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Distilled – Your guide to the latest trends in spirits and cocktails

Our latest round-up of trends from the top shelf, including a brief history of the White Russian, low-abv gins and how to make sugar syrup.

What to drink now… White Russian

Belgian bartender Gustave Tops invented both the White Russian and its sister cocktail, the Black Russian, at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels, in 1949. The ‘Russian’ moniker refers to the vodka used in both drinks, along with coffee liqueur and in the case of the White Russian, milk or cream.

The White Russian saw a huge surge in popularity with the release of cult film The Big Lebowski in 1998. The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, drinks White Russians constantly through the film; if you want to follow in his footsteps try Black Cow Vodka (Alc 40%, £23.99-£25/70cl), a creamy vodka made from milk, with notes of vanilla, coconut and liquorice root.

White Russian

Ingredients: 60ml vodka, 30ml coffee liqueur, 30ml single cream

Glass: Rocks

Garnish: Freshly grated nutmeg

Method: Pour the vodka and coffee liqueur into a mixing glass with ice and stir gently to mix, until the outside of the glass is very cold. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and float the cream over the top. Dust with freshly grated nutmeg to garnish.

Low-alcohol gin

Two new low-alcohol gins are proving that small is beautiful, with products that are little in size but big on taste. Smidgin, launched by Suffolk-based distillery Adnams, is distilled with 10 times the amount of botanicals used in a regular bottle of gin. This means that you only need 2.5ml (half a teaspoon) mixed with 200ml of tonic to create a full-flavoured G&T with just 0.6% alcohol.

Offering up warm spiciness and creamy florality, botanicals include coriander seed, cardamom pods, orris root and hibiscus, alongside plenty of classic juniper character. Inginious from Sloemotion Distillery in North Yorkshire, is made in the same way, but with more citrus botanicals, including lemongrass, grapefruit and lime. A 5ml serve with 150ml of tonic gives a G&T with only 0.2 units of alcohol.

The newcomers follow in the innovative footsteps of Hayman’s Small Gin (Alc 43%, £22.95/20ml Amazon UK), which was launched in 2019.

Smidgin – Alc 50%, £26/20cl adnams.co.uk
Inginious – Alc 43%, £26/20cl inginious-gin.co.uk

How to… make sugar syrup

Many cocktail recipes call for sugar syrup as an ingredient.

You can buy this: try Monin Gomme Syrup. But it’s also easy to make at home: dissolve one cup of caster sugar in one cup of water over a very low heat – do not let it boil. Leave to cool, then pour it into a sterilised bottle.

It will keep in the fridge for up to a month. This is known as 1:1 sugar syrup and is more commonly used in American bars. European bartenders prefer a richer 2:1 syrup. Follow the same initial steps above, and when all of the sugar has dissolved, gradually add a second cup of sugar, stirring until it is all dissolved.

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