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Master of Malt Blog

Dream Drams… with Joe Hall of Satan’s Whiskers

You miraculously find yourself on a desert island equipped with a beach hut bar and eight spirits of your choosing. What are you sipping? For Joe Hall, general manager at…

You miraculously find yourself on a desert island equipped with a beach hut bar and eight spirits of your choosing. What are you sipping? For Joe Hall, general manager at London bar Satan’s Whiskers, survival sustenance means frozen Cognac shots, amontillado Sherry and Piña Colada pineapple goodness…

It’s a dilemma we’ve all pondered at one point or another. If you should find yourself stranded on a remote island with little more than a selection of handpicked bottles to call company, which particular boozes would fill your glass?

We put the question to Joe Hall, general manager at laid-back neighbourhood hangout Satan’s Whiskers. For the unacquainted, Satan’s serves up some of Bethnal Green’s finest cocktails to a formidable hip hop soundtrack. The daily-changing menu is packed with riffs on classics so killer, the man himself would patently approve.

Satan’s Whiskers

Say hello to Joe Hall!

No stranger to the back bar, Hall’s career started at former north London bar Wax Jambu at the age of 18. After a few years he moved to Bristol – “a place that I still think has one of the best cocktail scenes in the country, with Hyde & Co, Redlight and Filthy XIII leading the charge at the moment,” he says before returning to London to Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, which won Best International Hotel Bar at The Spirited Awards 2015 during his tenure. Hall left The Savoy for a junior bartender position at Satan’s Whiskers, which almost four years on, he now runs.

“During my time at Satan’s I’ve learnt a lot, taken a great sense of ownership over the place and won a few competitions,” he continues namely Belvedere’s Grain to Glass 2019 and the Diplomatico World Tournament 2017, for which he was crowned the European winner “nowadays I’m much more settled and focused on the advancement and training of the staff at the bar. In my limited spare time, I’m also a certified Cognac educator on behalf of the BNIC.”

Being the first to tackle our ever-so-slightly shameless homage to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is a pretty big undertaking, but Hall did not disappoint. After raiding his metaphorical suitcase Border Patrol-style, MoM asked him to talk us through the contents. Here’s what we found…

Martell VSOP

Why? The perfect mixing Cognac. Clean, Borderies-only and lees-less liquid amazing in Harvards, French 75s, and Cognac and Tonics. Also, perfect for those frozen Cognac shots we all love right?

Cognac Frapin Fontpinot XO

Why? This is the Cognac you want to drink neat. Unbelievably flavourful product of single vineyard Grand Champagne grapes, aged for a long time in dry cellars. It’s rich and complex, but has remarkably distinct tropical notes passionfruit and pineapple. This is an amazing example of what, for me, makes Cognac stand out amongst other spirits.

Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleón

Why? Pleasant, accessible amontillado Sherry. Maybe too light for the ultra-serious sherry heads of this world but it’s perfect for clean, crisp mixed drinks. Makes my favourite [version of the cocktail] Adonis, and Sherry and Tonic or a Sobremesa, a drink of mine that contains sherry, sweet vermouth, cucumber and a touch of mezcal.

Satan’s Whiskers

Satan’s Whiskers, which we hear is a hell of a night…

Potocki Vodka

Why? Why isn’t everyone aware of this stuff?! It’s through distilling only twice with no filtration during the production process that creates this beautifully-flavoured and textured rye vodka from Poland. It makes Martinis that are absolutely out of this world.

Compass Box Hedonism

Why? I knew I wanted to include something from Compass Box, but picking which bottle is a real challenge. They have such a fantastic range, with some unbelievable blends on offer. As far as pushing the envelope and mind expansion goes, Hedonism has it all, showing that grain whisky can be 100% delicious too.

Kahlua

Why? You wouldn’t be able to make any White Russians without this.

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum

Why? The fondest memories in my entire career are of my time in Venezuela with Diplomatico and the rest of the European competitors. Such wonderful hosting, food, country, weather and… rum. This is the kind of rum you can drink in cocktails during the day, on ice in the evening, and straight out the bottle at night. And that’s just what we did.

Virginia Black

Why? As if I could do any kind of Desert Island Discs piece from a cocktail bar that only plays hip hop without referencing Drake. I like to think we’re the only small, curated industry cocktail bar that stocks it, let alone has it taking pride of place in the centre of the back bar. Tastes 100% acceptable.

Satan’s Whiskers

From frozen Cognac shots to Sobremesas, Hall serves up some of Bethnal Green’s finest

In-keeping with the theme, if you could take one book with you, which would you choose?

Champagne Cocktails by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. Apart from being an informative and succinct list of fancy drinks, this book does a fantastic job of evoking the convivial fun that drinking Champagne should be. Having this on a desert island would get some good celebratory nostalgia going!

And your luxury item?

My phone. Just for the Instagram. Can you imagine the photo opportunities? Coconut shell cocktails and banana leaves… My stories would go viral.

Finally, if you could only drink one cocktail there, what would it be?

On a desert island I’m going to need all the sustenance and nutrition I can get. So, out of necessity more than anything else, I’m going to pick the humble Piña Colada. Plenty of fresh pineapple goodness and calories to sustain me. If you’re going to get stranded on a desert island, you may as well get into it…

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Why don’t bars serve good coffee?

Nate Brown loves a good cocktail and he loves a good cup of coffee. So why, he asks, do so few bars in Britain do both well? A great coffee…

Nate Brown loves a good cocktail and he loves a good cup of coffee. So why, he asks, do so few bars in Britain do both well?

A great coffee served alongside a Whisky Highball, a bitter espresso in the same sitting as a clean Negroni, an americano and an Americano. Little moments of heaven. Or so I imagine. Because as delightful as these sound, the chance of me getting a decent coffee where I can get a decent drink is frankly slim to none. There are exceptions, of course. However, on the whole, the coffee that bars serve is so usually embarrassingly, insultingly terrible.

It shouldn’t be like this. After all, coffee is a mixed drink, prepared to order and delivered. A few rounds of Martinis followed by a bright, bitter espresso can be the shortcut to why we go to bars in the first place.  And if that’s a bit too much for you, the rise of low-ABV drinking walks hand-in-hand with the coffee world. In theory, they’re the same thing. In practice, the bar world has all but turned its back on the bean. Which is a bloody error. If I meet a colleague, we shouldn’t have to choose between going for a coffee or a for a drink.

Espresso

Wouldn’t that look even better with a Negroni on the side?

And don’t talk to me about margins. I’m not advocating replacing drinks with coffee, I’m talking about additional quality offerings. There is something contemptuous about the token hot drinks offering. If you’re going to do it, do it well; your guests deserve better. I asked one of the precious few who has migrated from booze into coffee and back again what his thoughts were. “Bars cannot be fucked,” was his response. This is more depressing than it first appears, because bars should be there for the guest, not for the ego of the bartender.

Is it a culture clash? Do those baristas that embrace the pull of espresso exist in the energy of the morning, and the shot-slugging bartender crew arise only for the glamour and sex of the evening? If so, then they’re missing a trick because guests no longer define their days in this on-duty/off-duty dichotomy. Why do bars and coffee shops?  Last month’s Coffee Festival showed some of these cultural differences in the cruel light of day. The general atmosphere between the dozens and dozens of competing soft drinks brands, espresso machineries, roasters, and merchandisers was jovial, friendly and positive. The booze additions, however, brought scandal. Mr Black’s juvenile attempt to undermine Tia Maria was ill-judged, especially considering that Tia Maria was one of the main sponsors for the event. The brandishing of spiteful stickers was at least appropriately childish. It was a stunt that may have impressed bartenders, but to a coffee crowd it was generally seen as darn right bitchy. Shame on us.

Moreover, coffee is growing up. The processes involved in bringing bean to cup have clear parallels with distillation. Washed processing, like column distillation, creates cleaner flavours; in contrast, natural processing is the pot distillation of the coffee world, producing bolder funkier flavours..And then there’s terroir: try beans from Ethiopia for berry-like fruit, like, say Pinot Noir; or beans from El Salvador for a richer, maltier flavour. See where I’m going with this? Perfect fodder for today’s more aware guest.

Sure, to some, the coffee and alcohol crossover manifests itself as the increasingly popular Espresso Martini and no further. This is hardly surprising, given the general disregard given to the coffee by bartenders. Just once, I’d love to have an Espresso Martini that celebrates and showcases the coffee. Nespresso Ne-no-no.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, don’t make him choose between coffee and booze

Bars have a duty to provide a third-place world for their guests. And yes, they are guests, not customers. We are in hospitality, not retail. It makes a difference. And when we position the emphasis on providing a welcoming, affordable place for our guests to enjoy, to escape into, to mingle in and connect, the drinks we serve become mere vehicles for this hospitality.

Indeed, the drinks we serve have to excite and entice, to create conversations and provide intrigue and value. This is exactly what coffee can do just as well as booze. Hell, the word ‘Barista’ even means ‘bar-tender’. It’s about time bars realised this. Time to wake up and smell how crap your coffee is.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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New Arrival of the Week: The English – Virgin Oak Cask

The English Whisky Co. is looking to see in St George’s Day the only way it knows how. With a new English whisky, of course! English whisky’s recent rise probably…

The English Whisky Co. is looking to see in St George’s Day the only way it knows how. With a new English whisky, of course!

English whisky’s recent rise probably hasn’t escaped you. There’s seemingly no end to the glut of new brands and distilleries emerging, and they’re releasing any number of exciting expressions. But before most of the new arrivals had a drop of the good stuff to shout about, there was The English Whisky Co.. When St George’s Distillery at Roudham in Norfolk was founded by the Nelstrop family in 2005, it became England’s first registered whisky producer for over a century.

The English Whisky Co. has since become the most prolific English malt whisky producer and the family-run, award-winning brand is probably best known for creating a wide variety of expressions. You want a peated dram? It’s got ‘em. You want an unusual cask? No problem. Fancy a single grain English whisky made with a combination of malted barley and rye? A specific pitch, but regardless they’ve got your back. From smoky, to floral, spicy and sweet, it’s a distillery that covers a lot of bases.

This is due to The English Whisky Co.’s self-confessed experimental side. It’s not a brand with centuries of tradition to maintain and manage, so it’s little surprise that in the decade or so since it has been releasing new whiskies, we’ve seen the company flex its creative muscles. Despite being an old-timer in English whisky terms, it’s worth remembering this is a relatively young distillery that’s forging its identity.

The English – Virgin Oak Cask

The St George’s Distillery in sunny Norfolk

Which brings us to The English – Virgin Oak Cask, a whisky launched in time to mark the celebration of the patron saint of England. The English Whisky Co. informs us that this single malt was distilled in July 2013 and bottled in March 2019, with 2,689 bottles filled in total.

As you can probably guess from the name, the stand-out feature of The English – Virgin Oak Cask is its full maturation in virgin American white oak casks. Which is an interesting way to go. It’s fair to say that virgin oak casks have proved to be quite divisive. The fear is that a whisky matured in a brand-new oak barrel is at risk of borrowing too heavily from the cask, resulting in a flood of wood-forward flavour and colour.

But that doesn’t seem to have perturbed The English Whisky Co., and why should it? This is a brand that honours a fella who used to fight dragons, for goodness sake. As long as you approach the ageing process with enough care and an understanding of your spirit, you can utilise any cask and not end up with one-dimensional-tasting whisky.

Which is what The English Whisky Co. has managed to do rather well here. It’s certainly sweet and, in places, vanilla-rich, but these flavours are balanced and there’s a lovely blend of dark, fruity and malty notes present to add depth.

The English – Virgin Oak Cask

Look, it’s The English – Virgin Oak Cask !

To give you an even better idea of what you’re getting with The English – Virgin Oak Cask, it seems only right to end this feature with a classic MoM tasting note:

Tasting Note for The English – Virgin Oak Cask:

Nose: Toasted vanilla pod, coconut ice, ginger and a hint of caraway.

Palate: Full-bodied barley and almond liqueur notes, with nutmeg warmth growing. Yet more vanilla, now with some chocolate coffee notes developing.

Finish: Honey on toast, soft citrus and some final peppery touches.

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Superb and surprising sweets for Easter

With Easter just around the corner, you’ll want to make the most of the long weekend. These sweet and sublime expressions from the world of booze should do the trick….

With Easter just around the corner, you’ll want to make the most of the long weekend. These sweet and sublime expressions from the world of booze should do the trick.

You know how every Easter we eat a ridiculous amount of chocolate and then comfort ourselves in the knowledge that it’s a tradition? Yeah, I love that. What an amazing time of year.

But it doesn’t always have to be egg-shaped confectionery that we indulge ourselves in. There are plenty of other sweet treats just waiting to be enjoyed, and some of them are delicious drinks. To save you the trouble of going on a easter egg hunt yourselves, we’ve created a selection of superb and surprising sweets for Easter.

So, what are you waiting for? Tuck in!

Liquid Intellect Jam Doughnut Negroni

It’s a scientific fact that jam doughnuts are delicious, so it’s about time somebody distilled them. The creative folks at Liquid Intellect did just that, making the doughy, jammy and sugary treats into a pre-bottled cocktail in the form of a Negroni. It’s an idea we can only applaud. Then drink.

What does it taste like?:

Oodles of sweet and fresh strawberry jam and doughy jam doughnut, with a fabulous balancing bitterness of Campari.

Mozart Gold Chocolate Cream Liqueur

Named after some bloke called Mozart, this creamy chocolate liqueur from Austria is a go-to for bartenders wanting to add chocolatey goodness to an array of cocktails for good reason. It was made using cocoa from West Africa, Madagascan vanilla, gourmet Belgian chocolate and a blend of cream and cocoa butter, and it’s as tasty as it sounds.

What does it taste like?:

Chocolate truffle, creamy vanilla and a pleasant touch of dark chocolate bitterness.

Aske Stephenson Peanut Butter & Jam Old Fashioned

Peanut butter and jam (AKA PB&J) doesn’t just make a great sandwich, but a wonderful Old Fashioned bottled cocktail too! Made by Aske Stephenson, the creation of Thomas Aske and Tristan Stephenson, this is best enjoyed in a rocks glass over ice. Oh, and the bottle was sealed with raspberry jam-scented wax. What a treat!

What does it taste like?:

Peanut butter and jam, nutty rye, fruity rye, corn sweetness and rich caramel.

Zymurgorium Extra Io’s Footsteps Sweet Violet Gin Liqueur (Quintessential Range)

The enigmatic distillers at Manchester’s The Zymurgorium have a reputation for creating all kinds of weird and wonderful delights, and this sweet violet gin liqueur is no exception. Ideal in an Aviation cocktail, Zymurgorium Extra Io’s Footsteps Sweet Violet Gin Liqueur also shines in desserts. It was named after an Ancient Greek mythological figure, in case you were wondering.

What does it taste like?:

Fragrant and sweet, with plenty of pastel Parmas.

Chocolate Orange Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

Chocolate and orange go together like jam doughnuts and Negronis, so it’s little wonder That Boutique-y Gin Company made this flavoured gin treat. Crafted using bitter orange peels, roast cacao nibs and a host of traditional gin botanicals, this Chocolate Orange Gin blends all the creamy richness we love from chocolate and the tart, refreshing qualities of oranges in a winning combination.

What does it taste like?:

Chocolate cake, peppery juniper, fresh clementine, floral elements and lingering dark chocolate elegance.

Bakewell Gin

The Bakewell tart is an institution, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Thanks to a humble family-run distillery in the peak district, you can now enjoy said institution in the form of a tasty gin! Distilled in a small copper pot still using six botanicals, cherry, almond, juniper, cardamom, cubeb pepper and hibiscus flowers, Bakewell Gin is exactly as delicious as you would expect from a tribute to the classic English confection.

What does it taste like?:

A spicy and floral opening keep things interesting before the awaited ground almonds and cherry jam reveal. There’s a touch of custard in there too.

Bob’s Chocolate Bitters

From Bob’s Bitters range comes a way to chocolatify (it’s a word) your cocktail in style, with this single-botanical Chocolate Bitters. You can just picture Willy Wonka and the orange fellas using this when they’re enjoying a well-earned drink after a shift in the factory.

What does it taste like?:

Chocolate bitters, to be honest.

Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block 2017

We saved something a little different for the end, a top South African red wine made with a blend of wine types, predominantly Syrah supported by Grenache, Cinault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. The 2017 vintage from Boekenhoutskloof spent over a year resting in French oak before being bottled up for wine enthusiasts that know that Easter is the best time to enjoy a rich, chocolatey red.

What does it taste like?:

Raspberry and blackcurrant, cacao, mince pie and just a touch of smoke.

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The Nightcap: 12 April

A meeting of master distillers and blenders, $1,000 Mint Juleps and secret whisky history – The Nightcap has all these stories and more! It’s Friday once again, and, like clockwork,…

A meeting of master distillers and blenders, $1,000 Mint Juleps and secret whisky history – The Nightcap has all these stories and more!

It’s Friday once again, and, like clockwork, we’ve got another batch of news stories from the world of booze ready and waiting in The Nightcap. In fact, it’s almost as if we assembled a team of engineers and bribed them with the tastiest cocktails they could ever imagine to build us Nightcap-bot 3000 to produce these stories. Of course, that’s simply hogwash. We definitely have not done that, and we absolutely don’t disguise Nightcap-bot 3000 as a fridge when people visit the editorial team’s realm within MoM Towers to make it look like we’re very busy. We’re also not scared that Nightcap-bot 3000 will one day replace and potentially eat us all.

On the blog this week, guest writer Ian Buxton pondered whether whisky could crash in his first post for us, while Annie explored cocktails that have a way with words, then talked to Talisker about its new bartender competition Wild Spirit. Henry’s Cocktail of the Week was the classic Gin & Tonic in celebration of National Gin & Tonic Day, and Martini & Rossi’s new super fruity vermouth Fiero caught his eye for New Arrival of the Week. Kristy explored a fancy new Scotch from Glenmorangie, while Adam tasted a 47 Year Old Mortlach expression, then looked at Littlemill’s historical claim. If that wasn’t enough, here’s the rest of the week’s news!

The Nightcap

Take a look at Islay’s first new distillery for nearly 15 years!

New Islay distillery Ardnahoe opens its doors

The opening of a Scotch whisky distillery is always an event, but there’s something particularly special about a new one on Islay. Today Ardnahoe, the first new distillery on the island since 2005, was officially opened by the Rt Hon Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. Stewart Laing, managing director of Hunter Laing, the family-owned company which has invested £12m in the project, commented: “Since working as a teenager at Bruichladdich Distillery over 50 years ago, I have had a huge affinity with Islay and its malt whiskies. When we decided to build our own distillery, there was only one possible location. We have built a great team to manage the distillery and run the visitor centre and in a few years’ time we will be able to drink a great whisky in the classic Islay style, staying true to the island’s heritage with a heavily peated malt.” The spirit should be full of character as it will be made using wooden washbacks, Scottish-made lamp glass stills and worm tub condensers (the only distillery on the island to use them), and it will be aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. The great master distiller Jim McEwan advised on the project. With such pedigree, it’s no surprise that Hunter Laing has already pre-sold 400 casks of spirit. Team MoM is flying out to Islay on Monday to bring you the full story. Watch this space.

Jameson unveils new commercial for Taste, That’s Why campaign

Jameson Irish Whiskey unveiled the next instalment of its sassy Taste, That’s Why advertising platform this week. New commercial The Bartenders’ Gathering is set in Dublin in 2016, and tells the true story of 200 global bartenders at the brand’s annual three-day immersive and educational summit of the same name. It all looks very trendy and fun, with shots of distilleries, whiskey, bars, food, music and some lovely Irish countryside, as well as an unexpected twist. Some of the bartenders interrupt a distillery trip to go to a library (we’re just kidding, that isn’t it). “As we unveil the next chapter in the Taste, That’s Why story, we wanted to highlight Jameson’s revered position among bartenders as they have been instrumental to our success in the USA and around the world over the past 29 years,” said Simon Fay, international marketing director at Irish Distillers. “The new spot conveys the true spirit of the annual Bartenders’ Gathering in a high octane but light-hearted manner with a twist of Irish humour – it’s exactly what you’d expect from Jameson, and will help us to further build the profile and personality of the brand supporting equity growth into the future.”

The Nightcap

The wonderful Joy Spence of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum

Campari launches Meet the Master, bringing together four drinks luminaries

Where can you see the master distillers and blenders behind Wild Turkey, Appleton Estate, Grand Marnier and Glen Grant all in one place? At Carlton House Terrace in London’s Mayfair from 14-16 May, when Campari UK launches Meet the Masters. The event will bring together more than 140 combined years of talent and expertise in one location. The line-up includes Joy Spence of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum, the first woman master blender in the spirits industry; Eddie Russell of Wild Turkey Bourbon, the third generation Russell to work at the distillery; Patrick Raguenaud of Grand Marnier, whose family has been involved in the Cognac industry since 1627; and Dennis Malcolm of Glen Grant, who has worked at the distillery for over five decades. The event will offer tasting sessions with each master, panel discussions, and an opportunity for guests from the drinks industry and beyond to get the masters’ view on the latest industry trends. “With over 140 years of shared experience in the spirits industry between them, Meet the Masters is a must-attend for those who are serious about spirits, the stories behind them, and hungry to know more, in a unique and intimate setting,” said Brad Madigan, managing director at Campari UK. Sounds enlightening!

The Nightcap

The Fèis Ìle 2019 Limited Edition!

Douglas Laing unveils 2019 Fèis Ìle Big Peat bottling

Here at MoM we’re getting very excited about Fèis Ìle, the Islay Festival of Music and Malt that runs from 24 May to 1 June. To celebrate this year’s bash, Douglas Laing will be releasing a very special whisky called Big Peat’s Pals. It’s a blended malt containing whiskies from Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and even Port Ellen! So rare. Only 3,300 bottles will be available globally. It’s the 10th anniversary of the much-loved brand and so the packaging of this special edition features the photos of 400 “pals” from all over the world. “By marrying together a fine selection of our preferred single malts, only from Islay, we truly believe we have created the ultimate taste of Islay in Big Peat,” said Douglas Laing director of whisky Cara Laing. “His latest limited edition, the Fèis Ìle 2019 release, pays homage to his friends the world over, over 400 of whom feature proudly on the gift tube. This year, we celebrate 10 years since my father dreamed up Big Peat, and our extensive plans will ensure our Big Islay Pal celebrates in style all over the world!” These plans include a Facebook tasting during Fèis Ìle for members of the Big Peat community, so that fans who can’t get to the island can join in the festivities. Very modern.

The Nightcap

This man is basically Indiana Jones, as far as I’m concerned

Whisky distillery archaeology gets under way in Scotland!

It’s been quite the week when it comes to whisky history. First we heard evidence that Littlemill was Scotland’s ‘oldest’ distillery. Now we’ve got some archaeological goings on at Blackmiddens, an old steading on the border between Moray and Aberdeenshire. It was one of the first distilleries to nab a licence after the Excise Act of 1823. Now, The Cabrach Trust, which preserves the history of the area, is excavating the site to figure out exactly what went down when, with help from Forestry and Land Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland. “For decades local farmers secretly distilled whisky and smuggled it away under the noses of excisemen. Then, when the law was changed to make small-scale whisky production profitable, Blackmiddens was one of the first farms to take advantage of this,” said Anna Brennand, Cabrach Trust chief exec. “Despite the fact that farms like this were famous for their fine quality spirit, whisky production at Blackmiddens stopped just eight years after it began and the farm fell into ruin. We hope to uncover some of the secrets of early whisky making in the Highlands with this exciting dig.” We can’t wait to see what they discover!

The Nightcap

Small-batch Serata Hall gin, anyone?

Serata Hall comes to Old Street

Just a stone’s throw away from Old Street station, a new establishment called Serata Hall opened its doors this week, which we know because we attended the launch party! The new site is Albion & East’s fourth offering alongside sister sites Martello Hall in Hackney, and Canova Hall and Cattivo, both in Brixton. Like its siblings, Serata Hall will make all of its food on-site (we can personally recommend the pizzas), serve tap wine (the biggest selection outside the United States), and provide guests the option to either create their own cocktails or ‘Book a Bartender’, where mixologists conjure up inventive cocktails. There’s also a DJ booth, a daily bakery and hot-desk spaces. But the thing that stands out most for us here at MoM Towers? The in-house distillery. That’s right. Serata Hall features a bespoke still, called ‘Agnes’, which makes small-batch Serata Hall gin, available for visitors to drink at the venue and buy on-site. You can even sign up to gin blending masterclasses, where the master distiller will show you how to blend, bottle and hand-wax two gins, which you then get to name and take away. You also learn how to make three gin cocktails, too. Sounds like a good time to us!

The Nightcap

Move over coffee machines, at-home booze machines have arrived!

Can this at-home booze machine change how we drink?

The future is now, folks. Smart Spirits – a company that produces different types of spirits by mixing water, ethyl alcohol and flavour – has come up with an at-home dispenser designed to make more than 30 different drinks spanning all the major spirits categories using capsules. A bit like those coffee tabs but with actual booze. How does it work? The so-called ‘Taste Of’ flavour capsules mix with neutral grain spirit and/or water to mimic the flavours of different whiskies, gins, rums, vodkas and liqueurs. You can choose the alcohol content (0-40% ABV), and there’s even Bluetooth connectivity, so you can control the whole thing from your smartphone. “We’re delighted to introduce to the market an innovative new way to drink at home,” said Ian Smart, one of the Smart Spirits co-founders. “Smart Spirits taps into the desire of the increasingly sophisticated and tech-savvy consumer to have control of the alcohol in their drinks, at the same time also choice and convenience.” On the one hand, you’ve got an entire drinks cabinet in one. But we reckon we’d miss the sound of the cork popping out of the bottle… the jury’s out on this one. Let us know what you think!

The Nightcap

This is a $1,000 Mint Julep. No, really.

Woodford Reserve unveils $1,000 Julep for the Kentucky Derby

What’s the most you would spend on a cocktail? £9? £15? £21? Well, Woodford Reserve is hoping some punters will be prepared to spend significantly more. To celebrate the 145th Kentucky Derby on 3 and 4 May, the bourbon producer, which is also the race’s official sponsor, has unveiled a $1,000 Mint Julep. Yes, one thousand clams. For that money you’d expect it to contain unicorn tears or at the very least powdered griffin beak. But in reality it’s made with standard Woodford Reserve, a honey syrup that was aged in oak for 145 days, and mint grown at Churchill Downs racetrack where the Derby takes place. The packaging, however, is seriously swanky. For the money you get a silver cup alongside a flask of bourbon, and the whole thing is presented in a wooden box lined with jockey silks. If that’s not lavish enough, there’s a gold version available for $2,500. Only 125 silver and 20 gold will be made. You will be pleased to know that this is not just about conspicuous consumption, all the proceeds go to the John Asher Memorial Scholarship Fund to provide an education for deserving students at Western Kentucky University.

The Nightcap

I defy you not to imagine yourself drinking something wonderful and Japanese here

Nobu and Suntory team up for Hanami experience

How does a showcase of contemporary Japanese craftsmanship with a menu of exclusive cocktails, bespoke dishes and afternoon tea sound to you? Pretty great, right? Well, good, because that’s exactly what Nobu Hotel London Shoreditch and The House of Suntory have put together with Hanami. It’s a celebration of the annual bloom of the Japanese Cherry Blossom, or Sakura, inspired by the ancient practice of dining beneath the blossoming flower. Millions of people from all over the world travel to drink, dance and dine beneath the blossom, but Hanami will bring the spirit of this tradition to London at the newest Nobu restaurant. The bar team at Nobu, led by beverage manager Wilfried Rique, has worked closely with The House of Suntory to create an exciting original menu inspired by its range of premium Japanese spirits, including Toki and Chita Whisky, Roku Gin and the newly-launched Haku Vodka. These are presented with Japanese ingredients, teas and house-made infusions in a menu of seven bespoke cocktails, alongside Nobu-style bar snacks and world class sushi. Visitors to the terrace also have the opportunity to indulge in an exclusive Sakura-inspired Afternoon Tea menu, offering a twist on the classic British tradition. It’s open to the public now, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, then be sure to check it out.

The Nightcap

Marcos Ameneiros Zannone, who will presumably be looking to replace that sticky shaker…

And finally… Bartender gets stuck at Cointreau Margarita contest

There was a hairy moment at this week’s Cointreau Margarita competition at Century House in London, when one of the contestant’s cocktail shaker got stuck. Not an unusual occurrence when mixing cocktails, but after some frantic banging and jimmying from poor Marcos Ameneiros Zannone from Berners Tavern, it became clear that it was well and truly jammed. Meanwhile, the ice inside was slowly melting and diluting the cocktail. And so, the cream of British bartending stepped in and everyone in the room had a go at opening the bloody thing. But nobody could. It was like the sword in the stone from Arthurian Legend. Just in the nick of time, in stepped one of the barmen from Century who managed to prize the recalcitrant shaker open. Zannone poured out his Susanita (which was inspired by Crêpes Suzette), and won the competition. Our Henry was one of the judges, alongside Sandrae Lawrence from The Cocktail Lovers magazine, award-winning bartender Carl Anthony Brown, and Alfred Cointreau himself. The panel also picked a winner from outside London, with Nathan Larkin from Manchester’s plant-based bar Speak in Code taking the title with his Sicolo Mayahuel, a smoky complex drink with an Aztec twist. The two runners-up were Dean Railton from Feed in Leeds, and Leonardo Baggio from Mr Fogg’s Residence. The two winners won lots of Cointreau and a trip to Cannes. Congratulations to all who took part – the standard was sky high – and especially to Zannone for keeping his cool.

That’s it for The Nightcap this week, team. Have awesome weekends!

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‘One-off’ Glenmorangie 1991 is here!

Much excitement, folks! This week, Highland Scotch whisky distillery Glenmorangie unveiled the fourth release in its Bond House No. 1 vintage collection. And we were among the first to taste…

Much excitement, folks! This week, Highland Scotch whisky distillery Glenmorangie unveiled the fourth release in its Bond House No. 1 vintage collection. And we were among the first to taste Glenmorangie 1991!

We’ll start off by giving it its proper name: Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1991. So far, so fancy. What’s so exciting about this particular expression? We high-tailed it up to L’oscar, a former Baptist chapel that has been transformed into a dark, decadent hotel and restaurant, to check it out.

Luckily for us, Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of distilling, whisky creation and whisky stocks, was there to help unpick this one. He described Glenmorangie 1991 as “small batch” and “a genuinely one off whisky” – which always piques interest. But this time, we genuinely think it deserves the hype.

It’s Dr. Bill Lumsden!

It’s a rich, plummy sort of spirit, made from two parcels of whisky – unusual because they’ve been brought together. One parcel was finished in oloroso sherry casks, giving it all kinds of Christmas cake spice. The other? Burgundy cask-finished liquid, giving it an earthy richness. Both had been ‘finished’ for ten years (maybe more of a second maturation?). There’s some full-aged virgin oak wood, and come classic bourbon-aged Glenmorangie thrown in for good measure, too. It shouldn’t work. But it does. But only just.

What’s even more remarkable is that back in 1991, cask finishing wasn’t really even A Thing. We’re super used to seeing it today, but back then, Glenmorangie was one of the first to explore the technique.

Lumsden himself acknowledged that Glenmorangie 1991 was “tricky whisky to work with”, totally unlike the ‘89 and ‘93 expressions in the same collection. “Bringing together two such incongruous whiskies goes somewhat against convention which, in part, is what drew me to the challenge of combining them,” he said. “The result is a single malt with a rich plum character, deep, mellow aromas and tastes of ripe fruits and milk chocolate.

“Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1991 honours those early pioneers who dedicated themselves to the art of the wood finish in 1991, whose work still guides us today.”

So. The important bit. What does it taste like? Over to our Henry and his tasting notes:

Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1991

Colour: Deep copper

Nose: There’s chocolate orange, dried pineapple and aromatic cigar box aromas. A little time and fudge and toffee appear.

Palate: Very complex, powerful and peppery with a noticeable chew from the wood tannins, then fruity notes come through dark cherry and classic Glenmorangie peachy notes.

Finish: Rather long with honey and salted caramel.

The even better news? Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1991 is in the building! Enjoy, folks.

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Talisker’s top five ways to bring Wild Spirit to your cocktail

Remember Talisker’s maritime-inspired Race to Skye competition? Well, this year the single malt Scotch whisky distillery’s annual cocktail challenge has transcended the tumultuous Skye shoreline to encompass Britain’s fields, forests,…

Remember Talisker’s maritime-inspired Race to Skye competition? Well, this year the single malt Scotch whisky distillery’s annual cocktail challenge has transcended the tumultuous Skye shoreline to encompass Britain’s fields, forests, and farmer’s markets. Here, brand ambassador Jason Clark shared tips for crafting a drink inspired by the wilderness…

If there’s one thing the Isle of Skye’s only distillery excels at, it’s crafting a bold, smoky, spicy, maritime dram. And if there’s one thing the UK’s bartenders know how to do, it’s make a damn fine cocktail with the stuff. So, it’s with great anticipation that we welcome back Talisker’s bartender training programme and competition for a third year. And this time, it’s evolved.

Wild Spirit Whisky Tour

To spread this fine news, Talisker brand ambassador and double World Class Global Finalist Jason Clark has embarked on a UK-wide tour of 16 seaside locations and other cities to chat about the brand’s history, production and characteristics, and share a few Wild Spirit cocktail techniques. Oh, and he’s doing the whole thing in a Talisker Land Rover Highland Defender – camping in each location and documenting his journey along the way.

After his tour is over, bartenders across the UK will be invited to submit a Talisker Wild Spirit serve and add it to the menu in their bar for eight weeks to be in with the chance of bagging a Talisker Wild Spirit adventure for themselves and two of their colleagues. We’re a curious bunch, so we decided to sneak into Clark’s first session, which was hosted in London-based subterranean whisky den Black Rock. Here’s what we learned about crafting cocktails with a touch of Wild Spirit…

  1. Test your palate

Experiment with “seasonal, natural flavours that are different to the classic flavours you find in a bar”, Clark suggests. Things like different mushroom varieties, toasted nuts, pine needles, olives, beetroot, tomato, different blossoms and flowers, salt, different types of honey, different types of apples, pears, weeds, roots, cured meats, samphire, rhubarb, figs, nettles, tangerines, stone fruits, dandelion, and seaweed varieties.

  1. Consider homegrown

“These flavours may be grown in your garden or on your windowsill,” Clark suggests – indeed, garden centres sell all-in-one kits for mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and various herbs. Otherwise, “they might be foraged from a local park or coastline, they might be purchased from a local farmers market, or even from the supermarket,” he adds.

  1. Forage with care

Our neighbourhoods, parks, reserves, and coastline are all abundant with forageable produce, you just need to know what you’re looking at, suggests Clark. However, “you need to know that the area you’re sourcing from is natural, clean and safe,” he says. For example, don’t pick blackberries from a graveyard, a dog park, or an industrial area.

  1. Utilise the ingredients

If you forage something, and simple use it as a garnish or muddle it in the drink, you’re missing a trick. “It’s going to be gone in a day or three,” says Clark. “But if you look at ways of preserving it, you can use it on an ongoing basis for, potentially, the remainder of the season.” Syrups, infusions, shrubs, bitters, tinctures, pickling and cooking all bring out flavour in different ways. “You could do something as simple as infusing ginger bitters with magnolia flowers,” he adds.

  1. Give it a fancy name

When someone opens a menu and sees the name of a cocktail, it instantly creates a mental image, says Clark. Think: Winter Waves, Spring Orchard, Shackleton Toddy, Highland Fire, Campfire Tales, and so on. Take it a step further by creating a little story about that as well.

Foraging not your forte? Here are three pre-approved Talisker cocktails you can whip up from the comfort of your own home…

Talisker Sea Sour

Talisker Sea Sour

Sea Sour

Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Skye or Storm), 30ml lemon juice, 1 egg white, 15ml honey syrup, 3 dashes celery bitters
Glass: Old fashioned or tumbler
Garnish: Fennel or samphire
Method: Shake and double strain then garnish.

Talisker Campfire Hot Chocolate

Talisker Campfire Hot Chocolate

Campfire Hot Chocolate

Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Skye or Storm), 50ml boiling water, 45g dark chocolate (60%), 150ml milk (dairy or oat), 10ml golden syrup
Garnish: Toasted marshmallow and spice dust
Method: Mix chocolate with water and stir. Add other ingredients and steam on a coffee machine milk wand. Pour into mug and garnish.

Talisker Hot Todday

Talisker Hot Toddy

Hot Toddy

Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Storm, or Port Ruighe), 10ml ginger liqueur, 15ml heather honey syrup, 25ml lemon juice, 25ml apple juice, 100ml boiling water
Garnish: Cinnamon-spiced honeycomb
Method: Build in a pre-heated mug and garnish.

The Talisker Wild Spirit Whisky Tour will run until 20 April. To see the full schedule and sign up, bartenders should visit https://taliskerwildspirit.events.idloom.com.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely…

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely badly…

I’ve had many terrible Gin and Tonic experiences, so to get me in the right frame of mind for this article, I thought back to three particularly great ones:

1) A bar in Barcelona in the mid ‘90s, I’ve just ordered a Gin Tonica. The barman fills a tall Collins glass with ice, then free pours Larios Gin almost to the top, adds a slice of lime, adds a splash of tonic on the side, and I marvel as the UV light turns the drink blue (something to do with the quinine) while Ritmo de La Noche bangs away.

2) Sunset over Lake Malawi, the heat of the day has faded a bit, I’m sipping a G&T made with the local gin (which is excellent, why does nobody import it?) and thinking about dinner. The drink is extremely cold and alive with limes that taste as if they’d just come off the tree. Probably because they had.

3) At my grandfather’s house. Him explaining to me in his pedantic grandpa way how to make a G&T. The method involved Beefeater gin, lots and lots of ice, good quality heavy tumblers and Schweppes tonic water out of tiny bottles so that they were bursting with fizz. My grandfather made a mean G&T, much better than my father.

Gin Mare

The Spanish do make a cracking G&T (photo courtesy of Gin Mare)

These stories illustrate how a G&T should be: majestic, refreshing and invigorating. Now think of those pub versions you’ve had: watery ice, flat tonic, and sad dried out lemon, if you get any citrus at all. The whole thing tasting sickly sweet. Here I turn to the words of the great Victoria Moore in her book How to Drink (it was published in 2009, we really need an updated version): “Some people think that there is no need for instruction when it comes to making Gin and Tonic. Those people are wrong.” Making a good G&T isn’t difficult but it does require care.

When it comes to ingredients, we’re now spoiled for choice. You can go for classic gins with a big whack of juniper (Tanqueray) or floral lighter ones (Bombay Sapphire) or even ones that don’t really taste like gin (looking at you, Gin Mare). I’m using Ramsbury Gin from Wiltshire which contains quince as one of its botanicals. Tonic water has exploded recently with every variety under the sun from Fever Tree and its rivals. Don’t, however, ignore Schweppes. For many G&T fanatics, it’s the only one that will do. Which gin or tonic you use, however, is largely a matter of taste.

What isn’t a matter of taste is the proper way to make the thing. First the glass: use a heavy tumbler, a Collins glass or one of those Spanish fishbowl things. You need lots of ice, the cubes should be as large as possible. Try to avoid ice bought in bags as the cubes have holes in which makes them melt quicker. Both your gin and tonic should be chilled. I keep a bottle of gin in the freezer for emergency Martinis. Now the citrus fruit: it can be lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange (particularly nice with Brighton Gin) but it must be freshly cut. It sounds a bit pretentious but you will really notice the difference with Amalfi or Sicilian lemons as they have a floral perfumed quality rather than just being sharp.

Got your ingredients ready? Is your gin in the freezer? Let’s have a bloody Gin Tonica!

50ml Ramsbury Gin
100ml 1724 Tonic Water
Quarter of lemon

Fill a Collins glass or tumbler with ice, pour in the gin and top up with half the tonic water. Rub a quarter of lemon around the rim, drop in and stir. Serve with the rest of the tonic on the side so you can dilute to taste. Don’t forget the salty snacks.

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Master of Malt tastes… Mortlach 47 Year Old

We found ourselves dram-to-face with the oldest ever distillery expression released from Dufftown’s oldest distillery: Mortlach. It’s safe to say that Mortlach is one Scotch whisky’s finest distilleries. The spirit…

We found ourselves dram-to-face with the oldest ever distillery expression released from Dufftown’s oldest distillery: Mortlach.

It’s safe to say that Mortlach is one Scotch whisky’s finest distilleries. The spirit is reliably good and possesses a distinctive distillery character. It’s current core range is one of the most impressive you’ll find. But what are things like at the other end of the age spectrum?

We were invited to a tasting of its latest release, Mortlach 47 Year Old, to find out. The brand arranged for 47 guests in total to imbibe the imperious at The Violin Factory in Lambeth, London last night. Global Scotch ambassador Ewan Gunn hosted and was at hand with anecdotes and answers. Did I mention there’s was a 47-year-old Mortlach? It was all obviously incredibly exciting.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

An introduction to Speyside whisky at the Violin Factory: Knockando 12 Year Old (front) Cardhu 12 Year Old (middle) and finally Mortlach 16 Old (end).

Anybody who’s ever enjoyed a dram of the good stuff knows that there’s always going to be a level of intrigue about whiskies of a certain age, no matter how many brilliant young spirits are released by great distilleries.

An extra-old whisky can prove to be something of a double-edged sword, however. An expression of that age may have actually suffered from too long in the cask, suppressing a lot of flavours and any trace of the distillery’s profile. You don’t want to end up writing a tasting note that’s essentially just a list of synonyms for ‘woody’. Worse still, you could come to the realisation that your dreamy dram was actually a relatively poor whisky before it was even matured in the first place. Respect for your elders can only go so far.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

Mortlach Distillery in Dufftown, Scotland

That said, my impression going into this tasting was that Mortlach was exactly the kind of distillery that would avoid this fate. The spirit is known as The Beast of Dufftown’ for its robust, bold and uncompromising character and its noted ability to stand up to long maturation and distinctive cask types. It’s also been described as being atypical of ‘Speyside style’, though I’m not sure you could or should reduce any region to one profile.

Instead, it’s worth exploring what makes Mortlach unique, and for many that lies in the distillation process. You may have heard the brand explain that it distils its whisky 2.81 times, using a complicated process known as ‘The Way’. Gunn describes it is a method that “can only have come from the mind of a world-class engineer.”

It’s essentially a partial triple distillation. Only two out of its six variously sized stills operate conventionally, the first being a wash still that carries out the first distillation and the second is a spirit still, which takes care of the second distillation. This pair of stills creates one spirit stream. All pretty standard fare so far.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

The famous Mortlach stills

That leaves a remaining four stills, two wash and two spirit. The wash stills carry out the first distillation for the second and third spirit streams and what they produce is split between the remaining two spirit stills. One spirit still receives 80% of it, making a second spirit stream, while the remaining 20% is distilled three times in the last still, which is known affectionately as ‘Wee Witchie.’ The middle cut is taken after the third distillation, creating the third spirit stream.

All three spirit streams are then combined, having been condensed using wooden worm tubs (Mortlach remains one of only a handful of distilleries still using these to cool its spirit). The end result is the classic Mortlach new-make, muscular, meaty and full-bodied. You can get an idea here of why long maturation or cask types don’t tend to undermine Mortlach whisky. You’d have to think it would take a lot to shackle that particular beast.

Which brings me to the Mortlach 47 Years Old. It’s worth pointing out that it’s not the oldest bottle of Mortlach whisky. In fact, a 75-year-old bottling of Mortlach released by Gordon & MacPhail is one of the oldest whiskies in the world. The 47 Year Old is the oldest ever released from the distillery itself, and the first from a new collection of single cask whiskies called The Singing Stills Series. The range will eventually feature three rare single cask expressions and was named after Mortlach’s famously vocal distillation equipment. Talk of beasts and singing inanimate objects all sounds a little Beauty and the Beast, but “the sound of the stills is as distinctive to the distillery as the taste of the whisky,” Gunn explains.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

It’s the oldest distillery expression released from Mortlach

Mortlach 47 Years Old was matured in a single refill American oak hogshead that was filled in 1971. For 47 years the spirit rested in the original warehouse before it was bottled at 46.8% ABV. There are just over 90 bottles left from the original 100 that were filled, so Mortlach has launched an online registration, which opened last night, on Justerini & Brooks in order to handle demand. It will set you back £10,000. Quite steep, but then we are living in increasingly silly times.

In the material sent out with the announcement of this series, master blender Dr Craig Wilson describes the 47-year-old as “exquisite for its age and is unmistakably Mortlach, with its intensely complex character and well-balanced flavour profile”. There was also a tasting note provided, which read as such:

Producer’s Tasting Note for Mortlach 47 Year Old:

Nose: Aromatic and exotic with orchard and tropical fruits followed by honey and waxy notes. Subtle spice notes emerge with sage, rosemary, incense and myrrh followed by a faint touch of smoke.

Palate: Soft, ripe fruits with an intriguing combination of sweet and sour notes – umeshu plums and peaches are both present. There are balanced by firm tannins and a rich earthiness with just a little smoke.

Finish: Earthy and spicy with a touch of wood ash.

It all sounds very delicious. Happily, we can confirm that it’s exactly what it is. As we tasted our dram, music commissioned specifically for this whisky (no, really) played. It was written by Alexis French using the singing of the stills as inspiration. It added a nice ambience to the tasting, but there was simply too much going with this whisky to notice it that much.

What really stood out was the elegant structure of the dram, with a sublime nose as the highlight. There was enough there of what people would recognise was classic Mortlach, but also plenty of welcome surprises. Here’s a full MoM tasting note, so you can get a better idea of just how good my Tuesday night was:

Mortlach 47 Year Old

Mortlach 47 Year Old

Master of Malt Tasting Note for Mortlach 47 Year Old:

Nose: Rich, deep and elegant, the nose begins with dark chocolate with raspberries through it, Christmas pudding and a little floral honey. Fleshy nectarines, pineapple rings, ripe mango and a little banana foster add an exotic and refined sweetness. Vanilla fudge emerges and is followed by a fascinating blend of incense, star anise and thyme. Dried mushroom and cured meat provide a savoury, umami backbone, which baked earth and sandalwood complement. A helping of butterscotch and soft toffee pennies are present throughout, adding a sticky, unctuous sweetness.

Palate: The 47 years of maturation is more apparent on the palate, with sparks of oaky tannins rushing to the fore among dry earth and rancio. Then a raft of dark fruit sweetness and bittersweet, menthol herbs: blackberry compote, rosemary and more thyme predominantly, provide the all-important depth. Rich toffee, ginger snaps and a notable return of the fresh tropical fruits add very pleasant support.

Finish: The finish starts auspiciously with a thick spread of melted, salted butter. It then morphs into a decadent flourish with pear drops, a little retro lemonade and salted caramel sauce, which are balanced by notes of wood ash and charred Chinese pork spare ribs.

Overall: Very, very impressive. The nose, in particular, I could have enjoyed for a fortnight at least. In summary: I’ll fight you all for another bottle.

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Tears before bedtime: are we heading for a whisky crash?

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s…

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s turbulent past and asks when the next bust is coming. 

According to Mark Twain, “too much good whiskey is barely enough.”  Well, uncomfortably soon, we might find out if that’s true. Whisky – be that Scotch, American or Irish – has, with monotonous regularity, a very bad habit of shooting off its own foot.  Bear with me: short and grossly simplified history lesson coming up.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton at Glenfiddich

At the end of the 19th century, the Irish whiskey industry, which was heavily invested both financially and emotionally in its large pot stills and regarded grain spirit as ‘sham whisky’ and blending as adulteration, turned its back on the future.  While other factors then came into play, it’s taken the industry more than a century to recover. Our American friends, having just got over the self-inflicted wound of Prohibition, decided that rye was finished and bourbon belonged on the bottom shelf.  That’s taken a while to sort out.

And the Scots, contrary to their national reputation for caution and parsimony, are overly fond of some boom and bust, be it the Pattison crisis of the late 1890s or the closures of the 1920s, which – lesson not learned – were neatly repeated in the mid-1980s when the industry finally confronted the consequences of over-production. Not to be outdone, shortly afterwards, the Japanese industry thought seppuku a smart move. Reacting to economic recession and dropping sales, a series of cutbacks and closures explain why Japanese whisky of any age is so very expensive today.

So, that’s one thing the world of whisky has in common.  Here’s another: we may be on the brink of repeating the same mistake because, wherever you look, distilleries are being expanded and new ones built as if the current good times will never end. The thing is, top-line numbers don’t tell the whole story. While there may be literally thousands of boutique distilleries being built anywhere you can cast a quaich, they don’t actually matter all that much.  Sure, they do if you’re an investor. Furthermore, they add to the gaiety of life and people like me get to write articles about them, but in terms of the volume they add to total production they’re insignificant.

whisky crash

Macallan’s spanking new distillery

If you doubt that, here’s a sum: it would take 125 (that’s one hundred and twenty-five, count ‘em) tiddlers of 100,000 litres annual capacity to equal the output of one Roseisle.  By the way, 100,000 litres is a perfectly decent little distillery: more, for example, than the projected individual outputs of Daftmill, Abhainn Dearg, Strathearn, Eden Mill or Dornoch .  And, while a lot of new boutique distilleries are being built in Scotland, the total doesn’t approach 125.

So, I’m not that worried about the small fry, fascinating though they are.  The problem (if there is one) comes with the less heralded fact that the big are getting very much bigger: Inchdairnie (up to 4 million litres); Ailsa Bay (12.5m); Roseisle (12.5m); Dalmunach (10m); Macallan (15m) and Borders (2m). That’s without considering expansion at Glenfiddich (to 20m), The Glenlivet, Glen Moray (now a 5m-litre plant), Glen Ord, Glenmorangie and the re-opening of Glen Keith.  I could go on.

In fact, I shall.  Exactly the same thing is happening in Kentucky and elsewhere in the USA.  That’s without mentioning the States’ reputed 1,500 plus craft distillers which, however small any one of them may be, does eventually add up to an awful lot of liquor. Expansion in Ireland, chiefly at Tullamore and Midleton, but not forgetting Waterford and Bushmills, has also seen a headlong rush into micro-distilling – which is interesting, given how Jameson continues to dominate the category.  Does the world need twenty or more tiny Irish distilleries? In Japan, following years of under-production and a sudden dramatic rise in demand (and hence those prices), they’re scrambling to catch up.

whisky crash

Artist impression of the new Port Ellen distillery

Now, while you can, of course, keep whisky in cask almost indefinitely, that requires barrels and warehouses, scarce and expensive resources that tax the patience of the most saintly accountant. Because a lot of this expansion has happened within a short period of time, a tsunami of newly-mature spirit can be expected on the market within the next five years.  

In fact, the world has never seen so much whisky. Where will it all go? Who is going to drink it all?

I would like to conclude with the thought that the last time whisky grew this fast it all ended badly. Which is true, but I can’t because whisky has never grown this fast. The size of some of these giant distilleries is unheard of for single malt, and, for the industry as a whole, the scale of expansion is unprecedented. That’s worth thinking about, because it means an unprecedented level of risk of a very messy end to our current golden age.

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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