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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Annie Hayes

How the bushfires are affecting Australia’s wine

Fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, Australia’s deadly bushfires have destroyed 15.6 million acres of land, killing at least 27 people, leaving thousands homeless and devastating local…

Fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, Australia’s deadly bushfires have destroyed 15.6 million acres of land, killing at least 27 people, leaving thousands homeless and devastating local businesses – including some of the country’s cherished vineyards. In the face of adversity, the wine industry has rallied together to support those who have lost their livelihoods. Here’s how you can help, too… 

Ever since Australia’s fire season started uncategorically early – back in September 2019 – brave volunteer firefighters have grappled with the worsening blazes, the deadliest found along its eastern and southern coastal areas. On 9 January, around 130 fires were burning across New South Wales (NSW), with more than 50 uncontained, according to the BBC

Across South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, vineyards and wineries have suffered serious damage that will take years to recover from, according to Andreas Clark, CEO of Wine Australia – the government authority that promotes and regulates the industry – who warns it will be several weeks before the extent of the damage is revealed.

Fires at Pike & Joyce vineyards in Adelaide Hills

“In some areas where people have been evacuated it will be some time before it is safe to access vineyards,” Clark explains. “There is also the fact that assessment of the impact on vines is complex. It is easy to see when vines are burned but often it takes much longer to establish the damage caused by heat.”

Huge numbers of grape growers and wine producers up and down the country face an unpredictable 2020 vintage, as the full impact of the extreme heat and toxic smoke plumes remain unknown; bushfire smoke permeates the skin of ripening grapes, giving the resulting wine a less-than-pleasant taste. 

For others, the outlook is rather more bleak. In Adelaide Hills, the Cudlee Creek fire is thought to have destroyed up to a third of the region’s vines, affecting more than 60 growers and producers – an estimated loss of AUD$20 million worth of wine – and burning through equipment, barrels and buildings. Vines that have tended by families across generations are left scorched and reduced to ash.

James Tilbrook

James Tilbrook in happier times

“On Friday 20th December, the Cudlee Creek bushfire swept through our property destroying 21 years of hard work – the winery, all the wine stock, 90% of the vineyard, all of the farm, all of the sheds,” the owners of Adelaide Hills-based Tilbrook Estate wrote on their website. “Our insurance will cover the physical items, but it’s going to take months, if not years, to get there. We have lost our livelihood. We have no wine or grapes, so we have no income.” He has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to repair the damage. 

Devastating as such stories may be, they are, thankfully, in the minority. Just a fraction of Australia’s national vineyard land has fallen within the fire zones, says Clark, with most fires “in heavily forested areas or National Parks”. 

“While the toll on individuals cannot be underestimated and should not be downplayed, a review of fire maps suggests a maximum of around 1,500 hectares of vineyards fall within the fire affected regions to date,” he explains. “Even if all those vineyards were fire damaged – and they are not – it would only be about 1% of Australia’s total vineyard area.”

Where growers and producers have been severely impacted, the wine sector is coordinating short-term relief and longer-term planning with government bodies and local agencies, says Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Tony Battaglene. “Responses must include relief for those directly impacted – including those growers who might not be able to sell smoke-affected grapes,” he explains. “In the medium term we must look to strengthen regional tourism and bring people back to the regions.”

Bushfires in Queensland

In the longer term, grape shortages in fire-affected areas are expected to send prices skyrocketing. For now, however, growers and producers are focused on preserving and protecting the surviving vines and limit the impact of the ongoing fires wherever possible.

“Our message is that Australia is hurting from the fires, but we are open for business,” Battaglene adds. “We need donations to the relief funds, support for our emergency services, and consumers to buy our wine and visit our regions. It is important to note that the fire season is not over and our temporary relief may not last.”

Want to help Australia tackle its bushfire crisis? To donate directly, visit the Australian Red Cross, seek out regional fundraises, or simply buy a bottle of Aussie vino. Bars, restaurants and businesses across the globe are holding fundraising events, from wine flights to dedicated menus, so you can further support the cause with your palate, too. 

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The next generation of no and low-alcohol drinks are here

With alcohol-free cocktails inching their way onto mainstay menus, and an ever-expanding selection of low- and no-alcohol spirits, beers and wines to choose from, it’s little wonder that 2020 is…

With alcohol-free cocktails inching their way onto mainstay menus, and an ever-expanding selection of low- and no-alcohol spirits, beers and wines to choose from, it’s little wonder that 2020 is forecast to be Dry January’s biggest year yet. From mood-altering plant tonics to low-alcohol gin-alikes, we take a look at the latest teetotal tipples on the market…

With 8.6 million Brits actively moderating their alcohol intake, according to Drinkaware, and a sizeable 20.9% of the UK adult population completely teetotal in the latest ONS survey, the low- and no-alcohol movement can no longer be seen as a passing fad. Driven by demand for a lower ABV lifestyle, the market for alternative adult drinks has transformed from a one-brand-band – led by pioneers Seedlip – into a full-blown drinks category. And it is brimming with innovative creations.

“People who are reducing their drinking still want to have a fun night out and enjoy the time they spend with friends and family, so they are looking for drinks that give them the experience – just without the booze,” says Richard Clark, founder and MD of alcohol-free craft beer and cider producer Drynks Unlimited. The challenge, he says, lies in developing liquids that taste, look and smell like their alcoholic counterparts.

Jukes

It’s only Matthew Jukes!

Non-alcoholic beer has integrated into social occasions with relative ease, and alcohol-free wine is well on its way, with the likes of Jukes Cordialities premiumising the arena. Created by the Daily Mail‘s wine writer Matthew Jukes, the non-alcoholic cordial range is designed to mirror the ‘length and build quality of a fine wine’, the website states, with ‘complex, aromatic characters as well as uncommon texture, flavour and richness on the palate’.

Booze-free spirits, meanwhile, have faced a greater challenge winning over drinkers, largely because it’s far more difficult to replicate the real stuff. “Texture is a big thing,” agrees Geyan Surendran, development scientist and botanical alchemist at Three Spirit. “Some of the earlier non-alcoholic spirits, once mixed out, can be a little bit insipid, they don’t have that mouth-coating ability. The cooling and heating elements alcohol has are pretty key to the experience; complex textures that don’t just feel like flavoured water.” From punchy Siberian ginseng to calming valerian root, the non-alcohol spirit brand harnesses the power of plants to stimulate the mind and body as well as the palate.

It’s an approach shared by adaptogenic plant spirits brand Senser, founded by plants alchemist Vanessa Jacoby. The three-strong range sees ‘functional botanicals’ combined and treated in a way that means each 50ml serve ‘delivers an effective botanical dosage’. The Love bottling, for example, contains rhodiola, caraway and passionflower – all known for their calming, anxiety-soothing effects. “It’s about addressing why people drink beyond the aesthetic part of it, that’s what we’re interested in,” Three Spirit’s Surendran adds.

Atopia, made by the master distiller behind Hendrick’s Gin

Physical elements aside, alcohol-free producers are also keen to tap into the social ritual associated with drinking and make their offerings as accessible and acceptable as other full-strength products. And not just to appease teetotallers, either. Increasingly, drinkers are mixing traditional spirits with low- and no- options during the same drinking occasion. Take William Grant & Sons’ ‘ultra low alcohol spirit’ Atopia, created by Lesley Gracie, the master distiller behind Hendrick’s Gin. If you’re looking for moderation, Atopia enables you to go out and stay out, according to the website an Atopia & Tonic contains 75 times less alcohol than a Gin & Tonic. 

“We see that people within an evening are having the ‘wedge drink’ – moderating by alternating between an alcoholic and then a non alcoholic drink through the night,” says Mark Livings, CEO of Lyre’s Spirits. “The challenge here is that it’s obvious to others what you are doing and it’s a compromise that ‘breaks’ the taste of what you’re drinking.” Lyre’s, which offers a wide array of non-alcoholic spirits including Absinthe, American Malt and Dark Cane Spirit, intends to closely match the flavours and appearance of classic spirits to give sober curious drinkers more freedom. 

It’s not the only producer to move into this space. Scotland’s first distilled alcohol-free spirit, Feragaia, is an amber-coloured liquid that wouldn’t look out of place in a Glencairn glass. Distilled in the Lowlands, the team combines 14 responsibly-sourced botanicals, including seaweed, bay leaf and chamomile, capturing the flavours through ‘multiple runs’. The delicate notes of flowers and leaves combine with the earthier elements of root botanicals and spices to create a taste of clean complexity, the website explains. Non-alcoholic spirit Amplify, meanwhile, has adopted a classic botanical recipe – juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, lemon peel, lemongrass and ginseng root – to emulate the flavours drinkers are used to.

Feragaia

Feragaia, no alcohol, no sugar, lots of flavour

“We developed a menu hack that assimilates the non-alcoholic offering into the existing cocktail menu which has been a huge hit and helped to drive our brand forwards,” says Alex Carlton, founder and CEO of alcohol-free spirits range Stryyk. “By simply offering a non-alcoholic version of a bars’ existing cocktail menu by swapping out rum, gin or vodka for our Not Rum, Not Gin or Not Vodka – denoted by our Strykk asterisk on menu – consumers who are looking for quality non-alcoholic drinks can do so without breaking ritual and also enjoying the same experience as their friends who are drinking.”

Of course, not every alcohol-free offering sets out to imitate the alcoholic aspect of the drink. Rather than recreate a classic booze category, sparkling botanical drinks producer Humble Warrior cold brews, distils and extracts various roots, leaves and spices to make healthful adult soft drinks. Regardless of whether you’re emulating the spirit or levelling up the mixer, when you want to bring no and low to the masses, familiarity is key. 

“Products that are already aligned to make-at-home drinks are extremely appealing as they can enjoy their very same rituals without having to learn new unique and overly complicated serves from non-category aligned brands,” Carlton adds. “They can easily pick up a bottle of Not Gin, Not Rum or Not Vodka on the shelf in the supermarket or online safe in the knowledge that it’s already going to do what they expect it to do.”

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Trust the algorithm: The future of AI in booze

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt…

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt Scotch. Here, we take a look at the ground-breaking technology, and consider the ways in which algorithms could revolutionise the drinks industry in years to come…

Think back to a bottle of alcohol you bought without ever having tried it. What compelled you to pick that one, rather than another? Perhaps it was the look of the label, or the price. Maybe a friend recommended it, or you spotted it on this very blog. Or, if you’ve just road-tested Diageo’s new AI whisky selector, it might be because an algorithm told you to.

Named ‘What’s Your Whisky’, the selector uses FlavorPrint taste profiling technology to match your individual tastes to one of 18 featured single malts, explains Benjamin Lickfett, head of technology & innovation at Diageo. It asks eleven questions to understand your preferences – e.g. ‘how often do you eat bananas? How do you feel about chillies?’ – and then analyses your responses.

“To do this, we use an algorithmic machine learning analysis of 500 different flavour points based on data from the food science and expert sensory science sectors,” he continues. “Once individual flavour preferences have been mapped, the app uses AI to continuously learn what drives consumer preferences.”

Team Circumstance: Liam Hirt, Mark Scott and Danny Walker

Elsewhere, AI isn’t just matching you with your optimum booze pairing. It’s creating it. In November, Circumstance Distillery created the world’s first AI gin, called Monker’s Garkel, in collaboration with tech companies Rewrite Digital and Tiny Giant. They designed a ‘recurrent neural network’ named Ginette, explain Liam Hirt, Circumstance co-founder. 

“She was trained to compose gin recipes using an enormous data set of botanical and recipes,” Hirt says. “We chose her best two recipes for further traditional development at Circumstance Distillery. One recipe emerged as a favourite, although it was very close. Ginette also came up with the name for the gin. A separate neural network was used to create the label and the wording on the back of the bottle.”

Circumstance isn’t the only producer to harness the power of AI to make great-tasting spirits. In May last year, Swedish distillery Mackmyra teamed up with Microsoft and Fourkind to create a whisky informed by Mackmyra’s existing recipes, sales data and customer preferences. In January 2017, Virgin’s travel arm partnered with super-computer Watson to analyse the social media posts of 15 million holidaymakers, match them to 5,000-plus flavour descriptions and reviews, and create a one-off rum recipe at Barbados’ Foursquare Distillery.

Is there a danger our industry’s tastemakers could soon be overthrown by AI distillers? Not quite. “AI technology is in its infancy, and is not ready to take over from a skilled distiller like those at our distillery,” reckons Hirt. “Where I see AI making a difference in the near future is as a creative muse used during product development. At Circumstance Distillery we do a lot of product development and contract distillation for customers. AI in its current form can be a useful tool at the brainstorming stage to contribute ideas that might be quite different and take development in an unexpected and novel direction.”

Would you take a recommendation from one of these?

In what ways, then, could AI potentially revolutionise the industry as we know it today? For now, the answer lies in behind the scenes operations. French drinks company Pernod Ricard, which owns Jameson whiskey and Beefeater gin, has been “developing a series of successful pilots and then projects at scale for quite a large array of applications” for a few years now, explains global media and content hub leader Thibaut Portal.

This could be something as simple as identifying trending venues using data from Google Maps, Google Venues traffic, Trip Advisor and social media channels, he explains; information that helps the company map and structure its approach to the on-trade. Automated algorithms help the company optimise its social media campaigns, too – by defining and predicting best days and hours of the week to interact with consumers as well as personalising messages and communications. 

“We have applied AI mainly so far and at scale for our marketing and sales department activities, as data are massive and easy to collect,” says Portal. AI technology definitely enables us to react faster and prepare for more informed decisions, leveraging and computing data available internally or sourced externally in a flash. It provides solid analysis capabilities and unlocks new business opportunities: from product launch to market share increases.”

While it’s still early days for Diageo’s customer-facing whisky selector – which launched across nine European countries in six languages – Lickfett says the team is excited about the potential of this untapped tech. “Once we’ve received the initial results, we’ll be looking to optimise how we integrate the AI experience in bars, supermarkets, online and beyond,” he says. “As with any new technology application, it is key to put the consumer at the centre of the experience, ensuring real value is added and to avoid creating technology for technology’s sake.”

The stills at Circumstance in Bristol

He makes a point. With that in mind, are there any challenges the industry might need to overcome to integrate AI technology successfully? The most obvious one, Hirt says, is knowledge. “Circumstance Distillery is very tech-focused, with successful projects such as issuing ‘whisky tokens’ in the form of our own cryptocurrency,” he says. “Most small businesses in the drink sector are not as tech-focused as we are.”

It’s a sentiment backed by Portal. “AI technology has developed so fast with so many suppliers that confusion is already there,” he explains. “It requires expertise, knowledge and capacity to select the right project.” With a little knowledge, however, the sky’s the limit. “There are so many offers on the market, available and easy to access for all,” he says. “We are entering a democratisation phase, as well as a learning curve for all to build.”

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Cocktail of the Week: The Apple Dog

This week’s Cocktail of the Week is a fruity little number created by Andy Huntley, Copper Dog whisky’s newly-appointed GB brand ambassador. A singer, songwriter and bartender by trade, here…

This week’s Cocktail of the Week is a fruity little number created by Andy Huntley, Copper Dog whisky’s newly-appointed GB brand ambassador. A singer, songwriter and bartender by trade, here Huntley delves into the curious history behind the blended malt Scotch bottling – and reveals how he orchestrated the first ever DJ set at Stonehenge…

The link between taste and sound is a connection few understand better than singer, songwriter, bartender and now Copper Dog whisky ambassador Andy Huntley. Having recently joined the Diageo Reserve team in the UK with 18 years’ experience in the bar and music industry, it’s safe to say the South Wales native knows a thing or two about the perfect soundscape for a dram. 

We took five with Huntley to find out how he’ll apply his pitch-perfect knowledge to the blended Speyside malt brand – and scored a simple recipe to try at home. Siri, open Spotify…

MoM: Huge congratulations on the new role, Andy! You’ve almost 20 years’ experience in the bar and music industry – could you share a handful of your career highlights so far? 

Andy Huntley: I first fell in love with the world of hospitality when I began my career as a barback in Australia. Before joining Diageo, I worked with a number of brands within large drinks companies where I headed up the portfolio of premium and luxury brands creating bespoke events for the on-trade. I was also the whisky and music ambassador for single grain whisky 8O8 where I created a Whisky and Music training and advocacy platform for the UK on-trade – this is mainly what led me to bring both my passions together of whisky and music and inspire bartenders nationwide. As GB brand ambassador for Copper Dog whisky, I’m thrilled to continue telling this story and help to bring together these two industries, sharing my knowledge of both scenes. I’ve been lucky enough to share a stage and work with some amazing artists from Snow Patrol to Ellie Goulding and played for Prince William and Harry a couple of times. A highlight for me as a whisky and music ambassador was partnering with Paul Oakenfold and Carl Cox for the first ever DJ set at Stonehenge – we had a VIP coach from London with the likes of Hollywood A-lister Andy Serkis. I made some drinks for them on the way down then we had a party inside the stone circle with Paul and Carl going back-to-back. It was a really moving experience to be that close to the stones with two of the biggest names in dance music.

Andy Copper Dog

Andy Huntley from Copper Dog pours Copper Dog into a Copper Dog

MoM: Could you talk about any common ground between the two industries and how you’ll be exploring those further in your new role?

AH: Music is intrinsically linked to both a great night in or out. It heightens the senses and can make everything from an intimate conversation to a fun night out even more enjoyable. It adds another dimension. Shared love of music – and great whisky – is also a brilliant way to break down barriers and bring people together. My new role will see me harness all this and raise brand awareness for Copper Dog in quite a unique way by hosting tastings, playing live shows, working with record labels, creating music events and brand activations. Music is an essential atmospheric ingredient in any bar or restaurant. Over the last few years I’ve developed and implemented a music and atmospherics programme educating bartenders to create the perfect playlist for their bar. I’m excited to continue this journey with Copper Dog.

MoM: For those who are new to the brand, could you share a little bit of the backstory?

AH: Copper Dog was originally founded by bar and nightclub tycoon Piers Adam, and the inspiration behind the creation of the whisky comes from the Craigellachie Hotel located in the heart of Speyside. The once run-down hotel was purchased by Piers in 2014 and has now been restored back to its former glory. The Copper Dog name comes from an old device made from copper tubing with a penny soldered to one end and cork in the other, which was used by distillery workers to smuggle whisky home in the 19th century. It’s also the name of the bar at the Craigellachie Hotel. The simple, bold honesty of the Copper Dog brand is also mirrored on-pack in the unique whisky dipper and dog emblems, designed by famed British illustrator Hugo Guinness, to grace every bottle.

MoM: What makes Copper Dog different to other blended Scotch whiskies – in terms of the liquid but also the philosophy behind the brand?

AH: Copper Dog is a truly modern whisky – familiar, inclusive, friendly and relaxed. It’s Scottish hospitality in a glass, without the stuffy conventions or dress codes and is always amplified by a soundtrack of friendly conversation. Bottled at 40% ABV, the liquid is a unique blend of no fewer than eight single malt whiskies, slowly married together in old oak casks. It’s an easy, accessible Scotch, with ripe fruit aromas, and a delicate, spicy finish. Simple enough to be approachable but complex enough to thrive when mixed. Each bottle really is bursting with the true spirit of those Speyside rascals who inspired it. The mischief-makers and opportunists who agree it’s enjoyed best when shared. What also makes it unique of course is that it is blended by master blender Stuart Morrison. The whiskies included in Copper Dog have been aged in a mixture of refill American and European oak casks, first fill bourbon casks and rejuvenated casks, before being married in hogsheads.

Apple Dog

Everyone loves an Apple Dog

MoM: And finally, could you talk us through the concept behind the Apple Dog cocktail?

AH: An Apple Dog is simply a 40ml measure of Copper Dog with one freshly-juiced Granny Smith Apple, served over ice. This drink brings the fresh orchard fruit flavours of Copper Dog to life and the acidity of a Granny Smith really cuts through the drink to add a delicious sourness. It’s always been a personal goal of mine to introduce new drinkers to the wonders of whisky. It’s such an exciting and vast category but it can also be quite intimidating or seen to be complicated to those new to this world. It definitely doesn’t need to be that way and we believe that simplicity is key. Copper Dog is a perfect introduction to whisky and can be enjoyed served with a quality mixer. We want to suggest serves that everyone can make at home and it doesn’t get much simpler than an Apple Dog. I always start my whisky tastings and brand trainings with a welcome Apple Dog. It’s a great way for consumers or industry friends to try Copper Dog for the first time. I guarantee that not many gin drinkers first tried their favourite tipple neat, in a snifter glass and at room temperature. It would have been in a G&T or a cocktail. I take this same approach to whisky and have had nothing but love for Apple Dog by those who have tried it.

So without further ado, here it is, the Apple Dog!

45ml Copper Dog whisky 
1 Granny Smith apple or 70ml of good quality apple juice

Juice one Granny Smith apple (or save yourself the trouble and use bought apple juice) . Combine apple juice with Copper Dog whisky in a rocks glass. Add cubed ice and serve.

 

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How to use plant milk in cocktails

With bartender creativity at an all-time high, a bevy of plant-based ‘milks’ to play with, and Veganuary just around the corner, a question arises: how do you incorporate a dairy-free…

With bartender creativity at an all-time high, a bevy of plant-based ‘milks’ to play with, and Veganuary just around the corner, a question arises: how do you incorporate a dairy-free alternative, be it oat, almond, rice or otherwise, into a cocktail? Don’t have a cow, man – here, MoM unscrews the proverbial cap on alt-milk drinks…

Gone are the days when milk came only from mammals. Plant-based milks have become a coffee shop mainstay over the last decade, and now they’re finally beginning to edge their way onto cocktail menus. Spurred by demand from their customers, bartenders have started to draw a line under dairy and look to plant-based alternatives for their creamier serves. 

In some bars, the switch is spurred by physiological factors i.e. catering to intolerances and dietary preferences. For others, it’s driven by environmental concerns – dairy production doesn’t exactly fit into the sustainability narrative the bar world has so passionately adopted, plus it spoils quickly. Whether the motivation is practical or ethical, plant milks are here to stay.

“Using regular dairy products is challenging in the current climate because of intolerances, allergies or people just not wanting to include them in their diets,” confirms Peter Seabrook, bar manager at PS40 in Sydney, Australia. Doubling down on the points above, the team there don’t just use plant based milks in drinks – they even make their own.

Beyond appealing to a broader audience and saving the planet, two of the most compelling reasons to incorporate plant-based milks into a cocktail menu are texture and taste, Seabrook says. “There are so many applications you can do with plant-based milks based around soaking or infusions to get different combinations of flavour, as well as how much you want to dilute or fine them in terms of texture.”

PS40 Sydney

PS40 Syndey, swanky!

Does the rise of plant-milk spell the beginning of the end for traditional cocktails like the White Russian, Grasshopper, and Irish Coffee? No – quite the opposite, actually. It’s clear that plant-based milk has shaken off its reputation as being little more than insipid cream-coloured water, and these days the diversity in flavour – from brand to brand, let alone between raw ingredients – means the dairy-free market is bursting with potential.

Each variety, whether it’s nut-based, rice-based or something else entirely, tastes distinctly different, confirms JJ Goodman, founder and owner of London Cocktail Club. “A lot of these non-dairy alternatives have varying flavour profiles that can elevate and manipulate the characteristics you’d expect in classic cocktails,” he explains.

He points to a coconut drink alternative by London-based drinks company Rude Health. “It’s great in cocktails like the Piña Colada, as a substitute for milk and cream or even a, White Russian to add a different complexity to the drink,” Goodman says. Perhaps the rise of plant-based milks will pave the way for a milk cocktail revival? Personally, we’d love to see bartenders dig out forgotten recipes from the seventies and give them a plant-based makeover.Modern classics, too, stand to be elevated by the trend. Most recently, Goodman and his team made an Espresso Martini with coconut drink. “To be honest, it was more of an Espresso Martini Latte,” he elaborates, “but the addition of coconut worked well, we even swapped out vodka for medium dark rum. It went down very well as it was really light, silky almost, and the coffee was not too overpowering.”

So from the vast array of plant-based milks available, which works best when combined with alcohol? There’s no hard and fast rule, unfortunately – it really does depend entirely on the drink. The LCC team has experimented with several plant-based milk varieties at its Covent Garden Social Club outpost, including coconut, hazelnut, cashew nut, and brown rice, and found that each “brings its own characteristics,” Goodman says, “coconut milk has a nice light sweetness, while cashew milk has a rich roasted quality because cashews are roasted during production and have a touch of sea salt added.”

That is a French Coffee

Down under at PS40, meanwhile, the bar team is presently championing oat milk with the ‘Hoagie Nation’ cocktail, named after the unofficial Hall & Oates music festival in Philadelphia. “It contains oat milk, aquavit, Cynar and dry sherry with a few shavings of tonka bean,” Seabrook explains. “We then heat it up and stretch it, like a barista would with milk, to make it fluffy.” His all-time favourite dairy-free option? pandan milk, he says, “it’s green, fun and delicious”.

Ready to give plank milk-based cocktails a crack? We thought so. Below, you’ll find Goodman’s Irish Coffee recipe as referenced above. Instead of fresh cream and Irish whiskey, the drink is made with almond milk and Cognac. The ultimate winter warmer – enjoy!

 LCC French Coffee Social Club:

50ml Cognac
2 tsp Demerara sugar
2 tsp instant coffee
150ml hot water
60ml chilled Rude Health Almond Drink thickened with rice flour*

Add the Cognac, sugar, coffee and water to an Irish Coffee glass. If you don’t have one, a latte glass works too. Carefully layer the almond milk over the top and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

*Add 500ml almond drink, 100g rice flour and 10g caster sugar to a saucepan. Stir until it’s the texture of double cream. Keep refrigerated. 

 

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How to make alcohol-free classic cocktails

The classics may historically call for booze in those recipes of old, but there are ways to make your favourite timeless tipple sans-spirit. Here, MoM chats with three drinks experts…

The classics may historically call for booze in those recipes of old, but there are ways to make your favourite timeless tipple sans-spirit. Here, MoM chats with three drinks experts for tips on making a cracking alcohol-free classic cocktail (and a recipe for the non-alcoholic French 75)… 

Think about your favourite cocktail. What makes it so delicious? Is it the crisp, fresh notes associated with a Martini? The sweet, hot unctuousness of an Old Fashioned? Whatever it is, the drink is more than simply a platform for the base spirit with which it’s made. So it makes sense that there’s more to creating a alcohol-free classic cocktail than simply switching out the alcohol. After all, flavour is just one element of an alcoholic base spirit – there’s also a mouth-coating texture, a cooling effect, and later, a gentle, warming heat. 

“Alcohol is a fabulous tool for carrying flavour and without it, you do lack a certain amount of bite, so you have to be clever,” says William Borrell, owner low-alcohol spirit Willow, which contains 15mg of broad-spectrum CBD in each 700ml bottle. “I’ve seen a few startenders in the market use peppers and chilis for that reaction, that mouthfeel.”

The Nightcap

Ladies and Gentleman, Mr William Borrell!

Making a non-alcoholic serve that accounts for those factors without drastically changing the flavour (or tasting like flavoured water) really isn’t easy. Just like the greatness of a restaurant is often better measured by the deliciousness of its vegetable dishes rather than its steak, the world’s finest bars can be judged by the complexity and downright tastiness of their alcohol-free offering.

“It takes a good bartender to make a good cocktail with no alcohol,” acknowledges drinks expert Camille Vidalle, founder of mindful cocktail website La Maison Wellness. “You don’t have the structure of the spirit to give you the backbone of the cocktail. So, how can you use an alcohol-free spirit to make a sophisticated, grown up cocktail – and not like a juice straight from the kids menu?” 

The journey to a truly delicious alcohol-free classic starts in the supermarket. Before you even think about dusting off your shaker, choose your ingredients wisely. “You don’t have much to hide behind, so the quality and the taste of each and every ingredient is crucial – as it always should be,” Vidalle says. “Use fresh ingredients like you would in cooking. Fresh and in season is always the best.”

When it comes to methodology, construct your drink “from the aroma to start and the taste on the finish,” says Vidalle. “Layer the flavours of your drink so it doesn’t fall flat. Non-alcoholic spirits give structure and complexity to a cocktail – layering juices on juices won’t work.” She also advocates for incorporating high quality essential oils, herbs and spices, so long as you’re careful about the quantity. 

Let’s Get Fizzical

Let’s Get Fizzical (recipe below)

While creativity is always encouraged, a little technique (and a little bar know-how). “Know what’s in the glass and how it will react,” Vidalle suggests. “For example, if you’re using an essential oil, how are you incorporating it into the cocktail? If it’s shaken, shake it quick – most non-alcoholic spirits are water-based and you don’t want to over dilute your cocktail.”

Finally, don’t forget about presentation. Lots of lovely ice, an attractive and aromatic garnish, and a fancy glass can make a striking difference to a cocktail’s drinkability. “You drink with your eyes, the same way you eat with your eyes,” explains Vidalle. “Even if you aren’t aiming to make it the most Instagrammable cocktail in town, you do have to make it look like an appetising adult beverage and not a smoothie in a pint glass.”

When it comes to non-alcoholic cocktails, the texture, mouthfeel, and length of the experience is something that drinkers really do care about, attests Geyan Surendran, development scientist and botanical alchemist at non-alcoholic spirit brand Three Spirit. “What we do differently further to that is function, addressing why people drink in the first place,” he says. “To elevate them, to keep them going, to relax them.” As such, each Three Spirit bottling incorporates plant-based ingredients that interact with your nervous system to mimic some of the sensations brought about by alcohol.

These days there’s no shortage of choices, with bottlings and flavours inspired by rum, bourbon, amaro, vermouth and more, as Vidalle points out. A word of advice here: don’t assume you can always safely store those bottles in your spirits cabinet – check the label first. “You’ve got loads of options to choose from to build a mindful home bar, but remember that most of those ingredients are better kept in the fridge after opening,” she says.

Fizz The Season

Fizz The Season

Why not kick off your alcohol-free classics creativity with what’s said to be the world’s first no-alcohol ‘Champagne’ cocktail, the appropriately named Fizz The Season? Borrell has kindly shared the recipe below…

45ml Willow
5ml lemon citrus
15ml elderflower cordial
Eisberg Sparkling Blanc to top

Add the Willow, lemon citrus and elderflower cordial in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with Eisberg Sparkling Blanc.

Alternatively, you could try Let’s Get Fizzical – a booze-free take on a French 75.

45ml Willow
5ml citrus
7.5ml sugar syrup
Eisberg Sparkling Rosé to top.

Add the Willow, citrus and sugar syrup in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a  Champagne flute. Top with Eisberg Sparkling Rose.

 

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16 bartenders’ most reached-for bottles of 2019

Ever find yourself gazing at a backbar in total awe? Yeah, us too. With such tantalising spirits towering over them 24/7, how bartenders manage to peel their eyes away long…

Ever find yourself gazing at a backbar in total awe? Yeah, us too. With such tantalising spirits towering over them 24/7, how bartenders manage to peel their eyes away long enough to serve thirsty customers is beyond us. We asked 16 creative minds which bottling they’ve found themselves reaching for time and time again over the course of 2019…

Given that pouring delicious liquids is all in a day’s work for the world’s leading bartenders, finding out which bottles they’re getting excited about makes for fascinating reading. Perhaps their top pick comes from the emergence of a trend – the influx of agave distillates that have graced shelves, for example – or the arrival of a sustainable new product that has revolutionised the way they approach their drinks. Whatever it might be, we asked 16 bartenders to share an interesting bottling they’ve found themselves coming back to over the course of this year. Here’s what they had to say…

Oskar Kinberg, Hide Below, London

Bottle: Cocchi di Torino

Cocchi, or “Old Faithful”. It’s been my most reached for bottle for a number of years now and its mystical powers over me haven’t weakened. Recently it’s been Cocchi di Torino, but the Americano is also a firm favourite. Cocchi has this magic quality of bringing flavours together without intruding too much, and leaving the cocktail with real feng shui. A splash of either can fix pretty much any drink. They are all really nice on their own too, over ice or in a spritz. You really can’t go wrong with them. 

Sother Teague

Sother Teague and his amazing levitating glass

Sother Teague, Amor y Amargo, Williamsburg

Bottle: Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the item I’ve reached for the most this past year has been a bottle of bitters, specifically Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters. Pimento is the allspice berry, and that’s the genius of this expression – it simultaneously tastes of ginger, nutmeg and mace. It makes a stand-out Old Fashioned as well as finding itself right at home in a Buck or Mule. Combined with rum in your favourite Daiquiri, it elevates all the parts and creates a harmonious tipple. Don’t get me started on how easily it lends itself to tiki-influenced drinks. Cheers!

Will Meredith, Lyaness, London 

Bottle: Martell VSOP

Regarding my most picked up bottle of 2019, it must be Cognac. I know that may seem an odd choice, but Cognac has such a distinctive profile, and it actually lends itself perfectly to being both a base flavour as well as a modifier. I’ve spent a lot of this year drinking Cognac-based Sazeracs from around the continent and I think the diversity that Cognac brings to a cocktail is second to none. Due to its natural sweetness and full body, it lends itself perfectly as a product that is both malleable and distinctive. We use Martell VSOP at Lyaness but Cognac in general is what I’ve reached for the most. If you want to push the boat out then Armagnac offers even more diversity as a substitute for your traditional whisky base in cocktails.

Zoe Van Der Grinten, FAM Bar, London

Bottle: 8Brix Red Verjus

Throughout the year I’ve found myself constantly adding verjus to a good deal of cocktails. It’s delicious and versatile, as it works in stirred, shaken, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Whether a dash or a bit more of a hefty measure, this verjus imparts a unique mouthwatering acidity with full bodied tart fruit flavours that you can’t achieve by using just citrus or acids such as citric, malic, and tartaric. When in doubt, sometimes just a splash of verjus does the trick! 

Andrei Talapanescu, Pulitzer’s Bar, Amsterdam

Bottle: Muyu Chinotto Nero

When it comes to creating drinks off-menu or brainstorming for future serves, the bottles I kept reaching for were the new range of Muyu Liqueurs. Especially the Chinotto Nero. The reason behind this comes from a need to simplify the serves we build and also pack a punch in terms of flavour. When one ingredient can deliver the desired spectrum of aroma and taste, it allows us to downgrade the number of elements in set drinks and also takes away the hassle of creating a homemade ingredient to satisfy this need. So, the more complex and unique a commercially available product is the easiest it becomes for us to build a drink around it. This is my reason for constantly reaching for Muyu Liqueurs.

Bartenders love the Michter’s range

Ryan Gavin, Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar, New York 

Bottle: Michter’s US#1 Bourbon

This year I’ve found myself making a lot more Old Fashioned cocktails than usual. I strongly believed that the only way to create great cocktails is to use outstanding ingredients. Whenever I am asked for a recommendation about which spirit to use in an Old Fashioned, I find myself invariably reaching for the Michter’s US#1 Bourbon and Rye. I’ve been a long time supporter of Michter’s since my first taste. I love the rich flavour profile and versatility in a range of other classic cocktails. I love that they have an amazing ‘cost be damned’ approach to creating the best full-flavoured whiskies – due in part to the low barrel entry proof, which causes the entire liquid to mature to greater effect. I have the utmost respect for their master distillers. Their dedication to quality makes this one of my all time favourite whiskies.

George Austin, Blakes Hotel, London

Bottle: Everleaf and Cadello 88 

I feel 2019 has had both hands reaching in different directions to make for a really interesting change in the way we are drinking and what we are reaching for. On the one hand with the launch of products such as Everleaf we see an evolution in the rise of high quality and unique non-alcoholic drinks. There is a significant increase in the demand for complex and unique bottles such as Everleaf whether they are used in non-alcoholic or alcoholic cocktails. Equally with the other hand as the days get shorter and the nights colder bottles of new products such as Cadello 88 are being loved by clients and teams alike. Warm, wintery and well-balanced and, like Everleaf, a distinct spirit that fills a niche beautifully.

Simone Forconi, The Malt Lounge & Bar, London

Bottle: Kinahan‘s The Kasc Project

The Kasc Project pushes whiskey-making methods to the next level. I had the pleasure to meet Zak Oganian, managing director of Kinahan’s, and The Kasc Project surprised me a lot. The flavours are something like a mix of aromas from a candy store – very different whiskey flavours to anything I’d tried before. If you are a traditional whiskey drinker, this is not the whiskey for you. The makers told me that one of the oak types used to age this whiskey is a ‘dying species’. I really love this new release because it has an unconventional mix of flavours, the flavours are very unexpected. 

Michele Venturini, Cahoots, London

Bottle: Russian Standard Original Vodka 

Russian Standard Original vodka is my first choice as it is a spirit full of character with a bold flavour and smooth finish, that is easily recognisable within cocktails – so naturally I’ve found myself drawn to it when creating new cocktails at Cahoots this year. Not only do I love the versatility of the spirit, but the style of bottle and its history makes the product even more interesting, which I had the privilege of learning more about this year on a trip to Manchester, where I presented a masterclass. Because the taste is so pure and distinctive, I think it works best of classic cocktails, such as a Russian Standard Martini served very simply with a green olive, or in a fresh Russian Standard Gimlet, made with discarded lime, lemon and grapefruit peel.

Mr Paradise

Could you just pick one bottle from behind the bar at Mister Paradise?

Will Wyatt, Mister Paradise, New York 

Bottle: Suze

This past year I have found myself reliably coming back to Suze, whether it is for my own consumption or someone else’s. It is a very bright, citrusy French aperitif that is heavily bittered with gentian root. It can fit into the balance of a cocktail similarly to something such as Campari, but lends a very different type of bitterness. My personal favourite application is just a simple Suze and Tonic with a grapefruit twist. Both the Suze and the tonic water – either Fever Tree or Thomas Henry – balance their own bitterness very nicely with sweetness, and the flavour combination of the two is bright, complex, and refreshing.

Marshall Minaya, Valerie, New York

Bottle: Giffard Caribbean Pineapple

On our menu at Valerie, we have a cocktail called Ten Thousand Words – i.e. Bartenders Choice. We ask what spirit the guest prefers, and if they would like it stirred or shaken. I think the bottle(s) that I have been reaching for the most is the Giffard line of liqueurs, specifically their Caribbean Pineapple. Now that it is the season, and people still want a taste of tropical, this liqueur is perfect. I tend to pair it with 5 spice, fresh citrus, and really, one can make it work with any base spirit. We also utilize the Caribbean Pineapple Giffard Liqueur in our Meet & Greet cocktail where we pair it with London dry gin, amontillado sherry, Benedictine, and Angostura Bitters. 

Marcin Ciułkowski, Radisson BLU, Warsaw

Bottle: Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka

Żubrówka is the most recognisable and oldest vodka brand in the world – its history is over 500 years old, and it’s the third best-selling vodka across the globe. Its main flavour notes, vanilla, almonds and cinnamon, perfectly match the trends around the world. We’ve always been working with this vodka in our bar, it’s part of our history. We prepare drinks with it and combine it with dishes. The Scots have whisky, the French have Cognac, and Poles have the world’s best vodka. Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka is our reason to be proud.

Deano Moncreiffe, Hacha, London

Bottle: Don Julio 70

Don Julio 70 has the complexity of an aged spirit, having been aged for 18 months, so it can be used for a lot of classic cocktails that would normally be associated with a dark spirit – anything from an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan. It also has the youthful characteristics of a young unaged spirit or blanco Tequila which enables it to work well in a Negroni twist, such as the White Negroni we serve at Hacha, which has proved to be our second most popular cocktail. 

Manhattan Duke

My Friend Duke uses Michter’s Rye in his Manhattan

Zachary Pease, My Friend Duke, New York

Bottle: Michter’s US#1 Rye

For me it’s always Michter’s Rye. There are plenty of cheaper options but nothing anywhere close to the quality. I judge rye by how it holds up in a Manhattan, and Michter’s stands out against a bolder vermouth like Carpano Antica. It’s a bottle that belongs on every back bar.

Dan Garnell, Super Lyan, Amsterdam

Bottle: Porter’s Tropical Old Tom Gin

My go-to bottle on the back bar has to be Porter’s Tropical Old Tom Gin. For me, it balances perfectly between being fruity and rounded while still keeping the juniper backbone you look for in a gin. This makes it stand up in pretty much all styles of drink including Martinis, Tom Collins or you can really use it to elevate a new creation to the next level.

Giacomo Guarnera, The Churchill Bar & Terrace, London

Bottle: Zucca Rabarbaro Amaro

For me personally, Zucca Rabarbaro Amaro is coming back to the bar scene and is one of my most reached-for bottles, especially within cocktail creation. We used to use it in our cocktail The President from the summer menu which was called ‘Casa de Cuba’. It is one of the most reached-for bottles for me because it reminds me of when I first started my career behind the bar. 

Did your favourite get a mention? Do scroll down and let us know in the comments below – and share your personal top bottle of 2019 while you’re there…

 

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Mini Martinis – the next big cocktail trend

What could be better than a cool, crisp, refreshing Martini? A tiny ’Tini served in a miniature coupe, of course! As bartenders and spirits brands increasingly turn their hand towards…

What could be better than a cool, crisp, refreshing Martini? A tiny ’Tini served in a miniature coupe, of course! As bartenders and spirits brands increasingly turn their hand towards the charming cocktail serve, we take a closer look…

It’s a well-known fact that miniature things are adorable, and a scaled-down Martini is no exception. First and foremost, the tiny ’Tini trend reflects “a desire to get back to reasonable-sized cocktails that you can enjoy in a reasonable amount of time before it goes tepid and warm,” agrees Ryan Gavin, bar manager at Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar in Lower Manhattan, who also cites “the sheer adorableness of all things ‘mini’” as a catalyst. “This, of course, makes these things highly Instagrammable,” he says. Couple this with the natural creative flair of the modern bartender, and you’ve got yourself a trend with legs.”

Awwww, look at those tiny Martinis! They’re adorable

So compelling is the emerging trend, the Absolut Elyx Boutique has created miniature copper coupes that hold just three ounces [85ml] of the sophisticated serve. Instagram aside, there’s a logic to the launch. “The first three sips are simply the most enjoyable,” explains Miranda Dickson, global brand director for Absolut Elyx. And with a small vessel, the last sip will be as cool as the first.“The temperature of a Martini is more important than that of any other cocktail – as soon as the Martini is poured, even into a chilled glass, the temperature is going to go up,” she continues. 

Plus, there’s no denying that the Martini is a strong, spirit-forward drink. By shrinking the serve, you can actually enjoy more than one or two without having to hail a taxi. “Serving them in miniature enables our guests to not only enjoy the Martini at the most optimal temperature but also to try a couple – allowing them to experiment with different levels of dryness, different vermouths, olives, citrus twists, bitters, etcetera,” Dickson adds. You can explore the serve a little more responsibly, in essence.

While it’s gaining traction now, the mini Martini is by no means a new invention “Martinis have been enjoyed in tiny serves since the beginning of the 20th century; the tiny size of the cocktail glasses from that period are testament to this,” Dickson says. “The nineties saw a trend for huge oversized Martinis – the most popular bars in their heyday served 14oz [400ml] ones,” Dickson continues. “Considering it’s predominantly liquor with some dilution, that’s a pretty hefty serve! By the end, it was room temperature and really not a great experience.”

Peppi's Cellar Back Bar

Peppi’s Cellar is a booze wonderland

The burgeoning ‘no and low’ sector is testament that today’s drinkers want to socialise more responsibly. More and more people are going out to enjoy themselves without constantly over-indulging, explains Marshall Minaya, beverage director at New York bar Valerie. “As someone on the working side of the bar, serving mini Martinis is a grand idea,” Minaya continues. “Every night we are out to throw a party, and we want everyone and anyone to attend our party. Our goal is not to get people drunk, but to have people imbibe on personally crafted cocktails that they truly enjoy.” 

Presenting the Martini in a miniature vessel also democratises the drink, says Dickson. “Although the Martini is a well known, storied drink, steeped in glamour, celebration and sophistication, I think people are a little challenged by a 7oz [200ml] spirit-forward strong cocktail – which is, by anyone’s measure, a serious drink,” she says. “Enjoying the drink in smaller, bite-size serves makes it less serious, more fun, and ultimately more accessible for people to try.”

Ready to take on the tiny ’Tini? Keep reading for three miniature variations on the classic serve to try out at home… 

Either that’s a tiny Martini or the bartender has enormous hands

Italian Minis by Peppi’s Cellar at Gran Tivoli

30ml Fords Gin
15ml Carpano Dry Vermouth
7.5ml Strega Liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
7.5ml filtered water

Make in advance and keep chilled in the freezer until ready to serve. Garnish with a pickled grape tomato.

Mini Gibson by Valerie

37.5ml Le Gin
7.5ml Dry vermouth

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, fill with ice. Stir. Strain into 3oz Martini glass and garnish with a pickled pearl onion.

Mini Elyx Martini by Absolut Elyx 

25ml Absolut Elyx
5ml Lillet Blanc 

Combine both ingredients in a mixing glass and stir over plenty of cubed ice. Strain into a Chilled Copper Tiny Tini Coupe and garnish with lemon zest or an olive. 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Alpine Toddy

Warm up with this week’s wintery tipple – a Swiss twist on the classic Hot Toddy, inspired by the affluent alpine ski resort of Gstaad. Created by Giovanni Spezziga, general manager…

Warm up with this week’s wintery tipple – a Swiss twist on the classic Hot Toddy, inspired by the affluent alpine ski resort of Gstaad. Created by Giovanni Spezziga, general manager at The Coral Room and Dalloway Terrace in London, the Alpine Toddy is the perfect homage to the snow-clad winter playground.

Set against the backdrop of the jaw-dropping Wildstrubel mountain, Gstaad has made a name for itself as one of the most luxurious ski destinations in the world. You can expect to see some  famous faces in the queue for the ski lifts – Madonna is reportedly a resort regular, as is Italian fashion designer Valentino. Even Dame Julie Andrews, who seems pretty chill, was impassioned to declare it “the last paradise in a crazy world”.

London hotspot Dalloway Terrace has adopted a few of the town’s traditional elements to give guests a taste of alpine life and bring Gstaad to Bloomsbury this winter. You’ll find snow drenched pine garlands and traditional Swiss cow bells tucked away among frosty foliage, scherenschnitte (Swiss paper cutting) dotted around its restaurant – and an Alpine-centric menu to match, as Spezziga explains.

The Dalloway Terrace, it’s just like being in Switzerland

“We’ve taken inspiration from the Swiss Alps, in particular Gstaad – a really tiny gem in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “We went there for three days at the beginning of November to explore the area, meet different local businesses – a chocolatier, a bakery, a cheesemaker – and try a selection of Alpine-style cocktails.

“When we came back to London, we started to play around with ingredients to make sure the cocktail list reflected the atmosphere there,” Spezziga continues, ”using grappa and eaux de vie, which is French, but very popular in parts of Switzerland. We came up with four different cocktails; all hot drinks, really flavourful and quite boozy.”

First on the menu is Glühwein, which combines Pinot Noir, crème de figue liqueur, and ‘spices formula’ – overproof bourbon, Angostura bitters, and Cognac cooked down with nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon, star anise and sugar, Spezziga says, to make a “silky, spicy syrup”. The team adds a little lemon juice and hot water before garnishing with a cinnamon stick and dried orange.

Next is Chocolat Chaud, described as “a cross between a Grasshopper and an Irish Coffee”. The drink contains Nonino Williams Pear – grappa made from a variety of pear harvested in Switzerland – crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and Swiss white chocolate. “It’s really rich and creamy and has a wintery, Christmassy look and feel; green on the bottom, white in the middle with beautiful nutmeg grated on top,” he says.

Named for the scenic train journey across the Alps, Golden Pass Express is a twist on an Espresso Martini that sees Amaro Nonino, espresso, homemade caramel syrup and Tonka beans topped with whipped cream and lashings of grated Swiss dark chocolate. “We serve it in a beautiful latte glass so it’s long and dark and looks quite decadent,” says Spezziga. “Because of the caffeine and the Amaro Nonino, it’s a perfect digestif.”

Alpine Toddy

The Alpine Toddy, it’s all the rage in Gstaad, darling

This week, however, we’re shining a light on the delectable Alpine Toddy. Named after Gstaad’s historic five-star hotel The Alpine, this aromatic, light and warming serve combines Nonino Grappa, chamomile flower, Supasawa and organic agave. “Everywhere you go in the Swiss Alps they serve a Toddy-style drink, which is usually whisky or grappa with hot water or tea, so this is a little more refined,” he explains.

“The Nonino Grappa gives a lot of body to the cocktail and a spiced finish as well,” Spezziga continues. “The chamomile tea we brew fresh for every cocktail, and instead of lemon we’re using Supasawa, a very sustainable sour mix. Rather than sugar, we’re using organic agave. It’s a very simple drink.”

And when you’re knocking up festive drinks at home, simple is the aim of the game. Below, you’ll find the recipe and method for the Alpine Toddy, so you can whip up this warming Gstaad-themed tipple without having to wrestle the kettle off Madonna. Everyone’s a winner.

25ml Nonino Grappa or other brand
125ml Camomile tea
10ml Supusawa sour mix
15ml Agave syrup

Mix together on a low heat as you would a mulled wine. Don’t boil or you will lose the booze. Serve in a toddy glass.

 

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The fundamentals of five key whisky flavours

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

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

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

Black Rock

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

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

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

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

whisky blending at Black Rock

Young people love whisky blending

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

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

Sweet

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

Fragrance

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

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Fruit

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

Spice

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

Smoke

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

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