hile we cling to the hope of sipping a piña colada under a Mediterranean sun, seek solace for what’s been a stinker of a summer so far in another fine array of libations courtesy of the Luxury London drinks trolley. Behold, some old classics, some new creations and the best beer I’ve come across all year...
‘It’s from Italy, it’s organic and it’s wet’. You have to admire the simplicity of the strapline for this new canned wine UK start-up. Defy really does mean it with its lo-fi aspirations. The can is completely plain barring a simple, wraparound, yellow paper label and the tasting notes largely consist of one syllable. For white wine, that's ‘tart’. It most certainly is, in a suitably no-nonsense, easy-drinking style. The website proudly proclaims that it has no desire at all to ‘educate’ people about wine and it despises tasting notes. Simply drink it and enjoy it is the mantra. Enjoying wine has never required any form of ‘education’ in advance. It’s time more people in the industry admitted so.
£14 for a two-can pack at defy.wine
The Only Way Is Gin
Well, it was bound to happen sometime, wasn’t it? A gin distillery in Essex cashing in on the most successful TV show to be filmed in the county since Hi-de-Hi. But do the fake tans, muscle shirts and high heels of The Only Way Is Essex translate into gin? And frankly, would you even want it to? The bottle is lurid enough; looking something like the results of a Technicolor x-ray. But the gin itself isn’t bad at all; some resonant notes of citrus and the addition of poppy seeds make this a surprisingly sophisticated tipple that belies the name. Like finding out that Katie Price actually has a double first from Oxford.
£37.50 from theonlywayisgin.co.uk
Buffalo Trace bourbon
Does bourbon taste any better when distilled in a location that’s listed on the American National Register Of Historic Places? I feel we can only truly answer this question once Elvis Presley’s estate starts rolling out some rye from Graceland but, in the meantime, this warm and taut number will do. It comes direct from Franklin County, Kentucky and it is made in a distillery that dates back to 1773, which by American standards of history, is positively Neolithic. The bourbon is a toothsome beast with ripples of honey, toffee and vanilla. It goes uncommonly well in an Old Fashioned too.
£23.99 from masterofmalt.com
My goodness, this is genuinely not like any other gin I’ve ever sampled. As dry and aromatic as a forest floor on a damp autumn day (this is a good thing), Oxley create its dry-as-a-bone taste, which also hurls in some nutmeg and peppercorns for good measure, by using something it calls ‘cold distillation’. All this means is that it distills gin at a sub-zero temperature, which it claims helps to preserve the freshness of the botanicals and stops other aromas polluting the liquid. So why do no other gin distillers do it? Perhaps it’s because they’re not so keen on mirroring the pretty punchy price point that Oxley charges. But, genuinely, it’s worth it; this being one of the very, very few gins I’ve ever sampled which actually tastes astringently pleasant served neat with just a twist of lemon and some ice. Hardcore, but very, very impressive.
£35.60 from masterofmalt.com
Tom Gilbey Virtual Wine Tastings
The past 15 months have seen us all find a sneaky way to drink heavily on our own and not feel quite so tragic about it. The answer is, of course, the group Saturday night Zoom chat, where four to ten people talk over each other and argue about whether The Libertines were ever any good whilst drinking industrial amounts of gin and tonic. The horrible part comes when the chat ends and you realise you’ve been completely on your own for the last three hours and are now horribly drunk. Tom Gilbey can’t do much about the solitude but he can at least guarantee that you’ve got something decent to drink. This wine connoisseur is hosting themed online wine and food tasting events on Saturday nights which involve you getting sent the wines well in advance through the post and then simply logging in whilst you drink them and Tom takes you through a very gentle couple of hours where you’ll learn more about the wide world of wine beyond the Costcutter shelves. It’s all rather soothing to experience from your sofa with a full glass.
Event (including wine) approx £120, tomgilbey.com
J&B Cocktail Porter kit
It may be the very essence of a First World problem but I have found myself suffering from a measure of CAHD (Cocktail At Home Disappointment) lately. Mostly, this is due to the echo of that childhood Christmas morning sadness when you find that your present pile is horribly small or that the floppiness of the packaging means the gift under the wrapping may well be, horror upon horror, clothes. Many cocktail kits are similarly frugal in size, lacking not just decent quantities of booze but also being less than generous with the mixers. No such criticism for J&B, whose at-home kits are seriously heavy parcels containing half a dozen J&B whisky miniatures, along with peach, vanilla and black tea cordial, blood orange syrup, lemon and mint cordial and bottles of soda water, ginger ale and double lemon, as well as a packet of dehydrated fruit for garnish. And this, readers, is the petite box. Genuinely one of the most generous cocktail starter kits around for the money. Bring this to a garden party and, frankly, you will look like the Gatsby of your social circle.
Kits from £38.95, cocktailporter.co.uk
Villa Maria Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
If you were as bored as me during lockdown then you probably de-iced your freezer more times than was strictly necessary, considered (and then rejected) learning elementary Italian and watched documentaries on Amazon Prime that you might not have bothered with if your life was a notch busier. The ‘Vintage’ documentary, showing the travails and challenging harvests of the Villa Maria vineyard in the Wairau Valley of Marlborough, New Zealand is one of those soothing watches that washes over you pleasantly – as does the wine itself. Villa Maria is a brand we’ve seen a million times on supermarket shelves (it’s been going since 1961) but have rarely paid much attention to. Like Countdown and H. Samuel, we just always assume it’s there. But, paying more attention to their Sauvignon Blanc for the first time in years I was pleasantly surprised. No fireworks here of course but my goodness this is a soothing tipple; superbly well rounded, supple and with just the right amount of floral citrus notes. Worth exploring again, especially if you haven’t drunk a bottle of this in years.
£16:99 from various supermarkets
Pilton Pomme Pomme
Do you really want to know what keeved cider is? It’s pretty boring but, if you insist, this is an old fashioned way of making naturally sweetened cider without sugar. Let’s leave Pilton Cider in Somerset to tell us the rest. ‘The process involves the creation of a pectin gel, which floats to the top of fresh-pressed apple juice in translucent tanks. The gel traps nitrogen and is removed. Starved of its essential nutrients, the wild yeast fermentation stops early, leaving natural sugars from the apples themselves to sweeten the cider.’ See, told you it was dull. But, if you’re still with me, then the result is a very fine range of ciders indeed; my favourite being the Pomme Pomme, which is made with quince. You can’t really taste it to be honest but it’s a feisty, fruity, vivacious drink nonetheless, which is just on the correct side of tart and actually made me think of baked apple pie. Which is no bad thing, obviously.
£10:99 from piltoncider.com
Zobo Hibiscus Infused Pale Ale
I promised you this column would feature, hands down, the best beer I’ve sampled in 2021 so far. And here it is, courtesy of a Covid vaccination pharmacist in Kent. Not just content with saving lives in the Garden of England, Tunde Tejumola has somehow found time to make his own beer inspired by his Nigerian upbringing and a lifelong love of West African herbs and spices. The result is Zobo Pale Ale – Zobo being the Hausa word for the hibiscus flower, which in Nigeria is believed to have healing powers. This would be a pleasant story even if the beer was mediocre but, wonderfully, it is an absolute triumph. It’s not easy to get hibiscus to work with beer but this is an outstandingly light, citrusy, sparkling beauty redolent of freshly mowed lawns, afternoon sunshine and picnic rugs. Keep a look out on Tunde’s website for his upcoming lager release and his brave sounding African Cacao stout.
£22:50 for 6 at onemileend.com
And finally, what could be better to sustain our absurd notions of superiority as we watch England inevitably wilt on the pitch in the latter stages of Euro 2020 than a beer that takes us back to the days of Empire. You know, when we didn’t lose wars and the national football team won every game by cannily refusing to enter international tournaments of any kind and only ever playing Wales and Scotland. This is an exceptionally clear and crisp pale ale that an impressive array of top-end restaurants have chosen to put on their menu alongside their heavy-duty wine lists including Jason Atherton’s mighty City Social restaurant. Robust and stylish, it’s everything, sadly, that John Stones and Ross Barkley aren’t.
12 cans for £25 at empressale.com