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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Cocktail of the Week: The Americano

This week’s cocktail unites two of Italy’s great aperitifs, Campari and Martini Rosso, in one glass. It’s the Americano! The Americano used to be called the Milano-Torino because it contained…

This week’s cocktail unites two of Italy’s great aperitifs, Campari and Martini Rosso, in one glass. It’s the Americano!

The Americano used to be called the Milano-Torino because it contained Campari from Milan and Martini Rosso vermouth from Turin. It was originally served at the Milan bar belonging to the creator of Campari, Gaspare Campari. The name changed when American tourists arrived in Italy in the 1920s. They were escaping Prohibition and with the strong dollar, continental Europe was their playground. It’s the decadent generation immortalised in the novels of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And what did these louche Americans drink when they were in Italy splashing their cash around and upsetting the locals with their loose morals, hot jazz and enormous baggy trousers? Why, Campari and Martini, of course, with a splash of soda. Due to its ubiquity amongst expat Americans, the drink became known as an Americano. A similar thing happened with coffee. Espresso was a little too strong for the tourists so they asked for it diluted with hot water, the Americano coffee was born.

Americans were still causing trouble in the 1950s. There’s a song about their influence on Italian youth by Neapolitan musician Renato Carosone called Tu ‘Vuò Fà L’Americano’. You might recall it from the 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr Ripley (the film has its moments but the book is brilliant. If you haven’t read it, you’re in for a treat). Carosone’s song is about an Italian boy trying to ape American fashions: smoking Camel cigarettes, dancing to rock n’ roll and playing baseball (though he drinks Whisky and Sodas, not Americanos). Despite his modish veneer, this wannabe Italian is still living off his parents. 

But it’s not just Americans and Italians who fell for the charms of the Americano. It crops up in Ian Fleming’s short story ‘From a View to a Kill’ where Bond recommends drinking it in hot weather where one of his more usual drinks like a vodka Martini would be too strong. It’s a great drink for when you really want a Negroni but plan to get some work done/ bump off a Smersh agent in the afternoon.

It’s one of those cocktails that requires very little thought. You could experiment with other amari but I’m keeping it traditional with Campari. Then for the vermouth, well, it really has to be Martini. I’m using Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino which is made with red wines from Piedmont, the flavour is more floral and complex than the classic Martini Rosso. 

Right, that’s enough preamble, it’s time to put on some appropriate music and let’s make an Americano!

35ml Campari
35ml Martini Rubino Riserva Speciale Rosso vermouth
Soda water

Fill a highball or tumbler with ice, add the Campari and Martini and give it a good stir. Top up with soda, stir gently and garnish with an orange slice.

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Christopher Hayman, a life in gin

After 50 years in distilling, Christopher Hayman of Hayman’s Gin has just been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gin Guild. We caught up with him last week…

After 50 years in distilling, Christopher Hayman of Hayman’s Gin has just been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gin Guild. We caught up with him last week to talk past, present and future of gin.

The Hayman family are gin royalty. Christopher Hayman is a fourth generation distiller, great grandson of James Burrough (the founder of Beefeater Gin.) Hayman himself has been distilling since 1969 but it was only in 2004 that the name ‘Hayman’s’ appeared on a bottle of gin. Since then, the family business, both Hayman’s children, James and Miranda are involved, has gone from strength to strength. The firm moved to a new distillery in Balham in south London in 2018 and are rarely out of the gin news with its ‘call time on fake gin’ campaign and innovative products like Small Gin. To celebrate Hayman senior’s 50 years in the business, a 50% ABV Rare Cut London Dry Gin will be released shortly. Then on Friday, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gin Guild. We caught up with him last week, before he knew about the honour, to discuss 50 years in gin. 

Christopher Hayman next to Marjorie, the still named after his late mother

Master of Malt: In what ways has gin changed since you began distilling in 1969?

Christopher Hayman: I think one of the major changes is that back in the seventies gin was very much a lifestyle drink. Whereas today, which I’m delighted about, people actually want to understand the provenance and the authenticity of the gin you’re making, they want to know where the spirit is from, what grains are used in the spirit, where the botanicals come from, and how you make it. When I first joined the trade there were only a handful of brands where today, thanks to the recent gin craze, we’ve had hundreds of brands! But I think the main thing is the actual interest in gin and the renaissance in gin and people’s deep interest in how gin is made. 

MoM: When did you start to notice a change, that people are suddenly a lot more interested than they were?

CH: I think probably in the last ten to 12 years. It’s different in different markets but in the UK it’s around that time when people started to show an interest. And I think also with bartenders, vodka had been very strong back in the 1990s and I think gin was sleepy but still there, a little bit forgotten. And people suddenly, particularly bartenders, suddenly thought ‘actually, gin is quite an interesting flavour and quality’ and started to use it. So for them, for some bartenders, it’s been a new ingredient you might say! 

MoM: And do you think the boom in gin is slowing down or coming to an end? I mean it’s been predicted for a while…

CH: That’s something I’ve been asked so many times! I’ve just been to the Bar Convent Berlin and lots of people were asking that… My own feeling is that we’ve had incredibly strong growth in the last few years, at some stage or another it’s going to calm down and the rate of growth will slow down. I mean it’s very much a vibrant and thriving category at the moment but I’m sure it will calm down. 

MoM: Why did you launch the ‘call time on fake gin’ campaign?

CH: As a family we’re very committed to classic gin. And I think at that time, it’s a while ago now, we were very concerned that it was losing a little bit of its identity. And as a family we take a long term view and we’re absolutely passionate that the gin category retains its sort of status, not only today but in 15, 20 years time. We were just very concerned that gin retains its respect as a category and people understand what gin is and don’t get confused by some modern gin products.

We are family: Christopher Hayman with his children, James and Miranda

MoM: Do you think the category might need more regulation or more stricter definitions?

CH: That’s a lovely question! Sadly, my own opinion is that it’s a pity that gin wasn’t properly regulated back after the Second World War. Whisky, Scotch whisky did so. I mean there are regulations in operation in the UK and the EU and different ones around the world. I would love to see stronger regulation as such. I mean it is tightening up, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not as strong as I would like it to be. 

MoM: Is it important to you to be making a London dry gin in London?

CH: Very much so. That’s where my great grandfather started and he was very much a pioneer of London dry gin and he developed a two-day process for making our London Dry Gin, which we still use today. And so to us London is the natural home of gin and that’s why we want our gin to be distilled in London. And I often say if my great grandfather walked into our distillery today he would be so pleased to see we were still using his two-day process and maybe if we gave him a sample of our gin he would say ‘hm, that’s my gin!’ 

MoM: Can you tell me just a little bit more about this two-day process? 

CH: We only use English wheat neutral spirit, so we put that into our copper stills. We only use ten botanicals as a family and we put in our recipe, and allow it to steep overnight which allows the alcohol to start extracting some of the flavours from the various botanicals. And then after a day we do a normal distillation. We have tried doing it on the one day just for an experiment but it doesn’t produce the quality or the fuller flavour that we’re looking for in our London Dry. 

MoM: And tell me about this new gin you’re doing, the Rare Cut (coming soon to MoM, check New Arrivals page)?

CH: Rare Cut was thought up by Miranda and James. They said ‘what can we do to celebrate dad’s 50 years in the gin trade?’ And then had a good think about it and so they came up with the idea. It was a little bit of a secret, they decided to produce a London dry, cutting it at 50% rather than at other strength, and don’t ask me how they came up with the name of ‘Rare Cut’ I’m not sure I’m meant to be rare but 50 years is a rarity these days! I was in Canada with James a couple of weeks ago, it was one of the first times I’d tasted Rare Cut and I had it with a Rare Cut Martini, it was so good I had to have a second! 

Hayman's Small Gin and Tonic

Small gin, big flavour

MoM: Who came up with the idea for Small Gin? I thought that was very clever.

CH: It came up through the team, quite honestly. I don’t think it was only one person. We’ve obviously been very aware of what’s going in the lower, no alcohol sector of the market and a number of people have tried to produce a no alcohol ‘spirits’. And this germ of an idea came and we developed it. So it’s had a very interesting response in the trade. Very positive. Two of three people have said to me it’s one of the most exciting innovations in the gin trade for many years it means that you can get the taste of a full gin and tonic with 80% less alcohol and only 15 calories in the gin serve. So it’s got a huge amount of interest and once people understand how it works and we’ve done many comparison tastings and very few people can tell the difference between a regular strength gin and tonic and a Hayman’s Small Gin and tonic. 

MoM: Then finally I just wanted to ask about the new distillery in Balham. Has it become something of a tourist attraction?

CH: I think the answer is yes. We’re getting about 250 visitors a week. We do tours just about every day of the week and it’s great when you see on Trip Advisor that for London we’re number 20 and up with the Big Bens and the Buckingham Palaces of this world. Not only do we have them but we have a lot of trade visitors as well, as you can imagine. So the distillery, besides distilling all our gins, is pretty busy with business of one sort of another. And to celebrate my 50 years in the trade we had a special dinner in the distillery last Thursday evening, I had about 20 people, family, people I’ve known during the 50 years in my trade and had some lovely thank you letters and so on, so there wasn’t a better place to celebrate your 50 years in the gin trade. 

Thank you Christopher, and congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Irish Coffee

Now that the nights are drawing in, and summer is a distant memory, it’s time to get out those woolen socks, fire up your wood-burning stove and make some Irish…

Now that the nights are drawing in, and summer is a distant memory, it’s time to get out those woolen socks, fire up your wood-burning stove and make some Irish Coffee. John Quinn from Tullamore DEW is on hand to explain everything.

It would be hard to think of a more incongruous setting for a talk on Irish Coffee. We were by a swimming pool in a villa in the hills above the Catalan resort of Sitges. It was May and the temperature was already in the high 20s (degrees centigrade). Oh, and almost everyone had had very little sleep. This didn’t deter John Quinn, brand ambassador for Tullamore DEW, who gave us an amusing history of the drink, and then, naturally, served up the hot, boozy, creamy concoction.

We were there for the annual conference of the European Bartenders School (EBS). Quinn is something of a legend in Irish whiskey. Indeed he was greeted by the team from EBS with great reverence. He’s been with Tullamore DEW since 1974 and in December was voted vice chair of the Irish Whiskey Association. 

John Quinn

John Quinn, on brand since 1974

Before showing us how to make the perfect Irish Coffee, Quinn admitted that he had a bit of an ambivalent relationship with the drink because until recently many bars only kept Irish whiskey for this purpose. But at the same time, he noted how important Irish Coffee was in the survival of Irish whiskey during the dark times. Its popularity meant that (nearly) every bar and restaurant in the world had to have a bottle of Jameson or Tullamore for when the inevitable call for a postprandial boozy coffee came in.

Interestingly, according to Quinn, the drinks creator, Joe Sheridan, also got a bit sick of his creation. Quinn’s version of the story goes a bit like this: some time in the 1950s a planeload of Americans had to land at Foynes Airport in the west of Ireland (in some versions it’s Shannon). It was freezing cold so the bartender there, Sheridan, made some coffee with whiskey and cream to warm up the stranded passengers. A classic was born. Then an unlikely-monikered American journalist called Stanton Delaplane tried Sheridan’s invention, and brought it back to the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco where it became the house speciality. Sheridan later emigrated to America and worked at the Buena Vista but quickly became bored with having to make his creation all day every day; he left after three months and was never heard from again. Nevertheless, the Irish coffee proved a lifeline to the Irish whiskey industry which was struggling at the time.

As you’d expect from such a ubiquitous drink, it’s often made very badly with stale or even instant coffee, and aerosol cream. To make it properly, always use freshly-brewed coffee, from a cafetiere or filter, and proper whipped cream. And then which whiskey to use? Well, Quinn used Tullamore DEW obviously but any smooth, sweet Irish whiskey will do – like Jameson, Powers or Black Bush. Under the burning Catalan, it tasted damn good.

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee, tastes even better served with denim napkins

Here’s our recipe:

50ml Tullamore DEW Irish whiskey
150ml freshly-brewed hot coffee
Two tablespoons of lightly-whipped double cream
1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)

First whip your cream, not too thick because you want to pour it so that it settles on top of the coffee. In a large toddy glass add the whisky, the coffee (and sugar if you’re using it) and stir. Warm the cream very gently and then pour it over the bowl of the spoon into the coffee. You can garnish with some chocolate flakes or a grating of nutmeg. Serve immediately. 

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New Arrival of  the Week: The English – Triple Distilled

This week we’re talking a closer look at the latest release from the pioneers of English whisky, St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, which, as you might guess from the name,…

This week we’re talking a closer look at the latest release from the pioneers of English whisky, St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, which, as you might guess from the name, is triple-distilled.

It now seems difficult to believe but when the St. George’s Distillery, home of the English Whisky Company, opened its door in 2006 (its first release was in 2009), a whisky from England of all places was a novelty. Its founder, farmer James Nelstrop now looks like something of a visionary as English whisky has become a respected and rapidly-expanding category. Nelstrop senior died in 2014 but the business is still in family hands. I spoke with James’s son Andrew Nelstrop about the latest limited edition release.

It’s a bit unusual, a triple-distilled single malt. “When you open a distillery you write a list of whiskies you like, and those you don’t like, and then off you go”, Nelstrop told me. And on the like list was a traditional Irish triple-distilled malt, like Bushmills. So for the past 12 years the distillery has been doing runs of triple-distilled spirit. “We liked the results, put it in cask and wait a few years. It’s a delicate and light whisky, unusual for us, for people who like their Irish whiskey”, Nelstrop said. With such a delicate spirit, they had to be careful with the oak treatment: “it’s a mixture of first and second-fill bourbon casks, a good fit for triple-distilled, though lots of people said, ‘put it in sherry!’” The casks were filled in 2011 and the whisky bottled at 46% ABV earlier this year.

The full English!

This is the first time the family have released a triple-distilled whisky. It’s part of the distillery’s small batch range only, 1462 bottles have been filled. For these special whiskies, according Nelstrop, they “pick three or four casks. We try to pick them from all the same year though if we have to mix a year or two up we will. The joy of small batch is it’s different every time.”  The next small batch in the pipeline sounds very interesting, a peated malt aged in virgin oak casks called Virgin Smokey. The distillery also offer two or three single cask bottlings but these often sell out without a public launch such is the demand.

Overall St. George’s distills around 60,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. “We could if were were feeling terribly enthusiastic put out 250,000 litres,” Nelstrop said. “When you start you go flat out. Now at 14 years old, we’re matching sales to production otherwise you’re building a warehouse every year.”

He seems delighted at how English whisky has a category has taken off in the last ten years: “I don’t know if we expected it, father loved whiskey and always wanted to open a distillery. It was only when Adnams joined the fray five years later and then you hear that someone else has a go, and realise that there is going to be a category. Creating the category is terribly important. We are beginning to justify our own space in a shop or on a website. The rest of the world has become more aware of non-traditional whisky nations. You can ask for a Swedish, English, or Australian whisky in a bar. That’s been a massive sea change in ten years.”

As well as small batches and single casks, the distillery has a core range of single malts, pot-distilled single grains and a spicy Norfolk Malt ‘n’ Rye (with a cat on the label – why don’t more distilleries put cats on the label?). The Nelstrop are farmers but at the moment all the cereals in their commercial whiskies are bought-in, mainly from Crisp Malting. But, Winthrop told me, “we have barley from our own farm, all done on in-house floor malting. It’s expensive and hard work. We have our own whisky maturing, we’ve never sold any yet. When we release an age statement whisky then it’ll be estate whisky, as I call it.” That sounds worth waiting for.  

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Orange marmalade, chocolate sponge cake with vanilla custard, notes of anise and condensed milk.

Palate: Another helping of vanilla custard, with butterscotch, lemon drizzle cake, bitter dark chocolate and honeyed pastry.

Finish: Buttery toffee and liquorice on the finish.

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Vintage Cognac masterclass with Eric Forget from Hine

Where you age spirits can make a huge difference to the finished product. To learn more, we spent a morning with Eric Forget from Hine, trying vintage Cognacs, some matured…

Where you age spirits can make a huge difference to the finished product. To learn more, we spent a morning with Eric Forget from Hine, trying vintage Cognacs, some matured in the warmth of France, others in cold grey England. Yeah, it’s a tough life.

The results are in from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC): while global Cognac sales are doing very nicely thank you, the shocking news is that Europeans and, more particularly, the British just aren’t drinking enough of the stuff. What are you playing at? It wasn’t always this way, Cognac as we know it was largely created for the British market, often by British and Irish merchants. Perhaps the most British of all the Cognac houses is Hine, which was founded in the 18th century by a Dorset lad called Thomas Hine.

Until recently, a descendant, Bernard Hine, was still involved with the company (now part of French drinks group EDV SAS) but he has stepped down due to ill health.  Hine still specialises in a peculiarly British style of Cognac called early-landed. This dates back to when brandy was shipped in cask to Bristol and connoisseurs noticed how it aged differently to the French-matured product. Hine now matures these special Cognacs at Glenfarclas in Scotland (in its most humid warehouse) which then have to be shipped back to France for bottling (damned bureaucracy). Earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to meet with Eric Forget, cellarmaster at the company since 1999, for a comparative tasting of Bristol-aged versus Jarnac-aged Cognacs, as well as the core range.

Eric Forget

Eric Forget deciding whether it’s good enough to be a vintage Cognac

Hine is famous for its pale, elegant style. Forget explained the philosophy: “everything is finesse, delicacy and fruitiness, no harshness or bitterness.” There’s a lot less wood influence, to achieve this, he doesn’t use Limousin oak which he thinks has aggressive tannins, “we use Normandy, Limoges or Paris oak, northern oak trees have a finer grain and less tannin.” 

Forget doesn’t want the wood to mask the fruit: “We want to keep terroir, floral flavours, and maintain balance for all products.” The fruit comes only from the Champagne region. Hine owns 120 hectares in Grande Champagne, “we are vine growers. We also purchase from other growers and distillers, the same people every year,” Forget told us. The company never buys in aged Cognac. Hine distills on the lees: “lees means you can age for a long time, they give it body,” he explained. 

99% of grapes in Hine Cognacs are Ugni Blanc. Forget is sceptical about other grape varieties: “the rest forget it, very susceptible to rot”. But he’s not averse to experimentation. New crosses with some American genes are being developed which have some of the character of Folle Blanche (one of the old pre-phylloxera Cognac grapes) but with more resistance.  According to Forget: “we might see something in seven to eight years. Cognac changes in time, if well-managed, why not? We are not conservative. There are lots of young people in industry. I am the only old person at Hine.” 

Hine HQ in Jarnac

Perhaps to butter us up a little, he praised the British taste in Cognac, where delicacy is prized. He was less complimentary about the American and Chinese markets: “They believe dark Cognac is better, big mistake!” Hine produces a brandy called Homage to Thomas Hine ; named after the company’s founder, it’s a tribute to the lighter style that was popular in 18th and 19th century Britain. “VSOPs are meant to be pale, 200 years ago Cognac was paler,” Forget told us. Homage is a blend of early-landed Cognac, “to give it finesse” and other lighter brandies. 

Homage is a blend, but Hine’s speciality is its vintage products. “Vintages are easy, just select the best and there’s nothing to do”, Forget joked. The differences between the Jarnac-aged brandies and the Bristol-aged products is marked; in 1984 Forget was pleased with the early-landed but “the Jarnac-aged one was not so good, so I blended it.” He gave us the 1983s to taste, the French one was peachy and floral whereas the English one was angular with flavours of gooseberries and English hedgerow flowers.

In 2015 Hine launched a completely new product called Bonneuil, which not only came from a single vintage, but a single vineyard in Grand Champagne. Such a thing was almost unheard of in Cognac. The idea was to sell it with less age so that it expresses the terroir more than the effects of ageing. The first vintage was the 2005, we tried the deliciously fruity 2008. In it’s delicacy and fragrance, Bonneuil might be the quintessential Hine product. 

Hine Homage, note not too dark colour

The company doesn’t produce vintages every year, only in special years, “like d’Yquem” said Forget, referring to the legendary Sauternes château. He decides after five years whether the brandy is good enough for vintage, “otherwise we blend it,” he said. As part of the commitment to delicacy, vintages are only kept in wood for around 20 years before being transferred to glass demi-johns. And Hine use zero boise in any products and no caramel in the vintage or Homage.

Forget talked us through the range with a twinkle in his eye and an honesty rare in the often over-hyped world of booze. He’s not averse to criticising Hine’s own products: he wasn’t so keen on the opulent 1975 we tried, the vintage was too high in sugar apparently and the style is not typically Hine (I rather liked it). The early-landed 1975 in contrast is lean and citric. He’s also candid about the trend for vintage Scotch whisky: “vintages for Scotch are just marketing. It’s nonsense.”

Hine’s number one market is now China but, according to Forget, “China is very difficult because they keep changing the rules.” This is followed by America, Russia and then the UK. Mainland Europe isn’t doing so well. Compared with whisky, demand for rare Cognacs isn’t so strong. This comparative lack of interest, however, means that beyond a few bling-tastic bottlings, Cognac is seriously undervalued. So it might be time to have a look, or don’t because it means there’s more for us.

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Single malt Scotch hit with US tariffs

Well, the feared retaliation has happened: yesterday the US Government announced that from 18 October, certain EU products will be hit with a 25% tariff, including Scotch whisky.  On Tuesday,…

Well, the feared retaliation has happened: yesterday the US Government announced that from 18 October, certain EU products will be hit with a 25% tariff, including Scotch whisky. 

On Tuesday, our columnist, Ian Buxton, wrote: “reports suggest his [Trump’s] administration is preparing to slap tariffs of up to 100% on $1.8 billion-worth of European spirits and wine, with potentially dire consequences for Scotch whisky and British gin”. Sadly, Buxton’s prediction has come to pass with yesterday’s announcement that a 25% import duty will be levied on products, including single malt Scotch whisky. At least it isn’t the 100% he suggested.

Whisky, and indeed whiskey, has proved “collateral damage”, in the words of Chris Swonger from US distilling industry trade body DISCUS, in the dispute over EU subsidies for Airbus. You can read Buxton’s full story here. Following a WTO ruling this week, the US will be imposing tariffs worth $7.5bn (£6.1bn) on certain goods from the EU.

Exceptional Cask (3)

Americans! This is about to get 25% more expensive

The legislation document refers to “single-malt (or straight) Irish and Scotch whiskies”, which means that blended whiskies may be excluded from the tariff (though as the US and Scotch/Irish categories are not defined in the same way, we can’t be certain). If it does, perhaps we’re going to see a lot more premium blends aimed at the US market. Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, commented: “This is a serious situation for the industry”. Previously there were zero tariffs on whisky from the EU.

It’s not just whisky that has been hit. Along with lots of other goods including  “sweaters, pullovers, sweatshirts, waistcoats (vests) and similar articles, knitted or crocheted, of Kashmir goats, wholly of cashmere” from the UK, other luxury drinks products will be affected. But again, the legislation seems a bit confused. It reads: “Products of France, Germany, Spain or the United Kingdom described below are subject to additional import duties of 25 percent ad valorem”. It then goes on to list products including “wine other than Tokay (not carbonated), not over 14% alcohol”. Tokay is from Hungary so wouldn’t be included anyway. Also does ‘not carbonated’ mean that sparkling wine is exempt? One could argue that the traditional Champagne process is a form of carbonation. It’s interesting that other wine-producing EU countries such as Italy and Portugal seem to be in the clear. You can have a read of the full document here; see if you can make head or tail of it. 

What also isn’t clear is whether these tariffs will still apply to Scotch when (or if) the United Kingdom leaves the EU on the 31st October. We’ll keep you updated, and American readers, your favourite single malts and Scottish cashmere are about to get a lot more expensive.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hemp Highball

Today, we’re talking to booze hero William Borrell, the man behind the Ladies & Gentlemen bars in London, Vestal Polish vodka and now a CBD-infused rum, Dead Man’s Fingers, the…

Today, we’re talking to booze hero William Borrell, the man behind the Ladies & Gentlemen bars in London, Vestal Polish vodka and now a CBD-infused rum, Dead Man’s Fingers, the base of this week’s cocktail.

You may have read a few things recently (here, here and here, for example) about the rise of CBD-infused spirits. CBD is an active ingredient in cannabis, not the one that gets you all confused and hungry (that’s THC, apparently), but may have some generally groovy effects. Or it might not. By law producers aren’t allowed to make any claims for general grooviness. We tried CBD rum Dead Man’s Fingers at Imbibe this year (very nice it was too though we can’t report any unusual effects), now we’re delighted to speak to the man behind it, William Borrell.

“The idea was first conceived at the Ladies and Gentlemen bar distillery and working kitchen in Camden. This is where we try new ideas during the day before the hoards of punters descend,” he told us. The process involved, according to Borrell “a lot of trial and error”. Things moved very quickly: “we had begun experimenting with the flavours you get from a basic hemp in May and then quickly moved to a range of specialist CBD hemp strains,” he said. We tried the finished version in July. It wasn’t all plain sailing though: Borrell was worried that “we would never be able to replicate the exciting flavours we stumbled on to at the beginning of the journey when it was just our team in the Ladies & Gentlemen bar but I think we got there in the end.”

William Borrell

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr William Borrell!

Borrell has been working in the booze business for nearly ten years now. His first venture was with a series of “terroir-focused” potato Polish vodkas, Vestal. A bar followed, Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town, and then earlier this year he opened a new venue down the road in Camden Town. Both are housed in converted Victorian toilets, hence the name. Don’t worry, Borrell and the team gave them a good clean first. This summer, a new non-lavatorial venture set sail, a Ladies & Gentlemen rum boat for cruisin’ n’ boozin’ on the Regent’s Canal.

Back to this week’s cocktail: the Hemp Highball, according to Borrell was inspired by “Joerg Meyer who at his highly acclaimed bars in Germany is reclaiming the Highball as the go-to drink at the moment.” And finally, the big question is which sort of music should you listen to while sipping your CBD drink. Borrell recommends: Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall (on vinyl, natch). He went on to tell us that at his bar, “we have a BYOV night every Sunday where customers receive a taste of Dead Man’s Fingers for free if they bring their own vinyl, why not pop down.” Why not, indeed. Or you can make a Hemp Highball at home. Here’s how:

40ml Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum
20ml Giffard Triple Sec 
20ml Lime Juice
5ml sugar syrup
100ml Sekforde Rum Mixer (or tonic water if you can’t get hold of it) 

Add first four ingredients to an ice-filled Highball glass. Give them a good stir, top up with Sekforde Rum Mixer, stir again gently and garnish with a lemon wedge, a mint sprig and a basil leaf. Now take it away Bill Withers!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Mango Mule 

This week’s cocktail is a cold, fruity little number that highlights a very special Polish vodka made with old oak-aged fruit brandy.  Cast your mind back to the steamy days…

This week’s cocktail is a cold, fruity little number that highlights a very special Polish vodka made with old oak-aged fruit brandy. 

Cast your mind back to the steamy days of late July. Temperatures in London were in the mid-30s but it was the humidity that was taking its toll on our spirits. It felt like monsoon season in the tropics. Fortunately, we found the answer, ice-cold cocktails courtesy of new vodka brand Kavka. While the air got thicker and the sky darker, we just sipped and chatted on the terrace at Ognisko restaurant in South Kensington.

The Polish Hearth Club (Ognisko Polskie), a grand stucco townhouse in Exhibition Row, has served as a home from home for London’s Polish community since 1939. During the Second World War, it housed the Polish government in exile. Jan Woroniecki, who has run the venue’s bar and restaurant since 2012, remembers the club’s heyday in the 1960s when the wartime generation were still in their prime. Woroniecki himself is an Anglo-Pole, his father was in the Polish army during the War and took part in the D Day landing. Following the Soviet occupation of his country, he decided to remain in London and married an Englishwoman.

According to Woroniecki, the club began to decline as that generation aged and their children weren’t so interested in looking after the place. The building, which must be worth a fortune, was nearly sold to property developers in 2012. When Woroniecki took over the bar and restaurant, he modernised the menu and decor (though there are still plenty of paintings of fierce-looking Polish heroes), and now, he told me, “the restaurant is generating lots of income, it’s financially very stable.” The place was certainly heaving when we were there. 

Woroniecki originally worked as a photographer but moved into the restaurant business because, in his words, “it was just too much fun.”He’s the man behind Wodka (now closed) on Kensington High Street and Baltic (still thriving) in Borough. His latest venture is Kavka, a vodka brand which has just landed at Master of Malt. It came about following an investigation into how vodka was made in 19th century Poland. “Every distillery made a different spirit as a point of difference”, he told me, “I came across a method where you take rye and wheat spirit, and blend in small quantities of fruit spirits.” Jan Woroniecki discovered some 50 plus-year-old apple and plum pot still brandies in wooden barrels and adds a tiny amount, less than 1%, to column-distilled rye and wheat spirits. This then undergoes a very light filtration: “We can’t legally call ourselves a Polish vodka as we don’t know where fruit spirits came from,” he added. 

Kavka Mango Mule

Kavka Mango Mule, liquid air conditioning

The taste is smooth, spicy and sweet, with a subtle fruitiness. Kavka makes about the best vodka Martini I’ve ever tried but the cocktail that really refreshed on that hot night in July was the Mango Mule. Mule cocktails are usually based on the Moscow Mule and the common ingredient are vodka, ginger beer and, usually, lime juice. They are then usually served in a copper mug. This one is nothing like that but it is delicious and in the end, that’s all that matters. We’re not going to quibble about a man’s mule. The subtle fruitiness of the vodka going beautifully with the mango sorbet and lemon juice with a little bit of Campari providing bitterness. The tropical weather might be a distant memory, but one sip of the Mango Mule and you’ll be transported to sweltering South Ken. 

Right, let’s Mule!

50ml Kavka vodka
15ml Campari
5ml lemon juice
1 scoop of mango sorbet

Shake the ingredients hard in a shaker and then strain into an ice-filled Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with a piece of orange peel. 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Rum Punch

This week in honour of International Punch Day on the 20th September, we delve into the history of a drink that truly spans the world.  Before the cocktail was even…

This week in honour of International Punch Day on the 20th September, we delve into the history of a drink that truly spans the world. 

Before the cocktail was even a gleam in the eye of its inventor, Dr. Jeff Cocktail*, there was punch. Punch was the drink of the 18th century. It was usually made with rum as its base, but Cognac, sherry,  whisky or even Champagne would do. Punches could be served hot, cold or somewhere in the middle. In Britain, no home was complete without a punch bowl with matching cups. 

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defines punch as “a liquor made by mixing spirit with water, sugar and the juice of lemons and formerly with spice”, which is as good a description as any. As an aside, James Boswell, writing in his Life of Johnson describes how his subject’s Lichfield accent (think Brummie) was mocked at the time: “Garrick [the actor] sometimes used to take him off, squeezing a lemon into a punch bowl … looking round the company, and calling out, ‘Who’s for Poonsh?’” So cruel.

Punch was a global drink but it’s thought to have its origins in India where the ingredients were using to disguise the taste of rough arrak (a crude kind of rum made from date palms or sugar cane). In 1707 there were said to be over 700 punch houses in Calcutta alone. According to Johnson, the word punch is derived from ‘panch’, meaning five in Marathi or, as Johnson puts it, “an Indian word expressing the number of ingredients”. This is the generally accepted derivation of the word though top cocktail historian David Wondrich, the man who literally wrote the book on punch, has his doubts about this etymology.

Whatever the true story, five ingredients, booze, sweet, sour, spice and water, is still a good way of organising your drinking today. Nowadays, punch is mainly associated with the Caribbean where they have a saying to help you remember how to make it: ‘one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak’. The spice element could be provided with a dash of Angostura bitters. You don’t have to stick to that ratio, though. Whereas a cocktail is based on exact measurement, a punch is a rather more laissez-faire drink. Add some more ice, some more booze, and make an afternoon of it. 

There are lavish punch recipes using different types of rum, fruit and Champagne, but it’s also the drink drunk by revellers at Jamaican sound systems, always made with J. Wray & Nephew overproof rum. The important thing is to use something with a bit of flavour, though perhaps not your Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary 25. You could mix it up with some funky rhum agricole or a the magnificent Plantation pineapple rum. Here, I’m keeping it simple with some Mount Gay Eclipse from Barbados. You’ll notice that the ratios don’t quite match the saying but after dilution from the ice, they should do, roughly. We’ve provided a single service recipe but what a punch really loves is company. So get a bowl or even a bin, and invite your friends over. 

Here’s the basic recipe:

60ml Mount Gay Eclipse rum
60ml chilled still water
30ml sugar syrup
15ml lime juice
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Put the rum, bitters, lime juice, water and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker and add some ice cubes. Shake and strain into two ice-filled Collins glasses or tumblers. Decorate with whatever you have to hand, orange, pineapple or lime slices, and perhaps a sprig of mint.

*This is a joke. Nobody quite knows where the word cocktail comes from though there are lots of theories. 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: East London Liquor Company Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1

There are three things we love at Master of Malt more than anything else: high quality spirits, bad puns and Back to the Future, so when a product arrived called…

There are three things we love at Master of Malt more than anything else: high quality spirits, bad puns and Back to the Future, so when a product arrived called Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1, how could we resist?

Today’s puntastic New Arrival is a collaboration between the East London Liquor Company and Renegade Wines. The ELLC will need no introduction to regular readers of this blog but to irregular readers (you know who you are), here’s a bit of background: the distillery was founded in 2014 by Alex Wolpert at Bow Wharf, East London’s first distillery in over 100 years. Last year Wolpert financed his expansion plans with a successful crowd-funding initiative, raising £1.5m. The company makes a range of gins, vodkas and last year released a highly-regarded London rye that has got bartenders all hot under the collar. There are also some more experimental things including a chestnut wood-aged whisky and rum barrel-aged gin but this latest product, an English grappa-style spirit, is perhaps the most unusual thing to come out of this stable. 

East London Liquor Company founder, Alex Wolpert, with distillery team

Team ELLC with founder Alex Wolpert second from right

ELLC’s partner in crime is Renegade Wines, a urban winery based in nearby Bethnal Green founded in 2017 by Warwick Smith and New Zealand winemaker Josh Hammond. No, they don’t have a vineyard in an allotment off Roman Road, instead the pair buy in grapes from all over Europe, have them shipped to London and, using the magic of fermentation, turn them into wine. As well as exotic continental grapes, Renegade also uses honest-to-god Herefordshire-grown Bacchus (hence the name). This grape variety, originally developed in Germany, has found a home in the English countryside and makes some of the country’s best still wines.

After making their delicious wines, there’s lots of stuff leftover called pomace, mainly grape skins and bits of stalk. So what to do with it? Well, it can be used as fertiliser or to feed cattle, but it’s more fun to make it into more booze. Actually, Grape Scott Part 1 isn’t the first winery/ distillery mash-up in England. Hyke Gin, a recent New Arrival of the Week, uses grape leftovers as a botanical, and very nice it is too. Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1, however, is as far as we can tell the very first English pomace brandy, known in Italy as grappa and France as marc.

You’ve probably had grappa on holiday in Italy. Just the thing after a long meal, it can be rather fiery. Which is why it loves a bit of ageing to mellow it out a bit. ELLC ages its Bacchus brandy in old red wine casks which add richness and colour, but also softens it. Bottled at 47 .1% ABV, the result is punchy and distinctive, like an Italian grappa, but with the edges smoothed off. It makes a great digestif to finish off those long East London lunches, but we think it might do interesting things in a cocktail. Bacchus Boulevardier has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

 

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