Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Maplay - Distilled Maple Syrup Spirit

This is my first and last post of the year. 2014 seems to have slipped away at the IAE south coast branch; not quite as bad as "The Lost Weekend", though. Now, if I was going to write about anything, it would be Maplay.

This is from the US and is made by fermenting and distilling maple syrup, which is then aged. An interesting point for readers is that this is genuine moonshine, i.e. it is illicitly distilled (at least in its country of origin). As such, it has no official bottle, but a picture of spirit can be found below.

On its own (room temperature)
Nose: Bright, with some dry, woody notes to start, before moving onto rich and intense maple and nut flavours, as well as hints of vanilla, butterscotch, and cream brule.

Taste: There's a pleasant texture to the spirit, with the alcohol upfront and then a gently unfolding patchwork of sweet confectionery and spice notes, very similar to the nose with the addition of stone fruit and a touch of chocolate and plum jam. The finish is long and lingering, with lots of dry, nutty maple and pecan notes.

Beautifully viscous, with an intriguing dry - almost grainy - woody start. This is followed by the flavour of very dark chocolate (think 95%), then sweeter notes of roasted cashews and pecans, as well as a subtle maple element that is rather delicious. There is also a slight herbal, fruity note throughout, somewhat reminiscent of vermouth.

This is an intriguing drink, which has elements of both a dry and a sweet Manhattan backed up by the complexity of the spirit, which is easily equal to most whiskey versions. Rich spice, vanilla, and cassia are accompanied by hints of cinder toffee, toasted nuts, and that dry, maple element. If you like Manhattans, this is one to try.

A soft and smooth drink with the characteristic bitterness of the drink at the end. The Maplay gives some of the dryness and spice that you would expect from a gin, but also adds a complex sweetness and complements the sweet vermouth very nicely.

Old Fashioned
Simply superb. This is easily my favourite way to enjoy the spirit. I've been a fan of substituting sugar for maple syrup in whisky Old Fashioneds for a while, but this just takes it one step further. Simple, yet luxurious; the bitters, water, and sugar seem to tease out a whole array of flavours from the Maplay - all of the notes previously referred to come through in a chorus.

In Conclusion
As you can guess, I really like the Maplay and it is a shame that, for the moment, it remains unavailable. It is a fascinating spirit with a legion of potential fans out there ready to discover it. My favourite drink was the Old Fashioned.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Marks & Spencer cocktails-in-a-can

In October I reviewed the KÖLD line of premixed cocktails, the latest in the cavalcade of attempts to offer instant mixology for people who lack the equipment, ingredients or inclination to make their own cocktails at home.

The trick with such things is how to preserve the more perishable ingredients in the mix—the impressive Handmade Cocktail Company range from Master of Malt simply focuses on old fashioned cocktails (including the Old Fashioned) that lack fruit juices and are high enough in alcohol to be self-preserving. KÖLD sold their mixes in foil pouches, which made me suspect they had been heat-treated after sealing.

Queuing in the small Marks & Spencer branch on Charing Cross station the other day I was confronted by some tins containing the chain’s own attempt at premixes. I scooped up a couple for sampling, a Mojito and a Cosmopolitan.

For those who don’t know, M&S occupies a space in most British people’s hearts as a reliable place to buy underpants, work shirts and the like, but they also do food, pitched as fairly high end, and even have some branches selling nothing but food. The travel outlet at Charing Cross has quite a high bias towards booze, clearly catering for commuters who can’t get through the train ride back to suburbia without a single-serving mini-bottle of Pinot Grigio to dull the pain.*

The Mojito hits you with a mint flavour that has a mouthwash artificiality. It’s not too bad, with detectable lime notes, but a tad thin with a slightly bitter finish. A little like bitter lemon, in fact. But that chemical mint is what dominates. It also seems to coat your teeth. The KÖLD Mojito likewise struggled with the artificiality of its mint flavour: clearly it is not possible to get a fresh mint taste in a premix, but the nation must be crying out for tinned Mojitos as this particular cocktail keeps cropping up.

The Cosmo has a terrifying colour, followed by a bubblegum fruity smell that fills the room. But it’s not actually that bad, with a reasonable balance between sweet and sour and the triple sec (or rather “orange distillate”, as it says on the ingredients list) detectable. I’m not sure I’m really getting cranberry juice, though the label claims it is in there (from concentrate).

As usual with premixes, both these cocktails are unnaturally low in alcohol for what they claim to be (8% in each case, the same as the KÖLD range), but this is apparently because the target market would otherwise be drinking alcopops of the same ABV. I didn’t try spiking them with extra spirit this time, though I’m sure it would have been an improvement. The Mojito did go down the sink, but I did actually end up finishing the Cosmo, which must tell you something.

* I can’t see this range on the M&S website, although I have now discovered that they also sell a different range of classier premixes in 50cl bottles. I seem to recall that there was also a Bloody Mary and a Harvey Wallbanger in the range, along with a G&T about which I have read bad things.