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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Cocktail of the Week: The Montenegroni

As any fule kno, Negroni = Campari + sweet vermouth + gin. But not always, this week we’re mixing things up a little by chucking the Campari and using Amaro…

As any fule kno, Negroni = Campari + sweet vermouth + gin. But not always, this week we’re mixing things up a little by chucking the Campari and using Amaro Montenegro instead.

The constant factor in most Negronis is Campari, so much so that Campari has owned the 100 years of the Negroni celebrations that took place this year. Italy, however, is full of amari (bittersweet liqueurs) which you can use in place. One such is Amaro Montenegro from Bologna, named after Princess Elena of Montenegro who became Queen of Italy in 1900. It has an elaborate production process involving over 40 botanicals including vanilla, eucalyptus, orange and cinnamon. Some are macerated, other boiled or distilled to a recipe perfected in 1885 by Stanislao Cobianchi. Today master herbalist Dr. Matteo Bonoli is in charge with keeping things consistent.

The flavours are sweet, rich and round with a distinct chocolatey note. Back in Bologna, it’s usually drunk as a digestif alongside a cup of espresso but for a while now, it has been a liqueur revered by the drinks cognoscenti. Last year it won a gold medal at the IWSC.

Montenegroni

The Montenegroni: can people this photogenic be wrong?

As part of the plan to raise its profile, Amaro Montenegro is backing the Vero Bartender competition, where bartenders from around the country will compete to create a cocktail with a maximum of five ingredients (based on Amaro Montenegro, naturally). There will be northern and southern heats in September, with the UK final at the Punch Room at the London Edition Hotel on 20 October. But that’s not the end of it, because 12 finalists from around the world will then compete in the global final in Italy on 19 November! So if you fancy yourself behind the stick (to coin a phrase) then you should enter.

To kick things off in style, this special Negroni has been created by Rudi Carraro, UK brand ambassador for Amaro Montenegro. In a bold move, Carraro has not only chucked the Campari, but he’s not using vermouth either. He plays by his own rules. Instead he’s using Select Aperitivo, a low-ish alcohol amaro (17.5% ABV) from Venice, not dissimilar to Aperol. It’s what many Venetians prefer to use in a spritz in place of the mighty orange beverage. He didn’t specify the gin, so we’re using delicious, lemony Brooklyn Gin for no particular reason except we like it. The result is something mellower and more complex, but less boozy than the classic Negroni. It would be equally at home after dinner as before.

Carraro originally designed this recipe as a punch as a nod to the bar at the London edition, but we’ve domesticated it into a single-serve version. Right, let’s get stirring.

40ml Amaro Montenegro 
25ml Brooklyn Gin
20ml Select Aperitivo 

Add ingredients to an ice-filled tumbler, stir and garnish with a slice of orange.

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5 minutes with. . .  Dr. Don Livermore from Hiram Walker

We don’t talk enough about Canadian whisky on the MoM blog. To remedy this, we spoke with the master blender at Hiram Walker, Dr. Don Livermore, on Canadian distilling history,…

We don’t talk enough about Canadian whisky on the MoM blog. To remedy this, we spoke with the master blender at Hiram Walker, Dr. Don Livermore, on Canadian distilling history, some cask finishes that went wrong and why Canada is the most creative place in the world to make whisky.

Look back through old cocktail books (I have lots of them) and they always say that there are four major whisky producing countries: Scotland, Ireland, America and Canada. This blog covers the first three extensively – it seems that not a day goes by without exciting news from the American, Irish and, especially, Scottish industries. And that’s not all, recently we have run features on distilleries in Sweden, Australia and Israel. But what about poor neglected Canada?

It’s not like Canada doesn’t have the heritage. It’s been producing whisky since the 19th century. Canada has the numbers too. According to these figures, it produces around 189m litres of whisky a year, less than the Scots (700m) and the Americans (333m), but far outstripping the Irish (63m). That’s a lot of whisky. Until recently, most of it was used to make mega-blends like Canadian Club and Crown Royal; some of it went into American brands. But the world is waking up to the treasures that lie north of the 49th parallel, whiskies with character like Pike Creek, Lot 40 and Wiser’s 18 Year Old.  So, to tell us more about this under-the-radar giant of whisky, we talk to master blender at Hiram Walker, Don Livermore. And don’t forget, there’s no ‘e’ in Canadian whisky. 

Don Livermore

The doc (centre) in action

Master of Malt: How long have you been working in whisky for?

Don Livermore: I started 23 years ago. My background is microbiology so the distillery here, which I work at, the Hiram Walker Distillery, in Windsor Ontario, hired me as their microbiologist in the quality control laboratory. The company has been fantastic to me. They spent their investment on me and they sent me to school where I did my Masters of Science at Heriot Watt. I finished that in 2004 and then I finished my PhD in 2012 at Heriot Watt as well. Along the way they promoted me in different jobs in and around the distillery, and today I’m the master blender for Hiram Walker. 

MoM: If people asked you, ‘what makes Canadian whisky different from American whisky’, what would you say?’

DL: Canadian whisky, I always like to say this, it’s the most innovative, creative, adaptable style of whisky there is. All we have to be is fermented, aged and distilled in Canada. Aged in a wooden barrel, less than 700 litres for a minimum of three years. And a minimum of 40% alcohol, and first it’s got to come from grain, like any whisky category. And that’s about it, so they give us a lot of latitude, on what we can do with Canadian whisky. They don’t tell me how to distill it so we here have the ability to just column distill it, like a bourbon. Or we can also pot distill it like you’d see in the single malt batches. So we do have those capabilities here, they don’t tell us barrel types either. I mean we can use new wood, we can use used wood, we can finish in wine barrels, or whatever. The latitude is pretty wide open and that leads to creativity. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t want be a blender anywhere else. Now, traditionally Canadian whisky is lighter, if you go back early days in Canadian whisky, in the early 1800s, we would have been just a moonshine-style whisky. It would have been done just by pot stills or single pot distillations. But along the way, Canadian distilleries started double-distilling through two column stills. So they were making like grain whisky, that’s what’s Scotch would call it, we call it ‘base whisky’ but it’s similar. Our whisky ended up being very light because that’s what people wanted but at the same time, the way we would make our whisky was we would separate our ingredients so we would make double-distilled grain whisky from corn. But they’d also single distill or pot distill rye whiskies and then they would blend that in as their flavour type of ingredient we used to call them ‘flavouring whiskies’. So that’s traditionally how we are made because rye is really the grain that traditionally grows in the Canadian climate. The moniker in Canada is usually ‘give me a rye and Coke’ or ‘a rye and ginger’ and it’s understood as a Canadian. It means ‘Canadian whisky and coke’. Ryes are ingredients, just like Irish whiskey will use barley for their flavouring ingredients. 

Hiram Waker

The giant Hiram Walker distillery at Windsor, Ontario

MoM: Do you have a view of these aged Canadian flavouring whiskies being sold south of the border and being bottled under American labels?

DL:  I don’t have any issues with that. I think in the whisky industry, we’ve been buying and selling and trading barrels with each other for 300 years and I don’t see it as any issue for me, blending whiskies and buying ingredients to go into our whiskies. I think to be upfront in what you’re doing, for the consumer, is important. We’ve been doing it for 300 years. You could probably point at the Scotch industry they buy barrels from one another and make their blends right? There’s a rich history between Canada and the United States of selling and buying whisky. 

MoM: Does Canada have as long a whisky heritage as the States? 

DL: From what I’ve read about Jim Beam, Jack Daniel and some of the old whisky barons from the United States, I think they probably started a little bit before Canada. You see those date from the late 1700s, but you start seeing the distilleries in Canada mid-1800s. So we’re probably about 25-50 years behind. Canada was settled later and our population is a little less. Most people will say ‘what made Canadian whisky is the American prohibition in 1920-1933’ and that really isn’t true. What actually grew the Canadian whisky category was the American Civil War from 1861-1865. So you’ll see a lot of the Canadian distilleries have their inception dates around the late 1850s. Because if you think about it, the American North was fighting the American South right? And if they’re going to war with one another, they’re shutting their distilleries down. And who took advantage of that situation was the Canadian distillers. 

Inside Hiram Walker distillery

Inside Hiram Walker distillery

MoM: When did the revival of drinking strongly-flavoured rye whiskies start?

DL: We launched Lot 40 in Canada and the US in 1998, originally, and it failed. It had a little bit of a following but at that time you were starting to see the single malt Scotch craze take off and it was just about timing and what consumers were looking for. I give this analogy, I’m older, I’m in my forties, I grew up on a meat and potato diet I’m from the country in Canada and I think a lighter style of whiskies was what suited our palettes. My kids today are growing up on sushi and you’re seeing a lot of diversity within Canada and the United States as well. And they’re experiencing foods from around the world that are very rich and very spicy. A lot of flavour to it. And I think that’s what has happened I think people’s diets have changed and I think in the year 2019 we are starting to see rye whisky as big, bold, spicy and that’s what people are looking for. Similarly, I think peated Scotches, they’re taking off as well.  

MoM: I just wanted to ask you about cask finishes because I know you do some interesting things with Pike Creek. What are we likely to see in terms of innovative finishes from you?

DL: We actually had an innovation summit with our marketing department about a month ago. And there’s a pipeline of things I’m working on with finishing and various types of woods or wine barrels, or spirit barrels. I think you’re going to see some things come out of Canada in the next one to five years that are going to be exceptional. I’m already very excited about it. I mean, I think this is a rebirth of Canadian whisky and excitement to our category. I’m already seeing some of the other Canadian whisky competitors I work with are doing it as well, so I mean, we’ve done some French oak finishing, we did some Hungarian oak finishing, and there’s some wine barrels I’m playing with. We don’t have a release yet but the Pike Creek 21 year, that’s going to be released this fall will be finished in an oloroso sherry cask. I haven’t heard of anybody using oloroso sherry casks in Canada before. There has been failures here, I’ll be quite honest with you, I’ve played with finishing in some beer barrels, that didn’t work out too well. I finished some in some Tequila barrels which I’m unsure about. I think it would be a very niche market. If I’m not playing and looking at different things, I’m not doing my job.

Hiram Walker

Whisky maturing with little labels to remind workers that it is flammable. Safety first!

MoM: What other things are you playing with apart from barrels?

DL: Grain is another one. It’s reading the consumer. I think it’s very important for master blenders to get out from behind their desk or their laboratory. Go to these whisky festivals, talk to the consumers and understand what they’re looking for. And I’ve come to realise that consumers today understand and get a barrel. I think the barrel-finishing thing is the exciting thing today but the other thing is, what’s tomorrow? I think the next thing that consumers are going to be asking about is grain. They’re already asking about rye, I think the next evolution is variety of rye. We started putting away a very specific variety of rye that is very spicy. We’re actually asking our growers to plant a specific variety. My dream some day is yeast! Because I told you my background is microbiology but yeast probably makes more flavour in your whisky than any other thing that we add to it. You can do lots around brewing. Yeast has a huge impact. I got the actual original yeast strains from the whisky barons of Canada in a dried state. They’re in in little test tubes. From 1930 and I can crack them open and they can grow. But if I’d sat in the corner barstool at your local pub and talked about yeast and whisky, I don’t think your consumer will care. But I think some day they will. I just think it’s about timing and when consumers get more and more savvy, I can see it happening at some point. Some day I’m going to crack those vials and make a brand of whisky out of it, but not yet!

MoM: Which of your whiskies that you blend is your ‘end of the day’ favourite when you get back from work?

DL: It’s a brand that is no longer made to be honest with you. It’s a brand called Wiser’s Legacy. But I’ll tell you this, Wiser’s Legacy is basically two thirds Wiser’s 18 year and one third Lot 40, so I can blend it myself! I love doing that at whisky festivals and people ask me ‘what’s your favourite whisky?’ ‘here, I’ll blend it for you!’ so I take those two brands and blend them together. Again, that’s my sweet spot for the rye level. I do adore the 100% rye whiskies but I do like blending and I like a certain level, just like putting salt on your French fries, there’s a level that you want.

MoM: And then finally, do you have a favourite whisky cocktail?

DL: I like Manhattans made with Lot 40. I think the 100% rye balance is nice with a sweet vermouth. I do get specific about it: it’s hard to find but I like my Manhattan made with rhubarb bitters.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: St. Patrick’s Moonshine

This week we are mostly drinking a traditional Irish spirit made to an old family recipe from St. Patrick’s Distillery in Cork. The Walsh family have been distilling a long…

This week we are mostly drinking a traditional Irish spirit made to an old family recipe from St. Patrick’s Distillery in Cork.

The Walsh family have been distilling a long time, though in the past they had to keep quiet about it because it wasn’t always strictly legal. Walsh’s great grandfather Patrick Walsh was involved in the illicit production of poitín and had some run-ins with the law. “My late father, also Patrick Walsh, often reminisced about hiding bottles in the cabbage patch as a child whenever a raid was rumoured”, said Cyril Walsh from St. Patrick’s Distillery. It now produces a spirit that is made to the old Walsh family recipe from Croagh Patrick mountain in County Mayo. “He [Walsh’s father] would have been immensely proud to see the family tradition acknowledged and finally legal”, Walsh went on to say.

The family-inspired spirit is a blend of pot-distilled malted barley and potato spirit. The result is sweet, rich and spicy with a creamy texture from the potato, and bottled at a punchy 45.7% ABV. It’s like drinking fine new make whiskey. As you might guess it makes a cracking Martini but it’s really designed for sipping on its own. According to Walsh it “is eligible to be sold as poítin [but] we have chosen to call our signature spirit Moonshine as the largest markets for St. Patrick’s Distillery are currently the USA and China, and this is much easier to understand and pronounce”. But in future they do intend to release some limited edition bottlings labelled poítin.

St. Patrick's Moonshine

Moonshine, it’s easier to say than poitín

Moonshine is just part of a range of spirits produced by Cyril Walsh and partner Tom Keightley. Walsh looks after the technical side of things and Keightley, who has an MBA (from Harvard, no less) runs the business. The company’s first releases in 2015 were a gin and a vodka, both potato-based. These have been joined by a range of gins, an Irish cream liqueur, and both blended and single malt whiskeys (which really impressed me when I tried them at the Irish embassy in London a couple of years ago). As well as the US and China, the company exports to Germany, Canada and the UK.

St. Patrick’s Distillery has picked up so many gongs from the IWSC, Irish Whiskey Awards, and C2C Spirits Cup in Germany, that the website looks like a Soviet officer’s uniform. The name of the company is a bit of a misnomer because, though it does have a still, at the moment the team buys in all its spirits.

They plan to start distilling at some point but at the moment Walsh and Keightley’s skills lie in buying, blending and maturing spirits distilled to their specifications. Something they seem to be very good at. 

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5 minutes with. . . Peter Lynch from WhistlePig

We talk to the master blender at WhistlePig about a very special oloroso cask whiskey exclusive to MoM, a cocktail so secret that we can’t diverge the ingredients and how…

We talk to the master blender at WhistlePig about a very special oloroso cask whiskey exclusive to MoM, a cocktail so secret that we can’t diverge the ingredients and how nobody can fill Dave Pickerell’s enormous shoes.

The drinks world lost one of its greats last year when Dave Pickerell from WhistlePig died at the age of 62. Pickerell set up WhistlePig in 2009 and was instrumental in the revival of the original American style of whiskey – rye. We feel very fortunate to have met and tasted with him last year when he was over in London. Pickerell has left behind quite a legacy in WhistlePig, not least in the form of barrels and barrels of delicious maturing rye whiskey.

The buyers here at Master of Malt persuaded WhistlePig to sell us one of these barrels: an exclusive oloroso butt of 12 year old whiskey, which has been bottled recently and is on sale now. To tell us a bit more about it, we managed to get some time with master blender Peter Lynch.

Whistle-Pig-landscape

Behold! The WhistlePig 12 Year Old oloroso cask finish, exclusive to MoM

Master of Malt: Hello! What can you tell us about this oloroso-finished rye whiskey?

Peter Lynch: It’s one of my favourite projects that I’ve been working on. It’s an extension of our 12 Year Old Old World, aged in Port, Madeira and sauternes casks. We took that one step further and at the moment we’re trialling 15-20 different finishing casks which could range from a specific wood or, on the other side of things, a couple of different olorosos from different soleras. Last summer you guys purchased an old oloroso sherry butt [around 550 litres] that had been in a solera for 10-15 years. As it didn’t see that much life in there it has kept keep those sweeter, fruitier, more vibrant notes with a little less of that rancio character, and some oak extracts too. When it comes to finishing barrels with American whiskey, I’m worried about extracting the fresh oak component. Because the way these casks are heat-treated for wine, less aggressively than for whiskey, I’m at risk of pulling all these tannin and other compounds, which isn’t a worry for the winemaker. These sherry butts are about three times the size of a regular cask, so we were able to let it sit for longer, so it finishes for about two months. Typically with regular barrels we would finish for two to four weeks. It has sweet fruity notes but it’s very much a rye whiskey. You’ll see that with all our whiskeys, we are trying to push the boundaries but we’re not trying to turn it into something different. We’re just adding a top note. 

MoM: How long have you been working with WhistlePig for?

PL: I started with them back in 2015. I started as a distiller. I then moved into distilling and blending in about 2016.

MoM: How did you get into distilling?

PL: I had been a home brewer for a while. A love of whiskey has been instilled in me for quite a few years. I was working on sales and retail side of things and got to know spirits quite well. Then I saw an ad on Craigslist, of all places, for the position at WhistlePig.

MoM: Did you learn on the job then?

PL: Effectively speaking, yes, plus all the resources you can find in books and online publications. I was learning everyday. I have spent quite a bit of money on whiskey throughout my life but the amount I have spent on literature pertaining to whiskey and spirits dwarfs that. One of the things about building a distillery is there will always be growing pains, no matter what. A great way to learn is when things break down, you learn how to fix them. Whether it’s new machinery having issues or different yeast strains giving you trouble, you learn as you go. When it comes to something like premium rye whiskey, you are almost, if not quite making it up as you go, we’re defining this category. We’re trying to set the stage here quite deliberately, so all eyes are on us. 

Peter Lynch WhistlePig

Peter Lynch helping himself to some whiskey

MoM: What’s it been like trying to fill Dave Pickerell’s enormous shoes?

PL: I’m not trying to fill the shoes because they are very big shoes. People wonder what the line of succession is. They think, ‘oh my God, Dave’s gone, there’s a void’ but in reality that’s because people see Dave, they’ve met Dave, Dave had a huge personality, but they don’t see the everyday people on the farm, the warehouse guys who are grabbing the actual barrels, the distillers trouble-shooting on a day-to-day basis. We have a team who work on new products. It’s not something that we ever thought we had to prepare for, of course, but at the same time, we’ve got the infrastructure in place. But we definitely don’t have that kind of larger-than-life personality anymore. They’re definitely going to be tough shoes to fill. 

MoM: Which other distilleries do you think are doing interesting things with whiskey?

PL: That’s a tough one. I could give you 50 examples. People like Balcones or Corsair, pushing the boundaries with grains that we wouldn’t think of as whiskey grains. Balcones using different corn varieties: who cared ten years ago that 99% of bourbon whiskey was made from the same corn variety? If we change that one simple ingredient which is making up the bulk of that whiskey, you can get a totally different flavour profile. Balcones corn-forward whiskeys are going to be earthier than you might imagine, spicier with more herbaceous notes. That idea of terroir, and speaking of terroir, look at my buddies over in New York at Hillrock. They’re breaking it down even further, and focusing on different fields. They distill and mature it all in the same way, how is it going to taste in four years time? 

MoM: And finally, do you have a favourite rye cocktail?

I have a favourite cocktail but if I told it to you you would a) laugh in my face b) the person who told it to me would kill me for revealing the secret. It’s a two ingredient cocktail that has Farm Stock Crop 001 and another ingredient that I can’t tell you but it’s a very silly ingredient. Because it’s summer, I’m grabbing a highball right now. Nice and refreshing, it brings out a lots of different notes in the whiskey. If you try a highball with Whistlepig 10 Year Old or 12 Year Old or 15 Year Old, if you put them side by side you will notice incredible differences. It’s really the perfect summer drink. 

Thank you Peter! And we promise we won’t divulge the secret cocktail recipe only to say that it is surprising, and delicious too.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Pink Lady

This week we’re shaking up the pinkest thing in the known universe. Pinker than the Pink Panther, pinker than a pink shirt from Thomas Pink, Pinker even than the Pink…

This week we’re shaking up the pinkest thing in the known universe. Pinker than the Pink Panther, pinker than a pink shirt from Thomas Pink, Pinker even than the Pink herself, it’s the Pink Lady!

It has nothing to do with the Pink Ladies from Grease, but the Pink Lady is named after a musical. A show called The Pink Lady ran on Broadway before the First World War and it must have been a hit to have a cocktail named after it. The Pink Lady cocktail, however, would have to wait until Prohibition before is became a certifiable hit. The key ingredient, grenadine, is not only a pinking agent but it’s useful for disguising the taste of bad gin. Since its 1920s heyday, the Pink Lady has has fallen out of fashion. It’s seen as a rather kitsch drink. Jayne Mansfield, famous for her luridly decorated Los Angeles home known as the Pink Palace, was a fan. 

Originally, a Pink Lady would have been a very gin heavy cocktail. In Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, it’s basically neat gin (he specifies Plymouth) shaken with a tablespoon of grenadine and an egg white. Fierce! But by the 1940 and ‘50s it had evolved into something extremely sweet and somehow cream had crept into the recipe. That’s a step too far but nevertheless a properly-made Pink Lady should slip down a little too easily.

The Pink Lady

None more pink

The perfect version should fall between Craddock’s (too) basic recipe, and the more baroque constructions that came later. In David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, the Pink Lady comes under variations of the sour. The key thing is the lemon juice which freshens it up and stops the grenadine becoming cloying. Embury includes applejack (American apple brandy sometimes made with the addition of neutral alcohol) in his recipe, something taken up by later drinks writers including Eric Felten and Richard Godwin. Very nice but today I’m just sticking with gin. In this case Bathtub to give it a bit of Prohibition glamour. If you want to do a light Charleston while shaking, then that’s all to the good. 

The results are absolutely delicious. Pink is having a bit of a moment, what with pink gins, pink wines and, err, all the other pink things. If it’s pink, it sells. So, I think the Pink Lady is long overdue a revival, don’t you? Here’s how to make it. 

50ml Bathtub Gin
15ml lemon juice
10ml grenadine

1 egg white

Dry shake all the components hard, add ice and then shake again. Double strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass and serve with a maraschino cherry or a raspberry.

You can always make your own grenadine, see this recipe.

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New Arrival of the Week: TBRC Diamond Distillery (Port Mourant Still) 10 Year Old

This week’s new arrival isn’t just a very special rum from Guyana bottled by That Boutique-y Rum Company, but it’s also a portal through time because it was distilled using…

This week’s new arrival isn’t just a very special rum from Guyana bottled by That Boutique-y Rum Company, but it’s also a portal through time because it was distilled using a wooden pot still dating back to 1732! 

We visit a lot of distilleries here at MoM. They come in all shapes and sizes but one thing they have in common is at the heart there will be a mass of gleaming metal (usually copper) where the magic happens. But they do things a little differently in Guyana. It’s the only English-speaking country in South America. Though it’s sandwiched between Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil, Guyana is closer culturally to Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Trinidad. 

Heavy Guyanese spirits formed the backbone of Navy rum, as they still do in blends like Pusser’s. These highly-prized rums get their magic from wooden pot stills. It sounds a bit dangerous, doesn’t it? Since distillation involves boiling highly flammable liquids, surely wood is the last thing you’d want to use? Yet originally this how many rums were made, but only in Guyana do they still use the technique.

Port Mourant stills

No gleaming copper here

The Port Mourant stills were constructed in 1732. Or at least parts of them are that old. The set-up is a sort of Heath Robinson contraption that bits have been added to and replaced over the years. It consists of two stills of 3,000 and 2,000 gallons, the pots are made from local hardwood to which copper necks have been attached, the columns are linked and lead to a retort and a condenser.

The wood does two things. Firstly, it’s not an inert substance so it preserves and transmits flavours from previous distillations going back hundreds of years. Secondly, there is much less copper contact than a normal pot still which preserves heavier alcohols and congeners.

The stills have had an interesting life which reflects the vicissitudes of Guyanese rum. Around the beginning of the 20th century there were seven great distilleries including Port Mourant in the country but, as with Irish whiskey, downturns in the industry led to consolidations, and one by one, distilleries closed. But so important were these old stills, that rather than being scrapped when the Port Mourant Distillery closed, they were first transported to the nearby Albion Distillery,and when that closed they went to Uitvlugt (Dutch word, pronounced ‘eye-flut’). It then closed in 2000 when all distilling in Guyana was consolidated at the Diamond Distillery belonging to Demerara Distillers Ltd. The stills’ slow journey around the country is commemorated on this rum’s label. The gleaming towers of the modern distillation equipment at Diamond can be seen on the horizon.

Diamond Distillery (Port Mourant Still) - Batch 3

The wooden stills on their way to the promised land, or the Diamond Distillery as its better known

The Port Mourant stills aren’t the only bits of living industry at Diamond. There’s another wooden pot still which came from the Versailles Distillery and an exact replica of the original Coffey still which came from the Enmore estate, but made from wood! So within one distillery in Guyana, there’s the heritage of the entire’s country’s rum industry and the ability to make an extraordinary range of spirits. There’s a good article about the place here

These rums usually go into blends but some are bottled under the El Dorado (the fabled city of gold that was thought to be in Guyana – it wasn’t) label, as well as independent bottlings like this 10 year old from That Boutique-y Rum Company. As you might have guessed, it’s a rum packed full of flavour with estery banana notes and no shortage of funk. Ten years in cask have rounded it off, giving it elegance but without losing that extraordinary character. It’s a remarkable bit of living history, and best drunk with just a little ice. 

Diamond Distillery (Port Mourant Still) 10 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

Diamond Distillery (Port Mourant Still) 10 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

Tastings note from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Grassy initially and then the funky flavours come: overripe bananas, balsamic flavours and sun-baked earth.
Palate: Quite light body, dry and crisp with hot peppery notes, with a lingering banana and boiled sweet fruitiness underpinning it all.
Finish: Toffee with lingering vegetal notes.
Overall: Funky but elegant too.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Moscow Mule

This week we have a cocktail that has nothing to do with horses or donkeys, and not much of a connection to Russia. It’s the Moscow Mule! The Moscow Mule…

This week we have a cocktail that has nothing to do with horses or donkeys, and not much of a connection to Russia. It’s the Moscow Mule!

The Moscow Mule owes its success to some very clever marketing. One of the drinks (possible) inventors, John G. Martin, would take photographs of customers drinking the Mule in its distinctive copper mug using the new-fangled Polaroid camera (launched in 1948). He would put one photo up on the wall of the bar, and take the other photo to another bar to show them what they were missing out on. Thus the Mule spread, customers would see photos of people enjoying a new drink and think: ‘maybe I’ll have one of those?’ 

That’s the marketing, but what about the origins of the drink itself? One plausible story concerns the serendipitous meeting of three people with an oversupply problem in a British-style pub in Los Angeles called the Cock and Bull. It was the 1940s, and Jack Morgan who ran the pub was trying without much success to launch his own brand of ginger beer. He had cases of the stuff in the basement gathering dust. One day he met the aformentioned Martin who had just acquired the rights to sell Smirnoff vodka in the US. It’s hard to imagine now, but vodka was considered a bit niche, and he was struggling to sell the stuff. You can just imagine the lightbulb moment when they both simultaneously thought: ‘why not mix them together?’ Brilliant! The result was the Moscow Mule.

Cocktail of the Week Moscow Mule

The Moscow Mule, all dressed up

Not exactly earth shattering stuff. People had been mixing rum, whisky and brandy with ginger beer for years and adding a little citrus. But the final piece in the jigsaw is the clever bit: Morgan’s girlfriend was a lady called Sophie Berezinski who has just inherited a factory that made copper mugs which. . . yes you guessed it, she couldn’t get rid of. A chilled spicy alcoholic drink in a distinctive shiny serving vessel with beads of condensation dripping down the side. Just the thing for a hot night in Los Angeles. Just add a Polaroid camera and a cocktail sensation was born. Special mugs were commissioned with the legend ‘kicks like a mule’.

The mule had arrived. Or so the story goes. Esteemed drinks writer Eric Felton thinks this story is a load of cock and bull, and the Mule was actually invented at the same pub but by the bartender, Wes Price. Perhaps more likely but less fun.

Anyway, the marketing is perhaps more interesting than the drink. But still, boozy ginger beer, what’s not to like? The most important ingredient is the ginger beer. For me, Fentiman’s is king, having a massive hit of ginger without being too sweet. Fever Tree also make a very nice ginger beer. And the vodka? Anything you like really. I suppose Smirnoff would be the most authentic choice but I’m using Wyborowa from Poland. Perhaps, it should be called a Warsaw Mule.

Right, let’s Mule!

60ml Wyborowa Vodka
180ml Ginger Beer
Juice of half a lime

Fill a Mule cup with ice, add all the ingredients and give it a good stir. Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.

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Five minutes with… Fawn Weaver, Uncle Nearest whiskey

It’s 26 July, and Aunt and Uncle’s Day! Don’t panic, UK pals; it’s only in America. Your father’s brother probably isn’t expecting a card. But we thought it would be…

It’s 26 July, and Aunt and Uncle’s Day! Don’t panic, UK pals; it’s only in America. Your father’s brother probably isn’t expecting a card. But we thought it would be a good excuse to celebrate whiskey’s greatest uncle, Nathan Green aka Uncle Nearest. Here to tell us more is the Uncle Nearest brand founder, Fawn Weaver…

You may not have heard of him, but Nearest Green did more to put Jack Daniel’s on the map than anyone apart from Jack Daniel himself. Green was born a slave in the American south, sometime around 1820. He was a master distiller in the mid 1850s, and following the Civil War and emancipation, he taught a young Jack Daniel how to make whiskey, becoming the first master distiller for Jack Daniel Distillery. The rest is, of course, history. Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 went on to be one of the best selling whiskeys in the world and a global icon.

Green himself, however, didn’t get the credit he deserved. So when Fawn Weaver, bestselling writer, entrepreneur and daughter of a Motown producer Frank Wilson, found out about his story, she set about righting some historical wrongs. The results were twofold: a great Tennessee whiskey that Nearest would be proud of, and a foundation named in his honour.

Weaver took the time to talk to us about this inspirational figure. 

Uncle Nearest

Uncle Nearest 1856. We can confirm it is tasty.

Master of Malt: What exactly is Uncle’s Day?

Fawn Weaver: The official name is Aunt and Uncle’s Day and it is a time in the US when we celebrate both. However, as Uncle Nearest is the most well-known Uncle in the US, we’ve sort of hijacked the holiday.

 MoM: Who was Uncle Nearest and why does he deserve to be better known?

FW: Uncle Nearest was the first known African-American master distiller in the US, the first master distiller for the Jack Daniel Distillery, and the teacher of the process that has since been made a prerequisite of Tennessee whiskey: sugar maple charcoal filtering prior to the whiskey going into the barrel.

 MoM: Where did you come across his story?

FW: I first learned of the story while in Singapore. On the cover of the New York Times Global Edition was a headline that caught me by surprise: Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Secret Ingredient: Help from a Slave.

 MoM: When did you get the idea to create a whiskey brand around him?

FW: Almost immediately after reading the story. I thought that could be fascinating. But I did not move on actually doing it until after meeting with members of Nearest’s family, as well as Daniel’s, and learned they were both desiring the same thing.

Uncle Nearest

What the finished Uncle Nearest Distillery will look like

 MoM: Where is your whiskey made? 

FW: While our 270-acre distillery is under construction, we co-distill in Columbia, Tennessee at Tennessee Distilling Group. However, all of our whiskey in the market, that is over the age of eight years old, was originally sourced from the one distillery still following Nearest’s process of putting the whiskey in the barrel at a low proof, so the amount of water added post barreling is still minimum. We source and then age for a couple more years, before putting the whiskey through our final two steps unique to our brand. The first step is filtering through diatomaceous earth. If you go into a health food store, you are likely to see this being used as a cleanse to the body. Well, it acts in a very similar manner with whiskey, removing fusel oils and congeners. Following that filtration step, our whiskey rests in a steel tank with natural carbon from coconut shells for 24-48 hours. This filtration step does not add anything but it does remove the majority of the remaining congeners. It is one of the reasons you are very unlikely to get a hangover from drinking Uncle Nearest neat or on the rocks.

MoM: What was the thinking behind how Uncle Nearest is made? 

FW: The original recipes from Lynchburg, Tennessee that we’ve been able to get our hands on, had a corn percentage of 84% (albeit 3.5% of that being corn malt). So, our recipe remains true to that. Ageing for us is all about taste and not the number. Prior to this past week, we have never bottled anything lower than eight years old as Uncle Nearest 1856 is a blend of eight-to-10 year old whiskies. However, we recently debuted Uncle Nearest 1884 at Tales of the Cocktail, and many of the press and bar industry folks who tasted it declared it our best yet. Everything we do, however, is done in Tennessee to ensure we fulfill the requirements of Tennessee Whiskey: distilling, ageing and bottling.

Uncle Nearest Fawn Weaver

It’s Fawn Weaver!

 MoM: How did you make the change from being a writer to being a whiskey entrepreneur?

FW: For me, there was no change as I’ve been an entrepreneur for the past 24 years. Writing for me has always been more of a hobby I do on the side. For many, they assumed I was a writer full-time because I’m a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author. But I was just fortunate to write books folks truly enjoyed reading. In terms of entrepreneurialism, I opened my first company at the age of 18, and haven’t looked back. My investments have always been in hospitality and lifestyle brands, so moving into the whiskey business was not much of a leap for me.

 MoM: Did you know much about whiskey before starting the brand?

FW: Whiskey was my drink of choice well before I began this brand. My call at the time was E.H. Taylor single barrel, cask strength or Blanton’s. I still enjoy both of these very much. They are the most similar to Uncle Nearest, in my opinion, except they are distilled and aged north of the Kentucky line and we are distilled and aged south of it.

 MoM: Apart from whiskey, what does the Nearest Green Foundation do?

FW: The Nearest Green Foundation is charged with ensuring Nearest’s legacy is not only known around the world but is cemented for many generations to come. To that end, the foundation has 12 different projects at the moment, my favorite being the education of all of his descendants. For each of his college-age descendants, they only have to get into the university of their choice, and Uncle Nearest pays for all of their tuition, books, tutors and whatever else they need to succeed. Their requirement is to pay that gift forward, to someone less fortunate, and to do so in the name of Nearest Green. 

Uncle Nearest

The future home of Uncle Nearest!

 MoM: What’s your favourite whiskey cocktail?

FW: Every year it changes. At one point, it was the Tennessee Gold (similar to a Bee’s Knees but using whiskey instead of gin). Now, it is our signature Nearest Green Distillery cocktail: Tennessee Buck. This combines Uncle Nearest with Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, ginger beer (Fever Tree and Peter Spanton’s Dry Ginger work best) topped with lime in a highball glass.

 MoM: And finally, you don’t have to answer this question but, as the daughter of a Motown producer, I have to ask you what’s your favourite Motown record?

FW: You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (ironically, I’m more familiar with the Blood, Sweat & Tears version than the original Motown version) and Keep on Truckin’ by Eddie Kendricks. My dad produced and co-wrote the song, and it could easily be the theme song title for my life.

Thank you! Now let’s raise a glass of some Uncle Nearest to your favourite uncle or aunt. 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Tequila Sunrise

For International Tequila Day, we’re shaking up a classic with an illustrious history that features the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Kurt Russell! What came first, the song or the…

For International Tequila Day, we’re shaking up a classic with an illustrious history that features the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Kurt Russell!

What came first, the song or the cocktail? Well that’s an easy one, it’s the cocktail. ‘Tequila Sunrise’ by the Eagles came out in 1973 whereas the Tequila Sunrise cocktail has been kicking about in one form or other since the 1930s. Originally it was far closer to a Margarita or Paloma being made with lime juice and fizzy water, and it got its trademark reddish haze from Crème de Cassis rather than Grenadine. 

The Tequila Sunrise as we know it is far more recent. It was probably invented in the early 1970s by two bartenders Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice at the Trident, a bar in Sausalito near San Francisco. It could have just been another cocktail that achieved a modicum of local fame before disappearing into oblivion, but for a chance meeting with an up-and-coming young beat combo known as The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger tried the cocktail, loved it and the band and its entourage took it up as their drink du jour. In his autobiography Life (well worth a read, it’s brilliant), Keith Richards referred to Stones’ 1972 tour of America as “cocaine and Tequila Sunrise tour”. How’s that for a serving suggestion?

With publicity like this, how could the cocktail fail? It quickly became one of the best known cocktails in the world. The Tequila Sunrise’s heyday was the ‘70s and ‘80s. There was even a baffling thriller named after it starring Mel Gibson, Michele Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell that came out in 1988. 

It’s not a difficult drink to make but I am sure that readers like me have had some pretty revolting versions. As always you need top quality ingredients starting with the Tequila. I’m using the delightfully smooth Maestro Dobel Diamond which is a 100% agave aged Tequila that’s filtered to remove the colour – just as how white rums like Havana Club 3 Year Old are made. Next, you must use freshly-squeezed orange juice, NOT juice made from concentrate. Then there’s the grenadine. You can buy grenadine but it tastes better if you make it yourself from pomegranate juice (recipe below).

The basic Tequila Sunrise is nice but it can be improved with some judicious fiddling.  Adding a little lime and/or grapefruit juice freshens it up beautifully and takes it back into Margarita/ Paloma territory. And while we are going there why not go old school and use Cassis to get that pretty sunrise effect, or perhaps Campari or Aperol?

The Tequila Sunrise,

The Tequila Sunrise, if it’s good enough of Keith, it’s good enough for us

Right got your ingredients in place? Stick on Exile on Main Street, and let’s make a Tequila Sunrise!

60ml  Maestro Dobel Diamond Tequila
120ml freshly-squeezed orange juice
Juice of half a lime
2 teaspoons grenadine*

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add the orange juice and Tequila. Shake and strain into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Slowly pour the grenadine down the side of the glass to get that red haze. Garnish with an orange slice or a maraschino cherry, or both, rock n’ roll!

* Pomegranate juice (make sure it is pure pomegranate juice and not a drink containing pomegranate and sugar) is already sweet so you don’t need to add as much sugar as to water. A ratio of two parts juice to three parts sugar is ideal. Pour the pomegranate juice into a saucepan and gently heat, don’t boil, add the sugar and slowly and stir until it dissolves. Remove from the heat, pour into a sterilised jar (heated in the oven or with boiling water) and it should last in the fridge for months.

 

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Rum past, present and future with Alexandre Gabriel from Plantation

As part of our Rum Month coverage, we talk to Alexandre Gabriel about rediscovering old distillation techniques, a pineapple concoction inspired by Charles Dickens, and a release that’s as “funky…

As part of our Rum Month coverage, we talk to Alexandre Gabriel about rediscovering old distillation techniques, a pineapple concoction inspired by Charles Dickens, and a release that’s as “funky as James Brown.”

We normally call interviews ‘Five minutes with…’ but that would rather misrepresent my meeting earlier this year with Alexandre Gabriel in which I spent a fascinating two hours listening, discussing and sampling different spirits. It could easily have been two days and the time would have flown by because not only is Gabriel an enthusiast but he is also a scholar who is hungry to know more about the history of rum, Cognac and other spirits. For Gabriel, learning about the past is the key to the future.  

He was brought up in Burgundy and after attending business school, came across Maison Ferrand, a historic but fading Cognac house. It was the beginning of a love affair with the region. He is now the chairman and majority shareholder of the company. In addition, he makes Citadelle Gin and Plantation Rum as well as doing collaborations with other producers such as Ocho Tequila. This interview is only a fraction of what we discussed. We aim to publish the Cognac portion later in the year, but as it was rum month, here’s Gabriel on rum:

Alexandre Gabriel

Alexandre Gabriel in his element at Maison Ferrand

Master of Malt: Where did the idea for Plantation come from?

Alexandre Gabriel: Plantation was born out of maturing the rums in our Cognac barrels and trying to treat rum beautifully and respectfully, this was our take. And the first barrels we made, over 20 years ago, were for us to drink. Then a friend of mine at the time, who was the buyer of Nicolas [chain of wine merchants in France], got to taste these and she said, ‘Mr Gabriel, this is absolutely delicious, I want to buy this’. And I said ‘well we don’t have a brand’ she says ‘make a brand’. And a farm in the Caribbean is called The Plantation so I grew up on a farm, I live on a farm, I said ‘we’re going to call it Plantation’. 

MM: Did you always want to own your own rum distillery?

AG: The idea of Plantation was really cherrypicking what I thought were great barrels. But I knew I would like to invest in a distillery. So, for quite a few years I was looking at different options. And one day West Indies Rum Distillery, which is an old lady on the beach, that’s been around since 1893 at least. There was a spring right on the water so it was the perfect place for a distillery: they could ship out the barrels and have fresh water. And I approached the family who owned it, it was a very old Bajan family and after a year of negotiation, they agreed to sell. And luckily, West Indies Rum Distillery owned a third of the National Rums of Jamaica, which consists of Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries. So we own a third of National Rums of Jamaica.   

MOM: Do you think rum is in the sort of place that say whisky was maybe 30 or 40 years ago where you have distilleries making these incredible rums but nobody’s heard of them because most go into blends?

AG: That’s a good point. Now people are rediscovering the distilleries. Historically, West Indies Rum Distilleries which was supplying most blenders of every county, including Barbados, was forbidden by law, to have its own brand, until recently. By law they couldn’t sell directly in Barbados or elsewhere. 

The West Indies Distillery, Barbados

The West Indies Distillery, Barbados, as you can see, it’s right on the beach

MoM: Where do you age your rums?

AG: All the Plantation rums go through a double-ageing, so first in the Caribbean, it depends, one-two-three-four-five years, rarely more than ten years in the Caribbean. After ten years you lose 7% a year, it’s a lot. And then we ship it to France for one or two years, it depends, three years. And we insist that that journey where the rum is travelling inside the barrel is magical. We are now we analysing it scientifically.

MOM: Tell me about the archive at West Indies Distillery:

AG: In the middle of the distillery, there is a room called ‘The Vault’. And inside they have been storing the documents since 1893. So we discovered stuff that was crazy. For example, they were fermenting using a little bit of seawater. The distillery is right on the beach. Just a small amount and I thought ‘that’s crazy’ and we tried it and the old guys were smiling, thinking ‘we know!’ kind of thing. There’s a guy, Digger, who’s been at the distillery for 40 years, and another, John Kinch, who has been at the distillery for 40 years as well. So these guys are smiling. We have an old still that used to be for making navy rum and went silent some years ago, and Digger said, ‘I can’t wait to run that baby again!’ And it still had the little ruler, the big piece of metal that he was using for the valves and stuff. We had to change a lot of the valves because they were faulty. We fixed it up. It’s distilling as we speak. 

MoM: Did you discover anything else?

AG: We dug out documents from the 19th century showing the barrels were made or fixed with local wood, mango trees, from the Caribbean. Why should we give that up? We have to keep that diversity. And it’s true with fermentation yeast, there were many yeasts in the old days. In Jamaica you find several ones, they are natural but they are also cultured, we should allow that. The same with the pot still, the same with the water we discussed. That’s the beauty of rum. 

Then Gabriel brought out a couple of rums for me to try, and he told me a little about them:

PlPlantation Xaymaca Special Dry

Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry – funkier than James Brown’s trousers

Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry

A blend of two Jamaican distilleries, Long Pond and Clarendon. This is the one that was described by a bartender as “funky as James Brown.” The nose is extremely powerful with lots of overripe pineapple and banana, but the palate is very elegant and dry. It’s the kind of rum that would have gone into navy rums in the past. 

AG: “This is what we call a ‘plummer’. In Jamaica you have different grades of rum and a plummer is when the rums are heavy, have a high level of non-alcohols and a high level of esters, higher than 150 grammes per hectolitre. Mr Plummer was a British guy who had plantations in Jamaica and was a trader and was in the docks, you know the docks of London, and was bringing back all the rums and they were going into blends. It’s 43% alcohol. This is a dry expression. I wanted to create quite an intense but elegant rum”.  

Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum

This pineapple-infused rum inspired by Charles Dickens came about from conversations with Dave Wondrich, American booze historian and author of the book Punch. It’s made by infusing pineapple rinds in white rum for a week and then redistilling it. This is then combined with a dark rum that has been steeping with pineapples for three months. The two components are left to marry in cask for three months before bottling. 

AG: “He [Wondrich] was saying:  ‘Alexandre, the pineapple rum of the 18th century and 19th century, you’re the one to recreate it.’ And then he keeps sending me these different recipes and different patents really. There were a couple that called for using the skin of the pineapple. But they were not very precise. So we distilled the skin of the pineapple, we peel it, and then we infuse the flesh and we blend the two together. And I was looking for a name and he says ‘why not the Reverend Stiggins from The Pickwick Papers, the guy always preaching abstinence and he had a little flask of pineapple rum’. So we called it Stiggins’ Fancy. That was a cool name and it stuck.”

Thank you M. Gabriel! 

We will be publishing the Maison Ferrand Cognac story later in the year.

 

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