Picks of 2017 – Imbibe’s fave products and stuff from the last 12 months

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Drinks: Drinks
Location: UK

As always, we tasted a ton of stuff in 2017. We even spat some of it. Here are our favourite wines, spiritsbeers/ciders, books products, and innovations of the last 12 months. Stick ’em on your wish list for next year.


WINES

Ochota Barrels, The Fugazi Grenache 2015, McLaren Vale, Australia

I ran into this at Temper, where Donald Edwards had it on the list, and even a couple of bottles into the meal it struck me how good it was. There’s a lift, purity and vibrancy to this wine that might be explained by the team’s organic, low-fi approach.  Either way, it merges concentration and freshness in a strikingly good way; a great example of the modern hands-off style of Australian winemaking.
£20, Indigo Wines

Arba Wine, Ak Arba Reserve, Kazakh Riesling  2014, Assa Valley, Kazakhstan

Sometimes in the Sommelier Wine Awards you run into a wine that stops you dead in your tracks. This Riesling was such a wine. It tasted like Riesling – but not like any expressions we’d tried before. Complex, with tropical and citrus fruit topped with herbs flint and beeswax, it was multi-layered and fascinating – a whole new expression of what Riesling could be. The ultimate hand-sell, but well worth it. CL
£17.02, Theatre of Wine

Martini Prosecco, Italy

Despite the prosecco-mania that’s sweeping the nation, I have to admit, I’ve never been one for the extremely fruity, slightly cloying, thin liquid. So when Martini launched its Speciale Vintage Prosecco in November, my ears pricked up. The brand has managed to create a prosecco, that doesn’t taste like prosecco, but instead imitates the flavours of champagne. Collezione Speciale 2016 is has delicate floral and green fruit aromas, that lead to that of cedar, eucalyptus and freshly baked bread. On the palate, the prosecco once again surprises, with green fruit flavours of apple, lime and elderflower giving way to a more biscuitty, brioche flavour, with a complex palate and long-lasting finish. You wouldn’t believe it’s not champers (maybe…) IS
£14-15, Bacardi Martini, 01962 762 100


SPIRITS

Booker’s Rye

There’ve been some knockout whiskies that we’ve been really lucky to taste this year, from The Balvenie DCS Chapter 3 Compendium to Ardbeg’s glorious Twenty-Something (if you see a bottle for sale, snap it up). But I’ve chosen Booker’s Rye, Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2017, because I actually think he got it spot on last year. With hardly any stock anywhere, and prices having shot through the roof, I was lucky enough to try this whiskey that has been aged for 13 years, one month and 12 days, and it’s a gloriously chocolatey, nutty, spicy number with notes of wood, old leather, cranberries, chilli flakes and salted toffee thrown in for good measure. You could try and beg the guys at Maxxium for a bottle, but your chances are pretty slim…
68.1% abv, £POA, Maxxium, 01786 430500

Roku Gin
Following last year’s launch of Kyoto Distillery’s delicious Ki No Bi gin it appears that we’re now seeing the beginning of a Japanese gin trend. Nikka got in on the act with its Coffey Gin, and we were treated to a preview of Roku Gin, Suntory’s first foray into the fray, at Bar Convent Berlin. This frankly sublime liquid with a creamy, full body will be launched in the UK in 2018 – keep your eyes peeled for it. LF
47% abv, £POA 

Strolling through blissScotch Malt Whisky Society Creates Single-Cask Spirits
Single cask whisky will always be its baby, but the Scotch Malt Whisky Society has branched out and launched a sub brand: Single Cask Spirits. Dedicated to its non-malt whisky releases, Single Cask Spirits will ‘shine a spotlight’ on the other single cask spirits the society bottles.

The first batch included a 25yo over proof rum from Trinidad (£195). Rum expert Ian Burrell was enlisted by the Society to select the rum for bottling and put his name to the tasting notes. A gin from Glasgow also joined the line-up and an XO cognac. Gin expert Geraldine Coates and cognac expert Michelle Brachet were handpicked to develop the respective serves and training materials. Bourbons and rye and grain whiskies will join the range later in the year. You may want to sit down before you read the variants names. Highlights include: A tantalising Tightrope (XO), Jamaica Me Crazy (rum) and Everyone’s a Fruit and Nutcase (rum). HM
Prices vary, smws.com

TOAD’s Croaking New Arrivals
Oxford got its ‘first’ legal distillery this year releasing its vodka (40% abv) and gin (46% abv) to the general public.  They’re working with John Letts, a grain archaeologist who is encouraging farmers to grow more sustainably, by moving away from monoculture and sowing numerous different heritage grain strains in the same field. It will join an elite group of only a handful of distilleries in the UK to prepare its own neutral spirit on site, and while the sustainability is good news, the fact that the spirit that’s running off the stills is complex and characterful is even better. We got to try a young rye that was being aged in English oak, and it’s looking very interesting indeed… LF
46% abv, £39.50/ 70cl Gin, 40% abv, £36.50/ 70cl Vodka

Achroous gin, The Electric Spirit Co

I ran into James Porteous in Edinburgh while judging Shakes in the City. He has a fledgling boutique distilling operation in the city, and if this first gin offering is anything to go by, he’s one to watch. With fennel and Szechuan pepper to the fore, it’s a bold, yet aromatic style and purists will be reassured by the hefty whack of juniper, too. A distinctively different, yet respectful variant on the classic style. CL
£36.95, Electric Spirit Co


BEERS/CIDERS

Oliver’s Vintage Fine Cider, season 2015, Herefordshire, 6.8%

It might have been bitterly cold, I had slept hardly a wink, but I couldn’t have been more excited. I had been invited to join a small band to help assemble Tom Oliver’s 2015 vintage blend. Just like with fine NV champagnes and good wines the world over, Oliver draws from the best of his 200-plus barrels. From the 17 barrels he and his team had pre-selected, we eventually whittled it down to six. Blended and left for six months to marry, the result? A golden, smoky nectar, rich with apple skins and the subtlest flourish of vanilla from its time in cask. There’s marmalade zest, tart apricots and a tantalising seam of acidity. SF
thefinecider.company

Siren, Turkish, Imperial Stout with Coffee, Berkshire, 10%

Sitting down to interview Darron Anley, founder of creative brewers par excellence, Siren, I couldn’t resist his invite to taste some of the dozens of beers on tap upstairs in a Craft Beer Co’s tap takeover. This, the final in the Barista Series, stood out because of its balance and never-ending richness. The £2500 worth of figs had been put to good use, giving a fine raisiny quality to the brew, crafted from 45kg of Thai coffee beans. SF
Sirencraftbrew.com


BOOKS

101 Wine FAQs, Simon Woods

There are a lot of hideously dull wine books out there, but this isn’t one of them. Partly it’s because Simon Woods is incapable of writing boring copy, and partly it’s because this is an interesting – and different – idea. Rather than impose his views on the world, Simon (who does a LOT of presenting) has taken the most commonly-asked questions from the public and answered them. Some are easy, some are complex. All are relevant. These are the things that you need to know if you’re dealing with the public. CL
£9, simonwoods.com

Miracle Brew, Pete Brown

This year’s top book for me is not a multi-coloured swap shop squeezed into a garish picture book format, but a long read from multi-Beer Writer of the Year, Pete Brown. Subtitled Hops, Barley, Water, Yeast and the Nature of Beer, in typically engaging fashion, Brown tracks down the people and the stories behind the key moment’s in each ingredients’ journey, from field to glass, from prehistoric times to today. A good index makes this useful as well as entertaining. SF
Unbound, £16.99, Amazon

Spirit of the Cane: The Story of Cuban Rum, Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller

Brown and Miller do it again with this update of their original book on Cuban rum, which was published nine years ago. Tracking the history of the category from the 15th century through to today, they run through production (‘the soft rustle of cane leaves swaying in the gentle breeze is punctuated by a whoosh, as machete meets cane stalk’) and recommendations of authentic Cuban rums, before celebrating the classic bars of Havana. The highlight for any cocktail nut, however, will be the back section, which explores the classic Cuban rum cocktails in great detail, with numerous recipe variations provided for each. LF
£15.95, Mixellany Ltd

 

 


PRODUCTS

Repour Smart Stopper

Back in January, there were a lot of wine bottles being opened that probably weren’t being finished. It was the time for the Repour smart stopper to shine. The crowd-funded device was designed to prolong the life of opened wine by at least six months, removing oxygen from and degassing the bottle, even preserving the original aroma.

The stopper can be attached to any bottle, and works by absorbing the oxygen from the air above the wine, suggesting you may need to let red wine breathe again… Repour is available as a 1-pack, 4-pack or 10-pack, with the possibility of a 72-pack in time. IS
x£1.25 per stopper, repour.com

Kaelo

In September, news broke of the invention of an ice-less ice bucket. It goes by the name of Kaelo, and is the brainchild of Kevin Jabou, who after being dripped on by a champagne bottle in a restaurant, decided enough is enough. He then invented Kaelo, a 60cl tall, freestanding iceless ice bucket that can be plugged in anywhere, ready for perfectly chilled wine on demand. With less hassle, a lot less mess, but unfortunately a lot more money to part with… IS
From £1,295, Kaelo, info@kaelo.co.uk


INNOVATION

Crucible London
When we broke news of Stuart Bale’s bartender makerspace opening this summer, the bartending community seemed to collectively cry ‘Why didn’t we think of this before?!’. Situated in London’s Haggerston, it’s got all the kit a geeky bartender would want to spec up their drinks. With brands queueing up to collaborate with Bale and use the space with their customers (ie you), it appears that he really is onto something. LF
Unit 6 1a, Ability Plaza, Arbutus St, London E8 4DT; crucible-london.com

 

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Imbibe Editorial

With a core team that includes Chris Losh, Miranda Fitzgerald, Laura Foster, Holly Motion and Isabella Sullivan, plus an impressive roster of columnist bartenders, sommeliers and specialist journalists, Imbibe collectively boasts hundreds of years of on-trade drinks industry experience and knowledge.

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