I totally didn't find out that's its other name from Wikipedia. Nope. Not me) before beddy-bos, so I wasn't sure how it was going to slip down in a gin cocktail. The taste, however, was reasonably subtle, and this fella proved to be one of my favourites of the night.

Next up was the um, wittily named Message G-In A Bottle. These guys, they don't just know booze ya know, they know WORDS TOO. And are obvz massive Police fans. Winning all round really. They'd gone to a fair amount of effort with this one, making me feel like the poshest hobo there ever was, drinking out of my specially branded paper bag. It didn't even taste like White Lightning - extra points! Sincerely, it tasted pretty awesome - they'd gone to great lengths to create their own ginger beer, if my memory serves me correctly, mixed with more of the hotelier's gin and a little taste of the Orient with a whisper of Jasmine tea. They don't do things by halves, these boys.

La Floraison D'Etre
Other very drinkable delights came in the form of a Sitting in an English Garden - essentially a better version of here's-one-we-made-earlier using Bloom Gin, with added strawberry liqueur. They'd also got their hands on an even better version of Fever Tree's tonic - this one with elderflower. Basically my favourite edible flower, so I drank this in double quick time...... leaving me not quite so forthcoming when it came to the Blossom Will Be. A pretty little number, using G'Vine gin - but perhaps the addition of white wine didn't sit so well in my delicate-as-a-flower tummy. That was fine though as my table partners happily indulged in extras.

The last cocktail of the night, and the one I'd most been looking forward to, having heard that Jamie Jones - one of the Liquorists moonlighters - had pretty much been crowned the KING OF GIN for was La Floraison D'Etre. G'Vine Floraison - as opposed to their Nouaison used in their earlier cocktail - is mixed with egg white, lemon, olive oil and pink peppercorns. The G'Vine products are a French-style gin; they are therefore made with grape spirit and each of the two have distinctly different flavours. The one in question here offering a more 'floral' and, I suppose, wine-like quality to it, marrying beautifully with the spice from the pepper and the unctuous oil. I expect the cocktail we were served up on the night wasn't quite the same recipe as that which won Jamie Jones the gin crown, but it was a well-balanced drink that was worth the wait.

We were invited on the trail and thus drank for free. Gin can't buy my love though it can buy Jamie's (that's my other half not the gin king), so in the interests of fairness I was tasked with writing up this booze cruise. At £55, it might not sound 'cheap', but I reckon it's bloody good value: five expertly mixed cocktails, a G&T (or two!), food to line the tummy and a tour of the world-renowned (ahem) Manchester canals. Thank God I never did embark upon one of those Ouzo-filled boat trips as a naive teen: good things do come to those who wait...

Go on, book on...who could say no to that jacket? Clearly not the gin king.
The Liquorists have got loads more of these Gincident trips planned. You can book on here!

All photos provided by Tone Photographer (he's alright innee?!).

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Liquorists: Ceylon Arrack Trail

My experience of a Liquorists trail can be summed up in the following three bullet points:
  1. I haven't drunk like this since university 
  2. 25 minutes to drink a Sazerac and a glass of punch is not enough
  3. Capping off the night with a rum Old Fashioned and a Martini is just plain stupid
The last is my own bittersweet fault and I only partly blame The Liquorists. Nobody had a gun to my head, forcing me to drink the copious amounts of booze but it seemed in the 'spirit' of things, if you'll pardon the pun. (Five bars) x (a cocktail and a shot of punch) = this quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

Now, before you think - "Hold On! He's not selling this very well!" - I did have a great time. I'd simply advise booking the following day (NB: read week) off work unless you're blessed with an immunity to hangovers. Of course, as an advocate of responsible drinking, I know there is no need to drink everything that is put in front of you but it doesn't seem financially sound not to (although I should mention that this perhaps isn't a logical argument in this case, as we were guests of the kind folks at the Liquorists).

For those who haven't heard of The Liquorists, they are Tom Sneesby and Jody Monteith, a pair of vastly experienced bartenders turned consultants who run among other things the Manchester Spirit and Cocktail Trails. They take a spirit and teach you about it in the best way possible: drinking it in various concoctions. It's an upmarket, informative pub-crawl if you will, which they run from their headquarters/bar/venue/studio at 22 Redbank in the Green Quarter. Imagine a kind of boozy Bat-cave.

The bartenders' Bat-cave.
For this particular trail we had the company of Jody and the spirit in question was Ceylon Arrack. Now, I'd like to qualify that I too am a bartender albeit it one with much less experience but a great deal of curiosity; and I can't remember the last time I tried a spirit that was completely new to me. And I'm guessing that, with the exception of the 'trailblazers' and a select few, not many of you will have ever heard of this mysterious drink.

Ceylon Arrack has a great story behind it and Jody, being a great teacher and a passionate orator, conveyed its heritage to us over the course of the night. It is a spirit distilled from the sap of the coconut flower and comes from Sri Lanka where the 'toddy tappers' climb coconut trees, make holes in them and collect the milky sap which is also used to make palm sugar and coconut syrup. We were shown pictures of these daredevils 'tight-roping' between the enormous palms. The distillate of the fermented sap is then aged for a short period in Sri Lankan 'Hamilla' wood to mellow it.

Ceylon Arrack takes a little bit of flavour from the wood and bears a slight resemblance to a bourbon or cognac on the nose. It also has the floral, green qualities from the sap but its finish is predominantly sweet, almost caramelized, coconut. Thus it sits well with other flavours that like coconut, especially lime, pineapple, and ginger. These flavour combinations made up a lot of the shots of punch if I'm not mistaken.

The Sazerrack at Hula
It is beyond the scope of this post (and my hazy memory) to describe all the cocktails we had, suffice to say that you can mix it with ginger beer, a dash of bitters and a slice of orange as Jody did; or treat it more like a bourbon and make a Sazerac out of it like the guys at Hula with their Sazerrack (see what they did there?). We were also treated to cocktails at Northern Quarter stalwart Apotheca and newcomer The Whiskey Jar, ending up in Epernay. Transport was provided where necessary and we were given a nice Sri Lankan curry before embarking on the crawl as well as snacks at each bar, most noteworthy of which was Epernay's cheese and meat selection.

Um, something with beer in it at the Whiskey Jar. No idea what it was called.
I reckon with The Liquorists at the helm you're always going to be guaranteed a drink-fuelled night with the right balance of education, entertainment and socialising. Put a group of strangers together and there's always an element of awkwardness at the start which quickly dissipates after several drinks. This being organized fun after all, the only qualm I have is that the night could have started a little earlier to allow a bit more time in each bar as there were times went things felt a little rushed. I do nonetheless acknowledge the restrictions on time and the difficulty of herding a load of tipsy sheep from pen to pen!

After all this talk of booze, I feel I should leave you with a sobering thought. A cursory glance at an article on the Sri Lankan 'toddy tappers' will tell you that their art is dwindling one. The younger generation are put off by the risk, the hard labour and the poor wages (750 rupees/£3.80 for 100 litres of sap). Many of the ageing toddy tapper population have no one to follow in their footsteps. So it remains to be seen whether the manufacture of Ceylon Arrack will become an industrialized process and lose most of its heritage in the process. Let's hope not.

In the interests of transparency, I'll mention again that we were guests of the Liquorists, but like drinking those last cocktails, no-one has forced us into writing anything nice.