Welcome to our first New Booze Round-up of 2020, where we showcase our pick of the products sent to us to review over the festive period. You’ll find some interesting new blends of booze and tea; an excellent IPA; a 12 year old whisky that we’ve not previously tried; and some alcohol-free beers that are perfect for those embarking on a Dry January.
Noveltea, Oolong Tea with Whisky, 11%
We reckon that tea is an under-explored ingredient in the booze market, so we were excited to hear from a new brand called Noveltea, who blend tea with spirits to create drinks at a very sippable 11% ABV. In the run up to Christmas we tested out three Noveltea releases with a full tasting panel, and feedback was mixed: for some the cocktail-ish blends didn’t quite work, but others declared them among the best new drinks they’ve tried in a while. The blend most flavoured was a combination of Oolong Tea and Whisky (the others were Earl Grey with Gin and Moroccan Mint with Rum), where the fragrant tea was complemented by sweet mango and the whisky brought out some depth and dryness. A pleasant whisky twist to tea-time.
BUY from £9.95
Big Drop Brewing Co, World Collab Series
In the past few years, the alcohol-free beer market has massively upped its game, with lots of new releases providing quality and variety. Big Drop is a brewery at the forefront of alcohol-free innovation and one we’ve been keeping a close eye on. Towards the end of last year they pushed the boozeless boat out even further with some remarkably good collaboration beers, exploring new flavours with some of the most exciting breweries in contemporary beer scene: Fyne Ales, Salt, Fourpure and Harbour.
The four beers encompass a wide range of styles, with a hibiscus saison, raspberry gose and black IPA in the pack. Our pick of the drinks was an India Pale Lager, brewed with Salt Beer Factory, that more than matched our expectations of the advertised style: light and refreshing with a good pale malt backbone and some lively hopping in the mix. Let’s hope Big Drop have a few more alcohol-free collabs earmarked for 2020.
anCnoc 12 Year Old, Single Malt Whisky, 40%
We consider ourselves easy people to buy Christmas presents for: there is hardly a type of booze we don’t like.* Of the gifted bottles we eagerly opened this time round, anCnoc 12 Year Old whisky was the pick. The first thing that appealed was the packaging – one of the best we’ve seen for a whisky. The design is understated but full of finesse, with a sketchy illustration of the Knockdhu Distillery, and effectively simple and elegant typography.
We know that you shouldn’t judge a whisky by it’s label, but it perfectly echoed the drinking experience: seemingly simple and unfussy at first, but with subtle fruits and spices that gradually build a much more complex picture. It has quickly established itself as one of our ‘front of shed’ boozes, kept at easy reach for quick access. It has also become a key player in tasting sessions – the whisky we use as our ‘control’ – and it made the best hot toddy we’ve had in a long while.
And the extra good news is that when our gift bottle runs out (soon, we imagine) it won’t break the bank to replace it.
Borough Market Wet Hop IPA, 4.3%
One of our favourite beers of last year came from Borough Market, who teamed up with Daniel Tapper of the Beak Brewery to produce an outstanding saison brewed with Earl Grey Tea (yes, more boozy tea). To celebrate the market’s 21st anniversary they’ve put their brewing hats back on, this time with Villages brewery lending a hand, to conjure an IPA full of fresh ‘wet’ Fuggles hops grown in the Market Hall.
To compliment the florally fresh, green and earthy taste of those English hops, further flavour has been squeezed from Ekuanot, Azacca and Mosaic hops, making it juicy and fruity with a decently bitter finish. It’s an invigorating kind of IPA; one where a sip turns into a glug and you’re quickly checking to see if there’s any beer left in the can for one more mouthful. The best beers always leave you wanting more, and oh do we want more.
Ramborn Medium Dry Cider, 5.8%
We’ve had this cider on our radar for a while now while now but this is the first time we’ve managed to get our hands on a bottle and give it a good old glug. We’ve not exactly been avoiding it, but (and this may sound all Brexity and ignorant**) Luxembourg is not the first country that comes to mind when imagining lovely pints of cider from bucolic orchards weighed down with bounteous fruits. Luxembourg makes us think of strongly performing investment banks and the birthplace of, er, (checks Google) Jean-Claude Juncker.
But what fools we have been! Ramborn cider is a beautiful, straw- coloured cider with a cheek puckering acidity and soft tannins – well worth its place amongst Somerset’s finest in our handsomely stocked cider shed. At the time of writing, Ramborn ciders are not readily available in UK shops, but you can grab some from our favorite online cider-peddlers, Crafty Nectar.
Click HERE, buy a case and wrap your junkers around a lovely golden pint.
**We most certainly aren’t Brexity.