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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

New Arrival of the Week: Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon

There has been much wearing of chaps and yee-hawing at MoM HQ because this week we’ve chosen bourbon from the Lone Star state for the coveted New Arrival slot. You…

There has been much wearing of chaps and yee-hawing at MoM HQ because this week we’ve chosen bourbon from the Lone Star state for the coveted New Arrival slot.

You may have heard of nominative determinism: people doing jobs that are amusingly well-suited to their names. There are top urologists A. J. Splatt and D. Weedon, Israeli tennis player Anna Smashnova and, best of all, a Dutch architect called Rem Koolhaas. Perhaps not quite in this league but still pretty funny is that the head distiller at Houston’s Yellow Rose distillery is called Houston Farris. A Texan native, he wasn’t born in Houston, but something drew him to the city. Can’t think what.

Outlaw Bourbon

Outlaw Bourbon, it’s completely legit

Houston moved to Houston in 2002 and joined the Yellow Rose Distillery in 2014 as ‘brand mixologist’. He learned the intricacies of distillation before assuming his current role in 2017. There’s some serious booze heritage in the Ferris family: “My great-grandfather, Vance Raimond, ran the first legal moonshine still in the state of Texas since Prohibition,” Ferris writes on the website. “This was at the Texas Centennial Expo in 1936. He set up on the Midway of the state fairgrounds and attracted a great deal of attention. Unfortunately, that included the IRS, who wasted little time in shutting his operation down!”

You will be relieved to know that the Yellow Rose distillery, despite making a bourbon called Outlaw, is completely legit.  Founded in 2010, it claims to be the first legal distillery in Houston since Prohibition. The first whiskey was released in 2012 and the distillery opened its doors to the public in 2014. You won’t be surprised to hear that it is named after the 19th century American folk song: “The Yellow Rose of Texas” (which, oddly enough, we used to sing in music class in my primary school in Buckinghamshire).

Houston Farris

Houston Farris, born to do it

The set up consists of 600 gallon (2700 litre) mash tun, two 600 gallon fermenters and a 600 gallon whiskey still. It produces over 10,000 cases a year. Currently the company produces three products, a rye, made with 95% rye in the mash bill, a blended whiskey and the award-winning Outlaw Bourbon which is double pot-distilled. The bourbon could not be more Texan if it was wearing a cowboy hat and firing a couple of revolvers in the air Yosemite Sam-style: it’s made from Texas yellow corn and aged in Texas in American oak. Anyone who has been to Houston will know how hot and humid it can get so the whiskey matures quickly. The distillery loses about 15% a year to those pesky angels demanding their share. Following maturation, it’s bottled at a punchy 46% ABV.

Yellow Rose is just the sort of smaller player who is being badly affected by the trade war between the US and EU that Ian Buxton wrote about recently. So help out an independent distillery and fill your cowboy boots.

Tastings note from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: A hint of floral oak, with a drizzle of caramel and oak char in there too.

Palate: Buttery caramel, toffee popcorn and vanilla with a hint of marshmallow.

Finish: Treacle and more of that lingering oak char.

 

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How the iStill is revolutionising distillation

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the…

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the good doctor about automation, cask ageing and why most distillers are stuck in the past. 

We met Dr Edwin van Eijk, or Odin to his friends, at an event called Speakeasy organised by Spanish spirits distributor Vantguard. Presenting after the charismatic Carlos Magdalena aka the Plant Messiah (one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 most influential Londoners, dontcha know) can’t have been easy but the doc more than kept the audience of bartenders and industry types transfixed. While he spoke, a silent lab coat-clad assistant (who I was later specifically told that I was not allowed to ask questions of) beavered away in the background with an iStill. It was like the Pet Shop Boys of distillation.

Odin in action with a mini iStill.

The genesis for the iStill comes from visits to Hungary, Van Eijk’s wife is Hungarian, a country where amateur distillation is commonplace. Most of the fruit brandies he tried were pretty rough, according to van Eijk, “but one guy came up with a nice smooth drink, no hangover. How?” Van Eijk’s curiosity was aroused but he quickly became frustrated by the unscientific approach to distillation: “I soon discovered that most information was anecdotal,” he said. “My grand grandfather did this.” For van Eijk this was good enough, he just kept asking ‘why?’ 

So, he built his own still, and added thermometers and automation so it could run while he was doing his day job. He quickly realised he was on to something so he quit his job, sold his house and set up his own business in 2012 with the aim of, according to the website, “making modern, game changing distillation technology.” 

All iStills are made in a factory in the Netherlands. It’s now a big operation. Van Eijk claims to be the largest supplier of distillation equipment worldwide in terms of numbers sold. Such well-known operations as Dornoch in Scotland, Wrecking Coast in Cornwall, Blackwater in Ireland all use iStills. You can see from these maps how ubiquitous they have become in Ireland and Scotland.  Some distilleries have both a traditional and an iStill. There’s something for all budgets: an eight litre mini still that can be carried in a suitcase (see above) starts at €3000; whereas a 5000 litre one begins at €90,000. The company recommends customers take a four day training workshop. Odin is also very responsive in distillation forums for those who have further questions. “We are successful because we keep asking why. Innovation is only key to success. Try something different”, he said.

A map showing all the iStills in the world

Take automation, for example. When you visit distilleries, even new ones or especially new ones, you are often proudly told that everything is manual. There are no computers here. For van Eijk described this as “bad business covered up as romance.” He went on to say:  “We all love horses and carriages but I came here by aeroplane and taxi. It’s in the glass you beat your competition.” He compared distillers love of old equipment unfavourably with brewers: “Craft brewers are ahead of the curve,” he said. “Brewing is understood and researched. Not magic.” iStills are fully automated with a robot that takes the hearts, heads and tails, and an app that tells you where to cut depending on what you’re looking for in a spirit: “The most profound flavours come from back end tails,” he said, “Toothy rooty, nutty and earthy flavours.”

An iStill doesn’t look much like conventional still. It’s square for starters and made out of stainless steel. “Why are stills made from copper?” he asked me. “It removes sulphur caused during fermentation. Why not start with great beer or great wine without sulphur?” (Though, of course, you might want some sulphur in your spirit). iStill does, however, offer a copper ‘waffle’ to remove sulphur compounds caused by “substandard fermentations” as the website puts it. iStills are direct-fired either with electricity or gas and claim to be much more economical than a standard set up. The biggest surprise though, is that it’s possible to mash, ferment and distill all in the same vessel: “Why mash, ferment and distill in separate containers?” he said. “They all take place in a boiler and are about heating up and cooling down. My machines can do everything in one boiler.” He thinks part of the reason people go for the traditional set-up is so that suppliers can sell more equipment.  

We’re not in Rothes anymore

You won’t be surprised to hear that Van Eijk has strong views about the finished product too: “Why should whisky taste like peat or sherry?” he said. “I want it to taste like grain. People in the whisky business used to say that 50% of the flavour comes from cask, now they say it is 80%. New make spirit has deteriorated in terms of the grain and procedures used in order to create as much alcohol as possible. This is worldwide. The real reason people use sherry and Port casks is to cover up spirit that has a fruity flavour deficiency.” That’s fighting talk! He’s also critical of gin: “Most gins do not have a lot of back end,” he told me. With the app, you can, according to van Eijk “see where there is a gap in flavour profile and find something that fills it out.” 

“We love to bash the status quo,” he told me. This has angered some people. To answer some of his critics he took part in a challenge with a distiller in Chicago. “He had beautiful copper still costing $200k and my little still cost $10k”, he told me. To the horror of the distillery owner and (some of) the critics, Van Eijk’s little still not only distilled faster but his spirit tasted better in a blind test. That day he sold seven stills. 

While van Eijk was talking, the iStill was running watched over by his silent assistant. Then at the end we got to try the result, a rum distilled with mint and lime, like a gin. Made in around half an hour. And the results, well, there wasn’t a traditionally-distilled version for comparison but it tasted pretty damn good to me. I’m going to start saving up for a iStillof my own. I think I could squeeze one into my shed.

You can find out more about how the iStill works on its YouTube page. 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Wild Beer Co. Murmur

Beer brewed with lobsters, wild yeasts and barrel ageing, all in a day’s work for the team at the Wild Beer Company in Somerset. We tried the latest release, Murmur,…

Beer brewed with lobsters, wild yeasts and barrel ageing, all in a day’s work for the team at the Wild Beer Company in Somerset. We tried the latest release, Murmur, a beer with a distinctly vinous taste.

Located next to an award-winning cheese producer, near Shepton Mallet, in the heart of cider country, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a more classic West Country site than the home of the Wild Beer Company. But there’s nothing cosy or comforting about the beers produced here. Whereas most British breweries are content to work within quite a narrow framework of beer styles such as IPAs, porters, best bitters, and for the really adventurous, lagers, the Wild Beer Company are a little bit, well, wild.

Wild Boys: Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis

The firm was set up in 2012 by an Englishman Andrew Cooper, who looks after the business side, and a Californian Brett Ellis, the brewer. They began brewing in the kitchen of neighbouring Westcombe Dairy producing 2400 litres of beer a week. Everything was bottled by hand. Since then they have expanded and along the way winning Best Drink Producer at the BBC Food and Farming Awards in 2017 among other honours. The company’s beers are now distributed internationally and it runs a bar: Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf in Bristol. 

And yet success doesn’t mean playing safe. The company produces a dizzying array of products including a beer that tastes of salted caramel and one made with a mixture of local and Norwegian berries. Perhaps the strangest beer they’ve made was called Of The Sea and it was flavoured with seaweed, cockles and lobsters. Yes, real lobsters. The shellfish were cooked with the malt during the mashing stage, then removed and eaten by the lucky brewery team while the beer was fermented. The results were odd but delicious. Like a beery seafood bisque. 

As well as unusual ingredients, the Wild Beer team are crazy about barrels and yeasts. The inside of the brewery looks like a winery or distillery, crammed with oak barrels and foudres (large oak containers). The cask ageing gives many of the Wild Beer products a wine-like tang. Then there’s yeast. Most breweries use one yeast for all their beers. In fact, modern brewing is based on isolating a particular yeast that consistently produces the flavours that the brewer is looking for. Wild Beer, on the other hand, uses a plethora of yeasts including wild ones found in the air. These offer more flavour, potentially, but also more risk. Especially when combined with old wood, a rogue yeast might turn the beer to vinegar. But it’s worth it when you try the quality of the products.

Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. It’s called Murmur, named perhaps after REM’s 1983 debut album (or so we like to think). It’s made using malted barley and wheat, fermented with a saison beer yeast and a yeast normally used to make white Burgundy to create a beer of 5% ABV. The flavours from fermentation are complimented with fruity vivid hop varieties, Ekuanot, Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau. The result is something distinctly tangy and fresh with sour citrus, fresh hay and savoury herbs. Ideally it should be drunk out of a wine glass rather than a pint mug alongside food. Best bitter, it ain’t.

 

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Five minutes with. . . Claire Warner of Aecorn

Continuing our Dry January coverage, we talk to Claire Warner, co-founder of Aecorn, the non-alcoholic aperitif from the people who brought you Seedlip, about the burgeoning category, medieval recipes and…

Continuing our Dry January coverage, we talk to Claire Warner, co-founder of Aecorn, the non-alcoholic aperitif from the people who brought you Seedlip, about the burgeoning category, medieval recipes and her views on the competition. 

We met with Claire Warner at the newest outpost of Soho Italian deli, Lina Stores, in the former goods yard behind King’s Cross station in London which is now bursting with bars and restaurants. It’s an appropriate choice of venue because Aecorn, a non-alcoholic drink from the people behind Seedlip, is designed to be drunk with food. Londoner born and bred, Warner is an industry veteran having spent 15 years at LVMH working with Belvedere vodka. Aecorn comes in three varieties, Dry, Aromatic and Bitter. The latter two varieties work something like amaro or vermouth, being designed to be mixed; you can make a so-called NOgroni (see what they did there?) with equal parts Seedlip and the two Aecorns. Dry, however, is particularly good drunk neat and chilled as a wine alternative. It’s far more delicious than any non-alcoholic wine that I’ve tried having great acidity, texture and depth of flavour. Over a few glasses, Warner told us a bit more about it. 

NOgroni

Is that a Negroni? No, it’s a NOgroni

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

Claire Warner: I was really frustrated by how little there was to drink with food specifically when you’re not drinking. And having seen how well Seedlip really articulated that problem, we felt that there was a natural opportunity for us to create something that really was more than non-alcoholic wine. I joined 18 months ago to realise this new brand that would work specifically with food. So we spent some time looking in some old books, and found two things that were interesting: one was the use of verjus in the Middle Ages in the UK when we had lots of grapes, and then also this recipe for acorn wine that we found that was being used as a digestif as it aids digestion. And putting the two things together and thinking actually there’s a real opportunity for us to create a range of products that are inspired by European aperitifs, grape-based with the addition of botanicals to work with food.

MoM: How long did it take to develop? 

CW: It took about a year. The whole process. And the liquid development part in particular, I think we take for granted how alcohol works when it comes to stability and extraction and things like flavour profile. We really began with first of all finding English verjus, which was very difficult because there’s not a lot of excess grapes in England. We had to really work hard to find a grower that actually only grows grapes for verjus, so we’ve been very, very lucky. And the verjus gives us a lot of the same sort of mouth feel, structure the sensation of wine, perhaps in the mouth. 

MoM: Can you explain what verjus is?

CW: Verjus means ‘green juice’ and it is essentially the juice of unripened grapes. We use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier that grow in Sussex. And we press them before they change colour, so that we get a lot of beautiful acidity and quite a lot of tannins as well. And we press just before veraison when the grapes are just starting to change colour, so we get some sweetness too. So we get a nice balance between acidity and sweetness. And then we add the botanicals to give us the sort of flavour that you would expect from something that would work with food. In the case of this, we’ve got lots of green herbaceous notes, a little bit of salinity as well, lots of astringency from black tea and the grapes that we use, so all in all it’s a really sort of dry and fresh, green, herbaceous drink that you could have with food. And then the Aromatic is much more, aromatic, and it’s got vanilla and kola nut and clove and cassia, so really rich and indulgent flavours that work at the end of the meal.

The Aecorn range

The Aecorn range

MoM: There are three varieties aren’t there?

CW: There’s three and the third is bitter, which is bitter, and behaves much more like the traditional Italian bitter liqueur, so lots of orange, grapefruit, gentian. And then what runs through all of them is the eponymous acorns, so we do use acorns for some of the bitterness and some of the tannins as well. And tannins are super important for something that doesn’t have alcohol, because it creates that sort of same structure in the mouth as you would expect from wine. 

MoM: It’s quite a new category, do you think there’s masses of untapped potential here?

CW: I think we’ve just scratched the surface with what’s possible. Unlike many new innovations in the spirits world, it is really driven by consumer demand. It’s the consumer that’s really wanting something grown up, sophisticated, complex that they can have in a bar environment or in a restaurant. 

MoM: Do you think it’s more of a drink for the on-trade?

CW: I don’t. The demand has been driven by the consumer in the off-trade and that’s certainly where Seedlip started its journey, with it being launched in Selfridges and we also were launched in Selfridges. But I think as more bars and the on-trade really recognise that there’s a demand for great non-alcoholic options, we’re seeing the on trade adopt Aecorn. Of course, Seedlip has been around for four years now, so it started out with Seedlip and now there’s a proliferation of non-alc options, the on-trade are absolutely getting on board with this as something the consumer is looking for. I think in the future we want to become almost ambivalent about the alcohol content and really focussing on flavour as the key driver for people who are interested in food. So foodies are a really great target for us, people who just love food, love flavour, love eating out, love entertaining and yes if there’s something for those people who are not drinking, Aecorn is the solution. 

MoM: Have you been pleased to see how many rivals you have these days? Do you think that’s all good for the category

CW: There are a lot. And of course back to your earlier question, is there opening up an opportunity? I think that’s evidenced by how many new brands are being launched, it feels like there’s sort of one a second. I think now because the consumer’s demanding of new experiences, then absolutely, there’s new competitors coming into the marketplace. I would say that there are some great options and there are some ‘less than great’ options, and unfortunately for a very new category, you know what’s important for us is that we maintain our quality credentials because as the pioneers of this category we have a responsibility to ensure that the consumer gets a great experience every time they come to Seedlip or Aecorn. So that for us is super important, the stability factor, the consistency factor to make sure the liquid tastes as great as the day when you opened it to the day when you finish the bottle.

It’s Claire Warner!

MoM: Tell me a bit about Diageo, because they now have a majority stake in the business. That must give you a lot of muscle behind you?

To quote Ben, ‘it really puts the wind in our sails’ and you know, to have the world’s largest spirits company believe in this category also underscores your earlier question about the opportunity I feel, so yes, absolutely, it’s wonderful to work with them.

MoM: The price is quite high, considering you don’t have duty or anything like that on it. Is that a deliberate positioning thing?

CW: It’s interesting that it’s a question that is asked frequently. For us, we start with a very expensive base in verjus that’s pretty rare I mean there’s only one verjus producer in the UK. So our cost of goods are elevated and we use incredibly high quality ingredients because there’s no hiding place in something that’s non-alcoholic. The quality hopefully should shine through in the delivery of the flavours and all the ingredients that we’re using. We also, in order to extract in the best way, alcohol is used for some of the ingredients earlier on in the process, so there is a cost involved in the alcohol we use further up the supply chain. So all in all, it contributes to the price point. It’s not as though we’re deliberately elevating the price in order to take all of the margin. It’s actually that the costs of making something delicious, complex, non-alcoholic and stable has a cost. 

MoM: What next for Aecorn?

CW: It’s really just to kind of continue building the brand in the right way, working with people like Lina Stores and all the other kind of great bars and restaurants that we have in the UK, continuing to really work with our grocery partners such as Ocado and Waitrose, to ensure that the consumer can access Aecorn anywhere in the UK. And then to work collaboratively with Seedlip, so the NOgroni is a really great example of that sort of cross-brand collaboration which has been super successful. 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Filey Bay Single Malt Whisky (Second Release)

This week we’re celebrating our first Monday back at work with a single malt whisky from Yorkshire that has just arrived at MoM towers. The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery began…

This week we’re celebrating our first Monday back at work with a single malt whisky from Yorkshire that has just arrived at MoM towers.

The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery began distilling back in 2016. We visited in 2017 and were very impressed by the quality of the set-up and the embryonic whiskies. So we’re very excited that its first single malt whisky is finally here. Well, actually it’s the second, the first release landed in November and sold out so quickly that we didn’t have time to write about it properly.

The distillery was founded by farmer and brewer Tom Mellor from Wold Top Brewery in North Yorkshire and business partner David Thompson, with a little help from the late Jim Swan. It’s a true farm to glass set-up with all the barley used coming from Mellor’s farm around Hunmanby, south of Scarborough. The barley goes to Bridlington for malting before going to Wold Top for mashing and fermentation. This sort of set-up, though not allowed under SWA rules, is common in the burgeoning English whisky category. I mean, if you own a brewery already, then why not do the brewing there?

Filey Bay

David Thompson (left)  and Tom Mellor next to their innovative still set-up

The still arrangement would also cause some head scratching at the SWA. There’s a 5,000 litre wash still with boil ball and a 3,500 lantern-shaped spirit, made by Forsyths of Rothes. So far so conventional, but at the pull of a lever, the spirit vapour can be sent through a four plate column for further distillation. The distillery can thus create two kinds of single malt, a heavier pot still spirit and a lighter column still distillate. David Thompson commented: “Our production allows us to create two different spirit styles, using a pot and column still configuration to create a flavour profile that is unlike any other malt whisky.”

This second single malt release is made from a combination of the two distillation methods aged in ex-bourbon barrels with a solitary sherry cask going in the mix. The warehouse inventory is 90% ex-bourbon but alongside a few sherry casks there’s some STR (shaved, toasted and recharred) wine barrels, this is a Jim Swan distillery after all, and also some casks that previously held vino de Naranja (wine made from oranges, an Andalusian speciality.)

Whisky director Joe Clark (who readers might recognise from the Whisky Lounge) commented on this second release: “It was great to spend the time in the warehouse and discover how well our spirit is maturing. It means we’ve been able to launch our second release a little earlier than planned, which was fortunate as our first release has sold quicker than expected! With Filey Bay Second Release, you’ll find that it’s a true evolution of our First Release. The ‘inputs’ are very similar, leading to a house style that is light and fruity – this is something that we’ve worked hard and purposefully to create. The difference comes from that extra maturation time. There’s a little more depth to this second release and for me that not only makes it a delicious whisky, but it’s also an incredibly exciting indicator as to what’s to come in the warehouse…” 

Foley Crop

You’ll have to hurry to get your hands on the second release

This second release is not only a little older and deeper in flavour than the first release but it’s also slightly cheaper. Hurrah! Just as with the first release, only 6,000 bottles have been filled at 46% ABV. It’s available to buy here. We’ll see how quickly it sells out. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Some orange peel, blueberry muffin and lemon meringue pie, with a side of barley sugar.

Palate: Citrus ice cream, cooked apple and honey, with vanilla cream, and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Finish: Floral honey, toasted nuts and cinnamon.

 

 

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10 ways to drink less. . . with Fiona Beckett

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious,…

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious, Fiona Beckett’s new book, How to Drink without Drinking, is an invaluable guide to making this process fun.

With her column in the Guardian and her website, Matching Food & Wine, Fiona Beckett is one of the most trusted names in British drink writing. When Beckett recommends a bottle, you know it’s going to be one that she genuinely loves. Contrary to popular belief, drinks writers don’t spend all their time boozing. Beckett says: “Although I have to taste wine or other alcoholic drinks most days, like everyone else I benefit from a break from actually drinking them”. Her latest book, How to Drink without Drinking, is a guide with tips and recipes (we have one at the end) for how to make alcohol-free drinking fun. As she puts it: “It’s important to me that the days when I don’t drink are as pleasurable in terms of what I consume as those when I do.” The vital thing, according to Beckett, is to focus on the positives; she advises: “It’s important to see alcohol-free days as an opportunity, not a deprivation. There are, as you’ll rapidly discover, many advantages, including a better quality of sleep, improved concentration, weight loss, more spare cash and, due to the happy lack of hangovers, more productive hours in the day.” Sounds great. Here are her top ten ways to make cutting back on or cutting out the sauce a breeze. 

Fiona Beckett

Unlike most drink writers, Fiona Beckett does not need to be photographed with a drink in her hand

  1. Set a personal goal

You have to start somewhere, but make it realistic. Two alcohol-free days a week is doable for most of us, most likely after the weekend. Three is better still – preferably in a row.

  1. Don’t make up for it on the days you drink alcohol

On some of the days when you are drinking, you might want to reduce the amount you drink to one drink a day, sipped slowly and mindfully rather than gulped unthinkingly. If you’re trying to cut down, limit yourself to one (modest) glass with dinner or resolve not to drink when alone. Be aware and honest with yourself about what you’re drinking when you do drink. An app may help you keep on track.

  1. Tell your family and friends

Family should be on your side, but one of the biggest battles you’ll face is friends who keep pressing you to drink, maybe implying that you’ve become a party pooper if you don’t. Don’t be embarrassed to explain exactly why you’re cutting down – or out – making it clear that you’re serious. It may even involve changing your social circle. Find a non-drinking pal to go out with if the pressure’s getting to you.

  1. Don’t needlessly put yourself in the way of temptation

On days or periods you’re cutting down or cutting out, avoid your usual boozy haunts. Don’t make having a drink the main reason for going out – unless it’s a coffee. In fact, it may be worth taking the car, which gives you an easy excuse not to drink. If you’re embarking on a longer period of abstinence, clear out the booze from the cupboards and fridge, and steer clear of the wine aisle. Stock up with alcohol-free alternatives instead.

Make your own drink, like this blackberry shrub

  1. B.Y.O. (Bring your own)

If you’re visiting friends and are not sure if there will be something alcohol-free to drink, take it with you, particularly to a party. Alcohol-free beers, which look similar to the full-strength version, are an especially good bet as they won’t make you stand out from the crowd. If you’re away for the weekend, take a bottle of an alcohol-free spirit and some tonic to your hosts.

  1. Think about food 

You’re more likely to crave wine with food from wine-producing regions, especially Italy, France and Spain. So avoid the trattoria or tapas bar on your nights off in favour of your local Indian, Thai or Vietnamese. 

  1. Get into alcohol-free cocktails

It’s hard to find a substitute for wine, but alcohol-free cocktails can be mindblowingly good these days, with many top restaurants offering an impressive selection. I often start the evening with one, whether I’m drinking or no, and end up drinking it with food.

  1. M.Y.O. (Make your own)

There’s a real pleasure and satisfaction in making your own drinks. Like home-cooked food, they taste so much better than the shop-bought version and are cheaper, too, making the best of seasonal produce. Make them look as beautiful as they taste. 

  1. Find a non-alcoholc drink to get passionate about

Part of the appeal of wine, beer and whisky, is the knowledge you accumulate about them. But you can apply that type of geekery to other drinks, too. Get into tea, get into coffee, get into fermenting – all fascinating, absorbing worlds.

  1. Learn to love water

Probably your best friend on your sober days – or months – both on its own and as a chaser for any alcoholic drink you’re drinking. Don’t drink because you’re thirsty – drink for the taste. Serve water cool, fresh and flavoured, if you like, with fruit, cucumber or herbs. 

G&T or NG&T?

And now here’s a recipe. . . .  the NG&T!

The N stands for ‘not’. Serve it in a fancy glass with lots of ice and garnishes, and you’ll get much of the pleasure of the real thing. Beckett recommends making a juniper syrup in advance but you can buy it ready made.

75ml juniper syrup (recipe below or you can buy William Fox ready-made)
Tonic water to top up
2 slices of lemon and orange, and 2-3 juniper berries to garnish.

Fill the glass with ice and the garnishes, pour in the syrup, top up with tonic and gently stir. 

Juniper syrup:

400g granulated sugar
475ml water
15 juniper berries, lightly crushed
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lemon
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lime

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan. Gently heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to just below boiling point and simmer for ten minutes. Sieve when cool. It should last in the fridge for two weeks.

How to Drink When You’re Not Drinking by Fiona Beckett is published by Kyle Books, £15.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk

 

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These were the most read posts of the year

By popular demand, it’s time to look back at our most-read blog posts of 2019. Well, maybe there hasn’t been that much demand, but we’re interested, so here they are,…

By popular demand, it’s time to look back at our most-read blog posts of 2019. Well, maybe there hasn’t been that much demand, but we’re interested, so here they are, the posts that grabbed your attention this year. 

It’s that time of the year when we look back at the year in booze. And what a year it’s been with trade wars, ghost distillery revivals and the SWA getting all funky with new cask types. There’s four words you never expect to see in one sentence, Scotch Whisky Association and funky. From crunching the numbers, it’s clear that what you, dear reader, love is whisky. Whether it’s whisky news, whisky comment or whisky snark, all the top posts this year are about whisky. So here they are in ascending order of popularity:

Jim Murray

You can bet that dear old Jim will be in here somewhere

Number 10:

The Macallan unveils new expression: The Macallan Estate  – A new Macallan expression is always of interest. And this latest release is particularly special being made from barley grown on the Macallan estate. 

Number 9:

Unusual Scotch ahoy! SWA widens permissible cask types – In June the Scotch Whisky Association revised it rules to allow new types of casks for maturing Scotch whisky including Tequila, mezcal, Calvados and Baijiu barrels. 

Number 8: 

Was Glenfiddich really the first ever single malt whisky? – Here our columnist Ian Buxton pulls apart some rather outlandish PR claims from Glenfiddich.

Number 7: 

Diageo Special Releases 2019 details are here! – It’s that wondrous time of the year when Diageo releases some rare and unusual whiskies from its unparalleled portfolio of distilleries. 

Number 6: 

Our take on booze trends for 2019! – Here MoM editor Kristiane Sherry peers into her crystal ball to see what we would be drinking in 2019. You can see here how much she got right. 

Number 5: 

1792 Full Proof is Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2020 – Another perennial popular event, the release of Jim Murray’s new guide and the crowning of a new World Whisky of the Year.

Number 4:

Behold: Fancy Brora 40-Year-Old 200th Anniversary incoming! – With Brora due to come back on stream in 2020, we had an opportunity to try a very special old expression to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the distillery.

Number 3:

The Balvenie Stories launches with three special whiskies – Three key figures at Balvenie have each created a whisky to celebrate human tales of endeavour, craft and surprise.

Number 2:

Ardbeg adds 19 year old expression to core range – A new core addition to the Ardbeg range is always going to be of interest so no wonder that this is the second most read post of the year.

And at number 1 

Tears before bedtime: are we heading for a whisky crash? – It’s Ian Buxton again, and apparently “we’re dooooomed!”

 

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Planning permission given for Port Ellen

It’s all go at Port Ellen as the local authorities have agreed to plans for the rebuilding of the great lost distillery on Islay. The famous, no legendary, Port Ellen…

It’s all go at Port Ellen as the local authorities have agreed to plans for the rebuilding of the great lost distillery on Islay.

The famous, no legendary, Port Ellen distillery on Islay last produced whisky in 1983 but, as we’ve reported before, Diageo is planning to bring it back from the dead. Now news has just come in of an important milestone in the process: the local authorities have agreed to the plans including a traditional pagoda-roofed kiln house alongside modern production buildings. Very little of the original distillery is still standing so the team at Diageo are essentially building a new distillery from scratch.The set-up is going to be a bit unusual with two pairs of traditional copper stills, exact replicas of the original stills, alongside two smaller stills for experimental runs producing different styles of spirit. 

whisky crash

Traditional meets modern, an artist impression of the new Port Ellen distillery

Master distiller Georgie Crawford commented: “We are delighted to have reached this important milestone in our journey to bring Port Ellen back into production.We are grateful to Argyll & Bute Council and to the local community who have engaged positively with us during the planning process. We are incredibly excited to begin the next phase of the project and to make our long-cherished dream of restoring Port Ellen distillery a reality.”

Port Ellen has had a turbulent history. It was first opened in 1825 by Alexander Ker MacKay as a malt mill before being developed as a distillery by John Ramsay between 1833 and 1892. The distillery later went into a decline, and closed and was mostly demolished in the 1930s. Then it rose again in the 1960s to meet the global demand for blended Scotch whisky before finally closing its doors in 1983 as the market dipped. It was never released commercially as a single malt in the modern age while the distillery was open and it was only as mature cask bottlings came on the market after it had closed that Port Ellen developed a cult following. Then in 2017 Diageo announced that it was planning to reopen the distillery along with Brora (production is due to start at both in 2021). Let’s hope this time Port Ellen stays open for good. 

 

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #22: Peat’s Beast

Peak careful opening door number 22 of The Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar because there’s a beastie lurking behind. . . it’s Peat’s Beast!  Peat’s Beast is a…

Peak careful opening door number 22 of The Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar because there’s a beastie lurking behind. . . it’s Peat’s Beast! 

Peat’s Beast is a mysterious wee beastie, it’s a very smoky single malt whisky but the team at Fox Fitzgerald won’t tell us which distillery or even what part of Scotland it hails from. How mysterious! All we know is how it tastes: spicy and smoky, certainly, but also fruity with a sweetness from bourbon casks.

Fox Fitzgerald is made up of Eamon Jones and Aidan Smith, drinks industry veterans who met while working at Bulmers cider before a stint at Whyte & Mackay. The company is based in that well-known centre of the whisky trade, Heredforshire. It produces rare bottlings from distilleries such as Macallan and Tomintoul plus own-label products like Peat’s Beast (in various forms including a cask strength, a 25 year old expression and a PX cask finish) and The Corriemhor, a single malt created by Richard Paterson specifically to go with cigars. Swanky!

To tell us more about the Beast, the company and what the world of booze has in store for 2020, we have Eamonn Jones himself.

Master of Malt: Exactly how beastly is Peat’s Beast?

Eamonn Jones: Peat’s Beast is certainly beastly enough to be rewarded with a Double Gold medal at both the Berlin International Spirits Competition and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The key to a great peated whisky is to obviously deliver all the key elements like tar, medicinal notes, smoke, oily, briney, sea air etc. but also have the balance: sweet notes of great first fill bourbon casks, and just sheer quality of a great whisky. We want the peat element to enhance what is already a great whisky, not mask a very average whisky.

 MoM: Can you tell us a little about where Peat’s Beast comes from and how it is matured?

EJ: Unfortunately we are not able to say where the peated whisky is distilled – our partner distillery doesn’t want it advertised that some of its best whisky is supplied to us. Suffice it to say, it is matured in one of Scotland’s most acclaimed and awarded distilleries and only the finest malted barley, spring water and first-fill bourbon casks are used to provide this peated beauty.

MoM: What exciting things went on at Fox Fitzgerald in 2019?

EJ: 2019 has been an incredible year at Fox Fitzgerald. The first client the business had when it was established in 2010 was Bruichladdich. This was a true eye opener – that business really could be about doing the right thing, not the most profitable thing. That a brand really could be built by passion, teamwork, imagination and fun in a world dominated by the corporate behemoths. Since Bruichladdich was sold in 2012, the visionary behind the distillery and the brand Mark Reynier looked for an opportunity where the Bruichladdich project could be taken to the next level; he found this with the Waterford Distillery in Ireland which has now been distilling since late 2015. Fox Fitzgerald is proud to be shareholders in this project but even prouder to be appointed global sales agents with the first bottlings being launched in 2020. We cannot wait to bring this incredible whisky based on the concepts of terroir, transparency and traceability to market. Similarly we are involved in the most incredible rum distillery, Renegade Rum on the island of Grenada, again the brainchild of Mark Reynier, and look forward to launching first spirits from this distillery in 2020.

Peat's Beast

The Beast is here!

Mom: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

EJ: I think with all the political and economic upheaval in the UK and beyond, I see the year being one of consolidation. Quality branded spirits, supported by the global giants, will continue to grow and develop. There will be ever increased polarisation with premium spirits, especially those supported by large advertising budgets or those having a clear and authentic point of difference, continuing to maintain share. Similarly the rise of the discounters will see the value propositions thriving. However, anything caught in the middle will do well to maintain the status quo. Rums, clairins, mezcals etc. will continue to grow, especially in markets such as France and Italy, but growth will mostly come from those brands backed by the big boys. I see the global Scotch market remaining static at best, and Irish continuing to grow along with US whiskies. But in summary in such an uncertain global climate, I’d suggest the vast majority of brand owners would be more than happy to maintain current volumes and margin in 2020.

MoM: And finally, what will you be drinking this Christmas?

EJ: This Christmas, I’ll be drinking some beefy French reds, some crispy Burgundy white wines and some PX sherry cask finished Peat’s Beast. Our latest batch took incredible colour and a sweet tobacco note from the amazing casks and that contrasted with the peat notes and fine balance of the whisky; it makes for an incredible Christmas dram.

 

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Cognac maverick: Alexandre Gabriel from Maison Ferrand

Alexandre Gabriel isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed in Cognac. So much so that one product launched last year had to be labelled as…

Alexandre Gabriel isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed in Cognac. So much so that one product launched last year had to be labelled as an eau-de-vie. But, he tells us, everything he does is informed by a profound knowledge of the history of the region. We join Gabriel for a glass to learn more. . . .

Alexandre Gabriel has his fingers in many boozy pies (see earlier interview for more details) but his first love is Cognac. So when an old failing firm, Pierre Ferrand, came on the market, he jumped at the chance to acquire it. The house had been in family hands since it was founded in 1631 by Elijah Ferrand. The last of the family was an old lady simply known as ‘Mademoiselle’; there were no more heirs.

Alexandre Gabriel

Alexandre Gabriel in the cellars of Maison Ferrand

Gabriel is a historian as much as drinks producer and businessman, and he was in his element going through the centuries of archives at Maison Ferrand. “We discovered fascinating things about the way Cognac was made,” he told us. “Invoices for chestnut barrels. The acreage, and how it was planted, and which type of grapes. We wrote a book about it called An Enlightened Farmer.” This isn’t just historical curiosity, however, he is using what he discovered to expand what can be done in Cognac.

The result was the Renegade #1 which was aged in ex-Sauternes barrels. Cognac is usually only aged in new French oak or refill Cognac barrels so it caused quite a stir. Gabriel, however, had history on his side: “I was able to show from old documents that it is still legal to age Cognac in a wine barrel”, he said. “A lot of people thought that was not allowed anymore but there was a law from 1923 that was never overturned.”

He didn’t just stop there. The Reserve Ferrand is aged for two to three years in ex-Banyuls casks. Banyuls is a French Port-style wine that is often made in an oxidative style that produces ‘rancio’ flavours of dried apricot, pineapple and nuts (the word literally means rancid in Catalan, nice) the same flavours you get in sherried whiskies and Cognac. So it’s a good fit. Then there’s Ten Generations, inspired by the long history of the Ferrand family, which is 20% aged in Sauternes barrels giving it a sweet honeyed note not unlike a Glenmorangie. 

Ferrand Ten Generations, gorgeous Cognac, gorgeous label

As a rum and gin producer, Gabriel’s horizons are broader than most in Cognac. “I am influenced by every spirit,” he told us. To learn about cask finishes, he went to Springbank. “I went with Gordon Wright, at the time Gordon ran the distillery, before his uncle took it over, and I remember going there and trying to learn about wine barrels. Which is crazy the French guy who grew up in the wine region is going to Scotland! But the finishing and the use of wine barrels, we had lost the tradition in Cognac. So, in a very humble way, I went there and was like ‘teach me’”, he said. Gabriel often swaps casks with other producers such as Teeling in Dublin, Kilchoman on Islay and the Isle of Arran Distillery.

Ferrand isn’t the only Cognac house doing experimental things with wood: Bache Gabrielsen launched an American oak-aged spirit in 2016. Tastings like a cross between a bourbon and brandy, it’s startlingly different to the Cognac norm but, according to Gabriel, there is a historical precedent: “The law says ‘Cognac is a spirit aged in an oak barrel’. The second part of the law is, ‘typically Cognac is aged in Limousin type or Tronçais type oak’. But it doesn’t say that it’s limited to that, it’s typically.” Gabriel told me that in the 19th century, France, unlike now, had been almost completely deforested to provide wood for fuel and battleships: “if you wanted to try to beat the English at sea which we never were able to be doing! you needed to buy battleships”, he quipped. So in the past Cognac producers would have used imported wood including American oak. 

Bache-Gabrielsen was allowed to call its spirit Cognac, unlike Martell when it released Blue Swift in 2018. It’s aged in ex-bourbon casks and the company had to call it an eau-de-vie. It’s a similar story with Ferrand’s Renegade #2 which is aged in chestnut barrels. Apparently since 1945, they have not been legal. But Gabriel has found documentation showing that chestnut was traditionally used. According to Gabriel the cellars of Cognac are full of rogue wood: “I’m part of a very old group of master blenders and the old guys would tell you: ‘I have a barrel of Cognac, it’s 40 years old, it’s in acacia’ and they are like kids talking about smoking a joint!”, he said.

Gabriel has the financial clout and the chutzpah to challenge the rules, and when things don’t go his way, to go outside the Cognac appellation. But, he thinks that change is afoot: “I think Cognac is going through that revolution”, he said. The BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac) is currently looking at revising the rules for different wood finishes: “There is something really serious happening in Cognac and I hope the region is thinking about possibly reopening the different wood varieties. I don’t know what is going to be decided, I have no input”, he told us. 

Alexandre Ricard, Maison Ferrand

Alexandre Gabriel next to a portrait of a spectacularly bearded member of the Ferrand family

People are not only experimenting with wood but with grapes. Most Cognac is made from Ugni Blanc but Gabriel said: “we’re planting a lot of Colombard, we have our own vineyard, and it’s magical. The problem with Colombard, it is why I have circles under my eyes, is that it starts a little early in the season. So when you have a season like this, with frosts, you are not so relaxed.” It is, however, worth the stress: “It’s delicious because it makes these very floral notes,” he said. The Ambre Ferrand release is made with 10% Colombard.

Gabriel think his cliente is changing too: “There is a revolution happening, I think, in Europe,” he said, “part of it is probably wishful thinking. But I see us increasing our sales substantially in markets that were considered depressed for Cognac: France, the UK is starting to sizzle, Germany and Denmark. When we do a show about spirits in France, the guys who come to the Cognac booth are like 25 years old. It used to be their grandpa’s drink.”

Part of getting in the younger crowd is through cocktails. Earlier this year, Maison Ferrand came top in a blind tasting put on by bartenders including  Salvatore Calabrese and Ago Perrone in a blind tasting. Again this is all informed by Gabriel’s sense of history, before rye or bourbon, Cognac was the original cocktail ingredient. He works with drink historian David Wondrich (author of Punch) to recreate old recipes. “The cocktail is an American version of the old British punch,” he said. “It’s really a British invention, And Americans made a single portion of it which is a cocktail.”

There’s never a dull moment when Alexandre Gabriel is around. “I can say this month is my 30th anniversary doing this job,” he said. “I had no clue what I was doing when I started, I’m not sure I have any clue right now but I’m just still working at it, and it’s been an incredible journey.” 

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