Will apple cider be the next gin?

Apple cider is a drink I never think of buying or drinking. There’s no particular reason, I just never think of it … maybe because I don’t know it that well or that I never noticed it in bar’s or on menu’s? Or maybe it is like with regular apple juice, I like it a but I usually only drink it when somebody tells me they have it 🙂  That’s why I was more than happy to learn more about this wonderful product and who better to teach me than the one and only Andy De Brouwer owner of restaurant Les Eleveurs and Belgian top sommelier?!

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Apple cider is basically a low alcoholic sparkling (around 4%) version of apple juice 🙂 . I’m not going to bore you with the whole production process as you can find it back via following link.

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What Andy showed us last week was that although apple cider might not sound like a very “modern”, “hip” or “sexy” thing, it actually is. It is a great base to make cocktails, can be paired with funky appetizers and it is just tasty 🙂 … What do you think about a Strongbow elderflower Scotch whisky longdrink, a frozen Margarita paired with some homemade nachos or a Mojito with Gold Apple? Or is a Negroni with Strongbow red berries paired with a stuffed artichoke more your thing?

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Next to all home-made ingredients Andy used Strongbow apple cider to make his cocktails. I confess that I had never heard of Strongbow before. Strongbow is an English apple cider brand, but then again technically speaking also Belgian. I consider it as a local product as the biggest part of the production happens in Belgium. So I think it is ok to call Strongbow apple cider a local product, right?!

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Strongbow has 3 different types of apple cider:

  • Gold Apple: fresh, fruity flavor with a hints of green apple
  • Red berries: aromatic combination of apple and red fruits
  • Elderflower: subtle aromatic combination of apple and elderflower with a fresh end note of lime

The cocktail that was the biggest surprise to me was the mojito!! What surprised me about Andy’s version was that even though there was no alcohol in it, it tasted exactly the same as the “original” version. No alcohol with the exception of the cider’s alcohol that because of the mixing with other non alcoholic drinks would be 1% maybe…Which basically means you can drink more of these puppies then you could of the original one… so I’ll go for the Apple cider version if I may

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I became a fan and will without any doubt try to make these cocktails at home. And because I like you soooo much I’ll share with you Andy’s Strongbow mojito recipe .

Ingredients for +/- 20 cocktails:

  • 5 cl fake rum
  • Fresh mint (1 bot op 2 l. water)
  • 4 teabags of gunpowder (Chinese greentea)
  • 5 g cardamom bolsters
  • 200 g raisins

Per person

  • 15 cl Strongbow Gold Apple cider
  • ¼ lime
  • 1 branch mint
  • 2 drops Angostura
  • 2 lumps of cane sugar

Preparation:

For the ‘fake rum’:

  • Make an infusion of fresh mint, gunpowder and lightly toasted and crushed cardamom bolsters.
  • Leave to cool (not in the refrigerator) and sieve.
  • Let the raisins swell 24 hours in this fluid.
  • Riddle with a fine sieve, press the grapes with a spoon.
  • Recover the liquid.
  1. Put mint leaves in glass.
  2. Wash lime, cut into quarters and press the juice out of two and put in the glass.
  3. Add two lumps of cane sugar.
  4. Mortar with a mortar to a syrup.
  5. Add the fake rum.
  6. Fill the glass with ice cubes and fill with Strongbow Gold Apple. Stir with a bar spoon.
  7. Finish with 2 drops of Angostura and garnish with fresh mint and a slice of lime.

In case you would like to try to make it yourself,  Strongbow apple cider is available in almost all supermarkets. In case you want to know more good cocktail recipes and combinations with dishes I strongly recommend you the new book on cocktails by my dear friend Andy the Brouwer ‘Cocktail a night’.

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Cheers!

Summer refreshment

I’m sure the name Syrco Bakker sounds familiar? If not, Syrco Bakker is the executive chef of the Michelin starred restaurant Pure C (owned by former 3 Michelin star chef Sergio Herman) at the Dutch coast right across the Belgian border. Something that can be said about chefs like Syrco is that they are very creative people who don’t mind thinking out of the box and always like trying out new things.  Most of their ideas come during travels.

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One of the newest creations of Syrco was influenced by something on one of his holidays on the Island Ibiza together with family and friends:-). The story goes as follows: after every meal in Ibiza (or in southern countries in general) you get offered an alcoholic drink to finish you meal… you drinks like limoncello (in South Italy) or in this case of Syrco in Ibiza is was a drink called Hierbas (drinks that go down smoothly in the summer and you barely notice the alcohol). As Syrco liked the drink he started thinking if he maybe couldn’t make something like this himself? And so he did together with a friend they started brewing their own “hierbas” in a large cooking pan:-) using local wild herbs (hierbas 😉 ) growing at/around the coast where Syrco lives and works. After lots of tasting and trying to fine tune the drink they did decide that maybe they needed some help to get more flavors out of the herbs. Just like lots of things it might seem easy to get juice out of some leafs, but trust me it isn’t (or maybe you get the juice out, but not the taste). Guys like Syrco want perfection and they will not sleep until they get that 🙂 The person to help they was Pure C’s Bio vegetable grower and if I remember it correct a local distillery… This help led to (now professionally made) “hierbas de las dunas” which basically means herbs from the dunes (dunes as the herbs came from in/around the dunes).

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I have tried ‘Hierbas de las dunas’ pure, with some soda water and used in a cocktail. I have to admit that I find a bit heavy to drink it pure (but that’s my opinion) or maybe I did at that time as I had it on a nearly empty stomach 🙂 .

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One thing is sure, it’s a drink that goes down smoothly  no matter how you drink it. A bit sweet taste that gets refreshed/ de-sweetened by the herbs in it. The perfect drink for on a warm summers evening with some friends overlooking the sea. On the Hierbas de las duna website you can find lots of creative ways to use the drink (in cocktails, food, etc…)

perfect summer drink

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If you want your summer to start already you know what to do 🙂 In case you are in a country where summery weather is already there you can make it even more summery

Cheers

10 shades of bitter

Not so long ago the University of Leuven has done a test about bitterness of food and drinks. What’s the bitterest a grapefruit, chocolate or maybe a Gin & Tonic? With sweet things we can easily distinguish if one thing is sweeter than the other, with bitter it is a different story? Or isn’t it? For years people stopped (or almost) eating/drinking bitter products, with a result that people were not used to the taste of it anymore and saying what was more bitter something impossible . The last few years however there has been a massive change in all that as most people are more aware what they eat/drink and want to eat/drink. It also seems that every year the popular ‘summer’ drink become more and more bitter 🙂 BUT even now people are getting more used to eating/drinking bitter only 5 out of 10 people can define which product is bitterer than the other… If you want to know if you know your bitter products and their scale you can do the test with help of the bellow ‘Bitterness scale’ Indicator

Bitterness scale

 

I’m not really a bitterness fan (so also not a GnT fan), but maybe I should just be eating/drinking more bitter things to ‘educate’ my taste buds bitterness sensors better 🙂 (what a sentence 🙂 )and then I’ll be part of the 50% of people who can distinguish bitterness correct

A worthy alternative for Gin & Tonic

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If you feel like trying something different as an aperitif drink or just a worthy alternative for the classic Gin & Tonic, you might try mixing the Tonic with a bit of Cynar. The Cynar will give a bitter sweet herbal flavor to your drink. For my dear followers that don’t know Cynar, it is a drink based on Artichoke.. I know this doesn’t make it sexier, but there are 13 herbs added to the drink which makes it a totally different thing and surprisingly good. The fact that Cynar already exists since 1952 and is sells well after 63 years says enough I think, right?

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I didn’t come up with the the ‘cocktail myself it was Olivier Jacobs from the Gand coctailbar Jiggers  (and maybe indirectly Angelo Dalle Molle inventor of Cynar) , and although it might not seem lie rocket science a cocktail is all about putting the right quantities together 🙂 .

Cynar

To make the cocktail you fill a glass with ice cubes. Add 5cl Cynar, 15cl of premium tonic. Finish it off with a slice of grapefruit and a few leaves of basil and you are good to go. This mix will give you the perfect combination between sour, bittersweet (with caramel and artichoke accents), herbal  taste that will wake up your appetite like never before (the perfect drink for me I’d say 😉 )

Cheers

Unknown is unloved, the sherry saga continues

I must confess, I always thought there was only 1 kind of Sherry (I’m sure I wasn’t alone thinking this), but I have never been more wrong as there are a few more :-). Behold and feast your eyes on the different kinds of Sherry:

  • Fino (‘fine’ in Spanish) is the driest and has to me the sharpest smell of them all. The wine is aged in barrels under a cap of flor yeast to prevent contact with the air. This wine is made 100% of Palomino grape and only has 1g of sugar per liter of wine (4 years aging using the Solera system). Goes well with Spanish tapas or sushi.

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  • Amontillado finds its existence when the “flor” from the Fino disappears and so basically the wine comes in in contact with oxygen, this will give a sherry that is darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso (8 years aging using the Solera system). This sherry has much a softer aroma than the Fino and I could smell some almonds (FYI, the aroma mostly comes from the yeast). Also 100% Palomino, but already a bit stronger alcohol level of 16,5%. This goes well with white meat, fish and aged cheeses.

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SAMSUNG CSC-> Aged for 30 years.

  • Oloroso is my personal favorite (both the “dulce” and the “dry” one) and has aged in contact with oxygen for a longer time than a Fino or Amontillado, (again using the Solera system) producing a darker and richer wine. With alcohol levels between 18 and 20%. I don’t know if it is the fact the Oloroso’s are the most alcoholic Sherries is why I like them this much ;-). Goes perfect with red meat.

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  • Palo Cortado maybe the most unique wine of them all as initially it is aged like an Amontillado and also smells like it, but eventually gets similar character closer to an Oloroso when you taste it. This “mix” happens by accident when the flor dies, or is killed by fortification or filtration. So basically this doesn’t happen very often. Also this wine ages for 12 years using the Solera system and still using 100% Palomino grapes. Goes well with red meats.

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SAMSUNG CSC -> Aged for 30 years. Mix of 87% Palomino and 13% PX

  • Jerez “Dulce” wines (Sweet Sherries) are made either by fermenting dried Pedro Ximénez (PX) (or Moscatel grapes, but less), which produces an intensely sweet dark brown or black wine, or by blending sweeter wines or grape must with a drier variety. Like the Nectar or Noe

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SAMSUNG CSC -> Aged 30 years. This is also the sweetest wine/sherry they have with around 400g  sugar per liter.

  • Cream is a common type of sweet Sherry made by blending different wines, such as Oloroso sweetened with PX. A good example of this one is the Solera or Matusalem both consisting of 75% Palomino and 25% PX grapes. Don’t worry it is not too creamy

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SAMSUNG CSC-> Aged 30 years.

It was an eye opener for me to find out there were so many and I know this might all seem weird, but try to put all of these sherry’s next to each other like we did during our visit and taste and compare them attentively and I’m sure you’ll understand it instantly 🙂 just like I did.

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Isn’t it special that depending in which “stage” the wine is in the it will change its kind? Like It all starts with the Fino and at the moment the flor is not there anymore they speak of a Amontillado and eventually evolve into a Solera which as I mentioned before is one my personal favorites as are other Oloroso’s and Amontillado’s.

The one that was less my taste was actually the Fino. Not that it wasn’t good, its smell and taste was just too sharp for me, but it is very possible that if you put them all next to each other you’d prefer the Fino over the other ones…

I do also want to share a few anecdotes from the Bodega. The first one would be about Bodega Tio Pepe being in the Guinness book of records :-). Yes, as they have the largest weather vane in the world (48 feet tall, with an arrow 26 feet long).

Tio pepe windroos

Did you ever hear about the sherry mouse? The story goes that a worker from the founder Manuel Gonzales saw that a mouse was sipping and liking glass of sherry that they had forgotten in the cellar… so since that day you’ll find in that exact same spot a glass filled with sherry with a little ladder next to it specially for the “sherry mouse” being able to have their daily sip of sherry 🙂 (see pictures below)

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And the last thing I want to share is that Gonzales Byass’ barrels find a very good cause after being used for making sherry, as the factory first repairs them and afterwards get send (sold) to whiskey makers in Scotland like Dalmore.

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One thing is sure that I’ll be having a dinner with friends where I’ll be pairing sherry with my dishes instead of regular wine hoping they’ll become as enthusiastic as me (OK, maybe not 100% like me, but close enough 😉 )  As to my opinion sherry is a wine that doesn’t get the attention it deserves!!

Good that I said I’d keep it short 😉

I would like to thank William for telling me I had to go, Peter for helping me to get in and Oscar and Lola for teaching me and introducing me to the wonderful world of sherry!! Thank you all, both me and my fiancée learned a lot and became a big fan of sherry!!

BTW in case you Belgian readers would want to know more or even taste the TIo pepe (or other Gonzales Byass products check the following link 

Cheers!

Unknown is unloved, how I discovered Sherry

Something for old ladies and English Lords, that’s what most people think of when you say the word “Sherry”. For me sherry was something unknown. I mean I did know what it was but that’s where it stopped. A couple of weeks ago I was doing a tour of Andalusia and stopped for a few days in Jerez de la Frontera and as the name might tip-off this is the place where the Sherry comes from… so not visiting a sherry bodega would have been a crime… luckily my friends William Wouters and Peter Bollinger could help me with which one to visit as they know much more about this than me 🙂 . So with a little help from my friends my fiancee and I were able to visit Spain’s n°1 sherry Bodega Gonzales-Byass also known as Tio Pepe.

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Since my visit to the Bodega I’m VERY excited about sherry, so I’ll try to temper my enthusiasm and keep it as “short” as possible ;-)…

The whole Gonzales-Byass Sherry making story started around 1835 by Manuel María González Angel, who was later joined by his English agent Robert Blake Byass  I think this makes it clear where the name of the Bodega Gonzales Byass comes from… the part of the company Robert Blake owned got bought back by the González family, they decided to keep the name.  The name Tío Pepe actually comes from Manuel González beloved uncle. Today the whole bodega is still owned by the family (unlike lots of others).

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Walking through this enormous bodega (I have never seen something this big) is like walking through history as every corner and even every barrel has a story behind it.  One of the stories Lola told us (our guide) that is quit special was that for the visit of the Spanish Queen Isabella II the firm had a special barrel build “La Concha” commissioned by nobody less than engineer Gustav Eiffel (Yes, that Gustav Eiffel), next to this barrel you will find 11 others that represent the apostles… no this isn’t a typo, 11 as they put the one from the bad apostle (Judas) with the sherry vinegar barrels as they were afraid his barrel would bring bad luck for the others. I could tell you more stories, but I promised to keep it short(er) and I would just advice to visit the bodega and be as amazed as me.

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One of the most impressing views you see during your tour in this Bodega is without any doubt when you enter this “monument” which is a very big round depot filled with 250 barrels that represent every country they export to (every barrel has a different flag on it). BTW did you know they also make the wine for during mass in Church? 🙂 They do, I really didn’t know this.

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I must say that the oldest barrels or cellar or even the barrels with signatures from famous people are also impressive 🙂 (I’m sure you will be as well)

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Or the 1st “office” from Tio Pepe’s founder Manuel Gonzales. On this picture you see all different bottles, this way Mr Gonzales knew which blend/ mix was in which bottle. As there was not a lot of light inside of the room, Mr Gonzales had something that looked like a bird cage with a candle in it. He would hold his glass against this candle to be able to see the color of the wine…

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Now I think the time has come to talk about Sherry… First things first, something important to know is that sherry is a wine and it is not only something that can be drunk before or after dinner, but something also very suitable for during your meal. Sherry only gets made using 2 kinds of grapes (the 3rd one would be moscatel, but this is rather rare) Palomino and the Pedro Ximénez (which is the sweetener in the Sherry making process). Depending on the mixing of these grapes (of course in combination with a few other steps during the production process) make the wine either sweeter or dryer. A special process they use to make sherry is called the “Solera” system. What basically happens is that the barrels are piled up with all the top barrels filled with the youngest sherry and the oldest at the bottom. Every x months they will bottle sherry, but only using the bottom (oldest) sherry and only 1/3 of what is in the barrel. After this they will fill this barrel again with the sherry from the barrel on top of this and that barrel on its turn will be filled with the sherry from on barrel on top of it… and this continues until they get to the youngest and that one gets filled with newly made wine. (Check this link for more details about the process). So basically when you buy a bottle of sherry that has an age 30 years on the bottle in reality is a blend from much older sherry sometimes up to a few hundred years. It is it is not as simple as how I describe it, but that is in big lines what it does. What is amazing is that every step of this system will give a different type of sherry (BTW the Solera wine is also one of my preferred ones). Something very cool to see was the inside of a barrel while the wine was in there, as the Bodega used glass as closure instead of wood and you could clearly see the yeast which works as a kind of wall to keep the air separated from the wine. FYI this white layer is called “Flor” 🙂

Solera process by CAPIRETE  VINAGRE DE JEREZ

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A difference with the vines from “regular” wines (that rimes) and the ones to make sherry is that these vines are put deeper in the soil as the weather in the South of Spain can get very hot and the top layers would be totally dried out and the lower layer of the soil would still contain water. Talking about the vines, a question that came to mine when I was driving through Andalusia was that I did see a lot of olive trees, but not too much vines… so one of my first questions during my visit was where they have their grapes 🙂 and it seems they are more north around Sanlucár (and I can confirm it as I drove by them 🙂 ). Also something interesting to know is that because the vines are so low, every x time they flip the branches (and grapes) over a wire… this way the grapes won’t touch the ground.

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Now that you know a bit of the basics we can continue with something that I’m sure most of you didn’t know, so stay tuned for next week’s post as I was amazed 🙂

Cheers!

Hinky Pinky Robby Gin & Tonic

After Dominique Persoone’s Rock ’n Roll Gin & Tonic I now also share with you the recipe of coffee maker Eveline’s Hinky Pinky Robby Gin & Tonic creation.

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Ingredients:

  • Bombay Sapphire,
  • Tonic (Fever-Tree Mediterranean),
  • Red caster sugar,
  • Pure Fruit & Hibiscus tea,
  • Rose pepper,
  • Rosemary,
  • Chives in bloom,
  • Orange thyme,
  • Sage in bloom,
  • Lemon zest.

Get Started:

  • Make a day upfront a Pure Fuit & Hibiscus tea, let it cool and make ice cubes from them OR , as Eveline did, make 1 big ice cube using a tea holder (in this case Robby).
  • Rub a lime wedge on the rim of a glass (preferably a burgundy glass) and dip it the rim in red caster sugar.
  • Put 1 ice cube you made in the glass and top it with transparant ice cube, add the lemon zest, 5cl Bombay Sapphire and top with tonic

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  • Garnish with some the fresh blooming herbs, rose pepper and if wanted some red fruits.

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If you don’t feel like making these Gin & Tonic’s yourself you can still taste the @Imagin.