Monday, December 07, 2009
Angella and Hayley, masterminds of the Tasting Sessions and most recently architects of Towards a Fluid State, have moved the goal posts so far that most booze brands planning a tasting experience won’t be able to see them.
Over the course of the last year they have continuously raised the bar with their artistic mash-ups of art, booze, culture, flavours, music, theatre and entertainment. They are the drinks version of what Shunt is to traditional theatre. The whisky and cheese pairing at Bart’s was terrific. The white wine event was dazzling. And by all accounts their gin event was spectacular.
Having arrived in an alleyway in deepest darkest Dalston we were greeted by a scene out of a Soviet dystopia mixed with a touch of Mad Max. Russian versions of the Enigma machine checked us in before we entered the experience. In another life the venue doubles as a photographers studio for Vogue fashion shoots and used to be a mechanic’s garage.
Our first encounter (depicted by an octagon in the map above) featured a flight of sake from Akashi Tai paired with Japanese nibbles from Tsuru. The sake progressed from the expected through to an almost whiskyish brown spirit that paired exceptionally well with a ball of sesame crusted ice cream.
But the oral tasting itself is only a small part of the experience. Drag queens chilled out next to us as an amazing artists doodled Japanese Animae on a wall. It all set the scene for a mind bending introduction.
We turned a corner and all of a sudden we’d translocated from Tokyo to Jarnac. The Courvoisier experience featured a bar serving Exclusif cocktails ranging from the classics like the Sazerac and Sidecar through to the more experimental blackberry jelly shot flecked with gold leaf that is best consumed from a spoon.
Courvoisier’s Le Nez experience was in full flow, showcasing the incredible aromas held within the cognac. It was a very special moment for me to see an idea I worked on come to life, and in such style. A flight of Napoleon, XO Fine Champagne and Initiale paired with caramel lollipop, lavender crème brulee and port and stilton truffle was phenomenal. I’m biased, but you’ll just have to believe me. It took me back to the food and cognac pairing we developed with Alexis from Roussillon.
The experience also included a chance to watch Courvoisier’s 3D film which helps to explain what makes their cognac so special. The whole experience was artfully curated and looked spectacular.
We slipped out of Jarnac and landed up in the midst of a Lady Gaga video-shoot. Philip Li, who is renowned for his weird and wonderful ceramics performed an incredible piece of art which mainly involved him being wrapped in cling-film, clay and bin bags. For anyone who saw Lady Gaga on X Factor on Saturday, you’ll see the connection. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Philip Li’s performance along with a surreal Telly-Tubby-esque grass floor that moaned and suggestively glistened with jewels formed a bizarre backdrop for a tasting of biodynamic and natural wines paired with raw food from Saf.
Joe McCanta, is one of the leading sommeliers and mixologists in town. And like Angella and Hayley is a member of the Courvoisier Future 500. His collection of wines were all wonderfully obscure. Our favourite combination was a pairing of Burgenland Pinot Noir with beetroot cannelloni – which I think I may have had when I visited Saf. The wine was light and supple and formed a perfect marriage with the beetroot.
We didn’t get stuck into the whisky and cheese tasting- for which I can only appolgise. But it looked very similar to the “Throw Away your Prohibitions” event I raved about at Bart’s. The waft of phenomenal cheese from La Fromagerie was sensational. Highland Park and The Macallan featured alongside Connemara, Singleton, Clynelish, Dalwhinnie and Lagavulin.
Instead I headed upstairs to a secret speakeasy bar that was serving Maker’s Mark cocktails to a crowd of adorers. The bartender, from Zuma, whipped up a cracking array of cocktails starting with a Blueberry Smash infused with mint for the ladies and a State Mule for the gents which was like a fizzy Old Fashioned. We missed the music but apparently Plaster of Paris and the Dulwich Ukulele Club put on quite a show.
We then found ourselves in the Rich or Ruin experience being wowed by Sipsmith’s Gin which was served as a warm punch a la crachit with a tickle of ginger beer. Sipsmith’s Gin opened very recently in Hammersmith, making them the first gin distillery with a copper still to open in London for 189 years. Their approach is a breath of fresh air. They have embraced the blogosphere (Dinner Diary and Cheese and Biscuits) and are very active on Twitter. If anyone is looking for a spirits brand that is using social media in a smart way, then have a long hard look at the chaps at Sipsmith's.
We then dived into a molecular cocktail courtesy of Chase Gin. They make vodka using English potatoes and have now launched a gin made from apples! Bonkers. But brilliant. To make things even more special it turns out they were launching this new apple based gin at Towards a Fluid State, so we were some of the first to try it. Their cocktail featured Herefordshire cider, molecular balls of apple juice and gin. It was designed to be paired with a feast of roast pork expertly cooked by the good folks at Bacchus and accompanied by a the sounds of a baroque harp and violins.
Hayman’s Gin showcased a collection of three gins ranging from their standard gin, their Gin Liquer that’s like an old fashioned Genever) to the uber-botanical Old Tom that was served through an ice sculpture of a Tom Cat, much to the delight of a very over the top Japanese TV presenter.
We left Towards a Fluid State thrilled and in awe of what Hayley and Angella had achieved and gagging for more. It was exhilarating to have been part of something so far ahead of what others are doing. Girls, what’s next?