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Master of Malt Blog

Return to the Copper Rivet Distillery

There’s been so much going on at the Copper Rivet Distillery since we last visited in 2018: the release of a single malt, a column malt and the opening of…

There’s been so much going on at the Copper Rivet Distillery since we last visited in 2018: the release of a single malt, a column malt and the opening of a fancy new restaurant. But that’s not all! There’s a grain whisky coming soon too. We took a trip to Chatham to find out more.

Distilleries often come with spectacular views but on a sunny day, it’s hard to think of a better one than Chatham’s Copper Rivet Distillery and its surroundings. It’s housed in a beautifully restored Victorian Italianate pumping station on the River Medway with boats sailing by, and historic Rochester with its castle and cathedral across the way. 

If it was in Sydney or Porto, there would be hoards of Instagrammers trying to get the perfect shot but because it’s in a rundown bit of Kent, nobody bats an eyelid. 

We visited back in 2018 but since then the team has released two single malts whiskies, a column and a pot still, and opened a restaurant overlooking the river. Plus there were rumours of an exciting new whisky which might be released in time for Christmas. How could we resist another invitation?

Copper Rivet Distillery

They built some beautiful things did the Victorians

Steeped in alcohol 

As distiller Abhi Banik was on holiday we were shown around by his number two, Aaron Fayose, a former engineering student from the University of Greenwich, and Bob Russell from the family who founded the distillery.

The Russell family have been, as Bob put it, “steeped in alcohol since the 1980s.” The business began with a wine bar in Rainham progressed to a group of off-licenses, and then supplying boozy gift packs to supermarkets and department stores.

But they always wanted to create their very own drinks brand. Eventually, after much searching, they found the perfect site for a distillery, the old pumping station in Chatham Dockyard. They needed a building with a high roof as they had to have space for a column to make their own neutral alcohol – something very rare among gin distillers. 

They bought the derelict building in Chatham dockyards in 2015. It was first used to pump water in and out of dry docks, the giant cast iron pump is still in place, and then later as a training venue for the sailors. The town’s economy had for 400 years been built around the ships, and it suffered greatly when the Royal Navy pulled out in 1984.

Much of the dockyard’s infrastructure was left to decay. There was no gas, electricity or water when they were allowed in the pump house in November 2015, and according to Russell, what is now the car park was a quagmire. They managed to get it operational by October 2016, ready for the official opening by Princess Anne in December 2017. It is named the Copper Rivet Distillery as a tribute to the town’s rich shipbuilding heritage. 

The Banik still

Photo of a man taking a photo, with Banik still in the background

The Banik still

The Russell family, Bob and his sons Stephen and Matthew, put their dream in the hands of Abhishek Banik, a young Indian distiller who graduated from and was teaching at Heriot Watt in Edinburgh.

He designed the entire set-up from scratch and it was built using local engineering works. According to Russell, there’s still a lot of skills around from when Chatham was the dockyard to the Navy. 

At Copper Rivet, there’s a single pot still, a 40 plate column still and a very special gin still which recently received a patent. Called a Banik still after its inventor, it can macerate heavier botanicals and infuse lighter botanicals at the same time, while protecting the more delicate ones from the heat source.

Bananas all the way

One entering the still room, the first thing I could smell was a distinct banana note from the wort. It’s a flavour that carries through into Copper Rivet’s final products. 

The gin, vodka and grain whisky are all made from a mixture of 40% wheat, 25% malted barley, 25% barley 10% rye. All the grain comes from one farm on the nearby Isle of Sheppey.

On our last visit, Banik told us that at the mashing stage, the aim is to create a clear wort for a fruitier new make. This is then fermented slowly, over the course of about seven days, using two different yeast strains. In order to make sure it happens slowly, Banik uses about half the normal amount of yeast.

This multi-grain wash then goes through a pot still followed by the column where it comes off as neutral alcohol at 96% ABV. I say neutral but when you taste the spirit diluted in the form of Vela Vodka, there’s no shortage of flavour: that banana note, a creamy mouthfeel and a hit of rye on the finish. Bring on the Baltic snacks! No wonder it won double gold in the San Francisco Spirits Competition.

You can taste the sheer quality of the spirit in Dockyard Gin, a beautifully balanced citrus-led classic dry gin. We also tried a strawberry gin, made by macerating Kentish strawberries in Dockyard for around 10 days – and that’s it. No flavours or colouring. With its subtle yet pronounced taste of fresh strawberries, I can imagine it would work wonders bolstering a Pimm’s and lemonade.

Masthouse whiskies

The two Masthouse whiskies with Bob Russell in the background

Whisky business

Most excitingly, since our last visit, Copper Rivet has released two Masthouse single malt whiskies, a pot still and a column. Both are made from Isle of Sheppey barley, malted at Muntons in East Anglia. The Russell family has issued something called the Invicta charter, a set of rules for how whisky should be made and labelled. 

The main points are that grains have to come from within 50 miles of the distillery, all operations after malting but including fermentation must take place under one roof and it includes a system for labelling whisky that is clear to the consumer stating the grains and type of still used.

The same slow-fermented malted barley wash is the basis for both single malts. Following distillation in a column or pot, they are aged predominantly in ex-bourbon casks with some virgin American oak. The ageing is interesting, with all casks spending one year in the distillery where it gets very hot in the summer, up to 40 degrees Celsius, but goes down to 6 degrees in the winter. So not dissimilar to bourbon ageing. They then send the casks to a temperature-controlled bonded warehouse in Liverpool. So far they have filled around 600 barrels.

Bob Russell told me that an unnamed Scots distiller had said that the three-year-old Masthouse malts had the maturity and balance of eight-year-old Scotch whiskies. 

Tasting Masthouse whiskies

This focus on quality and precision every step of the way has really paid off. You can read what I thought of the pot still malt here in detail. To summarise, I’d say it was about the best young single malt I’ve ever tried: fruity, harmonious, packed with flavour but not overworked, the use of oak is just perfect. Banik has avoided the two pitfalls of young malts: trying to get too much flavour in from different cask types and making the resulting whisky rather hard work, or just creating something pleasant but a bit bland.

Both are bottled at 45% ABV (there is also a cask strength pot still which I didn’t try) but the column tastes noticeably different. There’s less oak on the nose with oaty cereal, spicy rye and lots of fruit such as peaches, and oranges. When you taste it, the body is lighter, you don’t get the rich mouthfeel and it is a little spirity. Perhaps not as harmonious as the pot still but then flavours of toffee and caramel come in at the end, with a long lingering sweet finish. It’ll make a great Highball. 

Coming soon…

Finally, Fayose had a treat for us, a cask sample of the forthcoming single grain whisky. This comes off the column at a lower ABV than the neutral grain, Russell said around 80%, before going into cask. There’s that banana note on the nose, custard, baking spices and tropical fruit with no raw spirit notes. Then in the mouth, it’s spice city with chilli, black pepper and a feel like popping candy on the finish. Masses of character –  this will be a killer mixing whisky. I think bartenders will love it.

Russell also mentioned, tantalisingly, Banik has been over to Jerez to source some sherry casks from a small producer. Nothing has been filled yet but the thought of a sherry cask Masthouse is extremely exciting. I’d love to see a blended whisky when they have enough casks filled. Wouldn’t that be great?

Skate wing at Copper Rivet Distillery

Skate wing at Copper Rivet Distillery, with THAT view behind

Appreciating that view

Following the tasting, Russell took us through to the terrace overlooking the river. During the lockdown, the team turned this part of the distillery into a restaurant and tapas bar called the Pumproom. The original cast iron pump is still there, in the wine store. They’ve hired chef Will Freeman who makes full use of Kent’s great produce. Bob Russell is a big seafood fan.

I had some beautifully-seared scallops served with cured trout, followed by a minute steak with chips. All around, people were enjoying the food, drinks and that incredible view. Chatham becoming a tourist destination? Why not?

The Copper Rivet is available from Master of Malt.

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Unconventional cocktails for National Tequila Day

Día Nacional del Tequila (or National Tequila Day) is on Saturday 24 July and there’s no better way to celebrate than with Tequila-based cocktails. But why go conventional when you…

Día Nacional del Tequila (or National Tequila Day) is on Saturday 24 July and there’s no better way to celebrate than with Tequila-based cocktails. But why go conventional when you can seriously mix things up and make some unique serves?

National Tequila Day is a brilliant opportunity to celebrate one of Mexico’s finest exports (the other being mezcal. Well, any agave-based spirits. Also all the food. Actually, Mexico has loads of amazing things. I’m not going to list them all). Booze made from agave is really having a deserved moment in the sun in recent years so now is the perfect time to embrace this wonderful, diverse, and interesting world.

Part of which entails broadening your horizons and trying something new. You see, perceptions of Tequila have evolved past the previous mistaken understanding of it being purely a shot-fodder party spirit. This is a cultural, sophisticated, and magnificent spirit that you can sip neat or enjoy in classic cocktails. 

Or, cocktails that aren’t so classic. Serves you might associate with other spirits or bespoke creations from elite bartenders. Ever had a Tequila-based Negroni or Old Fashioned? Well, you should. Because they’re fantastic.

But, stepping outside your comfort zone can be intimidating. Like the first time you tried olives or ventured onto the London Underground. So we’ve made it easier by giving you some cracking recipes to get started. 

Now, let’s get ready to raise a glass this National Tequila Day!

cocktails for National Tequila Day

Every Rose Has Its Thorn (a.k.a Love Potion)

An original creation by Juan Coronado for the exciting new Mijenta brand, this serve is a romantic short drink that pairs vermouth, bitters, and creme de cacao with Blanco Tequila to create a refreshing and rewarding, yet simple cocktail. 

50ml of Mijenta Tequila Blanco 

75ml of Lillet Blanc

50ml of Martini Bitter

25ml Bols Creme de Cacao (White)

Stir all ingredients with plenty of ice, strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with a rose petal.

cocktails for National Tequila Day

Storywood Train Line Collins 

The Collins is an easy but effective serve that has been a favourite in the gin world for some time. But it’s no bother at all to ditch the juniper in favour of a tasty Tequila twist on the classic, as this beauty from Scotland’s own Storywood (yes, you read that right) demonstrates.

50ml Storywood Añejo

10ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

10ml Maraschino Liqueur

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Soda water

Shake the lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and Storywood Tequila in a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Strain into an ice-filled Highball glass and top with soda water and add the bitters on the top. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and a Maraschino cherry.

cocktails for National Tequila Day

Mojito Blanco

Leave regular Mojitos in the past and create the ultimate summer refresher with this easy and tasty recipe from Tequila giant Don Julio. Fresh mint and lime, please. We’re doing this right.

45ml Don Julio Blanco 

30ml simple syrup

30ml lime juice 

8-10 Mint leaves

Soda water

Muddle fresh mint in a cocktail shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients except club soda. Pour into a highball glass filled with ice. Shake vigorously and pour into the glass. Top with soda water and garnish with a sprig of fresh peppermint.

cocktails for National Tequila Day

Patrón Añejo Old Fashioned

This simple Tequila Old Fashioned cocktail recipe is enhanced with sweet, oak-aged Patrón Añejo. Whisky isn’t the only spirit to shine in this serve. Feel free to experiment with your choice of bitters.

60ml Patrón Añejo

7.5ml simple syrup

A dash of Angostura Bitters

Over a double Old Fashioned glass, use a vegetable peeler to take off two strips of orange zest, making sure to express the oil into the glass. Add Patrón Añejo, simple syrup, and bitters. Add ice and stir. 

cocktails for National Tequila Day

VIVIR Negroni 

The classic Negroni cocktail is made with three balanced components: gin, Campari, and vermouth. But this simple formula can be customized to different tastes and the right Tequila will shine in this serve. Hence why we’ve used the outstanding VIVIR. For an added twist, garnish with a cucumber instead to bring out the vibrant fresh notes of the Tequila.

40ml VIVIR Blanco Tequila

30ml Campari

30ml Sweet Vermouth

Orange peel garnish

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with loads of ice then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

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Cocktail of the Week: Tommy’s Margarita

In the build-up to National Tequila Day (on Saturday) we’re enjoying a twist on a standard that originated from a small family restaurant and has gone on to become a fixture on…

In the build-up to National Tequila Day (on Saturday) we’re enjoying a twist on a standard that originated from a small family restaurant and has gone on to become a fixture on cocktail menus across the world. This week regular contributor Lucy is making Tommy’s Margarita.

The Tommy’s Margarita is an accidental modern classic, born out of a passion for Tequila and the boundless enthusiasm of the bar community. The drink essentially sees the triple sec in a Margarita replaced with agave nectar. But to get to know the Tommy’s Margarita, first you need to get to know Tommy’s.

Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco is one of my all-time favourite bars. The neighbourhood venue in the city’s Richmond district is a haven for Tequila fans, locals, football watchers, Mexican food lovers and anyone and everyone in between.

The actual bar area sits in a partitioned section along the side of the restaurant. If you’re lucky enough to get a stool up at the bar, don’t expect to move for the night. Instead, settle in for the Tequila journey of your life – and marvel at just how fast bartenders can squeeze limes.

This warm hug of a place is home to hundreds of Tequilas, a collection built up by highly respected Tequila expert – and one of the nicest people in the industry – Julio Bermejo. His parents, Tomas and Elmy, opened Tommy’s in 1965 and the family’s awesome approach to hospitality is a testament to the bar’s longevity.

Tommy's Margarita

Lucy, her husband Luke Ellis, and the legendary Julio (middle)

Creating Tommy’s Margarita

Today, Tommy’s is famous for its eponymous Margarita cocktail. A drink that is now enjoyed all over the world. “I never started to try and create a modern classic cocktail,” Bermejo says. In fact, several events formed the perfect storm.”

Bermejo talks about getting drunk on beer, rum and brandy at an early age and feeling horrible hangovers”, which eventually led him to try Tequila. He began learning more and more about TequilaHerradura Reposado specifically”, he says. At the same time, he mentions the introduction of agave fructose in Northern California, and a big one: “Making the decision to stop selling regular [mixto] Tequila in favour of 100% agave Tequila as our house pour, when 98% of US Tequila consumers only drank mixto.”

The move was ground-breaking. And it was motivated by Bermejo’s desire for his Margaritas to taste of Tequilanot the modifiers or triple sec. “What ended up happening as a by-product of no longer serving mixto, is I did away with the notion of ‘top shelf Tequila,” he explains. Then, as I began to stock more and more 100% agave Tequilas, I started making Margaritas with other Tequilas to demonstrate to guests how much of a difference replacing the Tequila made to the Margarita.

He says that for drinkers, the difference was “night and day”. His guests eventually found their favourite Margarita and their favourite 100% agave Tequila.

Tommy's Margarita

Tommy’s Margarita is all about showcasing quality Tequila, made entirely from agave

Spreading the love

Though the Tommy’s Margarita was born in San Francisco, Bermejo believes it was made on the international bar scene.

I think the real story is how it became so popular,” he says. For that, he gives credit to bar industry legend and Tequila expert Dre Masso and the late, great Henry Besant – who was a titan in the Tequila world – as well as the International Bartenders Association. They helped put Tommy’s Margarita on the map. And on the menu.

Tequila picks

When it comes to choosing a Tequila to make a Tommy’s Margarita with, I get the impression it’s like asking a person to pick a favourite child. Bermejo doesn’t name brands, but he offers some pretty solid advice all the same. I always say that if one wants a great Tommys, use a great Tequila. If one wants a bad Tommys, use crappy Tequila.Wise words.

He also says that because there are people, like him, who love Margaritas all day, the time and climatic conditions can greatly influence a choice. So, for example, if you live in London and you’re out at night and it is chilly, I would like a Tommy’s with more body and length,” he explains. “So, Tommy’s made with a reposado or even an añejo. If you are in Ibiza for summer, then you need a very bright and crisp Tommy’s, say one made with a great Highland blanco.”

Tommy's Margarita

Tommy’s Margarita: simple to make but so rewarding

Making a Tommy’s

The night we visited Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, we got chatting to a guy who turned out to be involved in American football. The Tequila flowed and Bermejo ensured we were very, very well educated when it came to understanding how different Tequilas influence the taste of a Tommy’s Margarita. So well educated, in fact, that I can’t remember which was my favourite. Or much about American football. So, here’s my home go-to Tequila brand in Bermejo’s modern classic…

60ml Olmeca Altos Plata

30ml freshly squeezed lime juice

15ml agave syrup

Salt the rim of your glass if you like. Then, shake all ingredients with ice and strain into your ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

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What to expect from: O’Shaughnessy Distillery

Whiskey fans are always excited about the arrival of a new distillery. But the opening of the doors at the O’Shaughnessy Distilling Company in August is more hotly anticipated than…

Whiskey fans are always excited about the arrival of a new distillery. But the opening of the doors at the O’Shaughnessy Distilling Company in August is more hotly anticipated than most. Why? We spoke to Irish whiskey legend and master distiller Brian Nation to find out.

“What you can expect from the O’Shaughnessy Distilling Company is innovation. Whiskies, and flavour profiles, that you may not have tasted before. I really feel that this is going to be a great success from a point of view of bringing whiskies to market that have not necessarily been seen before”. 

Most whiskey fans will know Brian Nation for the 23 years he spent at Irish Distillers, most notably as master distiller overseeing the production of Redbreast, Powers, Midleton and Jameson whiskey. There he established a reputation as a distiller who made whiskey to an exceptionally high standard and put his infectious personality to good use as an ambassador for these brands. But in 2020 it was announced that Nation was swapping, err… nations and heading to Minneapolis, the USA to join the O’Shaughnessey Distilling Company. It was a big shock in the whiskey world and the man himself recognises it’s a significant change.

“If you said a couple of years ago that I would leave Irish Distillers to work in a new distillery being built in Minneapolis I’d have said you were mad!” Nation says. “My family have never lived outside Cork. It’s a huge move. But when the founders reached out back in November 2019 they offered me an opportunity to be involved in building a brand from the ground up. It was a chance to develop a new distillery in a new country. And to both bring my expertise and my experience to American whiskey and add to it”. 

O'Shaughnessy Distillery

Brian Nation in his new American home

Making American whiskey in an Irish tradition

The chance O’Shaughnessy Distillery was giving Nation was to be involved at the inception of an intriguing and ambitious brand that aims to marry the best of Irish and American whiskey-making traditions. Founded by cousins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy, they came up with the idea of an American whiskey brand that would honour their Irish heritage after a family reunion. “They’re proud of their Irish-American background and thought ‘why not build a distillery in America that’s inspired by traditional Irish production methods and style. A home-away-from-home?’ What they have created is a distillery capable of producing whiskies with a DNA inspired by Irish single pot still as well as triple distillation in copper pot stills,” Nation says.

In order to achieve this lofty goal, the brand has made a number of high profile appointments, including hiring former Diageo executive Mike Duggan as CEO and David Perkins, the founder of High West Distillery. But it was the luring of Nation from the biggest Irish whiskey brand in the world that really made the whiskey-appreciating public stand up and pay attention. If you’re going to create American whiskey using traditional Irish processes, then there’s surely no better man for the job.

“I’m very fortunate when you consider the experience and the training that I got in my previous life. To be part of Irish Distillers was something that I was, and always will be, proud of,” Nation says. “There was pressure there and now there’s a different type of pressure here. But the way I look at it is it’s an exciting opportunity”. 

A range of different products are already planned, but we understand the brand’s flagship whiskies will be made from 100% American grains with a single pot still-influenced mash bill that includes malted and unmalted barley, which will be triple-distilled and the resulting spirit then matured in virgin American oak casks. “The whiskey should make for an interesting departure from the key American styles of bourbon and rye whiskey,” Nation says.

The distillery will also produce those more classic styles too, “some of which are in that pot distillation style and using the triple distillation process in order to maintain a consistent profile,” Nation explains. He adds: “The key is to get the correct balance of flavours from the distillate and enhance it with that lovely stronger wood contribution from the use of virgin American oak”. 

O'Shaughnessy Distillery

Three impressive copper pot stills is an unfamiliar sight in an American distillery

The O’Shaughnessy Distillery process

This means we should be seeing pretty unique whiskey flowing off the O’Shaughnessy stills. Column still distillation is more common in American whiskey and you’d be hard-pressed to find many brands using triple distillation. In order to retain flexibility, however, Nation had an input in the distillery’s construction, ensuring the pot stills were versatile enough to switch between triple and double distillation as he pleased.

There’s also a column still to produce more classic bourbon whiskey, as well as a dedicated gin still and a vodka still. The branding for both the distillery’s gin and vodka has already been teased and they will be called Guard & Gate and Tower Hill respectively.

Explaining the production process of O’Shaughnessy Distillery’s whiskies in full, Nation says “we start by bringing whole grains into different silos, which will then go through a four-roller mill into a grist case which will pneumatically send the grain over to our mash cooker. Then we mix our water and our grain into our mash cooker. For the column side, we will do our high-temperature cooking, while the batch or the pot still we will do different temperatures for our conversion as required by what we’re making in that run”.

He continues: “Currently, we have four fermenters, with the capacity to go to six. After fermentation, the liquid will go either to the column or the pot stills. We have three copper pot stills, a wash still, a feint still, and a spirit still for our triple distillation process. A five compartment vessel will take each of the intermediate products and our final distillate. Once we collect the heart of the distillate we will then reduce that down to casking strength and send it off into our barrels”. 

As far as the brand’s wood programme goes, right now all Nation can confirm is that the bulk of maturation will take place in virgin American barrels, with some refill barrels also being put to good use. He does add, “Who knows, over time we might start using some other seasoned oak barrels as well. There’s a great flexibility that we will have at the distillery, in relation to using different cereal types, using different yeast types, producing different distillate styles. I think we’ll develop a matrix of whiskies”.

Nation is also excited to experience a different maturation climate. “I’m actually looking forward to having this thing I believe are called ‘seasons’. We don’t really get those in Ireland. In Minneapolis, you have very cold winters and then you have lovely summers. It’s going to be interesting to see the impact that it has on maturation”. 

O'Shaughnessy Distillery

The upcoming Keeper’s Heart brand

Gin and vodka won’t be the only thing to occupy Nation while he waits for his innovative new whiskey to mature. O’Shaughnessy Distillery is going down the familiar route of launching a brand of whiskey made by blending various imported liquids to create a flavour that comes close to what they want the eventual O’Shaughnessy distillate to taste like. It’s called Keeper’s Heart and will launch this summer, with the Keeper’s Heart Cask Society, a members-only society, getting the first chance to get their hands on it. Other perks include behind-the-scenes access at the distillery, personal meetings with Brian Nation, as well as personalized bottles, tastings, and an official Key to the Keep. 

Keeper’s Heart Whiskey will very much set the tone for O’Shaughnessy Distillery. The upcoming blends will feature Irish pot still whiskey, Irish grain whiskey and rye whiskey, a combination I can’t recall ever seeing. It’s a challenge for Nation to get the balance right, but this is exactly the kind of thing he signed up for and he’s incredibly enthusiastic about how the team will make it work.

“Pot still whiskey can be robust with all the spice and fruit, but it has a lovely creamy mouthfeel. Grain whiskey is generally lighter in flavour but can take on more of the wood contribution, giving you a lot of vanilla sweetness, coupled with the fragrance and the floral flavours from the distillate itself. American Rye is a very vibrant whiskey with lots of spice. Putting the blend of those flavours together and getting right contributions of all of these aspects into one whiskey has been a magnificent learning curve,” Nation explains. “But it’s also setting the kind of marker for the types of flavour profiles that we’re trying to develop in our distillates going forward as well. It will be a good indicator of what’s to come. 

The distillery itself is an impressive sight. Multiple bar areas (one called the Potato Bar, which I just can’t get behind I’m afraid), private spaces for events, outdoor patio seating, and food service will be available. But the gleaming copper pot stills are the star of the show, a relatively uncommon sight in the States and the centerpiece of the extensive tours the distillery will run. Education about the mission to bring new flavour profiles and showcase American whiskey with an Irish slant using the traditional, quintessentially Irish method of triple-distillation and pot stills is very important to the brand, so the distillery was built with tours in mind.

One of the things that I have always been really interested in my whole career is education. Getting people to understand a little bit more about what goes into the craft of whisky-making. For us, it will be important to let people know what sets us apart and why that distillation and copper pot stills are so important. I would describe this as a unique selling point for us.” 

O'Shaughnessy Distillery

The doors open soon and some truly interesting whiskey will follow…

It’s clear speaking to Nation why The O’Shaughnessy Distillery is generating so much hype. It has the investment, ideals and personnel to create something truly interesting. And with Nation at the helm, it’s hard not to feel confident that the brand will attain its goal of creating unique whiskies that marry the best of Irish and American. Some purists might take issue. But Nation has no qualms himself. “I’m all for authenticity. For heritage. For tradition. But there’s no problem with actually marrying two traditions and cultures or taste profiles, as long as it’s done right. In such a way that you’re getting the best of both, with balance and complexity. What matters most is that you’re getting a good whiskey at the end”.

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What’s the T?: Using iced tea in cocktails

As the weather heats up, Millie Milliken takes a closer look at her favourite soft drink – the iced tea – and asks the experts how to incorporate it into…

As the weather heats up, Millie Milliken takes a closer look at her favourite soft drink – the iced tea – and asks the experts how to incorporate it into your cocktails.

Did you know that it wasn’t until 2012 that ‘iced tea’ appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary, along with other new entries such as ‘ice wine’, ‘bike courier’ and ‘Darwinic’? Neither did I, and yet long before then I’d enjoyed the cold tea beverage in Florida, Malaysia and all across Europe – in fact, I’d go as far as saying that when it comes to soft drinks and cocktail lengtheners, it’s my numero uno.

In Australia, they call it ‘sun tea’, leaving an infusion of tea and water in the sun to brew over time before chilling it down with ice. Some countries sweeten it, others don’t. In Thailand, they include condensed milk to make it creamy. And let’s all take a moment to hail bubble tea, an iced milk tea traditionally served with tapioca pearls that originated from Taiwan.

Despite its surprisingly recent acceptance into official English parlance, the iced tea dates back to as early as the 1700s, where English and American cookbooks feature cold green tea in boozy tea punches. According to Revolution Tea, one such version was the 19th-century Regent’s Punch named, of course, after George IV.

Fast forward to today and bars across London and beyond and the appetite for using iced tea in cocktails seems to be mounting. From whisky specialist Milroy’s using it in one of its pre-batched cocktails, to a signature serve at Black Rock; a mezcal serve at Silver Linings and a peachy number at FAM Bar, fans of iced brews have never had it better.

iced tea

The iced tea has more boozy applications than you might think

Time for a brew

Perhaps iced tea’s most traditional guise is that of the sweetened cold black tea, most associated with the southern states of the USA. One of the earliest recipes for this iteration – and one that originated outside of the southern States – was from Mrs Mary Lincoln, the head of the Boston Cooking School in 1884. Her recipe called for cold black tea to be poured over cracked ice, lemon and two sugar cubes.

Methods of making iced tea have somewhat evolved since then. I started making iced tea for David Chang at Momofuku, we’re talking 12 to 15 years ago,” says Henrietta Lovell, arguably the doyenne of tea and the founder of Rare Tea Company, a specialist in loose-leaf premium teas sourced from all over the world. Frankly, what Lovell doesn’t know about tea isn’t worth knowing. She had just started selling tea in America and was focusing on hot tea, but Chang had other ideas. “He said, ‘I understand what you’re doing and I love your tea, but I don’t want to serve hot tea, I want to serve iced tea – and not shit iced tea’.”

So, they started work on a serve to go with a pork bun. They worked for a long time using an oolong tea and discovered the best way in which to get the flavour stability was through cold extraction (essentially extractive a substance or flavour using cold water). Why not just make a hot brew and let it cool? “When you put hot water on tea, you break down the cell structure [of the leaves] so within 20 minutes the flavour is dissipating… With cold extraction you get complete flavour stability as you don’t break down the cell structure,” explains Lovell. The same can be said of alcohol extraction and Lovell has been working hard since to encourage bartenders to adopt this proven and successful method ever since.

Lovell’s go-to recipe is to take 5g of Rare Tea Company’s loose leaf Early Grey per litre of cold water and leave it overnight. Strain it off in the morning and you’ll get a really refreshing, stable iced tea. If you want to mix it in cocktails, take the quantity up to 7g-10g per litre – “you’ll get a really intense rich flavour which you need to build more body into it for a cocktail”.

iced tea

Few people know their tea like Henrietta Lovell

Feeling peachy (and the rest)

When it comes to tea, spirit and flavour combinations, the options are endless. For Lovell, there are some favourites, like Jasmine tea and gin or rooibos with mezcal. Kuba Korżyński, general manager at whisky den Black Rock cites rooibos’ deep and rich aromas as to why it works especially well with smoky whiskies. Philip David, one half of bottled cocktail company Distill + Fill, “tequila is phenomenal with tea, bringing out those green and grassy notes.”

Having spent time in New Zealand and tended bar, David has always been fascinated with using tea in cocktails – most recently in the company’s new Afternoon Tea (which combines gin, rose vermouth, Monin raspberry iced tea syrup, fresh grapefruit juice, water and bitters). For David, having that tea flavour in a syrup is the easiest way to ensure consistency and balance.

There does seem to be one flavour that regardless of the spirit used reigns supreme: peach. According to the recipes that flurried in from bartenders on request on an industry Facebook group, peach was undoubtedly the star of the show, whether as the flavour of the iced tea or a standalone ingredient (as evidenced in two of the recipes at the end of this piece). “I essentially spend a lot of time trying to make things that taste like peach iced tea,” admits Tatjana Sendzimir of FAM Bar. “One of my favourite things is Snapple Peach Iced Tea – although I also like Lipton Peach Iced Tea too.”

A current cocktail on the agave-specialist bar’s menu is the Peachy Keen, a mix of Metaxa, Peche, camomile iced tea and soda. Sendzimir tried it with black tea but the flavour was too harsh, with the lighter more floral camomile being the more balanced option. Iced green tea and matcha is another favourite, while she is also experimenting with trying it in a shorter, Martini-style serve.

For Lovell, one of the biggest benefits of using iced tea as a mixer though is that it doesn’t have any sugar in it, so you can decide what other part of your drink can bring the sweetness.

iced tea

Afternoon Tea

Take a leaf

Black Rock’s Korżyński took me through two iced tea serves on the menu at Black Rock Tavern. First up was Toki Mizuwari(ish), inspired by the ‘mizuwari’ method of cutting whisky with water, which mixes Toki whisky, blueberry liqueur, green tea, sugar and acid. “We infused the green tea in overnight for six to eight hours as a cold brew to bring out the more delicate flavours in the tea,” explains Korżyński. The result? “This cocktail is quite clean with the green tea, while the flavours of the whisky ad the fruitiness of the blueberry brings it all together.”

The bar’s signature serve though is the East London Iced Tea slushie, combining Johnnie Walker Black, Rinquinquin peach liqueur, cold brew black tea, sugar and acid. Where green tea is delicate, the backbone of a black tea was necessary to match the flavours in the Johnnie Walker Black. “Cold-brew black tea is richer and deeper in flavour and goes nicely with the smoky flavours in the Johnnie Walker as well as the peach flavours – this is just a really nice, boozy peach iced tea.”

Whichever way you use iced tea in your drinks at home, Distill + Fill’s David is an advocate of using it as often as possible, for one simple reason: “What is tea? Essentially an extraction of flavour into water – everything we do in cocktails is essentially that.

Three recipes from the experts

iced tea

Peach, Max Hayward, Lab 22

Using Assam tea and local peaches, Hayward has created this serve that brings peach Melba and Aperol spritzes to mind 

12.5ml Grey Goose Vanilla

25ml Martini Fiero

50ml homemade peach iced tea*

75ml prosecco

75ml soda

*Peel 500g of fresh peaches, chop and add to 750ml water in a pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for half an hour on low heat with the lid on. Take off the heat and crush the peaches in the water. Give it a stir and leave for an hour. Strain the mixture and add sugar (2:3 ratio sugar:water) and stir until dissolved. Steep Assam tea (1g per 100ml) in cold water for 30 minutes. Add the tea to the peach syrup at 1:1 ratio).

Build first three ingredients over ice and top with prosecco and soda.

iced tea

Instant Georgia, Gergő Muráth, Trailer Happiness

While working with some fellow bartenders on some simplified versions of classic cocktails using easily accessible ingredients, Muráth took the Georgia Julep as a starting point to create this fun little number

50ml VSOP Cognac
125ml Lipton Peach iced tea
Sprig mint

Build in a highball glass with cubed ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.

iced tea

AMBER, Alex Farrow and Zoé Donadio, Silver Lining

Part of the orange wine bar’s monthly changing cocktail menu, ECHO, which sees every cocktail designed to mimic the experience of drinking different styles of wine, AMBER was created by the duo to mimic an orange wine

50ml mezcal blend
40ml peach and rosemary cordial
60ml cold brew green tea*
1 dash gentian liqueur

*Add two green tea bags to 1L of filtered water and brew in the fridge for 24 hours

Build over ice in a highball glass and top with green tea. Optional garnish of powder made from leftovers of cordial productions (dehydrated and blitzed with 1:1 sugar).

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New Arrival of the Week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

Ever enjoyed a blend of rum and whisky before? I hadn’t either. Until I tried our new arrival this week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows. What prompted this curious creation?…

Ever enjoyed a blend of rum and whisky before? I hadn’t either. Until I tried our new arrival this week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows. What prompted this curious creation? Read on to find out.

We’re welcoming a new spirit drink this week. Which is a pretty rubbish descriptor by our book. There’s got to be something more compelling than ‘spirit drink’, right? We might as well call these expressions ‘vaguely familiar booze’ or ‘legal, but without category strong stuff’.

But then, sometimes a drink appears before you, and no appropriate monikers spring to mind. Take our new arrival from the folks at The Drinks Lab. The first in a series called ‘‘The Drinks Lab: Out of Hours Spirit Experiments’, the aptly named Strange Bedfellows brings together two different spirits inside one bottle. Scotch whisky and rum

So, yeah. What the hell do you call that? Whum? Risky? I’ll say. Purists will presumably be screaming at the screen and calling it madness. Sheer lunacy. And sacrilege besides. But plenty of you will also be intrigued and wondering if this concoction is just mad enough to work.

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

Is it a rum? Is it a whisky? No! It’s a… spirit drink. I guess.

A divisive coming together

First, let’s get to grips with exactly what we’re dealing with here. The whisky in question is a single cask, no.652 we’re told, which was sourced from the Highlands (not surprising the distillery didn’t put its name to this, although they rarely do in fairness). The whisky is said to be light and creamy with notes of orange zest and fudge. Eighteen different samples of rum were made to match with the whisky and the winner was a dark ruby rum with a base of raspberries and cinnamon. The split is 60% rum, 40% whisky.

The guys at The Drinks Lab are obviously aware that this will divide opinion. You could argue that’s the point of this, given the press release contains a quote explaining that the team “now wait with bated breath as they know that many whisky fans will see the blending of a single cask of single malt with this unique dark rum as sacrilege”. The marketing bumf also says that the brand encourages “those curious individuals to try this first test”. And you don’t have to ask me twice.

More spirit experiments are tipped to follow this year, and beyond. The founders of The Drinks Lab, entrepreneurs Craig Strachan and Hannah Fisher, have been working away on a variety of crazy boozy imaginings ever since 2017 when they created a consultancy and innovation facility designed to assist those wanting to launch drink brands. 

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

This is just the first experiment. More will follow…

If you want something done right, do it yourself… 

It was inspired by the problems the duo had in launching their own projects. Those stories of folks chatting about distillation dreams in a bar and then putting in some elbow grease to make it happen tend to undermine just how hard it is to build a brand. Challenges are around every corner, mostly capital. And even if you want to outsource some of the hard work, then you have to contend with running into issues over batch sizes, poor client service, lack of knowledge, and more. 

Strachan and Fisher set about establishing a model that would help budding booze makers go from concept to shelf in as little as three months. This entails an ‘all under one roof’ service including recipe development, branding, trial production, small batch bottling, and commercial guidance. The plan worked. The Scottish-based business now employs 12 people in Port Glasgow and has a client list made up of entrepreneurs as well as large global drink companies including the likes of Diageo, TATA, and Fever-Tree.

By day, The Drinks Lab team spends its time making spirits, non-alcoholic alternatives, mixers, adult soft drinks, CBD, and Hard Seltzers. At night, however, it’s a different story. That’s when Strachan and Fisher get busy developing their own curious creations. And we’re about to see the results. Well, of the first experiment anyway. 

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

The Strange Sour

What to make of Strange Bedfellows

As an experiment, Strange Bedfellows has plenty of curiosity and is sure to raise eyebrows and provoke a reaction. But truth be told, the liquid in the glass doesn’t taste as controversial or divisive as it sounds. The first thing you’ll notice in Strange Bedfellows is the rum, unmistakable with its bright tropical fruit notes, aromatic spice, and some of that tell-tale raspberry sourness. The whisky’s creamy vanilla, toffee, and orange peel notes aren’t far behind. It’s a competent blend and there’s no doubt the two spirits aren’t at war with each other in the glass, but it’s not a seamless affair and throughout it’s a little rough around the edges.

Strange Bedfellows is ultimately a perfectly palatable drink. This is slightly underwhelming if you were expecting flavour fireworks or something so gross you wouldn’t use it as a disinfectant. This is good news for those who want to see more experimentation and freedom in booze creation. It’s is a worthy first attempt and I, for one, am looking to seeing what’s next. Be sure to have a little play with it too. I think it mixes quite well in Highball-style serves (coke, ginger ale and soda water all work well enough).

You should, of course, try it neat first. But if you’re feeling bold then you can have a go at the Strange Sour, the bespoke serve The Drinks Lab has made for its first launch. The idea was to create something that would enhance the rum’s raspberry elements and compliment the whisky’s creamy notes, while vanilla syrup was favoured to match the aromatic cinnamon flavour. Here’s how to make it:

The Strange Sour:

2 ounces of The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 ounce vanilla syrup

1/2 ounce egg white (or your finest vegan alternative)

1-2 Dashes of Aromatic Bitters

Add Strange Bedfellows, lemon juice, vanilla syrup, and egg white to a shaker and dry shake for 30 seconds without ice. Add ice and shake again until well chilled and strain into a short glass. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon slice.

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The charms of a 50 year old Glenglassaugh

After taking a curmudgeonly swipe at very old whiskies earlier this month, Ian Buxton has fallen for the charms of a 50 year old Glenglassaugh, a distillery that he has…

After taking a curmudgeonly swipe at very old whiskies earlier this month, Ian Buxton has fallen for the charms of a 50 year old Glenglassaugh, a distillery that he has a fair bit of history with. Here he explains why. 

Well, that didn’t take long. Only last month here I was criticising the trend to ever-older and more expensive whiskies and along comes another one.

My problem, if you can’t be bothered to look it up, is simply stated: all too often, in my opinion at least, they really don’t taste terribly nice. But that’s because they’re trophies, wrapped in increasingly lavish and frankly vulgar packaging and designed to be looked at, admired, possibly flipped for some inflated profit but never, perish the thought, actually drunk.

However, ever the optimist, I concluded with a note to the PR industry, “do keep sending those tiny little samples,” I wrote. “One day I’ll find one that I like.”  Social media wasn’t impressed, with one Instagram keyboard warrior, outraged but anonymous, suggesting that I required “a palate mature enough to appreciate it”. Ouch.

Glenglassaugh releases 50 year old “coastal treasure”

Glenglassaugh 50-year-old, note relatively modest packaging

The charms of a 50-year-old Glenglassaugh

However, the spinmeisters took me at my word and what I have in my glass today is 3cl of Glenglassaugh’s latest release, a 50-year-old single cask, finished in Pedro Ximénez and coming in just over the legal minimum at 40.1% ABV. It’s about £235’s worth apparently or just under £200 for a single pub measure with change for a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

Sorry if that strikes you as flippant but it’s a great deal of money for a small glass of whisky.

Here’s the thing though: I’ve emphasised the price (it’s £5,500 for the full bottle and sadly there are only 264 of them) because, by the standards of these things, it’s actually remarkable value (not words I ever thought I’d write) not least because, Dionysus be praised, it comes in remarkably modest packaging.  

Yes, there’s a nice bottle and a wooden box but that’s about it. No crystal decanter and matching glasses, no enormous display cabinet, no silver stopper, and no leather-bound, letterpress printed volume of sycophantic drooling praise from some tame whisky hack (I’m available, though). 

However, I hope the oligarchs won’t be put off because they’d be missing a treat.  Yes, this is actually very, very enjoyable whisky.

Glenglassaugh

Inside a warehouse at Glenglassaugh

There’s treasure in those old dunnage warehouses

At this point, one of those sanctimonious disclosure statements: I’m familiar with the background to this whisky (hallelujah, you may say, he’s writing about something he actually knows about) because from 2008-2010 I acted as a sort of semi-detached interim marketing director for Glenglassaugh which was then undergoing the first phase of its revival.  Subsequently, I then wrote a book about it (it’s now hard to find but I’m told the distillery may have copies).

I vividly recall nosing old casks with then-MD Stuart Nickerson and the late Dr Jim Swan, then wood consultant to the distillery, in the warehouse at Sandend Bay. We were, frankly, astonished by the quality and found it hard to believe that the previous owners hadn’t appreciated these unsung gems.  

“These are gold medal winners in any competition,” said Swan and, of course, he was right. We bottled some as a 40-Year-Old and it swept the board at the 2009 IWSC awards, collecting the relevant gold medal, declared ‘best in class’, and lifting the blue-riband IWSC 40th-anniversary Trophy. 

However, even then, the potential for further aging was evident and stocks were reserved for future extra-aged releases. Fortunately, though the distillery has changed hands, subsequent owners have seen the merit in this plan and now it has come together.

Dr Rachel Barrie, Glenglassaugh

Your whisky is in safe hands with Dr Rachel Barrie

The merits of refill casks

But those old casks had aged remarkably slowly for one principal reason. While the Glenglassaugh warehouse is dunnage style and has a micro-climate unique to its coastal location the original distillers had used refill casks. Expecting the spirit to be quickly required for relatively young, mass-market blends they didn’t use the finest of casks – frankly, the barrels were showing their age when first used. But that meant extended, slow, undisturbed aging for the whisky and that, in turn, meant that Glenglassaugh’s distinctive tropical fruit character was maintained even as a richer, deeper character developed.

So, when I received details of this latest release I had just one concern, which was the finishing in a Pedro Ximénez cask which, on occasion, can overwhelm. However, my fears were unjustified: this is nothing short of a triumph.  The last Glenglassaugh casks have been under the watchful eye of master blender Rachel Barrie who has judged to perfection the balance of distillery character and the contribution of the finishing cask.

I rang her to discuss and her enthusiasm and belief in Glenglassaugh was a pleasure to share. “This is the most luscious and silky single malt elixir I’ve ever known,” she told me.  Simply check out her stellar career (SWRI, Glenmorangie, Morrison Bowmore, and now BeamSuntory) before you dismiss that as simply part of the PR.

It really isn’t. A decade or so ago I had my nose in this cask and the promise was clear back then. Since then, it’s just got better and better and better. I seriously doubt if I will taste a finer whisky this year.

So, note to the PR industry, do keep sending those tiny little samples of very old whisky. One day I’ll find another that I like.

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The Nightcap: 16 July

Friday means one thing around these parts: The Nightcap. Settle in for another jam-packed week of boozy news.  Good afternoon, folks. Or, we should say, good afternoon to anybody who…

Friday means one thing around these parts: The Nightcap. Settle in for another jam-packed week of boozy news. 

Good afternoon, folks. Or, we should say, good afternoon to anybody who has managed to avoid melting into a puddle on their desk chair/couch/novelty racing car bed. It’s a scorcher today, isn’t it? It’s probably about time we acknowledged that the UK is in dire need of a mass installation of air conditioning units in its residences. It can get legitimately warm here in the summer now and frankly, none of us are prepared for it. Although, you just know the moment those units were fitted the sun would run off down under again. So probably best to not tempt fate. Instead, let’s pour a cold drink, settle down and enjoy another edition of The Nightcap. 

The blog was lively as ever this week as we announced a new competition that offers you the chance to win a virtual cocktail party with a guest appearance from Phil Tufnell (hell yeah). Millie then explored the phenomenon of infinity bottles, Lucy explained what gin botanicals do, and Jess found out why ice is the vital element in your drink. Henry was then in a very helpful mood, sharing a recipe for our drink of the summer, running the rule on Glenmorangie’s new mixable malt, and letting you know where to holiday in boozy style without having to travel. 

Meanwhile, our Clubhouse room today will see us delve into the murky world of cask investment as we discuss the rapidly expanding market and its potential pitfalls with our guests Blair Bowman, Louise McGuane, and Kristiane Sherry. Do check it out at 3pm today.

Now, it’s on with the Nightcap: 16 July edition!

The Nightcap

London and Kent beer writer Johnny Homer, who sadly passed away at 56

London and Kent beer historian Johnny Homer dies

We received some really sad news this week as we learned that beer writer and radio personality Johnny Homer died suddenly at the age of 56. Homer will be familiar to Londoners as a regular guest on the Robert Elms show on BBC London talking about beer and history. He was born in Clerkenwell and worked as a music journalist contributing to publications including The Face, NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, and Vox, as well as writing seven books on beer and pubs. Later he moved to Whitstable in Kent with his wife and daughter, and became head of media at Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham. Chief executive Jonathan Neame commented: “Johnny was a most valued member of our team. He was a fantastic ambassador for the company, for our beers and pubs, and played a significant role in promoting Shepherd Neame. He will be greatly missed. His loss is a great shock to us all, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this time.” We were very fortunate enough to have been shown around the brewery by Johnny himself and marveled at his knowledge of beer and Shepherd Neame’s rich history. He also seemed like a thoroughly nice chap as the tributes on Twitter attest. 

The Nightcap

Nc’nean continues to impress with its approach to sustainability.

Nc’nean is first UK whisky distillery to reach net-zero Co2 emissions

Nc’nean has always placed environmental responsibility at the core of its business, but this week the business announced it ramped things up a notch by becoming the first UK whisky distillery to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in its production. Beating the official Scotch whisky industry target by a staggering 20 years, distillery founder Annabel Thomas says the move “feels like our greatest achievement so far”. The Highland distillery is 100% powered by renewable energy, and is one of the few Scotch whisky distilleries that uses only certified organic Scottish barley. A biomass boiler is powered by wood chips that heats the stills, and residual carbon emissions are offset through a sustainable tree-planting program. In an industry first, all of Nc’nean’s whisky bottles are made of recycled glass, which reduces the typical carbon footprint of a whisky bottle by 40%. The cooling water is continuously recycled via a natural pond, meaning Nc’nean uses 80% less water than a traditional distillery, and reduces energy use to cool it down. It’s an impressive operation and a great example to others on how to make meaningful change.

The Nightcap

The new look MacNair’s, including Exploration Rum

GlenAllachie Distillery unveils first rum

The GlenAllachie Distillers Company is no longer just home to whisky thanks to its latest innovation. For the first time, the brand has branched into rum with a range of small-batch expressions called Exploration Rum. The three bottlings will be released under The GlenAllachie’s MacNair’s brand, which has been repositioned as a Boutique House of Spirits, complete with a new-look design for its Lum Reek whisky brand. The first rums in the series are a 7 Year Old Peated, a 7 Year Old, and a 15 Year Old made with liquids sourced from Panama. Each expression was initially matured in American oak in Panama before being transported to the GlenAllachie Distillery in Speyside, and is presented at 46% ABV. The peated rum underwent secondary maturation in casks that previously held heavily peated whisky distilled at GlenAllachie, while the 7 Year Old and 15 Year Old were filled into ex-red wine, virgin oak, and ex-bourbon casks for more than two years. The process was overseen by GlenAllachie master blender Billy Walker, who says he is fulfilling a “long-held desire to explore and apply my expertise to a new spirit category”, having already made a sizeable impact in Scotch whisky. He explains that rum was a natural choice for him as, like whisky, “it allows for greater scope of innovation and experimentation, particularly in regard to maturation” and that this trio of rums will “explore the influence of wood, but also the impact of maturation in a cooler climate.” We look forward to seeing the results, which you’ll be able to taste for yourself very soon as Exploration Rum is on its way to MoM Towers as we speak…

The Nightcap

La Bandera, the new bar’s signature cocktail

Award-winning Hacha bar announces second site

Why have one excellent agave-focused bar when you can have two? This is the question industry veterans Deano Moncrieffe and Emma Murphy presumably asked themselves recently, as the duo have excitedly announced they are opening a second Hacha location in Brixton’s Market Row. The original location in Dalston opened in 2019 and now Moncrieffe and Murphy are bringing their unique brand of agave-based drinks and authentic Mexican food to South London. Hacha has garnered acclaim for its striking signature serve, the Mirror Margarita, and its comprehensive list of Tequilas, mezcals, and other distillates. Set to launch next month, the new venue sprawls over two floors, with a bottle shop on the ground floor, and a 50-cover bar and an open kitchen upstairs – the latter will be run by Maiz Azul, the residency behind the food at Hacha Dalston. Moncrieffe has also developed a new drink that will act as the bar’s signature: La Bandera, a twist on the classic Mexican three-shot drink. The serve features three mini cocktails, each with a different agave spirit base, in the colours of the Mexican flag. The duo also plan on contributing beyond spirits and cocktails, closing Hacha Brixton once a week to host a ‘community day’ in partnership with Equal Measures. “Community Day is all about providing opportunities for people who want to grow, learn, share and help others,” said Moncrieffe. “We will run seminars, educational courses, workshops, cooking lessons, spirits masterclasses, mentorship sessions, networking events as well as providing a venue for other Black businesses to showcase their businesses.”

The Nightcap

The distillery edges ever closer after the latest round of investment

Uist Distilling Co gains £2m for low-carbon distillery

It just wouldn’t be The Nightcap without news on an upcoming distillery project, and we’ve received good word this week from the Uist Distilling Co regarding its planned low-carbon distillery. The proposed £12.5 million site in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides has received a £1.99m funding boost from the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the Scottish government’s economic and community development agency. The Uist Distilling Company also secured more than £80,000 (US$110,000) in funding from the UK government’s Green Distilleries scheme. The reason for all this support is that the distillery, which will be located on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, is that it promises to pioneer innovative low-carbon technology across its design, build, and distillation process. The company has invested £1.25m in building a green energy centre, including a high-temperature heat pump system, which will provide hot water to the distillation process. The distillery, which is the brainchild of South Uist businessman Angus A Macmillan and his son, Angus E Macmillan, plans to produce spirits with a ‘Hebridean flavour’ including single malt whisky, rum, and gin. Production is expected to start in early 2022. “The new distillery aims to be a champion of all things Hebridean and Scottish and will provide a huge boost to tourism in the area,” says Angus A Macmillan. “We want to produce whisky, rum, and gin that will put Benbecula and the Hebrides firmly on the whisky tourist trail while introducing the products we make to a national and international clientele.”

The Nightcap

Cocktails and theatre are coming together in London soon!

Coming soon: an immersive cocktail experience from Mr Tipsy

There’s an immersive cocktail experience coming to London in August. We have visions of being lowered into a giant Negroni or diving into an Olympic swimming pool-sized Martini, but the truth is slightly more prosaic. Instead, ‘Mr. Tipsy’s Down the Hatch!’ will be a combination of a bar and theatre taking place at One America Square in the City of London. So for example, you’ll sip Margaritas on a Mexican beach. It’s the creation of Nick A. Olivero, the man behind Roaring ‘20s experience ‘The Speakeasy”. He explains: “‘Mr. Tipsy’s sprung from my passion of fine spirits and meaningful social interactions. It blends theatre with multiple themed bars and is crafted specifically for post-lockdown groups looking to reconnect with friends in a fun, safe environment. I think it is going to put a lot of smiles on people’s faces and we can’t wait for the spectacle to begin!” The experience costs £39.50 including drinks and lasts approximately 70 minutes (tickets available here). There’s a soft launch on 19 August with the full opening on 9 September. So what are you waiting for? It’s theatre but with cocktails!

The Nightcap

Cheers to your success, Roger!

Dad sells casks of whisky for incredible £225,000

Retirement is coming early for one savvy/lucky 59-year-old bank manager, who has turned an astonishing profit on two casks of whisky. Roger Parfitt, who hails from Coventry, paid £4,700 for the casks 30 years ago and revealed this week that he’s sold them for a remarkable £225,000. In 1994, Parfitt, 59, spent £3,200 on a cask of single malt Macallan and £1,500 on a cask of Tobermory, essentially in the vague hope they might be worth a few quid someday. Parfitt does not consider himself an expert in whisky. However, his gamble worked and he plans to use the profit to pay off his mortgage and retire three years earlier than planned. According to the Daily Record, since whisky casks are categorised as a ‘wasting asset’ by HMRC, the money he has made is also tax-free. “I remember thinking, if it doesn’t appreciate in value, the worst that could happen is that you would have to get it out of the warehouse, bottle it and drink it,” Parfitt says. “It always had that fallback for me – you could drown your sorrows if it didn’t work out financially.” He now plans to buy a cask each for his children, hoping for a similar result. But the market is very different nowadays, as we’ll discuss on Clubhouse later…

The Nightcap

All this will soon be heading China’s way

And finally… Entire whisky distillery ships out to China

We’ve spoken plenty about China making moves in the whisky world. One thing we weren’t exactly expecting to write about, however, was an entire distillery being shipped out from Scotland. Today, more than 35 tonnes of equipment, including stills, flooring, control valves, and pipework, is leaving Buckie in Moray for the port of Tianjin. The shipment is part of a £3 million “design and build” deal signed between Forfar firm Valentine International and China’s Mengtai Group in 2019. The equipment will be assembled at a facility being built in Ordos in Inner Mongolia, becoming its first whisky distillery when it opens, which is expected to be at the end of this year. All of the distillery equipment was built by Forsyths in Rothes, and the firm will send a team of five engineers to supervise assembly, with a team in Hong Kong to provide after-sales back-up and services. Valentine International chairman and managing director David Valentine said the project was the brainchild of Mengtai chairman Ao Fengting, who planned to create a “globally award-winning whisky”. In a separate development, Valentine International also revealed that it has signed a “strategic agreement” with Mengtai to supply bulk whiskies for China. The whisky distiller has not been named, but Valentine did say that it is a “long-established” firm.

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Ten great British booze destinations 

As most of us won’t be going far this summer, we’ve picked some great British booze destinations around the country for you to visit. From vineyards to gin distilleries, these…

As most of us won’t be going far this summer, we’ve picked some great British booze destinations around the country for you to visit. From vineyards to gin distilleries, these are some of our favourite places to enjoy whether the sun comes out or not. 

Last week we showed you how you can go on holiday without leaving the comfort of your own home. Today we’ve picked some of our favourite drinks destinations around Britain, from ancient breweries to modern vineyards, and not forgetting the wealth of distilleries found all over the country. There’s something here for everyone. 

Great British booze destinations

Somerset Cider Brandy Company

Burrow Hill Cider, Somerset

Anyone who has been to the Glastonbury festival will have tried Burrow Hill’s delicious produce at the famous Cider Bus. At his farm in Somerset, cider master Julian Temperley (above) produces a broad range of traditional West Country ciders ranging from delicious summer sippers to complex bottle-fermented products made from single apple varieties. But that’s not all, he’s also the man behind the Somerset Cider Brandy Company, making, since 1989, England’s answer to Calvados. Truly this place is a booze wonderland. 

Hush Heath estate, Kent

Hush Heath Estate, Kent

Hush Heath has to be one of the most gorgeous vineyards in England, set among the rolling Kent hills. Here the father and son wine making team of Owen and Fergus Elias make a superb selection of wines under the Balfour label. They are justly famous for their sparkling wines, particularly, the rose but the still wines are coming on strongly with some increasingly good Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. Take a walk in the vineyards and then soak up that view from the terrace with a few glasses of wine and some food. 

Tillingham

Tillingham vineyard, East Sussex

I’ve learned from bitter experience that children find wine tasting very boring which is why I’ve picked this place. While you taste and practise your best wine speak, they can eat pizza and run around. There are rooms and bell tents to sleep in in the summer. It’s run by a maverick called Ben Walgate (seated above) who makes delicious idiosyncratic wine and cider using Georgian amphora and the like. There’s a real sense of fun about Tillingham.

Chase Distillery in Herefordshire

Chase Distillery, Herefordshire

The Chase family is all about potatoes. First it was crisp, Tyrell’s. Then they sold that business to do something a bit different, make vodka. And they turned out to be rather good at it winning awards left, right and centre. The distillery, set in the heart of Herefordshire cider country, now produces a range of spirits including gin, apple brandy and liqueurs. The distillery itself with its huge column still (once the tallest in Europe) at the centre looks spectacular and it’s worth a visit even if you’re not a booze nerd.

The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria

The Lakes Distillery, Cumbria

One of the perennial questions for tourists in England is what to do when it’s raining in the Lake District, which is often. Well, instead of sitting in a tea room reading Wordsworth, you should instead visit the Lakes Distillery, makers of first class single malt whisky. It’s really set-up for tourism with a fine restaurant and cafe on the site. Take a guided tour and then sample some of the sherry-cask whiskies created by ex-Macallan whisky maker Dhaval Gandhi. You won’t want the rain to stop. 

Shepherd Neame Faversham in Kent

Shepherd Neame Brewery, Kent

There’s something magical about towns like Faversham in Kent that are dominated by a large family brewer. The sprawling Shepherd Neame site sits in the centre of this beautiful medieval market town and permeates the whole place with the sweet smell of malted barley. The company dates back to the 17th century and is still in family hands.It’s the home of perhaps Kent’s most famous beer, Spitfire, as well as great strong beers like Bishop’s Finger and 1698.

Adnams Copper House Distillery

Adnams Brewery and Distillery, Suffolk

Another two for the price of one visit here as Adnams not only produces a delicious selection of Suffolk ales, but there’s also a distillery. The company was a pioneer of English whisky when it began distilling in 2010, so they have some properly mature whisky now for you to sample. Our favourite is probably the malted rye. Adnams also has a wine merchant arms, so they’ve got the booze business pretty well covered. It all takes place in Southwold, one of the prettiest seaside towns in the country so we’d recommend staying for a couple of days. In a pub owned by Adnams, naturally. 

Haymans Gin

Hayman’s Gin, London 

If you love gin then you have to visit Hayman Distillers in south London. The family has been distilling for generations, they are descended from James Burrough who created Beefeater gin, but the name Hayman’s only appeared on a bottle in 2004. Then in 2018, they opened this gin palace in Balham to produce a range of true London dry gins. Visitors can learn about the history of distilling in the capital,  admire the gleaming stills, and find out how gin is made. Or if that sounds a bit too strenuous, you can just enjoy the best gin and tonic in London at the bar.

Glenfarclas Distillery, mountain background

Glenfarclas Distillery, Speyside

Whisky fans are spoiled for choice in Speyside, the home of Glenlivet, Macallan and Balvenie, but there’s something particularly special about Glenfarclas. It might be because it’s one of the very few single malt whisky producers that is family owned, by the Grant family since the 19th century. Or it might be because the old ways are preserved here, like direct-fired stills, long-ageing in sherry casks and damp earth-floored warehouses, not because they look picturesque but because they make whisky with character. 

Ramsbury Distillery/ Brewery in Wiltshire

Ramsbury Estate, Wiltshire 

The Ramsbury Estate is a mecca for food and drink lovers. Covering nearly 20,000 acres of beautiful Wiltshire countryside, the farm raises cattle, pigs and deer, and grows wheat, barley, rapeseed, and other crops. Best of all, you can visit the on-site brewery and distillery which makes first-rate gin, vodka, and beer all made from scratch (no bought in grain alcohol here) largely using estate-grown produce. Nothing is wasted: leftovers from gin distillation are even used to cure venison to make charcuterie!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Belafonte

This week we’re stirring up a cocktail created by bartender Cas Oh. He’s the author of a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs. It’s called the Belafonte and it’s a…

This week we’re stirring up a cocktail created by bartender Cas Oh. He’s the author of a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs. It’s called the Belafonte and it’s a deliciously drinkable blend of Campari, white Port, and tonic. It might just be our drink of the summer.

As I mentioned last week, it’s not easy to invent a new cocktail. Someone has almost always had the idea before you. But this week’s drink does seem to be genuinely new. It’s called the Belafonte and, according to its inventor Cas Oh, it’s “a riff on the way white Port is served with tonic in Portugal.” 

Belafonte comes from the name of Steve Zizzou’s boat (which really existed) in Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic starring Bill Murray as the Jacques Cousteau-esque explorer with a penchant for red hats as well as Campari.

The man behind the drink

But before we show you how to make it, we’re going to take a look at the man behind the drink, Mr Cas Oh (below). He’s just published a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs which has been shortlisted for a Fortnum & Mason award!

He’s still reeling from the news: “Being self-published I didn’t seriously think my book had a shot against the professionally-published submissions, but I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring anyway. I damn near soiled myself when I got the email letting me know I was shortlisted,” he said.

 What I love about this book is that for every cocktail featured, he’s gone back to first principles in order to find the “final version I felt was best balanced,” he said. The book took him five years to research and write or as he puts it “goddam forever”. “I essentially went into hibernation and upon my emergence years later I was three shades paler from lack of sun,” he said.

This exactitude extends to measurements. He warns: “every ingredient should be measured and whichever jigger you use, pour exactly to the line as if you were measuring for a science experiment.” He also advises not to use a bar spoon “as the amount you scoop up will vary every time; instead use cooking spoon measures, again flat to the line.”

Cas Oh author of Co-Specs

‘Is this whisky really Japanese?’

100 cocktail books in one

If you’ve just got into cocktails during lockdown, Co-Specs is a great place to start because he doesn’t just show you how to make a cocktail, he gives you the history too. He described it as: “it’s like having a vast library of important bar books condensed into just one.” He continued:The thing about that historical detail is it’s not just there for academic purposes. At the end of the day this is a recipe book, you want to know: ‘how do I make the most accurate, and best version of this classic cocktail?’”

As well as putting the work in researching it, he has also published the book the hard way. Doing everything himself which is described as an “extra headache” but he didn’t want to make any “editorial or creative compromises.” It’s a magnificent-looking book, hardback with shiny paper and colour photography by Debbie Bragg who “perfectly captured the unpretentious and silly vibe of the day.” 

Co-Specs

All these, in one book

But it’s not a coffee table book, he explained: “I chose paper finishes that can handle some heavy-duty page-flicking and the occasional splash. The cover is scuff resistant, the formatting of recipes are separate on the page and in sans serif fonts so they’re really legible if you grab it and want to quickly read the recipe only. “

You won’t be surprised to hear that Cas Oh has done serious time behind the bar working in such famous venues as the Groucho and the Hospital Club as well as running the bar at the Ivy club for ten years. In short, he knows his stuff. 

So, when it comes to inventing his own cocktail he knows what he’s doing. We covered recently what a good cocktail ingredient white Port is either as the focus or in a supporting role. Here it adds depth and texture to the Campari while taming the bitterness somewhat. It’s also comparatively low in alcohol making it great for sipping in the sun. We think it could become a classic.

As Steve Zissou would say: “hey intern, get me a Belafonte.”

Co-Specs

Inside Co-Specs

How to make a Belafonte:

30ml Campari
30ml Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port
Tonic water

Build over ice in a Highball glass, top with tonic and garnish with an orange twist or slice.

Co-Specs by Cas Oh is available to buy direct for £19.99.

Belafonte, Campari, White Port and Tonic

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