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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Whisky Advent 2019 Day # 5: Steel Bonnets

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle.  First…

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle. 

First of all, why is it called Steel Bonnets? Well, it’s time to don the old tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and indulge in a bit of history. Pay attention at the back, Jenkins! Cumbria, where the Lakes Distillery is situated has long been fought over by England and Scotland. Borderers developed their own fierce outlaw culture (which they took to Ulster and Appalachia). Bandits who operated across the frontier were known as border reivers and wore metal helmets aka steel bonnets. There’s a non-fiction book about them by George MacDonald Fraser (he of Flashman fame) called, Steel Bonnets.

So, what better name for a blend of Cumbrian and Scottish whisky? Steel Bonnets is a blend of malts from the Lakes Distillery and from further north. The distillery was founded in 2014 by Chris Currie, who had previously set up the Isle of Arran Distillery, and Nigel Mills, who made a bit of money in property and hotels. They had some serious talent on board from day one in the form of former Dewar’s master distiller Chris Anderson and Alan Rutherford, former production director at Diageo. In addition to Steel Bonnets, there’s another British blend called The ONE plus vodka and various gins.

In 2016 Dhavall Gandhi joined the team from Macallan. As you might imagine, he’s not averse to a sherry cask or two. And indeed, this year’s long-awaited first commercial single malt release, The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1, is a sherry monster. To tell us more about the Lakes, Steel Bonnets and sherry casks, we spoke with Gandhi:

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Master of Malt: Steel Bonnets is such a great idea, a blend of English and Scottish whiskies. Can you tell me how you came up with it and whether you have any other cross border plans?

Dhavall Gandhi: The idea of our cross-border blended malt, Steel Bonnets, was conceived by our two founders, Nigel Mills and Paul Currie, and our chairman, Dr Alan Rutherford. This is a very unique platform and gives us many opportunities to create some interesting cross-border blends. Watch this space!

MoM: How much do you love sherry casks?

DG: Every cask will influence the character of the whisky in a unique way, and, out of all the casks available for whisky maturation, sherry casks are my absolute favourite. I love them so much that I have decided to make it the focus of my professional career. I continue to study them in-depth and work very closely with our trusted suppliers on a variety of experiments.

MoM: In what ways does it help the Lakes Distillery to be part of a category, English whisky?

DG: English whisky or even world whisky in general is an exciting and growing category. A lot of whisky makers in England are producing great whiskies and it helps to be a part of the category when everybody is doing the best they can to create they own distinctive style and contribute to growing this category. 

Steel Bonnets

Steel Bonnets, an Anglo-Scots collaboration

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

DG: Whisky-making is a subjective topic and hugely influenced by the philosophy of the whisky maker. The focus will be in flavour but the most interesting thing is that every whisky maker will focus on areas they believe are important in creating their own style of whisky. These will highlight the nuances and diversity of flavours created by raw materials, fermentation, distillation, maturation and blending.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DG: It will depend on the time, occasion and the company, but there will be a variety of whiskies and some wine. I am looking forward to enjoying the Quatrefoil Hope with my dad.

Steel Bonnets Tasting Note:

Nose: Hazelnut whip, vanilla pod and gingerbread, with stewed plums and a hint of wood smoke underneath.

Palate: Touches of exotic fruit, cinder toffee and nutmeg emerge through the combination of dried fruit and creamy nuttiness at the core.

Finish: Medium-length, sweet and a little bit smoky.

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #4: Nikka Days

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan. You’ve probably noticed that Japanese…

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan.

You’ve probably noticed that Japanese whisky especially of the age statement variety has become rather expensive. It’s a simple matter of too many customers and not enough whisky. Supply and demand, innit? There are, however, a few Japanese bottlings that overdeliver on flavour per pound like Nikka from the Barrel, a cask strength blended whisky with a high malt content. Not surprisingly, it’s one of our bestselling whiskies and a massive staff favourite. But now there’s a new rival for the coveted top Japanese blend slot and it’s from the same stable. Called Nikka Days, it was launched earlier this year with some rather groovy packaging. It’s gentler, softer and sweeter than the big flavours of Nikka from the Barrel. We think it might be the ultimate Highball whisky.

Nikka has some serious pedigree: it was set up by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. He studied in Scotland where he met and married Rita Cowan. Returning to Japan, he worked with Suntory before setting up on his own in 1934 with the foundation of the Yoichi single malt distillery. In 1952 the name of the company changed from Dai Nippon Kaju to Nikka. Later Taketsuru would be the first person to make whisky in Japan with a Coffey still. To tell us more about Nikka Days, we have brand ambassador, Stefanie Holt:

Masataka Taketsuru

Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky

Master of Malt: Can you tell us a little about the components in Nikka Days?

Stefanie Holt: Nikka Days is  a combination of the Coffey Grain, lightly-peated single malt from Miyagikyo distillery, Coffey malt and Yoichi single malt, so the balance between the main flavours from each of those components is what makes it so rounded and complex. It’s a really well-balanced blend – it starts off fruity and floral on the nose, then soft flavours of toffee, cereal, roasted nuts and a hint of smoke come through on the palate, along with a creamy texture. Finishes off with dried apricot, orange blossom and vanilla. 

MoM: What’s the best way to drink it in your opinion?

SH: It’s fantastic neat and shows a lot of complexity and elegance for a very affordable price, but it was designed for mixing into Mizuwaris or Highballs. The best ones mix Nikka Days with elderflower tonic or coconut water – one part whisky to two parts mixer, served over plenty of ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

MoM: Now that Japanese distilleries like Nikka have upped production to meet to meet demand, are we likely to see more age statement whiskies soon?

SH: I think ‘soon’ might be a bit optimistic, but the aim is for there to be enough for that eventually. You can’t rush good whisky! We still have age statements in the Taketsuru range though (17, 21 and 25 year old – limited allocation each year), and the Nikka 12yo is still available in the UK (even though it’s been discontinued in Japan) until stocks run out, so we have a few age statements around. It’s really exciting about the increased production capacity though as it will give the blenders there some more flexibility and allow them to be creative.

Nikka Days

Thank you for the Days

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

SH: It’s going to be interesting with all the changes to import duties being imposed in various countries around the world, but I think in general we’re still seeing more new distilleries & countries producing whisky. It’s an exciting time as a lot of distilleries started producing three to five years ago, so there are lots of newly released things to taste!

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

SH: I’ll be on holiday in Bali, so will be aiming for Piña Coladas/Miami Vices on the beach, but I’ll also take a bottle of Nikka Coffey Gin with me for some 5pm G&Ts on the balcony! If I was back home having a snowy Christmas, then I’d most likely sip & savour Nikka’s Pure Malt Red or some Hine Homage.

Tasting Note for Nikka Days:

Nose: Orchard fruit, honeydew melon and Campino sweets, then orange oil, golden barley and lemon cheesecake.

Palate: Creamy hazelnuts, toffee apple, sweet cereals and vanilla fudge alongside a hint of barrel char, freshened up by Conference pears.

Finish: Buttery shortbread, brown sugar and vanilla pod.

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Drink books of the year 2019

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by…

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by the fire with this Christmas. 

Well, it’s been a bumper year for drink books. There’s new offerings from old pros like Jancis Robinson and Tristan Stephenson, as well as debuts from Felix Nash and Eddie Ludlow. In fact, it was such a good year that we had trouble narrowing the list down so apologies if your favourite is missing. 

All of them will make great gifts for the drink lover in your life. And we can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays than with a roaring fire, a dram/ glass/ pint of something delicious and one of these books, and that includes watching Casablanca on Christmas Day with a belly full of Port and Stilton. 

A Brief History of Lager Mark Dredge

Lager is so ubiquitous, it’s the beer the world drinks, that it’s hard to imagine how 200 years ago it was a Bavarian speciality. At that time, beer in the rest of Europe was essentially ale. But slowly lager spread and along the way mutated from a sweet, brown beer to the crisp golden brew we know today. It’s a great story told with a real sense of fun by award-winning beer writer and TV regular Mark Dredge. 

Sample line: “Lederer kept contact with Sedlmayr and Dreher, and there’s a wonderful photo taken in 1939 of the three of them all wearing top hats and overcoats, each with a thick moustache, and all holding hands.”

The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip Tristan Stephenson

Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender is the author of many excellent cocktails books. In this latest outing, he takes a journey across America sampling whiskeys from 44 distilleries both large and small including some real MoM favourites like Balcones 44, St George, and Michter’s  nice work if you can get it.

Sample line: “Tuthilltown is home to a huge cat call Bourbon (there another cat called Rye that we didn’t get to meet.”

Fine Cider Felix Nash 

You probably haven’t realised it yet but we are living through a golden age of cider. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet, but all over England, Wales and the cider-producing world (which is much bigger than you think), producers are waking up to the potential of apple-based goodness. Felix Nash, a cider merchant, has written a heartfelt, in-depth hymn to his favourite fruit and drink.

Sample line: “I wouldn’t be able to tell you about all the apples used to make cider or the pears used to make perry, and no one could. It’s not simply that so many varieties exist in the world, but that they can very localised”.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! Ben Howkins

We’ve written a fair bit on the blog about how much we like sherry, so this was a book after our own hearts. Written by a man with more experience in the wine trade that he would like to admit, this is a love letter to one of the world’s great wines. Reading this, you can almost smell the bodegas of Jerez. Warning, it’s almost impossible to read this book without developing a serious sherry habit. 

Sample line: “Olorosos are the wines that will emulate rugby players, rather than ballet dancers.”

Spirited: How to create easy, fun drinks at home Signe Johansen

You might know Johansen (the lady in the header) as Scandilicious, evangelist for all things Scandinavian and delicious. Originally from Norway, now living in London, she’s just as good on drinks as food. This book makes a great introduction to cocktails, tips for non-alcoholic drinks and all round guide to stress free non-nerdy entertaining. 

Sample line: “Life is too short to worry about what anoraks and bores think so now I happily enjoy whichever drinks I’m in the mood for.”

The Whisky Dictionary Ian Wisniewski

Someone who is certainly a bit of an anorak but never a bore is Ian Wisniewski. He’s the one on distillery tours who will always be asking more questions than anyone else. We know as we’ve been round a few with him and we always learn a lot. This book, which we have already found an invaluable reference guide, is a testament to that insatiable curiosity. 

Sample line: “Do enzymes ever get the applause they deserve? Rarely. If ever. It’s time to make up for that with a standing ovation.”

Whisky Tasting Course  Eddie Ludlow

Like many of the best people in the drinks business, Ludlow began his career at Oddbins. Since then he’s become an expert at opening up the often confusing world of whisky. In this book, Ludlow breaks it down into easily digestible segments, explains why whiskies taste as they do, and talks the reader through the most common styles of whisky such as single pot still Irish, small batch bourbon and Islay single malt. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “bonfires on the beach” or muttering “mmm, Jamaica cake” like an old pro.

Sample line: “Your mouth and tongue are actually quite inefficient at detecting all but the most basic flavours.”

The World of Whisky – Neil Ridley, Gavin D. Smith and David Wishart

Lavishly-produced guide to the every-expanding world of whisky by three of the best writers in the business. And you do really need three to cover what is now such an enormous topic. Inevitably the majority of the book is on Scotland with a page devoted to each malt distillery, but the Irish, US and Japan sections are also impressive.

Sample line: “Would even the most discerning of palate be able to detect a differences made using barley grown in Mr McTavish’s bottom field and the one, over yonder hill, behind the tree and the babbling burn?”

The World Atlas of Gin Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

Another book part-written by Neil Ridley! How does it do it? We suspect that he has actually cloned himself to spread the workload. There’s a lot of gin out there and it’s expanding all the time, meaning that this book can only be a snapshot of what’s available but you know with these two that everything in here is going to be worth drinking. Also extra points for not being afraid to put in the big names, like Beefeater, rather than going for hipster obscurity points.

Sample line: “France has embraced the gin revolution with a charismatic style and charm of its own.”

The World Atlas of Wine Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson

This is the 8th edition of an all time classic book, first published in the 1970s and updated every few years. Originally just written by Johnson, Robinson joined the team in 2003. It’s hard to think of a better looking book with its lavish photos and intricate maps of the world’s greatest wine regions. The words are pretty nifty too as you’d expect from (probably) the world’s top two wine writers. 

Sample line: “For centuries, Hungary has had the most distinctive food and wine culture, the most varied grape varieties, and the most refined wine laws and customs of any country east of Germany.”

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New Arrival of the Week: Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens. Barentsz…

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens.

Barentsz is named after a 16th century explorer Captain Willem Barentsz who attempted to find a way through the Arctic to China. He didn’t succeed but gave his name to the Barents Sea somewhere way up north between Norway and Russia. Barentsz’s intrepid nature and never-say-die attitude inspired Michael Claessens to create his own gin.

Drink runs in the family blood: “My father’s business, Claessens, is the foremost specialists for the development and creation of brands for the international beverage industry. It has been developing, re-positioning and creating brands for nearly 40 years,” he told us. So starting his own drinks brand was the most natural thing in the world. And with his Anglo-Dutch heritage, gin was the obvious choice: “Gin has clear ties with my two home countries – UK and Holland. My family’s Dutch roots, blended with my London upbringing, made it appropriate that the new brand should be a gin – which was born in Holland and perfected in London”, he said.

Michael Claessens.

It’s Michael Claessens!

Refreshingly, he is totally candid about where the gin is made, by Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers in London. Claessens knew exactly what he was looking for when designing his own gin with Maxwell: “Barentsz is different in that we actually spent time looking at the concept of gin from the perspective of ‘mouth feel’. It was very important to us that the harsh and often bitter reputation of gin was overcome, in order that we could create a spirit foundation of the finest quality that was soft enough to allow for more delicate and fresh botanicals – and a gin that could actually be enjoyed neat over ice.” He went on to say: “I spent a long time playing with the formulation of our spirit foundation. I wanted it to be something that tasted smooth before the botanicals were added.” The result was a special spirit made from two grains, golden rye and winter wheat.

We are big fans of the standard bottling here at MoM. With its jasmine note, it’s very distinctive but this doesn’t stop it being extremely versatile. It achieves the gin triple crown of being superb in a G&T, a Martini and Negroni. It was honoured with a gold medal at the IWSC in 2018. This new version turns up the jasmine and adds mandarin to the mix. “Once again, we seek to honour the pioneering spirit of the Dutch Arctic explorer, Willem Barentsz,” Claessens said. “Our mandarin and jasmine botanicals are inspired by his quest for a northeastern trading route to China by way of the sea. Mandarin oranges symbolise luck at Chinese new year and our jasmine flowers are sourced from China.”

Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin takes on some colour and sweetness from the mandarins but, according to Claessens, there is “no artificial colouring or sweeteners and no sugar. All sweetness is natural”. Claessens recommends drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange but like its brother, it’s lovely with a decent tonic water. So let’s raise a glass to Williem Barentsz and the Anglo-Dutch alliance and himself. Proost!

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Bartender for life: Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar

The bar at Dukes Hotel is a London institution. The same could be said about the head bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who talks to us about Ian Fleming, moving with the…

The bar at Dukes Hotel is a London institution. The same could be said about the head bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who talks to us about Ian Fleming, moving with the times, and what is and isn’t a Martini. 

Dukes Hotel isn’t easy to find. Located just off St James’s Street, the first time I went there, it felt like I had been initiated into one of London’s great secrets. According to Alessandro Palazzi, the dapper Italian gentleman who runs the bar, “we are hidden away, so it’s a destination place. It’s like a club, but without being a club.” Following stints at the Ritz in Paris, The Great Eastern Hotel (now Andaz), and running his own bar in Perugia (“a big mistake” as he puts it), Palazzi took over at Dukes 13 years ago from Gilberto Preti, who himself was handed the baton by Salvatore Calabrese. You don’t have to be Italian to work at Duke’s but it certainly helps: “Maurizio, my assistant, he’s been with me 13 years. Then I have another gentleman, Enrico, as well, who’s been thirteen years,” Palazzi told me. 

1. Alessandro Palazzi

You don’t have to be Italian to work at Dukes but it helps.

It might surprise people who find Dukes a bit old-fashioned, but the first thing Palazzi did when he took over was to relax the dress code. Previously it was jackets and ties; now it’s just smart casual. He told me that they lost some of their old customers when he took over and modernised the place. Other changes have also gone down badly. “One lady, an important politician, complained when we removed the awful green carpet,” he said.

Others, however, have embraced the changes. “We have a lot of old customers who actually introduced their children and they carry on coming,” he continues. We still have lots of old customers, because they come here for the drink and the building.” It was a different world when Palazzi first came to London in the 1970s: you would be sacked if you were seen in hotel bars like the Savoy. Customers shouldn’t see the staff out drinking. The clientele of Dukes, according to Palazzi, was dominated by politicians and the military, like its most famous customer, Ian Fleming. “Some people think that I used to serve him! I’m not that old,” Palazzi said. “Now you have people in the arts and music. And also younger people now, because this place has become fashionable. People come for their first date, and people propose here because of the place,” he told me. According to Palazzi, younger customers are happy to spend money. “People don’t put money in the bank anymore because they might go bankrupt.”

Duke’s certainly isn’t cheap, at £22 for a Martini. But Palazzi defends the prices: “You get five shots of premium gin, Amalfi lemon, Sicilian olives, snacks, and if you want you can buy one drink and have the table all night.” He compares it to a Savile Row suit. There’s no doubt that Palazzi has a rare gift for making his customers feel special. He prides himself on treating everyone the same and told me a story about turning away a famous actress who wanted to barge the queue. “We don’t have the bling-bling”, he told me. “We probably sell a bottle of Krug or Cristal every six or seven years. We don’t have here that type of clientele. That’s why a lot of people like to come here as well. There’s no showing off, everybody’s the same.” 

3. DUKES Bar

It might look like nothing has changed here since 1953 but Dukes is slowly moving with the times

Customers come for the beautifully-prepared cocktails prepared on a trolley at the table. Palazzi sees being a bartender as a noble vocation. “Bartenders now, they start as a bartender and then they want to become brand ambassador. I grew up in Italy; I knew I wanted to be a bartender for the rest of my life.” In the past, places like Dukes and The American Bar at the Savoy were the only places to get classic cocktails but now, “there has been a bar revolution in London and outside London, in Leeds, in Manchester. You have more and more amazing bars.”

Duke’s has had to move with the times, but do it in its own way. Smoky domes, flames and DJs wouldn’t be quite right. “When I took over the menu was boring”, Palazzi said, “when I say boring, we have the usual cocktails, there was nothing there.” So Palazzi came up with a list inspired by Dukes’ most famous customer, Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books. There’s a Tiger Tanaka, a Kissy Suzuki and Palazzi’s own take on the Vesper using Sacred vermouth, Berry Bros’s No. 3 Gin, and Polish vodka. Sadly, Palazzi told me, “I cannot use the name Fleming anymore, because they [the Fleming estate] want money.”

Another of Palazzi’s innovations was introducing new kinds of gin. “I knew gin was going to become a big thing,” he said. He was an early supporter of Sacred but his new favourite is the superb (and pricey) Procera Gin from Kenya. So, when the time came to have a drink, he suggested a Martini made with this special gin. When I demurred, as I didn’t think I could manage a full Dukes Martini at 3pm, he suggested a “Martini-ini.” 

The famous Martini trolley

The famous Martini trolley

Out came the famous trolley, which was introduced by Palazzi’s predecessor. Then the Sacred vermouth. Palazzi told me that the ritual of putting it in the glass and then throwing it on the floor began as a joke, but it’s now become his trademark. As I wanted a wetter Martini, mine stayed firmly in the glass. Next the frozen gin and then the heady scent of Amalfi lemon, the droplets of oil floating in the thick cold gin. 

Palazzi has strong views on what and what isn’t a Martini. “For me, a Martini is a drink which has to be strong and three ingredients,” he said. “An Espresso Martini is not really a Martini. A Martini is supposed to be all alcohol. It’s the most simple cocktail to make: it’s the temperature, the quality ingredients, the lemon. There’s the vermouth, gin or vodka, and the oil. That’s what a Martini is.” 

Time to take a sip; it’s the lemon that dominates at first followed by the thick, unctuous flavour of the frozen gin tempered with a little vermouth. It’s delicious, of course, but you can’t separate the taste from the escapism, the sense of occasion and Palazzi’s hospitality.  Maybe I will have another

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Cocktail of the Week: The Martinez

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this…

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this week, we’re resurrecting this classic with a special oak-aged gin from Martin Miller’s. 

Before anybody had thought to put the words ‘craft’ and ‘gin’ together, there was Martin Miller’s Gin. It was launched in 1999, that’s 10 years BS (Before Sipsmith), by Martin Miller of Miller’s Antiques guide fame. Craft gin years work rather like dog years, making Martin Miller’s 70 years old! It’s distilled at the Langley Distillery in the West Midlands before being shipped to Iceland where it’s blended with spring water. This makes it sound a bit gimmicky but Martin Miller’s quickly established itself as a favourite among bartenders and drinks writers. 

Martin Miller himself died in 2013 but the company goes from strength to strength. It produces a range of oak-aged gin called 9 Moons after the number of months the spirit is aged. The latest version has just been launched, called Solera Reserve – it uses French oak barrels and a solera process to ensure consistency. Some oak-aged gins can rather whack you around the head with oakiness but this is quite subtle, giving a creaminess, roundness and spice without overpowering the botanicals.

Martinez

A Martin Miller’s Martinez

The company recommends serving it in a Martinez. This 19th century classic is often thought of as the forerunner of the Martini. David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks refers to the Martinez as “the original Martini.” The cocktail itself is probably named after a town in California called Martinez, the inhabitants of the town certainly think so as there’s a plaque saying as much in the town square. It’s essentially a Manhattan made with gin instead of rye or bourbon. An early recipe in O. Byron’s The Modern Bartender from 1884 specifies using Dutch gin which would have been oak-aged so this version from Martin Miller is a nod to the original Martinez, though the Dutch gin would have also been sweet. Other original versions call for another sweet gin, Old Tom.

For a long time, the Martinez lived in the shadow of its more famous off-spring. Ask for one and you might be given a blank look, but in recent years there’s been a mini-revival, helped by the return of sweeter styles of gin and the availability of exciting new vermouths. The Martinez is a very broad church running the gamut from very sweet, made with Old Tom gin and a high percentage of Italian vermouth, to almost Martini levels of dryness. Some versions call for a rinse of absinthe which certainly makes it distinctive. This one is at the drier end but still is very much a sweet cocktail as it uses Italian vermouth and Maraschino liqueur. The creaminess and spice of the oak-ageing takes this into Manhattan territory. One could use it as a gateway cocktail to tempt your gin-loving friend into brown spirits.

Anyway, here’s the Martinez. We hope you like it.

50ml Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Solera Reserve Gin (or another oak-aged gin)
20ml Martini Rubino vermouth
5ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir all the ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice for a minute or so. Strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass and garnish with a piece of lemon peel.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about? Michter’s whiskey has something…

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about?

Michter’s whiskey has something of a convoluted history. It was originally founded in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1753 by John Shenk who began distilling rye. He was a Mennonite, a religious sect like the Amish, think beards without moustaches, putting up wooden houses quickly and strictly no motor cars. Especially in 1753.

This was pre-independence when the 13 original colonies of British America were still part of the mother country. During the War of Independence, George Washington is said to have purchased Shenk’s whiskey for his troops to keep their morale up. It seems to have worked as the rebellious colonists won the war and thus the United States of America was born.

Shenk’s distillery was bought by Abraham Bomberger in the 1860s and became known as Bomberger’s. Then in the 1950s, the name was changed again by the distillery’s then owner Lou Forman by combining the names of his sons Michael and Peter: ta da, Michter’s!  Pennsylvania was once famous for its rye whiskey but by the 1980s rye as a category was dying and the venerable old distillery closed in 1989. It’s now a National Historic Landmark but sadly in a state of severe dilapidation. Ominously, according to Wikipedia: “The distillery closed in 1989 and may have since been demolished.” 

Happily the brand was revived by a company called Chatham Imports. There’s been some legal argie bargie over the name Bomberger’s since but we won’t go into that now.  The Michter’s magic now happens at the Fort Nelson distillery (see image in header) in the heart of bourbon country Louisville, Kentucky under the watchful eyes of master distillery Dan McKee and head of maturation Andrea Wilson. Last year it opened a visitor centre on the famous Whiskey Row. 

The standard rye whiskey is a benchmark, particularly popular with bartenders, while there are all kinds of bourbons and whiskeys produced too. Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. Because of its unusual grain bill, it can’t be categorised as either a rye or a bourbon (which would have to be at least 51% rye or corn respectively.) In the sour mash process a portion of the last ferment is added to the next to get things going rather like with sourdough bread, only better because you end up with whiskey. This is produced as with the standard Sour Mash but then it undergoes secondary maturation in, according to Michter’s: “a second custom made barrel. This second barrel is assembled from 18-month air-dried wood and then toasted but not charred.” It’s bottled at a nice punchy 43% ABV and only produced in limited quantities. You’ll probably want to sip this neat to appreciate those fancy casks but you can also channel your inner Mennonite with an Old Fashioned

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Golden Grahams, orange peel, soft oaky smoke and a hint of menthol.

Palate: Honey on toast, salted butter, vanilla pod earthiness and white pepper heat.

Finish: Cinnamon, floral grains and another waft of smoke.

Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish is now available from Master of Malt.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: Spiced Hot Apple Punch

Brrrrr, it’s freezing! At least it is around MoM HQ. So this week we thought we’d make something to warm you up, a hot Spiced Apple Punch spiked with some…

Brrrrr, it’s freezing! At least it is around MoM HQ. So this week we thought we’d make something to warm you up, a hot Spiced Apple Punch spiked with some WhistlePig Rye. If that won’t keep out the cold, then you need a new coat.

Hands up who likes mulled wine? I mean really likes mulled wine. Yes, when made properly it can be a fine thing but it’s usually much too sweet, made with terrible wine and over-boiled so that it loses its alcohol and the spices have turned bitter. Not very nice. Hot cider is much more my cup of tea. Partly because if someone is serving you a mulled cider, it is usually a sign that they have put some thought into it.

My wife, who is American, introduced me to the joys of hot cider. It’s something of a holiday season tradition over there. Beginning with Halloween and taking in Thanksgiving and going up until Christmas, in the colder states there will always be hot cider on offer. But it’s not exactly what it sounds like because in the US cider means apple juice, if you want proper cider you have to ask for hard cider. The recipe my wife makes involves taking lots of apple juice, good quality cloudy stuff, and mulling it gently with lots of spices, fruit juice, etc, and then adding alcohol in the form of bourbon or rum at the end. She also adds butter which sounds a bit mad but it gives the cider a lovely creamy quality. 

What’s more fun though, is to use proper honest-to-god English cider. The stuff that contains real booze and then spike it at the end for added merriment. The big question is what cider to use. It’s sad but true that cider in this country is often a pale imitation of the real thing. To be legally called cider you only need to have 35% apple content, the rest can be sugar, water and flavourings. And that 35% can be concentrate made from apples grown anywhere. You’ll be very lucky if your cider contains any English fruit. Of the widely available brands, Old Rosie from Westons, Dunkertons and Orchard Pig are all good. If you’re lucky enough to live in a cider producing part of the country like the West Country or Kent, visit your local ciderist. And please avoid flavoured ciders which are essentially alcopops.

Whistlepig-Autumn-JustinDeSouza-1

Couple of these will keep the cold out

The recipe below is an approximation. It will depend on how sweet your cider is. The most important thing is don’t boil it or it will become bitter and lose alcohol. And finally don’t forget the pièce de résistance, a good slug of Whistlepig 10 Year Old Rye Whiskey. 

It’s time to get mulling. Here’s what you need:

3 litres of good quality cider

150ml (or more) WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of 3 oranges
1 tablespoon of orange zest
½ tablespoon of lemon zest
1 tablespoon of sugar
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 knob of butter

Put all the ingredients except the whiskey and the butter in a large saucepan. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Do not boil. Taste, it might need some more sugar. Leave to infuse for as long as you can. Gently reheat. Add the butter and the whisky. Serve in Toddy or wine glasses, garnish with an orange slice and a cinnamon stick to use as a stirrer.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Corpse Reviver No.1

With the party season looming we thought it would be a good idea to look at a famous cocktail to take (in moderation, of course) the next day after a…

With the party season looming we thought it would be a good idea to look at a famous cocktail to take (in moderation, of course) the next day after a big night out. It’s the mighty Corpse Reviver No.1!

Even for drinkers as responsible and mindful as the Master of Malt editorial team, there are times when we might have one too many Brandy Alexanders of an evening. The next day, there’s the familiar dry mouth, headache and general sense of impending doom, though that might just be the forthcoming General Election. We all have our little rituals for such days: some swear by Alka Seltzer or breakfast at McDonald’s; for me nothing works better than ice cold full fat Coca-Cola. Annie Hayes wrote something recently on the industry devoted to curing one of mankind’s most perennial ailments.

Some hangover remedies, however, are a little more fiery. In PG Wodehouse the Inimitable Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s butler comes up with a concoction consisting of a  raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper. Jeeves describes it as “extremely invigorating after a late evening.” It’s what Americans would call a prairie oyster and the idea is, I think, that it’s so unpleasant that it distracts from the pain in the head. Bertie describes it as like “a bomb inside the old bean.”

Working on a similar principle is the hangover cure recommended by Fergus Henderson from St John restaurant in his book Nose to Tail Eating consisting of two parts Fernet Branca to one part créme de menthe drunk over ice. Which sounds like the kind of thing that will send you to an early grave. 

The Corpse Reviver No 1. is an altogether more generous pick-me up. The recipe below is from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) where he writes: “To be taken before 11am, or whenever steam and energy are needed.” It is, however, a much older cocktail, dating back to foggy 19th century London where there were a whole variety of cocktails designed to get your day off to flying start with names like Gloom- Lifters, Eye-Openers, Smashers and Morning Jolts. There’s also a Corpse Reviver No. 2 for when the No. 1 doesn’t work which consists of gin, triple sec, sweet white vermouth, lemon juice and just a hint of absinthe; Craddock comments: “Four to these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again”, so watch out!

Corpse Reviver cocktail

“Hope will dawn once more”

But back to No. 1, it’s not unlike a Manhattan but made with two sorts of brandy, Cognac and Calvados, instead of bourbon or rye. You might be drinking this at breakfast but don’t use cooking brandy. H by Hine VSOP is one of the best value Cognacs on the market, specifically designed for cocktails. For the Calvados, you could go for some funky farmhouse stuff but instead I’ve plumped for something smooth and fruity from Boulard. And to finish off your pick-me-up, Cocchi Storico Vermouth Di Torino is hard to beat. 

Right, let’s wake the dead!

40ml H by Hine VSOP
20ml Boulard Grand Solage Pays d’Auge Calvados
20ml Cocchi Storico Vermouth Di Torino

In a shaker stir with lots of ice and strain into a chilled Coupette glass. Drink, and to paraphrase Bertie Wooster, hope will dawn once more.

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Dave Broom on new whisky film The Amber Light

Hang on to your hats because there’s a new whisky film coming to a screen near you. On the eve of the national release of The Amber Light, we talk…

Hang on to your hats because there’s a new whisky film coming to a screen near you. On the eve of the national release of The Amber Light, we talk to its creator Dave Broom about Scotland, music and, of course, whisky. Sláinte!

There’s been a few whisky films recently, The Golden Dram and The Water of Life both came out this year, but according to Dave Broom, The Amber Light (released 22 November) is does something a little different. Rather than being about how whisky is made, Broom said:  “What we wanted to do with the film was look at whisky as a cultural product rather than just going through the process. We looked at the story of whisky and its ongoing relationship with Scottish culture. That’s myth, legend, literature, poetry, song, music etc. All the way from the early, early days right up to contemporary times.” That’s a lot to get into an hour and a half.

So rather than the usual industry stalwarts, Broom and director Adam Park have spoken to writers like Ian Rankin and Alasdair Gray, as well as musicians such as Rachel Newton, James Yorkston and King Creosote, for their views on whisky and Scotland. This link goes back a long way: “The earliest references to whisky and whisky consumption come in Gaelic poetry which is effectively song,” Broom told me. As he puts it, whisky is “part of the heartbeat” of Scotland, “it is absolutely integral to Scotland’s identity and I think it’s played an incredibly important role in helping to be the fuel for artistic and creative enterprises through the years. So whether overtly or whether sitting there in the background: whisky is part of our story. It has a positive, and occasionally negative part to play, and we’re not scared to go down the dark side either.” 

Amber Light

Dave Broom in the pub with Ian Rankin (all photos credit Christina Kernohan)

He thinks that the Scotch whisky business hasn’t and doesn’t always make full use of this cultural depth beyond rather cliched images of tartan and stags: “I think you can find companies, and it doesn’t matter what size they are, who maybe don’t get the importance of place, people and location, and see the depth and the resonance that whisky has and the role that whisky plays within communities, for example. And then you have other companies, including, I would argue, the biggest of them all [Diageo], who really do identify that and really do understand that and want to maintain that and build on it.” He went on to elaborate on this point: “I think the firms who have perhaps gone down more of a pure marketing route with whisky are the ones who perhaps are struggling at the moment, in a world where the nature of whisky has changed and is changing rapidly. Because if you look at Japan, America or any other country in the world who is making whisky, the first thing they are saying about their whiskies is, ‘this is where it comes from and we’re not Scotch. We are doing this and that and it’s different’. I think Scotch, mainly because of its dominance of the market, hasn’t necessarily had to do that and if it has done it it’s maybe done it in a casual way. But it’s a real motivation for consumers these days; knowing where something comes from.”

Broom, who I am sure needs no introduction to readers, has been writing about his subject for, as he puts it, “a ridiculously long time!” I asked him what had changed most in this time: “When I started writing about whisky there were 70 distilleries operational in Scotland. By the end of this year it’s probably going to be 140. So that’s the biggest change. There was one distillery in France, there are now a hundred distilleries in France making whisky. And there was nowhere making it in Australia, if you know how many distilleries there are in Australia these days. The manner in which whisky has become a global phenomenon is incredible.” And this global spread of whisky looks set to continue with Pernod Ricard opening a single malt distillery in China. Indeed, Broom is off to China in a couple of weeks time. “If China does really take off,” Broom said, “then there won’t be enough whisky in Scotland to be able to cope with demand there.” Broom thinks it’s understandable, therefore, that the big boys in Scotch whisky are betting on vast new markets like China and India by ramping up production.

Alasdair Roberts singing ‘Firewater’ at The Ben Nevis, Glasgow.

But he isn’t entirely sanguine about the future. “At the same time I am concerned because I’m not noticing existing consumers drinking more, I’m noticing existing consumers drinking less, if anything,” Broom said, “so they’ll have a glass of wine one night and they might have a glass of whisky another night and they might have a gin and tonic the night after. So people aren’t just whisky drinkers anymore.” Growth isn’t limitless and at some point, the market will contract. “Who will flounder?” Dave wondered,  “I think of the new ones, the ones who haven’t worked out what makes their individual distillery standout in an incredibly crowded marketplace. It takes a long time and a lot of money to build a brand and a distillery. The ones who really think about it from the word go in terms of quality and in terms of character are the ones who will be better placed to weather future storms. Those who just kind of do cookie-cutter distilleries and make a whisky whose style is similar, if not indistinguishable, from other larger players in the market are the ones who will suffer.”

After such seriousness we turned back to the rather jollier matter of the great world whisky community without whom The Amber Light would not have been possible. The film was crowd-funded because, as Broom joked, “we didn’t have any money ourselves. There is a sense of community within the whisky world and people, if people had not put their hands in their pockets this film would not have been made and we’re incredibly grateful for the fact that people did.” So are we. 

The Amber Light is released on the 22 November. See here for venues and special screenings featuring a Q&A with director Adam Park.  

 

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