April 17th, 2013
Things have been very busy of late. I’ve had a few talks around, all very different and all very fun. From discussing genetics and taste with the great folk from Mad Labs in Manchester where I was talking on Nature vs Nurture in regards to our tastes, to chatting Whisky and World Class with the mighty Colin Dunn.
Whisky has dominated a lot of my time in fact (no surprises) and there’s some VERY fun stuff coming up…
Also keep an eye out for forthcoming Mr Lyan partnerships, including some super exciting projects with long term collaborator Shay from the Rebel Dining Society. Some sneak peeks of Lyan Bar developments will also be coming soon. Again, all is vague and shrouded in mystery still. Apologies
However, thought this would be good timing to talk some of the fun recent cocktail stuff. Aside from some great projects with the fine folk at Elliot’s and Selfridges, I’ve been having some fun with char. I’d explored the idea of burnt notes before in my ‘Chip Pan bitters’, and of course recent products such as Ardbeg’s Alligator and Buffalo Trace’s Experimental 7 looked which not only take some of the heavier burnt notes, they explore the reductive qualities of the charcoal layer.
I’d also come across some some cocktails that used this before; The ever inventive Jason Scott from Bramble had the ‘Mexican Limeade’ from many years ago, which I had taken inspiration from (and in part from breakfast style grilled grapefruit) by using charred pink grapefruit to compliment the notes of Auchentoshan Valinch in a sour.
You also come across hints of this with the burnt orange zest found on Cosmopolitans and some Toddies which eludes to and compliments the flavours found in the drinks.
It’s been fun exploring other aspects of char though. Charring fruit brings out interesting contrasts to the sweeter and acidic notes, and gives a darker contrast to the ‘plumper’ side. Obviously the heat impact does affect the flavours too, but it has been great to explore. Burnt sugar and caramel notes also work well, lending towards the meatier notes created by Maillard reactions too.
I’m intrigued to see if I can introduce some of these char notes without having the heat damage to ingredients, and avoiding the interchange with charcoal (there can be some loss of flavour too). Actual wood char can work for this, but I am interested too see how much pushing these bitter notes can act as a pleasant contrast to some brighter aspects. I’ve even explored ‘darkening’ powders too – baked salt, reducing bicarb (this didn’t really work), toasted yeast and roasted flour. I’m unsure whether the acid powder will work this way too.
As ever, more news to come soon.
February 24th, 2013
I think I’ve long documented my love of Whisky. It constantly and consistently fascinated me how the range of flavours could develop in something so simple.
In a crude sense, I couldn’t figure out how some water, cereal and wood could bring up a plethora of fruits, spice, herbs and some things all together more ethereal. You have the mind blowing tropical fruit of old Bowmore and Benriach, the leather and forest in Karuizawa , beeswax and orange of Clynelish and old Springbank and the mysterious pepper of Talisker…(I could go on) Of course this was present in other spirits too; how could there be white flowers in Cognac or chocolate-cinnamon-bananas in rum when these weren’t present in any of the process?
With this in mind, my curiosity was lent towards the different processes and more specifically, maturation. This led to research and experiments in ageing (and of course, alternative ageing), different processes (low pressure, high pressure, different materials) and also all the variables that were available to the distiller (firing rates, cuts, heating method…) but I was still left baffled.
So I began thinking of the start point of all of these; fermentation. Slowly, I became more intrigued by the impact of this stage: distillation concentrates flavours (and although maturation adds/alters/removes a lot, it still is dependent upon the original make) so it was necessary for the building blocks to be present at the initial stages.
I started to attempt new brews; wild yeast/long fermentations, different saccharifying agents, trying to isolate specific yeasts… Many many attempts, and all fascinating. However, consistency was completely beyond me (although not the focus of these projects) and often, they didn’t taste great (although again, still always interesting and often they tasted better once distilled).
It was with this that I cast a particular eye towards some of the interesting work going around with craft beer in the UK (and further afield) and a perfect occasion came about through Craft Beer Rising. Not only was I interested by the products themselves and a revival of quality beers, I was fascinated by seeing how these producers were exploring the world of fermentation.
Needless to say, there were many incredible beers at the festival (and of course some fantastic food, music and *ahem* masterclasses) and some brilliant new looks at the process.
One that particularly impressed amongst a whole host of amazing products was the work of Sharp‘s brewery. I knew of the guys from before as Tris- a good friend and owner of many a fine bar- had worked with them down in Cornwall, but some of their small batch experiments were truly mind blowing. The enclosed snap of the Quadrupel Ale (with a dram of Port Ellen 1979/2012) was not only an incredible drop, but also a fascinating brew; four different malts and four different yeast strains. Wonder what it would taste like distilled…
February 17th, 2013
I’m honoured and excited to be speaking at a few events next week- get registering to come down.
On Tuesday I’ll be in Manchester discussing the wonders of Whisky cocktails at World Class. Not only do I get to discuss the merits of Scotch in mixed drinks and my experiences of drinking whisky around the world, I also get to chat with potential competitors about something that was a key part of my bartending career having won World Class a few years back. After enjoying some Talisker hi-balls, I will be travelling back home to Edinburgh to chat similarly about Scotch in its homeland. Those in the North, register if you haven’t and come say hey.
At the end of the week, I will be back in London for Craft Beer Rising – where you can try a range of wonderful beers, listen to some great music and eat some fine street food. I’ll be talking about beer cocktails so register for a trade pass, or get some tickets to the event.
February 12th, 2013
Apologies for the hiatus but there’s been a few site issues! I’ll try fill in the below (it was quite an epic Talisker tasting) and any other cut-off posts soon. Should be back to normal now!
So as part of some of my experiments, I’ve been having fun playing around with other cocktail ingredients (some are really stretching the imagination). These have often been exploring flavours I couldn’t easily find in the spirits that dominated the cocktails I’d been making. This was a motivating factor in my alternative ageing experiments (ultra-violet, radiation, biological, oxidative…) but I also found many examples when exploring some of the fortified wines (see below) and lambic beers. Yeast, botrytis and malo-lactic fermentation create some fantastic notes.
The wine side has also thrown in interesting additions such as tannins and minerality as well and I’ve had great success exploring these. I had used a very mineral-led wine in my winning recipe for the No3 Gin competition a few years back, and had also explored tannins and yeast at The Whistling Shop.
It was great then when a friend asked me to judge the Enotria wine competition (and I’m very honoured to be doing so alongside Peter Dorelli and the lovely Laura Foster). It was fascinating to see how different people from the trade- both sommeliers and bartenders- approached the brief and used a shared list of wines in so many different manners.
In terms of using wines and beers on the bar, I feel they offer a lot. Practically, they need to be used differently though. They obviously don’t have the shelf life of spirits, but aside from providing the aforementioned flavours and textures, they can offer excellent GP and also give you lower alcohol cocktails in your menu. Manipulating them through a series of techniques can create fascinating bases too.
These lower alcohol cocktails are interesting to explore- they have a certain delicacy about them that behaves very differently to spirits. Subtle nuances to herbs and spices shine through in an interesting manner, and it allows you to pull apart complex concoctions such as bitters in a great way.
I have high expectations for the competition at the end of the month. The preliminary judging showed a huge variety of approaches. It will be great to see how the competitors translate these out and justify their approaches and I’ll be keen to hear what has been their motivations and whether practicality has affected their choices.
I’ll keep you posted on the winner, and try and restrain my jealousy of their trip to Sicily!
December 18th, 2012
Knowing your ingredients is key to helping you balance your drinks. This can be a matter of tasting the base spirits to find notes you want to lift out, or it can be to ascertain the balance of some of your natural ingredients, for example.
Either way, it’s good to know the ins and outs of what you’re putting into the drink and it will help you manage to have a more coherent drink where each of the flavours unfolds through the drink