Sunday, 19 June 2011

Slideluck Potshow London and La Maison Fontaine Absinthe

I love dispensing absinthe and dispelling the myths, particularly at art events. So, I was really looking forward to going along to the annual London Slideluck Potshow. Although I hadn't heard of it before, I liked the idea of the mix of Food, Photography, Art and now Absinthe, that it offered.

The website describes perfectly what it's all about:

"Slideluck Potshow (SLPS) is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to building and strengthening community through food and art. SLPS operates multimedia slideshows combined with potluck dinners in about forty cities around the world. For each event, artists submit up to five minutes worth of images and guests bring along delicious food to share. The evening begins with a couple hours of mingling and dining on home-cooked dishes, and then the lights are dimmed, the crowd is hushed, and a spectacular slideshow commences."

The food that people brought along was amazing. I don't normally eat whilst on duty but it was just too irresistible! The crowd was really great too, just the right sort of Bohemian to appreciate the finer delights of Absinthe, coupled with the Art of course.

This was still fairly early on, as food got eaten more people turned up with more food, genius! I'm not sure why this communal eating doesn't happen more often....

Here's Casey Kelbaugh introducing this year's slide show. He hosted the very first Slideluck Potshow back in 2000 in his seattle backyard to about 50 friends! From acorns eh? In the foreground is Maria Teresa Salvati, the brains behind the London gig.

This is the packed house, just before the slide show starts. Naturally I sat down to watch too, everyone was glued to the screen throughout! I have to confess to thinking the slides were all going to be about food, der! In fact, many of them were highly political, emotive, shocking, disturbing and some were even funny - but all were superbly done!. The slides for this year's London show are not up on the website yet or else I would have shared a few favourites.

On the whole, I came away thinking if I ever complain about life being a bit tough again - I'll deserve a very hard slap!

I think I heard a rumour that London may now be holding 2 events a year.... I hope that means another this year, if so I'll be back to dispense more Absinthe and hopefully see you there!

Please visit the website to find out more about Slideluck Potshow

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

SW4 - Small Batch London Dry Gin - Made in Clapham!

SW4 London Dry Gin

Sadly with the demise of the Gin and Vodka Association there seems to be far too few definitive explanations of the different EU Gin categories on the internet. In brief, there are 3; the lowest quality is Compound Gin, which has minimum abv of 37.5% and is simply alcohol with Juniper (and other) flavouring added, the next standard is Distilled Gin where the botanicals are steeped in neutral alcohol and then a secondary distillation takes place, but colour, flavourings and sugar can be added post distillation. Finally is London Dry Gin, where the botanicals are steeped in neutral alcohol, secondary distillation takes place, juniper is the dominant flavour and nothing other than water can be added post distillation. I'm sure you can make your own mind up as to which Gins fall into which category....

So, even though London Dry Gin status does not require a Gin to be made in London, there is something rather pleasing about a London Dry Gin that is. Welcome to SW4 London Dry Gin - made in Clapham. Get off the tube at Clapham North, cross the road and look for Timber Mill Way. Suddenly you are off the beaten track and are heading down an unkempt lane leading to an industrial heartland, well nearly....

To begin at the beginning of making Gin we must first look at the base alcohol. The neutral alcohol used in Gin production is to my mind, the least interesting factor. While it's essential to ensure it's of a sufficiently high quality we would not expect it to impart anything significant to the final product - hence why it's called "neutral". Neutral alcohols can be made from various ingredients; neutral grain spirit; neutral grape spirit; neutral beet spirit and molasses is also common. It's neutral because it's been distilled to a sufficiently high abv to remove any significant flavour compounds. Back in the mid nineteenth century a tradition arose whereby London Gin producers had to purchase their neutral spirit from somewhere other than where they made their Gin. This tradition was largely to do with customs not trusting the London producers to 'declare' all the alcohol produced and wanted to control (and therefore tax) the flow of alcohol coming into London. Good news for Scotland and the treasury! This tradition no longer holds with both Adnams and Chase producing their own neutral spirit on-site. However, it remains that the production of neutral spirit is largely conducted on an industrial scale and most Gin producers see no sense in starting their own production now.

SW4 London Dry Gin is made from a UK produced, 86% abv, neutral grain spirit where all the grain (predominantly wheat with some barley) is also grown in the UK. It's a nice touch to ensure a UK grown and produced grain spirit which is, just to reiterate, "neutral" because it's been multi-distilled to reach an abv of 86%.
Right, on to the interesting stuff!

Now that we have our neutral grain spirit we need our botanical bill. SW4 uses 12 different botanicals, the recipe of which was put together by Charles Maxwell (Master Distiller at Thames) and Martin Price (SW4 Brand Owner). Now any Gin producer on the whole, will tell you what their botanicals are, what they won't tell you is the ratio used - this is the "secret" part of every Gin recipe. The remit for SW4 was a "traditional style" that works really well in a Gin and Tonic.
NB: It does seem bizarre to have to say that by a "traditional style" we mean juniper dominant, I'm sure most of us would take that that as read. These days however, there are quite a few distilled Gins that are not juniper dominant, designed specifically to "open up" the Gin market. While we have to accept these commercial innovations are helping to revitalise a shrinking category it is a cause concern that now even some London Dry Gin's seem to be slipping through the "juniper" net....

Charles Maxwell describes SW4:

“SW4 London Distilled Gin, is a big and complex gin made in the style of the original London Dry Gins of the mid to late 19th Century. It has 12 botanicals in its recipe, with Juniper being heavily predominant, but then behind it come the citrus and spice notes, from botanicals such as lemon peel and cassia, which give it the fullness and complexity. The whole is then brought together by the Orris Powder.”

Just as a Master Blender pulls different barrels together to get the desired end result, so a Master Gin Distiller pulls together just the right amount of each botanical to get the exact flavour profile desired. It's not just the separate flavour profile of each botanical that counts with Gin though, it's also the way they marry together when being steeped. All the botanicals in SW4 are dried when they go into the neutral grain spirit (some brands are now using fresh) and are steeped between 12 and 15 hours. I did ask Charles if the flavour profile would improve with a longer maceration time and he assured me that much longer would lead to 'over extraction', something I hadn't considered before.

Meet "Tom Thumb", Gin Still #1 at Thames Distillers which is used to distill SW4. Gin Still #2 is called "Thumbelina" and is on hand just in case anything goes wrong with Tom Thumb, which hasn't happened yet. Tom Thumb is a small batch, (500 litre capacity, the largest is 12,000 litres) stainless steel still made by John Dore. Interestingly, John Dore is the oldest distillery engineering business in the world. The company's roots go all the way back to Aeneas Coffey, famous for patenting the first column still in 1831.

When we went to visit the distillery the distilling of SW4 had already been done, but we were on hand to watch the bottling process. So I decided to film it with my trusty Ixus...

So there you have it, SW4 Small Batch, London Dry Gin made and bottled in Clapham. Next time you're in the area and wondering where you might try some SW4 and Tonic - I can recommend popping into The Loft on Clapham High Street.