Whisky Squad #38 – To make whisky you start with beer…
I am much behind on Whisky Squad write-ups, which is especially bad as I’ve recently started helping out organise The Squad properly, rather than just shouting drunkenly during the sessions and claiming that it’s ‘help’. Anyways, Whisky Squad #37 has fallen by the wayside, as I was helping present it and didn’t make enough notes. But never mind – here is number #38!
We were joined by Ed Bates (a colleague of mine at TWE, former inmate at Berry Brothers and general booze know-it-all) who has started doing occasional bits and pieces with a little company (sarchasm) called Adnams. Well known for their beer they’ve also been playing with distillation in recent times and Ed came by to tell us all about some of these experiments, especially the one that has just made it to market…
With the backing of Adnams we managed to secure a rather excellent venue – the upstairs bar of The Bridge House, an Adnams owned pub by London Bridge. We did away with the traditional blind tasting for the evening, to make it easier to chart the evolution of the various drinks that we were trying. As such we knew that the centrepiece of the tasting would be Adnams’s Spirit of Broadside (which I’ve mentioned before), with a few other interesting things from the distillery to follow.
We kicked off with a pair of drinks to keep us company while Ed did some talking: a Spirit of Broadside ‘Manhattan’, made with a 2:1 ratio of spirit to sweet vermouth and a splash of bitters, stirred over ice and strained; and a half of Adnams Broadside. The Manhattan wasn’t anything like a regular Manhattan, but had a stack of fruit and spice on the nose, and a palate of spiced orange, with a slightly musky middle – tasty, but not a Manhattan. Broadside is an old favourite, although that night the barrel was on its way out and it wasn’t as good as usual – malty, medium hopped and quite pungent for a best bitter.
Adnams is a well-established beer company, starting officially in 1872, when the Adnams brothers bought the Sole Bay brewery, they’ve been a fixture of Southwold for over two centuries. Their beer is well known across the UK and the flagship brew, the Broadside of the previous paragraph, is a standard in the real ale drinkers list of go to beers. Around the turn of the millennium they started a refurbishment program and on finishing in 2010 they found that they had a spare building. Not wanting to be wasteful they decided to turn it into a stillhouse, now known as the Adnams Copper House distillery. Jonathan Adnams, the boss, and John McCarthy, now head distiller, trained to be distillers while it was being built, experimented and have now been producing award winning spirits for the last couple of years.
The Spirit of Broadside is an experiment that has escaped the lab, and we started off with some of it freshly distilled, unaged new make. Simply put, it is Adnams’s Broadside bitter, distilled. On the nose there was some brewery beefiness (the smell of malting barley, similar to that which blankets Edinburgh most mornings), sweet lemon, candy floss, marshmallow, toasted grain and big syrup sweetness. To taste it was soft and sweet with lots of the beefy malt from the nose. That was joined by plums and damsons – it tasted almost like a fruit eau-de vie – and finished herby with yet more of the Bovril-like meatiness. Quite robust and interesting for an unaged spirit.
We then moved on to the released version of Spirit of Broadside, aged for a year in new oak from the Tronçais forest – the number two region of France behind Limousin for barrel oak. Future releases won’t be matured in French oak and will instead use much cheaper, but pretty much as good, central European oak. The casks they use are properly fresh: uncharred and untoasted. I’m not sure exactly how the maturation would compare to the more traditional toast/char method, but I’m suspecting less mellowing of the spirit and a slightly slower wood influence due to a lack of ‘activation’ by the charring. Their cellaring is done in actual cellars – underground. They’re also very dry, which leads to some thirsty angels and the casks lose quite a lot of liquid to the atmosphere. This does seem to concentrate the flavour of the spirit somewhat…
Anyways, I wrote some new tasting notes to see if they matched up with what I’ve got on previous occasions that I’ve tried this. On the nose I got rubber bike inner tubes (fresh from the pack and still powdered), massive sweet wood, cardamon, ginger cake, lemon and the brewery beefiness from the new make made a bit spicier – like the smell of brewday in a town with a brewery. To taste it started sweet with orange and ginger, getting woodier as it went on with more cardamon and woody spices, balanced by some milk chocolate. It finished with bitter wood, gingerbread and some spicy ground ginger. I really don’t think this one is for me – I’ve tried it a few times and neat it does nothing for me. However, I’m intrigued by its potential for cocktails, although balancing the rather unusual flavours is far from easy.
Spirit of Broadside conquered we moved on to some of their more conventional products. Sort of. First up was Copper House vodka, Adnams’s regular 40% vodka. It’s made using a barley mash so if they felt like sticking it in an oak barrel and maturing it for a few years they could call it whisky. Next year is the third anniversary of the distillery’s startup. ANYWAY, on the nose it had oranges and lemons, tangerines and marshmallow. To taste it was oily, sweet and marshmallowy but still quite clean tasting, finishing with a lingering and tasty bitter lemon.
Next was their slightly more peculiar vodka – Longshore. Bottled at 48% it’s made using a mixed grain mash of barley, oats and wheat. On the nose it was packed full of grain, with added sweetcorn, mulching grass, sweet butterscotch and a strange off note that I described in my notes as ‘old, crusty urinal’. Bear with me. To taste it was soft, packed full of sweet butterscotch and pleasantly oily on the tongue. It finished quite long with lemon zest and burnt sugar. Strangely, despite the calcified piddle related notes on the nose, the body on this surprised me in a good way – wonderfully sweet and one that I reckon would get nice and thick when chilled.
The final drink on the mat was a nod towards their whisky experiments (if they have any, which of course we could never assume… They do have some), their North Cove Oak Aged vodka. A barley mash bottled at 50% ABV and matured for four months in central European oak. On the nose it had a hint of new wood rubber, big sweet oak, barley sugar and a more traditional ‘sweet alcohol’ vodka tang underneath. To taste it was sweet and woody with butterscotch, woody spice, vanilla and lots of new oak, finishing with more spice and tangy lemon. Interesting and something that might become even more interesting in a few more years – it’s about time someone started making American style, multi-grained, new wood matured whisk(e)y in the UK…
Anyways, ta muchly to Ed to talking us through the evening and to the folks from the Bridge House for letting us use the room, jubilee bunting and all.
No pictures as I am rubbish. But we all knew that.
Best Bitter, 4.7%. Comes in bottles at 6.3%
Spirit of Broadside
Eau de Vie de Bier, 43%. ~£35
Copper House Vodka
Barley vodka, 40%. ~£25
Mixed grain vodka, 43%. ~£30
North Cove Oak Aged Vodka
Cask matured mixed grain vodka, 50%. ~£32