This round-up of the best drinks we’ve been sent to review is full of variety, with a couple of beers, a grapefruit gin and a mead flavoured with herbs and hops. We’ve also got an excellent non-alcoholic spirit to mix with your tonic and a bottle opener shaped like a bear’s head. All of which receive our roars of approval.
Gosnells of London, Citra Sea Mead, 4%
Gosnells of London produce a very modern kind of mead, taking the ancient beverage beloved of monks and making it lighter, less boozy and altogether more sparkly. We don’t always go for modern interpretations of old drinks, but Gosnells meads are bright and breezily refreshing so we approve.
Just as those merry monks would’ve added different flavours to their basic mead recipe, Gosnells have also increased their range of honey-based boozes to include a tart pink hibiscus flavoured mead and – our favourite – Citra Sea, that has the addition of lemon, tarragon and hops complete with a slightly salty (sea-inspired) finish. Those extra flavours give it an added lick of refreshment and some complexity that would surely satisfy any thirsty monks.
Lagunitas, Daytime IPA, 4%
We get sent new releases to review from Lagunitas on a fairly regular basis. This is fine by us. They may be owned by one of the beer giants (Heineken), something that makes some reviewers sniffy about their products, but their IPA remains one of our favourites and their new brews are consistently good. Daytime IPA is a stripped-back version of the full strength classic, delivering a paler, lighter and drier drink with much less alcohol.
There may be fewer of the sticky fruit and pine flavours, but with a lower ABV this beer doesn’t need to be overloaded with hops, and the brewers have added just enough to allow a mango, pineapple and lemon fruit salad to come to the fore. It’s exactly what we would expect – a less intense sibling to Lagunitas IPA that is ideal for daytime drinking.
Tyne Bank Brewery, Silver Dollar APA, 4.9%
We were not at all familiar with Newcastle’s Tyne Bank Brewery so were excited to receive their range of seven core canned beers to work our way through. We dived straight into one of their more unusual sounding brews – a rhubarb and custard pale ale – which tasted great, so excitement for the remaining six escalated considerably.
Despite being rather good at funky modern flavours (a strawberry and cream beer is also in the range) it was their less experimental APA, Silver Dollar, that we awarded top marks. We liked that there was a strong presence of malt flavours that was set off a treat with some earthy, hoppy notes. We also liked that most of the citrussy flavours provided by Centennial and Amarillo hops came through in a dry and lingering bitter finish, making it less of a fruit-fest than many other contemporary APAs and keeping the malt in focus.
Men’s Society Bear Head Bottle Opener
This may not be booze but it’s relevant enough to get a mention in this piece. Men’s Society is a Norfolk based business that produces gifts for men with “a deep sense of British quality, craftsmanship and wit.” They sent us a few of their booze-related items including a Hangover Recovery Kit that Rich will test out on our next brewery trip and a bottle opener in the shape of a bear’s head.
The bottle opener is ace. It’s a solid, weighty chunk of metal than can be screwed onto a wall – inside or outside – and is destined for our brewery shed. Bottle tops are prized of by the grizzly’s ferocious jaws with its top two fangs sticking out in a way that makes the act speedy while reducing slippage. With cider-making season nearly upon us we’ll be spending a few days pressing and a few evenings prizing, and we’ll see if that leads to any bears with a sore head…
Dunnet Bay Distillers, Rock Rose Pink Grapefruit Old Tom Gin, 41.5%
Rich recently declared Dunnet Bay’s Rock Rose Scottish Botanicals Gin one of the best in the land, describing it as “full of verve and vigour.” This time it’s Nick that has got his chops round a couple of the distillery’s boozes, getting to enjoy samples of a grass vodka flavoured with cold brew coffee and a new gin flavoured with pink grapefruit and muscovado sugar.
The gin has all of the zesty vigour that so appealed to Rich, with the grapefruit lending a bright, citrussy finish to the punchy, peppery juniper, while a mellow sweetness rounds off the edges to give it a late-night sippability. A delicious pink twist to an outstanding gin.
Caleño, Juniper & Inca Berry Non-Alcoholic Free Spirit
Over the past 18 months we’ve been sent quite a few alcohol free spirit substitutes but, apart from the popular Seedlip, very few that we’ve tried have merited coverage. So we were naturally a bit sceptical when we received a bottle of Caleño through the post. It’s described as a “non-alcoholic, tropical free spirit, inspired by Colombia” which makes it sound more like a marketing creation than anything we would naturally gravitate towards. But we cast aside our assumptions, gave it a fair tasting and were pleasantly surprised.
These drinks aren’t meant to be taken neat, but we test-sipped it on its own and were relieved to find a mix of subtle flavours rather than anything forthright and nasty – slightly tart berries and in the background some simmering, plummier fruit flavours. It’s quite sweet, but not tooth-curlingly so, and the sugary flavours subside when paired with the bitterness of tonic, while those fruit notes give it a fresh aroma and delicate, sophisticated flavours. Despite the use of juniper, Caleño isn’t simply a booze-free gin, but something all of its own and, with tonic, is an excellent alternative to alcohol.