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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Adam O'Connell

Cocktail of the Week: The 1796 Spritz

Today we’re taking a rum-tastic spin on a classic cocktail made with a certain Venezuelan rum. “The secret behind creating a great rum cocktail begins in the same way that…

Today we’re taking a rum-tastic spin on a classic cocktail made with a certain Venezuelan rum.

“The secret behind creating a great rum cocktail begins in the same way that creating any great cocktail should – with a thoughtful balance of carefully-selected, quality ingredients,” says Geoff Robinson, UK brand ambassador for Santa Teresa. “To make a great rum cocktail, specifically, I would encourage one to delve a little deeper into what makes that rum in particular unique – as it is such a broad category, there is so much diversity to play with – and then find a way to elevate or complement those special characteristics.”

There’s plenty that makes Santa Teresa 1796 unique. The single estate Venezuelan rum, which is made using the solera method (most notably used in the production of sherry) from a blend of rums aged between five and 35 years in former American whiskey barrels, has gained as much of a reputation for its smooth, dry and balanced spirit as it has for community outreach programs like Project Alcatraz, which uses rugby to rehabilitate criminal gang members in Venezuela.

1796 Spritz

Say hello to Geoff Robinson!

This initiative has provided a platform for the brand’s Alcatraz Cocktail Challenge, in which bartenders from across London, Manchester and Edinburgh are challenged to create and list an innovative Santa Teresa 1796 cocktail on their menu. The only rules were each cocktail should be inspired by Alberto Vollmer’s highly successful initiative, Project Alcatraz and £1 from every sale would be donated to charity. “The creations we saw were outstanding, with winning cocktails including the London Edition’s Yoann Tarditi’s banana bread flavoured ‘The Third Half’ and Three Sheet’s Max Venning’s ‘Alcatraz Old Fashioned’ served in two different iterations – a lighter expression with lemon, orange and kaffir and a darker version with vanilla and oak moss,” says Robinson. “This experimentation ultimately works to help improve the understanding of the rum category, and in doing so we managed to raise significant funds for the School of Hard Knocks, a charity that uses rugby to teach positive values and behaviours to give a sense of self-worth and hopefulness for the future.”

Robinson, who originally hails from Vancouver, Canada, worked as a professional bartender there at some of the city’s best bars before moving to London to establish himself in the UK bar scene. In 2018 he became involved with Santa Teresa, at a time where the industry was anticipating the premiumisation of rum. It’s been a long road, however, as Robinson explains: “There is definitely a lack of knowledge about rum, along with a great many misconceptions – and it is completely understandable why! Rum was born out of a long history of adventure, exploration and, indeed, naval imperialism and piracy, and has never had an overarching set of regulations about how it can or should be produced, nor how we define and label it. As such, it is no surprise that people on both sides of the bar are confused!”

1796 Spritz

Innovative cocktails have a huge part to play in rum’s future success

The key for rum may well lie in its noted ability to be utilised in a number of cocktails, from classic serves to original creations. “Consumers and bar professionals alike are starting to realize that rum is not singular, and so consists of far more than the general associations that we make,” says Robinson. They are starting to understand that rum is more than just light rum, Daiquiris and tiki, all wonderful things, but also encompasses aged, sipping rums that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any other old-world aged spirits in terms of provenance and craftsmanship that are equally at home in a Manhattan, Negroni or Old Fashioned. Innovative craft cocktails certainly do help rum as a category because they demand the cocktail-maker or bartender has a deeper understanding of their ingredients, and then that they showcase them in unique ways. The future of rum is bright.”

Which brings us to this week’s serve, the 1796 Spritz. It’s simple to make and elegantly presented, but the most interesting aspect is that it takes a powerful, complex rum and uses it to make something light and refreshing, creating a pleasant contrast in style. “I chose this particular cocktail as it is a light and fragrant serve that highlights the flavour of the rum itself,” explains Robinson.

The inspiration is Santa Teresa’s Club 1796 event, a series of dinners with the on-trade that Robinson reveals was started to celebrate each other’s company in a family-style environment, but also to learn more about rum and the rich history of Santa Teresa. “The 1796 Spritz is always the first cocktail we serve at dinner, and it is the perfect introduction for any imbiber, be they a seasoned rum aficionado, or somebody diving a little deeper into the category for the first time,” says Robinson. “We present this cocktail alongside a range of exquisite seafood and sushi, with the umami flavours bought in by the umeshu (Japanese fruit liqueur) complementing the fresh savoury taste of the fish.”

1796 Spritz

The 1796 Spritz

To make it yourself, simply follow Robinson’s instructions:

35ml Santa Teresa 1796
5ml Shoya Extra Shiso Umeshu
30ml soda water
30ml tonic water

Mix 1796 and umeshu in a spritz or wine glass over ice and give a brief stir, then top with the soda and tonic. Stir again and garnish with a purple shiso leaf (if you have one, if not a twist of orange peel will do).

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Five minutes with… James Doherty of Sliabh Liag Distillers

It’s been a long process for James and Moira Doherty bringing Irish whiskey back to James’ parents’ home of Donegal, but progress has been made and the future is looking…

It’s been a long process for James and Moira Doherty bringing Irish whiskey back to James’ parents’ home of Donegal, but progress has been made and the future is looking bright. Here the co-founder of Sliabh Liag Distillers discusses new distillery details, why he favours a traditional peated style and the lessons he learned being the grandson of renowned poitín men.

If you’re a fan of Irish whiskey or The Nightcap, you probably will have seen the good news. Sliabh Liag Distillers (phonetically: Slieve League) has received planning permission to build its new €6m distillery in Donegal, the first there for 177 years. For managing director and co-founder James Doherty, a former tea planter and executive with William Grant & Sons, Foster’s and SABMiller, this is the realisation of a dream to return to his ancestral homeland and make whiskey. He and Moira, co-founder and wife, left Hong Kong in 2014 to create Sliabh Liag Distillers, which currently produces An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin in a 500 litre copper pot from Forsyths. Production of this will move to the upcoming Ardara Distillery which is set to produce heavily-peated single malt and pot still Irish whiskeys.

This is all very exciting, which is why we had to find out more from the man himself…

Sliabh Liag Distillers

Say hello to James Doherty!

MoM: Hi James! What’s the progress on Ardara Distillery?

James Doherty: The planners have been very positive, there’s still some challenges but we’re working through them. The planning permission is in at the moment for a 400,000-litre whisky distillery, which is roughly Teeling-sized and equates to approximately 1700 filled casks, and over 1.2m bottles of whiskey when the spirit is sold. We want to start building in October and then with a bit of luck and a fair wind, we could be distilling Christmas time 2020. Which would be going some! It was back in 2015 that we bought our first piece of land to build the whiskey distillery on, but that subsequently fell through. In the very early days, someone said to us ‘this will cost twice as much and take twice as long as you think’ – and we’ve kind of learnt that they’re right!

MoM: Tell us about Ardara, the distillery location.

JD: Ardara is a mercantile town. It was a town of weavers, shopkeepers and bars and what-have-you, and a proper tourist hub. It’s actually enabled us to design something that works for the village. Our design is a whiskey distillery and a gin distillery that you can visit, not a visitors centre with a distillery attached, which for us is really important. We have no restaurants, no food, it’s all about ‘come and see us as a working distillery and then get yourself into the village and try some of the great pubs, try some of the restaurants’. Rather than you hoover up all the money as a destination, it’s ‘let’s make sure that the money is evenly spread and that we’re all feeding an ecosystem together’. For me, it’s a fascinating part of the world where, I suppose, culturally I’m imbued with it but it also felt to me like an area that was unexploited. Irish whiskey today is a post-industrial revolution and a city-based, post-tax reform pedigree. So we focused on how could you build something that was differentiated, rooted in a place that plays a part, so somewhere very different.

Sliabh Liag Distillers

What Ardara Distillery is projected to look like

MoM: How did you come to form Sliabh Liag Distillers?

JD: When I was with Grants, Moira and I started talking about ideas for brands that we could do ourselves. My parents are from Donegal, from the west coast, but left in the sixties and came to the UK. We put together this idea of taking the stories of the Donegal Gaeltachts. The idea of doing a seaweed-based gin actually originated in 2010, but we didn’t do it straight away because we were trying to get the money behind us to be able to do as much of it ourselves as we could. We left Hong Kong in 2014 to live in Donegal, in the village that my mum and dad are from and put a team together to build a distillery with a local businesswoman, Margaret Cunningham, as well as Oliver Hughes from Dingle and Porterhouse, and James Keith, a guy who’s got a construction background but also really good at business modelling and raising finance for early-stage companies. The finance director of SABMiller, Don De Lorenzo, and the legal counsel from SABMIller, John Davidson, were also on the board. From there we kind of then started to pull the whole thing together in terms of how you would tell the story of Donegal, which is probably the illicit distilling capital of Ireland, through a modern spirits brand. It was never just about making one thing, it was always about how do you build a branded business that you can do a lot with all rooted in the authenticity of the area. So not the city-based flavour but profoundly peated single malt and pot still whiskey.

MoM: Can you tell us more about why you wanted to make peated whiskey?

JD: We’re looking to recreate the taste of what would have been the 1850s. If you look at Irish whiskey as it is today, it can only be a city-based flavour because of the lack of peating in my view. If you look at the old mash bills, that’s what we’re going back towards. My grandfathers, both of them, were poitín men and we know from the way that they used to produce their poitín that they actually used peat to dry their barley because they would have had nothing else. I suppose it’s not an Islay style. It’s not about that kind of seaweed, iodine profile, it’s about that dry smoky character. In Donegal when you drive in, with the peat fires and the chimneys there’s a dry smokiness that you get, a kind of dusty smoky aroma. We want to try and get that onto the inherently sweeter styles and smoother styles of Irish whiskey. That’s where it’s coming from.

Sliabh Liag Distillers

Whisky from Ardara Distillery will be peated

MoM: We haven’t seen much from peated whiskey from Ireland, Connemara aside, do you think there’s going to be a market for it?

JD: I think there will. I personally would have liked the whole of the West Coast to be peated and have it as a kind of West Coast identifier. I know that Powerscourt is also looking at it and Peter Mulryan at Blackwater is already using peated malts. I suspect though that most people will go for a kind of safe level of peating, so they’ll try and make it ‘a hint of peat’ rather than profoundly peaty. We’re looking at 55 parts a million, but with triple distilling, you end up at about 35ppm as the net effect of that.

MoM: You’ve settled on triple distillation then?

JD: That’s right. The two spirit stills are inspired by Macallan, while the wash still is a unique one that Richard Forsyth and myself drew up. They will have quite short, quite large balls on them so we can try and drive through as much flavour as we can. You can find that triple distillation can strip out a lot of flavour. Having put all of the effort into creating it, we want to carry as much flavour through as possible.

Sliabh Liag Distillers

The distillery is located on the scenic west coast of Ireland

MoM: What about raw materials, do you know where you’ll source your barley?

JD: The eastern side of Donegal is an enormous grain growing area. We’ve already spoken to Grianán Farm, which I think is the biggest single farm in Ireland, and they’re already talking to us about growing for us. We will do as much as we can in Donegal. We already buy and source as much as we can in the area, which is a challenge because it is remote! So the challenge will be whether we can get enough.

MoM: Have you decided what your cask profile will be?

JD: Yes, we’ve looked at 70% bourbon casks, 25% sherry casks and then 5% specials that are just newsworthy and interesting things. We need the sherry profile to be quite dominant I think in order to get that peated dry smokiness. I remember from my time at Grant’s how Ailsa Bay perfected getting that. So, fortunately, I learned some of these things.

Sliabh Liag Distillers

The new €6m Ardara Distillery in Donegal is the first there for 177 years.

MoM: Your grandfathers were poitín producers. What did you learn from them?

JD: It was my gran who sat with me and gave me some recipes. To my knowledge, talking to my cousins, she never talked to anyone else about it. My mum would tell you that my gran wouldn’t hear talk of it in the house and up until her death, there were people that she didn’t talk to who had shopped grandad to the police and stuff over the years. She told us how he was using molasses to increase the sugar content, and how he was using barley and oats. Unfortunately my grandad had already passed before he gave me the recipe, but we had enough of the recipe and insight into how he did it from my older surviving uncles and gran’s stuff to be able to kind of rebuild grandad’s poitín so we’ll do that anyway as a matter of course, it would be rude not to! My mum is from a farm and if you go up the hill, according to my uncles, grandad disposed of the worm up there somewhere but we’ve been up and had a look and can’t find it… everyone’s being pretty coy about where stuff is!

MoM: Why is Irish mythology a key part of your branding?

JD: It’s an oral history that’s seldom captured. I suppose that, to some extent – and I don’t mean this in a pejorative way – but lots of Irish whiskey is a round bottle with some fella’s name on it, a couple of dates and it’s kind of rooted to a place. We felt that there was an opportunity to build a richer story using the legends and folktales as one element of it. If you look at the illicit distilling heritage of the area, of which my grandads were obviously part of, in 1815 there were 500 and something still seizures in Donegal. And the next nearest county was about a hundred! So this was an area where it’s clear the illicit operations are massively documented. People were part-time farmers and full-time distillers I think, rather than the other way round. If you talk to ‘the old boys’ in the area, they will tell you all of this stuff but they still talk about it as if the police are listening. There’s an element of it which is like distilling is in the soul of that county. My desire was to be back to where my roots are from and tell that story of that place, in a modern way, through spirits brands. So we were trying to do it in a way that takes the Book of Kells and stuff like that but doesn’t do it in a kitsch way. We’re trying to build on the elements of Irish heritage that are rich and newsworthy and interesting and build our story into that and tell it that way. Donegal is a place apart, geographically in the North, politically in the South. It’s a unique place. We live by a mountain and the weather we have is unique. The soils are unique and there’s incredibly soft water. To us, it felt absolutely right. If you’re going to put it somewhere, this is the right place to put a distillery, for sure.

Sliabh Liag Distillers

The unique weather will have an impact on maturation

MoM: Speaking about the weather at the end there and it being unique, you must have a mindset towards maturation and how that would affect it?

JD: What we know is that the mountain has an impact. So if you look at the peninsula we live on, it’s southwest of a 600-metre mountain. The weather in that corner of the peninsula is unique to that area. You get low evaporation rates and a kind of slow maturation that would give you really interesting whiskeys. I hesitate to say ‘terroir’ because Waterford have that done so well. It’s more about that unique place and the impact of the environment on that place. It’s where our heart is, it’s this amazing distilling capital that’s had a history that’s almost been lost or being lost. As it’s a place apart you can be polarising, you can be different, you can try and do different things.

MoM: What do you think the future holds for the Irish whiskey category and where do you see yourself in it?

JD: There’s a couple of things that are at play that are quite interesting. One is that if you believe the numbers that the Irish Whiskey Association is putting out there, if you think those are realistic, then there’s not enough capacity in the industry. We’re not putting in enough scale, very few people are. John Teeling is putting in scale. I suppose Royal Oak has got some scale to it but actually nobody else really is. So there isn’t enough capacity. The other thing that strikes me is that, if you look at the way spirits companies grow generally, they either stay as a boutique business that don’t grow fast enough because they don’t have the capacity to go further or their positioning is not one that communicates well enough to a wide enough consumer group, or you’re going to get businesses that are built to grow rapidly, to scale. Hopefully, that’s kind of what we’re building. There comes a point where that kind of brand either catches fire and it goes into mainstream distribution, Hendricks would be a classic example or Monkey Shoulder, they suddenly just take off. Undoubtedly there will be a shake out with some of the guys who are undercapitalised or just ran out of cash. With distilleries, generally, that’s what happens – they run out of cash or they can’t sell what they make. The challenge is you can get a route to the markets that are owned by the bigger players, but what happens then? Are you different enough that they can live with you in their portfolio? Do they come after you? Maybe you become like Teeling and Bacardi, people take small stakes because they want a piece of you but you’re very clear that you’re not for sale. At the moment we’re all straddling around to win 5% or 7% of the category, but you would hope that Jameson, Tully and Bushmills would build the category. Then we keep it noisy and relevant so as they continue to grow, we continue to grow. But the share of our share overall is 25%, 30% of the category. I can’t see it being like malt whisky where Glenfiddich had 100% of the market and now it has 20% of a massive market – I don’t see that kind of change. But that’s a 50 year change. But that’s because I probably won’t see 50 years so I could be wrong!

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New Arrival of the Week: Highland Park Valfather

Our New Arrival of the Week is the most peated whisky to date from Highland Park. Meet Valfather! You might have noticed things have changed at Highland Park in the…

Our New Arrival of the Week is the most peated whisky to date from Highland Park. Meet Valfather!

You might have noticed things have changed at Highland Park in the last couple of years. Since 2017, the Island distillery has spent a fair bit of time, and presumably money, popping a jaunty Viking helmet on everything it does. You see, things went from nice to Norse on the distillery’s Orkney home back in 800AD, when the Viking kingdoms of Denmark and Norway invaded and set up shop. Once you’ve seen how many puffins there are on Orkney, it is hard to pull yourself away, in fairness.

Classic expressions were given a makeover and some swanky new Scotch whisky ranges were introduced, such as the Viking Legend series, a collection of special-edition bottlings made to highlight the journey to Ragnarök, the battle at the end of the world (there’s a Brexit joke here that I’m too tired of it all to make). First there was Valkyrie, a smoky, rich and aromatic bottling that was matured in predominantly European sherry seasoned oak, then Valknut, a woody, smoky and spicy expression aged in American sherry seasoned oak and crafted from Orkney’s tartan barley. Now the series has come to its conclusion with Valfather, the expression that’s got our attention this week.

Valfather

Highland Park Valfather

It was named after Odin, the head honcho of Aesir (the other gods), as well as the god of wisdom, poetry, death, divination and magic in Norse mythology. You might alternatively know Odin as Thor’s dad from those Marvel films, but Highland Park is old school and honours the classic interpretation of the one-eyed deity. There’s no trace of Anthony Hopkins in Valfather’s distinctive packaging.

Instead, the inspiration was the ancient picture stones from Stora Hammars in Gotland, Sweden. The aesthetic once again features input from Danish designer Jim Lyngvild, who has enjoyed a long working partnership with Highland Park. It’s easy to see why the distillery went with him. Lyngvild can trace his family tree all the way back to the 8th century and boasts a Viking lineage that includes his 36th great grandfather Ragnvald Eysteinsson, the 1st Earl of the Orkney Islands. He also lives in a Viking-inspired castle which he designed himself in the Danish village of Faaborg. Some people have it all.

It’s certainly a beautiful bottle. But let’s face it – you’re more interested in what’s inside it. Valfather is like every other bottle from Highland Park in that it was bottled with no additional colouring. Where it differs is how peaty it is. Which is very. It is, in fact, Highland Park’s most peated whisky. Ever. The considerable phenolic level was supposedly intended to mirror Odin’s power, which also presumably explains the 47% ABV strength. But this isn’t an overpowering smoke-bomb of a dram.

As fans of the distillery will know, peat on Orkney is unique. The 4,000-year-old supply, cut from Hobbister Moor just seven miles from the distillery, is completely woodless and filled with fragrant heather. It has a complex, floral and sweet profile, and is markedly different from peat sourced from Islay, for example. This means Valfather has plenty of pleasantly peaty notes, without tasting like it was plucked straight from an Orkney bog.

Valfather

The 4,000-year-old peat is cut from Hobbister Moor just seven miles from the distillery

The expression also benefits from the experience of its creator, Highland Park whisky maker Gordon Motion, who used refill casks to mature the spirit. The marketing will tell you that this lighter style of whisky was chosen to reflect the ethereal and lighter feel of Valhalla, Odin’s hall, which is a nice story. But it’s clear that Motion was careful not to create an unbalanced, overbearing whisky. Using this type of cask meant less wood interaction and consequently less cask character to compete with all that extra peat.

“Valfather and the whiskies in the Viking Legend series use more of our heavily peated malt, making the series more like cousins, rather than a brother or sister to the core range,” explained Motion. “Overall, this whisky is the richest and smokiest in taste profile compared to the rest of the series and our classic whiskies. As well as our hallmark aromatic peat smoke, it tastes of creamy vanilla, toasted cedar wood with a long floral aromatic finish offset by notes of crisp apple and sweet fragrant pear.”

So does it achieve the required balance? In a word, yes. In two words, hell yes. In three words… well, you get the idea. Valfather a fitting end to a stellar collection of whiskies. Swanky bottles and boxes along with stories about Viking legends might worry some that Highland Park’s focus is now marketing over quality. But the Viking Legend series has boasted some stellar drams, particularly Valkyrie and Valfather (sorry Valknut, it’s nothing personal) that go back to the distillery’s esteemed roots (or should that be bogs?). A whisky of exceptional balance, the refill casks come through just enough to add some depth of flavour, but not so much that they dominate or distract. Distillery character is king here: vibrant orchard fruit and heathery smoke abound among the kind of hedonistic richness you’d expect from a whisky that honours a god.

If Valfather has caught your eye, then check out our full tasting notes below, as well as our recent chat on all things Highland Park with senior brand ambassador Martin Markvardsen.

Highland Park Valfather tasting note:

Nose: Robust, but refined smoke fills the nose initially followed by delicate vanilla, Conference pears, green apple skins and a heady, heavy floral richness. Underneath there’s cedarwood, honeycomb, spice from black pepper and nutmeg, as well as salted caramel before the heathery peat makes itself known. A sprightly sea breeze note emerges with time.

Palate: Simultaneously huge and yet elegant, the palate is beautifully integrated. Layers of creamy vanilla, apricot yoghurt and a helping of crème brûlée interplay with notes of incense burners, iron and salted almonds. Then there’s bitter orange marmalade, charred wood and dried earth among touches of cacao powder, toffee apples and smoked paprika.

Finish: Long and confident. The floral smoke lingers for an age but is offset by tropical fruit and black pepper.

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Perfect booze for the bank holiday!

Come rain or shine, bank holidays are an ideal excuse to indulge in your favourite drinks. There’s nothing quite like looking ahead to a week of work and realising that…

Come rain or shine, bank holidays are an ideal excuse to indulge in your favourite drinks.

There’s nothing quite like looking ahead to a week of work and realising that there’s no need to set your alarm this Monday morning. This upcoming bank holiday (Monday 26th August) is one to take advantage of since this is the only one we’ve got left to enjoy before winter hits.

For some, a bank holiday means planning a long weekend away. For others, the day off equals a well-earned lie-in. But for our kind of people, the absence of work is a cause for celebration. One that involves a drink or two. Given this is meant to be a period of relaxation, allow us to save you the trouble of trawling the supermarkets, corner shops and virtual shelves online for alcohol. Instead, enjoy our round-up of delightful whiskeys, gins, rums, beers, wines and even craft cocktails!

That Boutique-y Gin Company Craft Cocktails Bundle (5 x 330ml)

That Boutique-y Gin Company knows that nobody really wants to spend their day off with more work to do so it created these ready-to-drink cocktails. No need to create your own serve. Including such wonderful combinations like Pineapple Gin Mule, Strawberry Gin Fizz, Gin and Tonic, Yuzu Gin Collins and Cherry Gin Cola, this bundle not only means great taste without the effort, but it will also save you precious monies versus buying each can individually!

J.J. Corry The Gael

A blended whiskey from the first new whiskey bonder in Ireland for over 50 years, J.J. Corry The Gael is a fruity, juicy and mixable expression made to represent what the brand felt was the classic Irish whiskey profile. The bottling is named after a bicycle the 19th-century whiskey bonder J.J. Corry (who the brand itself is named after) invented.

What does it taste like?:

Fresh hay, honeydew melon, fizzy strawberry laces, cinnamon, green apple, soft oak salinity and a bright hint of lime.

Gin Ting – Passionfruit, Mango & Elderflower

Take a tasty gin recipe featuring juniper, cassia, coriander, orange and lemon and add a refreshing and summery infusion of passion fruit, mango and elderflower and what do you get? The wonderful Gin Ting, a full-bodied, fruity number that’s perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

What does it taste like?:

Fresh fruit is right at the fore of this one, with tangy mango and a hint of passion fruit. Subtly spicy juniper and cassia in the background.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon

If you ask a bourbon to fan to think of an affordable, approachable and tremendously tasty bottling that makes for a cracking Old Fashioned cocktail, there’s a good chance that Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon will be on their mind. The distinctive drink features a mash bill that includes a weighty rye concentration (18% to be exact), adding a good kick of spice to contrast with its exceptionally smooth delivery.

What does it taste like?:

Honey, winter spice, leather, a touch of cocoa, espresso beans, plenty of rye, ground ginger, almond oil, a little smoke, toasty oak and vanilla cream with a hint of butterscotch.

Manchester Gin – Raspberry Infused

With any luck, we’ll see some evidence that it’s still summer this bank holiday. If the weather cooperates, you’ll need an equally appropriate sunshine-worthy drink. For this, we recommend Manchester Gin – Raspberry Infused, which takes the already delicious Manchester Gin recipe and add raspberries to the mix. Excellent for cocktails, mixed drinks, heck, even splashed in a glass of Champagne, it’s little surprise this beauty picked up a bronze medal in the Flavoured Gin category at the World Gin Awards 2019.

What does it taste like?:

Nutty juniper developing into soft waves of floral dandelion and lemon. Layers of sweet raspberry notes surround it.

Kona Big Wave Golden Ale Bundle (6 Pack)

Let’s face it, a good order of beer is a bank holiday essential and one that saves you a few quid is always going to be a winner. Take this bundle of Big Wave Golden Ale from the Hawaii-based Kona Brewing Co, for example. It’s filled with 6x 355ml bottles of the light, refreshing and delicious beer and it will save you a healthy 10% versus buying individually!

What does it taste like?:

Cereal, grapefruit, pineapple, toffee, bready malt and slightly pine-y hops.

Gin Mare

For the gin fan who wants an expression with a story behind it, Gin Mare is ideal. The Mediterranean gin is distilled in a thirteenth-century chapel in an ancient fishing village using a variety of botanicals including rosemary, thyme, basil and the arbequina olive. This final ingredient ensures that every bottle is unique, as every year the arbequina olive changes acidity.

What does it taste like?:

Herbal notes, coriander, tart juniper, citrus zest, berry fruits and hints of perfume.

Neptune Rum

For rum fans who want a bottling that’s delicious neat or when mixed, it’s hard to go wrong with Neptune Rum. A blend of eight, five and three-year aged golden rum distilled from pure sugar cane molasses at the revered Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, Neptune Rum was matured in American bourbon oak barrels, filtered using a specific cold filtration process, diluted with soft spring water and bottled at 40% ABV. For serving suggestions, you can check out this neat little feature from our blog!

What does it taste like?:

Maple syrup, fresh apricot, ripe peaches, shredded coconut, green banana, caramelised brown sugar, vanilla, spicy pepper, nutmeg, warm bourbon oak, sherried peels

Malfy Gin Con Limone

With its sheer cliffs, rugged shoreline and rustic charm, the Amalfi coast is a popular holiday destination for good reason. But for those who can’t make the trip to the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula this bank holiday weekend, you can always enjoy a taste of the region with this delightful expression. Among the six botanicals used in the creation of Malfy Gin is an infusion of Italian coastal lemons, including some from the Amalfi coast.

What does it taste like?:

Very citrus forward and fresh, with touches of woody juniper bringing character. Lemon notes are authentic, bright and mouth-filling.

Gusbourne Rosé 2015

Rosé is always a phenomenally popular choice of drink among friends so having a good bottle on hand is essential. You can’t go wrong with this 2015 vintage from the sublime English vineyard Gusbourne, produced from hand-picked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes for a delicate, floral and fruity profile.

What does it taste like?:

Delicate fruity notes of cherry, strawberry and slightly tart cranberry with buttery notes of brioche and a hint of spice.

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Royal Salute adds two whiskies; revamps look

Royal Salute is toasting a couple of delightful additions to its signature 21 Year Old range with its first ever blended malt and permanent peated whisky, as well as a…

Royal Salute is toasting a couple of delightful additions to its signature 21 Year Old range with its first ever blended malt and permanent peated whisky, as well as a fancy new makeover.

Back in May, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Aynhoe Park, a Grade I listed, 17th-century country house in the Cotswolds, by Royal Salute, who promised big news. But before we get to that, we need to discuss the venue. It’s like the Mad Hatter’s summer house. There are stuffed giraffes with bow ties and bowler hats. A herd of (unstuffed) white stags roam in the fields outside. There’s even an underground nightclub. Somehow, none of this was the most exciting part of our adventure, however. That was to come in the form of delicious Scotch whisky, as Royal Salute revealed the reason why we were all assembled was so it could show off its brand new look and two delicious drams: The Lost Blend and The Malts Blend.

We’ll get to the makeover later, but we know you really want to hear all about the two additions to the signature 21 Year Old range. Master blender Sandy Hyslop was visibly excited about them himself at the event. “As master blender for Royal Salute, there is no greater honour than protecting the continuity of the blend that was first created in 1953 and has remained exceptional ever since,” he explained. “But to have the opportunity to create something entirely new for this sensational portfolio – an elevated Scotch evoking the signature Royal Salute style but with its own unique characteristics – that’s truly the dream.”

Without further ado, let’s take a look at them…

Royal Salute

Aynhoe Park: it’s wild.

Royal Salute The Lost Blend

Our first newcomer is The Lost Blend, which includes scarce whiskies from distilleries no longer in production such as Caperdonich and Dumbarton (much like the Lost Distilleries Blend). Whisky from the Imperial Distillery is said to be at the heart of the blend, which is a fitting choice for Royal Salute, a brand that has obvious connections to royalty. Imperial was named in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, while the distillery itself topped with a gilded cast iron crown in tribute to the momentous event. Available exclusively at Duty Free stores around the world, the Lost Blend is the first permanent peated whisky to join the Royal Salute range alongside The Signature Blend. The expression is, of course, presented in Royal Salute’s new-look packaging and housed in a crafted porcelain flagon. “Including some of the scarcest whiskies in our inventory, The Lost Blend celebrates the legacy of some of the best whisky distilleries in Scotland which I am proud to immortalise in an exceptional new 21 Year Old blend”, Hyslop said of the whisky. In the press notes we were told to expect notes of sweet, juicy pears, orange rind, hazelnuts and aromatic peat from The Lost Blend. Here’s what we thought of it:

Royal Salute

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Lost Blend

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Lost Blend

Nose: Bergamot, banana milkshake and crème brûlée initially, then ripe barley, some drying ginger and sharp Granny Smith Apples. An aroma of incense and charred pineapple add depth underneath.

Palate: Through bonfire embers, cinder toffee and conference pear there’s light oak char, freshly baked gingerbread and earthy vanilla. There’s a note of lemon and orange sherbets present in the backdrop.

Finish: Caramelised tropical fruit and aromatic peat linger.

Royal Salute The Malts Blend

The second addition is The Malts Blend (my personal highlight), which was crafted with more than 21 single malts aged for a minimum of 21 years from the five whisky regions of Scotland. Royal Salute’s hot new makeover is also present in The Malts Blend’s packaging, which is housed in a crafted porcelain flagon. Because consistency is key. “Like a symphony, each of the single malts ‘performing’ in this blend complement and enhance one another’s unique flavours and together create the final composition,” commented Hyslop. “Working with the finest single malts to create The Malts Blend was extremely special, and from the moment you taste the super-sweet richness of this blend, with its hints of spice, it’s clear that this whisky is nothing short of magic. Royal Salute says that The Malts Blend is an “indulgent and profound Scotch whisky” that’s bursting with notes of orchard fruits and enriched by subtle spices. Once again, here’s what we think:

Royal Salute

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Malts Blend

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Malts Blend

Nose: Ripe nectarines, homemade blackberry compote and crème brûlée, then stem ginger and cardamom ponds. The nose then develops into notes of apricot yoghurt, marzipan icing and vanilla ice cream with golden syrup drizzled on top. It’s a deeply beautiful, nostalgic nose.

Palate: More baking spice, ginger powder this time and a rush of tannin oak initially, followed by sticky sultanas, toffee apples and sponge cake drenched in honey. Delicate florals and a little black pepper heat are present underneath.

Finish: Stone fruit in syrup, which lasts an age, with a hint of cooked banana.

Royal Salute

Royal Salute showed off its new look at Aynhoe Park

The new-look Royal Salute

The makeover, meanwhile, was created in collaboration with artist Kristjana S. Williams. “We wanted to create something special for our Signature 21 Year Old. This is, after all, a whisky first created for royalty. The result is a fun, vibrant take on our rich heritage that brings to life our royal legacy with a colourful depiction of the British Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London, and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen from a Scotch whisky,” commented Mathieu Deslandes, Royal Salute’s marketing director. “There has never been a more exciting time for our brand. With a bold new look across our packaging that speaks to our unique quality, craft and personality, we’re raising the bar for Scotch whisky. And we’re only just getting started.” The packaging really is something, especially the Royal Salute lion, crooked crown and all, looking over his colourful kingdom. It’s quite the scene. There are patriotic fluttering tartan butterflies, one very fashionable owl and plenty of nods to the production process of Royal Salute whisky like oak casks, a rushing river and Speyside distillery. It’s a quite a departure from the classic Royal Salute look. It also has to be said, the more you look at the design, the more Aynhoe Park makes sense as a venue. It literally had a lion with a crown in the dining room. I want to go back.

Things are certainly looking good for Royal Salute, in and out of the bottle. We’re looking forward to seeing what they do next.

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Talking Irish single malt with The Sexton’s Alex Thomas

The Sexton Single Malt is an Irish single malt that has done a good job of establishing itself in a competitive market. We talk to creator Alex Thomas to find…

The Sexton Single Malt is an Irish single malt that has done a good job of establishing itself in a competitive market. We talk to creator Alex Thomas to find out how she did it, why it was important to make a distinctly Irish spirit and how she relates to the last person to see our bodies before they are laid to rest…

“Growing up my grandfather and father always kept a bottle of single malt whiskey in the house. It came out on special occasions, like 21st birthdays and weddings. But it also mainly came out when people had passed away. All the friends and family got together and they celebrated the life of that person that had passed and told their stories,” says Alex Thomas, founder of The Sexton Irish whiskey brand. “That’s what I wanted The Sexton to represent; living life well and having those memories you’ll share with your loved ones.”

Thomas is one of the few female master blenders in the Irish whiskey industry. We meet at an event thrown by The Sexton called ‘Own The Night’, which features plenty of very tasty cocktails (more on them later), a sensory experience based on the whiskey’s profile and a live photography exhibition. She is there to spread the word about her creation, The Sexton Single Malt, and its launch in London, Belfast and Dublin in December 2018 following a promising debut in America.

Thomas landed her first job in the industry at Bushmills Distillery. Her husband had come home from a shift at the distillery in 2004 to tell her about a new job opening. “Growing up with the distillery on your doorstep, it was a dream come true for many of us to be able to work there. When an opening came up, I jumped at the chance,” says Thomas. “I started working in the maturation and distillation part of the business with the great Colum Egan and fell in love with the process of turning something raw into something so delicate and rich that people can enjoy. I decided to do my exams and become qualified, and in 2012 I finished my exams and received my distilling diploma. From there I founded The Sexton, and everything that followed has just been a dream come true.”

The Sexton

Alex Thomas, founder of The Sexton

As Thomas speaks, photos are projected on the screens across each room showing images of people enjoying themselves with a dram in hand. The event space has a distinctive, macabre and gothic aesthetic influenced by The Sexton’s branding, which extends to the name. Anyone who’s big on Medieval Latin (where my people at?!) will know that ‘Sexton’ derives from the word ‘sacristanus’, meaning custodian of sacred objects, and is used to describe the person who prepared the grave, the last to witness the body before being laid to rest. “I wanted a name that would represent what I do. As a master blender and distiller, I am the caretaker of this amazing whiskey while it’s in the cask. The Sexton is about living life well before you meet the man that lays your body to rest, so that’s why I kind of came round the idea of naming it ‘The Sexton’. I wanted it to be something different, something approachable.”

That ambition obviously extended to the bottle design, which is unlike most you’ll see. It features The Sexton himself, a well-dressed skeleton (there’s even a skeleton horse and skeleton coachman). But the squat black hexagonal bottle is a striking image on its own, although it’s clearly going to be a challenging pour for a bartender with average size hands. “The distillery is up in the north coast of Antrim where there’s nothing more famous than the Giant’s Causeway stones, so that’s where the shape comes from,” says Thomas. “It’s dark, specifically because there’s a rich sherry colour to the whiskey so you’re getting that hint of what the darkness is going to be. I wanted people to get a little bit of that experience when they release it from the bottle… I’m sure the glass designer loved me!”

Thomas wanted it to stand out as she understands she’s working in an incredibly competitive market. “When I started in the industry there were only three distilleries. I knew that the branding needed to be bold and make a statement. Hopefully, those people who try it for the first time because of how it looks come back a second time for what’s in the bottle,” explains Thomas. “That’s the most important part. It’s the whiskey that is the main feature of The Sexton but the bottle attracts the attention to get you to try it first. It’s ultimately about the quality. From start to finish everything I use in that bottle is high-end quality, from the barley to the distillate, to the cask – everything.”

The Sexton

The ‘Own The Night’, featured cocktails, a sensory experience and a live photography exhibition

For all the fun and intrigue of The Sexton’s branding, the process behind creating this whiskey is where things get interesting. News has emerged recently that sources in the Irish grain industry claim that less than a quarter of the grain used to produce Irish whiskey is indeed from Ireland. This is not the case with The Sexton, which was made from 100% Irish malted barley. “The barley I use comes from the south east coast of Ireland, in Wexford and Tipperary. It’s a two-row barley, low on protein because I need to get at the sugar to be able to produce alcohol,” Thomas explains. Her use of Irish barley shows her commitment to provenance. But it’s more than this: “Ireland is my home, it’s where I’ve grown up all of my life and one thing I believe we do in Ireland well is make whiskey. Personally, I think we’re the best in the world and I wanted to represent Ireland as a whole.”

The Sexton is a brand without a distillery, a common sight in Irish whiskey. Thomas, however, hasn’t simply bought in the spirit. Instead, she was granted access to use the stills at Bushmills and runs her own distillation. “It’s wonderful, there’s no other industry that would allow that to happen, that would share their secrets. They taught me from the beginning to make Irish whiskey the best possible way I could so that I could represent the category well,” Thomas says. “My warehouse is on their premises as well. Hopefully, the future is big for The Sexton and who knows what will happen. But, for now, they allow me to do my work.”

Unsurprisingly Sexton Single Malt is triple-distilled, like Bushmills whiskey. Thomas opted to go down the same route because she enjoys the “smooth distillate it produces, a really sweet, fruity flavoured delicate spirit. Triple distillation also allows me to remove all of the things in the whiskey that I wouldn’t want,” she added.

The Sexton

Thomas sourced the barley and casks herself

The final defining characteristic of Sexton Irish Single Malt is its oloroso cask finish. Thomas established a relationship with the Antonio Paez Lobato family, who have over 70 years experience, in Jerez in Spain and the barrels are processed to her own specifications, from oak type, toast level, type of wine used and length of time of the seasoning. “I sourced the European oak in France, moved it over to Spain where it was air-dried for 16 months, toasted from the inside to a medium-high level and then seasoned for two years with oloroso sherry that I picked along with the family,” Thomas explains. “It’s then moved over to Ireland with around five to ten litres inside so the cask is really fresh”. Her approach to maturation mirrors her meticulousness with her selection of raw material and distillation process. Distillers and blenders working with cooperages to this extent are not uncommon, but there are plenty who aren’t as involved to this extent.

The Sexton is matured in first, second and third fill oloroso sherry casks, an approach Thomas settled on after a lot of trial and error. “At first I only wanted first-fills, but these are really heavily coated with the sugar coming in from the sherry and it was too sweet, which may have brought in new palates but I’m a whiskey maker so I wanted people who drink whiskey,” Thomas explains. “So I introduced a little second fill, but there was still something ever so slightly missing. I then introduced a couple of third fills and that nuttiness started to come back in from the European oak and it was like a day made in heaven! It was a eureka moment for me, the flavour profile just changes so much having that little bit of the second and third fill in there.”

The Sexton

Thomas at the ‘Own the Night’, walking guests through the sensory experience

The booze

The big question that remains is, how does The Sexton Single Malt taste? Well, it’s safe to say I was impressed. But before we get to that, Thomas was kind enough to let us sample her new make and the sherry used to season her oloroso casks as well as The Sexton itself, so here are our thoughts:

The Sexton

The Sexton Single Malt new-make sample

The Sexton Single Malt New-Make Tasting Note:

Nose: Homemade blackberry jam, crisp fresh malt and a little floral honey. Desiccated coconut, soft vanilla, marmalade and spearmint emerge underneath, as well as a hint of anise and soft marshmallow.

Palate: Hot white pepper spice initially, then a wave of fresh tropical fruit, buttery pastries and damp hay.

Finish: Banana foam sweets linger.

The Sexton

The Sexton Single Malt sherry sample

The Sexton Single Malt Sherry Tasting Note:

Nose: Savoury salty notes with some dried fruit, caramel and rich walnuts, then a touch of minerality and bittersweet herbs.

Palate: Refreshingly dry, with bright citrus, dried stone fruits, pecans and rounded sherry spice, then a touch of oak.

Finish: Good length with sherried peels and a touch of salinity.

The Sexton Single Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: The nose is rich, sherried and highly resinous, with oily walnuts, thick slabs of dark chocolate and plenty of dried and dark fruits such as stewed plums, cooked blackcurrant and raisins. A light maltiness emerges underneath with marzipan, caramel and a pinch of drying baking spice.

Palate: Robustly elegant, with prunes, Manuka honey and a little tropical fruit while the mid-palate is filled with stone fruit, oak spice, marmalade with zest, polished furniture and a hint of dried herbs. Treacle toffee, cocoa and a little menthol note add depth.

Finish: Mulberry jam, coffee icing and some woodiness lingers and dries into more maltiness.

Overall: An approachable, affordable and very tasty dram. The flavours are balanced, there’s some depth there and, to be honest, I helped myself to a second dram. I can’t help but think this whiskey also has a profile that lends itself to mixing and cocktail creation. Speaking of which…

The Sexton

The cocktail bar at the ‘Own the Night’ event

Cocktails

Thomas has something in common with many modern whiskey producers, in that she’s keen for the spirit to be disassociated from the tired image of it being an old man’s drink. “I had a real strong belief that if people got to experience single malts at a younger age, they would fall in love with whiskey,” she says. Thomas wants people to enjoy The Sexton Single Mal, whether they drink it neat, with a mixer or in a cocktail. “My father is a very traditional whiskey drinker: you either drink it neat with ice or with a little bit of water. But he embraces the fact that I’m the next generation and I want to drink it my way. We don’t eat in the same restaurants, we don’t live the same lives, so it’s about being unique and experiencing it your way.”

After trying a cocktail, or two, at the ‘Own the Night’ event (what? It was important research), it was clear that The Sexton mixes beautifully, as Thomas has found through her own personal research. “To be honest, it’s a perk of the job getting to try the different takes on what the mixologists work with and I must admit, I haven’t found one that I haven’t liked!”

The following examples, Bury the Hatchet, Love it to Death and Laid to Rest were all on show during the event and are easy enough to make at home. Enjoy!

The Sexton

Bury the Hatchet

Bury the Hatchet

Combine 50ml of The Sexton Single Malt, 25ml of lemon juice, 12.5ml of sugar syrup) in a glass, then top with soda water and add a 15ml sweet sherry float. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

The Sexton

Love it to Death

Love it to Death

Combine 50ml of The Sexton Single Malt, 25ml of fresh lime juice, 12.5ml of Aperol, 2 dashes of absinthe, 20ml of sugar syrup in a glass, then serve garnished with thyme and orange peel.

The Sexton

Laid to Rest

Laid to Rest

Combine 25ml of The Sexton Single Malt, 5ml of Pedro Ximenez sherry, 20ml of manzanilla sherry, 12.5ml of spiced claret syrup in a glass serve over crushed ice. Garnish with mint leaves and dried spices.

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2019: The year that low-and-no alcohol stormed Imbibe

On 1 and 2 July flocks of folk from this boozy industry of ours descended on London Olympia in Kensington for Imbibe 2019. Drink, as always, flowed liberally from every…

On 1 and 2 July flocks of folk from this boozy industry of ours descended on London Olympia in Kensington for Imbibe 2019. Drink, as always, flowed liberally from every bar and stand. But, this year, much of it was somewhat lacking in alcohol. What is going on?

Anyone who was at Imbibe 2018 will remember that it was a year defined by gin. Juniper reigned supreme that summer, like World Cup fever or parody Elon Musk accounts. You couldn’t move for botanical booze. In 2019, however, this was noticeably not the case. Gin was still present, of course, as were whisky, rum and pretty much every kind of alcohol imaginable. But there was a new star of the show this year.

You might have heard people talking about the rise of low- and no-alcohol drinks. We’ve mentioned it a couple of times on the MoM blog ourselves, from predicting it as a trend for this year, to looking at some of its standout expressions, like Kombucha. But it was striking to see it out in such force this year. ‘The Zero Option’, a new wholesale venture specialising in the supply of low- and no-alcohol drinks, had its own section at Imbibe 2019 which highlighted the up-and-comers of the category. Alongside the growing CBD trend (which Ian Buxton goes into detail on here), brands such as Lyre’s, Ceder, Borrago, Caleño Drinks, STRYYK, Xachoh, Silk Tree, Percival and Co., Three Spirit, LA Kombucha, Go Kombucha, Small Beer Co. and many more all made a stand for a new way to imbibe from their respective, err… stands. There was even artisanal soda courtesy of Dalston’s (which was delicious).

low-and-no alcohol

The Zero Option’ stand, which specialised in low-and-no alcohol drinks

“No-and-low alcohol brands and drinks options were undoubtedly a stand-out theme of Imbibe Live this year,” Dan Harrower, sales director at LA Kombucha, believes. “It demonstrates the growing demand from consumers and the increasing need for the trade to offer credible, great tasting choices for those wanting non-alcoholic drinks options.” Craig Hutchison, co-founder and managing director of Ceder’s Drinks, agreed. “There are undoubtedly more low/no spirit brands at trade events, and we can expect many more in the future. This is driven by consumer demand, great support from the off and on-trade, and both entrepreneurs and corporates entering the market.”

It’s clear there’s an appetite for this category as consumers become more health conscious, and pretty much every side of the industry has stood up to take note. From Whyte & Mackay’s recent light edition, to the huge influx of botanical-based products, to the growth of Kombucha and the seemingly endless stream of alcohol-free beer, low- and no-alcohol appears to be enjoying a real moment.

This growth is backed by the numbers. Diageo-backed Distill Ventures recently released a study which found that the number of non-alcoholic spirits on the UK market currently stands at 41, back in April 2018 it was just 4. The findings also revealed consumer’s attitudes, explaining that 59% of people order non-alcoholic drinks as well as alcohol on a night out, while only 29% order just alcohol. Web searches for the word ‘mocktail’, meanwhile, have increased by 42%, while 42% of the wider London on-trade expects non-alcoholic spirits to play a key role in its next 12-month sales mix.

low-and-no alcohol

Three Spirits were one of many brands showing off tasty low-and-no alcohol expression

And with good cause. It’s about time that those who want a good non-alcoholic drink can actually find what they’re looking for. “Adults who don’t drink alcohol, or who are reducing their intake, still deserve a refined and sophisticated drink experience, with many options to choose from,” Hutchison commented. “A fifth of adults in the UK is now teetotal, and increasing, so we can expect very dynamic growth in this fledgeling category, for many many years to come.”

There are still concerns. Taste can be a problem for low-and-no alcohol. But companies such as, Small Beer Brew Co., for example, have demonstrated that flavour doesn’t have to be sacrificed in the name of ABV when it comes to beer, while Hayman’s Small Gin, one of the most interesting expressions at Imbibe 2019, also demonstrates an innovative solution to the problem.

low-and-no alcohol

Hayman’s Small Gin was a standout bottling at Imbibe 2019

Miranda Hayman, co-owner at Hayman Gin, explained that “while there seemed to be lots of low-and-no alcohol gin ‘alternatives’ available, we didn’t feel there was anything that really delivered on the flavour side of things. So we set out to make one that would! There are times when all of us want to have a grown-up drink, that has all the flavour and ritual associated with mixing a G&T – but with a lot less alcohol. For us, Small Gin is the answer – a real gin with all the flavour but just 0.2 units per serve.”

Texture is another area where low- and no-alcohol substitutes struggle. A few that we sampled at Imbibe were simply too watery. Mirroring the viscosity of alcohol, in a way that Three Spirits have done exceptionally well, for example, is a must. The biggest issue so far, however, is price. People aren’t stupid. If they can get a tasty bottle of gin for £30, or a tasty bottle of ‘I can’t believe it’s not gin!’ for £30, it’s going to be tempting just to stump for the former. Even if they do plump for the latter, many are going to resent how much it set them back. The category has to get its pricing right.

low-and-no alcohol

Imbibe 2019, the year of low-and-no alcohol

Overall, however, it feels like the future looks bright for low-and-no alcohol. Hayman concurs, “I think the future for releases such as Small Gin that provide ways to mix low alcohol drinks that are indistinguishable from existing well-loved alcoholic serves is particularly strong. The opportunity here lies in allowing consumers to lower their alcohol consumption without making any compromise. Ultimately it’s about enabling choice – if you can give consumers the power to decide whether they want their real gin and tonic to be at classic strength or low ABV who wouldn’t want that?”

Harrower is also firm in his belief that low- and no-alcohol will help the industry, because “with more and more smaller producers now making great drinks with unique ingredients and production methods, the established players have also been forced to up their game and this was visible at the show this year. Ultimately this is great news for both consumers and bar owners, as there has never been more choice and the opportunity to revamp old and tired drinks menus.”

So, what you think of low- and no-alcohol drinks? Is it a trend that will pass? Do you enjoy the increased availability and innovation within the category? Please let us know in the comments below.

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New Arrival of the Week: Spice Hunter Boldest Spiced Rum

To kick off Rum Month in style we see if an expression that claims to be ‘the boldest spiced rum in the world’ lives up to its name… The world…

To kick off Rum Month in style we see if an expression that claims to be ‘the boldest spiced rum in the world’ lives up to its name…

The world of spiced rum is a confusing place. It wasn’t long ago that it seemed it was condemned as just a party drink. The black sheep of the rum family. It has even been debated if the category can even be classified a rum. Which is not a great start. It’s generally useful if people believe that you are what you claim to be (hot dogs being a notable exception).

But the last few years have demonstrated that there’s more to spiced rum than poorly made, vanilla-drenched and pirate-infested nightmares. Blenders, bottlers and distillers are increasingly keen to capitalise on a market hungry for innovative flavoured booze. Even spiced rum haters should be able to find an agreeable bottle they like if they look hard enough.

In steps Berry Bros. & Rudd distribution arm Fields, Morris & Verdin., which released its own attempt at a premium spiced spirit with Spice Hunter Boldest Spice Rum, a Mauritian rum blended with 13 spices.

Spice Hunter

Spice Hunter, surrounded by spices. It’s probably going to be spicy.

The first thing that stands out about Spice Hunter is its title, which contains an ambitious claim. Fittingly the vivid orange, white and black colour scheme, enlarged block capital text and overall presentation is also bold. Behind all of that, you’ll see a man on a boat. His name is Pierre Poivre and he was the inspiration for Spice Hunter. You know Pierre, right? The 18th-century botanist turned spice smuggler? Jeez. Read a book.

Poivre began his career after he noticed there was an abundance of spices growing on the Dutch-owned islands of Indonesia, where he was recovering after losing his arm while fighting the British (a wooden arm isn’t quite as iconic, is it?). Back then, spices fetched more than gold and the death penalty was imposed on any ‘spice hunter’. That didn’t stop our Pierre, oh no. His smuggling career was so successful that it is said he single-handedly broke the Dutch monopoly.

Between this rum’s name and the story, there’s a billing to be lived up when it comes to the spice blend. Fortunately, Fields, Morris & Verdin didn’t let us down there. A total of 13 spices feature in Spice Hunter, including allspice, caraway, cardamom, chilli, cinnamon, clove, cubeb, elemi, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, pimento and, of course, vanilla. That’s one packed blend. Quite a bold spice blend, you might even say.

Of course, a truly great spiced rum doesn’t just have a great spice blend, the base rum needs to be up to scratch too. In this case, the rum used in Spice Hunter is a column distilled single-estate rum from the Medine Distillery in Mauritius. For all the marketing bumf and playful claims, FMV isn’t messing about here.

At the time of release, Jack Denley from FMV said: “Spice Hunter is designed for the modern drinker; complex, approachable and undeniably bold.” It’s still very much expected that you play with this spiced rum and Denley wanted to make it clear that this is a rum that “doesn’t get lost in the mix”.

It also “challenges you to make a bold move”. There’s even a cheesy video (above) that cements this message. But don’t let it put you off, this spirit stands up to scrutiny. Fiery spices are certainly there and make their presence known without hesitation, but there is enough sweetness to act as a counterpoint. Most pleasingly, that sweetness is not saccharine or cloying. The spicing itself appears to have been infused, so it comes across as authentic and not at all artificial.

Is it ‘the boldest spiced rum in the world’? No, instead, rum fans should enjoy Spice Hunter as the intriguing, warming and satisfying drink that it is, especially at the price. It’s custom made for cola, cutting through the sticky sweetness and lifting the whole drink. But there’s also a number of cocktails it would shine in like a Cubanita (rum Bloody Mary), for example. Luckily the brand has a few suggested serves so you don’t have to do the hard work yourself, and we’ve them listed below our customary tasting note. Make a bold move, or something.

Spice Hunter Boldest Spice Rum Tasting Note:

Nose: Fresh ginger initially, then long pepper, cardamon and heaps of aromatic cloves. More spice comes in the form of green peppercorns, allspice and a couple of drying dashes of nutmeg and pimento before cinnamon pastries, cola cubes and vanilla pods add a balanced sweetness. A hint of spent firework adds something interesting underneath.

Palate: More cinnamon, clove and an earthy twist of black pepper, then root beer, gingerbread and mulled fruit.

Finish: Short and delicately sweet, with earthy and dry spice lingering underneath.

Spice Hunter & Cola

Ingredients: 25ml of Spice Hunter and 150ml of cola.

Method: Build in a glass over cubed ice and garnish with an orange wedge. If you mess this one up, I suggest letting someone else handle the cocktails for the time being.

The Smuggler

Ingredients: 30ml of Spice Hunter, 30ml of orange juice, 22.5ml of agave syrup, 22.5ml of Grand Marnier, 15ml of lime juice and a dash of grapefruit bitters.

Method: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake that bad boy up. Strain into your glass and then garnish with an orange wheel. If you’re a total badass, make the dehydrate the orange and add a spritz of mezcal spray over the glass.

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Jim Beam loses 45,000 whiskey barrels in warehouse fire

Unfortunate news came from Kentucky this week: Jim Beam suffered a major warehouse fire that needed multiple fire service crews to bring it under control. 40 firefighters from five counties…

Unfortunate news came from Kentucky this week: Jim Beam suffered a major warehouse fire that needed multiple fire service crews to bring it under control.

40 firefighters from five counties were called to help battle the blaze that erupted around 11:30pm on Tuesday. The fire totally destroyed one of Jim Beam’s warehouses, estimated to hold around nine million litres of ageing whiskey. A second warehouse also caught fire, but that fire was quickly dealt with. It’s been reported that the flames generated so much heat that fire truck lights melted.

 

First things first: no one was injured in the incident, so that’s a huge relief.

The bad news is that about 45,000 barrels filled with whiskey were lost, potentially costing the brand millions of dollars in lost stock. Parent company Beam Suntory has not yet specified the exact financial loss and was quick to explain in an email that the spirit that went up in flames was “relatively young whiskey”. The company added that “given the age of the lost whiskey, this fire will not impact the availability of Jim Beam for consumers”. The losses are also insured, and total just 1.4% of spirit maker’s product in the state, so it’s not a total disaster.

The world’s top-selling bourbon brand said it was grateful to the “courageous firefighters” who brought the blaze under control and kept it from spreading. The cause of the fire has not been confirmed, although weather may well have been a factor, with some suggesting that a lightning strike was responsible.

The focus has turned to the environmental impact of the leaking bourbon, with state officials worried that whiskey running off from the site could seep into nearby waterways and kill fish. The distiller has hired an emergency clean-up crew, and state environmental officials were coordinating efforts to control bourbon runoff.

major fire at Jim Beam

Jim Beam is the world’s best-selling bourbon brand

The Beam fire was the latest warehouse loss suffered by Kentucky distillers, who collectively produce 95% of the world’s bourbon, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. A warehouse belonging to OZ Tyler collapsed on 17 June, while back in June 2018 half of a warehouse collapsed at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown. The other half came down two weeks later.

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New Arrival of the Week: J.J. Corry The Battalion

A blended Irish Whiskey with mezcal and Tequila cask influence is our timely New Arrival of the Week… In a week where The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) announced that it…

A blended Irish Whiskey with mezcal and Tequila cask influence is our timely New Arrival of the Week…

In a week where The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) announced that it has broadened the list of allowable cask types to mature Scotch whisky in, it felt only right for us to feature a whiskey that has an unusual ageing process. But it’s not from Scotland. . .

While the door is now open for Scotch to welcome more experimental expressions, Ireland has already got something of a history of making whiskey with interesting cask finishes. From Method and Madness’ Virgin Hungarian Oak Finish, West Cork’s Bog Oak Charred Cask Finish and Tullamore D.E.W.’s Cider Cask Finish, there’s plenty of options for those who want to try something outside the box. Not to mention Lambay Single Malt (Cognac), Green Spot Château Léoville Barton (the first ever single pot still Irish whiskey finished in Bordeaux casks), Kinahan’s The Kasc Project (hybrid casks from Portuguese, American, French and Hungarian oak, as well as chestnut) and Glendalough 13 Year Old Irish Whiskey – Mizunara Oak Finish (it’s in the title, c’mon people). Some interesting casks there, but there hasn’t been much in the way of Tequila and/or mezcal casks. Until now.

Our New Arrival of the Week, J.J. Corry The Battalion, features both. From Chapel Gate whiskey bonders, the expression is made up of 60% 9-year-old grain and 40% 13-year-old malt whiskey, which were initially aged in ex-bourbon casks. The grain then continued its maturation in a combination of Tequila and mezcal casks for seven months, while the malt spent seven months in just mezcal casks. “We decanted grain into Mezcal & Tequila casks and malt into mezcal casks to mature for seven months,” Chapel Gate Founder Louise McGuane said. “We then vatted a grain Tequila/mezcal blend we felt best expressed the agave notes we wanted to pull out of those casks. This was then blended with 40% of the 2006 malt mezcal influenced whiskey.”

J.J. Corry

J.J. Corry founder Louise McGuane

The Battalion was called as such to mark the sacrifices made by the Battalion San Patricos, (Saint Patrick’s Battalion) a group of Irish men who fought for Mexico in the Mexican/American War of 1846-1848. “We named it in honour of the men of Saint Patricos Battalion because independence has always mattered around here”, McGuane explained. But Chapel Gate itself has an interesting story.

It has been sourcing and blending Irish whiskey since 2015, making it the first new whiskey bonder in Ireland for over 50 years. Hence why the brand describes itself as “Ireland’s first modern whiskey bonder.” The company named its whiskey J.J. Corry after a local whiskey bonder from the 1800s. Chapel Gate doesn’t always plan to be solely a bonder, but like many of Ireland’s recently-founded distilleries, it is waiting for its own distillate to mature. So, in the meantime, it’s taken advantage of a purpose-built bonded rackhouse on the McGuane family farm in Cooraclare, County Clare, Ireland to experiment with ageing and blending ideas, as well as lay the foundations to build a future house style.

McGuane explained that the ambition for Chapel Gate is to “respect tradition but embrace change.” As modern whiskey bonders, J.J. Corry’s idea of change is not surprisingly expressed through its use of the many casks it has at its disposal, much like Corry himself would have done with the rum, Bordeaux & sherry casks that were available to him. The inspiration to go as far afield as Mexico came from McGuane’s respect for the work of artisanal Tequila and mezcal producers. “The best mezcal & Tequilas are, at their heart, produced in rural locations by families, with whom we share a significant affinity with given our approach to whiskey making on our family farm on the west coast of Ireland”, she explained.

What does it taste like then? McGuane felt that in The Battalion (which was bottled at 41% ABV), she had created “a really unique whiskey with green herbal notes and the slightest touch of agave.” There’s also a pleasant salinity and the bittersweet qualities of dried herbs, which could well have been influenced by the cask. The maturation doesn’t dilute the distillate’s profile, however. Tropical fruit, creamy nuttiness and a bite of citrus zest add depth to this whiskey’s character, which ultimately makes for an intriguing dram. Only 700 bottles have been produced.

So, while you wait for a deluge of experimental cask finishes from Scotland, you could do a lot worse than to enjoy a dram of J.J. Corry The Battalion.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Fresh leafy notes, apple skin, lemon curd and a slight oily nutty note.

Palate: Tangy pineapple and a hint of ripe pear, walnut and green grassy notes with a touch of vegetal agave.

Finish: Oak spice and a sprinkle of sea salt, with a small pinch of dried herbs.

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