You put the lime in the Ballantine’s, you drink 'em both together,
Put the lime in the Ballantine’s, then you feel better,
Put the lime in the Ballantine’s, drink 'em both up,
Put the lime in the Ballantine’s, and call me in the morning…
Flavoured whisky, eh? Obviously not that though. What I should say, of course, is flavoured whisky liqueurs and whisky-based spirit drinks, eh? This one’s a little different to many, however. First of all, it’s not honey flavoured (or even cherry flavoured). Secondly, it’s essentially made by actually steeping lime peel in Scotch whisky, in the cask.
Peels from Brazilian limes are placed into a muslin bag, lowered into first-fill (although they're subsequently reused for this steeping process) american oak casks containing a special Ballantine's blend (created especially for Brasil), and left to work their magic. You put the lime in the Ballantine’s. Citrus, as we know, is extremely powerful though, so the lime infused spirit is then blended with a greater quantity of 'un-limed' whisky. Ken Lindsay, Brand Ambassador for Chivas Brothers, stresses the importance of the Master Blender being very much at the heart of this drink, as he is for the rest of their range. To this, they do also add some sugar (less than 2% - nowhere near liqueur amounts) and vanilla extract before bottling at 35% abv.
Things are getting pretty mixed up over at Glenburgie these days.
So, why Brasil? Well, Ballantine's has been sold in Brazil for over a hundred years, where there's a culture of lime flavoured drinks such as the caipirinha. Unsurprisingly, they also enjoy their whisky with lime, which if the whisky is Ballantine's, gives us the rather catchy Ballarinha. Whisky and lime works, with the Mamie Taylor being a great example that you may be more familiar with. I'm sure the fact that the World Cup is less than 100 days away doesn't hurt, either. (For the benefit of Messrs. Ellefsen and Orson, that’s a tournament in the sport of football, quite an important one. This summer, it's being held in Brazil.)
Ballantine's point to their own history in Brazil and the flavours enjoyed there rather than what's happening for a single month this summer, but those of you who follow the Scottish national team (or are just massive Stattos like me) will know that when it comes to the World Cup, Scotland and Brazil have a long history there too. The Tartan Army may not be off to South America this summer, but out of the 8 times Scotland have qualified, they've ended up in the same group as Brazil on 4 occasions!
Scottish spirit mixing it with Brazil
Not a football fan? How about the Olympics? We all love those now, right? Bradley Wiggins, Jess Ennis, Mo Farah, Andy Murray, all that lot? Off to Brazil next, isn’t it? Yep, all eyes on Brazil these days.
Now, what this spirit drink is all about is mixing (at last night's Callooh Callay launch they went as far as to say they would never actually recommend drinking it straight or even with ice), but to understand what it is we're mixing with, we did, of course, try it neat. Ballantines Brasil isn't simply in your face lime flavoured, in fact, it was the vanilla that I noticed first on the nose. The lime is there, of course, especially on the palate, but it's balanced, allowing some toffee notes to play their part. There's sherbet-ey-ness throughout, but that makes it sound overly-sweet or candied, which it certainly isn't. The finish is slightly drying, but not overly so. Overall everything is nicely balanced, although it is quite vanilla-ey. The up side to that I suppose is that it matches notes in the base whisky blend, as far as I can tell, with the added vanilla ensuring that this still shines through once it's diluted in the mixed drinks that Brasil is intended for.
But which mixed drinks exactly? Well, Ballantine's Brand Ambassador
Harry Nilsson Fredrik Olsson of Kosmopol has created a number of simple suggested serves so let's take a look at some of those...
Glen Coco - muddle lime and coconut syrup, add Ballantine's Brasil and crushed ice.
You put the lime in the coconut!
You can find all these recipes over on the Mix It With Brasil site.
Other options include the Highland Samba (Brasil and lemonade over ice), the Caledinho (basically a Ballarinha made with Brasil - muddle lime and sugar, add Brasil and crushed ice), the Glen Rio (Brasil and apple juice over ice) and the Flower O’Brasil (Brasil and elderflower cordial (Fredrik was using Belvoir) 2:1, served straight up), which was particularly delicious.
We were invited behind the bar to have a go ourselves, with David off of Summer
World Fruit Cup being inspired to try something different, using Brasil in place of cachaça for a twist on a Rabo-de-galo (2/3 Brasil, 1/3 red vermouth). I guess that needs a name then. A Brazilian drink in London with a splash of red? That'll be a Rabo-da-Gilberto* then!
David with his Rabo-da-Gilberto
Now, if you're reading this blog, it's more than possible that you're not in fact the target market for this particular product. It's possible that you don't even drink all that much blended whisky, let alone flavoured spirit drinks, but this is still an interesting release. Scotch whisky has yet to really embrace flavoured spirits, Dewar's Honey and a couple of Famous Grouse releases (can you even get the Famous Citrus, Spice or Vanilla any more?) aside, but there's obviously a market for this stuff. In America, 40% of spirits brands offer flavoured versions and sales of flavoured bourbons, for example, are growing rapidly (as much as 20% a year!). To be fair to Ballantine's, as well - they've consciously avoided creating a sickly, artificial taste-bud-killer of a product, which is the criticism levelled at many flavoured spirits.
I have been wondering though, especially as many of these cocktails call for lime juice and peel anyway, what some of the point is. Why have a Caledinho when you can have a Ballarinha already? I think there are two answers:
1. Brasil is fun. People, mostly young people, may be more likely to order something with Ballantine's Brasil at a bar or in a club, than something with Scotch whisky.
2. The simple serves are great, refreshing summer drinks that absolutely anybody can make at home without any experience or equipment being necessary. Don't want to fanny about with a lime beyond cutting a wedge? No problem. Don't want to buy a lime at all but have some lemonade knocking about? You're still sorted. Knock yourself up a Highland Samba or a Glen Rio, nobody's missing out on this party.
Highland Samba - refreshing and oh so simple.
Ballantine's Brasil is currently being rolled out in countries around the world, but there's no date set for a UK release just yet. Peter Moore, Ballantine's Global Brand Director, told me that he *thinks* it will be released in the UK eventually (another indication that you may not be the target market if you're reading this in the UK), but not for a few months at least. They're also keen to stress that they've been developing Brasil for 18 months, and that the World Cup and Olympics being held in Brazil is coincidental - they want this product to thrive for years to come. Whilst they obviously don't want to be seen as piggybacking the tournament this summer, I for one will be disappointed if I can't stretch out in my havaianas and settle in for a Brazilian feast of football this June with a Highland Samba in hand.
Dare to be (Ballantine’s) Brasilian**!
What's that about the one in the airport? Here it is.***
*Yes, it was me who came up with that and yes, it's yet another football reference. Sorry. Sort of.
**Nike have in fact simply made a word up there. Brazilian or Brasileiro. Still, it's quite cute, and fits this blog post rather nicely!
***Although this Brazil ad was pretty good too. Oh, and this one, of course. You're welcome.