Thursday, 18 April 2013

Something Old, Something New: The Resurgence of Antique Spirits

Last week, Freddy spoke about which wines you should and shouldn't age - and it provoked a lot of interest amongst our ever-growing group of drinks fanatics. But what of spirits?

Although most of us won't have been fortunate enough to try them, it's a well-established fact that you can get some delightful old whiskies and brandies - that much everyone knows - but what about 1940s gin? Or bacardi from the 1903s?

In the past couple of years there has been a fiercely building trend for antique spirits amongst booze geeks worldwide, but it seems particularly popular in London. With glorious changes in aroma, texture and mouth-feel, they're well worth trying.

Earlier this month, trade publication Imbibe wrote a fascinating piece aimed at bars and other trade venues who might be thinking of breaking into this increasingly fashionable concept, but the prices for consumers at these venues can be on the gulp-inducingly expensive side. £120 for a single measure of 1950s Booth's? We're not sure we can stretch to that.

So what if you - like us - are very keen on this idea but too poor to visit the specialist bars and hotels that serve these wondrously old spirits? You buy your own, of course - and it's not as pricey as you might think.

Master of Malt (the fiendishly brilliant merchant that went viral towards the end of last year for introducing us to the supermegaawesome advent alternative: the Ginvent Calendar) sell an unbelievably diverse and exciting range of antique spirits. From just £24 a bottle they're much more friendly on the purse-strings (although I'm so poor my purse doesn't even have strings) so starting your collection of showy-offy spirits can be easier than you'd think.

Imbibe's piece gives some brilliant advice on the best buys to begin with:
White spirits and those with higher sugar contents seem to preserve the best.
Spirits most commonly used in popular cocktails (like gin, vodka, cointreau etc) so they won't stay open for too long.
Spirits that actually mean something to you - if you're not keen on vermouth, don't buy it just because it's the cheapest one there or you'll never enjoy it. Likewise, picking one you love means that even if it disappoints in flavour, the experience itself makes it worthwhile.

Our Best Buys:


1970s - Banana Cream, £24

 Personally, this is one of our most exciting finds. It's cheaper than many common-day liqueurs and spirits, but you get a chance to taste the sort of thing your parents might have drunk. As a fruit liqueur it should be high in sugar so the flavours will hopefully be preserved - we think this would be brilliant in a basic ice cream cocktail or served over ice. Plus, the packaging is so seventies we think we might explode with excitement.

1970s - Galliano half, £42

Being a half makes this that much more affordable, and this will definitely be another of the high-sugar brigade. Imagine drinking a 30+ year old Harvey Wallbanger. Immense.

1970s - Vickers Cossack Vodka, £48

Obviously, a big part of me chose this for the name (the big part of me that also happens to be called my ego) but it's actually the keenest-priced vodka in the range. It will be amazing to see how it's fared - my Cosmopolitans shall never be the same again.


1950s - Crema de Cacao a la Vanilla, £60

Not only is this a perfect mix of chocolate and vanilla, it's also incredibly rare - we really don't think this is bad for £60. We all wear the fifties clothes and sport the fifties coiffs, why not drink the 50s booze?

1960s - Stroh Inlander Austrian Rum, £60

The pure novelty value of a rum from Austria is enough to sway us, but it's also a interesting addition to so many of the classic cocktail recipes which makes it very much worth the money (if vintage sauce is an interest of yours, that is.)

Over £100

1957 - Stock Triple Sec, £108

It's not often you can present your Dad with a bottle of a liqueur he actually likes that just so happens to be from the year of his birth (unfortunately, my pesky father emerged into the world a year previous to this). This is much cheaper than the 1957 wine option, too.

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