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Master of Malt Blog

Top ten whiskies for Burns Night 2022

Want some bonnie booze to celebrate Burns Night (25 January) this year? You’ll find everything you need to toast Scotland’s national bard in this sublime Scotch-filled line-up! Burns Night is…

Want some bonnie booze to celebrate Burns Night (25 January) this year? You’ll find everything you need to toast Scotland’s national bard in this sublime Scotch-filled line-up!

Burns Night is just a week away and that means you’ll need to stock up on Scotch to do the night justice. Celebrating Burns Night with a good dram is a tradition we’re happy to help keep alive this year, so to help you out we’ve rounded up a remarkable range to mark the occasion. Each has an accompanying Burns poem or song and themed cocktail to boot. Happy Burns Night all!

Burns Night 2022

1) The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Do you know that great sci-fi TV show Outlander? Well, star Sam Heughan isn’t pretending, the Dumfries and Galloway man is a true Scotsman and patriot as his whisky brand The Sassenach demonstrates. And it’s been an absolute smash hit, winning award after award and getting five stars across 223 reviews on our site. Get it while you can, because this beauty sells like hotcakes.

What does it taste like?:

Caramel latte, tangy orange, walnut, cereal, coconut, fruit salad, a hint of savoury spice, with a touch of nutty bread too.

Scots serve: The Robbie Burns Roy

Celebrate three Scotch heroes for the price of one (Robert Burns, Rob Roy and Sam Heughan, if you’re keeping count) at once with the Rob Roy cocktail. To make it you’ll need a mixing glass, to which you add 60ml of The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky, 25ml of Lustau Vermut Rojo and 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters. Stir well, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry. Serve, preferably at supper while reciting the Address to a Haggis. This means you’ll need to get yourself some haggis (or whatever the vegetarian/vegan equivalent is, I can’t even imagine) and, please forget any negatives you’ve heard, it is smashing.

Burns Night 2022

2) Robert Burns Single Malt

O Whisky! soul o’ plays and pranks!
Accept a bardie’s gratfu’ thanks!

If you’re on the lookout for a good bottle of Scotch for Burns Night, then you could do far worse than to pick up one that was actually created in his honour. In fact, this single malt from the Isle of Arran distillery was officially endorsed by the World Burns Federation. And has his face on the bottle. That’s pretty perfect, right? 

What does it taste like?:

Apple strudel, a little pear juice, hints of coconut, vanilla, pannacotta, and cinnamon.

Scots serve: The Scotch Drink Sour

A sensationally sour tribute to the Scotch drink, this Whisky Sour is made by adding 50ml Robert Burns Single Malt, 25ml lemon juice, 2 tsp orange marmalade, 2 tsp maple syrup and one egg white to your shaker and dry shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Fill with ice and shake hard again, then double strain into a chilled tumbler and garnish with a piece of orange zest. Serve and proudly recite the Scotch Drink poem in your best 18th-century Scottish to your entertained/slightly embarrassed guests.

Burns Night 2022

3) Cù Bòcan Signature

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!

Tomatin’s smoky series of single malts are a reliably consistent bunch and Signature is a fine example, with a sweet, fruity profile balanced by light peated edge. It’s aged in a trio of casks; bourbon, Oloroso sherry, and North American virgin oak. No chill-filtration or additional colours in this one, just fine whisky presented at its best.

What does it taste like?:

Dry and fragrant, with woodsmoke, dried lemon peel, Conference pear, espresso vanilla, then orchard fruit and heather honey, with a touch of liquorice.

Scots serve: Tam Collins

A Jock Collins with a Burns-ian spin, all you have to do to make this one is mix the 60ml of Cù Bòcan Signature, 30ml of lemon juice and 1 tsp sugar in a shaker. Then shake and pour into a Collins glass half-filled with ice. Top with soda water, garnish with an orange slice and serve. Simple, sophisticated and oh-so Scottish. And comes with a built-in challenge: to recite the epic Tam O’ Shanter off-by-heart.

Burns Night 2022

4) Berry Bros. & Rudd Sherry Cask Matured – The Classic Range

Ye banks and braes o’ bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu’ o’ care!

Legendary independent bottler Berry Bros. and Rudd doesn’t tend to get it wrong and this classic example of a well-sherried Scotch whisky demonstrates why. Part of The Classic Range, it’s great value for money and should be a treat for those who want a big sherry bomb for Burns Night.

What does it taste like?:

Blood orange juice, brown sugar, herbal tea, bitter dark chocolate, Seville orange marmalade, and dried fruit with a hint of charred pineapple and perhaps some rancio.

Scots serve: The Rusty Banks o’ Doon

A Rusty Nail inspired by The Banks o’ Doon’, make this super simple serve by stirring 60ml Berry Bros. & Rudd Sherry Cask Matured – The Classic Range and 30ml Drambuie on a tumbler over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist. The traditional version is half and half or if you have a sweeter tooth you can reverse the ratio. Or halve the amount of Drambuie if you like it drier.

Burns Night 2022

5) Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old – The Character of Islay Whisky Company

O gin my love were yon red rose,
That grows upon the castle wa’;
And I myself a drap o’ dew,
Into her bonie breast to fa’!

When winter’s here there’s nothing better than a warm, sweet and smoky dram. Pair this with a good fire and a tartan blanket and you’ve got the cosiest Burns Night imaginable. According to the folks at The Character of Islay Whisky Company, everything you need to know about this dram is in the name, Aerolite Lyndsay. Any guesses? 

What does it taste like?:

Maritime peat, iodine, honey sweetness, paprika, salted caramel, old bookshelves, mint dark chocolate, espresso, new leather, soy sauce, liquorice allsorts, bonfire smoke and toffee penny, with a pinch of salt.

Scots serve: The Drap O’ Dew Penicillin

A Burns-tastic adaptation of the classic Penicillin cocktail, probably the finest of all peated whisky cocktails. Combine 50ml blended whisky (Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old or Compass Box Great King Street – Artist’s Blend), 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice and 20ml honey & ginger syrup into your cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and give it a good hard shake, then strain into a chilled rocks glass over a large piece of ice. Then gently pour the 15ml of Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old slowly over the back of a spoon so it floats delicately on the top of the drink. Garnish with candied ginger on a skewer and enjoy, while reciting, Ron Swanson-style, the beautiful O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair to whoever your heart burns for.

Burns Night 2022

6) Crabbie’s Yardhead Gift Pack with 1x Tumbler

O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an’ swearers swear,
An’ singing here, an’ dancin there,
Wi’ great and sma’

A tasty single malt bottled up by Crabbie’s that’s perfect for using in cocktails and mixed drinks. This is what you want for a party setting where you need a versatile, approachable and reliable whisky. Plus, it comes with a handsome branded tumbler for serving said cocktails and mixed drinks in. How handy!

What does it taste like?:

Custard Cream biscuits, lemon peel, a touch of savoury wood, mint leaf, toffee apple, white grape, and soft cinnamon.

Scots serve: Holy Willie’s Presbyterian

A delicious variation of a whisky Highball that pays tribute to Holy Willie’s Prayer, a poem in which Burns fittingly attempts to uncover what he sees as the absurdity of the Presbyterian doctrine of predestination. Pretty neat, huh? To create, start by adding 45ml of Crabbie’s Yardhead to a Highball glass filled with ice. Then top with 55ml each of ginger ale and soda water and stir. Garnish with a lemon twist, then serve and delight/bore everyone in sight with your newly acquired knowledge of the defiant Holy Willie’s Prayer.

Burns Night 2022

7) Timorous Beastie

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!”

Named after the Burns poem To a Mouse, this Scotch whisky was created by Douglas Laing. It’s a blended malt made entirely of Highland whiskies from distilleries such as Dalmore, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne and more, so you know it’s made of purely good stuff. Plus, there’s the Burns connection again. An all-round winner.

What does it taste like?:

Acacia honey, creamy boiled sweeties (the strawberry flavour), dried apricots, green apple, fresh bread, sherry, a whiff of coastal air and classic Highland heather, too.

Scots serve: The Beastie Boulevardier

Essentially a whisky equivalent of a Negroni, The Boulevardier is a beautiful, rich and complex serve. To make, combine 45ml of Timorous Beastie, 25ml of Campari and 25ml of Martini Rosso in a mixing glass with ice. Stir, then strain into chilled tumbler over fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist, serve and pay tribute to your creation with a rendition of To a Mouse.

Burns Night 2022

8) Glen Scotia 12 Year Old Seasonal Release

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in june;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune:

The Glen Scotia Distillery in Campbeltown is one of those distilleries that gets people incredibly excited as this 12-year-old from the Seasonal Release series is a great example of why. Matured combination of first-fill bourbon and American oak casks for 11 years and then finished for 12 months in a combination of first-fill Oloroso sherry hogsheads and heavily charred American oak barrels, this combo of combos will be a firm favourite at Burns Night bash you attend.

What does it taste like?:

Pear, red apple, layers of toffee, orange oil, ginger, oak, and a hint of seashell salinity.

Scots serve: A Red, Red Blood and Sand

The Blood and Sand looks as good as it tastes and, luckily, it’s easy to make. Begin by popping a coupe glass in the freezer for a few minutes before you start to get it nice and chilled. Then add 25ml of Glen Scotia 12 Year Old Seasonal Release, 25ml of Martini Rosso, 25ml of Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy (or Heering Cherry Liqueur) and 25ml of fresh orange juice to a shaker with ice and give your best hard shake for about 30 seconds. Then take your chilled glass out of the freezer, pop a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry in the bottom of it, and then strain the mix into the glass. Garnish with an orange zest before you serve and recite the beautiful A Red, Red Rose to what I can only imagine will be a room of people struggling to hold back the tears.

Burns Night 2022

9) Teaninich 11 Year Old 2010 (cask 356846) – James Eadie (Master of Malt Exclusive)

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the north,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

A single cask single malt from the terrific Teaninich Distillery, independently bottled by James Eadie exclusively for Master of Malt! An intriguing finishing period in a first-fill Amontillado sherry cask for 16 months was given to this beauty before it was bottled up at cask strength, and with just 321 bottles produced you’ll want to make sure you grab a bottle before they’re all gone!

What does it taste like?:

Roasted almond, chewy apricot, maple syrup, fresh cedar, fudge and buttered scones. 

Scots serve: My Heart’s in the Toddy

The perfect winter warmer and an ideal treat if you’re staying in this year, this Hot Toddy is made by filling a heat-proof glass with boiling water and letting it stand for 1-2 mins to warm. Empty the mug and half-fill with 150ml of boiling water. Add 50ml Teaninich 11 Year Old 2010 (cask 356846) – James Eadie (Master of Malt Exclusive), the juice of half a lemon, ¼ tsp ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 cloves (slightly ground using pestle and mortar) to the glass and stir. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick. Serve with the words of My Heart’s in the Highlands warming your heart in tandem with the Toddy.

Burns Night 2022

10) Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old 

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

A genuine classic, Balvenie DoubleWood’s mixed maturation of refill American oak casks followed by first-fill European oak Oloroso sherry butts changed the game when it was launched in 1993 and the rich and complex dram has been wowing folks ever since. If you want no-risk and all-reward, this is the one for you.

What does it taste like?:

Supple nuttiness intertwined with spices as well as vanilla, nutmeg, honeyed sultanas and grapes.

Scots serve: The Auld Fashioned

The Auld (Old) Fashioned is a classic for a reason and this is a surefire recipe perfect to taste the Bard himself. Start by putting a level teaspoon of brown sugar into an Old Fashioned glass, then add a splash of hot water and two dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. Stir vigorously so that the sugar dissolves, then add 80ml of Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old. Stir a bit more, add ice cubes, stir a bit more and garnish with a piece of orange peel. Serve while belting out a resounding edition of Auld Lang Syne.

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New Arrival of the Week: GinBey

We’re celebrating triumph over adversity and the indomitable human spirit with our New Arrival this week. It’s a gin from Lebanon called GinBey. The Lebanese are famously resilient, especially when…

We’re celebrating triumph over adversity and the indomitable human spirit with our New Arrival this week. It’s a gin from Lebanon called GinBey.

The Lebanese are famously resilient, especially when it comes to alcohol. The tiny Mediterranean country may have suffered a brutal civil war between 1975 and 1990, but it still managed to produce first-class wines such as Chateau Musar.

Spirit masters

Since those days, Lebanon’s wine has gone from strength to strength. One of the best ambassadors for the industry is Faouzi Issa from Domaine des Tourelles. His family own the country’s oldest commercial winery as well as producing a delicious aniseed spirit, Arak Brun, which is beloved in Lebanon. There’s nothing better with the country’s amazing food.

Sadly, Lebanon is once again going through a period of extreme instability caused by a corrupt political and economic system exacerbated by the global pandemic. Then in 2020, just when things couldn’t get any worse, a massive explosion rocked the Port of Beirut, caused by a cargo of ammonium nitrate that had been sitting in a warehouse since 2013. Since then rumours and conspiracy theories have spread about this disaster.

The economy is in a terrible state. Issa told us: “The Lebanese currency has lost 80% of its value against the US dollar, so imported goods such as spirits brands are now beyond the reach of many consumers.” The ever-resourceful Issa, however, saw an opportunity: “We have launched a high-quality gin, in beautiful packaging and at a great price and so have gained a good slice of the market in a short time.” 

GinBeyIntroducing GinBey

It’s called GinBey and it’s now arrived in Britain. According to Issa, it had long been a dream of his: “I have wanted to make a gin for a long time – apart from arak it’s my go-to spirit. I have spent a lot of time researching different gins, visiting distilleries, tasting different styles.” 

However, unlike arak, he didn’t use grape brandy as the base for his gin. “I found that it didn’t give the purity I was looking for in the gin. So I tested various different spirits and eventually settled on very high-quality wheat alcohol from France,” he said.

Local botanicals

He explained a little about the botanicals used: “I tried Lebanese juniper which I really wanted to use, but disappointingly it didn’t give a good flavour so I have imported this from Macedonia. The other botanicals are local to us and sourced from the mountains around the winery and the local souks, and even the garden at Domaine des Tourelles where we collect the petals from our famous tilia tree.” The full line-up consists of juniper, coriander, angelica, citrus and mandarin peels, cassia, rose and tilia petals, pomegranate and liquorice. 

He steeps the more robust botanicals for 24 hours in the spirit before distillation in a 400-litre copper still. While the more delicate ones such as rose petal and pomegranate seeds he places them in a basket in the still. The final touch is something that Tourelles has long done for its arak, the gin is rested in clay jars for six months to let the flavours meld and smooth the spirit. 

The result is something that for me tastes distinctly Lebanese, perhaps it’s the liquorice reminding me of the aniseed in Arak Brun, or the pomegranate used in Lebanese cookery, but at the same time with a profile that isn’t going to frighten Tanqueray drinkers. I’ve been drinking my sample with tonic water but it’s definitely a good all-rounder and that smoothness means that it’s one of those rare gins that you can sip neat.

It’s an excellent and distinctive gin even before you take into account the conditions in which it was made. Issa told us: “The inflation situation and volatile exchange rates present daily headaches. People are really suffering and there is a lot of uncertainty.” They have been helping out their workers and their families with: “food parcels and fuel when things have been really difficult.”

Faouzi Issa in the vineyards

Faouzi Issa in the vineyards of the Bekaa valley

Issa’s unquenchable optimism 

Yet he is ever the optimist: “It’s a cliché to say we are resilient people, but it’s true. We have faced so many challenges over the last 50 years and we always find ways to overcome them. As a nation, we are natural traders so we always find a solution to difficult situations to ensure we can survive. I think the current situation is creating lots of new ideas. Many people are leaving the country, but those that have chosen to stay are making the best of it and developing ideas to secure their future here.”

Talking of new ideas, GinBey isn’t the only spirit, Issa is working on. He’s currently collaborating with Whyte & Mackay on a Scotland meets Lebanon whisky. He explained: “We import the liquid from Whyte & Mackay and blend and finish it here in Lebanon. Again, this was another idea borne out of the crisis. It is now the market-leading brand in Lebanon, being less than a third of the cost of imported brands but without compromising on quality.” And the name, GlenBey, of course. Wait ’till the SWA finds out about that.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Piney juniper on the nose, lemon, warm spices, and rose petal. Take a taste and there’s a beautifully-creamy spirit, the predominant taste is juniper joined by floral, spicy and a sweet liquorice note. 

GinBey is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

GinBey in a Negroni

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Brora Distillery – recreating a legend

Last year we were treated to an exclusive tour of the recently-reopened Brora Distillery in the Highlands to see how the Diageo team are getting on bringing a legendary single…

Last year we were treated to an exclusive tour of the recently-reopened Brora Distillery in the Highlands to see how the Diageo team are getting on bringing a legendary single malt whisky back to life. 

There’s a well-known joke about a tourist lost in rural Ireland asking for directions from an old man. The man replies: “well I wouldn’t start from here.” That’s rather what it must be like reviving Brora distillery.

Worm rubs at Brora

The hottest worm tubs in Scotland

Recreating a legend

The revived distillery filled its first barrel last year but things are very much work in progress. The aim is to recreate that famous Brora taste with the same or replicas of the equipment used up until the distillery closed in 1983. But the problem is that the original set-up wasn’t ideal for making the kind of whisky the team wanted.

If you were building a distillery from scratch and the aim was to make a fruity new make, you would want lots of copper contact which would involve using shell and tube condensers. But Brora always used worm tub condensers so after the distillery reopened last year, the team had to work out how to run them so they work very slowly. According to brand ambassador Andrew Flatt, “we run them super hot to keep the vapour in as long as possible so you get as much reflux as possible.” Or in other words, I wouldn’t start from here.

He described the process as “reverse engineering”, trying to get the equipment to replicate the taste of the surviving whisky. The problem is nobody is quite sure why old Brora tastes as it does. Take that elusive quality known as ‘waxiness’, think the skin on an apple or even cheese rind. This comes partly from a build-up of oils in the spirit receiver. At the sister distillery which opened in 1969, this is known as “Clynelish gunk” and, according to Flatt, “they lost the character once when they cleaned it.” Though they have started filling barrels, the Brora new make doesn’t quite have this elusive quality.

Stewart Bowman and family at Brora

Former master distiller Stewart Bowman, his father and two other old Brora by the wildcat gates

Smoky Brora

To further complicate things, that classic fruity style isn’t the only Brora out there. In the 1960s, because of a drought on Islay, there was a demand for smoky whiskies in the image of Caol Ila or Lagavulin for blends. So Brora switched to making peated whisky between 1968 and 1981, according to Flatt. The revived distillery will also make a smoky whisky in the future.

But it’s the third style that has proved the hardest to replicate. This was a funky, earthy style that the distillery produced occasionally in the early ‘70s. This was probably not intentional and may have had something to do with a bacterial infection. Nowadays, however, these wild Broras are some of the most prized bottlings. With their trademark barnyard note, they smell a little bit like certain wines that have been infected with Brettanomyces such as Chateau Musar from Lebanon or Domaine de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

So though Brora has started filling barrels, visitors to the distillery can’t actually try the new make. Instead, Flatt gave me three new makes which mimic the sort of character that they are after, but he asked me to keep their actual provenance secret. My lips are sealed. 

Brora book

A record of the final distillation at Brora… until last year

Brora’s rich history

The whole revival of the distillery has been a bit like that, based on incomplete knowledge as to how it originally worked. Before taking me around, Flatt gave me a whistlestop history including a look at the plans when the distillery was remodelled by Charles Doig in the late 19th century which were found in an old bin bag. He showed me minutes from the DCL meeting in 1968 when it was decided to build a second distillery called Clynelish, and the original distillery became known as Brora, and old ledgers which workers kept from the tip, including the heartbreaking final one from 1983 which stated “feints brought forward” (see above). Nobody is sure what happened to these final feints.  

Entering through those famous wildcat gates, it’s hard to imagine that the Brora was a wreck until very recently. It’s now probably the most perfect-looking Highland distillery I have ever seen. When Plato was thinking of a distillery, this was it. It’s so perfect, that it almost feels like a film set.

According to Flatt, it took a quarter of a million man-hours from highly qualified tradesmen to get it into this state of perfection. The renovations involved removing the pagoda for repair. But much of the most time-consuming work can’t be seen, such as cutting stone blocks in half in order to put in fire retardant material and insulation, and rebuilding the foundations so the buildings didn’t collapse.

Brora stills

The original stills are still in place

Recreating the classic set-up

The team has tried as much as possible to recreate the classic ‘70s set-up. It starts with a Porteus mill, not the original one but period correct. The rollers are quite far apart to get a rough texture. The mash tun is the same as the one from 1973, with a rake and gear. They don’t agitate it continuously because the aim is to get a clear wort. The data for operating the mash tuns comes from books from the 1970s.

Then there are six Oregon pine washbacks. They use Kerry liquid yeast with very long ferments – 115 hours. The idea is to build up fruity esters. These will develop further as bacteria build up in the wood of the washbacks. 

Thankfully, the original stills were never removed because they worried that the building would have collapsed. They were refurbished by a team from Diageo’s Abercrombie works. The stills are run slowly, around 11 hours. Then the new make is condensed in those hot-running worm tubs before running into casks. The capacity is to produce something like 850,000 litres per year. This is not a boutique operation. It’s all watched over by Nara Madasamy who began his career with Brewdog so knows a thing or two about fermentation.

Brora distillery reopens

Brora – the Platonic ideal of a distillery

Brora was ahead of its time

The tour finished appropriately enough in the dunnage warehouse, where there’s space for 5-6,000 casks, with a taste of the 39-year-old which was bottled at 49% ABV. A stunning drop, aged in 70% used casks, it’s incredibly vibrant, tasting more like a 15-year-old. The fruit, think pineapples and apple crumble, is quite sensational with the classic waxiness on display.

Tasting this mind-blowing whisky, it’s very hard to understand why Brora was closed in the first place. But the extraordinary thing about Brora is nobody quite realised how good it was or how well it would mature. Like Port Ellen, it all went into blends. The first single malt bottling of Brora came from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in 1989. The first official bottling was part of the Rare Malts range in 1995. I remember these Rare Malts then priced at around £50 a bottle gathering dust on the shelves at Oddbins in the late ‘90s.

Those bottles are now going for around £10k. The 39-year-old I tried will set you back around £8k. And we won’t see or taste the results from the ‘new’ Brora for years. Life just isn’t fair. 

Bespoke tours of Brora are available. Contact the distillery for more information. 

 

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The Nightcap: 14 January

In the news this week: celebrate Burns Night with Batman, Guinness goes green, Marky Mark gets into Tequila, and, not to be outdone, Katy Perry, crashes the world of zero…

In the news this week: celebrate Burns Night with Batman, Guinness goes green, Marky Mark gets into Tequila, and, not to be outdone, Katy Perry, crashes the world of zero ABV drinks. All this and more in The Nightcap: 14 January edition!

Well, time continues to march on so now we’re at the weekend before Blue Monday, supposedly the worst day of the year because it’s cold, dark, and we’re all broke and guilty thanks to Christmas indulgence. The Irish have a saying that we think is quite a fitting response to this sort of thinking: what a load of ol’ shite. There’s lots to enjoy in January. Like leftovers. New presents. The FA Cup. And, of course, The Nightcap. What a treat. Let’s crack on with today’s edition.

On the blog, our Dry January coverage continued with cracking cocktails from High Point, and you can still win some goodies from them thanks to the second part of our competition. Dr. Nick Morgan returned to ask bartenders to go easy on the ice, while folks from all over MoM chipped in to recommend some of our favourite places for lunch. Elsewhere, our New Arrival was a very special rum from Guatemala, our Cocktail of the Week was inspired by one of the legends of the jazz age, and we got familiar with the weird and wonderful Pussanga as well as an Australian winery that turned its hand to whisky.

Now, onwards to The Nightcap: 14 January edition!

The Nightcap: 14 January

What is it with celebs and Tequila?

Mark Wahlberg launches a Tequila

George Clooney, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kendall Jenner… are there any celebrities left who don’t have a stake in a Tequila brand? Well, we strike Mark Wahlberg off the list anyway as he’s invested in Flecha Azul, co-founded by Mexican PGA golfer Abraham Ancer and entrepreneur Aron Marquez. Wahlberg actually initially turned down the proposal, saying “you have all these other people out there claiming to have gone to Mexico and created Tequila and cultivated agave and all this stuff”, but was persuaded that this time was different. A visit to the brand’s distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, which has been owned and operated by a local family since 1840, surely helped. Flecha Azul has five types of expressions: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, Cristalino and Extra Añejo, but is currently only sold in California, Texas, Nevada, and Georgia, although it plans to launch nationwide later this year. Despite every celeb and their granny having an agave brand, Wahlberg is unfazed by the competition. “The space is growing thanks to guys like Dwayne who have created a lot of awareness and excitement,” he told CNN. “We’re coming for everybody’s spot… We plan on being the best.” The Departed actor added that he’s down to host a Tequila-off with Johnson and Clooney. “I’ve tasted their product, they haven’t tasted mine! Those guys know me very well, they know my competitive spirit!'”

The Nightcap: 14 January

The portmanteaus need to stop. Please.

Meanwhile, Katy Perry launches zero ABV drinks for ‘Soberuary’ 

If you’re sick of irritating portmanteau words like ‘veganuary’, ‘staycation’, and ‘brosé’, then look away now because top pop star Katy Perry has just created the world’s worst word – ‘soberuary’. Yes, it’s a juxtaposition of January (or perhaps February) and sober. You probably won’t be surprised as to the reason behind this word crime is that the Californian singer has recently launched her own range of zero ABV drinks. Called De Soi, they are made in conjunction with, as Perry put it on Twitter, “my fellow new mama/ botany babe Morgan McLachlan.” De Soi will come in three varieties: Golden Hour made with citrus and lemongrass, Champignon Dreams with strawberries and grapefruit (and we presume mushrooms), and Purple Lune flavoured blackberry nectar, vanilla oak, and rose petals. McLachlan is the lady behind Amass, a company that makes all kinds of botanical-based goods including skincare products, gin, and non-alcoholic drinks, so she probably knows what she’s doing. And it does make a nice change from another celeb Tequila brand, we’re looking at you Marky Mark, but please no more portmanteau words.

The Nightcap: 14 January

Fifty Cheyne is one of several capital establishments marking Burns Night with Aberfeldy

Celebrate Burns Night with Aberfeldy

And if you’re on the lookout for Burns Night ideas, Aberfeldy has options across London. The Cadogan Arms, The Sitwell Supper Club, Boisdale Belgravia and Canary Wharf, and American steakhouse Smith & Wollensky will all be hosting Burns Night feasts on 25 January with traditional food and a selection of signature Aberfeldy serves. Meanwhile, No. Fifty Cheyne has an extravagant five-course set menu and whisky tasting flight and Mr. Fogg’s Society of Exploration is making three limited-edition cocktails. There’s the Burns and the Bees, a mix of Aberfeldy 12 Year Old, spiced oat milk, honey, and walnut bitters, served with an oat tuile; the Sae the Lord Be Thankit, a combination of Aberfeldy 12 Year Old combined with cold brew Lady Grey tea, shortbread syrup, and rhubarb bitters; and the Golden Ratio, a blend of tablet-washed Aberfeldy 12 Year Old, Moët N.V. Champagne and orange bitters. You can click the links to each establishment to find where to book your tickets. Sounds like there’s going to be some truly cracking Burns Night celebrations this year.

The Nightcap: 14 January

Batman is Scottish. This is canon. And he probably loves Glenfiddich

Or you could Celebrate Burns Night Batman style

Ah, Burns Night! A celebration of all things Scottish, and Batman. Wait, what? If you head down on Tuesday 25 January to Park Row restaurant, you’ll be able to take part in ‘The Wayne Family Burns Night Supper’. Yes, apparently all along Batman was Scottish. Who knew? Well, according to the press release, everyone did. The evening will draw on “Bruce Wayne’s Scottish heritage, well-known to readers of the comics”, and consists of a traditional Burns Night supper with whiskies and cocktails by Glenfiddich, followed by a ceilidh band so you can dance the night away. Tickets cost from £55 per person, with whisky pairings extra. The Soho restaurant, that’s Soho London, not SoHo New York, is billed as “the UK’s first DC-inspired restaurant,” which we initially thought was something to do with the capital of the USA but it actually refers to the comic book company behind Batman, Superman et al. A restaurant inspired by superheroes, imagine being at lunch when they came up with that one.

The Nightcap: 14 January

No emissions from this big boy

Guinness goes green with zero emissions transport

Diageo has been really stepping up its environmental commitments of late thanks to its 10-year sustainability action plan, Society 2030: Spirit of Progress, and the latest development it’s made is to introduce the first zero-emissions vehicles into Guinness’ fleet from this summer. The aim is to cut transport emissions by 70% by the end of 2025, and by 100% before 2030. There’s actually already one zero-emission vehicle already in use exclusively at the brewery, which was used in a trial to transport bulk beer in the Guinness tankers from St James’s Gate to Dublin Port, helping to determine if it can be used to transport heavy goods beyond the brewery. Four zero-emission trucks will also be tested later this year to deliver kegs to the hospitality trade in Dublin City, with an ambition to extend further if successful. “We are only 263 years into our 9,000-year lease on the St. James’s Gate Brewery, and we are in it for the long haul – for our people, our products, and our planet, and we will never settle in pursuit of a better, more sustainable future for everyone,” Barry O’Sullivan, managing director, Diageo Ireland.

The Nightcap: 14 January

Are you intimidated by the ‘rules’ of wine?

75% people think ‘rules of wine’ intimidating

Woodbridge Wines recently sought the help of OnePoll to conduct research into how people respond to the world of wine and the response was… less than ideal. According to the findings, three out of four of people find wine etiquette intimidating, while 67% of respondents believe that there are right and wrong ways to drink wine and eight out of 10 respondents said they did not always follow the so-called “rules of wine”. A total of 2,000 U.S. respondents aged 21 and older participated in the survey, and just 22% of them said that following traditional wine etiquette greatly enhanced their experience of drinking. The good news was that seven out of 10 respondents said they drink wine more than any other type of alcohol over the winter, and a pleasant surprise was found in the research that showed 62% of men and 50% of women would choose wine over beer while watching sports. So not all bad then. We’d personally be very intrigued to see how people would respond to a similar survey about whisky.

The Nightcap: 14 January

For two days this summer, Portugal is coming to London!

Portuguese FESTA coming to London in June 

This sounds brilliant. Portugal will be coming to London for two days this summer. London’s Bar Douro has teamed up with wine expert Sarah Ahmed to put on FESTA, a two-day festival devoted to all kinds of Portuguese deliciousness at Tobacco Dock in London on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 June. There will be wines from 50 of the country’s best producers to sip as you munch on delicious Portuguese snacks like croquette de bacalhau. Max Graham, from the noted Port family and Bar Douro founder, had the original idea to “introduce wine, food and travel lovers to the Portuguese producers and products.” He continued: “I’m thrilled to be able to do this through a unique cultural event, with art and live music.” With Sarah Ahmed’s involvement, the wines are likely to be superb. She explained: “the wines have gone from strength to strength as Portugal’s dynamic producers have developed an ever-deeper understanding and respect for their country’s distinctive grape varieties, wine traditions, and terroir.” It sounds like the next best thing to actually visiting the country. And you won’t have to take a lateral flow test. We hope. 

The Nightcap: 14 January

Tax deductible wine? It’s about damn time (phone courtesy of @Trump_ton)

And finally… is wine now tax deductible?

For the self-employed, the arrival of January only means one thing. It’s tax time. The end of the month is the deadline to get your returns in so people are frantically going through their receipts trying to work out what is and isn’t tax-deductible. Printer ink is, sadly drinks aren’t. Or are they? Online funny man @mikedicks aka @Trump_ton spotted something in his local Waitrose which will provide hope to impoverished freelancers everywhere, wine classed as an office supply. This means that all those bottles you’ve been knocking back over the year are actually tax-deductible. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

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Drinks without category: Pussanga

Pussanga is made from a plant used in shamanic medicine as a love potion. It has been described as a liqueur, a new style of a spirit, or even a hybrid….

Pussanga is made from a plant used in shamanic medicine as a love potion. It has been described as a liqueur, a new style of a spirit, or even a hybrid. But what is it? We speak to the founder to find out.

In Central and South American jungles there are plants  known as pussanga whose root is used historically by local shamans to make love potions. This process was witnessed by a German scientist named Petra Spamer-Riether in the late 1980s, who visited Peru after her bachelor’s degree and then again after her masters’s degree, and later for her PhD travelled into the jungle to find with this special plant.

“I already started to learn quite good Spanish and I was in five different places at the Madre de Dios River, near the Manú National Park. I used to live with Machiguenga and Piro Pueblo indigenous people, and then I went to the Ucayali River,” says Spamer-Riether. 

“I was working there in a little Indian village, Limojema, and I heard that locally there were some roots of ‘pussanga plants’, which means an aphrodisiac plant in the local language. They showed me the root and how they blended it with different herbs, plants, ginger and honey. It was always sweet and a little spicy, but it varies from different areas”.

Tasting that drink in the Peruvian jungle didn’t immediately lead to Spamer-Riether creating her own, however. She spent the next couple of decades working as a journalist in TV, radio, and newspapers, eventually making documentary films about science and nature, including about her travels in Peru. 

Pussanga

Petra and Janina

A drink to remember

After one particularly grueling project her daughter, Janina, bought her a novel to relax with, The Cook by Martin Suter. In it, there’s a story about a cook who made aphrodisiac recipes for dinners. “I had a flashback to my time in Peru 25 years ago and thought I could create an aphrodisiac spirit like the shamans did”.

By 2011 she was working on what would become Pussanga, although it took a year of experimenting to create the recipe. “In the beginning, it tasted like cough medicine! I used some other aphrodisiac ingredients, like chilli and ginger, and settled on a recipe with a selection of fruits, herbs, and plants like pomegranate, thyme, basil, orange, strawberry, tangy raspberry, a lot of cardamom, some cinnamon, and a lot of vanilla”. 

Of course, there’s the vital ingredient: crushed pussanga root from Peru and Mexico. Spamer-Riether won’t reveal the exact type of plant, but we do know it adds a complex, bitter flavour. With the help of her daughter, who is still involved although now splits her time between a PhD and the brand. She launched Pussanga at Bar Convent Berlin in 2013 to a great reception. People might not have known what it was exactly, but they liked it.

Pussanga

There’s some classic botanicals, and one special, secret ingredient

How to make a drink like no other

The drink is now made at a distillery in Spamer-Riether’s native Germany, using what she describes as a very complicated, handmade process. In a glass ball, alcohol is mixed with soft water from the mountains of the Spessarts in order to extract the flavours from the fruits, herbs, and spices. 

Each ingredient is macerated over the course of two weeks, steeped into alcohol in cotton bags at selected intervals. “It’s tough because when you bring them all together you can’t filter the liquid. The pussanga root in particular is like dust, which is nearly impossible to filtrate. So one ingredient could need five days, another one nine,” Spamer-Riether explains. 

The spirit is filtered several times and then everything spends a few months together in stainless steel containers to allow all the ingredients a chance to marry together and develop. Because each batch is made to taste rather than to measure, each bottle is unique.

The result is a drink that is fruity, spicy, bitter, and a little bit sweet. “It’s a unique taste. When one of our first awards in 2015, Cocktail Spirits Paris, one of the founders said ‘it’s a singular product, you can’t compare it with anything, it’s so special’,” Spamer-Riether says. She describes it as a hybrid. In 2015, Pussanga was chosen among the 100 most innovative spirits and has picked up numerous awards since its creation. 

Pussanga

Is it a liqueur? Something else? Whatever it is, Pussanga tastes good

Drinking Pussanga

But what is it? In some countries, Pussanga can be classified as a liqueur, but as the definition of what makes a drink a liqueur differs so much across the world, that’s not a complete classification. A hybrid is not a bad way to put it. What’s most important is what it tastes like in your glass anyway, and happily it’s not only unique but really enjoyable.

Pour yourself a glass and you’ll find it’s spicy from chilli and baking spice. There’s also heaps of red fruit sweetness and sour tang which is balanced with a really pleasant dose of bitterness. There’s a touch of German liqueur heritage in that spice and herbaceousness, but it definitely stands on its own two feet. Immediately I’m thinking Pussanga would be an interesting base for a Spritz, but it would also mix well with tonic or sparkling wine. Although, I can’t say it had any love-potion qualities for me, and, in fairness, that’s not something the brand guarantees either.

While you might not land your soulmate with Pussanga, finding a suitable pair for the drink itself is not particularly hard. For Spamer-Riether, the sky’s the limit with how you can drink it. “It works in so many different cocktails because you can pair it with every spirit, Tequila, gin, vodka, rum, mezcal, whisky. The Ritz Hotel last year made a very nice cocktail with a Glenmorangie, and it makes a good Manhattan variation. Tony Pescatori created a very nice Pisco Sour with Pussanga,” she says. There’s a reason why top bars like Isabel’s, Amazonico, and Nightjar stock it. 

But, if you want to keep it simple you can make yourself a Pussaga Tonic, just avoid the sweeter, flavoured tonics, or mix it with some Champagne. It’s also tasty neat, with Spamer-Riether saying she drinks it in the summer as a digestive, sometimes with ice cubes and a lemon or orange garnish, but she also likes to heat it in the winter, mixing it with black tea, making punches, or even with hot chocolate. It’s worth experimenting to find how you like best. Whatever you decide, it’s a safe bet you won’t have many other drinks like it in your cabinet.

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How the Morris winery turned its hand to Australian whisky

Morris might be one of Australia’s most celebrated wineries, but it has recently entered the world of whisky and has hit the ground running. Here’s how a respected wine family…

Morris might be one of Australia’s most celebrated wineries, but it has recently entered the world of whisky and has hit the ground running. Here’s how a respected wine family dynasty made the transition look easy.

In Australia, north-eastern Victoria is regarded as the capital of fortified wines, ever since vines were brought along with the Gold Rush of the 1850s and were planted in the rolling hills of Victoria’s Riverland, fed by the mighty Snowy Mountains and Murray River. Here you’ll find the small town of Rutherglen, home to less than 2,000 people, including the Morris family, whose winery was established in 1859. Here six generations have made fortified wine, a tradition maintained today led by head winemaker David Morris. 

This generational expertise, impressive stock, and popular brand made the winery an attractive proposition for Casella Family Brands, which bought it in 2016 but kept the Morris family doing what it does best. But it wasn’t just the wine that tempted John Casella. He always had a passion for single malt whisky and had a dream to create a great Australian example. And the Morris family had an original 1930’s hybrid copper-pot still, used to make the spirit for the fortified wines since 1941, although it had laid dormant for some time.

When you put 2+2 together you get 4, and when you realise you have a unique still as well as access to an amazing library of fortified casks that could be used to finish whisky, you have yourselves the making of a great distillery. One with a point of difference. Who else starts off with that level of drinks knowledge and quality of equipment to hand? “With these factors combined, alongside a passion for whisky from the family, we knew it was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up,” says global marketing manager, Michael Sergeant.

Morris Whisky

The Morris Winery

Living up to the family name

With all these advantages comes a certain pressure: the Morris brand has a reputation to uphold. John Casella knew the most critical thing was to get the liquid quality and brand proposition right from the outset. He set up the Copper & Grain Distilling Co. and the Rutherglen Distillery to be the home to Morris Whisky, and carefully restored the hybrid copper pot and column still, naming it Aurora, after the princess in Sleeping Beauty who awoke after close to a century of slumber.

He then ensured that all the barley used in Morris Whisky production is 100% Australian sourced, malted in Australian maltsters, and then brewed at the family-owned brewery. “Having our own grain supply is an advantage as we are able to control the quality and consistency of the grains we are using in our whisky, allowing us to ensure that each bottle of Morris Whisky has the same exceptional flavour,” Sergeant explains. There is scope in the future to try other grains but for now it’s just malted barley.

Pure, filtered water from the Snowy Mountains is also used in Morris whisky production. But the star of the show is Aurora which produces 400-500 litres of high strength new make spirit per batch which comes off the still at 78% ABV – the strength chosen by the distillers for having the right balance of flavours and congeners. The process is overseen by a team of highly-regarded experts, including ex-Diageo man and head distiller Darren Peck, who has worked for the last five years under the tutelage of John McDougall, a renowned whisky maker with experience with Balvenie, Laphroaig, and Springbank. He now consults exclusively to Morris as master distiller, while the late Dr Jim Swan, was also a key member of the original Morris Whisky team. 

Morris Whisky

The muscat wine barrel

Where whisky and wine meet

Both McDougall and Swan were integral in designing a unique barrel maturation program, and providing the team with a special and unique barrel toasting regime. David Morris helps identify the best casks from a library that includes barrels over a 100-years-old. They’re all prepared by hand at a private cooperage in-house in Yenda, which is led by Anton Remkes, a great advantage as the distillery can create customised shaving and toasting methods for optimal maturation.

The whisky is matured in a combination of American and French oak casks, ex-Shiraz, and Cabernet red wine barrels specifically, selected from wineries in the Barossa and Coonawarra regions.  The Signature Whisky is then finished in a combination of Morris fortified barrels, while the Muscat Barrel Whisky is finished in, you guessed it, rare Morris Muscat barrels, some of which have held what the brand claims is the world’s most highly awarded fortified wine.

These fortified barrels offer Morris an exceptional edge, creating whiskies with a combination of style and quality few can match. The Morris winery makes some of thebest fortified wines in the world, while the Rutherglen region’s climate lends itself to whisky production with hot summer days and cool nights, conditions that are perfect for ageing and helping create the distinctive Morris Whisky taste. 

Morris Whisky

There’s a lot of promise in those barrels

At the forefront of a growing category

Creating whisky with a winemaker’s perspective is an intriguing perspective, as two worlds collide.  Morris says that, from the beginning, the brand set itself two main guardrails: 1) to be respectful of the traditions of single malt whisky-making and 2) honour the heritage of the Morris family. “We also found on our journey that there are more similarities than not between these two worlds, the attention to detail, the influence of terroir, the quality and purity of ingredients, and the role of the barrels in ageing and blending,” Sergeant explains. “Over time, we also learnt that both consumers and trade alike were open and intrigued to learn more about the craft of fortified winemaking and how these amazing aged liquids can impart rich and intense flavour into whisky.  While our ambition is for Morris Whisky to be regarded as a world-class single malt in its own right, we hope that we can help shine a light back onto the amazing fortified category for many spirits consumers to rediscover and enjoy”.  

This approach has helped set Morris whisky apart from other distilleries in what is an increasingly strong and competitive Australian whisky market. Accelerated growth has defined the category, with the sales of local whisky more than doubling from 2019 to 2020 according to IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record). The folks at Morris are confident that success isn’t fleeting and that drinkers both local and overseas will continue to appreciate the Australian flavour. Certainly, Morris seems to have a bright future, with 2021 a bumper year for the brand with the release of its first whiskies.

Australia’s leading wine and spirits writers have given Morris Whisky glowing reviews, picking up numerous awards and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from both consumer and industry professionals for redefining the pricing of quality Australian single malt whisky and making it more widely accessible.  These last two points, in particular, are very encouraging as they have tended to be the factors holding the category back. For Morris though, everything is moving forward. Premium releases and ideas to develop the range further are in the works, as are plans for greater distribution to an increasing number of markets, and the team are also close to opening its own brand home, the Morris Distillery in Rutherglen in 2022.  

The review

It’s a story and an approach that has grabbed the attention of a few of us at MoM Towers, with its reasonably priced inaugural releases (especially for 700ml bottles, a rarity in Australia) and wine legacy prompting several of us to find out if what’s in the bottle lives up to the promise. So, let’s take a look at the two releases, which are available now simply by clicking the links.

Morris Whisky

Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Signature

Here we have the Signature single malt whisky from Australia’s Morris Distillery. This expression is aged in fortified wine barrels and, as you’d expect, benefits from all that intense, rich fruity character. Sherry cask lovers will love its blend of spice, sweetness and nutty qualities, while an underlying biscuity malt and orchard fruit character I’d guess is coming from the spirit adds depth and plays with the cask notes beautifully. A very enjoyable sipper, one that’s hard not to go back to.

Nose: Biscuit malt, marzipan and jammy black fruits make way for dark chocolate, stewed apples, earthy vanilla, and zingy orange zest.

Palate: Rich and unctuous, with fruitcake, nutmeg, chocolate digestive biscuits, as well as touches of menthol cherry sweets and a little cassia underneath.

Finish: The full-bodied sweetness lingers with a hint of aromatic spice.

Morris Whisky

Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Muscat Barrel Finish

The more premium offering with its unique finishing period in Morris Muscat barrels, no other whisky can boast that. The prestige is matched in good measure by personality, with oodles of aromatic spice, toasty sweet notes and dense fruit mingling away together. It’s a statement whisky from the brand and it’s got very interesting things to say, particularly in a palate that defies its age and has some truly complex notes. This will prove very popular I think.

Nose: There’s an unctuous funk moving through this, Medjool dates, deeply caramelised apple and wine-soaked oak playing with beeswax, Muscovado sugar, mocha and rich malt. Licks of manuka honey and a hint of sweet tobacco are present throughout.

Palate: Prunes, raisin and oily nuts lead with vanilla pod earthiness, dark chocolate, cardamom, and more stewed orchard fruit in support. Underneath it all, there’s floral, fruity tones, allspice, and a touch of damp forest floor.

Finish: A drier, spicier finish carries with it rich oak, dark molasses, strawberry bonbons and baking spice.

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January 2022 Master of Malt competition winners

Lots of competitions have been and gone, so now all that’s left is to announce the winners. Let’s do this. Here are our January 2022 Master of Malt competition winners….

Lots of competitions have been and gone, so now all that’s left is to announce the winners. Let’s do this. Here are our January 2022 Master of Malt competition winners.

We love throwing together a good competition. Giving someone the chance to receive a bundle of boozy brilliance or get jetted off somewhere swanky is a real pleasure. This is why we throw a lot of them. That means there are plenty of winners, and we’ve got a whole bunch from 2021 to announce. Who’s ready to hear some names and pop some Champagne?

Congratulations to…

The winner of a VIP trip to Brown-Forman in the USA… Martin Kendall

The winner of a VIP trip to Highland Park Distillery… Nicola Ross

The winner of a VIP trip to Glenturret Distillery… Jason Oldfield

The winner of a VIP trip to Glen Scotia Distillery… Sandra Fursman

The winners of a year’s supply of Tomatin whisky… Nigel Beale and Daniel Abbey

A year's supply of Tomatin whisky

A year’s supply of Tomatin whisky!

The winner of a bottle of Macallan 25 Year Old Sherry Oak… Glen (who wanted us to print just his first name)

The winner of a year’s subscription to Pour & Sip… Kimberley Hale

The winner of a bundle of Jack Daniel’s goodies… Wendy Smith

The winner of a bundle of goodies from Inverroche Gin… Sonia Capitao

The winner of a bundle of Christmas goodies from Atom Labs… Emma Anderson

The winner of a bundle of whiskey from Bushmills Distillery… Owain Llewellyn

30 Days of Bunnahabhain

A fantastic comp closes with many lucky winners

And the many, many winners we have for the 30 Days of Bunnahabhain giveaway, who are… 

Pamela Robertson

William Middleton

Stuart Fell

Annette MacDonald

Christine Goodman

Sarah Kivlin

Sarah Smith

Iain Richmond

Mark Rogers

Dave Ford

Paula Rendall

Sophie Parker-Loftus

Martin Stanley

Charlotte Jacobs

Martine Middleton

Josh Wrigley

Megan Bowles

Judith Shaw

Hayley Watson

Lynn Hall

Connie Grantham

Julie Pope

Jordan Simmonds

Rachel Calver

Paul Edwards

Richard Hooker

Graham Purkins

Carroll Pettit

Jason Bandy

Styliani Kaltzidou

Congratulations all! We hope you enjoy your prizes. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Zelda

Today, we’re mixing up a cocktail inspired by one of the legends of the jazz age. We’re combining fizz, Bardinet VSOP, and apricot brandy to make… the Zelda! Ah, Paris…

Today, we’re mixing up a cocktail inspired by one of the legends of the jazz age. We’re combining fizz, Bardinet VSOP, and apricot brandy to make… the Zelda!

Ah, Paris in the 1920s! Full of Americans taking advantage of the weak French franc to act out their bohemian fantasies. There was Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. But most of all there was F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. He was a promising young novelist from Minnesota, she was a southern belle from Alabama. Dorothy Parker commented on the pair: “They did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking.” 

An icon of the Jazz Age

The Fitzgeralds came to symbolise the glamour and hedonism of the Jazz Age. Who better then to name a cocktail after than Zelda Fitzgerald? Especially as her husband was apparently the first person to use ‘cocktail’ as a verb. He was also the first person to use the word ‘wicked’ in a positive sense in print. So now you know.

The Zelda cocktail is the creation of award-winning drinks blogger Susan L. Schwartz for Bardinet French brandy. It combines Bardinet VSOP, apricot brandy, orange juice, and sparkling wine. Along with the Zelda, Schwartz has come up with cocktails inspired by Josephine Baker and Coco Chanel.  She commented: “The Roaring ‘20s (known as Années Folles in France) in my opinion epitomised French joie de vivre, so I have drawn inspiration for each of my creations from an iconic woman from the flapper era. As we step softly out of the Covid pandemic, our ‘20s might have the potential to become our own Roaring ‘20s. We will have to wait until the decade is over to discover how events have changed us, but one thing is for sure, our collective desire to enjoy oneself is palpable right now.”

Bardinet French brandy

At the heart of the Zelda is Bardinet, the French brandy. It’s not something to linger over after a meal with cigars, but it is simple and delicious – just the thing for mixing. The company was founded in 1857 by Paul Bardinet making brandy in southwest France. His son Edouard took the business to Bordeaux but also expanded to produce syrups, fruit punches, and cocktails. In 1975 the firm moved to the Domaine de Fleurenne estate near the city of Bordeaux. It’s now part of the La Martinquaise group that also owns various other drink brands including Glen Moray whisky 

Unlike Cognac or Armagnac, the grapes that go into Bardinet don’t have to come from a specific area. Distillation takes place in a column still before maturing in oak casks. Blending is overseen by Bénédicte Bertet.

While you’re not going to get the complexity of Cognac, it’s a great spirit for mixing. It’s perfect in a Brandy and Soda, Brandy and Tonic, and in classic brandy cocktails like the Sidecar. 

The Zelda is roughly speaking a Sidecar crossed with another golden age cocktail, the French 75. It gets its sweetness from Bols Apricot brandy and a sugared rim of the glass, and an orangey hint from a tiny bit of orange juice. You could use Champagne to top it up if you’re feeling fancy but Prosecco will do just fine.

Here’s to the new Roaring ‘20s!

Zelda cocktail with Bardinet brandy

How to make a Zelda cocktail

50 ml Bardinet VSOP Brandy
25 ml Bols Apricot Brandy
¼ teaspoon orange juice or orange blossom water
Chilled Prosecco or Champagne to top  

Wet the rim of the glass with apricot brandy, then dip into caster sugar. Add the Bardinet, apricot brandy, orange juice (or blossom water) in a shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Pour into the glass then top up with prosecco or champagne and stir gently. Peel a long strip of orange peel and place in glass.

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The best pubs and restaurants for a leisurely lunch

It’s been a tough two years for the hospitality industry so we wanted to show our appreciation by highlighting some of the places that we love here at Master of…

It’s been a tough two years for the hospitality industry so we wanted to show our appreciation by highlighting some of the places that we love here at Master of Malt. So we all chipped in with our suggestions of the best pubs and restaurants for a leisurely lunch. There’s some great personal recommendations here.

If you think you’ve had a tough time of it in 2020/2021, spare a thought for people trying to run a pub or restaurant. First there was a lockdown, then a baffling tier system in which you were allowed to visit a pub but only if you had a Scotch egg, and didn’t laugh. But not in Leicester. Then there were further lockdowns but it all looked like it was over with ‘freedom day’ in July (not in Scotland or Wales). Restaurants in London were celebrating full reservation books and looking forward to a lucrative Christmas when news came from South Africa of a new variant…

And that’s before we get into staff shortages caused by the pandemic, pingdemic, and Brexit. Under such circumstances, it’s not surprising that so many places, especially the kind of independent restaurants and pubs we love, have gone to the wall. Many are holding on by their fingernails. 

So, along with Dryish January, this year we want to do our best to encourage people to eat out and use your locals, because if you don’t, they may well be gone. However, we do appreciate that some aren’t ready to do this because of concerns about Covid. That’s ok. But for everyone else, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite restaurants for a leisurely lunch. Yes, a lot of these places are near Tonbridge because that’s the location of MoM Towers. These are the kind of places where you can linger all afternoon, ordering more food and drink, and watch the sun slowly set. Treasure them.

The best restaurants for a leisurely lunch

Dungeness Snack Shack

Dungeness Snack Shack, Dungeness – Alex Badescu, distillery assistant 

There’s a thing in my family for sparse landscapes, peppered with huge industrial constructions – a sort of Mad Max aesthetic, probably something to do with childhoods spent on the beaches of Romania – and really good, fresh fish. We’ve been known to travel to great lengths seeking out both. In this sense, Dungeness Snack Shack ticks these very specific boxes at the same time. Setting up shop in the shadow of a nuclear power station gives you a surprising number of advantages. Planning permissions are few and far between to protect the shingle ecosystem that makes up Dungeness and its rare flora and fauna inhabitants. It also keeps neighbourly competition low, and Dungeness Snack Shack could easily offer out something mediocre to those who have made the trip. But how lucky that this blue shipping container by the sea chooses to rely on that winning formula for dishing up fish: seasonal, simple, fresh and flavourful. The chalkboards tell you what’s on offer that day and gently remind you that all the fish are from their own boats so ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’. I’m yet to arrive early enough to catch their famous lobster rolls and scallops before they sell out. So I usually go for the fisherman’s roll: white fish of the day (griddled or battered) and served with zingy salad and generous amounts of homemade tartare sauce. I’m a sucker for a crispy potato, which are on the menu here rather than chips, so do yourself a favour and order extra because these are as crunchy as they get. Prices vary but expect to be very well fed for between £6 – £12, and afterwards you can roll yourself down to the beach for a bit of seal spotting.  

The Ragged Trousers

The Ragged Trousers, Tunbridge Wells – Emma Symons, content executive 

The Ragged Trousers and I have history. It opened around the same time that I reached legal drinking age, and it’s probably endured the test of time better than me. It helps that the food is all made in-house by the same French chef who has been there since the start. I have to admit a personal connection here because whilst I was working behind the bar at the Ragged’s sister pub, the Sussex Arms, that certain Frenchman fell for my Kronenberg pouring talents and we are now engaged. Forget Emily In Paris, it’s Emma on the Pantiles. But even if I weren’t getting hitched to the man behind the stove, I’d still come for his croque monsieur (ooh err!), moule or, best of all, his exquisite cassoulet. To drink there are plenty of guest beers, the staff get to pick the tunes and always get the mood right. The walls are packed with original artwork, much of it produced by talented staff past and present (artsy bar worker types – you know the sort, one of my favourite categories of human). What more can I say? Vive le pantalon déchiré!

Brutto, Clerkenwell, London

Brutto, London – Henry Jeffreys, features editor

A good restaurant is about so much more than just food as Russell Norman knows. He’s the chap behind Polpo which, when it first opened in 2009 in Soho, felt like the most exciting place in the world. Sure, the food was good, but it was the atmosphere, the staff, and the little touches that brought people back again and again. Norman and Polpo, now a chain, went their separate ways, but now he’s back with an ode to the food of Florence called Trattoria Brutto near Farringdon station. The name means ugly in Italian, because it’s the sort of food that doesn’t look so pretty, but tastes great. What I love about this place is you can have a blowout with Florentine steaks served very rare and Barolo. But you can also have pasta dishes, slow-cooked meats like beef shin, and best of all ‘cuddles’ – little deep fried cheese and ham doughnuts – all washed down with a bottle of Barbera, for a surprisingly reasonable price. Also a Negroni costs £5. Yes, really, £5 Negronis in Central London. More than the food, however, you get to sit in a restaurant that feels like the best place in town. It’s like being part of a culinary cabaret with the cheerful, well-drilled waiting staff moving in time around you in a dance, and at the centre of it all, the maestro of ceremonies, Norman himself. Brutto has only been open since November but already feels like an institution. 

The Wiremill, East Grinstead

The Wiremill, East Grinstead – Gabriella Morrissey, design assistant  

The Wiremill has to be one of the most beautiful pubs in the country. It’s housed in a converted 15th century mill near Ashdown Forest and looks out onto a lake. It’s particularly stunning on a summer’s evening watching the sun set over the water [see above]. But, thanks to the Covid measures, the terrace is now covered and heated so you can use it all year round. The food never disappoints. On my last visit, I had a delicious buttermilk chicken burger. Portion sizes are generous, so bring a large appetite, and the service is always prompt and friendly. Being in East Grinstead there’s some good spots to go for a drink afterwards or why not go for a walk on the Ashdown Forest and enjoy some more country views.

Prestonville Arms, Brighton

The Prestonville Arms, Brighton – Jess Williamson, content manager

The Prestonville Arms is pretty much everything you could want from a pub – an open fire, well-placed mismatched reclining armchairs in front of said fire, and Sunday roasts worth travelling for. That said, the food is very tasty all week with bangers and mash, pies, and burgers on the menu. You know the deal, all the usual stuff you expect from a good pub but done unusually well, plus an ever-changing list of specials. You’ll find it just up the road from the main station away from the Lanes, so it’s somewhat off the beaten track, and for when the weather finally perks up there’s a cosy garden out the back. It’s got a touch of that Brighton kookiness to it, with the whole of the back wall covered in shiny vinyl records, colourful furnishings, and board games strewn around the place. I can’t speak highly enough of the staff (when we last went the chef even made us a special gravy to go with our roast – though we can’t promise anything!), and if you stay long enough past lunch, you might even catch some live music. Oh, and the best part? It’s dog friendly!

Caravan, Kings Cross, London – Jason Hockman, general manager

Caravan is so ubiquitous to Londoners that it’s easy to forget what a revelation the first restaurant was when it opened in 2010 with its fresh flavours and laidback Australian attitude. There are now a few dotted around central London but my favourite is the Granary Square outpost behind King’s Cross Station. It’s one of those places where you can just keep ordering, you don’t need to have a formal meal. I love the margarita sourdough pizza, jalapeno cornbread, chickpea dahl and lamb meatballs, and they even serve breakfast right throughout the day. There’s lots of space with indoor and outdoor eating areas, and a very relaxed atmosphere which is particularly handy if you’re eating with children. In the summer, they can play in the fountains outside while you have another cup of Caravan’s excellent coffee. 

Bullfinch, Leith

The Bullfinch, Leith – Gordon Baird, head of compliance

Tucked away on the corner of the entrance to the Port of Leith (not the pub that Trainspotting was reputedly created in, the actual port with ships) lives The Bullfinch. Following a refurb, it opened in 2021. Thankfully the bar has retained much of its original character. It specialises in local breweries such as Vault City, Campervan, Barneys, and Pilot with a short list of cocktails shaken by the rumbling of heavy trucks down the cobblestone streets. I like to imagine the wines are loaded straight from exotic ships coming into the port. The menu changes the whole time but on my last visit the kitchen was offering small plates like mac and cheese balls with a bacon mayonnaise, tempura calamari, and garlic and rosemary tear & share (sharing optional), or poke bowls if you want something a bit more substantial. You can order by app so you never have to face a human and explain that the seventh small dish you’re about to order, is indeed, also for you. The outside seating area is fully covered with the heat lamps essential for 80% of the Scottish al fresco dining calendar. There’s even a vent from the kitchen which, if you position yourself well, will allow you to smell what’s cooking, as you suffer through your January promise that you will not class chips as a vegetable, and ketchup as a vegetable smoothie anymore. 

Dyls York

Dyls, York – Alex Blackall, sales support

York is a picture book city in miniature. Within those Roman walls you’ll find cobbled streets, castle towers and the long shadow of York Minster. It can be jarring, however, to see all those modern chains like Costa, Greggs or Sports Direct. If you’re looking for a place with a bit more character, I’d recommend ambling Ouseward from the centre, and you’ll discover Dyls Café and Bar hidden within the old Motor House on Skeldergate Bridge. It’s a family-run business with a menu built around locally-sourced food, and a great range of craft spirits, cocktails, coffee, cakes and of course, local beers. There’s a heated terrace with views over the river Ouse and three quirky indoor rooms. The uppermost of which would feel like home for Rapunzel, the perfect spot to hide away for a catch up with friends. Just pity the poor waiting staff who had to clamber the spiral staircase all afternoon with our sharing boards, ales, and increasingly adventurous cocktail orders. Dyls has recently had to overcome flooding-related, as well as lockdown-enforced, closures. But it’s once again open and I can’t wait to return when I next visit God’s Own County.

Even Flow, Tunbridge Wells

Even Flow, Tunbridge Wells – Cal McGuinness, trade relations supervisor

I have to start with a confession: my first true love is nothing booze-related. It’s coffee (please don’t tell anyone at MoM Towers!). Before joining Master of Malt I was a barista and I’m still an espresso aficionado. Each weekend you’ll still find me, fully caffeinated, hopping from one fancy coffee shop to another. So when Even Flow opened its doors back in early 2020, specialising in coffee, lunchtime goodness, and vinyl records, I was excited. A place to pick up a piccolo and a copy of The Cure’s Greatest Hits? I’m in. Perched just outside the town centre, on St Johns Road, it’s been incredible to see this place go from strength to strength despite all the challenges of the last two years. Needless to say their coffee game is top tier, the whole team really knows their beans. However, their food options are just as impressive with an ever-changing menu so there’ll always be something new to try. I’d particularly recommend their homemade sausage rolls and a mozzarella pesto panini. Then we need to talk about cake and here we reach my second confession, I’ve been known to fill a takeaway box with a variety for my ‘friends back home’ only to munch my way through the lot while listening to the new Cyndi Lauper record I picked up. If you’re looking for a place for a leisurely lunch with a fantastic variety of lunch options and a great atmosphere definitely drop by! 

Teuchters Landing, Leith

Teuchters Landing, Leith – James Evans, campaigns marketing executive

Located in the once shady but now-fashionable shore area of Leith, Teuchters is a staple of the community known for its mouth-watering dram selection, classic hearty pub grub, Scottish cask beer and…cigars? Yes, you heard that right and there’s no better way to enjoy a dram and cigar combo than sitting out in the beer garden. But this isn’t just any beer garden because it’s located on the actual water of the dock for the full maritime effect. Yes, it’s been pretty freezing out there most times I’ve visited. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed many a good night in this dockside pub, playing whisky roulette with their 100+ malt selection, and indulging in arguably the most Scottish dish ever, a haggis stovie before enjoying a scenic jaunt home through the shore of Leith. It’s one of those places that’s as popular with locals as with tourists. And no wonder, if top tier dram selections, fresh pub grub and local beers sound like your bag then absolutely give this place a visit. It’s one you won’t regret, nor forget.

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Enjoy alcohol-free cocktails this Dry January with High Point

High Point Drinks is the brainchild of Eddie Lofthouse, founder of Cornish brewery Harbour Brewing. And we reckon the non-alcoholic alternatives are ideal for making booze-free cocktails you’ll actually enjoy…

High Point Drinks is the brainchild of Eddie Lofthouse, founder of Cornish brewery Harbour Brewing. And we reckon the non-alcoholic alternatives are ideal for making booze-free cocktails you’ll actually enjoy this Dry January. 

Just ten minutes from Eddie Lofthouse’s house is the highest point in Bodmin (and in Cornwall), the summit of Rough Tor. He and his family go up there to see sunrises and sunsets, the ocean and the local wildlife. “It’s wild, rugged and ace. When life is moving at pace, how you choose to spend your time can quickly become about choices,” he says. 

It was having this thought and this spot that Lofthouse conceived of High Point Drinks, a brand based on the idea that the choice not to drink alcohol should be about an elevated experience, not a compromised one. As was the case with Harbour Brewing Co, he couldn’t find what he was looking for in the market so he decided to make it himself. “Despite the pace of its growth, we couldn’t find depth, complexity or rich flavours in the no-to-low booze world. Our expertise in fermentation meant that we had craft production and layers of authentic flavour to introduce to the conversation”. 

The Cornwall brand currently makes two drinks, a non-alcoholic fermented Aperitif and Digestif. Lofthouse was attracted to this style of drink because he feels they’re sophisticated and hold depth of flavour, complexity and are interesting to drink. He adds that “we chose to create an aperitif and a digestif for more than just their style. It’s the occasions that are associated with them. Two key moments around the table that we love, an aperitif at the beginning of a delicious meal with friends, and a digestif when the meal ends and the pace of the evening begins to wind down”. 

High Point

Eddie Lofthouse, in his element

How a brewer makes low-and-no alcohol

The process to create both beings with a brew of Cornish spring water (the elixir of life – depending on who you ask, says Lofthouse) and tea leaves. Then a two-stage fermentation process is done, one bacteria and the other yeast, or anaerobic and aerobic if you’re the kind of person who watches Only Connect

While alcohol is produced as a natural part of this process, it’s eaten up and converted into acetic acid. From there natural fruits, herbs, and spices are infused and afterwards, a blending method is used to achieve balance. The digestif has an extra step in that it ages for a week or so to create a smoother mouthfeel and extract some deeper notes. 

Lofthouse’s brewing background comes into its own here, as flavour in High Point drinks really is driven by the fermentation. “Those years of perfecting and deepening our knowledge, and an ability to play with the process has uncovered layers of complexity and flavour beyond our expectations,” Lofthouse says. “We knew the science behind it would work, but the personalities shining through so distinctly in both Ruby and Amber have been rewarding and surprising, for both ourselves and the on-trade”. 

High Point

Fermentation is the key

Providing choices, not compromises

Dry January isn’t a pledge I’ve ever taken myself and, as the founder of Harbour Brewing, it’s fair to say that Lofthouse is more motivated by moderation, not sobriety. “People want choices. We’re not anti-alcohol. It’s about finding balance in a world of indulgence, something we’ve all become increasingly aware of throughout the pandemic,” he explains. “The ritual of preparing a sophisticated drink and enjoying it at home; for many, this is simply relaxation. If we can offer someone that same occasion without the alcohol then that is finding balance without compromise for us. People want to compromise on their alcohol intake, not on flavour and experience”. 

It’s this perspective that demonstrates the potential of the no-and-low alcohol market. The desire for choices means the need for options, so expect more brands like High Point to pop up. Lofthouse predicts we’ll see some unprecedented growth first, as new brands and ideas make themselves known, followed by a natural evolution in quality and understanding as awareness of the market grows. “The NA market has the potential to give consumers what they’re seeking, a way to master moderation without feeling excluded or left with a “less than” taste,” he summarises. 

The question that remains is, how do you create non-alcoholic cocktails that don’t skimp on flavour or a sense of occasion? “Keeping it simple, and letting the complexity perfected in our liquids lead the way. We’re not looking to be a ‘replacement’, High Point Drinks stand up by themselves in cocktails,” Lofthouse explains. “We keep it simple for at home recipes, and hand the controls over to the bartenders and mixologists that truly know what they’re doing”.

Here’s some recipes and a breakdown of each product to get you started. 

High Point

The High Point Ruby Spritz

High Point Ruby

High Point Ruby is a vibrant fermented aperitif and delicious served as a spritz with tonic and ice. This bittersweet citrus aperitif also works really well when paired with fine food.

Ingredients: Hibiscus, lavender, wormwood, pink peppercorn, orange zest and pink grapefruit zest.

Tasting note: A wild herbal aroma, a wave of zest and spice that rolls onto your palate with long-lasting bittersweet citrus flavours.

Simple serve: The High Point Ruby Spritz. To make, combine 50ml High Point Ruby and 200ml of good quality tonic water in a large wine glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a slice of pink grapefruit. Simple but effective. Lovely.

Take it up a notch: Ruby Bitter Summer. Put 50ml High Point Ruby, 50ml freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, 15ml freshly squeezed lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup (made 1:1), 5ml passionfruit syrup and 5-8 mint leaves into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake for 10 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled highball glass full of cubed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and a slice of pink grapefruit.

For the mixologists: Ruby Clover Club. Place 50ml High Point Ruby, 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice. 15ml sugar syrup (made 1:1), 5 raspberries, 20ml egg white/vegan foamer in a cocktail shaker, shake without ice, add ice and shake again. Fine strain into a chilled coupette/cocktail glass then garnish with freeze-dried raspberry powder.

High Point

The High Point Amber Old Fashioned

High Point Amber

A deeply smoky fermented digestif, which has been cold smoked and aged for one week after blending. Best enjoyed with ginger ale or neat over ice. 

Ingredients: Lasag, ginger, clove, vanilla, cacao nibs and gentian root.

Tasting note: Freshly stoked embers and notes of toffee aroma, the scent of freshly stoked embers rise up with notes of log-fired toffee before its signature mouthfeel is ignited, and smoke and spice start to gently warm the soul.

Simple serve: Amber Lowball. To make, combine 50ml High Point Amber and 200ml of good quality ginger ale in a large wine glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a slice of orange. 

Take it up a notch: The High Point Amber Old Fashioned. To make, combine 50ml High Point Amber Digestif, 5ml of sugar syrup (made 1:1) and three dashes of aromatic bitters in a mixing glass filled with cubed ice. Give it a hearty stir, before straining into a chilled rocks glass over cubed or block ice. Garnish with an orange twist. An effective and rewarding twist on a classic.

For the mixologists: Amber Penicillin. Put 50ml High Point Amber, 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice, 10ml homemade ginger syrup and 10ml honey syrup (made 3:1) into a cocktail shaker, filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with cubed ice.

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