Wineweek 119: February Favorites

For those who have been reading this blog:  you know I am not a winter person (I was clearly born in the wrong country). However, February is a month of hope. Days are getting longer, skies clearer, and they sell these awesome plush buns with whipped cream and almond mass in the middle. You eat them until the end of February when the buns have their own signature day: Fettisdagen (fatday).  With more light, there is a feel of having more time; and I am not so tired all the time. This week we did a lot of stuff at home. I even baked (bake-off croissants. Haha!), and got an inspiration for making some cocktails at home.  Continue reading “Wineweek 119: February Favorites”

Wineweek 72: Easter in Helsinki

It has been a mad March. We have been working hard: ordering summer wines and looking for a new warehouse. We also did a short wine trip to the city we fell in love in – London. All the buzzing around came to a nice relaxing halt when we flew on Thursday to Finland for relaxing Easter celebrations.  There is nothing like coming to a ready set table. While in Helsinki, we had the chance to try some nice Finnish Gin, visit one of our favorite wine bars as well as finally try out one of the most talked-about Helsinki restaurants, the Michelin-starred Chef & Sommelier.  Continue reading “Wineweek 72: Easter in Helsinki”

Cocktails and Ships at Bottles Pop-Up Bar, Stockholm

Imagine old wooden chairs and tables, figureheads and miniature ships. And imagine holding a rum cocktail with zesty lemon peel and a huge ice cube floating in the middle. There is no music, just steady murmur coming from the other tables and the clinking of ice against your glass. There is no rush, and the calm bar invites you to relax.

Bottles Pop-Up bar is all about the drinks. It is run by three Stockholm bartenders with merits from Little Quarter, Shibumi and Lilla Nygatan. The Pop-Up bar has an interesting concept, it moves around within the Gamla Stan restaurant scene, and the theme changes with every venue. Right now it is located in the Victory Hotel (the Congress Center) and houses a theme loyal to the venue style. I have previously written to you about Tweed, the semi-speakeasy cocktail bar inside the hotel (review here). Bottles current style is similar, however it feels less clubby and more genuine. Other venues will include restaurants (by the same owner) in the Gamla Stam/ Lilla Nygatan are: Pubologi, Djuret, Svinet, Lejontornet, Tweed and Burgundy.

I was at Bottles for some afterwork drinks with fellow Yelpers. We arrived early, around 6pm and had no trouble finding a seat. Ok, we even had a reservation, but we would have found a seat nonetheless. We were offered a drinks menu with around seven different cocktails that all were named after ships of past and present. Ingredients included all of the usual suspects: rum, gin, tequila and bourbon. I was perhaps a bit disappointed that the spirits used were quite main stream: Bacardi, London Dry and other big brands (very un-hipster). The mixers were the ones to set the mood with tastes of rosehip, marinated fruits and ginger ale. Every cocktail was named after a boat and had a story, which the bartenders introduced when serving the drinks. I had a Carina II with variations of old wine (tasted a bit like fortified wine), grapefruit and champagne, and a Rumbullion with Bacardi, Havanna Club, Captain Morgan, Barbancourt and Gunroom and Sour. Both cocktails were very good and fit the historic atmosphere of the hotel.

All in all, a fun concept with spiced with tasty drinks and great service. I am already excited about where the bar moves next and looking forward to exploring what kind of drinks the other venues have to offer.

Gin-Perfection by Jensen’s

It is Thursday again, and the day of the week I have dedicated to cocktails. This week though I do not have a bar review, there have been enough of those for a week. Instead I thought about telling you about my favorite gin, Jensen’s.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when we met, Jensen’s and I. We were taking a walk (M and I) through the Maltby St Market, as we did many weekend mornings while living in London. And as we were passing the railway arches occupied by familiar pastry and cheese stalls we spotted something new, a gin distillery. Curious as we are we ventured in and a nice lady invited us to have some gin-tasters, straight up 10am in the morning. Why not! Against all of my expectations, the gin tasted fresh and earthy with no bitterness whatsoever. So this is what good gin tastes like!

Jensen’s is owned by Danish Christian Jensen, who has drawn his inspiration from his collection of (900) old style vintage Gins. Through his research into the golden era of London gin-making, Christian discovered the legacy of the trade in his (our) neighborhood of Bermondsey. To celebrate this he named his first gin Bermondsey Dry. The project was never supposed to go commercial, however, once the word got out London bartenders started asking for more and more, thus Bermondsey Gin Limited was born. Christians second project, inspired by an old gin-makers handbook resulted in Old Tom’s, a naturally sweet and rooty gin that has since become a cult amongst bartenders and gin-geeks (hipsters).The ambition was simply to make a gin in the lost style, as good as can be.

Bermondsey Dry and Old Tom's
Bermondsey Dry and Old Tom’s

That sunny Saturday morning, we were contemplating whether to buy some gin to take home. Should we buy the Bermondsey Dry, the clean and botanical gin that could just be enjoyed straight up, or Old Tom’s, the 1840s legendary recipe that is excellent for cocktails (it makes a mean GT). M’s response was ‘why choose when you can buy both’. And that my friends is how two bottles of Jensen’s gin moved in with us and has provided us with quality cocktails for several years and years to come.

Now this is not at all a blog for food/drink recipes, but I really want to share this one with you, as it is a perfect pairing with Jensen’s Gin (Old Tom’s):

For a whole canister of cocktails: 8-10 drinks:
1 whole cucumber (200g)
1.5 dl fresh lemon juice (3 x lemon)
1.5 dl fresh lime juice (3-4 x lime)
2dl fresh Mint
2dl fresh Lemon balm
1dl honey or a pinch of Stevia (or a mix of both depending on the sweetness you desire)
6dl water
Gin at your discretion

Throw the cucumber, mint, lemon balm and juices into a mixer and run it full speed to make a smoothie-like mash. Mix in the honey/Stevia carefully to acquire your optimal level of sweetness (I tend to use less and less). Mix the green smoothie with water, and add some sweeteners if needed. Bottle the juice (or pour directly into glasses) through a mesh. Voila! Mix with your discretion of Jensen’s Old Tom’s gin.

The ingredients
The ingredients
Mix the cucumber, mint, lemon balm and juices together
Mix the cucumber, mint, lemon balm and juices together
Use a kitchen mesh to filter out the bigger particles
Use a kitchen mesh to filter out the bigger particles
Voila, your mixer is ready. Just add the gin!
Voila, your mixer is ready. Just add the gin!

Jensen’s is unfortunately not sold in the Nordic countries, but if you are visiting the UK, it is available through a few different resellers. However, if in London, I warmly recommend to take that walk along the railway arches to the distillery (start either from London Bridge or Bermondsey tube station) it is open Saturdays for tastings and long drinks. On the way you can pick up some wonderful coffee and snacks from the different vendors that have set up shop in the railway arches of Bermondsey.

Reviving the reputation of Punch

It’s Thursday again and I am in the mood for cocktails! I think I will be having some wine tonight, but still writing about cocktails gets me in the appropriate holiday mood. However, today I will not be writing about a traditional cocktail bar, the Punch Room is something else! It is not only a bar, it is the revival of a drink long forgotten on the restaurant scene, the punch.

The bar is located in the new Marriott London Edition hotel in Fitzrovia. It is a back room bar, not really visible from the street and it is reservation only. I am sure you can get a seat when its not that busy even without a reservation, but if you are intent on going, don’t leave it up to chance. The bar is located past the reception through a door on the left. If the doors is closed you may need to ask to be escorted in. The bar consists of two rooms, the first is fairly small and does not really look that nice or cozy. The inner room however has a fire place and a nice looking bar with comfortable seating.

Upon being seated we received a small glass each of the seasonal special punch as a welcome drink. Nice little touch and something I appreciate. As the name suggests the focus is on punch that can be ordered to share. Other things can be ordered as well, like wine, beer and some cocktails (and they also do food – made by the kitchen from Berner’s Tavern) but we were there for the real deal, the house punch. Traditionally punch consisits of five ingredients (one of which is definitely not tinned fruit salad): an alcohol base, tea, some sugar to sweeten, lemon to sour, and spice. The House Punch was faithful to this combination with London Gin, lemon, oak moss syrup, orange blossom water and jasmine tea.

The punch was served in a really nice looking bowl with cool glasses and the appropriate decorations. The taste was fresh with light sweetness. The drink had a kick to it and there was plenty so we had to be a bit careful and not gulp it down too fast. The concept would perhaps work even better for a large group as one could then sample loads of different ones. Service was fast and attentive. Price level was as to be expected in London with around 14£ per person for a punch bowl (right now though the exchange rate would kill me).

Perhaps it is the house parties of the 90’s or my student years that steered my low expectations for punch, but the Marriot Punch room was the one to revive them. I am sure I will be back as I appreciate the different concept and being able to book a table (I am the planning type). So if in London, give it a try, you will not be disappointed.

Tandem, a gentleman’s cocktail bar in Barcelona

With all the fuss going on about Cava, thought that I forgot about Cocktail Thursdays did you? No I did not and this Thursday I have a real treat for you! A trip down memory lane (M proposed right after a visit to this bar) and a sure stop every time we visit Barcelona. Tandem is a small cocktail bar located on Carrer de Aribau in laid back L’Eixample.

The outside of the bar does not really give away anything. You can see it’s a bar, and that they seem to serve cocktails (the logo is two guys riding a tandem carrying a cocktail tray), but you need to open to door and go in to get the real picture. When you step in you enter a space that could be from the 60’s. Long mahogany bar with high chairs, the wall framed with mirrors and the back of the bar decorated with bottles of spirits. The lighting is dim but not dark and they play some old music (at a low volume). The bartenders are dressed up accordingly in white suits and they are very polite, and I mean old school polite with a big P. You can almost see Don Draper (Mad Men) sitting there with his whisky.

The bar
The bar
Barcelona 141
Bitters in perfume bottless
Something close to a Dark and Stormy
Something close to a Dark and Stormy

It was Mrs Gin and Mr Rum on the move again that night, keeping within our cocktail comfort zone. I ordered something fresh and sour, and M something close to a Dark and Stormy. The bartender made the call on the ingredients. We ended up with two long cocktails, mine with cucumber, citrus fruit, basil and some soda water, and M’s with lime, soda and coke. Simple ingredients, but great taste. The spirits used were smooth with no bitterness whatsoever transferring into the drink. Both cocktails set us back only 9€ each, so I would say that is a bargain. I have previously also had some Cava here, and I recall the house sparkling being of acceptable quality.

All in all a wonderful bar, never empty but never too busy to turn us around at the door. It’s something of a special place to me and I hope you enjoy it too if you have a chance to visit.

Artisan cocktails at the French inspired L’Aiglon

Artisan, you hear that word in front of everything these days. There is artisan bread, artisan coffee, there is even some “artisan” single farm butter in the supermarket at our mall (it’s a nice supermarket). The whole word seems a bit overused and perhaps unauthentic. According to wikipedia artisan means ‘hand made’, crafted with skill. And if something, the cocktails at L’Aiglon are only a few steps away from being art, crafted with care and passion. They are as good as craftmanship gets, much more artisan to me than that single cow butter on the supermarket shelf (I love butter, don’t get me wrong, but did the marketers run out of ideas or what)

The bar is located close to the popular Duxton Hill area on Dean Street (no 69). There are three distinct spaces: an outdoor terrace, the lounge and a private room that can be reserved for small groups if you are committing to a spend of at least 500 SGD (you get a lot of cocktails with that). The ambience is a bit Moulin Rouge meets China. Makes sense L’Aiglon being in Singapore and all and there is rumoured to be some French blood in the ownership. All in all very cool! We sat outside, as we Scandinavians tend to do, but ventured into the lounge to snap some pictures and follow the bar tenders at work. Even though it was valentines day it was still calm at 8pm, which we enjoyed very much, but as we are as we are, planners, we had reserved a table up front.

I ordered a French 69, a signature drink with Gin (I should really try something else than Gin sometimes), fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and Champagne. And M had a Jockey Club. We only had one drink each, but if we would have stayed for longer I would have gone for a Screaming Tomatoes ($22). I dont usually like Bloody Maries but this just sounded so interesting with fresh French cherry tomatoes and a bouquet of herbs. The flavor profile is peppery and savory; a spiked gazpacho. Vodka is used as the base. Ther is also an interesting house Champagne, J.M. Labruyère Cuvée Tradition ($24/$110), but as this was cocktail night, I settled for having a small hint of it in my drink.

L’Aiglon also has some bar snacks and finger food. People have been talking very fondly of the crab cakes and mini burgers. We had just been for dinner before so we skipped the salty nibbles, but ordered a great mini ice cream set for dessert instead. There were four small ice cream cones: caramel, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. Very delicious and a perfect size just to get something small and sweet.

I can warmly recommend stopping by this place for those who are into cocktails. You can feel confident that your drink will be made with care and skill doing justice to the word artisan. Service was also, which is seldom the case in Singapore, very attentive and good.

Flavors and Party Tricks at Bar Stories (Singapore)

Bar stories ranks perhaps as my number one cocktail bar in Singapore (maybe even the world). If you would ask M, he would prefer Longplay (review here), but I am sure this place would not be long behind.

Bar stories is located on Haji lane, a street where the Western and Middle-Eastern cultures collide. There are many bars around with tourists and expats having drinks, but also bars that serve no alcohol to respect the Arab-heritage. Bar stories is located in the upstairs of an old shop-house. Its not a speakeasy per-se, but it is not something you wonder into without knowing what it is.

Upon entering we were greeted and seated at the end of the bar. I love a seat with a view! The concept was as in Bitters & Love (review here), there is no menu, you explain to the bartender what you like and they will make you a drink. We went with our usual spirits of choice, me wit gin and M with a dark rum. We are perhaps a bit boring, but it helps compare one place to another. Also I am really not fond of whiskey, cognac or vodka as a base, so the options are limited. The bartender also asked some questions like do I like lemongrass and could I handle some egg white in my drink (YES!).It was nice to get some suggestions as I would perhaps not have thought about them myself.

I could already see from the equipment they had at hand that we were going to see some party tricks. I don’t mind as long as my drink is good. M’s cocktail arrived with a flaming branch or rosemary, and mine with a long lemongrass sticking out of the Martini glass. Looking around others had pretty cool looking drinks as well, and none of them looked the same. The staff seemed to like experimenting and you could see they were having fun with it. The taste was wonderful, like a mix of a fresh breeze and dessert (due to the creaminess of the egg white) with spices on top.

We only had one round of drinks this time, but I can imagine I could have sat there sipping on cocktails for a full evening. The ambiance was charming and relaxed and the cocktails excellent. As with many nice bars these days, it is possible to reserve a table (I remember the days in Finland when it cost something and you only got a crappy bottle of Vodka and some mixers as “compensation”). There doesn’t seem to be any food or snacks, so my recommendation would be to have dinner before going.

Bar Stories, I love you and I hope we meet again soon!

Cocktail-Hopping at Bitters & Love

As I mentioned in the last Wineweek, we did some cocktail-hopping over Valentines day weekend. Because we were concerned there would be a lot of people out, and we wanted to visit as many places as possible, we set out on our journey already at 6pm. Great choice as we had no trouble getting a seat at Bitters & Love, a much talked about “speakeasy” here in Singapore. The bar is not really what you could call a real speakeasy. It’s located in the back room of a restaurant called Shoebox Canteen. There are no signs outside, but you can already see from the door that there is something going on in the back. The look of the place is lightly hipster, but I suspect that the real pioneers have already moved on to something new and cooler. I don’t mind at all, I am here for the cocktails, not to get on the good side of the in-crowd (I’m too old for that).

The concept is simple: you have a menu with a set of flavours (sweet, sour, spicy etc) and a list of spirits. You tell the bar tender the spirit and flavour of your choice (you do not need to limit yourself to the list provided either) and perhaps describe what kind of ingredients you like (I love stuff like ginger, cucumber and mint in my drinks), and the bartender will make you a drink based on that. Awesome if you are a person who likes surprises (not so awesome if you are not). I chose a nice Gin and asked for something spicy (not Asian spicy, but in the medium range) and M selected a dark Rum and asked for something fresh and full. After a short wait we were served a pair of beautiful drinks that did not disappoint neither in looks or taste. Both wishes had been taken into account and we got to taste something new.

We also ordered some bar snacks as a substitue for a ‘proper’ dinner: some truffle fries, chicken fritters and sliders. All were pretty decent. Not the best gourmet experience of my life, but took away the hunger. The only real disappointment for us was that we could not order from the Shoebox Canteen menu and eat at the bar. Perhaps they have this policy to make sure the cocktail bar stays as a cocktail bar, I would just really have liked to have a larger menu. All in all, Bitters & Love was an excellent experience. Not the cheapest cocktail bar in town with drinks ranging from 19-26 SGD, but at par with other places (it’s the weakening Swedish krona that is killing me). I definitely recommend popping by if you are in Singapore. If you can’t make it before 8pm, I recommend reserving a table up front.