There are times when we want (and need!) a break from whisky, whisky sampling or anything whisky related and last weekend was one such occasion. We were lucky enough to be invited to sample some of the creations of Alchemist Dreams - a London based artisan liqueur maker who produces and blends each bottle by hand.
Alchemist Dreams was started at the turn of 2011 by chemistry graduate Ruth Ball (pictured, left). After completing her Masters degree, Ruth decided to use her skills in a creative way and the idea of producing bespoke liqueurs was born late one evening (we say - all the best ideas are formulated at these time and normally after a couple of drinks! After all, Whisky For Everyone was one such idea!). The formation of Alchemist Dreams followed and now Ruth offers the service of creating your own flavourings via www.alchemistdreams.co.uk, each of which she then blends by hand to your specifications.
Following a chance meeting a couple of months ago with Ruth in a north London wine shop, where she was doing a sampling session, we were kindly invited to Alchemist Dreams HQ to see some blending in action and to taste some of the flavours that she has within her catalogue. So, last Sunday we headed to Ruth's lovely Victorian terraced house on the edge of a leafy square in south London to learn about the art of blending liqueurs. Our friend Tom also joined us.
After a welcoming cup of tea, Ruth started to explain how she makes her base liqueurs - these are the elements which are used to construct the final liqueurs. She uses an organic neutral grain spirit for this, which she receives at an alcoholic strength of 95% ABV. Each of the base ingredients - be it fruit, herb or spice - are then placed in the alcohol to infuse their flavour, colour and aroma (above - the image shows blackberries after two days). They are then assessed daily for progress. Ruth has established the optimum time for each ingredient and these range from just two days for rose petals to one month for cocoa nibs. The colour starts leeching out almost instantly and tricks the eye in to thinking that the liqueur may be ready, but it is Ruth's experience gained through extensive experimentation that determines when the flavour profile has reached its peak and the infusion is then stopped.
The liqueurs are split in to two categories for blending - bases and accents. The bases are all fruit infusions and are used as the foundation for each liqueur, with the accents being herb or spice infusions that are more concentrated in flavour. These are used in small amounts as essences to compliment the base flavours, similar to the use of essences and oils in the perfume industry. For the list of the base and accent flavours - click here. Once the alcoholic base and accents are blended together at the 95% ABV strength, Ruth mixes these with a combination of sugar syrup and water to produce the final liqueur. Each liqueur has a final strength of 19% ABV.
Ruth has four house blends that she has created and sells via her website and at various trade fairs and markets. In addition to this, she offers the service where the customer can choose a base and a set of accents, which she then blends together to create a unique liqueur each time. Ruth is always experimenting with different infusions and combinations of infusions and we were particularly excited and surprised when she invited us to create our own flavour combinations. To help us, she provided us with a selection of test tubes holding some of the accent herbs and spices (pictured, above).
Suddenly, we were having to think about flavours and building flavours in a different way! Matt was first up and tried to use some basic principals from the recent Master of Malt blending exercise. His liqueur used orange as the base with coffee as the accent, which Ruth then blended with the syrup/water. It was a little bitter when taken straight but was better with a splash of tonic. Karen then decided on a combination of raspberry, rose and black pepper, which when mixed with the syrup/water created a deliciously fresh and summery liqueur. This was lovely and delicate when mixed with tonic. Tom, being a bit of a gin fan, decided to go against convention and not use a fruit base but three accents - vanilla, juniper and dash of wormwood. Ruth added a relatively high percentage of sugar syrup to compensate for some expected bitterness and it worked a treat. This liqueur was very gin-like and went very well with tonic and was tangy and refreshing.
We had a great and fun afternoon with Ruth, who is offering something new, fresh and unique to the market. It is great to see someone using their high level of skill in a non-conventional, enthusiastic and creative way (or "better than analysing samples of paint in a lab" to use her words!). So if you fancy making your own flavoured liqueurs or want to buy a present for someone, then pay www.alchemistdreams.co.uk a visit. At this time orders are only available for UK residents, but if you are based outside of the UK (and are over 18 years of age!) we urge you to take a look anyway! We would like to thank Ruth for her time and hospitality.