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Master of Malt Blog

Whisky Advent 2019 Day #12: Mackmyra Äppelblom

It’s nearly time to open door number 12 on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendars! This dram hails from a Nordic spot known for the Northern Lights, Ikea,…

It’s nearly time to open door number 12 on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendars! This dram hails from a Nordic spot known for the Northern Lights, Ikea, ABBA and, most importantly, lip-smacking whisky.

Well, that’s it. We’re officially half-way through Advent! If you’ve still got Christmas shopping to do, this is your call to arms. What have you been doing all this time? Go, go! If you’re one of those uber organised folk, then you can reward yourself with opening the 12th door of your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar, and treat yourself to some tasty Swedish whisky with a pretty… apple-ing cask finish (sorry).

Today’s dram is… Mackmyra Äppelblom!

Mackmyra is a pretty awesome Swedish distillery, breaking new ground all the time. Did you know it’s even got its very own super futuristic gravity distillery, built in 2011 at 35 metres tall. Like the name suggests, the eco-friendly distillery uses gravity throughout the whisky making process, with the raw ingredients entering at the top, and the new make collected at the bottom. The heat generated during production is even used to heat the premises, which is pretty nifty. 

Mackmyra Appelblom

It’s the fruit bomb that is Mackmyra Äppelblom!

It’s no surprise then that the folks over at the distillery have been known to try out some cool cask finishes, namely in the form of Mackmyra Äppelblom! Äppelblom means apple blossom, which makes more sense when you find out that, after ageing in bourbon and new American oak casks, the Swedish single malt was finished in oak casks which previously held Calvados. 

This wasn’t just any old Calvados, but spirit from one of the world’s leading Calvados producers, none other than Christian Drouin. Prepare yourselves for a whole load of spiced orchard fruits over here. Get your hot toddy glasses out and pair this one with warm apple juice for a winter warmer, or follow UK sales manager Alex Johnson’s advice on the perfect Äppelblom serve. We managed to grab a chat with Johnson to tell us more about all things Mackmyra.

Master of Malt: A Calvados cask-finished whisky! What can we expect flavour-wise?

Alex Johnson: Apples abound with strudel and custard, then cedar, soft spices, vanilla, pear and a touch of citrus.  

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink Äppelblom?

AJ: Chill a glass and pour in a good measure. Serve with banana bread dipped in sea-salted extra virgin olive oil – you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!

Mackmyra Äppelblom

Check out Alex Johnson’s favourite serve, with a hefty slice of banana bread.

MoM: What was a Mackmyra highlight of 2019?

AJ: The creation and launch of Intelligens, the world’s first A.I. whisky was a very special event and another first for Mackmyra.

MoM: Can we expect more fun cask finishes from Mackmyra in 2020?

AJ: Of course, innovation is at our core. Angela’s not revealed what they’ll be just yet but we know they’ll be our best yet.

MoM: What’s your favourite Christmas cocktail?

AJ: A Margarita is a perfect way to get the day going but in the evening that try stirring some Äppelblom down with Angostura bitters, a pinch of sea salt and a dash of crème de banane. Serve on the rocks with slices of dried banana – it’s essentially an apple and banana Old Fashioned, but we call it a Bonita Äppelblom.

Mackmyra Äppelblom Tasting note:

Nose: Toasted oak and orchard fruits galore, namely apple and pear with a hint of lemon, delicate floral notes with sweet vanilla and toffee.

Palate: Well rounded fruity and spicy notes continue with the marriage of pear and citrus. Cedar wood emerges alongside aniseed, caramelised almonds, white pepper and ginger spiciness.

Finish: Spicy tones linger with gentle oak and zesty lemon and apple.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #11: BenRiach 10 Year Old

The 11th door of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar holds something exceptionally tasty from a certain Speyside distillery which is named for the Gaelic for ‘speckled mountain’…  Well,…

The 11th door of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar holds something exceptionally tasty from a certain Speyside distillery which is named for the Gaelic for ‘speckled mountain’… 

Well, well, it’s the 11th day of Advent. We’re not half way just yet, but gosh darn it’s not far off either! You’ll know that though of course, because you can see how many doors you’ve opened on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar, and it’s got a treat for you on this special day.

We all know you’re here for the whisky, so we’ll get down to it.

Today’s dram is… BenRiach 10 Year Old!

This particular expression was first launched in April 2015, and is the flagship expression from the Speyside distillery after it changed hands in 2004 from Pernod Ricard to Billy Walker (it was subsequently bought by Brown-Forman in 2016). So, this was the first core range expression to be predominantly crafted from whiskies distilled at BenRiach since Walker took over. And it’s still going strong! 

The Speysider is drawn from both bourbon and sherry casks after a decade of ageing, so you have all those sweeter, creamy notes from the bourbon cask sitting wonderfully alongside the spicier notes from the sherry cask. 

Benriach 10 year old

It’s the wonderful Dr Rachel Barrie, everyone!

We got to chat to the awesome master blender Dr Rachel Barrie, to talk us through all things BenRiach! It’s been quite the year for the Dr Barrie, as among many other achievements, after 27 years in the industry she was inducted as a ‘Keeper of the Quaich’

Master of Malt: Wow, here we have the flagship expression from BenRiach! Can you talk us through what we should be expecting flavour-wise?

Dr Rachel Barrie: Benriach 10 Year Old glides on the palate like a delicious patisserie, with layers of succulent orchard fruit on a base of pastry-like malt and vanilla cream, topped with toasted almond and a touch of spice. 

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink BenRiach 10 Year Old?

RB: I enjoy BenRiach 10 Year Old neat or with a splash of water for the perfect multi-layered balance of fruit, malt and oak. 

Benriach 10 year old

Behold, Benriach 10 Year Old.

MoM: What’s been a BenRiach highlight of 2019?

RB: In 2019, the launch of the latest BenRiach Cask bottling Batch was a highlight, after selecting 24 casks from Warehouse 13, including Benriach unpeated and peated matured in oak casks previously filled with Tokaji wine, oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximénez, Port, claret, Madeira, Sauternes, virgin oak, South African red wine, Jamaican rum, Rioja, Sicilian Marsala, and bourbon! The drinker now has the chance to select from the same eclectic collection of casks I have the pleasure of nosing every day.

MoM: What’s your favourite Christmas cocktail?

RB: A smooth, spiced fruit cocktail with cloudy apple juice, ginger beer, cinnamon and cloves, and a slice of red apple perched on glass, to crunch between sips. The perfect balance of sweet and dry, warm and spicy yet refreshingly smooth and fruity.

MoM: What can we expect from BenRiach in 2020?

RB: BenRiach will really come alive in 2020 with many exciting developments when it comes to our pursuit of flavour and pushing the creative boundaries of whisky-making in our three styles – classic, peated and triple-distilled.

Tasting note:

Nose: Citrus-forward, with gingerbread and cinnamon in support.

Palate: Fried banana, brown sugar, powerful barley notes driving it all along.

Finish: Lasting hints of peppery malt and vanilla custard.

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5 minutes with Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the…

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the gin boom will end.

Oh you know, those two funny bearded chaps off the telly. No, not the Hairy Bikers, we’re talking about the drinks people from Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. If you’re even slightly interested in booze, you will more than likely be familiar with Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison aka World’s Best Spirits. As well as Sunday Brunch, they give talks and masterclasses, contribute to magazines, websites and newspapers, write books and still have time to attend every spirits tasting in Britain. How do they do it? They must be the hardest working men in the drinks business. 

Their latest book, The World Atlas of Gin, (amazingly Ridley had the time to contribute to another book this year) is a magnificent and thorough guide to a drink that is now truly global in scope. It’s a part of the Mitchell Beazley World Atlas series, anyone familiar with these books will know how what gorgeous objects they are. Without further ado, let’s hear from the toothsome twosome themselves. 

World Atlas of Gin

Harrison & Ridley in action

Master of Malt: What did you do before you became drinks writers?

Harrison & Ridley: We both worked in the music business, as A&R Executives (discovering new talent, signing it and making records) which was an incredible job to do at the time. Neil worked for Warner Brothers and Joel was at Island Records. We both and some amazing artists on the roster at the time such as Muse and Amy Winehouse respectively. We got to see a lot of amazing new talent coming up, but also a lot of rubbish music too!

MoM: How did you become drinks writers?

H&R: We started a blog in 2007, which was one of the very first whisky-focused websites, to document all the drams we were enjoying at the time, and to take an irreverent look at what was at the time quite a serious ‘leather armchair’ product. From that we were asked to write for various magazines and newspapers, and in 2015 our debut book, Distilled was released. It won the Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Drinks Book of the Year and is now the biggest selling book on pan-spirits globally, being translated into 15 languages along the way. We have similar hopes for The World Atlas of Gin, our third book together.

MoM: How did you meet? Was it love at first sight?

H&R: Funny story. Joel was going on holiday to Islay to visit some distilleries. At the back of a gig we got talking about it and shared our love of whisky. We ended up missing the gig, after heading to the bar for a dram or two. . . and the band was the Kaiser Chiefs who went on to sell over a million records. We probably should have stayed for the gig…!

They can do serious too

MoM: Can you remember a certain drink, bottle or cocktail that started your drinks obsession?

H&R: I think it was different for both of us, but certainly the single malts from Islay were a major drive to our shared passion. We both loved them, but there was also a big mix of bottles across our shared collection, from rich Speyside, to light grain, to our beloved Islay malts.

MoM: How long did it take you to research The World Atlas of Gin?

H&R: We developed our writing from whisky into general spirits for our debut book Distilled, and this kicked off a love affair with a variety of spirits from Armagnac through to gin. However, whereas the word of Armagnac has stayed relatively stable, the world of gin has exploded, as a result it took about 18 months of research across all sections of the book, from the production, to the history, to the brands. And we only include brands who make their own product (no contract gins) so that was fun, sifting out those producers who actually make their own liquid.

MoM: How many countries did you visit for this book?

H&R: There are near 60 countries covered in the book and we have visited about 50 of them across our time writing about distilled drinks, much of which was for this book.

MoM: Did you notice certain regional or national styles?

H&R: Yes, the ’new world’ style of gin whereby, in countries such as the US, the base spirit can be slightly lower in abv, vs the EU. In the US it is 95% and in the EU 96%. The 1% doesn’t sound like much but it leaves in a lot of flavour and texture. Therefore, in the ’new world’ style gins, the base spirit is almost like an additional botanical and can add a huge amount of flavour influence.

MoM: What was the most unusual gin you tried?

H&R: I think the London-to-Lima is the most unusual and plays on the idea of a ’new world’ gin, bringing in base distilled from grapes, a la pisco and drawing on Peruvian expertise in that area.

The Nightcap

They love a Negroni, but then who doesn’t?

MoM: Do you have a go-to gin?

H&R: We love a number of different gins depending on the drink it is going in to. For a Negroni, a nice bold spicy style gin works well. For a Martini, something with a clean and crisp, citrus-led flavour. And for a G&T, we love something a little juniper heavy. If we had to choose one that does all well, it would likely be No. 3, a great all rounder.

MoM: Some people get very upset by pink and flavoured drinks. Where do you stand on this divisive issue? 

H&R: So long as there is a heart of juniper, we don’t mind them at all. They can act as a ‘gateway’ for people to get into the gin category and if helps people discover drinks like the Negroni and Gimlet, then brilliant. Warner’s Rhubarb Gin is a fine example of a properly-flavoured, well-made product in this field. It’s delicious.

MoM: What trends are we likely to see in gin (and indeed in other drinks) over the next two years?

H&R: We believe there will be no let up in the gin boom. In the UK we will see people drinking more and more local products, like they do with real ale. So long as gin brands focus on their local market, they’ll be fine. Not all will be world-dominating. Globally, gin will continue to grow as different consumers in different countries discover the gin and tonic (tonic in America, for example, has historically been awful but now with brands like Fever-Tree it is actually a quality product), made with a local gin, and of course amazing cocktails such as the Negroni, Gimlet, Gin Sour, Martini etc…!

MoM: What’s your favourite gin-based cocktail?

Harrison: Anything. But a Gimlet is one of my top drinks, and a more savoury-led Negroni made with a good vermouth and garnished with rosemary, 

Ridley: You can’t go wrong with a clean and crips Martini (such as the one at Dukes or the Connaught Hotel), with a citrus twist. Or indeed just the classic G&T with lots (and lots) of ice.

MoM: What have you got coming up next? Books? TV? World tour?

H&R: We have our regular slot on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch which comes around every 5-6 weeks or so, and we are working on the next book. That’s always the best part of writing any book… the liquid research… 

Behold, the World Atlas of Gin!

 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Snowball

It’s time to get out the shagpile rug, stick some Slade on the stereo and regret chucking out that avocado bathroom, because the most 1970s cocktail ever is back; it’s…

It’s time to get out the shagpile rug, stick some Slade on the stereo and regret chucking out that avocado bathroom, because the most 1970s cocktail ever is back; it’s the Snowball!

It’s a commonplace of TV chefs that Christmas isn’t Christmas without a certain something e.g. mince pies, clementines or family arguments. Well, there really was one drink which (in Britain at least) was synonymous with the holiday season, the Snowball, a mixture of advocaat and lemonade. And then it disappeared as everybody became sophisticated and switched to prosecco and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. That unloved bottle of advocaat sat at the back of the cupboard going crusty and unpleasant. By the time I could legally drink way back in the mid 90s, the Snowball was already something of a joke in popular culture. It was laughed about but never made. I have to admit that before I started writing this column, I had never tried a Snowball. I’d never even tried advocaat. And I call myself a drink writer. 

Snowball

Nothing says “It’s CHRISTMAS!!” like a Snowball

Advocaat is a traditional Dutch liqueur made from a mixture of egg yolks, vanilla, sugar and alcohol, (the leading brand, Warninks, is part of the mighty De Kuyper group). It’s essentially boozy custard and who doesn’t like boozy custard? The combination of eggs and booze is an ancient one. There are many old English recipes for drinks like possets and flips involving alcohol, spices, milk or cream and eggs. Some of these would have been heated with a red hot poker. An ale treated as such was said to be ‘nogged’ which is one possible derivation of the word eggnog. Though it might have come from England, the Americans really took to nogging in a big way. David A. Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks has a whole subchapter on ‘nogs’; there are many different kinds but all contain eggs, alcohol or some sort, milk and/or cream and sugar, lots and lots of sugar. So not that different to advocaat. Incidentally, the word probably comes from the Dutch for lawyer. 

Eggnog rather died out in the old country perhaps because we had the Snowball, which is thought to have been invented some time in the 1940s. It was in the ‘70s, however, that the Snowball reached its apotheosis only to become something of a national embarrassment. This might be because so many people of a certain age began their drinking experiences with an illicit Snowball or two. After all it is essentially boozy custard, much easier on a youthful palate than wine or beer.

But that was all a long time ago and a younger generation don’t have the same cocktail hang-ups. The Snowball is being upgraded for the 21st century. You can even buy it in cans now to make the last train home after the Christmas party even more fun. There are fancy versions available: Difford’s Guide lists a Snowball made with Champagne and fino sherry. 

But for my first Snowball I thought I thought should keep it trad. Though to be properly 1970s, I should have used R White’s Lemonade and omitted the lime juice. I don’t think I saw a lime in Britain until about 1991. And the result? Well, it’s absolutely delicious. In fact, Warninks advocaat neat is pretty damn tasty. Make sure you keep it refrigerated as people in the office have shared lurid stories of what happens to an open bottle of advocaat left in a warm cupboard. Think of the eggs, people.

Anyway, here’s the classic recipe. Best served with Noddy Holder-esque shout of: “It’s CHRISTMAS!!!!”

50ml Warninks Advocaat
25ml fresh lime juice
150ml lemonade

Shake the advocaat and lime juice in a shaker with ice, pour into an ice-filled highball glass, top up with lemonade and stir. Or you can serve it straight up in a coupe, just make sure you use chilled lemonade. 

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The fundamentals of five key whisky flavours

As whisky bars go, London’s Black Rock is pretty out there. The team filled a three-tonne tree trunk with whisky and installed it in the basement. They built a whisky…

As whisky bars go, London’s Black Rock is pretty out there. The team filled a three-tonne tree trunk with whisky and installed it in the basement. They built a whisky vending machine. Now, they’re fitting out London’s first whisky hotel for January 2020. Their mission? To make the liquid accessible to everybody. We talk flavour fundamentals with co-founder Matthew Hastings as the team fling open the doors to their brand new blending suite…

“Flavour is absolutely paramount to everything we do,” says Hastings, as he welcomes our group in Black Rock’s light and airy blending room. “It makes learning about whisky significantly easier than trying to learn about regions and different styles and exceptions to rules. It’s convoluted. Great if you’re really into whisky, but if you just want to enjoy a dram you don’t necessarily need to know all of that.”

Black Rock

Just some of the enormous range of whiskies to choose from Black Rock

As such, each bottle in Black Rock’s 250+ bottle library is grouped by flavour (rather than region) and labelled with the price, so you know how much a dram will set you back before you order. “We’re removing barriers to entry,” he continues. “No one wants to get stung. It might be that you can afford a £20 dram, but you might not have wanted to spend that on this occasion. Having to have that conversation is not hospitality.”

There’s also the brand spanking new blending suite, where you can blend your very own bottle of whisky so long as you book ahead. After a welcome drink comprising one of Black Rock’s signature whisky highballs – a Smokey Cokey in our case – you’ll delve into the origins of blended whisky and explore the team’s flavour-forward approach through a vertical single malt tasting comprising sweet, fruit, fragrant, spice and smoke.

“While we arrange by flavour, there are certain rules that tend to hold fast,” Hastings says, “so most of ‘smoke’ is still Islay whisky, most of ‘sweet’ is full of bourbon, most of ‘spice’ is full of rye. But there are obviously outliers. Bunnahabhain is an Islay whisky that’s never been peated in its life, there’s no smoke in it whatsoever.”

whisky blending at Black Rock

Young people love whisky blending

Advice worth remembering, because after you’ve soaked up as much knowledge as possible from Hastings and co, it’s time to blend your own 500ml bottle. And once you’ve settled on the exact specifications, the team will record the recipe on Black Rock’s blending room file so you can re-order it whenever you like.

Whatever your personal whisky preferences, it might help to know which part of the distilling process those notes emerge from. Here, Hastings runs you through the fundamentals of five flavour groups…

Sweet

Here you’ll mostly find grain whiskies, along with single malts that display lighter characteristics, says Hastings – for example Auchentoshan, which triple-distills. “You need a little bit of sweet because it helps carry flavours – even if you’re not after a particularly sweet dram, it just helps to mellow things. You need at least 1ml otherwise it’ll be a blended malt, and those have to be bottled in Scotland. The amount you use will change the intensity of the final spirit.”

Fragrance

The majority of the fragrant notes found in whisky come from the specific shapes and angles within the still, Hastings advises, which are unique to each distillery. “If you want to make a light, fragrant, floral-style whisky, you want to increase reflux – which is essentially the vapour falling back down into the still and distilling again – as much as possible,” he explains. “Generally, if you want a lighter whisky you’ll have relatively long stills because you’re making it travel further. Jura has the second tallest stills in Scotland and it produces a very light style of whisky.”

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Fruit

By contrast, there are a number of ways to introduce fruit flavours. “You’ve got pretty much the entire production process to play with,” says Hastings, “starting with the yeast strain and fermentation period. Generally, longer fermentations produce more tropical fruit flavours.”
More prominent, though, is the influence of cask ageing and finishing. “Different types of oak from different continents and regions will also produce different flavours,” he adds. “And then there’s the fill – a sherry cask will produce a radically different flavour to a Port cask. Different types of sherry, being the world’s most diverse wine, will produce different flavours on top of that. Whisky in fino will be fresh and apple-y, Pedro Ximenez will give raisins and chocolate.”

Spice

Spice tends to be produced either at the end of the distillation process – decreasing reflux means heavier, thicker flavours, which tend to be spicy – or in the casks, Hastings says. “Different casks can help develop those spicy flavours,” he says. “Casks that have had more than one fill tend to produce spicier qualities, because you’re getting past the initial sweet vanillins you see in newer wood and any residual liquid from a first fill sherry or a first-fill bourbon cask.”

Smoke

The peating process occurs right at the beginning of the process, when you’re essentially smoking the malted barley dry. The smokiness of a whisky is measured in ‘phenolic parts per million’ (known as PPM), which starts high and decreases rapidly throughout the rest of the distillation process. “You’ll lose some in the mashing stage, distillation loses a tonne depending on the type of stills, and then during maturation – especially in older whiskies – you’re constantly losing smoke,” Hastings explains.

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Christmas drinks trends with Edrington-Beam Suntory’s David Miles

The senior whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory joins us today to chat all things festive and fun in the world of drinks. What can we expect this Christmas in the…

The senior whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory joins us today to chat all things festive and fun in the world of drinks.

What can we expect this Christmas in the drinks industry? All kinds of merriment and mayhem are par for the course, but helping us to dig deeper and peek behind the curtain is David Miles. The former bar manager of 57 Jermyn Street, who also has experience setting up cocktail bars in Amsterdam, Mumbai, and Tel Aviv, is the senior whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory. As well as working with brands like The Macallan, Bowmore, Highland Park, Laphroaig, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam and Suntory, Miles’s role involves training, as well as predicting and interpreting trends in the drinks market.

Miles was generous enough to share some of that wisdom with us, even going as far to include a couple of serving suggestions to try out at home for those who want to keep things simple at this hectic time of year.

Christmas drinks trends

Say hello to David Miles!

The trend: an increase in demand for premium products

David says: “More and more the drinks industry is encouraging people to drink better rather than drink more. That’s a trend that will carry over into Christmas. It’s more profitable for brands if people drink more premium products so they are creating more premium products in the last few years and consumers are responding to this. It’s reflected in trends like the craft beer and gin booms, it’s reflected in the kind of glassware people use, it’s something you can see even in the rise of premium mixers. If you spoke to someone five years ago and said there would be six or seven tonics in a pub you’d get laughed out of town, but this is how the whole drinking experience has moved. Premiumisation is up across the board, it’s all about the drinking experience being as good as possible. At Christmas, this trend is amplified”.

The trend: a revamping of traditional Christmas drinks

David says: “Bartenders are using traditional drinks as a starting point now. We’re seeing more drinks emerge like the Spiced Negroni, where people are taking the spices they would have traditionally used for mulled wine, like cloves and star anise, and instead are infusing it with gin. That traditional Christmas flavour is being as a launchpad to create more interesting, experimental serves. Warm serves are also being modernised, so instead of mulled wine, people are beginning to favour things like Hot Toddys, which bartenders are reworking and reimagining. Maybe they’ll make one with rum or Cognac, but ultimately what they’re doing is opening up the possibilities for interesting flavours and unusual flavours to stand out from the crown a little bit”.

Christmas drinks trends

People are experimenting with traditional festive favourites like mulled wine

The trend: rum enjoying more of the spotlight

David says: “Building on the back of an explosion with gin, you can see a huge growth in the consumption of premium rum and the number of rums a bar offers. How rum is being drunk has shifted with serves like Rum Old Fashioneds, which showcase rum in a different light and demonstrate its increasing premium perception. It’s one of those options that consumers wouldn’t have gone for a few years ago but is now becoming more commonplace. There’s some great rum out there produced with true love and care and it’s good to see it be respected and treated like the great spirit that it is alongside the more traditional Christmas spirits”.  

The trend: whisky becoming more playful

David says: “The culture that you can only enjoy single malt with a little drop of water or neat is one that’s being challenged all the time. At this time of year, you’ll see it increasingly reflected in cocktail lists, where single malts are being used so much more and with real creativity and imagination. It makes whisky cocktails so attractive, which has the effect of enticing people who would usually shy away from whisky”.

Christmas drinks trends

Having fun with your go-to dram is an easy way to improve your Christmas spirit

The trend: the rise of low-to-no ABV

David says: “Low-to-no ABV drinks are going to be part of the story this Christmas. There are already success stories you can point to, look at the work Seedlip has done and its ‘NOgroni’. We think of this time of year as being one of indulgence, but if you’ve got a glut of Christmas parties and yet another night where you’re not quite as enthused as other people, then that sort of offering where you can temper how much you drink over the festive period will be in demand”.

The trend: increased investment in aesthetic

David says: “This is more of an off-trade trend, but having a standout appeal on a supermarket shelf or online really matters at this time of year. Brands will spend a lot of time and money trying to get it right. If you look at The Macallan, for example, the packaging is already so beautiful you almost wouldn’t want to wrap it. Across the board, this is really important, as statistics suggest that around a quarter of the drinks industry’s profits come at this time of year”. 

The trend: pubs and bars becoming more spirit-forward

David says: “Pubs and bars will be increasingly encouraging people to go for more spirit and mixers. Back bar displays are becoming more spirit-focused to encourage consumers to step that way. Spirits are vastly more profitable to any bar than a pint of lager or a glass of Pinot Grigio. You’ll see more and more at this time of year that there will be cocktail menus and drinks lists on the bar and on tables available to people that will have a written offering of all the different gins and tonics they serve, for example. You wouldn’t have seen as much of that a few years ago”.

Christmas drinks trends

Pubs and bars will get into the Christmas spirit in more ways than one!

Before we let Miles get back to being all senior and specialist in all things whisky, we asked him to suggest some cocktails that can be made simply at home this Christmas:

The White Lady/G&Tea

David says: “Classic gin cocktails will do well this Christmas. One to try would be The White Lady. It’s a three-ingredient cocktail (gin, triple sec and lemon juice) that you put the same amount of each in (25ml each, although you can double the gin measurement if you’re feeling frisky), so it’s super easy to make at home and it always got a great reception from the people I’ve served it to! Innovating around a Gin & Tonic is great as well. Swapping out half your measurement of tonic and replacing it with cold green or jasmine tea is a very interesting twist which is not hard to pull off. The same goes for substituting half of the tonic with soda. This dilutes the tonic side of the drink so you can notice more of the flavours from the botanicals”.

Christmas drinks trends

Simple but delicious serves like The Old Fashioned are an easy way to improve your Christmas drinks game

The Old Fashioned

David says: “It’s such a bartender’s drink, but it’s one you can make really easily at home. You don’t need sugar syrup, everyone has got sugar at home. Anybody who makes Champagne cocktails will have Angostura bitters, if not they’re available from every supermarket. We don’t need to go down the road of spending 10 minutes crafting the perfect serve, because, for the most part, it’s unnecessary. Stir down in a rocks glass, at home, with some premium whisky. It will improve the pleasure of your Christmas!”

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2019 Diageo Special Releases masterclass videos

Earlier this year when the sun was shining, we spent a very jolly day tasting through the 2019 Diageo Special Releases with brand ambassadors TJ Littlejohn and Colin Dunn, with…

Earlier this year when the sun was shining, we spent a very jolly day tasting through the 2019 Diageo Special Releases with brand ambassadors TJ Littlejohn and Colin Dunn, with the MoM film crew there to record everything for posterity.

The arrival of the Diageo Special Releases is one of the highlights of the whisky lover’s calendar. Every year we are knocked out by this series of rare and unusual single malts (and sometimes grains) from some of Scotland’s greatest distilleries. We think this year’s crop, titled ‘Rare by Nature’ and bottled at cask strength, tasted superb, but we have to admit that they tasted even better in the company of a couple of Diageo’s finest brand ambassadors. Newcomer TJ and veteran Colin Dunn have their own unique way of talking about whisky, and both really brought these expressions to life.

Diageo Special Releases 2019

The full line-up of the Diageo Special Releases 2019

 

Without any further ado, here are our 2019 Diageo Special Releases videos:

Cardhu 14 Years Old:

Cragganmore 12 Years Old:

Dalwhinnie 30 Years Old:

Lagavulin 8 Years Old:

Mortlach 26 Years Old:

Pittyvaich 29 Years Old:

The Singleton of Glen Ord 18 Years Old:

Talisker 15 Years Old:

 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Chairman’s Reserve 2005

This week we’re celebrating 20 years of the Chairman’s Reserve from Saint Lucia Distillers with the firm’s very first vintage bottling.  Chairman’s Reserve was created in 1999 by the late…

This week we’re celebrating 20 years of the Chairman’s Reserve from Saint Lucia Distillers with the firm’s very first vintage bottling. 

Chairman’s Reserve was created in 1999 by the late Laurie Barnard, the chairman and head distiller at Saint Lucia Distillers. It’s a blend of pot and column-distilled spirits, aged longer to produce a richer, smoother and distinctly upmarket drop to be enjoyed by chairmen, chairwomen or just anyone who enjoys sitting behind a big desk with their feet up. Barnard died in 2012, ending the association of the Barnard family with rum on the island that dated back to the 1930s. The family had been there even longer, growing sugar cane since the 1820s. But by the 1970s, it was no longer profitable to grow sugar on Saint Lucia since the lucrative European market had switched to its own protected sugar beet crops. 

With sugar cane growing on the island in crisis, the two surviving distilleries on the island, Dennery on the Barnard family plantation, and the distillery near Roseau Bay owned by Geest, a Dutch company, merged in 1972 to form the Saint Lucia Distillery. All the equipment from Dennery moved to Roseau, now the only distillery on the island. It’s been an interesting journey since then with first Geest and then the Barnard family selling out and the company changing hands. Even more dramatically, in 2007 the distillery was partly burned by a fire started by arsonists. It was only fully rebuilt in 2009. Thankfully no rum was harmed though records dating back years were destroyed. Through these challenging times,  the quality of the rum never dipped no doubt helped by the steady hand of Laurie Barnard at the helm. 

Saint Lucia Distillers

The Roseau valley home of Saint Lucia Distillers

Laurie Barnard was succeeded as managing director by Margaret Monplaisir who used to work with him. The company was then bought in 2016 by Groupe Bernard Hayot, a Martinique-based group which has big plans. Speaking to the Spirits Business not long after the acquisition, Monplaisir commented: “Having recognised the quality of our rum, Groupe Bernard Hayot purchased the company with every intention to invest and take our rums global.”

With a mixture of three pot stills and a continuous still, the Saint Lucia Distillery makes everything from Bounty rums at the cheaper end to the seriously fancy Admiral Rodney range at the top. All the sugar can now comes from Guyana, though the company has begun planting sugar cane experimentally on the island but it has not reached commercial rum production. There are no age statements so the blender free to blend in young rums for vibrancy with older ones for richness.

This latest Chairman’s Reserve (available to buy here) then, is something of a departure. It’s a blend of two rums from a single year, 2005, one from a John Dore pot still and one from a Coffey still. The spirits were aged separately for four years before they were vatted together and aged for another 10 years. Only 340 bottles have been produced. A rare rum like this is unlikely to hand about long. We were excited to learn, however, that this 2005 vintage is just the start; Michael Speakman, sales and marketing director at Saint Lucia Distillers, told us: “We can certainly pledge that this is the first of many single vintages and rare releases to come in the future under the Chairman’s Reserve label”. What this space!

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Spiced plum, dried apricot, rum and raisin ice cream supported by lots of baking spice, tobacco and dark treacle.

 

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#WhiskySanta’s Fettercairn 40 Year Old Super Wish

It’s Monday and it’s December, which can only mean one thing. #WhiskySanta’s back with another marvellous, mouth-watering Super Wish! Ho, ho, ho! Isn’t time flying, my drinks-loving chums? Somehow it’s…

It’s Monday and it’s December, which can only mean one thing. #WhiskySanta’s back with another marvellous, mouth-watering Super Wish!

Ho, ho, ho! Isn’t time flying, my drinks-loving chums? Somehow it’s 9th December already, my reindeer are limbering up for the Big Flight to come, and I’ve already given away Santa sack after Santa sack of the finest spirits known to humankind, at the Master of Malt check out, and of course, I’ve granted tons of your wishes on social media. If you’ve been truly good this year, of course. And that’s not all. I’ve gifted three magnificent Super Wishes already!

And why stop there? There might only be 16 days until Christmas, but that’s a lot of time for everyone’s supernatural, omniscient, festive and heavily-bearded being. So keep wishing! And this week, if you’ve got a hankering for decades-old, delightfully textured and captivatingly complex stuff you can wish for…

… the fabulous Fettercairn 40 Year Old!

It’s Fettercairn 40 Year Old, #WhiskySanta’s next Super Wish!

I’m almost not ok with giving this one away. It’s sold out, highly sought-after, and worth a mammoth £3,093! It’s the very last bottle at MoM Towers, and if my chums here won’t let me keep hold of it to sip and savour after that aforementioned Big Flight, then I suppose it’s only right that it goes to one of you lovely lot. But you’ll have to wish for it!

Flavour-wise, it’s an absolute treat (MoM’s Kristy tasted it herself when Fettercairn released its new core range in 2018). If you’re not in the know, Fettercairn has become a little bit of a cult malt. To bring you up to speed, it’s a sister distillery to Dalmore and Jura, so there’s a load of history and expertise behind the whisky-making (its stills, with the striking cooling rings, are pretty cool too). But back to the flavour. It’s ex-bourbon matured, Apostoles sherry-finished (for a whopping five years) so there’s nuttiness galore, bitter dark chocolate, nutmeg spice, and delicious, leathery rancio notes. There’s a reason I’d like to keep this one for my #WhiskySanta stash…

But enough of that. If you want to get your wintery mittens on this really rather special bottle, then head on over to the Fettercairn 40 Year Old product page with haste. Hit the ‘Wish’ button, which will automagically produce a box with a pre-populated Twitter or Facebook post. Hit publish and voila! (If Instagram is your platform of choice you can wish there too, just be sure to use the #WhiskySanta hashtag. Or those non-omniscient folks at MoM just won’t see it. I pity them. And you, because your wish won’t count!). 

You have until the end of Thursday to get your wishes in. Then let the granting commence! #WhiskySanta out, for now…

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The Nightcap: 6 December

The countdown is on. It’s December and there are only so few editions of The Nightcap left for 2019 – let’s enjoy them! December has arrived, and while some people…

The countdown is on. It’s December and there are only so few editions of The Nightcap left for 2019 – let’s enjoy them!

December has arrived, and while some people are counting down to Christmas, other people are counting down to something completely different, though the event occurs on the same day. I am of course talking about Roast Potatocalypse. The day roast potatoes fear the most. So eagerly I await the day, but to pass the time, let us indulge in another edition of The Nightcap!

Over on the blog #WhiskySanta was feeling particularly festive as he made Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old his Super Wish this week, while we began to tuck into our Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. Check out each day (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5) to see which delightful dram hid behind each window and for a fabulous Q&A with a key figure at the distillery. Elsewhere, we announced the winner of our Jarrod Dickenson competition and revealed what Dram Club members can expect from December, before Adam cast a spotlight on Ron Izalco. Henry, meanwhile, got stuck into some of 2019’s best drink books and an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer for our New Arrival of the Week as Annie Hayes hung out with Sir Ranulph Fiennes to talk rum, as you do, and still found time to enjoy a Hard Seltzer.

Now let’s press on, the Nightcap awaits!

The Nightcap

Richard Paterson created the impressive bottling from two ex-sherry casks filled in 1951!

The Dalmore unveils rare 60 Year Old single malt Scotch whisky

There is only one way to celebrate 180 years of creating delicious whiskies, with a limited-edition pink gin. Just kidding. The Dalmore has marked the occasion by releasing a spectacular 60-year-old single malt whisky. The Dalmore 60 Year Old was created by master distiller Richard Paterson, who reunited two extremely rare ex-sherry casks from six decades ago which were first filled with spirit first distilled on 7th June 1951. The two twin casks were the last of the Mackenzie era when the Mackenzie clan owned the distillery, which ended in 1988 when Colonel Hector ‘HAC’ Mackenzie passed away. Under their stewardship, The Dalmore established long-standing relationships with suppliers to source casks that remain to this day and took the decision to adorn each decanter with the distinctive Royal stag. “Over the course of the past 180 years, The Dalmore has constantly strived for perfection, setting the standards for many other whisky makers today. The Dalmore 60 Year Old is a fitting tribute to the masterful talents of our distillers past and present, who have all helped to create an incredible body of work,” said Paterson. “For me personally, nurturing and caring for these two casks has been a true labour of love. The reunion of the two spirits has produced an unforgettable whisky that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.” The Dalmore 60 Years Old is limited to just three decanters, which will be unveiled at an exclusive celebration at The Dalmore’s Highland home, before embarking on a global tour to Shanghai, Los Angeles, Taipei, and London. Further details will be announced in due course, which you can find on the Dalmore website.

The Nightcap

The Times Series 52 Year Old Single Cask Finish

Royal Salute launches The Times Series 52 Year Old Single Cask Finish

Royal Salute and insanely old whisky fanatics, hold onto your hats. “Amplified and way more luxurious than anything before,” is how master blender Sandy Hyslop introduced the brand new Royal Salute expression, The Times Series 52 Year Old Single Cask Finish. This has been a labour of love and immense skill, periodically sampled every 18 months. At 38 years old, Hyslop decided not to bottle the whisky, oh no. He decided it was time to move it to another cask to be finished for 14 more years in American oak. “I desperately didn’t want the cask influence to be too much here,” Hyslop tells us. You’d be forgiven for thinking that over five decades in oak would result in a dry and woody whisky, but this is anything but. It dances between sweet and spicy, with the hallmark Royal Salute syrupy pear notes in there too. When we headed to a mysterious clock tower in St. Pancras to try it (Time Series, clock tower… we see what you did there Royal Salute), we were the only group outside Hyslop and his blending team to try have tasted the liquid in its finished form, which is pretty mind-boggling. Enough of that, we’re sure you’re eager to know how it tastes. The nose is sweet, thick and juicy, with plums, dark chocolate, ginger, cinnamon. The palate is mouth-coating to another level, revealing sweet liquorice, pears in syrup, orange marmalade and candied ginger, with a finish which goes on for almost as long as the whisky was aged itself! Of course, the spectacular whisky is presented with in an individually-numbered hand-blown Dartington Crystal decanter, alongside a stunning box featuring five layers of wood, each representing a decade of the blend. Whisky collectors, this one’s for you. There’s only 106 bottles, and if you have a spare $30,000 burning a hole in your bank account, we’d thoroughly suggest trying it.

The Nightcap

Wright Brothers gin, worth shelling out for

Wright Brothers launch Half Shell Gin

When sustainability and delicious boozes come together, it makes us very happy here at MoM Towers. So, when we were invited to try the new Half Shell Gin from Wright Brothers, made with reused oyster shells from the London-based restaurant group, we jumped at the chance, hook, line and sinker! To create the spirit, Wright Brothers partnered with The Ginstitute distillery of West London, using the thousands of oyster shells which the restaurant goes through each year. “We use Carlingford oyster shells, which are cold-macerated in neutral spirit and then distilled,” says Ivan Ruiz, Wright Brothers beverage manager. “We then add a percentage of the distillation to the gin. The oyster-shell taste is then balanced with a kelp seaweed, and other ingredients like juniper and Amalfi lemon. The result is a savoury gin with high mineral notes and a pink pepper finish.” We can absolutely vouch for that, it was thoroughly delicious. The outstanding seafood was accompanied by a G&T and a Martini, both showcasing Half Shell Gin. The Martini is an absolute winner, slightly savoury, well-balanced and exceptionally smooth. Visually, it’s an absolute joy, and seeing hundreds of oysters served up while we were sitting at the bar sipping on the very gin made from the shells is pretty cool. “We’d thought about creating our own wine, but we feel gin, especially this gin, reflects both our restaurants and the city we call home,” says Robin Hancock, co-founder of Wright Brothers. You can grab a bottle of your own at Wright Brothers restaurants, or choose to sip it in their wonderful cocktails.

The Nightcap

Congratulations, guys!

Irish Distillers takes home the World Whiskey Producer of the Year trophy

It’s fair to say Irish Distillers had a good time at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London last week. It scored the highest number of medals across its portfolio of Irish whiskeys throughout the 2019 awards season, beating distillers from Japan, Ireland and the USA. Midleton Distillery claimed 24 award wins, including the Worldwide Whiskey Trophy for Redbreast 12 Year Old, while there was gold medals for the Powers Three Swallows release, Powers John’s Lane 12 Year Old, Redbreast 15 Year Old and Red Spot 15 Year Old. Jameson Cooper’s Croze and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy also scored 98 points out of 100, as Irish Distillers ended the evening with the most Gold Outstanding honours within the Irish whiskey category. But above all that, the Irish whiskey producers were given the prestigious title of World Whiskey Producer of the Year. “We are honoured to be recognised as World Whiskey Producer of the Year by one of the most respected awards bodies, and to see such outstanding results across the portfolio,” said Tommy Keane, production director at Irish Distillers. “This trophy is a tribute to the incredibly hard-working passionate and skilled craftsmen and women at Midleton – 2019 has truly been a landmark year for Irish Distillers.”

The Nightcap

Now that’s what we call an immersive floral installation

St. Germain at Heddon Street Kitchen

We know that it’s dark and cold, but one of the best things about winter is all the awesome festive pop-ups! The latest one we popped along to was St-Germain’s Winter Bloom Experience at Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen. The immersive floral installation is golden, shiny and full of fairy lights and all things elderflower. We were told that the semi-dried flowers even have to be touched up every couple of weeks, which is more attention than we give our house plants. Each of the four serves has a suggested food pairing, created in collaboration with the team at Heddon Street Kitchen. Our personal favourites were the cockle-warming Cidre Chaud (St. Germain, Calvados, cider, star anise and lemon) and the light, refreshing Winter Spritz (St. Germain, Prosecco and soda). If you love elderflower like nothing else, this is the spot for you, though serves like Le Grand Fizz (St. Germain, Grey Goose vodka, lime and soda) aren’t overwhelmingly floral if you’re not mad for it. You’ll find the cosy floral hideaway at the restaurant all throughout the month of December. Perhaps a spot to keep in mind to treat yourself to a post-Oxford Street Christmas shopping session. 

The Nightcap

Responsible and festive, you don’t often pair those two together!

Beer brewed with recycled Christmas Tree needles launched

Being both sustainable and festive isn’t easy, but Lowlander Beer has managed with a Winter IPA brewed with recycled Christmas tree spruce needles. Part of the zero-waste ‘From Tree to Tipple’ campaign from the award-winning Netherlands Botanical Brewery, The Winter IPA is the result of last year’s initiative which collected unwanted Christmas trees to turn into beer. This year the brand has gone one further and made its Christmassy creation available to purchase as a gift pack from Not On The High Street and from other retailers throughout December. The profile of the beer isn’t dark and heavy as you would suspect from a wintery beer, but instead, it’s a light, refreshing White IPA brewed with juniper berries alongside the unconventional spruce needles. Expect a piney aroma alongside the hoppy & light citrus character. Over six hundred kilos of needles were needed to produce the 2019 batch of Winter IPA. Although only the needles were needed to brew Lowlander’s Winter IPA, the brewery reused every piece of the donated trees in limited-edition products, including bottles of a new creation: Lowlander Botanical Brut, a limited-edition sparkling beer made with spruce and Champagne-inspired Riesling yeast, available in the UK from 2020. Commenting on the release, chief botanical officer Frederik Kampman said, “Every December, about 2.5 million real trees bring Christmas spirit into our homes. By New Year, most of these end up in the chipper, on bonfires or piled at the roadside. We have found another use for them: in beer.” 

The Nightcap

The lovely, lovely Brora whisky on offer made us excited for the silent distillery’s future

Brora ramps up 200th-anniversary celebrations

What a year it’s been for silent Highland Scotch whisky distillery Brora. The momentum first got going back in 2017 when parent company Diageo announced it was going to reopen both Brora and Port Ellen, the iconic distillery over on Islay. Then, in August this year, we got word of a very special 40-year-old expression, developed to commemorate Brora’s 200th birthday (more on this shortly). And just last month, the distillery’s historic stills were whisked away for refurbishment – bringing that all-important reawakening a significant step closer. So when we were invited to a dinner earlier this week to celebrate it all, we just had to be there. Also in attendance were senior archivist, Jo McKerchar, and the Brora master distiller to be, Stewart Bowman. We looked at plans for the restored site (pop September 2020 in the diaries, folks), historical documents from the old distillery, and basically, had a thoroughly lovely time (and yes, we did get to taste that 40 year old – it’s rounded, and elegant, and like the robust smokiness of Brora but dressed up in a black-tie gown or tuxedo. We liked. A lot.). 2019 shall forever be known as the Year of Brora – until 2020 comes around and the closed distillery reawakens from its slumber. Bring it on!

The Nightcap

The biodegradable drinking straw is made from up-cycled agave

Jose Cuervo unveils ‘sustainable’ agave straws

We all now know plastic is the scourge of the earth (all hail David Attenborough), and that single-use bits and bobs are now about as welcome as the common cold. But sometimes straws are just, well, needed. Step forward Tequila brand Jose Cuervo, with has teamed up with scientists at BioSolutions Mexico and production types at Mexico-based PENKA to create agave-based straws! They’re made from upcycled agave fibres (the raw material in Tequila and mezcal) and are biodegradable. More than a million of them will be sent out across the US and Mexico in 2020. “The past, present, and future of Jose Cuervo is tied directly to the agave plant – without it, we would not exist,” said Alex Coronado, Cuervo’s master distiller and head of operations. “As the Tequila industry worldwide booms, it is our company’s responsibility as the leader to take care of the agave plant and ensure that we are producing tequila sustainably. It takes an average of six years to grow an agave plant before it is mature enough to harvest for Tequila production, and we have to be committed to finding more ways to use the agave fibres once that process is complete. The debut of our biodegradable, agave-based drinking straws is a new step in utilising the full potential of this very special Mexican agricultural product.” Now, agave is far from the most sustainable raw material for spirits (think: monocrop issues and all the energy requirements for all that processing), but it certainly seems like a mammoth step in the right direction. Good riddance, plastic!

The Nightcap

Head winemaker at Graham’s Charles Symington

Graham’s releases 1940 tawny Port

Now you have the chance to taste a little bit of history as Port house Graham’s, part of the Symington group, has announced the release of single harvest tawny from 1940, a blend of two exceptional casks. Wine from this period are extremely rare not just because of their great age but because with Port’s principal markets at war, very little was made.  Head winemaker at Graham’s Charles Symington commented: “It’s not often we have the privilege of releasing a wine that is eight decades old and bears such unique historical significance. The 1940 Single Harvest really is remarkably refined and balanced, offering a reflection not only of the quality of the original wine but the skilled care and attention it received from our forebears.” Yours for around £800. Interest in old single harvest tawny Ports (aged in barrel as opposed to vintage Ports that are aged in bottle) has been increasing in recent years. The 1940 is the final part of Graham’s Cellar Master’s Trilogy of old tawnies, joining the 1994 and 1963. It’s old but not as old as the special 90 year old tawny the company released in 2016, a blend of three years 1912 , 1924 and 1935, released to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.

The Nightcap

Keep your gin safe with an Edinburgh Gin Safe

And finally. . . protect your precious boozes with the Edinburgh Gin Safe

Tired of flatmates or relatives pilfering your favourite gin? Well, the boffins at Edinburgh Gin have come up with the answer: a gin safe. Available directly from the distiller, your safe consists of a clear box containing a full bottle of gin with the contents safely secured with a padlock. The only way to open it is to solve a cryptic puzzle which will reveal the combination for the lock. Neil Mowat, UK marketing director of Edinburgh Gin, commented: “Given Christmas is the most wonder-filled time of the year, we wanted to bring some of our own distinctive magic to the concept of gift wrapping with our gin safes. Designed with the ultimate gin fan in mind, they’ll be able to see the reward that’s waiting for them, but they’ll need to have a little fun first to unlock the wonder within.” All great fun but we can see a problem that owners might forget the code after too much eggnog. . . or perhaps that’s the point. 

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