Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

#ShrubItUp - heat 3, London

24th June 2016


“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show”. So spoke Samuel Johnson, and he had a point, it is one of the finest cities in the world. I love coming down; semi-resident as we are in Shoreditch we trade the green and quiet of the orchard for the hustle and the bustle of the street very willingly, albeit temporarily.

It’s an achingly hip part of town; a far cry from when I worked at the old Truman Brewery in the late ‘80’s as a sandwich student, back when Spitalfields Market was still a working market – complete with the unique smells associated with those places.

I heard someone say recently that far from being temporary features, that the cranes that cover London’s horizon are actually a full time feature of it. Confirmation of the city’s vibrancy and perpetual change. And so it is, and it’s a perpetual change that is reflected in our cuisine and in our drinking establishments.

So, everything is re-invention then; indeed the very nature of this shrub competition is re-invention of a process that has been in active use for over 6,000 years. And given London’s very worthy claims to be a global gastronomic centre, would the capital stand out against its regional counterparts?

We gathered in Hawksmoor Spitalfields to find out; downstairs in the bar we were welcomed by manager Clotilde, who would also be on the judging panel. I do love these basement style bars; a lot have cropped up in recent years and I never tire of the style and enjoy the intimate surroundings.

Waiting for us were 9 entrants, and they didn’t disappoint; some were from bars I had heard of but as a semi-London resident, most I’m ashamed to say I had not. Perhaps that’s actually a good thing; cocktail bars are not a usual haunt for me, but one outcome from this process is that they are likely to become more so.

Shrubs on display today were blackberry sloe and vanilla, rhubarb, pineapple, juniper and coriander, Bramley apple, beetroot and pomegranate, pistachio (young and green), juniper and black pepper, carrot and curry leaf, and finally bell yellow pepper and rosemary. Lots of inspiration and great skill in there.

And my goodness, they translated in to some dazzling cocktails.

And my goodness, they translated in to some dazzling cocktails. Midway through the heat, the judges conferred and agreed it was going to be an almost impossible task to pick a winner, such was the standard on display.

In the end, despite the quality of the field, the winner took seconds to pick, topping the scorecard of each of the judges. We normally stay behind to give feedback to any of the entrants who want it; on this occasion, it was simply that the winner nailed every section – the shrub itself was simply outstanding – a very rare ten out of ten for me. The cocktail itself oozed simplicity in its formulation and yet delivered a tardis’ worth of complexity on tasting. Less was most definitely more for this one.
The winning cocktail was “Queen Anne’s Lassi” from the highly talented Zoe of The White Lion on Hoxton Square. Her carrot and curry leaf shrub on its own was phenomenal, then blended with Columbia Gin – which has a curry leaf botanical – a small addition of soda water then topped with Aspall Premier Cru; no ice and finished with an orange spray. It had a gorgeous aroma of rich spice; the orange bitterness comes forward on the palate, a good sweetness balancing beautifully with the acidity of the shrub. The mouthfeel was smooth and rich leading to a long lingering finish. A unanimous and emphatic decision from the judges.

Bless you London – you didn’t disappoint.