Ringing the changes

Dom Roskrow tries to make sense of the last twelve months 


Well that was 2016. What on earth happened there? Has the world gone mad or what? This week I dreamed I interviewed Elvis. He was a lot older and thinner, very healthy looking, and with shaggy blond hair. But with his chiselled features and amazing eyes, he was undoubtedly Elvis. He said he had no regrets and had sung or acted with everyone he had ever wanted to. But he was sad about Lemmy, Prince, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie.

I mention this because I’m not sure 2016 hasn’t seriously messed with my head. I feel it has battered and bullied us, piling one disaster, tragedy or shock after another, though not all of it necessarily bad. My Elvis interview seems no less real to me than my beloved Leicester City winning the English Premiership, Brazil staging a successful Olympics (strange coloured water aside) or rock legend Ritchie Blackmore playing his classic rock live.

But mostly 2016 was a large dose of shock and awe: Donald Trump becoming president of the US, Britain voting to leave the European Union, the bankrupting of Greece, and a surge in xenophobia and the far right across the world. Which puts our world of drinks, spirits and cocktails into some form of perspective. Ours is a tiny segment in a raging world, and perhaps the only link between the two is the need to drink in the face of such an onslaught of heavy duty news reporting.

As this is a drinks column, I ought to mention one trend from 2016 that has gone under the radar somewhat, but may come back to bite us. It’s something I have referred to before, when it was a trickle. Now it’s a flood. And it concerns the blurring of barriers between drinks styles, and the rise of new styles which don’t sit within existing categories. So fruity American spirits or bourbon spirit matured in sherry or port casks are not bourbons. A bourbon-style whiskey made in Scotland or Australia cannot be a bourbon. Some gins are only loosely associated with the classic definition of what a gin is.

Does any of this matter? Well yes, because such products blur boundaries and create potential damage to the quality and reputation of the core category. Which is a shame, because there are great new drinks out there.

As this is the season of goodwill, I thought I’d share a couple with you. The first is Cranes, which is described as a liqueur. It has a strength of 20% abv and is made from the finest cranberries from Wisconsin, and with blood orange juice and orange rind. It’s superb alone, over ice, or as an ingredient for cocktails, and comes thoroughly recommended.

And if you can get it, Texas whiskey-maker Balcones has a spirit “which defies categorisation in its composition and its reception”. It is called Rumble and consists of fermented Texas wildflower honey, mission figs and turbinado sugar, twice distilled in copper pot stills and matured in oak casks. “No joke, it’s my favourite thing we make,” says Balcones brand manager and distillery ambassador Winston Edwards. “The spirit expresses elements of rum, brandy and whisky all in one.”

Perfect for wet and windy winter days. Or just for washing the smell of 2016 out of your hair. Have a good one.