All posts by Ulric Nijs

About Ulric Nijs

Ulric is a Belgian national who’s been holed up in the UAE from time immemorial representing some of the world’s top brands as a brand ambassador. In the early part of his career, he worked in a series of bars in Hong Kong and London, during which time he picked up a slew of awards, both for himself and for the bars he worked with.

Rums of Mauritius – Gold Rum – by Ulric Nijs

As spirits & cocktails consumers are getting more and more educated about their favorite tipples; as the bartenders are increasingly becoming knowledgeable about the ingredients of their trade, we seem to be seeing an interesting challenge emerging: How to retain one’s competitive edge in an environment that is more and more controlled by very strict label definitions. Last year’s war of words between Diageo and Jack Daniel’s about the legal definition of “Tennessee Whiskey” is an example of how the big boys are increasingly pushing the boundaries of their Geographical Indications’ legal definition to keep abreast of the competition. Some even send their product into space for a different aging method – Although probably a PR stunt rather than a future product line.

Rum is one spirit category (read: aged spirits) that seems to be relatively un-scathed with all this G.I. talks at the moment. While there are international guidelines in place (Cachaca, Agricole to name the most famous) they remain relatively few considering the scope of the category, and this is probably why rum remains very vibrant and exciting; but perhaps a bit confusing too!

My journey into rum appreciation has suffered many ups-and-downs; I have sometimes even turned my back on it – a great personal mistake, I may add. It is however a category that arouses a lot of passion and a great deal of “anorak-ism”. Please note that I say this out of jealousy; some of these guys know the minutest details about each brands, the range and the country they are made in. An amount of knowledge I initially attributed to the best of the bar world and Scotch lovers, but beware… the Rum Lovers are here…. And if the latest trends highlighted at this year’s Tales of the Cocktails are anything to go by, they are here to stay!

Rum Tasting
Rum Tasting

It is because of this relative freedom, that rum has such an array of flavors! From the dry styled Brugal from Dominican Republic, to the dark, slightly bitter & sweet Gosling from Bermuda (or even Old Monk, in India) to the complex, cognac-like French “agricole” of the DOM-TOMs; to the spiced and/or flavored and/or even “engineered” rums, there is bound to be rum for everyone interested enough to find their favorite cane tipple, but it may take a while.

 

 

There is however a little island that is currently packing a hefty punch when it comes to quality and quirkiness of its rums… And it is this little island I would like to introduce: Mauritius.

Nestled in the south side of the Indian Ocean and to the East of Madagascar; it is a small paradise that has a long sugar making tradition (They have no less than 15 different types of sugars, each of them with their own organoleptic character). With this sugar-rich heritage comes a long rum making tradition; which has often been overlooked, but it is now finally starting to get the international recognition it deserves. Mauritius is well-poised to gain even more notoriety considering the following points:

  • First and foremost, around 80% of the cultivable land is covered in sugar cane fields; meaning that it is not short of raw material.
  • It is one of the few islands in the world, which produces both molasses rum and sugar-cane juice rum; which allows it to boasts an incredible diversity of products. It is no wonder that established fine spirits purveyors such as Berry Brothers and Rudd have developed a liking for its rums.
  • It boasts six different distilleries on its territory, each with their own character, terroir and production methods. What is even more interesting is that at one point in its relatively short history, Mauritius boasted over 70 different distilleries. Quite a lot for a small island just over 2000 squares kilometers.

Because of the above, I am convinced that Mauritius will grow from strength to strength in the rum world. There is a particular rum that I am very found of – yes, so much so, that I became its global ambassador: Gold of Mauritius.

Gold of Mauritius
Gold of Mauritius

 

Blended entirely from molasses based rums from the area, and aged in a very specific way, Gold of Mauritius is currently catching the attention of many rums critics across the globe: 91pts at the Ultimate Spirit Challenge 2015, silver medal at the World Spirit Award 2015, gold medal at the Top Rum competition 2014-15, and “best of 2014” at the Flaviar Spirit Community Awards; all of these awards are recognizing the quality and the complexity of this amazing rum!

 

It is aged entirely in South African “Cape Port” wine barrels… In fact the man behind Gold of Mauritius only uses ex-wine barrels for his various rums, instead of the more usual 2nd hand spirits cask: It adds another dimension to the rum, and a very clear identity. It is this character that is winning the hearts (and the palates) of the judges, the bartenders and the consumers of the world over…

A very sip-worthy rum, it is also an incredibly versatile mixing rum… A fabulous substitute in a classic cocktail such as the Manhattan, as the wood finishing lends itself fabulously well with the vermouth. It has its place in some contemporary cocktails such as the Espresso Martini, where its slightly bittersweet character is a wonderful match to a well-pulled espresso. However it truly shines in in its signature drinks, the “Gold-Fashioned”, as the name implies, it is a riff on the classic old-fashioned cocktail. Mixed with 60ml of Gold of Mauritius, 20ml of Tawny Port, 2 white sugar cubes and bitter, the key of this cocktail is in the preparation.

Gold Fashioned
Gold Fashioned

While there are many ways to stir this classic drink, there are two things to remember: Dilution and patience.

First of all, saturate one of the sugar cubes with the bitter of choice (I recommend chocolate bitters) and add the sugar cubes in a nice, weighty double old-fashioned glass. Add the port wine and some ice cubes and stir patiently using a long handled bar-spoon. Stir until the sugar cubes start to dissolve, if you find that this isn’t happening fast enough, feel free to crush the sugar with the back of the spoon. Add more ice and 30ml of Gold of Mauritius and stir again for about 10 to 15 seconds and repeat the last step. This procedure, while lengthy, should yield a very chilled Gold-Fashioned properly blended with the other flavors. Finish the drink by lightly squeezing the cleaned peel of an orange, so that its oils will float on the surface of the drink, giving a wonderfully complimentary aroma.

The second way – and the one I favor, as it is slightly quicker and thus more commercially viable in a busy operation is as follow: add all ingredients into a mixing glass with about 15ml of chilled mineral water and stir all ingredients together for about 15 seconds and strain the mixture over a big single chunk of beautiful clear ice, and garnish with the orange peel. Asides from the slightly speedier delivery, there is something mesmerizing about big, clunky, clear ice in your cocktail… It is one more finishing touch to a superb drink! The big advantage is that this type of ice is very slow to melt, and thus the drink is that little more stable.

That being said, a good Gold-Fashioned is a bit like a great cup of coffee… everybody has their very own way of enjoying this cocktail.

With this note, and a Gold-Fashioned in hand, I bid you farewell, and I also take the liberty to remind the rums lover who read this little wrote up that October is the month of the Rumfest, taking place in Berlin, London and Brussels, so I hope to see you there! Best,

Ulric Nijs

 

Letter from Absinthe – Ulric Nijs

Has ever a beverage inspired so much fear, admiration and misgivings than absinthe? I think not!

Finished drink
Finished drink

My first encounter with absinth (note the lack of ‘e’) was in the mid 90’s in one of London’s first bar dedicated to the green stuff –well, green-ish… It has to be said, I remember very little about that evening, except that they all tasted the same: harsh, highly potent and frankly un-inspiring, and this, in spite of a wide choice of brands (Hill’s and Sebor are the only two I recall) and a dramatic service ritual!

In spite of the bad taste of the said absinths, I was truly hooked on it! Probably more on the ritual than the actual drink, it has to be said. In fact, I was so engrossed in this new phenomenon that I even started a small variation of my own that I have proudly preached in all bars I have worked in. Unfortunately, little did I know that I wasn’t drinking absinthe, but rather a pale imitation of the original stuff, and that you NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER ASBO-NEVER-LUTELY NEVER burn ANYTHING when serving the real McCoy!

So what is the deal then? It would be easy to fall into a typical discussion about what absinthe really is, its history and heritage, but it has been done, it has been written, re-written and completely written by people infinitely more knowledgeable than I. Instead, I thought it be would be more interesting to focus on the various ways to enjoy the “green fairy” and how to avoid the mistakes I did when I first started experimenting.

Absinthe Dripping
Absinthe Dripping

Real absinthe is a real pleasure; it is mesmerizing, hedonistic and completely moreish! Its pouring rituals are so hypnotic that ignoring these is to miss on one of the unique pleasures of absinthe! After all, an absinthe without its ritual is a bit like a coffee without caffeine; what is the point? Instead,take your time and absorb all the visual and olfactory quality cues! Watch the absinthe gradually becoming cloudy, admire how it turns and twists and transforms into a bright, pearly white drink. Smell the way its aromas are evolving, as the water is being carefully added, drop-by-drop, into the glass.  It is hypnotic and enticing and –like wine- it is one of these rare drinks that truly appeal to all of our senses!

 

 

 

My favorite method of preparation is with a fountain, but there are many other ways: Some people will use a “brouilleur”, which is smaller and more personal version of a fountain; or simply with a small water carafe… Whatever method you favor is fine, so long as you take your time – Even the iconic bartender, Jerry Thomas, insisted on the water being poured “drop by drop” into the glass.

“Sugar or no sugar, that is the question,

Whether ‘tis nobler in the glass to make sweeter?”

Absinthe Sugar
Absinthe Sugar

While it is true that if you look at absinthe-inspired paintings, most of them will depict a spoon and a sugar cube. However,not all absinthes should be sweetened;sugar was essentially used to mask the off-flavors of poorly produced absinthes, and it is by no means a pre-requisite for a perfect serve. Jerry Thomas insists and writes that absinthe should not be served with a spoon, therefore we can infer, without sugar. 70yrs later, the “Savoy Cocktail Book” writes about an “Absinthe Drip Cocktail”, where sugar is listed as an ingredient, perhaps pointing at the declining quality of available absinthes? Or rather highlighting a change of trend toward sweeter drinks?We will probably never know. However, I personally prefer my absinthe slightly sweeter, as I have quite a sweet tooth, but this varies very much from person to person. Do not be afraid to experiment without sugar.

 

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Pablo Picasso’s “Woman Drinking Absinthe”

Another interesting serve was pointed out by Marie Claude Delahaye (the curator of the French absinthe museum), and is probably better illustrated by Pablo Picasso’s “Woman Drinking Absinthe”. The picture differs on one critical count: Instead of the usual fountain or water carafe on the table, one can see a blue soda syphon, hinting at absinthe being consumed with seltzer water. This can also be noticed in a couple of Jean Beraud’s paintings (“The Drinkers” or “Partie De Billard”). This style of service was certainly less widespread than the classic drip, however it is worth trying:It yields a drier yet fresher glass superbly suited to hot climate or summer afternoons. The strong, natural bitterness of the wormwood and the many botanicals used in absinthe will make this as interesting alternative to a gin & tonic. While still very enjoyable, it lacks the ritualistic and mesmerizing effects that a more “classic” preparation would have.

 

Are we to talk about absinthe without mentioning cocktails? Unlikely…  Absinthe plays a crucial role in many classic recipes; and no-self respecting bars should be without a good quality bottle! From the classic Sazerac to the more contemporary creations such as the Flutter by Lassi (created by Jon Lister for Gymkhana in London), absinthe has the ability to liven up any cocktails with just a couple of drops or play center stage in the flavor profile! It is hardly surprising then, that the “Savoy Cocktail Book” lists over 100 different cocktails with the “green fairy” in various quantities… Considering the current cocktail culture revival, absinthe is again, essential behind the bar and is poised to become more common across the globe. Some recipes worth experimenting with are as follow:

Flutter by Lassi:

  • 3 dill sprigs, plus one to serve
  • 2cm cucumber, skinned (reserve the skin to serve)
  • 35ml Butterfly Boston absinthe
  • 10ml lime juice
  • 20ml gomme syrup
  • 50ml yoghurt

Muddle the dill and cucumber. Pour the other ingredients into a shaker; shake and double strain them. Serve garnished with the scrolled skin of cucumber and a sprig of dill.

Sazerac:

The Sazerac is ALWAYS recommended and there are plenty of resources on-line to discover this amazing drink. I recommend the following: http://www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com/2008/sazerac/

Forbidden Fruits

Another moreish cocktail; it highlights absinthe’s versatility in fruitier cocktails.

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Forbidden Fruits

 

  • 60ml Tigre Blanc vodka
  • 3spoons Fresh passion fruits pulp
  • 15ml La Fee Suisse
  • 15ml Liquor 43
  • Dash passion fruit syrup.

Muddle the absinthe, passion fruit & Tigre Blanc, float liquor 43 and garnish with a fresh mint sprig, flaming passion fruit.

 

 

While absinthe is infinitely complex and enjoyable, not all of them are a worthy investment. Considering the amount of fallacies & myth surrounding the category, many producers will –and have exploited- these misunderstandings and produce foul tasting liquids and passing them as absinthe!

Wormwood
Wormwood

The excellent article by Gwydion Stone on the Wormwood society website does a very good job of explaining some of these misconceptions. The most common being the so-called “bohemian styled” absinth (note the lack of “e”): Bohemian absinths are compounded spirits which bear no resemblance to French or Swiss absinthes and that have been marketed since the 90’s. These products and the affiliated drinking rituals (sugar burning & absinth pipes) have helped propelled absinthe into a rite of passage rather than a drinking pleasure! Unnecessarily high in alcohol, with little or no natural ingredients used in their production, a drop of these will massacre any properly made cocktail and turn an innocent drinker into an absinthe-hating consumer. Avoid at all costs! To quote the article:

 

 

“As one consumer put it, this is a product “where ignorance is seen as a valued commodity amongst producers.”

Musem
French Absinthe Museum
Van Gogh & Theo
Van Gogh & Theo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, no discussion about absinthe would be complete without a small reference to Marie Claude Delahaye, who has been pivotal in my transformation into an “asbintheur”. Marie Claude is the curator of the French absinthe museum and an expert of the topic.  The small museum is situated in the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, only two hours away from Paris. It is a “must” for anyone who is interested in absinthe and its cultural impact on the French culture. Furthermore, considering that Ms. Delahaye has written no less than 25 books on topic, you are guaranteed to be in good hands! People expecting a big, commercial affair should abstain; it is a small & intimate museum patiently built over the years by someone who is clearly passionate about the topic. So passionate in fact, that it has been set-up in the same town where the Van Gogh brothers are buried. After all, isn’t Vincent, absinthe’s  most notorious ambassador?

Ulric Völkel-Nijs.

 

Letter from Dubai – Tales from the Sand – Ulric Nijs

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Introductions

So… Here I am; Ulric (Brand Ambassador for Tigre Blanc vodka, Jose Cuervo and a couple of other brands) in the United Arab Emirates and Asian sub-continent. I am blessed with working in one of the most rapidly growing metropolis of our age: Dubai. My line of work is pretty eclectic; as our nightlife universe is on a constant growth, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the various prestigious establishments that are opening on a weekly basis, and, sometimes, closing even faster! What it means, however, is that I am constantly exposed to an influx of drink creativity and ‘wannabe-ism’ that is prevalent in an all-rapidly evolving megalopolis, I therefore have a certain amount of skepticism when exposed to a new drink menu, and my retorts can be as bitter as a shot of room temperature Cynar (a remarkably complex & wildly bitter, artichoke-based Italian aperitif!). However, after about 20 years traveling the world as a bartender and cocktail designer, I also think that I have the right to be! Not quite a given-right, but certainly starting to be a well earned one![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]

Setting the Context

So, as I stroll around “my” city, I cannot help forming some sort of opinions about the various “wins & fails” of these outlets popping up in my work environment. I also feel –and it is perhaps slightly arrogant of me- that these opinions can be beneficial to my fellow epicurean, and thus lead to a better drinking experience in the long run; not because “I” know better, but simply, because my job has been a catalytic environment to these potential pitfalls that plagues the quests for good drinks!

What will follow on these pages is not “moan-fest”, but rather a primer of drinking etiquette in an ever-changing nightlife environment. I do have to be honest though; these words are very much aimed at people looking for a real drinking experience, rather than a quick alcohol-infused buzz… Always consider your environment!

The first word of the primer is “Creativity”. Creativity is the feeding ideal behind any ambitious chef and/or bartender (I do not dare using the oft-abused “mixologist” term), yet it is a certainly a double-edged sword! In the hands of a connoisseur, it will leads to many delights; in the hand of an amateur, it will be more likely be a disaster. Let me expand and draw from my recent experience…[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]

Testing the Bar

As I grow older, my palate has changed considerably; the “Negroni” which I once thought undrinkable, has become a staple daily drink. I love the way the botanicals and dryness of the gin marries with the vermouth and bitter-sweet Campari… It is not a difficult drink to realize; equal measures of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth; stirred harmoniously, and served as you desire. Furthermore, there are not too many variations possible on the drink: 1) The gin, 2) the vermouth 3) the drinking vessel (straight up, on the rocks or lengthened!).

Yet, this simple drink seems to stump many of the new establishments I visit on a regular basis! Worst of all, with the recent “classic cocktail” revival AND the gin explosion that we are witnessing, this drink has been well documented and supported by starred bartenders all over the world!

Yet, in spite of the above, this simple drink is often dismissed towards more exotic drinks. I understand it doesn’t have to appear on the menu, but it certainly should be common knowledge, yet it isn’t! The ingredients may be, but the rest is forgotten.

How does this tie up with my “drinking primer”? Simple… When you walk into a new establishment, and as you glance over the creative cocktail selection that may be highlighted on the menu… Don’t rush into them! 
Wait…
Consider the environment. You wouldn’t expect a Vesper to be properly made in an Irish pub would you?
If the environment is conclusive, order a “classic” cocktail before any others… The Negroni is my acid test… For other, it is the Mai-Tai or the Mojito. Order your “go-to” cocktail, NOT the signature.
If –and ONLY if- your first drink is well prepared and up to YOUR standards, then move along to one of the signature drinks on offer and be prepared to be delighted!

Why should you be using this methodology? Simple… Would you trust a 10-years old child at the wheel of a super-car?

Certainly not!

The age-old saying “walk before you run” is definitely applicable in the drinking world; these classics not only teach the basic methodologies, but also prepare your host (I much prefer this term to that of “mixologist”) towards more colorful concoctions through the basic rule of substitution.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]

A Foundation of Trust

The basic message of these words are pretty simple really… the relationship between a bartender and his guests is akin to that of the provider and his dependents; i.e. there must be a foundation of trust between the two parties involved; and if this trust is established, then feel free to wander in a weird, wacky and wonderful world of mixology… If you bartender knows his/her classic, you are automatically in good hands! However, if you get a blank look upon ordering an old-fashioned; then one should not expect a positive drinking experience.

On this happy note, I would love to leave you with a great quote from Troy Patterson (free lance writer for Slate.com): “There’s nothing you can do to gin that’s worse than what it can do to you.”

Cheers – sipping a Negroni!

Ulric Nijs


Ulric is a Belgian national who’s been holed up in the UAE from time immemorial representing some of the world’s top brands as a brand ambassador. In the early part of his career, he worked in a series of bars in Hong Kong and London, during which time he picked up a slew of awards, both for himself and for the bars he worked with.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]