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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and It

Last week we rounded up our favourite vermouth brands. Now we’ve got a deliciously simple cocktail to show them off in. Some call it the Sweet Martini but it’s better…

Last week we rounded up our favourite vermouth brands. Now we’ve got a deliciously simple cocktail to show them off in. Some call it the Sweet Martini but it’s better known as… the Gin and It!

When I think of the Gin and It, I always think of ‘It Girls’, upper class English party girls who appear in gossip columns and scandalise polite society with brazen antics in Mayfair nightclubs. But, prosaically the ‘It’ is simply short for Italian vermouth. 

The cocktail formerly known as a Sweet Martini

A simple mixture of gin and Italian vermouth, according to Dale de Groff in his The Craft of the Cocktail book (published 2008), the Gin and It was originally known as a Sweet Martini. Looking back through my old books, I found a reference to the Gin & It in David Embury’s 1948 book The Fine art of Mixing Drinks. He writes: “In Europe the proportions used are half and half and the drink is not iced.” His preferred ratio is three parts gin to one part vermouth, very much a sweet Martini.

Sounding like he was writing from 1957 not 1997 when the book was published, Salvatore Calabrase in Classic Cocktails describes the drink as a “perennially favourite lady’s drink sipped at around 5pm.” Or as Al Murray, aka the Pub Landlord, might put it: “pint for the fella, glass of white wine/ fruit-based drink for the lady.”

Even today, many old school boozers don’t really offer much beyond beer and spirits. There’s still a pub near my parents where wine comes in individually portioned plastic cups with peel off lids. I’ve never seen anyone order a second. Under such circumstances, if you’re not drinking beer, then the Gin & It is a great standby. Even the roughest place will have gin and a bottle of Martini Rosso. You might even get some ice. 

The heyday of the Gin and It was in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The only gin and vermouth drinker I can recall when I was growing up was the father of a friend of mine, a proper geezer, used to order something similar in his local. He called it a Gin and Mix, equal parts Italian and French vermouth, and gin. Such drinks went out of fashion in the ’80s as interest in gin and vermouth waned. It was all about vodka-based drinks. Now though, gin could not be more fashionable and vermouth too is having a moment with both sales and the choice of brands increasing.

El Bandarra Al fresco vermouth on a tray with snacks

Just add gin for the perfect Gin & It

Which vermouth to use

It’s one that you can just throw together, half and half over ice. Or you can up the gin quotient, stir and strain and make something that’s far closer to a Martini. A Gin & It is perfectly pleasant with Martini Rosso, that’s assuming the bottle hasn’t been gathering dust behind the bar for years, but it’s one that really warrants upgrading the vermouth. 

It’s where the same brand’s stunning Rubino Speciale Riserva comes into its own. It makes a lovely half and half. But instead I’m going for something from Spain, the deliciously light and orangey El Bandarra Al Fresco, which gives this a summer aperitif vibe. Don’t forget the olives and anchovies. 

As for the gin, well, a classic juniper and citrus led gin is going to work best here. I’ve had some bad experiences with gins with unconventional botanicals clashing with the vermouth. Beefeater would be ideal and is a reminder that this is very much a pub drink.

Today, however, I’m using Brighton Gin Seaside Strength. The citrus in the gin goes beautifully with the orange-forward vermouth and the extra alcohol cuts the sweetness of the vermouth. If I was using ordinary strength gin, I’d probably add an extra half measure to make it more refreshing. And finally because you can never have too much orange, I’ve added a dash of orange bitters.

Right, here’s how to make a Gin & It, Spanish style!

35ml Brighton Seaside Strength Gin
35ml El Bandarra Al Fresco Vermouth
Angostura Orange bitters

Add the gin and vermouth to an ice-filled tumbler. Stir, add a dash of bitters and garnish with a slice of orange. Cin cin!

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Drinks to take on a picnic

On the 8 March, UK residents will finally be allowed to meet friends outdoors which means one thing… picnic time! So, for all your outdoor feasting needs, here are our…

On the 8 March, UK residents will finally be allowed to meet friends outdoors which means one thing… picnic time! So, for all your outdoor feasting needs, here are our favourite drinks to take on picnics. 

There’s not doubt that the British love a picnic. We even celebrate the less enjoyable aspects of eating out of doors; who can forget those lines from John Betjamin’s poem Trebetherick: “Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea”? 

Wasps aren’t the only hazard you can face on the beach. Last time we went to Ramsgate, a little boy ordered some chips and then next thing you know there were seagulls as big as pterodactyls swooping down to steal their share. They were eventually beaten off by a gang of children armed with cricket bats. Anyway, I suppose my point is that there’s lots of uncontrollable elements in life, but there’s no excuse for not having top quality booze.

Happily these days, there’s a massive choice of drinks suitable for taking on a picnic, and they’re all at Master of Malt. From delicious bitters and lagers, to fine ciders from Kent, the West Country and France. Not to mention delicious RTD (ready to drink) cocktails in cans and fantastic choice of wine. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites so stock up in preparation for the official beginning of picnic season. Don’t forget the corkscrew, and a cricket bat to beat off marauding seagulls.

Beer

Adnams Lighthouse Beer

Adnams Lighthouse

Adnams in Suffolk brews some of the finest beer in the country as well as making some impressive spirits. This Lighthouse Beer named after the famous Southwold landmark, is a picnic beer par excellence. It’s a light refreshing pale ale, packed with gentle hop character, and weighing in at a very drinkable 3.4% ABV.

Small Beer Lager

Small Beer Co. Lager 

One of the best things to happen to brewing in the last five years is the development of genuinely delicious low ABV beers. There’s some cracking ones at 0.5% ABV but we’re particularly taken with the slightly stronger range from the Small Beer Company. Everything it does is excellent but this lager packs a lot of flavour into its 2.1% ABV.

Cider

Sassy Cider

Sassy La Sulfureuse

The name comes from the sassiest castle in France, the Château de Sassy. It’s in the heart of Normandy, the home of French cider. This is a classic Norman sparkling cider but made from apples with pink flesh which gives it its pretty colour. The flavour is just off dry and packed full of sweet apple fruit. 

Ready-to-drink

Goslings Dark and Stormy

Goslings Dark and Stormy

Fancy a proper Dark ‘n’ Stormy made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer without messing around with bottles and jiggers? Well, now you can because this is the canned version. Simply add ice and a slice of lime and it’s just like being in the Caribbean. Or just drink it straight from the can.

East London Grapefruit Gin and Tonic

East London Liquor Company Grapefruit Gin & Tonic

This beauty comes from one of our favourite distillers, the East London Liquor Company, or ELLC to its friends. This blend of the company’s excellent grapefruit gin with tonic water should be in everyone’s Esky when the sun comes out. 

Ginking

Ginking

This is a splendid concoction. It’s a mixture of gin, English sparkling wine and mineral water. It manages to be refreshing, utterly delicious and it comes in at a very drinkable 8.5% ABV, much lower in alcohol than a straight sparkling wine. There are also Mediterranean and Italia versions.

Croft Twist

Croft Twist Elderflower, Lemon & Mint

Here’s another marvelous mash-up. It’s a sherry cocktail in a can blending Croft Fino sherry, elderflower, lemon and mint cordials as well as sparkling water. And only 5.5% ABV. Perfect for hot summer’s days.

Wine:

Saint Amour Beaujolais Domaine Chardigny

Domaine Chardigny Saint Amour A la Folie 2018

Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape, is the ultimate picnic wine. It goes with pretty much any food and tastes equally delicious chilled as at room temperature. This example is packed full of fruits of the forest and partly-aged in concrete for maximum freshness.

domaine sautereau sancerre rose

Domaine Sautereau Sancerre Rosé 2019

Here’s one you may not have had before, Rosé from Sancerre, a region best known for its whites made from Sauvignon Blanc. This is made entirely from Pinot Noir and exhibits fresh strawberries with a citrus tang. It’s class in a glass.

Txomin Etxaniz 2019

Txomin Etxaniz 2019

It’s not the easiest wine to pronounce, but it’s worth getting your tongue around all those ‘x’s because this white wine is delicious. The grapes are Basque natives, Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza, and the resulting wine is light, vibrant and lemony with delicate fizz to it.

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus 2019

This wine was a massive hit in our family last summer. It’s made from the grape that England has made its own, Bacchus. Then to keep all those vibrant citrus and elderflower flavours, it is carbonated. Yes, just like with lager. Also makes a great base for a Kir Royale, just add creme de cassis

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New Arrival of the Week: Dom Perignon 2006 Rosé

Today’s we’re toasting the arrival of a new week, a new month, and possibly a new beginning, with a quite fabulous Champagne, Dom Perignon 2006 Rosé. Dom Perignon is the…

Today’s we’re toasting the arrival of a new week, a new month, and possibly a new beginning, with a quite fabulous Champagne, Dom Perignon 2006 Rosé.

Dom Perignon is the granddaddy of ‘prestigious cuvée’ Champagnes. It was launched by Moët et Chandon in 1935 with the 1921 vintage. The name comes from the Benedictine friar who was one of the first people to look at viticulture and wine making from a scientific perspective, though he almost certainly didn’t invent sparkling Champagne. His statue stands proudly outside Moet HQ in Epernay. The Dom was an exact contemporary of Louis XIV, both were born in 1638 and died in 1715. 

Dom Perignon

The statue of the Dom himself outside Moët HQ

An even more fancy Champagne brand was such a good idea that the other houses decided that they too needed their own. And lo, Louis Roederer created Cristal, Taittinger launched Comte de Champagne and Pol Roger honoured its most famous customer with Cuvée Winston Churchill. 

But what exactly is a prestige cuvée?

You might be forgiven for thinking that these wines are all about bling and separating the wealthy from their money. To some extent they are, the packaging is lavish, prices are high and loudly ordering a magnum of Cristal in a trendy restaurant sends out a statement to those around you.

They are also usually exceptional wines. Dom Perignon has the might of LVMH behind it which means it can buy up the finest grapes, from the best and most expensive vineyards in Champagne. It means that the chef de cave (cellar master) has an exceptional palate of wines to choose from when making up his blends

They are not, however, rare. Every year journalists ask Vincent Chaperon how many bottles he producers and he bats away the question diplomatically but with a degree of irritation. It’s always the same journalists who ask the same question and the answer is alway the same, he’s not saying. The answer is probably in the millions rather than the thousands.

What wines like DP offer is something quite unusual in the wine world: a fine wine that is reliable and needs no further ageing, though will last for decades. Compare this with Burgundy which can be a lottery or Bordeaux where you need to keep the finest stuff for 15 years minimum before opening. With DP, and indeed Cristal et al, you should never be disappointed. It’s a wine for when you want to celebrate with complete confidence.

Dom Perignon 2006 rose

Dom Perignon Rosé 2006 – superfancy

The 2006 vintage

Yes, DP is reliable but it should also reflect the vintage. Some years will be better than others and if the quality isn’t there, DP doesn’t release a wine. 

The first rosé vintage was 1959. It’s only made in the right years, this 2006 was the first time the house had released five rosé vintages in a row, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006. In an interview with the Buyer, Chaperon described the vintage as “consistently warm throughout the vegetative period, the only exception to this was a cool and moist August. But the sun came back in September and we had four weeks of beautiful weather.” 

It’s made by blending a white wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with about 20% red wine which is made entirely from Pinot Noir.  Overall it contains 56% Pinot Noir and 44% Chardonnay. It’s sweetened with 6 grams of sugar per litre which is low for Champagne.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try this wine a couple of times and it’s a wine that reveals itself slowly. It repays tasting at a leisurely pace, not too chilled and ideally with food. The colour is a sort of orangey pink, very pale and fashionable. The palate is quite different, you can really taste the red wine. It’s tangy, meaty and full of red fruit along with orange peel and notes of biscuit and salted caramel. 

If you’re looking for something fancy to toast the reopening of the world, then look no further. 

Dom Perignon 2006 Rosé is available from Master of Malt

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Brighton Gin: spirit of the seaside

Kathy Caton swapped the radio mic for the lab coat when she founded Brighton Gin with some local friends back in 2012. Since then the brand has gone from strength…

Kathy Caton swapped the radio mic for the lab coat when she founded Brighton Gin with some local friends back in 2012. Since then the brand has gone from strength to strength despite some early setbacks like exploding stills and botanicals disasters. 

Many of us have ideas after some drinks but few of us manage to turn them into a business.  The Brighton Gin story began when Kathy Caton was having a few gin-based cocktails with a friend one night. The following day, feeling surprisingly chipper while running around her home town of Brighton, she had the revelation to create her own brand of gin. She explained: “Gin is the one thing that lets me get away with it. Brighton is a place that needs to get away with it on a frequent basis. Boom! That’s it, I was going to make Brighton gin. It was just one of those proper lightbulb moments.”

This was in 2010 just before the gin boom. “Gin has always been my drink,” she said, “it’s hard to imagine how wildly unfashionable it used to be when I was at university.” But gin’s image was changing rapidly and it was now much easier for new distilleries thanks to Sipsmith and Sacred laying the groundwork with HMRC. “I thought there was going to be a moment. But I absolutely had no idea that that moment would be what gin is now. People with gin bars at home. Gin festivals. Gin tattoos!” she said.

Kathy Caton from Brighton Gin

Kathy Caton: gin lover (Photo by Liz Finlayson/Vervate)
Brighton Gin portraits on Brighton Beach

Easy does it

Caton had a strong vision for Brighton gin: “I wanted to make something that is of the best quality, that’s built on ethical and sustainable practices, made by a really diverse team,” she said. But her background in radio, with stints at BBC World Service, Radio 4 and Reverb Radio in Brighton, weren’t a lot of help for making gin. “I had very clear thoughts about how I wanted it to taste and the experience of it, but really bugger-all clue about how to do it,” she said. She realised that she would need the help of a scientist. The only one she knew was Dr Easy aka Ian Barry who is a physicist when she really needed a chemist, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

Their first still was a little unusual. It was a glass apparatus which was used in the not hugely successful Samuel L. Jackson film, The 51st State, and Caton picked it up for £100 on Ebay. “We set it up in Easy’s kitchen. Looking back now we were just really dangerous and clueless. But each time you make a mistake you’re like ‘well we won’t do that again!’ and you learn more and more from it,” she explained.

Then she had a lot of fun experimenting. She described the process as like Road Dahl’s book George’s Marvelous Medicine, “everything would go in.” Initial batches were not promising: “They were so overloaded with stuff, they tasted like Domestos. I’m still using that for cleaning around my flat!”

But gradually, through trial and error, she narrowed it down to what she wanted. “Licorice was one of the things that was very early on the list to be booted out, “ she said. She was looking for a classic profile, a gin that tasted like juniper and citrus. Along with Dr Easy, she also called on the palate of top wine writer Johnny Ray who became an investor in the business.

The Brighton Gin team

Oh, they do like to be beside the seaside! (photo by Liz Finlayson/Vervate)

The gin boom!

Horrible early batches weren’t the only problems they encountered. “I popped out for a bag of crisps, which again, I would now never do. I would never leave anything running and just pop out to the corner shop,” she said. “When I came back I discovered what happens when you have windows open, glass and mirrors and quite strong sunlight bouncing around. There was a lot of clearing up to do.” The Samuel L. Jackson still had exploded! Fortunately nobody was hurt.

“I then went down what I now realise is the more sensible route of getting a small copper alembic and really just learning the process of distillation,” Caton said. She found that running the stills slowly got the best results though achieving consistency in the early days was not easy. 

The final recipe uses a “super-smooth organic wheat spirit as the base,” she said, with juniper from Macedonia and coriander seed “from Ringmer just eight or nine miles from where I am at the moment and that’s got quite a lemony spice to it.” They use fresh lime and orange peels, meaning lots of hard peeling work, “but those fresh peels definitely bring a different spectrum of flavour to it really,” she said. They do a cold maceration and then a warm one before distillation with everything in together. Now, though, she has now handed over distilling duties to Paul Revell, “ a former riot copper and also a former prima ballerina.” So Brighton!

Brighton Gin

Strong branding

Brighton belles

Brighton gin hit the shelves in 2013 and had an immediate impact. A delicious product helps as well as a strong brand trading on the town’s image.There can be few more apt places to make gin than Brighton, sharing as they do a seedy sort of glamour. This dates back to when the town was a favourite haunt of the Prince Regent in the late 18th and early 19th century: “the Prince Regent’s favourite breakfast drink, which he called ‘cherry cordial’ was basically a pint of cherry gin. So maraschino liqueur and gin, by the pint.” Caton said.

From the early days, it developed a strong local following and from there it developed into a national brand. It helped having a journalist on board in the form of Johnny Ray who made sure Brighton Gin was served at the Spectator magazine’s famous parties.

Since those heady early days, the gin market has been transformed. Caton said: “There’s been a huge explosion in flavoured and sweetened gins,” which she hopes will get new drinkers into the market. Brighton gin, however, has just stuck to its classic expression with a Seaside Strength version at Navy ABV appearing a couple of years ago. She doesn’t want to release anything unless it is perfect and consistent nor go down the limited edition route. But she hinted that the team is working on a new product, “they’re not ready to shout about it yet but nearly.”

The standard bottling is a wonderful product that manages to be absolutely classic but highly distinctive with its strong orange note. It really is smooth enough to drink neat and so naturally it’s superb in a Dry Martini. Caton said: “Cocktail-wise, I absolutely love and have never really grown out of a Negroni”. It’s a great all round gin making a lovely G&T with a slice of orange to bring out the orange in the botanical mix

Brighton Gin and Tonic

Makes a great G&T

Then comes the lockdown

Their business has changed a lot since the pandemic with the shuttering of the on-trade and not having festivals to go to. She explained: “Our business has been able to change virtually overnight to focus on selling direct to consumers through our website and supporting the off-trade and various other online sellers”. They have been making hand sanitiser as well as making deliveries on their Brighton Gin bikes. “I did quite a lot of public crying delivering to people. I remember delivering to a lovely woman down in Hove who had ordered a couple of bottles and some hand sanitiser and her saying ‘actually I’ve already got five bottles of your gin in my cupboard but I really want to see you all survive and I love what you’re doing with the hand sanitiser’.”

But with things opening up from the 8 March, it looks like the worst will soon be over. “I know that summer is coming again, we will be on the beach again some time!’” Caton said. Amen to that.

Brighton Gin is available from Master of Malt

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Top ten: Vermouths 

Forget the old days of just French or Italian, vermouth is now a broad church with examples from Spain, Australia, and England joining the old counties in a celebration of…

Forget the old days of just French or Italian, vermouth is now a broad church with examples from Spain, Australia, and England joining the old counties in a celebration of all things bitter. Here are ten of our favourite vermouths with tips on the best ways to mix them.

Vermouth sales have been booming since the various lockdowns came into effect. Hasn’t that year just flown by? Still, at least we’ve got pretty good at making cocktails, especially with all these exciting vermouth brands around. So we thought it a good idea to round-up some of our favourites. We’ve included some stone cold classics, some recently-arrived brands and some innovative new vermouths from established producers. Something for everyone. 

What is vermouth?

Vermouth is simply wine flavoured with wormwood, the word is derived from the German for wormwood, and other botanicals, fortified with alcohol and sweetened. The EU rules state that it  has to be flavoured with wormwood, made with at least 75% wine and between 14.5% and 22.5% ABV. The wine can be red, white or even pink. Colours vary from straw yellow to deep red, sweetness levels from extra dry (around 30g of sugar per litre) to extremely sweet (130g per litre or more). 

So, welcome to the wide world of vermouth. Your cocktail cabinet isn’t complete without a couple of these:

Noilly Prat Vermouth

Noilly Prat Original Dry

One of the great originals. This is still made in the south of France from Picpoul and Clairette grapes, steeped with botanicals, fortified and then left out in barrels in the sun where it acquires a nutty cooked taste not unlike Madeira.

How to drink it?

For many this is the ultimate Martini vermouth, but it’s also great in a long drink with tonic and a slice of lemon. 

Regal Rogue Daring Dry vermouth

Regal Rogue Daring Dry Vermouth

A vermouth with a distinctive Australian twist using organic wines from New South Wales alongside native botanicals such as anise myrtle, quandong and native thyme. It’s bottled with less sugar than a normal dry so you can really appreciate the quality of the wine.

How to drink it?

Mark Ward from Regal Rogue recommends having it in a very wet Dry Martini in a 1:1 ratio and served straight up.

Sacred English Dry Vermouth

Sacred English Dry Vermouth

This is made using English wines from Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire by one of England’s craft gin pioneers. It’s the vermouth of choice for Alessandro Palazzi at Duke’s Bar in London. Say no more. 

How to drink it?

Well, it has to be a Dry Martini but made a little wetter than Palazzi does. We love a 5:1 gin to vermouth ratio especially with a brand this good.

Gonzalez Byass La Copa vermouth extra seco

Gonzalez Byass Vermouth La Copa Blanco Extra Seco 

Spanish vermouth is really having a moment at the moment and some of the most exciting bottlings are coming from sherry producers. This extra dry is crisp and refreshing and you can really taste that nutty fino sherry on the finish.

How to drink it?

Try it in Nate Brown’s favourite, a Bamboo. Half Tio Pepe fino sherry, half vermouth, stirred with ice and served straight up with a dash of orange bitters.

Scarpa Extra Dry vermouth

Scarpa Vermouth Di Torino Extra Dry

This is a very special bottling, made with Cortese grapes (like Gavi) from Piedmont, native Italian botanicals including chamomile and elderflower, only 30g of sugar per litre and, most unusually, bottled unfiltered. This is vermouth at its finest.

How to drink it?

The flavour is intense so a little makes a great Spritz with Prosecco and fizzy water. Or sip it chilled with snacks like you would a manzanilla sherry.

El Bandarra al fresco

El Bandarra Al Fresco

Just part of the new wave of Spanish vermouths that we reported on last year. The brand was started by twin brothers Albert and Alex Virgili. The Al Fresco version is made from Garnacha wines with botanicals including liquorice, rose, citrus fruits and mint.

How to drink it?

In a Spritz with cava, fizzy water and a slice of orange. Or just mixed with tonic.

Lustau vermut rojo

Lustau Vermut Rojo

Another great sherry vermouth made by one of Spain’s most prestigious producers, Lustau. This sweet vermouth is made from high quality sherry wines steeped with flavours including gentian, coriander and orange peel. You will love the long nutty finish.

How to drink it?

We recommend drinking it in a Palmetto. Stir 50ml good Jamaican rum like Plantation Xaymaca with 50ml Lustau Rojo with ice and serve straight up with a twist of orange.

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino

Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino

Made by the largest vermouth producer in the world but this is very different to its standard rosso. For a start, it gets its colour from red Nebbiolo wines and the result is something perfumed, elegant and packed full of flavour.

How to drink it:

Lighter than most rosso vermouths, this makes the freshest Negroni you’ve ever had. Also irresistible in a Gin & It.

Hotel Starlino Rosso vermouth

Hotel Starlino Rosso Vermouth

A new Italian vermouth brand from the team who brought your Malfy gin so you can bet the branding is strong. The contents are great too. Made by the experts at Torino Distillati, this is a fairly trad rosso except that it’s aged in bourbon casks. 

How to drink it?

With those whiskey casks there’s one cocktail in which it particularly shines, the Manhattan, but it’s great with all dark spirits. 

Casa Mariol black vermouth

Casa Mariol

This is made by a winery in the Terra Alta region of Catalonia. Outside Jerez, this place is the heartland of Spanish vermouth. The wines are local, naturally, and botanicals include orange peel, rosemary and cardamom. 

How to drink it?

Gin and It, or rather, a Gin & Span. Take one measure of gin, Sacred Cardamom would be superb, one measure of vermouth and serve on ice with a twist of orange. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Queen Mother

Today, we’re making a cocktail with one of France’s greatest aperitifs, Dubonnet, and named after a departed member of the Royal family. It could only be the dear old Queen…

Today, we’re making a cocktail with one of France’s greatest aperitifs, Dubonnet, and named after a departed member of the Royal family. It could only be the dear old Queen Mother!

A few years ago I was planning to write something on Dubonnet and so asked on Twitter who looked after the marketing for the aperitif. I got some very funny replies along the lines of ‘two sleepy old men with a fax machine.’ It’s that sort of brand: globally famous but not a priority for its owners, Pernod Ricard. There’s no fancy marketing campaigns for poor old Dubonnet featuring beautiful young people responsibly partying the night away.

The American branch of the Dubonnet family, made in Bardstown, Kentucky by bourbon producer Heaven Hill, at least has its own website; the French-made original doesn’t appear to have one. 

The original recipe

Dubonnet was invented in 1846 Joseph Dubonnet. Reading the American website, he’s called Sir Joseph Dubonnet. There’s no explanation, however, of why or how he obtained a British title so we’re just going to stick with plain Joseph (His grandson Andre Dubonnet was made Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, a sort of French knighthood and sounds like a right character). Anyway, his invention is part of the great family of wine-based French aperitifs that get their bitterness from quinine, others include Byrrh and Kina Lillet. Apparently, it was originally meant as a malaria remedy for French legionnaires. 

Dubonnet advert

A lady enjoying Dubonnet responsibly with her cat

It’s still made from classic southern French grapes including Grenache, Macabeo, and Carignan which are fortified with grape spirit to prevent fermentation, and then aged for around three years. The process is quite similar to Pineau des Charentes. This alcoholic grape juice is flavoured with various botanicals including quinine, cacao, orange peel, cinnamon, green coffee and elderflower. As with many French aperitifs, the alcohol level has been reduced over the years and now sits at 14.8% ABV.

The US version formulated by Heaven Hill is quite different being made with Californian wine and flavoured with black currant and black tea as well as quinine. According to an article in Punch, it is in fact closer to the original but we have no way of corroborating this. 

The Royal connection

It might not be loved by Pernod Ricard but Dubonnet has an impressive fan club. It’s something of a cult drink among bartenders. Then there’s the royal connection: the Queen and her late mother were noted Dubonnet drinkers. A Gin & Dubonnet was the Queen Mother’s favourite drink so much so that when drunk in her favourite ratio, two parts Dubonnet to one part gin, it’s now named after her. Feel free to add a ‘God, bless ‘er,’ every time you say its name.

A few of these a day didn’t seem to do her any harm as she died in 2002 at an impressive 102 years old. I hope she got her letter from the Queen when she hit 100. Her cocktail is almost identical to something in The Savoy Cocktail Book called the Zaza except the Zaza uses a 1:1 ratio.

As the Queen Mother was a famous gin lover (in fact all the older Royals are, Prince Charles loves a Dry Martini), perhaps the Zaza should be the Queen Mother. Especially as Zaza is a diminutive of Isabella ie. Elizabeth. 

Whatever you want to call it, this is a great throw-it-together sort of cocktail. You can serve it straight up, or on the rocks, play around with the ratios as much as you like, add a dash of orange bitters, or mix things up by swapping the Dubonnet for sweet vermouth (when it becomes a Gin & It) or even sloe gin. It’s so versatile that you’d think someone at Pernod Ricard head office would do something with it. Perhaps a campaign to appeal to the long-neglected older drinker?

Queen Mother Cocktail with Dubonnet

Image courtesy of Dubonnet

Here’s how to make a Queen Mother:

60ml Dubonnet
30ml Bathtub Gin

Add the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, and stir for one minute. Strain into a chilled coupette and serve with an orange twist.

The Cocktail Dictionary by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley and available from all good bookshops.

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Terroir in whisky exists, say scientists

The results of a peer-reviewed paper into terroir in whisky funded by Waterford in Ireland have just been announced. It seems that where barley is grown does indeed have a…

The results of a peer-reviewed paper into terroir in whisky funded by Waterford in Ireland have just been announced. It seems that where barley is grown does indeed have a noticeable effect on the chemical composition and taste of the resulting spirit. Here’s the full story:

It’s one of the most contested questions in whisky, does where the barley is grown have a noticeable effect on the finished product? Many in the Scotch whisky business have said no but Mark Reynier formerly at Bruichladdich on Islay and now Waterford in Ireland has always insisted it does. The first bottlings from Waterford we tried last year seemed to bear (or should that be bere this out?) this out, now a study published in Foods journal carried out by Oregon State University adds scientific weight to Reynier’s argument. 

Research funded by the Waterford Distillery

The research, which was funded by the Waterford Distillery, compared two barley varieties, Olympus and Laureate, grown on two farms in 2017 and 2018: Athy, Co. Kildare and Bunclody, Co. Wexford. 

Waterford Terroir in whisky infographic

There’s no need to read the whole article with this handy infographic

Each sample of barley was malted and distilled in a laboratory to produce 32 different whisky distillate samples. These were then analysed using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry–olfactometry (GC-MS-O) as well as tasted by a team of sensory experts.

Dr Dustin Herb, lead researcher and post-doctoral research at Oregon State University, explained: “This interdisciplinary study investigated the basis of terroir by examining the genetic, physiological, and metabolic mechanisms of barley contributing to whisky flavour. Using standardised malting and distillation protocols, we preserved distinct flavours associated with the testing environments and observed year-to-year variations, indicating that terroir is a significant contributor to whisky flavour.”

Another one of the international team involved, Professor Kieran Kilcawley, principal research officer at Teagasc (part of the Irish department of agriculture) added: “We utilised gas chromatography olfactometry which enabled us to discern the most important volatile aroma compounds that impacted sensory perception of the new make spirit. This research not only highlights the importance of terroir, but also enhances our knowledge of key aroma compounds in whisky.”

Noticeable differences in the new make spirit

The Athy farm’s terroir consists of limestone soil with high levels of calcium, magnesium and molybdenum, and a warmer and drier microclimate. According to the press release the new make “was characterised by toasted almond notes, and a malty, biscuity, oily finish.”

Bunclody farm, in contrast, has shale and slate bedrock containing high levels of iron, copper, and manganese with more volatile weather from its coastal position. The new make was reported to be “lighter and floral, with a flavour of fresh fruitiness.”

The tests discovered over 42 different flavour compounds, half of which were directly influenced by where the barley was grown.

When we asked about how much flavour variation may have come from different barley strains, we received the following reply from Waterford: “There was some flavour variance due to variety but the effect of environment was greater. We surmised that the low variance in variety maybe due to the fact that the varieties chosen share a similar genetic heritage. Many modern barley varieties are grown for yield and disease resistance rather than flavour. This is why Waterford’s starting to look at older barley varieties as potentially they may be more flavoursome.”

Waterford-Mark-Reynier

The night is dark and full of terroirs

Mark Reynier (above), founder and CEO of Waterford, was bullish about the results: “Barley is what makes single malt whisky the most flavoursome spirit in the world. This study proves that barley’s flavours are influenced by where it is grown, meaning – like wine and Cognac – whisky’s taste is terroir-driven. Critics claimed any terroir effect would be destroyed by the whisky-making process, saying there is no scientific evidence to prove that terroir even exists. Well, there is now.”

It certainly looks promising for Reynier but it’s early days for the project. The first stage of the research only looked at new make spirit. The second stage will look at what differences survive the maturation process and is due to be published in 2022. The debate isn’t over yet.

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Nikka from the Barrel not a ‘Japanese whisky’ say new regulations

Big news just in! The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced new tighter Japanese whisky regulations. That means some of our favourite Japanese whiskies will no longer be…

Big news just in! The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced new tighter Japanese whisky regulations. That means some of our favourite Japanese whiskies will no longer be classed as ‘Japanese whisky.’ Confused? Read on.

It’s something of an open secret in the drinks business that much whisky that is labelled Japanese contains spirits from other countries, mainly Scotland and Canada. At Scotch whisky distilleries, it’s common to see huge plastic containers full of whisky to be exported to Japan where it’s blended and then exported back as Japanese whisky. As Japanese whisky as a category has boomed, bulk imports from Scotland have increased four-fold between 2013 and 2018 according to the SWA.

Japanese whisky must be distilled in Japan

There’s been a lot of rumours attached to which blends contained non-Japanese whisky. Now and not before time, the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced what can and can’t be defined as Japanese whisky. The rules don’t have legal powers but will apply to all the association’s members which include the country’s main producers such as Nikka and Suntory (full list here). 

You can read the full standards here but the crucial part is: “saccharification, fermentation, and distillation must be carried out at a distillery in Japan” in order to be labelled as ‘Japanese whisky.’ Furthermore, the resulting spirit should be no higher than 95% ABV and must be aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks no bigger than 700 litres and bottled with a minimum ABV of 40%.

Brian Ashcraft, author of Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit, commented: “They’re a good step in the right direction. It’s important to have some rules of the road. The concern for me, though, is there is still some wiggle room and that unscrupulous people are going to continue to be unscrupulous. It would be good if this was covered by laws to be honest.” He went on to say: “For instance, the wiggle room I’m talking about is that they cannot prevent people from slapping a kanji character on a bottle or, if it’s sold in Japan, labeling the whole thing in Japanese”.

Master of Malt bucket list

Yoichi distillery, real Japanese whisky made here

Statement from Nikka

The deadline to follow the rules is 31 March 2024 so at the moment labels don’t reflect the new ruling. Nikka, however, has updated its site to make it clear which whiskies are now technically ‘Japanese whisky.’ In a statement, the company announced: 

“We have decided to provide further information for individual products on our website to clearly distinguish between products in Nikka Whisky’s line-up, which contains both whiskies that are defined as ‘Japanese whisky’ according to the labeling standards, and those that do not meet all the criteria. We feel this is an important step towards ensuring customers’ clarity so as that they can reasonably decide which products to buy and information will be updated if the status changes.”

Looking at the Nikka website, you can see that Yoichi and Miyagikyo single malts, Coffey Grain and Taketsuru Pure Malt pass the new rules, whereas popular blends like Nikka Days, the Nikka and our favourite, Nikka from the Barrel have the following disclaimer: “This product does not meet all the criteria of ‘Japanese whisky ‘ defined by the Japan Spirits & Liqueur Makers Association.” It doesn’t state where they stray from the rules but we are sure that Master of Malt customers will be able to work it out.

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New Arrival of the Week: Old Perth Cask Strength

This week we are delighted about the return of one of the grand old names of Scotch whisky, Old Perth, with a beautiful sherry-aged blended malt and a mighty cask…

This week we are delighted about the return of one of the grand old names of Scotch whisky, Old Perth, with a beautiful sherry-aged blended malt and a mighty cask strength version.

If you walk around Perth today, you’ll see evidence of its proud whisky heritage. It’s there in the grandeur of the town’s architecture which seems quite out of scale for a city of 50,000 people and you’ll see ghost signs advertising Old Perth whisky. Well, these are ghost signs no longer as the family firm Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers has brought whisky back to the town and resurrected this great brand. 

First, a bit of history

Known as the Gateway to the Highlands, the city of Perth was ideally placed for merchants to buy characterful malt whiskies from the north and blend them with the lighter spirits of the Lowlands to create a consistent product to sell in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and export around the world. 

Scotch whisky as we know it was to a large extent a Perth creation and with the coming of the railways, Perth’s first station was built in 1848, the city boomed. Giants warehouses were built providing employment for thousands whilst the whisky barons spent their leisure time in the city’s fashionable gentlemen’s clubs.

The city was home to some of the biggest names in Scotch whisky including Matthew Gloag, Arthur Bell and John Dewar. There’s a fourth name that’s not so well known but deserves to be put alongside them: Peter Thomson.

Peter Thomson whisky van

Peter Thomson whisky van (photo courtesy of Morrison Distillers)

Enter, Peter Thomson

The youngest of three brothers, Peter Thomson set up his business in 1908 at 202 High Street Perth but the family had been in the whisky trade for much longer.  Peter’s father Alexander Thomson ran a grocery and whisky shop. Going further back, in 1837 John Thomson acquired the Grandtully distillery which remained in family hands until it closed in 1914. And further back still, according to family legend the Thomsons were too busy distilling and drinking whisky to take part in the Highland Rebellions of 1715 and 1745.

He was a canny businessman and the firm weathered the economic storms following the first world war. In the 1920s it launched Beneagles blended whisky containing a sizable proportion of Macallan single malt as well as high-quality grain whisky from the North British distillery in Edinburgh which the Thomson family had shares in. They also launched a premium whisky called Old Perth.

Peter Thomson died in 1939 and his son David Kinnear Thomson took over but the following year he was captured by the Germans at Dunkirk and saw out the war in a POW camp. Fortunately, the firm was in the more than capable hands of his secretary, Miss Cameron, who managed the firm until the war ended. In fact, it’s said she carried on the day to day running of the firm even after the war whilst David networked, socialised and promoted the business around the world. We’d probably use the term ‘Brand Ambassador’ today. 

A pioneering firm

The firm became known for its innovative marketing including ceramic whisky miniatures in the shape of curling stones, the Loch Ness monster, a golden eagle and, most magnificent of all, a Thistle and the Rose chess set portraying Scotland’s great rivalry with England. The pieces are figures from British history including Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Robert the Bruce filled with Beneagles whisky. The empty vessels come up quite often on Ebay.

Peter Thomson was innovative in other ways. In the 1960s, the family took the bold decision to sell Macallan on its own. It’s hard to imagine now when Macallan is a globally-renowned luxury goods brand but most malt distilleries had no reputation amongst consumers. Peter Thomson obtained exclusive rights to sell Macallan and by 1985 they were selling 10,000 cases a year. So successful were they that Macallan eventually decided to handle sales themselves. 

Old Perth Cask Strength is its natural habitat

Old Perth Cask Strength in its natural habitat

Decline and revival

By this time, however, the family no longer controlled the firm. It was sold to a Cypriot businessman and later became incorporated into Whyte & Mackay. One by one, the great names of Perth whisky left the town of their birth. 

But some of that life returned in 2005 with the creation of Morrison & Mackay by Kenny MacKay, a former employee of Peter Thomson, Rob Starling, and Brian and Jamie Morrison, formerly of Morrison Bowmore. They opened a single malt distillery, Aberargie, outside the city in 2017. Last year, the company rebranded as Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers.

They also acquired the Old Perth brand name from Whyte & Mackay and relaunched it as a blended malt whisky inspired by the original. Just landed at Master of Malt, we have two new expressions: a 46% ABV sherry cask, and a 58.6% ABV cask strength version. Both are truly superior blends that pay tribute to Perth’s rich whisky heritage. If you like a luxurious sherry cask malt packed with dried fruit and spices, you’ll love Old Perth. Here’s the tasting note for the cask strength version:

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Toffee penny, cherry jam, and bundles of dried fruit.

Palate: Earthy root ginger spice, cinnamon stick, and toasted barley.

Finish: Brandy-soaked raisins and burnt brown sugar on the finish.

Old Perth Original and Cask Strength are available from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Myatt’s Fields Baby Otis

The husband and wife duo behind Myatt’s Fields are taking the fuss out of drinks at home with batched cocktails like the Baby Otis, a rum Manhattan that’s spent time in…

The husband and wife duo behind Myatt’s Fields are taking the fuss out of drinks at home with batched cocktails like the Baby Otis, a rum Manhattan that’s spent time in cask to gain extra deliciousness. 

Do you remember drinks parties? For those who don’t, here’s a little reminder. In the before times, you would invite people over to your house, give them drinks and some snacks, put on some old records, maybe indulge in some dancing or sneak outside onto the balcony for a cigarette even though you gave up years ago. All great fun, except if you were making cocktails. Inevitably, the quality of what you were drinking would deteriorate as the evening progressed. This is where pre-batched cocktails come into their own. All you need to do is make sure you have enough ice, and you can concentrate on the things that matter, like dancing like a robot to Homework by Daft Punk.

Myatt’s Fields Cocktails is husband and wife business consisting of Clemency and Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe

The dynamic duo, Clemency Penn and Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe

Batched cocktails are having a moment

Pre-bottled cocktails aren’t just brilliant for parties, they’re good for picnics, festivals and train journeys, and yet despite none of these things happening at the moment sales are booming. The magnificently-named Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe from Myatt’s Fields Cocktails said that business is up 1000% since last year. He made the comparison with ready meals. Once they were of airline food standard but now there’s a lot of companies producing excellent quality ones. The same with cocktails. Rather than buy lots of ingredients that you might screw up anyway, get the experts in. It’s like having your very own bartender making a perfect cocktail every time.

Myatt’s Fields Cocktails is a husband and wife business consisting of Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe and Clemency Penn. The idea came from them wanting cocktails at their wedding but didn’t want people to queue while each drink was made to order. They tried lots of premade cocktails but, as Gilbert-Rolfe put it, most tasted like “a dumping ground for bad ingredients.” So they started making their own. After experimenting for a year, trying out recipes on their friends, “which made us very popular” Cyrus said, they unleashed their concoctions on the wedding guests. These were such a hit that “we got more comments about the cocktails than my wife’s dress,” he joked. 

They decided to turn it into a business. Both had digital marketing backgrounds: “We knew a lot about e-commerce but not much about health and safety,” he said. Nevertheless, the business thrived. It is named after a nearby park in Camberwell, South London, Myatt’s Fields. According to Gilbert-Rolfe, the cafe in the middle of the park was their first customer. Now they are stocked by Fortnum & Mason, Fenwicks and, of course, Master of Malt.

Myatt's Fields Vesper Martini

Myatt’s Fields Vesper Martini

Cocktails with a difference

Their cocktails aren’t just delicious but they offer an experience that would be hard to replicate at home. The Vesper Martini for example uses vodka infused with quinine to mimic the taste of Kina Lillet, an aperitif that disappeared in 1986. They make a Limoncello with less sugar and more lemon that’s a world away from the washing up liquid taste you get in your average Italian restaurant. And the Espresso Martini uses Monmouth coffee and was created with the blessing of the late Dick Bradsell‘s partner, Eline Bosman. Bradsell invented the Espresso Martini, along with the Bramble and many other modern classics.

But their big thing is ageing. The pair were inspired by work done by Jeffrey Morgenthaler in the US and Tony Conigliaro in Britain on the effect of controlled oxidation on cocktails. Cyrus explained how they do it: “We make a drink and put it in a cask for two months. It really evolves, it’s more of a journey than fresh cocktails.”

Today’s New Arrival, the Baby Otis, has had just such treatment. Cyrus said “it has a huge base of people who love it.” It’s basically a Manhattan made with Cuban rum, two types of vermouth and grapefruit bitters. This is then aged for around six weeks to meld all those flavours together and bottled at 24.5% ABV. So if you wanted to make this drink at home, you’d have to start six weeks in advance; who is going to be that organised? With Myatt’s Fields Cocktails, Cyrus said: “it’s like having a pro in the house doing it for you.” It’s hard to argue with that. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Touches of cedar wood, brown sugar, and banana, balanced by rich red berries, orange pith, and bittersweet grapefruit.

Myatt’s Fields Cocktails Baby Otis is available from Master of Malt.

Myatts Fields Baby Otis

Myatt’s Fields, SE5 and proud of it

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