Flavour File: White Spirits

Taking inspiration from flowers, fruit, vegetables and a host of natural ingredients, spirits makers are getting creative. Alice Lascelles reports

Spring is sprung and it’s time to start taking inspiration from the burgeoning gardens when making your next round of sundowners. Fruit, flowers and even the occasional vegetable are now all on the menu, thanks to a blossoming market for artisan and old school-style spirits made with natural ingredients. Whether you’re after a quintessentially English sloe gin, 19th-century celery bitters or a Californian vodka spiked with smoked peppers, you’ll find something in this crop that’s sure to bring even the sleepiest palate out of hibernation. Happy mixing!

Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka

Made from barley and Finnish glacier water, this vodka is as clean as a whistle and the perfect complement to the vibrant flavours of pink grapefruit. Try topping it with cranberry and a lime wedge, equal parts cranberry and ginger ale, or even just some good old straightforward tonic – just make sure it’s served with plenty of ice.
£15.94, Waitrose

Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka

The Polish have a long tradition of flavouring vodkas, but Zubrowka Bison Grass has to be one of the best. Infused with grass from the plains of eastern Poland – which are also home to bison, hence the name – this pale-green vodka has highly aromatic notes of jasmine tea, cinnamon, hay and herbs, which are a great match for honey, ginger or lemon flavours, and a hands-down winner topped with pressed apple juice.
£16.84, Sainsbury’s

Hangar One Chipotle Vodka

This thrillingly spicy vodka from the Californian craft distiller Hangar One will definitely separate the men from the boys. It’s handmade from a combination of jalapeños, habañeros, Fresno chilli peppers and smoked bell peppers, and has got fire a-plenty, but subtlety,
too, with lots of smoky, rootsy complexity and a slight sweetness that’s magic in a bloody Mary.
£51, Harvey Nichols

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Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

These bitters from a boutique producer in Germany are full of startlingly fresh and crunchy celery notes and a finish with subtle notes of lemongrass, orange peel and ginger. Based on a recipe that was popular in the 19th century, they’re most at home in a hair-of-the-dog cocktail such as a bloody Mary, but a couple of drops can also give a savoury freshness to aperitifs such as a gin and tonic or martini. A great gift for the drinks anorak who has everything.
£12.95, www.thedrinkshop.com

Chase Liqueurs

Transport your palate to an English summer with this range of spiffy liqueurs from the Chase distillery in Herefordshire (the same people who make Chase potato vodka – and Tyrrell’s crisps). As well as this sprightly rhubarb liqueur (pictured), the range includes elderflower, raspberry and blackcurrant, all made with locally grown fruits and flowers. Use them to tart up a glass of Champagne, or to add a touch of fruity sweetness to long, citrussy summer coolers.
£18 (50cl), Gerry’s Wines & Spirits, Selfridges

Ketel One Citroen Vodka

Most lemon vodkas are better suited to cleaning your bathroom, rather than drinking – but Ketel One Citroen, from Holland, is an exception. Full of natural zestiness, but with a creamier underlying lemon meringue pie note that comes from its wheat-based recipe, it’s quality stuff. Get the girls round and use it to whip up a Cosmo (with Cointreau, cranberry juice and lime), or for something a bit more unexpected, try using it to make a bloody Mary with a citrussy twist.
£24.99, Harvey Nichols, Majestic, Selfridges

Hendrick’s Gin

If the delightfully antiquated bottle doesn’t win you over, then the quality of the liquid will, as Hendrick’s is a seriously good gin despite its playful image. Infused with essences of cucumber and rose, it’s essentially an alcoholic homage to teatime in an English country garden. Serve in a
G&T garnished with a wheel
of cucumber to bring out some fresh melon notes, or mix with ginger ale, or elderflower pressé and lemon juice.
RRP £21.75, widely available

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Belvedere Black Raspberry Vodka

The combination of raspberries, blackcurrants and rose water gives this all-natural vodka a very indulgent, jammy aroma, while the palate is full of wonderfully authentic fruit-cake and sexy rose flavours. Try in a julep-style drink: gently muddle 10 mint leaves, a handful of raspberries and 15ml sugar syrup (made by dissolving 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water), add 50ml vodka, top with crushed ice, stir through, top with more crushed ice and a mint sprig and serve with straws.
£30.15, www.thedrinkshop.com

Gordon’s Sloe Gin

Sloe gin should ideally be a labour of love, but if you don’t have time to infuse your own – traditionalists insist you should prick each berry with a silver pin before adding it to the gin – then Gordon’s Sloe Gin is just the ticket. A blueberry-like fruit that grows wild in the hedgerows, the sloe imparts a sweet yet tart flavour full of prunes, blackcurrant and damsons, with a touch of spice. Sip neat, add a splash to Champagne or white wine or try
as a twist on anything you’d normally make with gin.
£15.98, Sainsbury’s

Geranium Gin

This newcomer from Holland has been causing a stir in gin circles with its elegant marriage of prettiness and power. The secret lies in the fact that scented geraniums share many of the same citrus, floral and pine notes that you’ll find in a traditional London dry gin, making the two a perfect match. It’s undeniably floral – think roses, lychees and hothouses – but nonetheless restrained on sweetness. Serve as a scented G&T laced with edible geranium flowers, or savour its subtleties in a martini.
£25.49, www.thedrinkshop.com

Boudier Bernard Loiseau Liqueurs

The Boudier family in Dijon are the daddies of liqueur making – they’ve been at it since 1874. And now they’ve launched this innovative range of eight naturally flavoured liqueurs that pair complimentary flavours, including Strawberry & Tasmanian Pepper (pictured), Apple & Earl Grey Tea, Pear & Bay Leaf, and Morello Cherry & Chocolate. A splash of Apple & Earl Grey Tea is gorgeous in a vodka martini with a lemon twist, while the sensational Morello Cherry & Chocolate should simply be sipped neat. 
From £20.25,

King’s Ginger Liqueur

Created in 1903 to warm up King Edward VII during wintry drives in his new motor car, this ginger liqueur is also eminently mixable with everything from apple juice to rum to rhubarb, and it makes a stunning addition to a mojito. Very moreish but also very grown-up, thanks to a cheeky 41% abv. Try 50ml of it in a tall glass over ice mixed with 50ml blood orange juice, plus a dash of Angostura Orange Bitters, and top with Fever Tree Bitter Lemon.
£17.99, Selfridges

Editorial feature from Square Meal Spring magazine 2010

Photos: Stephen Lenthall

Taking inspiration from flowers, fruit, vegetables and a host of natural ingredients, spirits makers are getting creative. Alice Lascelles reports