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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Cocktail of the Week: The Martiki

Today we have something of a rarity for you. You won’t find it in just any bar. It combines two great cocktail traditions: classic American and tiki, all in one…

Today we have something of a rarity for you. You won’t find it in just any bar. It combines two great cocktail traditions: classic American and tiki, all in one glass. Say hello to the Martiki!

The inspiration for this week’s cocktail came from a recent conversation with two drinks writers, Richard Godwin and Simon Difford. Over a few drinks, we discovered a shared love of kümmel, a kind of schnapps with a distinctive nutty sweet taste. We thought it would be fun to try to raise the profile of this delicious but rather forgotten liqueur. So, from now on the 17 April will henceforth be known as International Kümmel Day.

Godwin suggested I try it in the form of a cocktail called the Martiki. So, I dug out my battered copy of Godwin’s book The Spirits (a great one-stop place for all your cocktailing needs) and found the recipe. The Martiki is, as its name suggests, a tiki take on a Martini in which you use white rum instead of gin, and in place of vermouth, kümmel.

According to The Spirits, the cocktail was invented at The Luau restaurant in Beverly Hills. Now closed, the place was a celebrity hangout in the ‘50s and ‘60s, decorated in a tropical style, and featured an actual lagoon in the dining room. Bring back lagoons, I say. Much more fun than all this modern minimalism. Most recipes for the Martiki, however, don’t use kümmel. Some call for vermouth, and other versions are rather like Pineapple Martinis. According to Godwin, his recipe came from Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry. With a name like that, you’d expect him to know his tiki drinks.  

mentzendorff-kummel-combier-distillery

The Combier Distillery where Mentzendorff kummel is made

Kümmel gets its peculiar taste from caraway seeds along with cumin, fennel and other spices. So it’s not dissimilar to Scandinavian Akvavit, though sweeter. The leading brand Mentzendorff was originally made by a Prussian family in Riga, Latvia. In the 1860s, the family came to Britain and branched out into wine importing. The firm is still going strong and is the UK agent for Bollinger Champagne. The liqueur is now distilled in France. The other brand you might see, Wolfschmidt, is Danish.

Despite its Baltic origins, kümmel used to be immensely popular among the British upper classes. There are mentions of it in Evelyn Waugh’s works. But the only places you will see kümmel drunk today are golf clubs and old-fashioned gentlemen’s clubs. Indeed, the last time I visited such an establishment to give a talk about my book, the man who had invited me insisted I join him for a glass of restorative kümmel afterwards. In short, kümmel could not be less fashionable, which means that it is ripe for a revival.

And so, on to Godwin’s Martiki. If you’re a kümmel novice, you might want to halve the amount you put in. Expressing a piece of lemon peel is essential as it freshens the whole thing up; you can either drop it in, or if you’re feeling properly tropical, garnish with a piece of coconut. You could even, as recommended in The Spirits, add a little coconut water to make it totally tiki.

Martiki, Difford's Guide

Martiki (photo credit: Difford’s Guide)

Here’s the Martiki, a strange mixture of classic and tropical, with a good dash of Baltic into the bargain. Perhaps it should be called the Cosmopolitan.

50ml Diplomático Planas white rum
10ml Mentzendorff Kümmel

Stir ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice and strain into a cold Martini glass. Express a piece of lemon peel over the top, and garnish with a lemon twist or a slice of coconut.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely…

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely badly…

I’ve had many terrible Gin and Tonic experiences, so to get me in the right frame of mind for this article, I thought back to three particularly great ones:

1) A bar in Barcelona in the mid ‘90s, I’ve just ordered a Gin Tonica. The barman fills a tall Collins glass with ice, then free pours Larios Gin almost to the top, adds a slice of lime, adds a splash of tonic on the side, and I marvel as the UV light turns the drink blue (something to do with the quinine) while Ritmo de La Noche bangs away.

2) Sunset over Lake Malawi, the heat of the day has faded a bit, I’m sipping a G&T made with the local gin (which is excellent, why does nobody import it?) and thinking about dinner. The drink is extremely cold and alive with limes that taste as if they’d just come off the tree. Probably because they had.

3) At my grandfather’s house. Him explaining to me in his pedantic grandpa way how to make a G&T. The method involved Beefeater gin, lots and lots of ice, good quality heavy tumblers and Schweppes tonic water out of tiny bottles so that they were bursting with fizz. My grandfather made a mean G&T, much better than my father.

Gin Mare

The Spanish do make a cracking G&T (photo courtesy of Gin Mare)

These stories illustrate how a G&T should be: majestic, refreshing and invigorating. Now think of those pub versions you’ve had: watery ice, flat tonic, and sad dried out lemon, if you get any citrus at all. The whole thing tasting sickly sweet. Here I turn to the words of the great Victoria Moore in her book How to Drink (it was published in 2009, we really need an updated version): “Some people think that there is no need for instruction when it comes to making Gin and Tonic. Those people are wrong.” Making a good G&T isn’t difficult but it does require care.

When it comes to ingredients, we’re now spoiled for choice. You can go for classic gins with a big whack of juniper (Tanqueray) or floral lighter ones (Bombay Sapphire) or even ones that don’t really taste like gin (looking at you, Gin Mare). I’m using Ramsbury Gin from Wiltshire which contains quince as one of its botanicals. Tonic water has exploded recently with every variety under the sun from Fever Tree and its rivals. Don’t, however, ignore Schweppes. For many G&T fanatics, it’s the only one that will do. Which gin or tonic you use, however, is largely a matter of taste.

What isn’t a matter of taste is the proper way to make the thing. First the glass: use a heavy tumbler, a Collins glass or one of those Spanish fishbowl things. You need lots of ice, the cubes should be as large as possible. Try to avoid ice bought in bags as the cubes have holes in which makes them melt quicker. Both your gin and tonic should be chilled. I keep a bottle of gin in the freezer for emergency Martinis. Now the citrus fruit: it can be lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange (particularly nice with Brighton Gin) but it must be freshly cut. It sounds a bit pretentious but you will really notice the difference with Amalfi or Sicilian lemons as they have a floral perfumed quality rather than just being sharp.

Got your ingredients ready? Is your gin in the freezer? Let’s have a bloody Gin Tonica!

50ml Ramsbury Gin
100ml 1724 Tonic Water
Quarter of lemon

Fill a Collins glass or tumbler with ice, pour in the gin and top up with half the tonic water. Rub a quarter of lemon around the rim, drop in and stir. Serve with the rest of the tonic on the side so you can dilute to taste. Don’t forget the salty snacks.

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New Arrival of the Week: Martini Fiero

Martini & Rossi have big plans for Martini Fiero, a new super fruity vermouth that the company hopes will be the drink of the summer. We take a closer look……

Martini & Rossi have big plans for Martini Fiero, a new super fruity vermouth that the company hopes will be the drink of the summer. We take a closer look…

The press bumf describes Fiero as “the biggest new product launch undertaken by Martini in years”. And there can be no doubt at the sizeable market Fiero is aimed at: Aperol drinkers. Those bright orange spritzes are so ubiquitous now it’s hard to remember that until 2009/10, Aperol had little presence outside Italy. I think like many Londoners I had my first taste of it at Polpo on Beak Street, which proved so influential when it opened in 2009. By 2014, the Aperol Spritz was everywhere from country pubs in Wiltshire to seaside towns in Spain. It was a stunning example of how to market a product.

Martini Fiero

Martini Fiero, looking very pretty

It’s easy to see the appeal because, though there is a certain amount of bitterness, with its sweet orangey taste and low alcohol (11% ABV), Aperol is almost Kia-Ora for grown-ups. Not that that’s a bad thing. I think it tastes particularly fine mixed with fizzy water and grapefruit juice. Aperol’s success has led to a vogue for spritzes. To my knowledge, however, there haven’t been any mainstream products aimed squarely at Aperol (though I did try a supermarket own-label version a couple of years ago which was pretty revolting). Until now…. 

Martini Fiero has been available on the continent for a couple of years now, but this month it is being officially released in Britain. It’s actually a very different product from Aperol. Though it doesn’t say so on the front label, it’s actually a vermouth, which means that it’s made from white wine rather than the neutral alcohol that goes into Aperol. It’s also higher in alcohol at 14.9% ABV. Martini informed us that it’s made from 100% natural flavours and colours, including orange and two types of wormwood (artemisia absinthium and artemisia pontica, for vermouth geeks).

Martini Fiero

“Go on, I dare you to ask for a beer”

So how does it taste? Rather delicious, I thought. It feels a lot less sugary than Campari or Aperol; the overwhelming flavour is of sweet oranges with some bitter orange peel notes at the end and a certain medicinal tang. You can also really taste the wine base. Perhaps it’s the  bright red colour, but it reminded me a bit of Panda cherryade which used to be sold at my local cinema in the 1980s (interestingly, the same local cinema has been poshed up and now sells Aperol Spritzes). I liked it mixed half and half with soda water, with grapefruit juice and soda, and it makes a cracking Gin and It. Martini recommends drinking Fiero with tonic water which worked beautifully, the bitterness in the tonic chiming with the subtle bitter notes in the vermouth (though I did add a splash of soda to lessen the sweetness).

Just as Campari lovers can be a bit sniffy about Aperol, I think some vermouth fans are going to turn their noses up at Fiero. The flavours are clean and simple, it doesn’t have the complexity of the Martini Riserva range or the power of the standard Martini Rosso (hard to beat in a Negroni). But, of course, it is not aimed at vermouth nuts. According to Martini, “Fiero & Tonic provides a younger adult audience with a refreshing new way to enjoy vermouth as part of the aperitivo occasion”. As a sweet, fruity drink with enough bite to keep it interesting, it’s the perfect uncomplicated drink for a summer’s day. Rather like another orangey Italian drink I could name.

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Tell ’em about the honey: How mead became the latest thing

Before there was beer, whisky or gin, people from northern climates turned to honey for all their alcohol needs. Since then, mead, has been out of fashion for over half…

Before there was beer, whisky or gin, people from northern climates turned to honey for all their alcohol needs. Since then, mead, has been out of fashion for over half a century. But now, it’s back…

Last month, I went to a pop-up bar in Peckham, south east London, and everyone was drinking not craft beer or yuzu smoothies, but mead. Yes, mead, the drink that we associate with Vikings and chubby medieval friars is now, whisper it, a bit cool. We’ve noticed the mead effect here at Master of Malt. It is flying off the shelves. So, we thought it would be a good idea to look a bit further into the category and find out what it’s all about.

Tom Gosnell in trendy Peckham

The bar in question was called Gosnells Upstairs at the Coal Rooms, and it will be open for the next six months. It’s designed to showcase Gosnells Mead which is produced just around the corner. The founder Tom Gosnell used to make cider, but picked up a love for good quality mead in the US. “I was travelling along the East Coast of the US when I was first exposed to mead that was crafted with real, love, care, and respect for the honey,” he said. “This really lit a fire in me, and I was determined to start making a modern mead in London.”

And so, in his own words, Gosnell opened “the first London meadery in over 500 years”. Being based in Peckham means that he’s in the heart of London’s craft brewing scene. “It’s so vibrant and diverse, there’s a real energy here that you can’t help but get caught up in,” he told me.

James Lambert from Lyme Bay down in Devon also started with cider, then wine, and now makes an extensive range of mead including the bestselling Moniack brand that was previously based in Scotland. “We own the Highland Wineries brand and make all their products at our Devon winery,” he explained. “This change took place when the Fraser family, who used to own Moniack, closed it and sold the business.”

Lyme Bay

Lyme Bay, they make cider, wine and mead here

In order to make alcohol, all you need is a sugary liquid and yeast. So it’s understandable that honey was one of the first products that people made into alcohol. Tom Gosnell explained the process: “We simply take honey, mix it with water and pitch a yeast, which turns the sugars into alcohol.” But it’s important to use top quality raw ingredients. “Great mead starts with great honey,” He continued. “When you ferment, you strip away some of the sweetness and get access to the amazing tertiary flavours that the bees have been collecting from all the flowers.”

Gosnells London Mead is made from Valencian orange blossom honey. According to the company’s mead maker, Will Grubelnik, this is to ensure consistency. Grubelnik is an Australian brought up in a wine producing part of Victoria. “Wine and mead are very close in fermentation style and they’re both very much about terroir,” he told me. Gosnells’ bestselling 5.5% ABV original is pasteurised to retain some sugar, carbonated and then sold in 750ml bottles to rival Prosecco or good quality sparkling cider.

The team also produces limited edition meads made from single flower varieties, single areas or individual beekeepers. A current offering from Biggin Hill in Bromley is fully fermented to about 8% ABV, so it is bone dry. Grubelnik enthused about meads barrel-aged for 18 months that taste a bit like dry sherry.

James Lambert agrees on the importance of good honey. He uses a “unique blend of English, Mexican and Chinese honey which combines the most aromatic of indigenous flower species to create the rich, floral and pungent characteristics that our meads are famous for.” You can also add flavours and spices, as they do at Lyme Bay. “We combine honey with hand-picked spices and ferment them with water to create our award-winning range.” Lyme Bay offer a huge range of flavoured products including Garden Mead (made with fresh mint); Tournament Mead (ginger); Rhubarb Mead; and Yore, “a dry, light mead with a sparkle and a delicious honey kick which makes a refreshing alternative to beer and cider”.

In proper mead all the alcohol should come from honey. However, there are no regulations for the category, so many meads get some alcohol from apple juice or beer, or may even be merely honey-flavoured. Grubelik told me that they are currently campaigning for a regulatory framework.

So, how to drink all that honeyed goodness? Lambert recommends drinking her Rhubarb Mead “served chilled or on the rocks but this tangy mead also has the sweetness and fruitiness to pair it perfectly with blue cheese and terrines, as well as ice cream and fruit-based desserts.” According to Gosnell, the sparkling product is “perfect as an aperitif, an alternative to Prosecco, but I really like the way that it holds up well to spicy food, and cuts through fattier dishes like pork belly.”

Mead also works superbly as a cocktail ingredient. Gosnell gave me a drink to try called a Peckham Lemonade. It sounds like old-school gangster slang: ‘he ain’t gonna snitch no more, Vern’s given him a dose of Peckham Lemonade’. But it’s actually a delicious long drink made with gin, honey, lemon juice and sparkling mead.

Gosnells Mead

It’s all about the honey

Lambert agrees: “Mead’s flavour combinations make it an ideal addition to cocktails. We’ve collaborated with Sam Boulton, owner of The Vanguard mead bar in Birmingham, who has come up with six mead cocktail recipes.” These include a Rhubarb Negroni, made with Rhubarb Mead, Aperol and Cotswold Gin, and a delicious-sounding low-ABV one called English Gardening, made with Garden Mead, Seedlip Garden, elderflower liqueur, apple juice and soda water.

What’s driving mead’s new-found popularity? Could it be something to do with Game of Thrones? James Lambert had some thoughts. “Across the pond, mead is having a full-blown revival and is one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages in the country. It has captured the hearts of a new generation of discerning drinkers and there is also, of course, a certain HBO series that is putting mead in the spotlight. Over in the UK these effects are being felt and we are seeing the beginning of a long and sustainable growth.”

Grubelnik reckoned about a third of the people who came to the bar were already into mead, particularly customers from Scandinavia, and wanted to try flights of different meads. But Gosnell told me that many customers are completely clueless. “There often isn’t the fundamental understanding around mead,” he said. “It’s not just a new product to the market, it’s a whole new category!” All we can say is, give it a go and maybe you too will acquire the need for mead.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Daiquiri

Today’s cocktail has the ability to transport you back to the glamour of pre-revolutionary Cuba with just one sip. It is, of course, the Daiquiri! Let’s get the bad news…

Today’s cocktail has the ability to transport you back to the glamour of pre-revolutionary Cuba with just one sip. It is, of course, the Daiquiri!

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: the invention of Cuba’s national drink is usually attributed to an American! The man in question was a certain Jennings Cox, a mining engineer based in the south of the island, near Santiago de Cuba. It was the early 20th century, and one day he was entertaining some friends when he ran out of gin, the drink Americans usually drank. Rather than let his party break up early, he mixed lime juice, sugar, ice and water with the local rum, Bacardi, a light, smooth style of spirit that proved ideal for cocktails. With winning modesty, Cox named his concoction not after himself but after the nearby beach, Daiquiri.

Downtown Havana ©Caleb Krivoshey

Downtown Havana ©Caleb Krivoshey

Or so the story goes; I am sure that the locals were probably drinking something not dissimilar already. This early Daiquiri doesn’t sound so different from a rum punch, a drink ubiquitous across the Caribbean, or indeed that old Royal Navy drink, Grog, a mixture of rum, lime juice, sugar and water, designed to keep sailors soberish and scurvy-free. It was in Havana, however, that the drink became something a little more sophisticated. The barman at La Floridita, Constantino Ribalaigua (born in 1888 in Catalonia), shook the ingredients with ice and then strained the mixture into a cold glass to create… well, it’s sour, isn’t it? Yes, a Daiquiri is simply a sour made with rum.

Nevertheless, the Daiquiri became legendary, perhaps due to the famous people who drank it. Hemingway, a regular at La Floridita, was a fan. He had a special one prepared without sugar because he was diabetic. It was also a lot stronger. During Prohibition, Havana became a playground for Americans: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra were all seen knocking back Daiquiris. The in-crowd drank at the art-deco Hotel Nacional, which opened in 1930. With American celebrities came American criminals; the Mafia poured into Cuba in the 1920s and ‘30s, and Cuba’s capital city became notorious for vice, gambling and corruption.

Emilio Gonzalez at another Havana hotel, the Plaza, came up with the idea of using a blender, a new invention in the 1930s, to crush up ice and fruit to create the frozen Daiquiri. Without Gonzalez’s refinement the greatest drinks conversation in cinema could not have taken place. In The Godfather Part II, the Corleones are in Havana indulging in some vice, gambling and corruption. Alfredo Corleone asks his brother, who he has betrayed, “How do you say Banana Daiquiri in Spanish?”. Michael Corleone replies, “Banana Daiquiri”.

Daiquiri Naturale

Daiquiri Naturale

Nowadays the standard Daiquiri in Havana is frozen; if you want an old-school version you have to ask for a Daiquiri Naturale. The beauty of the Daiquiri is that it is so adaptable: you can use different types of fruit and rum, you can adjust the sweetness, and it can be frozen or merely cold. My own favourite variation is the Daiquiri Mulata, made with dark rum and a coffee liqueur, but this week, I’ve kept it classic with a Havana Club 3 Year Old. Finally, it’s worth double straining to remove any bits of ice and lime pulp.

Right, here’s a basic Naturale recipe:

50ml Havana Club Añejo 3 Year Old
15ml lime juice
10 ml sugar syrup

Shake ingredients with plenty of ice and double strain into a chilled Martini glass. Serve with a wedge of lime and an anecdote about Papa.

Havana Club

Cubans love the smell of Havana Club

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Bruichladdich to build on-site maltings

As part of its sustainability efforts and commitment to investment in Islay, Bruichladdich has announced plans to build at an in-house maltings by 2023 and confirmed the purchase of a…

As part of its sustainability efforts and commitment to investment in Islay, Bruichladdich has announced plans to build at an in-house maltings by 2023 and confirmed the purchase of a farm, Shore House Croft.

One of Scotland’s most innovative distilleries, Bruichladdich will build a maltings, due to be operational by 2023. Plans are subject to change and planning permission, but the proposed facility will consist of Saladin boxes rather than floor maltings. It will be used predominantly to malt small batches, including barley grown on the island, organic grain from Elgin, and bere barley from Orkney. The aim is that it will provide about 50% of the distillery’s needs, and may expand to 100% in time.

Bruichladdich

Bruichladdich, local barley

Bruichladdich has been at the forefront of trialling different types of barley, as the innovative Bruichladdich Bere Barley bottling attests. To help with further experimentation, the distillery has purchased the 30 acre Shore House Croft where it can run barley trials. At the moment Bruichladdich uses 100% Scottish barley, with 42% of this grown on Islay.

The new maltings will enable this barley to be processed on the island rather than being sent to Inverness, cutting down on food, or rather booze, miles. It’s all part of the distillery’s drive to be more sustainable. The team is currently looking into using renewable energy sources such as tidal power, water turbine and biomass. It already uses electric vehicles and hot waste water to run the central heating.

“Running a business from an island makes us distinctly aware that our social, economic and environmental impact must be a positive one,” said CEO, Douglas Taylor.  

“We feel strongly about our responsibility to the island the people of Islay. In recent years, we have endeavoured to be more sustainable in our operations and more environmental in our actions. Some have been straightforward, like stopping using bottled water and introducing electric vehicles, or more complicated, like habitat protection, wildlife corridor agreements with landowners for barley growing and engineering a solution that reuses hot water-water from distillation.”

Douglas Taylor

Douglas Taylor!

Bruichladdich dates back to 1881 but has existed in its present form since 2001 when it was revived by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin and Jim McEwan. It was acquired by Rémy Cointreau in 2012. The distillery produces one million litres of pure alcohol per year, which goes into a range of spirits including The Botanist gin, and the Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore whisky brands.

Expansion plans also include new warehouses.  There are four in the pipeline, meaning that all its casks can continue to be matured on Islay. You might be surprised to learn that the distillery is the largest private sector employer on the island. It employs 80 people (and a further 20 on the mainland), more than Diageo, and second only to the council. Good work, team laddy!

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First taste of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection

We were given a very special personal tasting with master distiller Alan Winchester ahead of the release of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, the distillery’s new $25,000 expression….

We were given a very special personal tasting with master distiller Alan Winchester ahead of the release of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, the distillery’s new $25,000 expression.

The Glenlivet was still in family hands when the youngest component in this 50 year old whisky was distilled in 1967. It was run by the great Captain Bill Smith Grant, descendent of distillery founder George Smith. In those days the stills would have been direct-fired by coal, and yet, according to the current master blender, Alan Winchester, the spirit has the same character today.

Alan Winchester, Glenlivet

Alan Winchester with very old cask

We met in the Punch Room at the London Edition Hotel along with Bethan Gray, the noted furniture designer, who has created a spectacular box for this very special Glenlivet. It’s inspired by the distillery, the landscape and her father, who was raised in the Cairngorms. It features stained maple wood inlaid with copper representing the charred casks and the stills, and mother of pearl, a nod to the freshwater mussels in the Spey. The whisky is housed in a hand-blown bottle by Brodie Nairn. It’s a work of such extraordinary craftsmanship that I didn’t dare touch it.

I felt the same about the contents; I was reluctant to risk spilling a precious drop (only 150 bottles have been filled) until Winchester picked his glass first and began describing it to me: “The whisky started life in European oak but spent most of its life in Amerian oak casks, it was then taken out and put in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, that‘s why there’s still so much distillery character,” he said.

On the nose I could see what he meant. It was dominated by sweet peachy fruit followed by notes of apricot jam and toffee. On the palate there’s dark chocolate and orange peel. It’s very smooth despite the high alcohol. The finish has toffee, coconut, and “banoffee pie”, according to Winchester.

He went on to say, “at 48% ABV, it’s kept a lot of strength in maturation, and retained lots of Glenlivet flavours. It’s full of sweetness and has not been dominated by European oak”. Adding water brought out aromatic floral notes and spices like cardamom. Winchester put it more poetically: “it’s like heather after a shower of rain, everything is fragrant.” He reckoned the release is “in keeping with the fruity floral Glenlivet style. This is how it was produced a few generations ago and this is how we are producing it today, they were right and we’ve followed them. Good news!”

Glenlivet

Ah! the smell of heather after rain

Winchester is a native of Morayshire. His father had a farm that supplied barley for Glenfarclas and indeed, that is where Winchester got his start in whisky. He moved to Glenlivet in 1979 and became master distiller a short 40 years later in 2009. It’s an immense responsibility. “Glenlivet is the holder of the Speyside style,” Winchester said, “and it’s been handed over to me. You can change everything if you like but you must make sure the whisky doesn’t change.” When this whisky was distilled two generations back, the master distiller was Bob Arthur. It was a more formal time, “you called the manager Mister, it’s all Christian names now,” he said, with perhaps a tinge of regret.

After a period with Seagram, the distillery was bought by Pernod Ricard in 2000. Production at Glenlivet has been ramped up in recent years. “Glenlivet has been expanded three times in my career, the last two I was heavily involved in,” Winchester told me. “This has given us more capacity to meet the demands of anticipated growth”. But, he said, “though it’s a large distillery we speak about things in terms of craft.”

This Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967 (which will be released later in spring at $25,000 per bottle!) is part of the Winchester Collection of rare whiskies named, of course, after the master distiller himself, who is due to retire soon. I asked Winchester about retirement but he corrected me: “semi-retirement.” He was cagey about who was lined up to replace him (“there’s a few folk being groomed to take over, I hope they’re jostling for position”). He seems reluctant to leave (and who can blame him?), but soon the responsibility for this famous name will be in someone else’s hands.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: French 75

For Mother’s Day we have a special cocktail that combines mummy’s two favourite things: gin and Champagne. Yeah, it sounds a bit odd but we can assure you the French…

For Mother’s Day we have a special cocktail that combines mummy’s two favourite things: gin and Champagne. Yeah, it sounds a bit odd but we can assure you the French 75 tastes delicious.

It might seem heretical to our modern tastes to add sugar and lemon juice let alone gin to Champagne but the Victorians were less precious. Dickens (who was a keen cocktail and punch enthusiast) would entertain guests with a mixture of gin and Champagne; and Queen Victoria’s drink of choice was whisky combined half-and-half with red Bordeaux. Sounds revolting but when you’re the Empress of India, who’s going to tell you you’re doing it wrong?

While I wouldn’t recommend going the full Queen Vic, we can learn from Dickens’ attitude to alcohol. I had a wonderful experience at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel a few years ago courtesy of Joe Stockoe of drinks company Heads, Hearts and Tails. First he made a chilled fruit punch in a large silver bowl and then for the pièce de résistance, poured in a magnum of Veuve Clicquot to finish it off. The sparkling wine made the contents of the bowl fizz and froth like a magic potion. It tasted pretty magic too.

The result was not dissimilar to this week’s cocktail. The French 75, or as they call it in France the Soixante-quinze, is named after a French artillery gun, the 75 millimetre. It (the cocktail not the gun) was invented by Harry MacElhone at Harry’s Bar in Paris just after World War One. Perhaps hoping to make a point about diminished French military might, one of the German officers in the film Casablanca orders it at Rick’s Bar. The French, however, get their revenge later by beating the Germans in a singing contest.

So, which Champagne to use in your Soixante-quinze? It’s probably a waste to use anything too expensive like Krug or Dom Pérignon (unless you’re feeling particularly swanky) but at the same time you do need a sparkling wine with the body to stand up to all those additions. I find Veuve Clicquot ideal for this purpose. After some experimentation I think it works best with a good amount of lemon juice, and the orange bitters really lifts the whole thing and brings out orangey notes in the Champagne. For the gin, I’ve chosen Barentz, a lavender-heavy little number named after a Dutch explorer (but distilled in Britain). 

French

It should look at bit like this

I can’t think of a better cocktail to make your mother feel appreciated, though some flowers too wouldn’t go amiss. . . and would it hurt to call once in a while?

35ml Willem Barentsz Premium Gin
15ml fresh lemon juice
5ml sugar syrup
100ml Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label
Dash of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters

Shake the first three ingredients with ice and strain into a Champagne flute. Top up with chilled Champagne, stir, add a dash of bitters and garnish with a lemon twist. Some of the creative types at Master of Malt have created a snazzy little film (above) to show you exactly how it should be done.

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Explore 20 years of the London cocktail scene

Join us as we step inside the MoM time machine, back to the heady days of the late 1990s and the notorious Met Bar. We talk to Ben Reed about…

Join us as we step inside the MoM time machine, back to the heady days of the late 1990s and the notorious Met Bar. We talk to Ben Reed about the 20 defining moments of the London cocktail scene.

Don’t call Ben Reed a legend of the London bar world. He prefers the word ‘stalwart’. And at Gridiron (the site of the old Met Bar) on Park Lane last Wednesday night, the room was full of such stalwarts including Salvatore Calabrese, Ago Perrone, Erik Lorincz, Emily Weldon, Claire Smith-Warner, Peter Dorelli and Tristan Stephenson. They were all there sipping Pineapple Martinis and literally partying like it was 1999, only a little more sedately, and with more grey hairs.

Gridiron/ Met Bar

Gridiron, formerly the Met Bar, note brown spirits, and food. You didn’t get those in the ’90s

We were there to celebrate and discuss the ‘20 defining moments of the London cocktail scene’. It’s a look at the most important events in drinks culture over the last 20 or so years like the launch of CLASS magazine in 1997; the creation of the Match Bar group in 1998 with Dick Bradsell as head bartender; the opening of Milk & Honey in 2002, London’s first speakeasy-style bar; and the foundation of Sipsmith gin in 2009. It’s an initiative by Ben Reed, formerly head bartender at the Met who now runs a drinks consultancy firm, Cocktail Credentials. We caught up with Reed before the event where he explained the concept.

“We asked 30 of the top bartenders in London to submit three to five of their personal defining moments. And then we cross referenced that to see which ones were mentioned most often,” he explained. “There is an element of this being a work in progress, and us seeing where we go with this. This being a list that could be written again in another ten years because things are moving so fast in this industry.”

Reed began his career working in some rough pubs in Hackney before moving to the somewhat swankier PJ’s on Fulham Road. After that, there was a stint at Mezzo, Terence Conran’s gastrodome on Wardour Street, before he was, in his own words, “headhunted to head up the Met Bar”. “Whether by fortune or by destiny, it became the place where the glitterati of the London scene met,” he continued. “It was one of the seminal places where cocktails started to be taken a little bit more seriously.” The Met Bar was the epicentre of ‘90s and early ‘00s swinging London, frequented by Kate Moss, Liam Gallagher and Damon Albarn.

It was a very different world back then. “In those days you were really only a bartender if you weren’t much good at anything else, there was no gravitas in the industry,” Reed recalled. “And then, piece-by-piece, through a number of pioneers like Dick Bradsell who stuck at it rather than getting a proper job, we developed an industry.”

Reed’s signature drink was the Pineapple Martini, which was tasting good (if extremely sweet) at the event last week. “We created a style of drink called ‘the fresh fruit Martini’ which involved using fresh and sometimes exotic ingredients. So exotic fruit as ingredients rather than garnishes,” he told me.

Ben Reed the Met Bar

‘If your name’s not down you’re not coming in’. Ben Reed (centre) and the Met Bar team.

Vodka was king in those days. If you look at the invite above it’s from the front cover of an early edition of CLASS, with Reed and the Met team looking very cool in all black DKNY. Now look behind the bar; it’s pretty much all vodka with only a couple of gins, and whisky nowhere to be seen. It’s not just the spirits that have changed; the role of the bartender is much more complicated, according to Reed. “Now we’re looking towards chefs, learning from them and understanding some of the tricks of their trade whether that be using sous vide machines or otherwise.”

Being a bartender is now a proper career. “20 years ago most bartenders were still trying to find a way of getting out from behind the bar to open consultancies, or work for brands,” Reed said. “Whereas now the trend is much more to stay in the industry, to stay ‘behind the stick’ by opening their own places. That is testament to how the industry has evolved.”

That’s not the only way it has changed. 2013’s ‘defining moment’ was the opening of the environmentally-friendly White Lyan bar in Hoxton Square. 2017’s was a focus on bartender wellbeing. The industry now has to look at “the bigger picture: diversity within the industry, gender and racial equality, wellbeing and sustainability,”Reed told me.

But not all recent developments have been quite so positive, he added. Another ‘defining moment’ was the 2010 appearance of Instagram, which Reed isn’t convinced has been entirely beneficial to the experience.

“It’s now less about the interaction with the bartender, and more about how instagrammable the drink is,” he reckoned. “So there’s an element, perhaps, in a rise in the quality of cocktails, and a dip in the standard of service. By service, I don’t mean how fast your drink comes, but how you are treated by your bartender. Some of the older guys such as Pete Dorelli, Salvatore Calabrese and Nick Strangeway were great raconteurs, people who could really give you the warm and fuzzies. I would rather go to a bar, get a good drink and my interaction with the bartender be the memorable part of things, than go to the bar and get an awesome drink but not really remember who has served it to me.”

Reed himself hasn’t worked ‘behind the stick’ for a long time. He started one of the first cocktail consultancies in Europe in 2001. Five years ago he set up Cocktail Credentials. “I think the difference between my consultancy and other consultancies is that I’m the only guy in my consultancy that’s ever stepped behind a bar. My other partners have marketing expertise and agency expertise. We can see the industry from outside of the bubble.” Reed and his team have come up with innovative ways to present brands, such as a taste experience with Absolut Vodka in its brand home in Åhus, Sweden. “We tried to find a new way for consumers to understand flavour differentials in vodka by creating a 360-degree taste experience.”

Pineapple Martini

Pineapple Martini, one sip and you can hear M People

The night wasn’t just about nostalgia. Alongside the ‘90s classic cocktails, we tried updated versions by Max and Noel Venning that were more attuned to less sweet modern palates. Looking to the future, Reed is very excited about some of the new talent in the business. He mentioned Joe Scofield, formerly of The Tippling Club in Singapore, and Jack McGarry, co-owner of The Dead Rabbit in New York, as young bartenders he admires. According to Reed, thanks to the internet, the cocktail business is international. “You’ll find guys who don’t really work in one bar anymore, they just traverse the world, doing guest shifts in different bars, learning and understanding from bartenders, bars and countries around the world.”

It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years has in store for London’s bar scene. But it’s fun to look back, too. What are your defining cocktail moments from the nineties, noughties and now? Let us know on social or in the comments below.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Manhattan

Today’s we’re looking at a cocktail named after the most famous island in the world. It could only be…  the Isle of Man! Oh no, hang on, it’s the Manhattan….

Today’s we’re looking at a cocktail named after the most famous island in the world. It could only be…  the Isle of Man! Oh no, hang on, it’s the Manhattan.

Whenever I’m making a Manhattan, which is often, I find myself involuntarily singing ‘Shattered’ by the Rolling Stones. It’s the closing track on their 1978 album Some Girls. On this record, perhaps their sleaziest and an ode to the highs and lows of New York City, the Stones not only embrace disco with the song ‘Miss You’ but on ‘Shattered’ Mick sort of raps and, surprisingly, it’s totally brilliant. It’s the lines, “my brain’s been battered/ splattered all over Manhattan”, I sing to myself as I cheerfully mix my drink.

From the ultimate song about New York (don’t @ me), to the ultimate Gotham cocktail. As the Martini is to gin, so the Manhattan is to whiskey, spirit flavoured with vermouth. But as Americans were drinking whiskey before gin, you could argue that the Martini is simply a gin Manhattan.

Manhattan

Go ahead, bite the big apple

The Manhattan has it origins in the mid-19th century when vermouth became all the rage. In fact, it was drinks like the Manhattan that made the original cocktail, the Old Fashioned, seem, well a bit, old fashioned (see article on the origins of the Old Fashioned.) So you could call a Manhattan a New Fashioned, though probably don’t try this next time you’re in New York or people will think you’re a bit of a dick.

The original Manhattan would have been made with rye whiskey rather than bourbon. Once rye was hard to get hold of, especially in Britain, but in recent years it has undergone something of a renaissance and we are now spoiled for choice. I’m using Michter’s because it’s absolutely delicious, totally over delivering on spice and depth of flavour for the money. If you’re using bourbon, find one with a high rye content like Four Roses Small Batch.

Like the Martini, the Manhattan has gradually become drier since its invention. Early recipes call for equal parts vermouth to whiskey as well as a sugar syrup. You can make your Manhattan ‘perfect’ by using half French and half Italian vermouth. Or ‘dry’ by using just French. To make a smoky Manhattan try rinsing the glass with a drop or two of Islay whisky before adding the bourbon and vermouth (if you go all the way and substitute the American whiskey for Scotch, then your Manhattan becomes a Rob Roy).

Manhattan cocktail

You can put an enormous ice cube your Manhattan if you’re in the mood

The next big question is whether to shake or stir. I am firmly in the stirring camp but, unlike in a Martini, I think a little dilution isn’t such a bad thing here so you don’t need to use cold whiskey or vermouth. Oh, and a Maraschino cherry is a nice touch if you have them.

Right, got your ingredients ready? Some Girls cued up? Then take it away Mick, “go ahead, bite the big apple, don’t mind the maggots.”

50ml Michter’s US*1 Rye
25ml Cinzano Rosso 1757
Dash of Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with lots of ice in a shaker and strain into a cold Martini glass (you can use a coupe or a Nick & Nora instead). Express a piece of orange zest over and drop into the glass. Add a cherry if you’re feeling hungry.

 

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