fbpx
Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

Author: Annie Hayes

A botanical white rum? Brilliant! Why has no one done this before?

Sound the innovation klaxon and ready your tasting glass, because last week Amsterdam’s Spirited Union Distillery debuted what it believes to be the world’s first botanical white rum. Here, founder…

Sound the innovation klaxon and ready your tasting glass, because last week Amsterdam’s Spirited Union Distillery debuted what it believes to be the world’s first botanical white rum. Here, founder Ruben Maduro gives MoM the lowdown on his lemon and blue eucalyptus-spiked agricole bottling and explains why flavour innovation and transparency are crucial in the mission to broaden rum’s reach…

When it comes to deciphering the meaning behind a distillery name, there’s no ambiguity when it comes to Spirited Union. At the Amsterdam-based site, the team brings rum and botanicals real ones, no artificial flavours in sight together in one pioneering bottling, ‘til drinks do them part. The most recent nuptials? Union Lemon & Leaf Rum, launched just last week, brought together in holy matrimony by founder and rum aficionado Ruben Maduro.

“We started about three and a half years ago on a mission to add a new approach to the rum category,” explains Maduro, who grew up on the Caribbean on the island of Aruba. “I’ve always been disappointed with the amount of sickly-sweet and artificially-flavoured rums, and really wanted to combine flavours with rum in an honest way completely transparent, with real botanicals, so I started looking for rums from specific distilleries and regions that have certain flavour characteristics.”

Spirited Union

Spirited Union HQ: where botanical magic happens

By adding botanicals, Maduro wanted to evolve those flavours and shake up the category by creating an entirely new rum style. With Union Lemon & Leaf Rum he sought to create a “fresher drinking experience” and set about pairing vegetal, earthy rhum agricole from Mauritius made by distilling sugar cane juice with citric, herbal botanicals. “We infused the agricole with Amalfi lemons and then redistilled it to create a citrus rum distillate,” he outlines. 

They did the same with Blue Mountain eucalyptus from Australia, which introduces menthol notes, and again with Uva Highland black tea, a Sri Lankan tea grown at high altitudes. “It’s very similar to white tea in terms of flavour and it’s a great flavour conductor,” Maduro continues. The mix was rounded out with kina bark, sarawak pepper and sarsaparilla root, to “bring a bit of that robust spiciness you want and expect from an agricole”.

The bottling follows the launch of Union Spice & Sea Salt (originally known as Union 55 Rum – same recipe, but recently rebranded) earlier this year, which sees cask-aged rum from Barbados macerated with Madagascan vanilla and cloves, Guatemalan cardamom, raw Peruvian cacao and mineral-rich Añana sea salt for 55 days. Regardless of whether they’re experimenting with dark, golden or light varieties, allowing the rum to shine is key, he says.

Spirited Union

Smell those lovely botanicals!

When formulating the recipe, the team starts by picking out the most prominent characteristics of the base spirit. “Rum is very diverse, there’s a lot of different styles, so we look at the flavour notes and aim to amplify those with the botanicals,” says Maduro, as opposed to working towards a designated botanical profile. Since no single standard exists for what constitutes rum – the category is revered for many reasons, but consistent rules and regulations certainly aren’t among them – there aren’t any definitive legislative hurdles for Spirited Union to overcome. Instead, “the challenge for us is, like any start-up brand, going against the status quo established by the bigger brands,” he adds, “being creative about the category and introducing new approaches to broaden rum’s reach.”

In moving away from the traditional spices and ingredients associated with flavoured rums, the team hopes to tap into a different drinking occasion, he continues. “Most rums are dark, heavy, indulgent and rich, so we’re trying to add some excitement to the white rum end of the category,” says Maduro. “There’s a lot going on already in terms of ageing and traditional authentic rums but not much in the lighter segment.”

This, in turn, will no doubt broaden the category’s appeal for rum newbies. For the devout G&T drinker, a botanical white rum and tonic will taste far more familiar and appealing than a neat finger or two of its oak-aged counterparts. Speaking of serves, how to imbibe Union Lemon & Leaf Rum? Maduro suggests grabbing a copa glass, filling it with plenty of ice and topping a measure with your favourite tonic. Alternatively, try mixing with a botanical soda, or get creative with a cocktail: Highballs, Sours, or any refreshing long drink you fancy – just don’t forget to raise a toast to the happy couple.

No Comments on A botanical white rum? Brilliant! Why has no one done this before?

High end cannabis-infused spirits are here

While industry tastemakers have been keeping a close eye on the burgeoning CBD oil trend, relatively few producers dare to blend the tincture with booze. But then, the folks behind…

While industry tastemakers have been keeping a close eye on the burgeoning CBD oil trend, relatively few producers dare to blend the tincture with booze. But then, the folks behind CBD-infused spirits company Top Beverages are hardly your average distillers. We chatted with attorney-turned-entrepreneur Nick Pullen, the company’s co-founder, as their inaugural gin and spiced rum bottlings hit the market…

“We wanted to really pioneer something that’s never been done before,” explains Philadelphia native Pullen, who established Top Beverages with business partner Saf Ali back in January 2019. “A lot of folks out there have an existing range of alcoholic beverages and just throw in a [CBD-infused variant] to catch a fad or trend. Our core business is CBD spirits and that’s what’s really going to set us apart within the industry.” Pullen met English music industry and property Saf Ali at their childrens’ school bus stop in Barcelona – the city they call home – and the duo made it their mission to disrupt both the spirits and CBD industries.

For the uninitiated, CBD or cannabidiol is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, so it doesn’t make you feel “high” (that’s down to THC, one of 113 known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant). Research suggests it offers a range of health benefits, from reducing chronic pain and inflammation to easing anxiety and epilepsy. You can buy ‘CBD isolate’, a pure, concentrated form of CBD with no other cannabinoids present, or opt for ‘full spectrum CBD’, which includes other naturally-occurring plant compounds, and it’s the latter Pullen and Ali chose to use in their range.

Top Beverage

No, not a new Calvin Klein advert, it’s One CBD-infused rum and gin

After months of research and trial-and-error testing, Top Beverages has bottled its first products, a gin and a spiced rum, each available in a limited run of 500 x 100ml bottles at a punchy 54.5% ABV. The RRP is pretty punchy at £30 a bottle, the equivalent of £210 for a standard 700ml bottle. One gin is distilled with juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, elderflower, lemon peel, lime peel, and a fresh Valencian orange, while One spiced rum is made with cassia bark, orange peel, ginger, and Indian vanilla pods. Both variants contain 10mg of full-spectrum CBD, which injects “a little bit of flavour, but not much,” Pullen says. 

“It all comes down to finding the right CBD,” he outlines. “A lot of what people are calling CBD products are really hemp oil, which has a different flavour profile. We had to do a lot of research and tried dozens of CBD types from different suppliers from the UK, Europe and the US. It took us a long time to identify the best water-soluble product out there and then experiment with when to add it, how to blend it, how to filter it – getting to the end result was a labour of love.”

Top Beverages is working with legal and food safety professionals to guarantee the quality of its CBD, but aside from EU standards that regulate CBD and THC content, no industry-specific regulations exist. This is uncharted territory after all, which means there’s no lower or upper limit to the amount of CBD a producer is required to add to a given spirit, wine or beer. Where some companies may seek to capitalise on this by adding as little as possible, Top Beverages has “a more concentrated approach,” Pullen says, with every 10ml of spirit containing 1mg of CBD. 

Top Beverages

The thing that looks like a slug is actually a vanilla pod

“We view more regulation as a benefit because it’s going to weed out a lot of the potential bad actors,” he adds. “Compliance regulation is ultimately a good thing and the people that adhere to it end up becoming the cream of the crop because ultimately consumers want a trusted brand. It’s really important to communicate that you’re getting what you’re paying for, especially in this virginal market.”

One area there are regulations, however, are in regards to advertising. Communicating how a CBD-infused G&T might compare to a ‘regular’ one in terms of mood-altering effects is, well, a little tricky. I’m not a doctor or a medical professional,” Pullman clarifies. “We’re not allowed to make any kind of medical claims relating to CBD and alcohol, but here’s what I can say personally: About three to four weeks ago I had terrible back pain, I was really struggling. I opened up my gin to make a G&T and afterwards my wife said, ‘Wow, you’re almost dancing now’. 

“There’s a calming aspect and pain relief aspect for me,” he continues. “Obviously, people respond to it differently, and like all spirits, it should be consumed in moderation. But for our focus group, the reaction has been one of, ‘This is an amazing spirit and I feel really good after drinking it’. Whether that comes from the CBD, the alcohol, the natural flavours, or the whole combination, it makes people feel great.”

No Comments on High end cannabis-infused spirits are here

How do you make alcohol-free beer delicious?

Britain’s pioneering brewers have made it possible to enjoy a flavourful sip without unfavourable ill-effects the following morning. But how, exactly, is alcohol-free beer made? We chatted to the brains…

Britain’s pioneering brewers have made it possible to enjoy a flavourful sip without unfavourable ill-effects the following morning. But how, exactly, is alcohol-free beer made? We chatted to the brains behind a handful of innovative booze-free breweries…

Let’s get right into it. There are two ways to brew an alcohol-free beer. “Firstly you can brew to a very low alcohol using a small amount of malt, extracting a small amount of fermentable sugar, and therefore creating a small amount of alcohol,” explains Luke Boase, creator of alcohol-free lager Lucky Saint. “Secondly, you can brew a full strength beer and remove the alcohol at the end of the process.”

Made with Bavarian spring water, Pilsner malt, Hallertau hops and a bespoke strain of yeast, Lucky Saint is brewed according to the latter. Rather than use a single-infusion mash, the team has opted for a more labour-intensive step-mash, whereby the temperature is progressively increased through 60 to 75 degrees celsius. “This gives us greater control over the creation of fermentable sugars and, importantly, allows us to produce a wort with minimal non-fermentable sugars,” Boase outlines. 

Lucky Saint beer

Lucky Saint bottles cast long shadows

Then, the beer is fermented and conditioned for six weeks, during which time any sediment naturally separates, allowing the team to “retain as much flavour, body and character as possible”. The final stage before bottling is vacuum-distillation. “There are a couple of technologies available,” he continues. “We selected vacuum distillation, which changes the atmospheric pressure and reduces the evaporation point of the alcohol.

“Typically, alcohol evaporates at almost 80 degrees Celsius, but beer doesn’t survive those kinds of temperatures too well,” Boase explains. “Within the vacuum, we can lower the evaporation point to around 40 degrees Celsius, removing the alcohol without affecting any of the delicate flavours of the beer.”

Beer alchemy at its finest, you’ll agree. But while the team has spent time honing the process, they aren’t precious about experimenting when it comes to future bottlings. “Different technologies can work better for different products,” Boase says. So, what about the alternative? How exactly do you go about brewing a beer that barely registers above 0.5% ABV at full strength? 

To find out, we tapped up the folks at Big Drop Brewing Company. “We use a ‘lazy yeast’, which is bad at converting sugars to alcohol; a smaller-than-usual mash bill, which has fewer sugars to convert; and we control the temperatures at various points to control how quickly everything ferments,” explains director Nick Worthington. “We use a wider variety of grain, up to 20 different kinds everything from wheat, oats, barley, rye to give that depth of flavour and pack a punch.”

Big Drop Brewing Co 02

Just some of the delicious Big Drop range

Of course, for every craftsman there’s a multinational conglomerate willing to cut corners and make a buck from the masses. It’s worth noting that the bigger breweries – the household names on the periphery of alcohol-free alchemy – are often more economical, shall we say, in their endeavours, opting to add a malt extract after brewing and chemically extracting the booze to boost certain flavour notes, for example. Still, for the most part, the burgeoning industry remains a hotbed of authentic innovation balanced with reverence for the wider beer category.

“It’s a really interesting and exciting challenge for brewers,” says Chris Hannaway, who co-founded Infinite Session brewery with his brother Tom, “to create a great tasting beer without the main ‘ingredient’ that usually helps them to do this. It takes more precision, more research and more skill to make a great alcohol-free beer.” 

When brewing their beer, the duo uses a variety of different malts to achieve the desired mouthfeel, complexity, sweetness, colour and head for each bottling. So far as alcohol-free brewing is concerned, “this really is only the start,” he continues. “As the taste and quality improves across the board, any stigma that remains will become almost non-existent.”

Ultimately, breweries are trying to offer more choice, adds Worthington, and that can only be a good thing. “Many brewers now offer a variation of one of their most popular styles in an alcohol-free format,” he says. “They recognise people might not want to drink beer all the time but may still want to drink one of their products. They still want an adult-tasting drink.” There’s plenty of chatter about Generation Z eschewing alcohol and staying sober in the age of social media, but Worthington believes booze-free beer is beloved by a different demographic. “People say one in three 18 to 25 year olds aren’t drinking, but it’s not necessarily them – we don’t think they’ve ever drank beer, so they’re unlikely to pick up an alcohol-free one,” he says. “It tends to be the generations above who are looking to put some balance back in their lives. They like the taste of beer, but they don’t necessarily want the alcohol with it.”

No Comments on How do you make alcohol-free beer delicious?

The do’s and don’ts of opening a craft distillery

After three long years, London-based Bimber Distillery is (almost) ready to share its inaugural English single malt whisky with the world. As the team readies to release Bimber London Single…

After three long years, London-based Bimber Distillery is (almost) ready to share its inaugural English single malt whisky with the world. As the team readies to release Bimber London Single Malt this coming September, we speak to founder Dariusz Plazewski to find out what he’s learned over the last three years…

“Whisky has always been my passion,” enthuses Plazewski, a third generation distiller. “It was always my dream to open a distillery, and London really is the place to start the journey. English whisky as a category isn’t that strong yet, so there was the chance to create a bit of history.”

History, indeed, is in the making. Bimber’s first casks were laid down on the 26 May 2016, and right now, Plazewski and his team are diligently tasting their way through more than 550 barrels of single malt – among the first produced in London for more than a century – assessing the flavour and quality of each, before blending, vatting, and, eventually, bottling their liquid towards the end of August.

Dariusz Plazewski

Third generation distiller Dariusz Plazewski

The whisky’s DNA? Light, accessible, fruity new-make, shaped through the elements of Bimber’s exacting production process: seven-day fermentation, hand-made American oak washbacks, designer yeast strains, bespoke copper pot stills designed to maximise copper contact and a carefully-considered distillate cutting strategy.

The first release, limited to 1,000 bottles, has been busy maturing in first-fill Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, while the follow-up 5,000-bottle run has been aged in re-charred casks toasted in Bimber’s own on-site cooperage. We can hardly wait. But wait we must.

Amid the demands of a frankly life-changing month ahead, Plazewski took time out of his schedule to reflect on the last three years and share some distillery do’s and don’ts – interesting reading for aspiring brand owners and curious imbibers alike. Here’s what he had to say…

Do: Focus on building strong relationships

His grandfather distilled moonshine* in communist-era Poland, so as a third generation distiller, Plazewski already knew what he wanted to achieve when it came to the final liquid. The biggest challenge, he says, was identifying the right farmer to source barley from, and pinpoint the ultimate floor maltings for the task at hand. “Those are the two aspects we can’t do in our distillery,” he says, “we have to source those from someone else, so it was important to have a really good relationship with those partners.” And forge relationships he has. Bimber sources two-row barley varieties, Concerto and Laureate, from a single farm in Hampshire called Fordham & Allen – located around an hour’s drive from London – and partnered with Britain’s oldest maltster, Warminster Maltings, which has dedicated an entire malting floor to the distillery.

Do: Be self-sufficient where possible

“Nothing was easy,” says Plazewski. “Every step was quite challenging. However, I knew what I wanted to achieve and I just followed my instinct [about choosing] the right partners and the right equipment and the way we want to produce.” A background in engineering meant Plazewski was equipped with the skillset to design and build much of the distillery equipment himself with the help of his team. “That was the easiest and quickest part because I didn’t have to rely on anyone else,” he says. “The distillery was running in a short amount of time.”

Casks maturing at Bimber

Don’t just sit around waiting for these beauties to mature

Don’t: Rush the process

Let’s face it, no one makes whisky to earn a quick buck – it’s an investment that requires time, money, and above all, patience, in abundance. “Be patient and release when [the liquid] is ready,” says Plazewski. “Don’t rush. We’re waiting until September but ultimately we’ll release it when we think it’s good. The most rewarding thing is that people really like our product. That’s the most important thing for me.” After all, if you’ve been waiting three years for your pride and joy to mature, you can probably stand to wait another month or two.

Do: Use the time wisely

As tempting as it surely was to wile away the three-year whisky maturation period on a hammock in Hawaii, waiting for new make to come of age doesn’t pay the bills, unfortunately. Plus, by distilling on behalf of smaller brands, you’ll put your own spirits on the map. “We used the spare time to produce high quality gin, vodka and rum,” says Plazewski. “We’re a market service, and we made our name with that product.” So long as you’re churning out great liquid, your reputation will precede you.

*Fun fact: Bimber means moonshine in Polish.

No Comments on The do’s and don’ts of opening a craft distillery

Five minutes with… Ervin Trykowski from The Singleton

Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the entire world, says Singleton’s global brand ambassador Ervin Trykowski, but the drinking ritual it’s long been associated with – sipped neat,…

Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the entire world, says Singleton’s global brand ambassador Ervin Trykowski, but the drinking ritual it’s long been associated with sipped neat, with a drop or two of water at best is a barrier for newcomers. It’s high time we stripped away the pompous rules, clichés and tired tropes that keep the category trapped in ‘tradition’ and let the liquid speak for itself…

Dufftown, Glendullan, and Glen Ord: The trio of distilleries you’ll find branded across the various bottles of The Singleton. Look through the history books and you’ll find each has produced single malt for more than 100 years, but rather than dwell on heritage, the folks behind The Singleton are unconventional in their focus on the here and now. 

‘We are proud of our roots,’ they write, ‘but we’re not bound by them. If you take The Singleton with a side of ice cream, then great. Or straight with a bacon brioche, then that’s your call my friend. Do, drink, and eat what you love. The Singleton is simply a whisky to be Unapologetically Enjoyed.’

It’s a refreshing approach to what can be, at times, a remarkably conservative industry. Here, the man at the helm – Ervin Trykowski, The Singleton’s global brand ambassador – urges whisky purists to throw out the rulebook…

the singleton ervin

Introducing The Singleton’s Ervin Trykowski

Master of Malt: Let’s get to grips with the liquid first. What is it about The Singleton that makes it Diageo’s best-selling single malt?

Ervin Trykowski: Primarily the style. The Singleton is a family of three different distilleries and all of them are known for producing an incredibly approachable and easy to enjoy single malt. The distillate at all three very much fits a profile, with green, cut-grass notes, and it matures into this delicious, sweet, fruity, vibrant whisky. In a word, it’s approachability: it’s a super accessible style of spirit that seems to resonate around the world.

MoM: Your marketing is a refreshing departure from the stuffiness of Scotch. What’s the industry’s biggest hurdle with regards to recruiting new whisky fans? 

ET: The clichéd old rules attached to Scotch. It’s always very closed language: You shouldn’t add ice, don’t add water, don’t put it in a cocktail. It’s all ‘don’t, don’t, don’t’. Our biggest hurdle as an industry is that four to 20 years previously we spent a lot of time talking about that classic Scotch ritual, and if you’re new to Scotch whisky, it’s daunting. Walk in a whisky bar anywhere in the world and the first thing they tell you is how many they’ve got – ‘we’ve got 500 whiskies’ – and straight away you’re like, ‘how on earth am I supposed to navigate this category?’. And then the person over the other side of the bar tells you what not to do. It’s not very helpful. Other spirits have been talking about mixing first, getting people on board before maybe explaining the nuances between different gins, for example, but in Scotch whisky we go: ‘go on, drink that’ at 43%. Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the world and we pigeonhole it as one moment, when in reality we should be making it apply to more occasions. Nobody wants to drink a cask strength Scotch on their summer holidays in Marbella at 11 o’ clock in the morning. You want a highball or a cocktail, but in the industry, it’s done as an afterthought. They take you through the vertical tastings – usually the non age statement all the way up to the 18 or 25 year old – and then they say, ‘oh, by the way, this also makes a really good Old Fashioned’. We flip it on its head and start the journey with that, and then introduce them to [the whisky] on the rocks or neat once they understand the flavour in a more approachable way. 

MoM: A cocktail-first approach makes way more sense. Tell us a bit about you, then – what’s your background in booze?

ET: I’m one of the new style of Scotch whisky ambassadors that has come from the on-trade. I started working for Diageo five years ago as a Scotch whisky ambassador in Scotland and for the last three years, I’ve been travelling the world as global Scotch whisky ambassador – working across the portfolio, with my primary focus being The Singleton. I come at Scotch from a very different angle: getting it in front of people who aren’t necessarily traditional Scotch whisky drinkers. With a brand like Singleton, that’s our raison d’etre; that’s what we’re here to do. Plus, getting to travel the world and talk about your national spirit is a bit of a treat for anyone from Scotland. 

MoM: Could you share some of the interesting ways you’ve seen people enjoying Scotch whisky on your travels?

ET: My first trip as a global Scotch whisky ambassador was to Mexico for [annual Diageo cocktail competition] World Class. As part of my role I look after the Scotch whisky for the programme and engaging with the world’s best bartenders is an incredible way to see how different cultures engage with Scotch. On the plane I was looking through the menu and the guy who was serving me recommended Johnnie Walker Black Label and coconut water. It’s not just what you’re drinking with it, though, it’s how you’re drinking it and the occasion you’re drinking it in. A lot of cultures don’t take the mixing thing half as seriously as we do. In Malaysia I led a masterclass in a karaoke restaurant – which was really good fun but also shows that Scotch whisky really fits in different circumstances the world over; it doesn’t just have to be in front of the fire clad in tweed. It’s interesting doing a whisky masterclass in between people murdering Madonna. 

The Singleton Ervin

Trykowski defying tradition and pouring something delicious

MoM: Being free to ‘unapologetically enjoy’ whisky is at the heart of The Singleton’s ethos. Do you think the industry has an attitude problem? And if so, how can it shake it off?

ET: I don’t think there’s an attitude problem, it’s a problem with education and we need to change it as ambassadors. For me, coming from a bar background, it’s really important to engage with the on-trade and educate them on how they are recommending Scotch whisky. A massive amount of people who are starting to get into single malt will try it in a bar, people are eating and drinking out more than ever before, so it’s important to educate bartenders because that’s the first barrier, if you like. People panic, maybe they don’t know about every single malt on their back bar, so all of a sudden they’re regurgitating the same thing they’ve heard from a family member, rather than understanding that people need to be encouraged to try things in new ways. Often the oldest Scotch whisky markets are the worst for it. I go to Manila in the Philippines quite often, and out there the attitude towards single malt is incredible because they started with a blank canvas – they’re very open to it in cocktails and highballs and there’s no preciousness or preconceptions about what they should or shouldn’t do.

MoM: Ditch the rulebook. Got it. With that in mind, what’s an easy-to-make Singleton cocktail serve?

ET: I’ve got just the thing: You get a highball glass, fill it with ice right up to the top and add around 40ml of Singleton. Get yourself a good artisanal, free-range, bespoke, sparkling apple juice – I’d recommend Appletiser – and add about 100ml of that followed by around 50ml of soda water. It’s absolutely dynamite. It’s not big, it’s not clever, and it’s definitely not rocket science, but it plays on the flavours that you’ll already find in The Singleton, those classic Speyside apples and pears.

MoM: Tell us where and when you enjoyed your most memorable dram…

ET: There’s something magical about drinking a whisky at the distillery. One of my favourite places in the world to drink whisky is the Port Ellen lighthouse on Islay, it’s well worth experiencing and made even better if the weather’s crap. When it’s really windy and the waves come crashing over the top it’s amazing. I was lucky enough to be out there with Colin Dunn, one of our whisky ambassadors, who’s a legend – if you could print that it would be great – drinking Port Ellen on the lighthouse looking over the old distillery. That’s pretty magic. Yesterday I was up at Dufftown Distillery and if you walk around the back there’s a wonderful little hill that leads up to some warehousing. It looks over both Dufftown and Mortlach so I had a wee dram with some guests up there yesterday. The short answer is: a Scottish distillery.

No Comments on Five minutes with… Ervin Trykowski from The Singleton

Five important beer trends to wet your whistle

From brooding dark ales to crisp, refreshing lagers, beer is just as complex and compelling as its distilled and barrel-aged cousin, whisky. We chat with Lex Spasic of London bar…

From brooding dark ales to crisp, refreshing lagers, beer is just as complex and compelling as its distilled and barrel-aged cousin, whisky. We chat with Lex Spasic of London bar Beer Rebellion to uncover the innovations, trends and transformative movements bubbling away in the beer industry…

Beer is booming the world over, and craft beer especially so. There are now more than 19,000 breweries worldwide, according to data assembled by global biotechnology company Alltech, of which 94% are classified as craft*. While the US is home to the most sites – a whopping 4,750 craft breweries in total – the UK boasts the most craft breweries per capita, with 25 breweries per million people.

With so much brewing going on across the globe, there’s plenty of activity to wet your whistle. Here Lex Spasic, operations manager at London-based craft beer bar Beer Rebellion, reveals the five key beer trends currently shaping what – and how – you drink…

Beer Rebellion

Beer Rebellion – it’s where beers happen

Going back to basics

While there’s no shortage of maverick brewers playing mad scientist with wild yeasts and Brut IPAs, many breweries have arrived at a simpler conclusion: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Some breweries still specialise in using wild yeasts, but from what I understand strains such as Brettanomyces can be difficult to use as they are extremely aggressive – meaning even a residual amount left in a tank can infect a whole brew,” says Spasic. “The use of these yeasts and ingredients tends to reflect the experimental and restless nature of many small brewers, rather than any permanent changes.” In fact, if anything the movement has birthed the rise of an anti-trend – “a move towards producing lagers, helles, and pilsners,” says Spasic. “This may be either commercial necessity or as a reaction to the more experimental varieties, or both.” Instead, many sites have created dedicated barrel-ageing projects “as a more premium, longer term way of experimenting with ingredients and flavours”, such as Beavertown’s Tempus Project taproom and London Beer Factory’s barrel ageing site.

Sustainable production

Producing beer requires a lot of water, gas and energy, and it creates a hell of a lot of waste. Over the last few years, breweries large and small have been exploring ways to reduce their environmental impact, be it through striving to reduce their resources, trialling creative methods for repurposing production byproducts, introducing recycled materials into their packaging or taproom, or exploring solar energy. Other breweries are philanthropic in their waste-reduction efforts. “We have recently started stocking Toast Ales on draft,” says Spasic. “They produce a range of beers brewed using leftover bread from bakeries and then donate the profits to charity.”

Beer Cans

Always knew tinnies were the future, but it’s good to have confirmation

Style and substance

The industry has also largely shifted from bottles to cans, “touting the infinite recyclability of metal cans as one of the key benefits”, Spasic says; a move that has, perhaps inadvertently, modernised the category. “The rise of cans has also offered greater scope for design and artwork – this appears to be one of the biggest industry shifts in recent years,” Spasic adds. After Beer Rebellion fridges switched to exclusively stocking cans, they team noticed something interesting: the brightest cans sold the quickest, since they “offer far more options for bold and colourful branding than bottles”. Perhaps we’re not as immune to advertising witchcraft as we like to think. As for the next trend in beer marketing? Augmented reality, Spasic predicts. From can labels to supermarket displays, brands and breweries have already started dabbling with AR technology to create a more interactive and entertaining experience for the imbiber. Watch this space.

Low ABV = the new gluten-free

Purists might scoff, but non-alcoholic beer and low ABV beer appears to be on the rise everywhere at the moment, says Spasic. “Low abv seems to have a better variety at the moment, probably because brewers can still retain more of the flavour profile,” Spasic says – but don’t sleep on alcohol-free, which looks set to seriously take off over the next couple of years. “Gluten-free beers seemed like a real compromise for a long time, then all of a sudden it seemed that brewers cracked the magic formula, so hopefully this will happen with zero alcohol beers too.”

Brewery

Fancy snapping up a brewery?

Breweries buying breweries

As long as craft breweries innovate, there’ll always be a conglomerate with deep pockets casting a watchful eye over the industry – whether they’re “buying up smaller breweries or producing their own versions of popular beers, as Guinness is doing, in order to get a piece of the market,” says Spasic. Ultimately, what does this all mean for the hops enthusiast? “The upside of this will hopefully be that breweries are forced to be even more inventive with their products in order to stand out,” says Spasic. Delicious innovation that drips down to your local? We can get on board with that.

*For the purposes of the survey, if a brewery had less than 30 staff or produced less than 5,000 hectolitres per year, or more than 50% of the business was privately owned, it was deemed ‘craft’.

No Comments on Five important beer trends to wet your whistle

Where to drink in… Amsterdam

Characterised by idyllic canals, tilted gabled buildings, and more culture per capita than any other city in the world*, there’s nowhere in the world quite like Amsterdam. We chat with…

Characterised by idyllic canals, tilted gabled buildings, and more culture per capita than any other city in the world*, there’s nowhere in the world quite like Amsterdam. We chat with Ketel One Vodka brand ambassador Helena Henneveld to get the lowdown on the city’s burgeoning cocktail culture – and shine a light on five bars from the Netherlands’ capital…

“Dutch people love to socialise after work and, of course, over the weekend,” says Helena Henneveld, brand ambassador for Ketel One Vodka and Ketel One Botanical at Diageo Reserve Benelux. “We have a specific word for having drinks – ‘borrel’ – and a typical phrase which comes up in various WhatsApp groups is ‘iemand borrelen?’ which translated, basically means ‘anybody up for some drinks?’”

The Dutch proclivity for enjoying a drink or two may not have changed – the Netherlands is, after all, known the world over for its pale lagers like Heineken and Grolsch – but the contents of their glasses is gradually shifting over time. Like most other major European cities, Amsterdam is no stranger to the remarkable cocktail renaissance that has swept the globe. 

Helena Henneveld

Helena Henneveld, always reppin’

“What we tend to drink has definitely changed over the course of the last few years,” says Henneveld. “As a bartender working at Door74 about five years ago, I remember all of a sudden seeing a huge demand for gin and customers – both Dutch and expats living in Amsterdam – asking for Gin and Tonics. We quickly went from having five gins on the back bar to 20 because of the sudden demand for different varieties and flavours.”

Today you’ll find a wealth of cocktail bars nestled among the city’s coffee shops and bruin cafés (old-school Dutch pubs) serving up their own interpretations of the latest trends. “Amsterdam’s bar scene has changed a lot over the last few years and has become very varied and eclectic,” outlines Henneveld. “At the moment, the biggest trends include having a selection of no and low-alcohol drinks on the menu, finding ways to work more with local producers, and introducing new ways to reduce waste.”

As part of its minimal waste ethos, Ketel One has been working closely with bartenders to help them rethink their most popular drinks, Henneveld says, so they have a more positive impact on the environment and the local community. “It can be simple tweaks such as switching out plastic straws or stirrers, or using organic ingredients in cocktails and sourcing these ingredients from local suppliers,” she explains. “We also ask them to use excess produce from their kitchens and repurpose it as garnishes, or use wonky fruit and vegetables as a Bloody Mary base.”

From the progressive to the traditional, Henneveld shares five unmissable Amsterdam bars that deserve a place on the itinerary of any serious cocktail fan. Proost!

 

Vesper

Vesper Bar

Vinkenstraat 57, 1013 JM Amsterdam, Netherlands

Why? “Vesper is progressive and changes its menu monthly, working with ingredients in season and local artisanal producers,” says Henneveld. “The menu is never the same and I think that’s really cool.”

Super Lyan

Super Lyan

Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 3, 1012 RC Amsterdam, Netherlands

Why? “Super Lyan shows us how to make usual flavours into something unusual,” says Henneveld, “for example, the Ketel One Vodka Bay Cosmo on draft, which uses bay leaves, sounds a bit of an odd combination but it works and still reminds me of the refreshing, tart flavours of a regular Cosmopolitan.”

Feijoa

Feijoa

Vijzelstraat 39, 1017 HE Amsterdam, Netherlands

Why? “Feijoa is a bartender’s bar, the drinks are always spot on,” says Henneveld, “you can order any cocktail and they always know how to make it perfectly.”

Flying Dutchman

Flying Dutchman Cocktails

Singel 460, 1017 AW Amsterdam, Netherlands

Why? “Flying Dutchmen focuses a lot on classic cocktails,” says Henneveld. “They serve drinks you might have read or heard about but never tasted, while educating guests on cocktails and cocktail culture. Plus, their ceiling is to die for.”

 

Cafe De Oranjerie

Binnen Oranjestraat 15hs, 1013 HZ Amsterdam, Netherlands

Why? “Don’t forget about our brown bars, which we call ‘de kroeg’,” says Henneveld. “There is usually sawdust on the floor. People who go there usually just get a beer and a single jenever. You see these everywhere in Amsterdam and they have a big history in Dutch bar culture.”

*A company called Totally Money took data from TripAdvisor and the Michelin Guide to determine which cities have the highest concentration of culture per capita. Amsterdam came out on top, followed by Dublin and Prague. Can’t argue with that.

 

No Comments on Where to drink in… Amsterdam

Five minutes with… Lorena Vásquez, master blender for Ron Zacapa

More Rum Month excitement today: you’ll usually find Ron Zacapa’s Lorena Vásquez blending rums in the Guatemalan mountains, but last week was a little different – on Tuesday, London welcomed…

More Rum Month excitement today: you’ll usually find Ron Zacapa’s Lorena Vásquez blending rums in the Guatemalan mountains, but last week was a little different – on Tuesday, London welcomed the esteemed master blender as she toasted the launch of the Zacapa Zuma Ritual Serves at Knightsbridge restaurant Zuma. MoM sat down with Vásquez to talk about the inner workings of the distillery…

We can’t help but coo as the trio of theatrical cocktails – created by the clever folks at modern Japanese restaurant Zuma using traditional Mayan ingredients – are unveiled. They’re presented in a smoking pyramid-shaped glass box symbolising the ‘House Above the Clouds’; Zacapa’s rum-ageing facility found in the Guatemalan mountains. It was there, 2,300 meters above sea level, that Zuma’s global beverage director James Shearer and global bar development director Jimmy Barrat laid down the foundations of each cocktail.

Credit- Jade Nina Sarkhel-4

No, not a new Indiana Jones film, it’s a Zuma Zacapa Ritual Serve (credit Jade Nina Sarkhel)

“The life of the Mayan was organised around the four different types of corn: gold, white, red and black,” Barrat told MoM, as we sipped the Imox Negroni, containing roasted black corn-infused vermouth, cocoa nib-infused Campari and Zacapa 23. “These are used during different parts of the day, but mainly according to the different seasons and celebrations. We encountered a lot of Mayan ingredients during the trip, but what we have taken back more is the culture. And that is what we wanted to translate into the serves.”

After sipping a Cib Colada – Zacapa 23 combined with coconut, vanilla, dried yuzu, pineapple, chili, star anise and charcoal, topped with bubbly sake and gold glitter – MoM sat down with Lorena Vásquez, master blender for Ron Zacapa, to talk about the ins-and-outs of the idyllic distillery…

 

Master of Malt: How did you become a master blender and what was your journey into your current role? 

Lorena Vásquez: Ever since I was a child [in Nicaragua] I liked anything to do with smell and taste, so I’ve always had that interest. Then I went to university and studied chemistry and what I enjoyed the most were the sensory aspects. That’s when I got into food technology, and after that I went to Guatemala. My first job was in a brewery but I didn’t want to taste beer every day, it’s not for me. That’s how I got into the rum world, and in September it will be 35 years that I have been working in rum. 

MoM: As a former chemist and food technologist, could you talk about some of the transferable skills that apply to your role as master blender?

LV: There are a lot. I always say that life is chemistry and love is chemistry, it’s a chemical reaction. There are chemical reactions in everything. And rum production has a lot to do with chemistry, so it’s helped me to understand the process a lot more. I’ve got the analytical side – the background and training and the chemistry side which is the hard bit – but then I also have a great nose, so it’s a great combination. I will be able to smell the rum and say, ‘ok, there is a problem with the fermentation process’ because I understand all the different compounds that go into producing it.

Lorena Vasquez,

Lorena Vasquez poses next to hard hat

MoM: Right now Zacapa isn’t open to visitors. Could you share a little insight into the inner workings of the distillery?

LV: On the south coast we have the cane plantations, the distillery and the fermentation process and then we age our rums up in the mountains. In a year we’ll be opening a visitor centre at our ageing facility – it’s quite separate to the distillery, and takes around an hour and a half to get to by car. The fermentation and distillation is more of a mechanical process, the ageing process is where the passion comes in. The former is analytical whereas the latter is very creative and personal. Every day we blend rums and we have to try them halfway through the morning and halfway through the afternoon. Each barrel to me is like a living person. It came from a different tree, it was treated differently, and when we fill it with rum we have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s only when we taste it that we know how it has developed, and we are continuously mixing to find the right balance.

MoM: What sets Zacapa apart from other Guatemalan rums?

LV: We start from the cane. People think there’s just one type of sugarcane but there are more than 20 varieties – we use three. We don’t use the same ones other rum distilleries use. In a lot of rums their primary ingredient is molasses but in Ron Zacapa it’s concentrated sugar cane juice and that makes a big difference. Molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane; we’re using the virgin product. The Sistema Solera ageing process we use is very unique, and we age our rums at a high altitude in the mountains, which means they mature slowly. The band around the bottle is made by 900 women who all work from home, they knit the wrap one by one and attach it manually as well. That’s one of the nicest projects I’ve ever been involved with.

MoM: Zuma’s serves are designed to reflect the Sistema Solera ageing process. Could you explain how it works?

LV: It’s similar to making sherry, but ours is slightly different. We start by ageing [new make] in ex-bourbon American oak barrels. After that we take it out of the cask and mix it with old rums. In this second ageing process we use the same type of barrel but char it first for more vanilla, chocolate and toffee flavours. Then we take that rum out and mix it again with older rums. For the final ageing process we use barrels that held aromatic sherry, specifically oloroso. And then we do a final mix in barrels that previously aged Pedro Ximénez wines. It makes the rum much more complex. 

Jimmy Barrat, Zuma

Zuma’s Jimmy Barrat pours Zacapa into a mini solera system

MoM: Could you talk about the town of Zacapa and paint a picture of what life is like there?

LV: It’s a town on the north west of Guatemala, and it’s very hot. The rum is in honour of that town because one of the people who started Ron Zacapa was from Zacapa. We don’t have any operations in Zacapa now, it’s just the name. Zacapa has its origins in the Mayan language and means ‘water that runs over grass’. 

MoM: What do you think is driving interest in premium rum and super premium?

LV: When we started with Zacapa I remember two things. People said, ‘a rum produced in Guatemala?’ because everyone thought about rum’s link to the Caribbean – Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica. The other thing was the price. It was quite hard to break the mentality that you can only drink rum in certain drinks. Zacapa were really the pioneers in trying to re-educate people that rum is not just about beach parties, it’s a premium spirit. After that, all rum producers suddenly had high-end rums.

MoM: There’s always plenty of chatter about rum regulations. Would the category benefit from homogenising rules about production, labelling and so on?

LV: The problem with the rum world is there isn’t just one rule, each country has its own legislation. Years ago they tried to bring in one rum standard, they had lots of meetings in Trinidad and Tobego, but they couldn’t agree on anything. In Guatemala we have a Designation of Origin, so we have government-controlled standards in all our factories. All alcoholic drinks in Guatemala need to be aged and that’s one of the big problems we had with the legislation – because in the Caribbean, white rum isn’t aged and the producers don’t want to change this. I do think the category would benefit from tighter rules and regulations. 

MoM: What’s your go-to Zacapa serve?

LV: It depends on the moment, but I love a Zacapa Old Fashioned or a Zacapa Negroni. I love coffee, so Zacapa and espresso is very good after dinner or lunch. But if I drink it neat? Zacapa XO.

No Comments on Five minutes with… Lorena Vásquez, master blender for Ron Zacapa

Cocktail of the Week: The Piña Fumada

Take it from us, The Piña Fumada is the smoky summer tipple you didn’t know you needed. We chat with Thea Cumming, co-founder of London Mezcal Week, which returns for a…

Take it from us, The Piña Fumada is the smoky summer tipple you didn’t know you needed. We chat with Thea Cumming, co-founder of London Mezcal Week, which returns for a third year this week with one of the largest collections of agave spirits in Europe…

London Mezcal Week was set up by – and they won’t mind us saying this – two of the UK’s most dedicated and knowledgeable mezcal enthusiasts, Thea Cumming and Melanie Symonds. Their aim? To support and celebrate agave spirits across the board, working with traditional producers to bring authentic brands and industry experts to the capital.

Spanning an impressive line-up of supper clubs, bar takeovers, seminars, tastings and cocktail masterclasses, this year’s London Mezcal Week will culminate in a two-day Mezcal Tasting Festival this Friday and Saturday, featuring more than 60 agave spirits – including mezcal, Tequila, sotol, bacanora and raicilla – across 35-plus brands.

TT Liquor in London

TT Liquor in London

The mezcal category has transformed since Cumming and Symonds launched the event. Never-before-seen mezcal styles are being introduced the UK all the time – including Cumming’s own brand, Dangerous Don, which sees mezcal infused with coffee and redistilled – and new trends are unfolding, too. “There are certainly more interesting blended agave spirits,” says Cumming, who points to Pensador, a blend of madre-cuishe and espadin agave.

“There has also been a bit of a change in perception which has meant that more people are willing to try mezcal,” she continues. “However, this doesn’t come without its own challenges – we need to make sure that [bar operators] look into the brand ethos and background and ask the right questions rather than go for the cheapest option.”

Our drink of choice to toast London Mezcal Week is none other than The Piña Fumada, which combines mezcal, pineapple, lemon, velvet falernum and grapefruit and rosemary tonic water to form a lip-smacking summer sipper. The cocktail was created by TT Liquor in collaboration with Andrea Brulatti, UK brand ambassador for London Essence, for a masterclass led by none other than Santiago Lastra.

Through a series of paired small plates, the man behind the launch of Noma Mexico and forthcoming restaurant Kol sought to celebrate the relationship between Mexican cooking and mezcal: think Scottish scallops ceviche with pink mole, cured lamb leg tostada with kombucha and guajillo mayo.

The Piña Fumada

The Piña Fumada is all its smoky glory

“Mexican cuisine is all about powerful flavours and amazing ingredients,” Cumming explains. “Mexico is graced with immense biodiversity meaning the food is even more immense in flavour and variety.” As such, the same is true for mezcal production. “Terroir is a major influence in the taste of a mezcal,” Cumming continues. “Techniques vary from state to state and each mezcalero has his own secrets which have been passed down through generations. The relationship between mezcal and food is rooted in the earth – the very heart of what makes Mexico such a magical country.”

There are more than 50 different varieties of agave that can be used to produce mezcal. The flavour is further shaped by the region within which the plant grows, the altitude it grows at, and the conditions of the specific year it starts growing, says Cumming.

“Production techniques will vary, natural yeasts will be different from one area to another and of course the master mezcalero will each have a different hand,” she says. “This means the versatility of mezcal is limitless. Each one tastes so different, which means it needs to be treated in a totally different way

An exhilarating prospect for the capital’s bartenders, who have been busy experimenting with the spirit in all manner of serves, from classics to new creations. Which brings us rather nicely to The Pina Fumada, a twist on the Colada that comes highly recommended by those in the know. The flavours are “a match made in heaven”, says Cummings, “I would highly recommend everyone to give it a go”. Here’s what you’ll need…

Ingredients:

30ml QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan Mezcal
15ml Taylor’s Velvet Falernum
15ml lemon juice
35ml pineapple juice
London Essence Grapefruit and Rosemary tonic water to top

Shake first four ingredients hard and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with London Essence Grapefruit and Rosemary tonic water, and garnish with a pineapple spear.

Keen to get involved in the festivities this week? You’re in luck – Cumming has very kindly created a 10% discount code for all MoM readers. All you need to do is enter ‘MOMLOVESMEZCAL’ when purchasing a ticket. Click here for a taste of the action (and a run-down of the weeks’ events)…

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: The Piña Fumada

Hangover squared: the science behind relieving post-alcohol pain

Drinking enough to feel ill-effects the next day isn’t big and it certainly isn’t clever, but sometimes it happens – and now, there’s an industry of pills and potions dedicated…

Drinking enough to feel ill-effects the next day isn’t big and it certainly isn’t clever, but sometimes it happens – and now, there’s an industry of pills and potions dedicated to alleviating morning-after misery. But where is the trend going, and crucially, does it have any scientific backing? MoM peers inside the hangover supplement industry…

Hangover symptoms are far more complex than perhaps we give them credit for. Even doctors don’t fully understand the inner workings of your brain and body after one or two too many drams. And indeed there are many different factors that affect how your body processes alcohol – the type and quality of the alcohol being served to the age, sex, stature, ethnicity, heredity, diet and sleep habits of the drinker – which, in turn, have some influence on how you feel the morning after. 

Generally speaking, though, there are a few biological processes we humans all share. Drinking alcohol suppresses the creation of a hormone called vasopressin, says Samantha Welsh, marketing director for NutriDrip and The Hangover Club, prompting your kidneys to send water straight to your bladder without absorbing it, “which is why when we drink we tend to use the bathroom a lot,” she says. Your dehydrated brain shrinks, causing tension and painful headaches the next day, and you’ll have lost “important minerals and nutrients such as potassium, sodium, and other B vitamins, which results in muscle pain and fatigue”.

Survivor

You know you’re in for a long night when these packets are strewn on the table

Unfortunately dehydration is just a symptom, rather than a cause, of the hangover puzzle. The real problem isn’t, technically speaking, the alcohol (i.e. ethanol) you’re sipping – it’s a chain reaction that occurs inside your body after you’ve ingested that Piña Colada. “When you drink more alcohol than your liver can break down, toxins such as acetaldehyde build up,” explains Eddie Huai, founder of FlyBy. “This puts stress on your body, and you pay for it the next morning.” 

Acetaldehyde is around forty times more toxic than ethanol, explains Laurence Cardwell, founder of Survivor. “The reason acetaldehyde is such a bad boy is because it leads to massive inflammation,” he says. “The goal, really, is to break it down as fast as possible into acetate, which is benign. The two main ingredients that make up Survivor do exactly that.” One of these breakthrough ingredients is dihydromyricetin, which has been proposed in the highly-respected Neuroscience journal as a novel potential anti-intoxication medication. 

“In one of the studies performed they gave rats the equivalent of 20 beers,” says Cardwell. “I imagine these rats were absolutely plastered, wandering around in lederhosen singing songs. Being small rodents they have a fairly high metabolism and sobered up in 90 minutes. When injected abdominally with dihydromyricetin, they sobered up completely in five minutes.” 

Don’t worry, you don’t actually need two hands to hold a tablet. It’s not that big.

If alcohol-free spirits really aren’t your bag, popping a hangover supplement might seem like the next best option. But is there a danger that bottled ‘hangover cures’ will encourage people to drink more, or drink irresponsibly (like our rodent friends above) knowing there’s less chance of ill effects the next day? 

“Hangovers are usually a sign from your body that you’ve probably had too much to drink and should consider cutting down,” says Pedram Kordrostami, creator of AfterDrink, who adds that hangover-related supplements aren’t miracle workers. There are also “very strict rules about making claims with health supplements, especially when it comes to phrases around ‘cure’ or ‘treating symptoms’, as these are only authorised for medicines,” he says. 

Rather than a ‘hangover’ fix, Cardwell prefers the term alcohol health supplement. “Firstly it’s not a very accurate label, but also it’s not very credible,” he says. “Hangovers are effectively the extreme of alcohol consumption – you don’t tend to get a serious one unless you’ve been slugging it back. But even one or two glasses of wine or beer will affect your performance the following day.” 

The ritual of enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or a pint after work with colleagues is a huge part of cultures around the world, and it’s one that seems unlikely to disappear any time soon. Instead, the shift is towards balance. “People want to be able to combine that lifestyle, they don’t want to give it up entirely,” he continues. “They want to maximise their performance on all fronts: socialise with friends in the evening, work hard in the office and get a good night’s sleep.”

Losing a day or two to a hangover just isn’t an option for most people, adds Kordrostami.  “Drinking plenty of water and making sure you have a meal before going out helps a lot. However, it’s not usually enough. People are always on the lookout for natural and effective ways to support their recovery and supplements – like AfterDrink – provide a helping hand towards a solution.”

No Comments on Hangover squared: the science behind relieving post-alcohol pain

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search