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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Cocktail of the Week: the Bobby Burns

It’s Burns Night on Tuesday 25 January, so we’re making a cocktail named after the bard himself using a blended Scotch that you might not have tried before. It’s the Bobby…

It’s Burns Night on Tuesday 25 January, so we’re making a cocktail named after the bard himself using a blended Scotch that you might not have tried before. It’s the Bobby Burns!

Sadly, Robert Burns never got to try the cocktail named after him. He died in 1796, before the word ‘cocktail’ was even coined. According to Simon Difford, the first mention of the Bobby Burns cocktail is in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s a variation on the Rob Roy, a cocktail named after Scotland’s second most famous writer, Irvine Welsh. No, sorry Walter Scott. The Rob Roy, a Manhattan made with Scotch in place of bourbon or rye, was named after a musical version of Scott’s novel that ran in late 19th century New York.

Craddock’s Bobby Burns calls for half Scotch whisky and half Italian vermouth with three dashes of Benedictine. Very nice it is too, but also very sweet and rather overpowers the whisky. It’s much better made with two parts whisky to one part vermouth. Other recipes call for different additions: some people use absinthe or absinthe-substitute ie. pastis; David A. Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks recommends using Drambuie which has the benefit of making an already very Scottish drink even more Scottish. 

‘You want to get that seen to’

Hankey, what?

The big question is, what kind of whisky to use? Scotch can be difficult in cocktails, especially the smoky varieties, but I think I may have found the perfect blend for mixing. It’s called Hankey Bannister. An odd name, it sounds like the sort of thing an Aberdonian builder might say when looking round your old house. You can imagine him sucking his teeth and saying, “it’s going to be expensive, you’ve got a hankey bannister.” But like Cutty Sark and J&B, it was actually created by a London firm of wine and spirits merchants, which was founded in 1757 by Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister.

Despite having a low profile, at least in this country, it has in its long life picked up some illustrious fans including such famous booze enthusiasts as Evelyn Waugh and Winston Churchill. The brand is now in the safe hands of Inver House which owns Pulteney, Balblair, Speyburn and Knockdhu distilleries. There’s certainly some quality spirits in Hankey Bannister – it’s fruity, with flavours of toffee and vanilla with a voluptuous mouthfeel. It tastes like there’s some well-matured grains in with the malt. In short, it’s just the sort of blend that isn’t either going to dominate or get swamped in a cocktail. Best of all, it’s not expensive either. 

Bobby Burns

It’s the Bobby Burns!

How to make a Bobby Burns

Now we’ve found our perfect whisky, back to the Bobby Burns. After some experimentation, I found that just a dash of pastis made it spicy without overpowering it with aniseed, while if you’re using Drambuie add a little more, a teaspoon full, to give it a herbal sweetness. Both are delicious. The final question is what to garnish it with: a strip of lemon or orange peel would be nice but a maraschino cherry is even better.

So, there we have the Bobby Burns, not a lot to do with the great bard, but a delicious cocktail nonetheless. Here are the ingredients:

50ml Hankey Bannister whisky
25ml Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino vermouth
A dash of Ricard pastis, or more to taste (or a teaspoon of Drambuie)

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, stir well and strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. 

 

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GlenDronach launches £20,000 50 year old whisky

We were delighted to sit down with master blender Dr Rachel Barrie and taste through some bottles from one of our favourite distilleries including a very special £20,000 GlenDronach Aged…

We were delighted to sit down with master blender Dr Rachel Barrie and taste through some bottles from one of our favourite distilleries including a very special £20,000 GlenDronach Aged 50 Years, the distillery’s oldest ever release.

Last year there was something of a furore among whisky fans when it was discovered that the words “‘non-chill-filtered’ had been removed from GlenDronach’s packaging.” Ralfy, the great whisky Youtuber, spoke out about this on his channel, and later followed up after the distillery’s PR team had got in touch.

High emotions

It’s worth watching both posts, and reading our article on chill filtering to see what all the fuss is about. What is apparent, however, is that the high emotions show the sheer love amongst the whisky community for GlenDronach’s single malts. Ralfy himself commented that on the evidence of the 15 and 18 year old expressions, GlenDronach was “frontrunning contender” for the crown of “best single malt in Scotland.” 

So when we were invited to an online event to taste through the GlenDronach range culminating in a tiny sample of the soon-to-be-released GlenDronach Aged 50 Years, you could say we were pretty keen. And yes, we will be getting some in, keep an eye on our New Arrivals page. The other expressions, you can just buy now.

The event included master blender Rachel Barrie (below), distillery manager Alan Mcconnochie and was hosted by FT drinks columnist Alice Lascelles, and beamed live from GlenDronach via the medium of modern satellite communications. Lascelles, who had spent the day at the distillery, commented on the unusual wine-like smell from the washbacks. According to Barrie, this “richness of dark fruit” is the GlenDronach signature along with European oak Oloroso and PX sherry casks.

Dry Rachel Barrie - GlenDronach

Look at the colour on that!

Before we got onto the GlenDronach Age 50 Years, we tried some of the core range:

GlenDronach 12 Year Old Original

This is aged in a combination of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez casks. According to Barrie “this is the whisky that I spend most time on.” Each batch is made from around 65 casks with PX the majority. It’s bottled at 43% ABV and all natural colour. 

Nose: Butterscotch and toffee, peach and cherry, great fruit.

Palate: Lovely fruitiness here, that dark cherry note really comes through. Despite the high PX quotient, it’s not a sherry bomb. There’s a creamy, full texture, toffee, orange peel, 

Finish: Toffee and almond. Lovely dram.

GlenDronach 18 Year Old Allardice

The GlenDronach 18 year old Allardice is named after the distillery’s founder, James Allardice. It is matured completely in Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at 46% ABV. According to the distillery manager, Alan Mcconnachie, this is his favourite. 

Nose: Very rich, fruitcake, orange, dried apricot,  and spice, you can smell the casks. Plus there is ginger, toffee, and fudge with those cherry and peach notes coming through. Great nose. 

Palate: Dry, much drier than 12 year old, some wood tannin, tobacco, slightly bitter nutty edge, with chocolate and an almost Bordeaux-esque fruitiness. 

Finish: Brazil nuts, blackcurrants and dark chocolate. 

GlenDronach 50 years old

Remember there is no right or wrong way to drink this. Try it in an Old Fashioned, or with coke

GlenDronach Aged 50 Years

This was distilled in 1971 using direct-fired casks, the distillery switched to steam in 2006. It’s made up of two casks, a PX and an Oloroso, aged in GlenDronach’s dunnage warehouse. According to Barrie, they would have been filled for blends with no plan to keep them for longer than 10-12 years. Alcohol at 43.8% ABV was “dangerously close to not being classed as whisky” Barrie said. It’s the oldest expression ever released by the distillery as Barrie explained: 

“The GlenDronach Aged 50 Years is the most prestigious expression of what this timeless, richly-sherried Highland single malt Scotch whisky has to offer. It has been a privilege to be the final custodian of our oldest expression to date, passed down through generations. The result is a hand-crafted Highland single malt that tells a story of rare dedication, of which The GlenDronach Aged 50 Years is the rarest of them all.”

Tasting GlenDronach Aged 50 Years

So what did we think? Well, it’s quite an experience. The colour is something to behold, like a treacle. It looks more like a very old sherry than a whisky. The smell is incredible, and the taste is pretty uncompromising, dry and almost salty, again like a very old dry sherry. It’s very different to some other old whiskies we have tried like the Singleton of Dufftown 39 Year Old which was finished in first-fill casks. This, in contrast, is a no holds barred uncompromising very old single malt. Here’s the full tasting note:

Nose: Smells old, think ancient warehouses and damp wood. Then there’s balsamic notes, like a really old tawny Port, dark chocolate, touch of marzipan and waxy notes, 

Palate: So dry and intense, uncompromisingly dry. It’s a whisky you can feel as much as taste. Then come the nuts plus vanilla, creme brulee, and bitter dark chocolate. Very very complex. With time, sweeter notes start to appear. You do really get that dark cherry note strongly. 

Finish: Burnt toffee, dark chocolate and that cherry note persisting. 

As I said, it’s quite an experience.

Only 198 bottles have been filled and RRP is £20,000. . We will be getting stock in so sign up to our mailing list and keep an eye on our New Arrivals page.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: GinBey

We’re celebrating triumph over adversity and the indomitable human spirit with our New Arrival this week. It’s a gin from Lebanon called GinBey. The Lebanese are famously resilient, especially when…

We’re celebrating triumph over adversity and the indomitable human spirit with our New Arrival this week. It’s a gin from Lebanon called GinBey.

The Lebanese are famously resilient, especially when it comes to alcohol. The tiny Mediterranean country may have suffered a brutal civil war between 1975 and 1990, but it still managed to produce first-class wines such as Chateau Musar.

Spirit masters

Since those days, Lebanon’s wine has gone from strength to strength. One of the best ambassadors for the industry is Faouzi Issa from Domaine des Tourelles. His family own the country’s oldest commercial winery as well as producing a delicious aniseed spirit, Arak Brun, which is beloved in Lebanon. There’s nothing better with the country’s amazing food.

Sadly, Lebanon is once again going through a period of extreme instability caused by a corrupt political and economic system exacerbated by the global pandemic. Then in 2020, just when things couldn’t get any worse, a massive explosion rocked the Port of Beirut, caused by a cargo of ammonium nitrate that had been sitting in a warehouse since 2013. Since then rumours and conspiracy theories have spread about this disaster.

The economy is in a terrible state. Issa told us: “The Lebanese currency has lost 80% of its value against the US dollar, so imported goods such as spirits brands are now beyond the reach of many consumers.” The ever-resourceful Issa, however, saw an opportunity: “We have launched a high-quality gin, in beautiful packaging and at a great price and so have gained a good slice of the market in a short time.” 

GinBeyIntroducing GinBey

It’s called GinBey and it’s now arrived in Britain. According to Issa, it had long been a dream of his: “I have wanted to make a gin for a long time – apart from arak it’s my go-to spirit. I have spent a lot of time researching different gins, visiting distilleries, tasting different styles.” 

However, unlike arak, he didn’t use grape brandy as the base for his gin. “I found that it didn’t give the purity I was looking for in the gin. So I tested various different spirits and eventually settled on very high-quality wheat alcohol from France,” he said.

Local botanicals

He explained a little about the botanicals used: “I tried Lebanese juniper which I really wanted to use, but disappointingly it didn’t give a good flavour so I have imported this from Macedonia. The other botanicals are local to us and sourced from the mountains around the winery and the local souks, and even the garden at Domaine des Tourelles where we collect the petals from our famous tilia tree.” The full line-up consists of juniper, coriander, angelica, citrus and mandarin peels, cassia, rose and tilia petals, pomegranate and liquorice. 

He steeps the more robust botanicals for 24 hours in the spirit before distillation in a 400-litre copper still. While the more delicate ones such as rose petal and pomegranate seeds he places them in a basket in the still. The final touch is something that Tourelles has long done for its arak, the gin is rested in clay jars for six months to let the flavours meld and smooth the spirit. 

The result is something that for me tastes distinctly Lebanese, perhaps it’s the liquorice reminding me of the aniseed in Arak Brun, or the pomegranate used in Lebanese cookery, but at the same time with a profile that isn’t going to frighten Tanqueray drinkers. I’ve been drinking my sample with tonic water but it’s definitely a good all-rounder and that smoothness means that it’s one of those rare gins that you can sip neat.

It’s an excellent and distinctive gin even before you take into account the conditions in which it was made. Issa told us: “The inflation situation and volatile exchange rates present daily headaches. People are really suffering and there is a lot of uncertainty.” They have been helping out their workers and their families with: “food parcels and fuel when things have been really difficult.”

Faouzi Issa in the vineyards

Faouzi Issa in the vineyards of the Bekaa valley

Issa’s unquenchable optimism 

Yet he is ever the optimist: “It’s a cliché to say we are resilient people, but it’s true. We have faced so many challenges over the last 50 years and we always find ways to overcome them. As a nation, we are natural traders so we always find a solution to difficult situations to ensure we can survive. I think the current situation is creating lots of new ideas. Many people are leaving the country, but those that have chosen to stay are making the best of it and developing ideas to secure their future here.”

Talking of new ideas, GinBey isn’t the only spirit, Issa is working on. He’s currently collaborating with Whyte & Mackay on a Scotland meets Lebanon whisky. He explained: “We import the liquid from Whyte & Mackay and blend and finish it here in Lebanon. Again, this was another idea borne out of the crisis. It is now the market-leading brand in Lebanon, being less than a third of the cost of imported brands but without compromising on quality.” And the name, GlenBey, of course. Wait ’till the SWA finds out about that.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Piney juniper on the nose, lemon, warm spices, and rose petal. Take a taste and there’s a beautifully-creamy spirit, the predominant taste is juniper joined by floral, spicy and a sweet liquorice note. 

GinBey is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

GinBey in a Negroni

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Brora Distillery – recreating a legend

Last year we were treated to an exclusive tour of the recently-reopened Brora Distillery in the Highlands to see how the Diageo team are getting on bringing a legendary single…

Last year we were treated to an exclusive tour of the recently-reopened Brora Distillery in the Highlands to see how the Diageo team are getting on bringing a legendary single malt whisky back to life. 

There’s a well-known joke about a tourist lost in rural Ireland asking for directions from an old man. The man replies: “well I wouldn’t start from here.” That’s rather what it must be like reviving Brora distillery.

Worm rubs at Brora

The hottest worm tubs in Scotland

Recreating a legend

The revived distillery filled its first barrel last year but things are very much work in progress. The aim is to recreate that famous Brora taste with the same or replicas of the equipment used up until the distillery closed in 1983. But the problem is that the original set-up wasn’t ideal for making the kind of whisky the team wanted.

If you were building a distillery from scratch and the aim was to make a fruity new make, you would want lots of copper contact which would involve using shell and tube condensers. But Brora always used worm tub condensers so after the distillery reopened last year, the team had to work out how to run them so they work very slowly. According to brand ambassador Andrew Flatt, “we run them super hot to keep the vapour in as long as possible so you get as much reflux as possible.” Or in other words, I wouldn’t start from here.

He described the process as “reverse engineering”, trying to get the equipment to replicate the taste of the surviving whisky. The problem is nobody is quite sure why old Brora tastes as it does. Take that elusive quality known as ‘waxiness’, think the skin on an apple or even cheese rind. This comes partly from a build-up of oils in the spirit receiver. At the sister distillery which opened in 1969, this is known as “Clynelish gunk” and, according to Flatt, “they lost the character once when they cleaned it.” Though they have started filling barrels, the Brora new make doesn’t quite have this elusive quality.

Stewart Bowman and family at Brora

Former master distiller Stewart Bowman, his father and two other old Brora by the wildcat gates

Smoky Brora

To further complicate things, that classic fruity style isn’t the only Brora out there. In the 1960s, because of a drought on Islay, there was a demand for smoky whiskies in the image of Caol Ila or Lagavulin for blends. So Brora switched to making peated whisky between 1968 and 1981, according to Flatt. The revived distillery will also make a smoky whisky in the future.

But it’s the third style that has proved the hardest to replicate. This was a funky, earthy style that the distillery produced occasionally in the early ‘70s. This was probably not intentional and may have had something to do with a bacterial infection. Nowadays, however, these wild Broras are some of the most prized bottlings. With their trademark barnyard note, they smell a little bit like certain wines that have been infected with Brettanomyces such as Chateau Musar from Lebanon or Domaine de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

So though Brora has started filling barrels, visitors to the distillery can’t actually try the new make. Instead, Flatt gave me three new makes which mimic the sort of character that they are after, but he asked me to keep their actual provenance secret. My lips are sealed. 

Brora book

A record of the final distillation at Brora… until last year

Brora’s rich history

The whole revival of the distillery has been a bit like that, based on incomplete knowledge as to how it originally worked. Before taking me around, Flatt gave me a whistlestop history including a look at the plans when the distillery was remodelled by Charles Doig in the late 19th century which were found in an old bin bag. He showed me minutes from the DCL meeting in 1968 when it was decided to build a second distillery called Clynelish, and the original distillery became known as Brora, and old ledgers which workers kept from the tip, including the heartbreaking final one from 1983 which stated “feints brought forward” (see above). Nobody is sure what happened to these final feints.  

Entering through those famous wildcat gates, it’s hard to imagine that the Brora was a wreck until very recently. It’s now probably the most perfect-looking Highland distillery I have ever seen. When Plato was thinking of a distillery, this was it. It’s so perfect, that it almost feels like a film set.

According to Flatt, it took a quarter of a million man-hours from highly qualified tradesmen to get it into this state of perfection. The renovations involved removing the pagoda for repair. But much of the most time-consuming work can’t be seen, such as cutting stone blocks in half in order to put in fire retardant material and insulation, and rebuilding the foundations so the buildings didn’t collapse.

Brora stills

The original stills are still in place

Recreating the classic set-up

The team has tried as much as possible to recreate the classic ‘70s set-up. It starts with a Porteus mill, not the original one but period correct. The rollers are quite far apart to get a rough texture. The mash tun is the same as the one from 1973, with a rake and gear. They don’t agitate it continuously because the aim is to get a clear wort. The data for operating the mash tuns comes from books from the 1970s.

Then there are six Oregon pine washbacks. They use Kerry liquid yeast with very long ferments – 115 hours. The idea is to build up fruity esters. These will develop further as bacteria build up in the wood of the washbacks. 

Thankfully, the original stills were never removed because they worried that the building would have collapsed. They were refurbished by a team from Diageo’s Abercrombie works. The stills are run slowly, around 11 hours. Then the new make is condensed in those hot-running worm tubs before running into casks. The capacity is to produce something like 850,000 litres per year. This is not a boutique operation. It’s all watched over by Nara Madasamy who began his career with Brewdog so knows a thing or two about fermentation.

Brora distillery reopens

Brora – the Platonic ideal of a distillery

Brora was ahead of its time

The tour finished appropriately enough in the dunnage warehouse, where there’s space for 5-6,000 casks, with a taste of the 39-year-old which was bottled at 49% ABV. A stunning drop, aged in 70% used casks, it’s incredibly vibrant, tasting more like a 15-year-old. The fruit, think pineapples and apple crumble, is quite sensational with the classic waxiness on display.

Tasting this mind-blowing whisky, it’s very hard to understand why Brora was closed in the first place. But the extraordinary thing about Brora is nobody quite realised how good it was or how well it would mature. Like Port Ellen, it all went into blends. The first single malt bottling of Brora came from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in 1989. The first official bottling was part of the Rare Malts range in 1995. I remember these Rare Malts then priced at around £50 a bottle gathering dust on the shelves at Oddbins in the late ‘90s.

Those bottles are now going for around £10k. The 39-year-old I tried will set you back around £8k. And we won’t see or taste the results from the ‘new’ Brora for years. Life just isn’t fair. 

Bespoke tours of Brora are available. Contact the distillery for more information. 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Zelda

Today, we’re mixing up a cocktail inspired by one of the legends of the jazz age. We’re combining fizz, Bardinet VSOP, and apricot brandy to make… the Zelda! Ah, Paris…

Today, we’re mixing up a cocktail inspired by one of the legends of the jazz age. We’re combining fizz, Bardinet VSOP, and apricot brandy to make… the Zelda!

Ah, Paris in the 1920s! Full of Americans taking advantage of the weak French franc to act out their bohemian fantasies. There was Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. But most of all there was F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. He was a promising young novelist from Minnesota, she was a southern belle from Alabama. Dorothy Parker commented on the pair: “They did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking.” 

An icon of the Jazz Age

The Fitzgeralds came to symbolise the glamour and hedonism of the Jazz Age. Who better then to name a cocktail after than Zelda Fitzgerald? Especially as her husband was apparently the first person to use ‘cocktail’ as a verb. He was also the first person to use the word ‘wicked’ in a positive sense in print. So now you know.

The Zelda cocktail is the creation of award-winning drinks blogger Susan L. Schwartz for Bardinet French brandy. It combines Bardinet VSOP, apricot brandy, orange juice, and sparkling wine. Along with the Zelda, Schwartz has come up with cocktails inspired by Josephine Baker and Coco Chanel.  She commented: “The Roaring ‘20s (known as Années Folles in France) in my opinion epitomised French joie de vivre, so I have drawn inspiration for each of my creations from an iconic woman from the flapper era. As we step softly out of the Covid pandemic, our ‘20s might have the potential to become our own Roaring ‘20s. We will have to wait until the decade is over to discover how events have changed us, but one thing is for sure, our collective desire to enjoy oneself is palpable right now.”

Bardinet French brandy

At the heart of the Zelda is Bardinet, the French brandy. It’s not something to linger over after a meal with cigars, but it is simple and delicious – just the thing for mixing. The company was founded in 1857 by Paul Bardinet making brandy in southwest France. His son Edouard took the business to Bordeaux but also expanded to produce syrups, fruit punches, and cocktails. In 1975 the firm moved to the Domaine de Fleurenne estate near the city of Bordeaux. It’s now part of the La Martinquaise group that also owns various other drink brands including Glen Moray whisky 

Unlike Cognac or Armagnac, the grapes that go into Bardinet don’t have to come from a specific area. Distillation takes place in a column still before maturing in oak casks. Blending is overseen by Bénédicte Bertet.

While you’re not going to get the complexity of Cognac, it’s a great spirit for mixing. It’s perfect in a Brandy and Soda, Brandy and Tonic, and in classic brandy cocktails like the Sidecar. 

The Zelda is roughly speaking a Sidecar crossed with another golden age cocktail, the French 75. It gets its sweetness from Bols Apricot brandy and a sugared rim of the glass, and an orangey hint from a tiny bit of orange juice. You could use Champagne to top it up if you’re feeling fancy but Prosecco will do just fine.

Here’s to the new Roaring ‘20s!

Zelda cocktail with Bardinet brandy

How to make a Zelda cocktail

50 ml Bardinet VSOP Brandy
25 ml Bols Apricot Brandy
¼ teaspoon orange juice or orange blossom water
Chilled Prosecco or Champagne to top  

Wet the rim of the glass with apricot brandy, then dip into caster sugar. Add the Bardinet, apricot brandy, orange juice (or blossom water) in a shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Pour into the glass then top up with prosecco or champagne and stir gently. Peel a long strip of orange peel and place in glass.

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The best pubs and restaurants for a leisurely lunch

It’s been a tough two years for the hospitality industry so we wanted to show our appreciation by highlighting some of the places that we love here at Master of…

It’s been a tough two years for the hospitality industry so we wanted to show our appreciation by highlighting some of the places that we love here at Master of Malt. So we all chipped in with our suggestions of the best pubs and restaurants for a leisurely lunch. There’s some great personal recommendations here.

If you think you’ve had a tough time of it in 2020/2021, spare a thought for people trying to run a pub or restaurant. First there was a lockdown, then a baffling tier system in which you were allowed to visit a pub but only if you had a Scotch egg, and didn’t laugh. But not in Leicester. Then there were further lockdowns but it all looked like it was over with ‘freedom day’ in July (not in Scotland or Wales). Restaurants in London were celebrating full reservation books and looking forward to a lucrative Christmas when news came from South Africa of a new variant…

And that’s before we get into staff shortages caused by the pandemic, pingdemic, and Brexit. Under such circumstances, it’s not surprising that so many places, especially the kind of independent restaurants and pubs we love, have gone to the wall. Many are holding on by their fingernails. 

So, along with Dryish January, this year we want to do our best to encourage people to eat out and use your locals, because if you don’t, they may well be gone. However, we do appreciate that some aren’t ready to do this because of concerns about Covid. That’s ok. But for everyone else, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite restaurants for a leisurely lunch. Yes, a lot of these places are near Tonbridge because that’s the location of MoM Towers. These are the kind of places where you can linger all afternoon, ordering more food and drink, and watch the sun slowly set. Treasure them.

The best restaurants for a leisurely lunch

Dungeness Snack Shack

Dungeness Snack Shack, Dungeness – Alex Badescu, distillery assistant 

There’s a thing in my family for sparse landscapes, peppered with huge industrial constructions – a sort of Mad Max aesthetic, probably something to do with childhoods spent on the beaches of Romania – and really good, fresh fish. We’ve been known to travel to great lengths seeking out both. In this sense, Dungeness Snack Shack ticks these very specific boxes at the same time. Setting up shop in the shadow of a nuclear power station gives you a surprising number of advantages. Planning permissions are few and far between to protect the shingle ecosystem that makes up Dungeness and its rare flora and fauna inhabitants. It also keeps neighbourly competition low, and Dungeness Snack Shack could easily offer out something mediocre to those who have made the trip. But how lucky that this blue shipping container by the sea chooses to rely on that winning formula for dishing up fish: seasonal, simple, fresh and flavourful. The chalkboards tell you what’s on offer that day and gently remind you that all the fish are from their own boats so ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’. I’m yet to arrive early enough to catch their famous lobster rolls and scallops before they sell out. So I usually go for the fisherman’s roll: white fish of the day (griddled or battered) and served with zingy salad and generous amounts of homemade tartare sauce. I’m a sucker for a crispy potato, which are on the menu here rather than chips, so do yourself a favour and order extra because these are as crunchy as they get. Prices vary but expect to be very well fed for between £6 – £12, and afterwards you can roll yourself down to the beach for a bit of seal spotting.  

The Ragged Trousers

The Ragged Trousers, Tunbridge Wells – Emma Symons, content executive 

The Ragged Trousers and I have history. It opened around the same time that I reached legal drinking age, and it’s probably endured the test of time better than me. It helps that the food is all made in-house by the same French chef who has been there since the start. I have to admit a personal connection here because whilst I was working behind the bar at the Ragged’s sister pub, the Sussex Arms, that certain Frenchman fell for my Kronenberg pouring talents and we are now engaged. Forget Emily In Paris, it’s Emma on the Pantiles. But even if I weren’t getting hitched to the man behind the stove, I’d still come for his croque monsieur (ooh err!), moule or, best of all, his exquisite cassoulet. To drink there are plenty of guest beers, the staff get to pick the tunes and always get the mood right. The walls are packed with original artwork, much of it produced by talented staff past and present (artsy bar worker types – you know the sort, one of my favourite categories of human). What more can I say? Vive le pantalon déchiré!

Brutto, Clerkenwell, London

Brutto, London – Henry Jeffreys, features editor

A good restaurant is about so much more than just food as Russell Norman knows. He’s the chap behind Polpo which, when it first opened in 2009 in Soho, felt like the most exciting place in the world. Sure, the food was good, but it was the atmosphere, the staff, and the little touches that brought people back again and again. Norman and Polpo, now a chain, went their separate ways, but now he’s back with an ode to the food of Florence called Trattoria Brutto near Farringdon station. The name means ugly in Italian, because it’s the sort of food that doesn’t look so pretty, but tastes great. What I love about this place is you can have a blowout with Florentine steaks served very rare and Barolo. But you can also have pasta dishes, slow-cooked meats like beef shin, and best of all ‘cuddles’ – little deep fried cheese and ham doughnuts – all washed down with a bottle of Barbera, for a surprisingly reasonable price. Also a Negroni costs £5. Yes, really, £5 Negronis in Central London. More than the food, however, you get to sit in a restaurant that feels like the best place in town. It’s like being part of a culinary cabaret with the cheerful, well-drilled waiting staff moving in time around you in a dance, and at the centre of it all, the maestro of ceremonies, Norman himself. Brutto has only been open since November but already feels like an institution. 

The Wiremill, East Grinstead

The Wiremill, East Grinstead – Gabriella Morrissey, design assistant  

The Wiremill has to be one of the most beautiful pubs in the country. It’s housed in a converted 15th century mill near Ashdown Forest and looks out onto a lake. It’s particularly stunning on a summer’s evening watching the sun set over the water [see above]. But, thanks to the Covid measures, the terrace is now covered and heated so you can use it all year round. The food never disappoints. On my last visit, I had a delicious buttermilk chicken burger. Portion sizes are generous, so bring a large appetite, and the service is always prompt and friendly. Being in East Grinstead there’s some good spots to go for a drink afterwards or why not go for a walk on the Ashdown Forest and enjoy some more country views.

Prestonville Arms, Brighton

The Prestonville Arms, Brighton – Jess Williamson, content manager

The Prestonville Arms is pretty much everything you could want from a pub – an open fire, well-placed mismatched reclining armchairs in front of said fire, and Sunday roasts worth travelling for. That said, the food is very tasty all week with bangers and mash, pies, and burgers on the menu. You know the deal, all the usual stuff you expect from a good pub but done unusually well, plus an ever-changing list of specials. You’ll find it just up the road from the main station away from the Lanes, so it’s somewhat off the beaten track, and for when the weather finally perks up there’s a cosy garden out the back. It’s got a touch of that Brighton kookiness to it, with the whole of the back wall covered in shiny vinyl records, colourful furnishings, and board games strewn around the place. I can’t speak highly enough of the staff (when we last went the chef even made us a special gravy to go with our roast – though we can’t promise anything!), and if you stay long enough past lunch, you might even catch some live music. Oh, and the best part? It’s dog friendly!

Caravan, Kings Cross, London – Jason Hockman, general manager

Caravan is so ubiquitous to Londoners that it’s easy to forget what a revelation the first restaurant was when it opened in 2010 with its fresh flavours and laidback Australian attitude. There are now a few dotted around central London but my favourite is the Granary Square outpost behind King’s Cross Station. It’s one of those places where you can just keep ordering, you don’t need to have a formal meal. I love the margarita sourdough pizza, jalapeno cornbread, chickpea dahl and lamb meatballs, and they even serve breakfast right throughout the day. There’s lots of space with indoor and outdoor eating areas, and a very relaxed atmosphere which is particularly handy if you’re eating with children. In the summer, they can play in the fountains outside while you have another cup of Caravan’s excellent coffee. 

Bullfinch, Leith

The Bullfinch, Leith – Gordon Baird, head of compliance

Tucked away on the corner of the entrance to the Port of Leith (not the pub that Trainspotting was reputedly created in, the actual port with ships) lives The Bullfinch. Following a refurb, it opened in 2021. Thankfully the bar has retained much of its original character. It specialises in local breweries such as Vault City, Campervan, Barneys, and Pilot with a short list of cocktails shaken by the rumbling of heavy trucks down the cobblestone streets. I like to imagine the wines are loaded straight from exotic ships coming into the port. The menu changes the whole time but on my last visit the kitchen was offering small plates like mac and cheese balls with a bacon mayonnaise, tempura calamari, and garlic and rosemary tear & share (sharing optional), or poke bowls if you want something a bit more substantial. You can order by app so you never have to face a human and explain that the seventh small dish you’re about to order, is indeed, also for you. The outside seating area is fully covered with the heat lamps essential for 80% of the Scottish al fresco dining calendar. There’s even a vent from the kitchen which, if you position yourself well, will allow you to smell what’s cooking, as you suffer through your January promise that you will not class chips as a vegetable, and ketchup as a vegetable smoothie anymore. 

Dyls York

Dyls, York – Alex Blackall, sales support

York is a picture book city in miniature. Within those Roman walls you’ll find cobbled streets, castle towers and the long shadow of York Minster. It can be jarring, however, to see all those modern chains like Costa, Greggs or Sports Direct. If you’re looking for a place with a bit more character, I’d recommend ambling Ouseward from the centre, and you’ll discover Dyls Café and Bar hidden within the old Motor House on Skeldergate Bridge. It’s a family-run business with a menu built around locally-sourced food, and a great range of craft spirits, cocktails, coffee, cakes and of course, local beers. There’s a heated terrace with views over the river Ouse and three quirky indoor rooms. The uppermost of which would feel like home for Rapunzel, the perfect spot to hide away for a catch up with friends. Just pity the poor waiting staff who had to clamber the spiral staircase all afternoon with our sharing boards, ales, and increasingly adventurous cocktail orders. Dyls has recently had to overcome flooding-related, as well as lockdown-enforced, closures. But it’s once again open and I can’t wait to return when I next visit God’s Own County.

Even Flow, Tunbridge Wells

Even Flow, Tunbridge Wells – Cal McGuinness, trade relations supervisor

I have to start with a confession: my first true love is nothing booze-related. It’s coffee (please don’t tell anyone at MoM Towers!). Before joining Master of Malt I was a barista and I’m still an espresso aficionado. Each weekend you’ll still find me, fully caffeinated, hopping from one fancy coffee shop to another. So when Even Flow opened its doors back in early 2020, specialising in coffee, lunchtime goodness, and vinyl records, I was excited. A place to pick up a piccolo and a copy of The Cure’s Greatest Hits? I’m in. Perched just outside the town centre, on St Johns Road, it’s been incredible to see this place go from strength to strength despite all the challenges of the last two years. Needless to say their coffee game is top tier, the whole team really knows their beans. However, their food options are just as impressive with an ever-changing menu so there’ll always be something new to try. I’d particularly recommend their homemade sausage rolls and a mozzarella pesto panini. Then we need to talk about cake and here we reach my second confession, I’ve been known to fill a takeaway box with a variety for my ‘friends back home’ only to munch my way through the lot while listening to the new Cyndi Lauper record I picked up. If you’re looking for a place for a leisurely lunch with a fantastic variety of lunch options and a great atmosphere definitely drop by! 

Teuchters Landing, Leith

Teuchters Landing, Leith – James Evans, campaigns marketing executive

Located in the once shady but now-fashionable shore area of Leith, Teuchters is a staple of the community known for its mouth-watering dram selection, classic hearty pub grub, Scottish cask beer and…cigars? Yes, you heard that right and there’s no better way to enjoy a dram and cigar combo than sitting out in the beer garden. But this isn’t just any beer garden because it’s located on the actual water of the dock for the full maritime effect. Yes, it’s been pretty freezing out there most times I’ve visited. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed many a good night in this dockside pub, playing whisky roulette with their 100+ malt selection, and indulging in arguably the most Scottish dish ever, a haggis stovie before enjoying a scenic jaunt home through the shore of Leith. It’s one of those places that’s as popular with locals as with tourists. And no wonder, if top tier dram selections, fresh pub grub and local beers sound like your bag then absolutely give this place a visit. It’s one you won’t regret, nor forget.

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New Arrival of the Week: Ron Zacapa Reserva Limitada 2019

A new week has begun, and as usual, we’re kicking things off by shining the New Arrival spotlight on a bottle that we’re particularly excited about. Today it’s a very…

A new week has begun, and as usual, we’re kicking things off by shining the New Arrival spotlight on a bottle that we’re particularly excited about. Today it’s a very special rum from Guatemala: Ron Zacapa Reserva Limitada 2019!

Ron Zacapa does things a little differently to most Latin American rums. For a start, the team uses only the first press of sugar cane juice rather than the molasses commonly used in the industry. This is then concentrated to make what is known as sugar cane honey. They use over 20 different varieties of cane all grown in Guatemala. That’s the country just below Mexico, just in case your Central American geography is a little shaky.

History of Ron Zacapa

The family-run company behind it, originally known as Industria Licorera Guatemalteca, dates back to the early 20th century but the Zacapa brand itself was launched in 1976 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town of Zacapa, about 70 miles east of Guatemala City. Currently, Diageo has a 50% stake in the brand and looks after distribution and marketing.

The process to turn that sugar cane honey into aged rum takes place under the watchful eye of master blender Lorena Vásquez, a former chemist and food technologist from nearby Nicaragua. Fermentation takes place over 120 hours using a proprietary yeast strain that is, according to this article, extracted from pineapples. Ron Zacapa is made in a column still with the alcohol coming off at between 88 and 92% ABV.

Lorena Vasquez from Ron Zacapa

Lorena Vásquez from Ron Zacapa has a passion for maturation

Solera ageing

But it’s maturation that gets Vásquez particularly excited: “The fermentation and distillation are more of a mechanical process, the ageing process is where the passion comes in. The former is analytical whereas the latter is very creative and personal. Every day we blend rums and we have to try them halfway through the morning and halfway through the afternoon.”

Ageing takes place at a different facility high up in the mountains, 2,300 metres above sea level. Here you have warm days and cool nights which means the rum ages more slowly. The new make is diluted down to 60% ABV before going into cask. Zacapa uses a solera-style system, which Vásquez explains is similar to making sherry, but with some slight differences.

“We start by ageing [new make] in ex-bourbon American oak barrels. After that, we take it out of the cask and mix it with old rums. In this second ageing process, we use the same type of barrel but char it first for more vanilla, chocolate and toffee flavours. Then we take that rum out and mix it again with older rums,” she says. “For the final ageing process, we use barrels that held aromatic sherry, specifically Oloroso. And then we do a final mix in barrels that previously aged Pedro Ximénez wines. It makes the rum much more complex.” The rums, therefore, are blends of various ages, usually between about six and 23 years, though longer for the XO bottling.

Ron Zacapa Reserva Limitada 2019

It’s one of those rums best tried neat or in simple cocktails

Ron Zacapa Reserva Limitada 2019 is here!

Ron Zacapa also makes limited editions that are highly sought-after by rum fans. The Ron Zacapa Reserva Limitada 2019 is finished in sweet Moscatel wine casks which impart a glorious balance of sweet, floral fruit and rich oak. It’s bottled at 45% ABV, a little stronger than the core expressions. 

This is the bottle that has just landed at Master of Malt today. As its name suggests, it’s strictly limited edition. When it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s very much a sipping sort of rum though would be delicious in simple cocktails like a Palmetto or, Vásquez’s choice, an Old Fashioned.

Salud!

Ron Zacapa Reserva Limitada 2019 is from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Delicately balanced with plenty of sweet caramel and warming oak, hints of berries and floral orchard fruits poke through, with woody vanilla chewy butterscotch.

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Top ten no and low ABV drinks for Dry January

Whether you’re doing Dry January, or Dryish January, there is now a delicious range of drinks that either contain no alcohol or significantly less than with standard spirits. Now we’ve…

Whether you’re doing Dry January, or Dryish January, there is now a delicious range of drinks that either contain no alcohol or significantly less than with standard spirits. Now we’ve rounded up some of our favourites: here are our top ten low and no ABV drinks!

As we mentioned earlier this week, we’re not cutting the booze out entirely this January. Instead, we’re looking at ways to moderate and mix things up. So in this round-up, we’ve got the full range of non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ a la Seedlip which you can mix in all sorts of ways and you might not even guess that there’s no booze in them at all. We’ve also got some great zero ABV aperos – think Campari without the booze.

But there’s more than one way to skin a cat as my Austrian grandmother used to say (don’t worry, she never actually skinned a cat, maybe a rabbit or two, but never a cat). If you’re prepared to deal with a bit of alcohol, then a whole world of flavour can be yours. You can either use lower alcohol gin-style drinks like Portobello’s Temperance, or use something like Peter Rose gin concentrate which is high ABV but you only need to use a tiny bit.

The other option for those who want to cut down on ABV but are happy to consume some alcohol is fortified wines. This week we show you how to make a cocktail that’s high in flavour but with less than half the alcohol of a spirit-forward concoction. It’s called the Adonis.

Here are our favourite no and low ABV drinks to celebrate this Dryish January. Or if you’re looking for more inspiration, click here

everleaf-mountain-spirit

Everleaf Mountain

This new bottling from Everleaf is full of aromatic and fruity notes, having been made with botanicals including cherry blossom, rosehip and strawberry. Everleaf is the brainchild of top London bar wonder and all-round good egg Paul Mathew and now consists of a whole range of non-alcoholic aperitifs

How does it taste?

Juicy and subtly sweet with summer berries, balanced by earthy herbs and spring blossom.  Pair with a good light tonic and pop in a few fresh strawberry slices.

aecorn-dry-spirit

Æcorn Bitter

From the team behind Seedlip, Æcorn is a range of non-alcoholic aperitifs. The bitter version is made from Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes flavoured with citrus fruits, bay leaf, oak and quassia. Think of it as like a sort of non-alcoholic vermouth. The Aecorn Dry version makes a great wine substitute drunk chilled.

How does it taste?

Bitter peels and juicy grapefruit, balanced by earthy herbs and a touch of pine resin. Try it in a Nogroni with Seedlip and Aecorn Aromatic.

tuscan-tree-blood-orange-non-alcoholic-aperitivo-spirit

Tuscan Tree Blood Orange Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo 

A non-alcoholic aperitivo here from Tuscan Tree, made with Tuscan blood oranges, Sicilian lemons, Italian juniper, and lavender, infused in sparkling wine – all at 0% ABV. This works really well mixed with soda or tonic especially if you add a little freshly-squeezed grapefruit, lemon or orange juice. 

How does it taste?

A touch piney, with pithy citrus leading into juicy blood orange sweetness, supported by a waft of florals. This is perfect for making zero ABV Italian Spritzes. 

atopia-spiced-citrus-spirit

Atopia Spiced Citrus 

This was created by Hendrick’s Gin master distiller Lesley Gracie as an ultra low alcohol spirit, featuring the likes of orange, lemon, juniper, wormwood, angelica, and coriander. And with that pedigree, no wonder it’s one of the best non-alcoholic gin substitutes on the market.

How does it taste?

With masses of citrus and juniper, it tastes a lot like gin especially when mixed with tonic and served with a slice of fresh orange. 

portobello-road-temperance-spirit

Portobello Temperance

The team behind Portobello Road Gin created this lower-ABV spirit with the same botanicals as the original but at 4.2% ABV! This gives it a bit more oomph than most gin substitutes. So yes it works well with tonic water, as you’d expect, but it’s also got the power to work in a Tom Collins or a Gin Fizz. Well worth trying. 

How does it taste?

Orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, a crackle of peppery juniper, softly floral at points. Mix one-third Temperance to two-thirds tonic for a great low ABV G&T.

bax-botanics-verbena-spirit

Bax Botanics Verbena

A vibrant non-alcoholic spirit from Bax Botanicals over in Yorkshire, making the most of natural botanicals. Sufficiently herbal, this Verbena expression takes the plant and distils it alongside other botanicals. The brand is heavily focused on sustainability too, with the labels made from leftover sugar cane. 

How does it taste?

Pleasingly bitter, with complex herbal and green grassy notes bringing a certain freshness. Add a slice of cucumber when mixing to bring out those flavours.

gin-concentrate-peter-rose-gin

Peter Rose Gin Concentrate

This 50% ABV gin is so concentrated that you only need to use 5ml in your G&T for the equivalent flavour of a double measure, 50ml, of standard gin. So you’re using tens times less gin. Not only will your G&T be lower ABV but it’s excellent value too, there’s enough gin in here for 40 drinks, the equivalent of three 70cl bottles of standard gin.  

How does it taste?

Well, whatever you do, don’t drink this neat because it is INTENSE. Mixed with tonic, you will not be able to notice the substantially lower ABV. Juniper heaven.

seedlip-garden-108-spirit

Seedlip Garden 108

The original gin substitute and for many, judging by sales, the best. It’s the product that launched a hundred imitators. Made using copper stills and botanicals including hay, pea, rosemary, spearmint, and thyme, it’s a drink that the trade has really got behind with most bars now offering a Seedlip serve on the menu. 

How does it taste?

Peas, mainly, followed by minty herbaceous notes. Seedlip recommends drinking it with elderflower tonic and a slice of cucumber.

anon-bittersweet-aperitif-spirit

ANON Bittersweet Aperitif

This is a non-alcoholic take on the classic Italian bitters like Campari and Aperol used to make timeless classics such as Spritzes and Negronis. Made with natural botanicals such as wormwood, orange, gentian, and quassia, ANON Bittersweet Aperitif is full of herbaceous, bittersweet flavour.

How does it taste?

Bitter woody spice and aromatic herbs mingle with zesty citrus and sweet orange. Mix with your favourite gin substitute for a booze-free Negroni.

caleno-dark-and-spicy-spirit

Caleño Dark & Spicy

The Caleño range of non-alcoholic spirits was inspired by the vibrant flavours of Colombia, perfect if you’re taking a break from booze but still want to drink something delicious. This particular expression from the collection is built around tangy, toast notes of pineapple, black cardamom, coconut, ginger, lime, kola nut, and vanilla.

How does it taste?

With its juicy pineapple and hints of toasted brown sugar, fresh ginger, and cardamom, it tastes great mixed with Coca-Cola and a wedge of lime.  

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Cocktail of the Week: The Adonis

As part of our Dryish January coverage, we’ve got a delicious cocktail with around half the alcohol but all the flavour of a traditional spirit-forward drink. A blend of sherry…

As part of our Dryish January coverage, we’ve got a delicious cocktail with around half the alcohol but all the flavour of a traditional spirit-forward drink. A blend of sherry and sweet vermouth, it’s called the Adonis!

One of the joys of cocktails is also one of the main drawbacks: they are just so damned drinkable. Traditional spirit-forward cocktails are essentially ways of making high strength alcohol go down easily through the magic of chilling and sweetening. You have to sip a glass of rye, whereas a Manhattan is gone before you know it. A cocktail is a booze delivery system; perfect for when you want that jolt of alcohol.

Sherry, the bartender’s secret weapon

But what about when you don’t? Happily, there is an answer, sherry. A good aged sherry, whether it’s a Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso or PX, will have much of the complexity of whisky. Both get their flavours from barrel ageing and, indeed, many whiskies are aged in ex-sherry casks so they actually taste of sherry.

Combine your sherry with a decent bottle of vermouth, especially one from the sherry region, and you have a recipe for extreme cocktail deliciousness but with less than half of the alcohol. You can make a great Dry Martini substitute by stirring one part Fino with one part dry vermouth with ice and strain into a coupe with a dash of orange bitters. This is known as a Bamboo.

Strong name, not so strong drink

But today, we’re making something more like a Manhattan called the Adonis. The recipe comes from a book called Schofield’s Fine and Classic Cocktails. It’s written by two brothers from Manchester, Joe and Daniel Schofield. Between them, they have won many many awards, worked in cocktail bars all over the world, including the American Bar at the Savoy, and collaborated with another pair of brothers, Asterley Bros, on a vermouth. Now, all that learning and experience can be found in one place. The book contains advice on making cocktails as well as classic and modern recipes. 

The Adonis is named not after the figure from Greek mythology nor the Labour peer and educational reformer, Lord Adonis, but after a musical. Adonis was a long-running Broadway show in the late 19th century. It’s part of the long line of cocktails named after shows like the Rob Roy, and the Pink Lady. Sadly this habit of naming cocktails after musicals seems to have died out. One can almost imagine a Miss Saigon or an Oliver! though I wouldn’t fancy a Les Miserables.

The Adonis cocktail

The Adonis, not as strong as you’d expect from the name

How to make the Adonis

Traditionally the Adonis is made with Fino sherry but the Schofield brothers have suggested using an Oloroso instead to make it richer. The Alfonso from Gonzalez Byass offers amazing richness and power for the money. The Schofields recommend their collaborative vermouth (well, they would, wouldn’t they?) but I have defied them and kept it 100% Jerez with La Copa, also from Gonzalez Byass. 

The other non-trad element is sugar syrup; the brothers write: “sugar is a great flavour carrier and works well here, enhancing the relatively subtle sherry and vermouth. You won’t find this extra touch of sweetness in traditional versions of the drink, but we like how it underscores all the flavour notes”. If you like a fresher drink, feel free to leave out the sugar syrup. Or, even better, if you have some PX sherry knocking around, then add a little of that instead. 

The result is something with all the depth of flavour of a Manhattan or Rob Roy, but with much less alcohol. A classic two parts rye to one part vermouth Manhattan will be around 35% ABV; the sherry version weighs in at less than 17% ABV. And it’s cheaper too. Your doctor and bank manager will be pleased.

Right, let’s make an Adonis. 

30ml Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso
30ml Gonzalez Byass La Copa vermouth
2 dashes of Fee Brothers orange bitters
½ teaspoon of sugar syrup or PX sherry (optional)

Add all the ingredients into a mixing glass or shaker with ice, and give it a good stir. Strain into a coupette and garnish with an orange coin.

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Dryish January: a guide

While a lot of people give up alcohol entirely in January, we’re doing things a bit differently with a month devoted to drinking less, drinking lower ABV, and celebrating all…

While a lot of people give up alcohol entirely in January, we’re doing things a bit differently with a month devoted to drinking less, drinking lower ABV, and celebrating all that’s great about the drinks industry. It’s not Dry January, it’s Dryish January!

Judging by the mood on social media, it doesn’t look like Dry January is going to be quite the event it usually is. If the people you’re following are anything like mine, there’s a lot of ‘seriously fuck Dry January’ going on. One of our local restaurants has a sign up saying “We’re doing Dry January here: Dry Martini, London Dry Gin, dry white wine.” 

Dry January has become such a fixture on the drinks trade calendar that you might be surprised that it’s a recent coinage. According to The Week magazine, it was registered in 2014 as a trademark by Alcohol Concern. Since then it’s been followed by all kinds of other ‘giving-up’ months like Stoptober, Go Sober for October, and Veganuary (dread word!).

Dryish January

But, of course, following a period of excess with one of abstinence isn’t exactly a new idea. Most religions involve a bit of fasting, like the 40 days of Lent which commemorates Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness. Dry January is essentially the secular equivalent.

It has proved particularly popular in the drinks trade where Christmas can start some time in early December and go on until New Year’s Day. It’s great to give your body a well earned rest. But there seem to be few takers this year. This might be because so many of those festive events did not take place because of fears of the Omicron variant. Or just that after two years of restrictions, the idea of giving up something that provides a lot of pleasure during the coldest and most depressing month of the year seems like a really bad idea. 

The back bar at the Gibson

Photo credit: The Gibson in London

Go out to help out

Furthermore, all those Christmas cancellations means that the beleaguered hospitality industry is in an extremely precarious position. If everybody stays in this January, there might not be anywhere to go out when February comes around. We like the sound of a campaign that brewers and drinks writers have got behind called Tryanuary (dread word, again!) This encourages people to experiment with their drinks choices.

So this year at Master of Malt our ‘Dry January’ is going to look a bit different. We’re calling it Dryish January and we will still be looking at some fully alcohol free options with examples of cocktails and new products that you can try if you’re cutting out the booze completely, and even running a competition to win a bundle of zero ABV goodies to be won. But for Dryish January we will also be looking at ways you can make delicious drinks with less alcohol using liqueurs, fortified wines like Port or sherry, and vermouth, for example, in place of full strength spirits. There are also very clever high strength spirits which are packed so full of flavour that you only need to use a tiny bit.

We will also be visiting producers, meeting distillers and trying exciting new spirits as usual. But most of all, we’ll be celebrating the diverse wonders of the drinks industry and encouraging you to get out there, visit bars, pubs and restaurants, and taste new things, whether they contain alcohol or not. Let’s raise a glass to Dryish January!

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