Mix it up: Why you will be drinking mezcal and Irish whiskey before the year is out
Harvey Nichols' spirits buyer on the biggest drinks trends of 2017
There are many trends that I'm very excited about for 2017, from mezcal and raicilla to aquavit and yes, even more gin. Here is what may be in your drinks cabinet by the end of the year:
Mezcal, raicilla and aquavit
Mezcal has been growing in popularity for a while now. Top-end bars in London really got behind it a few years ago and it has been filtering through to independents and luxury retailers. Harvey Nichols introduced mezcal to our wine shop in 2014 and consumer interest has been growing.
So why is it interesting? Well, there's more innovation, authenticity and heritage in mezcal compared to tequila. It's a distilled alcoholic beverage made from a range of agave plant varieties native to Mexico with a smokier, earthier taste than tequila, which comes from the unique production process and the species of agave used. Mezcal has a very diverse flavour profile – no two are the same.
Like a fine scotch or cognac, good quality mezcal is best enjoyed unadulterated, at an ambient temperature from a tasting glass. Entry-level bottles can also work wonderfully well in cocktails, acting as a smoky, complex base.
It also works brilliantly with food, particularly Mexican cuisine, and complements many smoked meat and cheeses. Mezcal is often overlooked or disregarded for culinary matches, but it is a highly versatile and often a deliciously good option. My favourite producers are Del Maguey, Siete Misterios and QuiQuiRiQui.
I'm also looking forward to introducing raicilla to our wine shop. It's a Mexican spirit, originating in the south-west, and is a product of the agave plant like tequila and mezcal, but it's earthier and has a deeper flavour profile, less smoky in its taste. It's a great statement product for the drinks trolley and I think we'll start to hear lots about it later in the year.
I'll also be looking to list an aquavit this year called Saltorens Akvavit. London bars are already playing with this spirit in many cocktails because it's wonderfully versatile. Aquavit comes in a variety of flavours and styles - some are aged in oak, others are sweeter, some are drier. It can be smooth, interesting, complex and layered, a chameleon of a category and that's what really intrigues me.
Gin is our biggest seller and I think it will only continue to grow throughout this year. At Harvey Nichols, our aim is to introduce customers to intriguing gins from the smallest and most innovative producers. My top recommendations for this year are as follows:
- Achroous Gin from Edinburgh. This is made in incredibly small batches and comes in a bright pink bottle. The team behind it are passionate about spirits and love design: both the bottle and the spirit are vibrant, modern and instantly recognisable. Ripe orange, with grape-like flavours, and juicy dates are seamlessly blended with traditional, spiced botanicals to make a top gin.
- Old Bakery Gin from London. This has a great backstory. Founder Ian Puddick discovered his office was once a bakery famous for selling homemade – and illegal - gin. He tracked down the family behind the affair, found the recipe had been passed down and set about recreating the gin in the old bakery.
- Crazy Gin is the world's first clear lassi, the result of a mission to introduce a British/Indian gin that combines the strong connection between the two countries. Crazy Gin blends the traditional Punjabi drink, which is made from yoghurt, water and spices, with British gin. It is vacuum distilled to enhance the flavours of the fruit lassi with the fragrant spices of classic gin botanicals and has the dry, floral taste of juniper, the earthiness of black pepper and the tanginess of yoghurt. It sounds mad, but it tastes great and makes a mean martini.
There's lots of noise at the moment about Irish whiskey amongst mixologists in the bar trade. It's hugely popular in the US, but there's always been a certain snobbiness here in the UK that it's not as discerning as Scotch. I think that's all about to change. New distilleries have been opening all over the country and craft production has been introduced. I've heard it's similar to the situation in London during the gin-distilling boom of 2009-2014. Keep your eyes and ears peeled as I think this is a drink to watch in 2017. Two favourites of mine are Hyde No1 President's Cask 10-Year-Old, which is aged in sherry casks, and the Teeling Small Batch – both delicious.
Ivan Dixon is Harvey Nichols' spirits buyer