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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Master of Malt triumphs (again!) at the Icons of Gin

Last night was the Gin Magazine Awards in London, which saw the Icons of Gin 2019 named. There were many trophies up for grabs, including the coveted World’s Best Gin…

Last night was the Gin Magazine Awards in London, which saw the Icons of Gin 2019 named. There were many trophies up for grabs, including the coveted World’s Best Gin slot (and, spoiler alert! One had our name on it!). We have the full story.

Last night, we arrived at the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC to its friends), a massive seven-acre site in the City of London, to be confronted with the biggest G&Ts I’d ever seen. We were clearly in the right place for the Gin Magazine Awards. The evening was divided into three sections: Icons of Gin (honouring brands, retailers, bars and people), World Gin Awards (looking at liquid quality), and finally the Hall of Fame (individuals who have made notable contributions to the world of gin). Paragraph Publishing, the company behind Whisky Magazine, launched Gin Magazine in 2017 and the accompanying awards last year.

World Gin Awards

The trophy! And in the background Laura Carl and Angus Lugsdin from Salcombe Gin

Regular readers will know that we love gin here at Master of Malt, so much so that we just launched our very own bottling. We were delighted therefore to win Online Retailer Award for the second year running! The judges were particularly impressed with the range, the simplicity of the website, and the quality of the tasting notes and the blog. There to collect the award were campaigns executive Laura Carl, managing director Justin Petszaft, campaigns manager Jake Mountain, Atom Nucleus MD Joel Kelly and features editor Henry Jeffreys (that’s me!).

Master of Malt

The winning team, from left: Mountain, Petszaft, Carl, Jeffreys and Kelly.

Also honoured in the Icons of Gin category were our friends over at That Boutique-y Gin Company: Steph DiCamillo won Gin Brand Ambassador of the Year, and the company won Brand Innovator of the Year.

There was then a short break where a couple belted out opera classics and a bit of Tom Jones at full volume. I think they were paid entertainers, but may have been waiting staff with an urge to entertain. When they had finished, it was time for the World Gin Awards section of the evening.

In this section, all the gins were blind-tasted by a panel of judges led by David T. Smith, someone who will be familiar to gin lovers. There were lots of categories, but the overall World’s Best Gin award (sponsored by Wade Ceramics, mustn’t forget to mention the sponsor) went to Dingle Gin from Ireland, which also picked up the London Dry Gin Trophy. Congratulations to the team at Dingle! Their gin really is superb and their whiskey ain’t bad, either.

Christopher Hayman

Christopher Hayman with a gin still called Marjorie

For the finale, two gin legends were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Jon Hillgren from Hernö Gin in Sweden, and Christopher Hayman from Hayman’s Gin in London. These were two extremely popular choices, especially Hayman who kept the faith with gin in Britain when it was unfashionable. Hayman said a few words about how things have changed since he joined the business: there were very few brands and spirits were still shipped in cask. He finished by concluding that “gin runs in his family’s veins”.

Congratulations to all the winners!

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The Dublin Liberties Distillery is open!

The Irish capital now has three working distilleries! We travelled to the opening of the newest, Dublin Liberties, to meet head distiller Darryl McNally and taste the new make spirit….

The Irish capital now has three working distilleries! We travelled to the opening of the newest, Dublin Liberties, to meet head distiller Darryl McNally and taste the new make spirit.

The Irish whiskey revival steams on. On Tuesday, Simon Coveney, Irish minister of foreign affairs and trade, officially opened the newest whiskey-maker on the block: the Dublin Liberties Distillery. “Irish whiskey is one of the fastest-growing spirits in global markets and one of the leading lights of our food and drink export industry,” he said. “I am delighted to turn on the Dublin Liberties Distillery stills today, as the first liquid gold flows into casks for expert maturation with the promise of a premium, uniquely Irish product.”

Master distiller Darryl McNally, added: “Making whiskey is my passion, my lifeblood, and to be doing it in the heart of Dublin’s historic distilling district is nothing short of a dream come true for me”. We were given a guided tour by McNally on the night of the launch party.

The distillery is so new that it smells like a car fresh off the production line. So far, the team has only used two of the three stills. According to McNally: “The quality of liquid is unbelievable after two distillations, but haven’t done a third yet.” He let us try some, and it was packed with sweet cereal notes and incredibly smooth, clearly full of potential. The three stills were built by Carl of Germany to McNally’s exacting specifications.

When it comes to the raw materials, “it’s all about quality and provenance”, McNally said. The distillery uses water from an underground spring found by boring 30 metres beneath the city, and the barley comes entirely from two maltsters in Ireland. The team runs two-tonne mashes – according to McNally, double what a craft producer would make (though a long way behind what he was used to at Bushmills where he worked from 1998 to 2015). The mash is given a 60-to-72-hour ferment using distillers yeast.

Darryl McNally Dublin Liberties

Darryl McNally and his ‘Disney’ casks

Not all will be triple-distilled. “I want to grow the category, to innovate, so will do some double-distilled and some peated expressions,” McNally continued. “One of the reasons I left Bushmills is they wouldn’t let me innovate,” he joked. Dublin Liberties currently has capacity to produce 700,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, which works out at about 2.1 million bottles of single malt. He will continue to buy in grain whiskey for blends.

One thing he won’t make is a single pot still expression. “I’m aiming for an old-style Irish whiskey, pre-1850 malt tax,” he told us. Other distilleries have already approached him and asked about whether Dublin Liberties will make some malt whisky for them. The current, confirmed plan? To produce malt whisky for Dublin Liberties brand but also The Dubliner and The Dead Rabbit, a collaboration with the renowned New York bar. All three are currently made with malt sourced from other Irish distilleries, “but I am not allowed to tell you which ones”, McNally said.

While visiting the distillery we also got to try some exciting new Dublin Liberties expressions, which Master of Malt will be receiving soon. McNally agreed when I suggested that some customers might expect a whiskey called ‘The Dubliner’ to be distilled in the city. But of course, we won’t see any Dublin-distilled whiskey for at least three years, perhaps longer (though enthusiasts will be able to buy casks in advance).

The distillery cost around 10 million to build. It’s owned 75% by Quintessential Brands, the company behind Thomas Dakin and Greenall’s Gin, and 25% by Eastern European drinks company, Stock Spirits. Dubliner and Dublin Liberties are currently sold in 30 markets, with sales totalling more than 37,000 cases in 2018. The brands’ biggest export markets are the US, Russia, Germany, Australia and Eastern Europe.

Dublin Liberties

The handsome Dublin Liberties stills

“Darryl is a constant source of ideas, and combined with his unrivalled distilling skill, there’s no limits for Irish whiskey,” said Shane Hoyne, chief marketing officer for Quintessential Brands. “It is also fantastic to be partnering with a company of Stock Spirits’ calibre. Their involvement will also provide an opportunity for the brands to expand further in to new regions such as Poland and the Czech Republic. Right now, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the team’s achievement in building this fantastic distillery but with much more to come from us this year.”

There are now 22 distilleries in Ireland in various states of readiness, with another 22 planned. “Some won’t survive; the route to market, that’s hard,” McNally remarked. Nevertheless, he is bullish about the category: “We need more distilleries, Irish whiskey is about to go off the Richter scale, and we will run out.”

The Dublin Liberties Distillery is geared up for tourism with a big bar, lots of branded merchandise, and windows into the stills so you can see the whiskey distilling. The team even has half-barrels attached to the walls which McNally described as “a bit of Disney”. The whiskey will actually be aged in County Wexford.

This part of the city looks set to become a mecca for whiskey fans from all over the world with Teeling right next door, Pearce Lyon nearby and, soon, Diageo’s Roe & Co revival.

It’s great to see Irish whiskey back in Dublin where it belongs.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Margarita

Have you all got 22 February marked off in your diaries? No? Well, it’s National Margarita Day and we have everything you need to know about this Tequila-based cocktail. As…

Have you all got 22 February marked off in your diaries? No? Well, it’s National Margarita Day and we have everything you need to know about this Tequila-based cocktail.

As I am sure you are aware, Friday 22 February is National Margarita Day.  Well, it’s National Margarita Day in America at least, and in Mexico every day is National Margarita Day, or so I like to think. But like Loyd Grossman, bourbon, and the word ‘dissed’, National Margarita Day has crossed the Atlantic*.

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Forest Hill meets Milan in the Britannica London Fernet

Asterley Bros. is just about to release a London Fernet to go alongside its acclaimed Modern British Amaro and English Vermouth. We talk to one half of the dynamic duo,…

Asterley Bros. is just about to release a London Fernet to go alongside its acclaimed Modern British Amaro and English Vermouth. We talk to one half of the dynamic duo, Rob Berry.

The Bros. in Asterley Bros. are Jim and Rob Berry. The company is named after their mother’s maiden name, Asterley; Berry Bros. was already taken. Out of an industrial estate in Forest Hill, south London, the brothers make a range of delicious products including an amaro, which had them shortlisted for a BBC Food and Farming Award, a vermouth made with English Pinot Noir from Gusbourne Estate in Kent, and now a London Fernet which we have been experimenting with at MoM Towers and love. The ingredients list includes roasted hazelnuts, cacao nibs, chocolate malt and London porter. It’s got a chocolatey minty quality that does magical things with bourbon in a Boulevardier. We caught up with Rob Asterley, the talkative one, to learn about their latest product:

Jim (on the left) and Rob Berry in action

Master of Malt: How did you get into making an an amaro?

Rob Berry: I married into a Sicilian family ten years ago now. My wife’s grandfather gave us this very classic Sicilian amaro recipe. It was very reminiscent of Sicily: so lots of citrus, loads of bright orange and bergamot coming through. A few soft herbs, kind of basil, rosemary, a little bit of oregano and then lots of Arabic spicing as well which kind of permeates all the way through Sicilian cuisine. About four years ago we started talking about it [making an English version] seriously. We live in South London which is not quite the same terroir as Palermo! So we wanted to make something which has a Sicilian starting point but then also start to bring in some sort of British influence and make it our own. That was 2014 when we started that process.

MoM: And what do the Sicilians think of it?

RB: They love it actually! I think they’re just very proud of their own influence and the fact that the English are making an amaro.

MoM: Was it a lot of trial and error, getting it right?

RB: Oh yeah, shitloads! I mean like two years of trial and error. We must have made that first amaro recipe around 30 times. And each time takes months because it’s maceration. It’s not distillation where you can kind of get flavour out of ingredients relatively quickly. The first thing that we did was get a hundred jam jars and then in each of the jam jars we put a single botanical and then topped it up with grain spirit at 75% ABV. And after a month or six weeks we’ve just tasted our way through every single one. We were trying to build this collection of botanicals and then we started combining them. We started off in my kitchen. Then we moved into my shed. And then we moved into my basement. And then in 2015, we moved into the unit in Forest Hill.

Asterley Bros botanicals

Botanicals a-macerating

MoM: When did you have the idea for doing this new product, the fernet?

RB: I think we always had in the back of our mind that we wanted to do one. I mean we love fernet. It’s quite niche, it’s not a very mainstream product. By the time we’d finished the amaro we were also making a sweet vermouth. And for the third one we thought, ‘what do we want to do next?’. There were a lot of people asking us for a bianco or a dry vermouth but I think we wanted to do something a little bit different that no one was doing at the time.

MoM: What exactly is the difference between an amaro and a fernet?

RB: Amaro is the overarching category, so fernet is a type of amaro. Fernet is this kind of fun category of quite brutal bitterness. Normally, you’d find it at around 40% and there’s a lot less sugar than an amaro. You’ve got three or four really classic elements to it: myrrh is one, saffron is another, you have aloe, and there’s a lot of mint.

MoM: Fernet Branca from Milan is obviously the famous one, but are there lots of different others?

RB: I could probably name about ten but I’d get a bit stuck at that point. The Americans are popularising fernet. In San Francisco and Seattle in particular, plus New York a bit as well, they’ve got this really distinct taste for bitter drinks. There’s a real body of new wave producers who are making really nice, interesting fernets. And of course it’s the national drink in Argentina, somehow!

MoM: Tell me about the beta testing you did before launching your amaro and fernet?

RB:  We scratched our brains and thought: ‘what can we do? We’re two brothers, self-funded, how can we approach things in a slightly different way? How can we get people to taste our drinks? How can we create focus groups which will enable us to garner workable feedback and refine products? How can we get our message out there with zero marketing budget?’ This idea of beta testing is something that’s been used in the software industry for numerous years, a way of doing a invite-only release of the game, where you get people to work through it and play it in the normal way but then report back on all the bugs that are found. Beta testing covers two different things for us. A big one is the focus groups, getting 500 or 600 people from different parts of the globe to try the product, and with different levels of understanding of the product at well is really interesting for us. We’ve got people who have tried many, many different spirits and have a natural vocabulary, write about them, describe them for a living and have a really deep understanding of the spirit and wine world. And then we’ve got housewives in North Carolina who are trying them and giving us feedback as well.

MoM: Is there a difference in taste between professionals and your average member of the public?

RB: Yeah absolutely. All of the professionals said: ‘this product should be much more bitter and you should really reduce the amount of sugar’. And then all the people who are consumers, who had probably a lot less understanding of the category, said: ‘oh my gosh” It’s way too bitter, it should be much more sweet’. So, those two elements of feedback and two user groups can take you in two opposing directions.

RB: Is it possible to reconcile them?

MoM: Probably not! So what we decided is that we didn’t think we could necessarily reconcile them but we kind of made a decision and we thought the British desire for bitter products is only going to grow. And as you drink more bitter things you want things to be more bitter and less sweet. That’s what we found as consumers. And that’s what we thought would happen over the five to ten year period in the UK. And the writers, the bartenders, the bar owners, they are going to be leading the charge for bitterness, and the consumers will follow in that direction. So we’re going to take a bit of a punt and we’re going to have less sugar, more bitterness. We’re going to be more bitter that people will grow into, rather than being less bitter, which people might grow out of.

Asterley Bros

The brothers gonna work it out

MoM: What would you use the fernet in?

RB: We really like it bashed into things like White Russians. So you’ve got a quite rich creamy drink and then a shot of the fernet added to that suddenly takes it in a much more sophisticated, bitter, intense, grown-up direction. It’s the same thing with Espresso Martinis as well: probably half a shot (12.5 ml) going into an Espresso Martini, again it sort of amps up all of those flavours inside. So almost like a seasoning to a degree. It gives it a lot more bitterness and edge to the drink. It works pretty well with any kind of dark spirit, so if you’re having an Old Fashioned, or even a Manhattan, a few drops in there, a little dash, just to take it in a slightly more grown-up direction.

MoM: You’re working on some Sicilian vermouth, aren’t you?

RB: It’s in the initial stages. We’re going to be using Sicilian wines infused with British botanicals and we’re going to create a slightly different sub-brand of Asterley Bros, almost like a house range for everyday drinking. We’d like to be able to approach the Martini Riserva range where you can get a 70cl bottle for about £17.

MoM: And will you make those in your little garage in Forest Hill?

RB: In the big shed! Yeah, I think we will. We’re just trying to think of ways to streamline it and keep our product cost down, as far as we can, and pass that onto the consumer.

MoM: When will that be available?

RB: I would say, knowing us, six to nine months. We’re just starting the crowdfunding process at the moment. We’re going to be selling some equity in the business and going via Crowdcube, hopefully within the next two or three months. And once we’ve done that, and hopefully we secure some investment then we’ll be moving into it full time from that point onwards.

Sounds like exciting times for Asterley Bros.. We’ll let you know as soon as that crowdfunding offer opens. We can’t wait to try the new vermouth. Meanwhile, the London Fernet will be available any day now.

Britannica London Fernet

Coming soon. . . .

 

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Cocktail of the Week: Improved Blood Orange Punch

This week, we’re making a drink where all the hard work is done in advance, leaving you with time to amuse your guests with some top anecdotes. One of the…

This week, we’re making a drink where all the hard work is done in advance, leaving you with time to amuse your guests with some top anecdotes.

One of the great advantages that wine and beer have over cocktails is that they come ready to drink. Simply open and pour. Mixed drinks need work. Cocktails require you to concentrate on something rather than gossiping with your guests.

One answer to this problem is to convert your living room into a bar (if only there was a book that showed you how) and turn cocktail-making into the focus of the evening. And let’s face it, shaking up Daiquiris is much more fun than discussing house prices or Brexit with the neighbours. The downside is that you have to keep concentrating.

Mary Hoffman

Maggie Hoffman!

To solve this problem, you could hire a bartender or, and this is the clever bit, you could make your drinks in advance. Why didn’t I think of that? Now, to show you how to explore this brave new world of batch cocktails comes a new book called. . .  wait for it. . . Batch Cocktails! It’s been put together by American drinks writer Maggie Hoffman who has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Food & Wine and Serious Eats. Here she explains the idea behind the book:

“There’s nothing worse than scrambling at the last minute, trying to mix drinks as your guests walk through the door. It’s hard to hold a conversation while searching for lost bitters, knocking over the jigger on the counter and rattling a shaker full of ice. And without fail, just when you’re finally about to sit down, your friends are ready for a second round.”

Tell me about it. In the book, Hoffman has eschewed the obvious choices like the Negroni or the Old Fashioned in favour of signature cocktails from bartenders she knows. The book is full of good advice such as, “using fresh ingredients is essential when making larger quantities of cocktail”. Also, when making an individual cocktail, it will become diluted when shaking with ice so you have to make sure you add water in the right quantity when making a batch. Thankfully, she has done all the hard work: “I’ve calculated and tested and tasted the proper dilution for each recipe in the collection, so they’re good to go.” Very reassuring.

All the recipes look delicious, but I went for what she calls an Improved Blood Orange Punch (so much better than the unimproved version) because our local greengrocer has stacks of blood oranges piled up outside at the moment. It would be a crime not to take advantage of them when they are in season. The original recipe comes from Jen Ackrill of Sky Waikiki in Hawaii. I’ve had a bit of a play with it.Hoffman makes it with vodka but I think it’ll work with gin or maybe even white rum or Tequila. This is an incredibly easy drink to make and requires almost no work when serving, leaving you with more time to talk about how Brexit is affecting the housing market. On second thoughts…

Improved Blood Orange Punch

Improved Blood Orange Punch. You should have tried the unimproved version, you couldn’t even drink it

To make the batch:

360ml Wyborowa vodka (ideally straight out the freezer)
180ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur
720ml blood orange juice (freshly-squeezed)
360ml lemon juice (freshly-squeezed)

To finish:

1 bottle of Molvino Valdobbiadene Prosecco
Half moon orange slices

Makes about 10-12 servings

Make the batch about two hours before you need it (no more as orange juice loses its pizazz if left around too long). Pour chilled vodka, maraschino liqueur, orange juice and lemon juice into a bottle or jug. Stir, then cover and refrigerate.

To serve, fill a highball glass with ice, pour in 120ml mixture, top up with Prosecco, stir and garnish with an orange slice.

Batch Cocktails

Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion by Maggie Hoffman (£14.99 Ten Speed Press)

 

 

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British gin exports double in value

Is the gin boom over? Not by a long way, according to figures just released by HMRC. We take a closer look at this great British export success story. It’s…

Is the gin boom over? Not by a long way, according to figures just released by HMRC. We take a closer look at this great British export success story.

It’s not often you get good news from HMRC, but something that landed today made us smile. British gin is booming. Export sales in 2018 reached a record £612 million, meaning that they have doubled in value since 2010, and increased by 15% on 2017.

The EU is the biggest market for British gin worth nearly £290 million and up 14% on 2017. Next comes the USA, worth £191 million and up £13 million since 2017. Other places that can’t get enough of that good old British gin include Australia (£24 million, up 100%), South Africa (£14.5 million up 222%) and Switzerland (£6.6 million, an increase of 38%). With the EU such an important market, one hopes that some sensible arrangement can be reached post-Brexit. Miles Beale from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSTA) commented:

“Europe represents a huge market for British gin, therefore it essential that the UK does not leave the EU without securing a deal which allows frictionless trade. It is hugely important that Government also secures free trade deals with the rest of the world and we are encouraged by mutual recognition agreements already signed with countries like Australia and Switzerland. However more must be done, and quickly, so that we maintain our position as the world’s largest spirits exporter and further boost the UK economy and provide more jobs.”

Meanwhile back at home, we’re no slackers when it comes to drinking gin. In 2018, the British got through 66 million bottles of gin, up 41% on the previous year. That’s a lot of Martinis. Put together, the domestic and export markets for gin are more than £2.5 billion.

Here at Master of Malt, gin sales in 2018 were up 50.5% by volume on 2017. Much of this growth comes from fun, sweeter products like flavoured and pink gins. Our 2018 top ten bestselling gins included: Peaky Blinder Spiced Dry Gin, Aber Falls Orange Marmalade Gin, Whitley Neill Blood Orange Gin, and Malfy Gin Con Arancia. According to the WSTA, the flavoured gin category is now valued at £165 million up 751% (no that’s not a typo) on 2017. Some people might sneer at flavoured gin, but clearly the public disagrees.

Haymans Gin

Where some of that British gin is made, the stills at Hayman’s in South London

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Cocktail of the Week: The Brandy Sour

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history. When mixing drinks, most of…

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history.

When mixing drinks, most of us reach for gin, rum or whisky, and forget about Cognac and Armagnac. Which is a shame because not only can these two brandies be great cocktail ingredients but in many cases, they were the original ingredient. The Sazerac, for example, according to Eric Felten in How’s Your Drink, gets its name from “a brand of Cognac popular in New Orleans in the 19th century”.

Brandy was also massive on the other side of Atlantic. But its premience among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. By the 1890s, there was panic in the gentleman’s clubs of Britain as they were running out of brandy. Blended Scotch was specifically designed to fill this gap. Whisky merchants borrowed from Cognac the technique of blending heavier and lighter spirits to create a consistent product. In America, cocktail lovers moved over to rye and bourbon where they have remained ever since.

Armagnac vineyards

The beautiful vineyards of Armagnac (credit: BNIA)

Nowadays, however, brandy is back on the cocktail menu. Amanda Garnham from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) told me that bartenders love Armagnac because “of its multifaceted nature and depth of flavour”. But, she also warned that it was important not to lose that complexity when making your drink. So keep it simple. To educate the hospitality industry, the BNIA has just taken on Hannah Lanfear, recently crowned Educator of the Year at the Imbibe Personality of the Year Awards. I asked her for some recommendations.

“Armagnac offers the bartender incredible complexity and depth, with a structured flavour profile that gives a wealth of possibility for flavour combinations,” she said. “A classic sour makes for a perfect showcase for the picture painted by the distiller.”

So I decided to take her advice. A sour requires just three ingredients: something boozy, something sweet and something sour (obviously). It’s part of a family of cocktails based on these principles that includes the Daiquiri. This very simplicity, however, means that there is no room for error. You have to get the ratio of booze, sour and sugar exactly right. You also must take care when shaking not to dilute it too much.

It is a supremely adaptable drink. You could add an egg white to give it a gorgeous silky texture (in which case it will need to be shaken for longer), or finish it off with a couple of drops of Angostura bitters. Add triple sec or Grand Marnier, and you have a Sidecar (5 parts brandy, 2 lemon juice, 2 triple sec). Hell, you don’t even have to use brandy: you could use pisco, gin, rum, amaretto, bourbon, or Metaxa (a Greek brandy flavoured with Muscat grape juice) though you may have to play around with the ratios. But today, we’re using Armagnac.

So, which one to use? Garnham recommends not using anything too old or delicate. On the other hand, you do want something that can take centre stage, so don’t use something that you’d put on your Christmas pudding. The perfect choice is Baron de Sigognac VSOP. Not only is it an excellent affordable Armagnac, but I’d say it is one of the best-value spirits on the market. With its tropical fruit and crème brûlée character, it’s as smooth as David Niven’s smoking jacket.

Sold? Right, let’s get mixing!

Armagnac sour BINA

Armagnac sour (credit: BNIA)

50ml Baron de Sigognac VSOP
15ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
Glass: coupe or Nick & Nora
Garnish: lemon slice

Shake all the ingredients hard and quickly with lots of ice (you don’t want too much dilution). Double strain to remove any ice crystals into a coupe, and garnish with a slice of lemon (or you could use an orange twist or a maraschino cherry).

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Master of Malt wins at the 2019 Drinks Retailing Awards

Exciting news just in as Master of Malt adds another gong to its already groaning trophy cabinet (we do actually have a trophy cabinet). Forget the Oscars, Baftas or Cigar…

Exciting news just in as Master of Malt adds another gong to its already groaning trophy cabinet (we do actually have a trophy cabinet).

Forget the Oscars, Baftas or Cigar Smoker of the Year, they cannot compare with the sheer glamour of the Drinks Retailing Awards which took place last night at The Dorchester in London. The great and good of the business were out in their best bib and tucker to celebrate excellence in flogging booze.

According to Martin Green at Drinks Retailing News, the judges looked at “retailers’ strengths and weaknesses in the digital sphere” as well as using data from Nielsen and polling 2,000 consumers through YouGov. Green went on to say: “To be nominated for a Drinks Retailing Award is a tremendous achievement, and to win one is a stamp of the ultimate quality.”

It was a hard-fought contest, but we are delighted to tell you that Master of Malt won Online Retailer of the Year beating off some tough competition. This is the first time we have won this category since 2013 five years of hurt, never stopped us dreaming. Presenting the prize was Joe Fattorini off ITV’s ‘The Wine Show’ and representing MoM were Nick Murden and Jake Mountain.

They partied responsibly long into the night.

 

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10 rules for running a successful bar

On the blog today we have UK brand ambassador for Disaronno Rod Eslamieh, a man who has had a chequered career in the drinks industry. He gives us the benefit…

On the blog today we have UK brand ambassador for Disaronno Rod Eslamieh, a man who has had a chequered career in the drinks industry. He gives us the benefit of his hard-won wisdom…

Eslamieh began working in drinks when his father bought an old fire station in Brentford, west London, which they turned into a bar and restaurant. It was an odd career move because up to this point Eslamieh didn’t drink alcohol. But he quickly fell in love with the bar culture, and the venue became very successful:

“We opened in 2003. In 2006, within three years, we won the Best Bar Team in the whole UK at the Class Bar Awards. In 2007 and 2008, I was shortlisted for Best Bar Manager at Class Awards. In 2009, I actually won the London heat of the Jack Daniel’s cocktail competition to go and represent (the bar) in Tennessee”, he said.

Rod Eslamieh

Rod Eslamieh!

Not everything went so smoothly, however. Eslamieh had to leave the Old Fire Station after problems with local residents (more on this below). Since 2014, he’s been a brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons looking after Disaronno Amaretto. With his wife Ellie, he runs Chapter 72, a coffee and cocktail bar near London Bridge. So, from a man who has tasted the highs but also felt the lows, here are some top tips for the budding bar owner:

Connect with the community

At the Old Fire Station, Eslamieh had problems when a small group of residents who didn’t like having a late bar in their neighbourhood concocted a case against him. They accused him of harassment and aggressive behaviour. Even though there was no evidence, Eslamieh ended up having to walk away from his own bar. He told me what he’d learned from what must have been a bruising experience, “I’d say the two top mistakes that people will make when opening up a bar is not understanding their community and engaging with them.” For his new bar in Bermondsey Street he made sure that this didn’t happen again by talking to local residents and businesses, and getting them on side.

Don’t try to be too perfect

Eslamieh said: “I think too many people wait for everything to be perfect, for the stars to align. Sometimes you should just get on with it rather than just think all the time. Because if you think a lot then you can easily talk your way out of something.”

Location, location, location

It was a complete accident finding the space that became Chapter 72 in Southwark. He was visiting his friend Simon Difford (from Difford’s Guide) and thought: “‘God, this is a really nice street’. So I called my wife and said, ‘there’s a lot of nice restaurants and bars here’. And then just outside I saw this shop with a To Let sign. I called the agent up and I said, ‘can I come and see it?’ and they said, ‘someone’s just pulled out, do you want to come and see it tomorrow?’.” The bar opened six weeks later (see rule above on not making it too perfect).

Rod Eslamieh Chapter 72

Rod Eslamieh at Chapter 72 in Bermondsey Street

Get the vibe right

This is perhaps a hard one to teach but we’ve all walked into bars and restaurants which you know just aren’t working. Eslamieh said, “I’m a great believer that sometimes you can go into somewhere and there’s a real positive feel and a real good connect, and sometimes there isn’t. And I think you can just see by the way the bartenders and the team move around, how the back bar looks, are the tables messy…”

Don’t micromanage

“Learning to step back and let your team have ownership of the business. Not micromanaging. But also finding out where their strengths and weaknesses are and how you can work on it,” Eslamieh told me.

Don’t let it go to your head

It’s not all glamour running a bar, according to Eslamieh. “So you’ve won Bacardi Legacy, you’ve won World Class, you’ve won Glenfiddich Experimental, you’re on the shoulders of bartenders, you’re on the magazines, you’re a superstar. Now I’m going to take this pin and I’m going to burst your bubble. Do you know who doesn’t care that you make the best Old Fashioned in the world? Your landlord. They want to get paid! Who doesn’t care that you make the best Mojito? The local council. If you’re going into opening up a bar thinking it’s all fun and glamorous then you’ve got to think again because at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. You’re the one that has to make sure everyone’s paid, everything is up to date, all licenses are compiled by, all health and safety. Make sure you have a good handyman!”

Look after your mental health

“When I first started in the industry I think there was this real kind of understanding that as a brand ambassador or a bartender you worked ten to 15 hours and then you’d go out drinking until four in the morning, you sleep all day and then you come out. I think that kind of lifestyle is starting to change. We’re seeing programmes like Healthy Hospo coming out. You’ve got more bartenders talking about how they’ve had to deal with alcohol issues and depression,” Eslamieh told me.


Making a Disaronno amaretto sour

Making a Disaronno amaretto sour

Have a USP

For Chapter 72, it’s coffee and cocktails. He said, “I always say that we’re a coffee shop that sells alcohol rather than a bar that sells coffee. So we’re trying to really demonstrate to people that as well as good coffee, we can do great cocktails here as well.  We’re the only place, I think, in London that does Espresso Martini masterclasses.”

Put out an A board

In all the noise about the importance of social media, it can be easy to forget that the old marketing methods can be the best. Eslamieh filled me in, “when we first opened, the coffee side was really busy for us, it was going really well, and the drinks side was a little bit quieter and we didn’t really understand it. So I spoke to a member of staff and said to her ‘just put on the blackboard ‘Best Espresso Martini in town right here’. . . that weekend we were full, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

People like fun drinks

Finally, I asked Eslamieh about his predictions for the future: “I think nostalgia will come back. I think people just want something that brings them back to where they were happy, whether it was a disco drink but a disco drink made well. In my next cocktail list, I’m going to put the Screaming Orgasm. It’s a fun drink, it brings back memories! I go to so many bars now where I look at the menu and I don’t even know what those ingredients are, they’re so complicated. There’s all these infusions, there’s all these complicated drinks. Why is LCC knocking out 88,000 Pornstar Martinis a year? Because it’s got a fun name, it’s got vanilla vodka, it’s got passionfruit, people like it.. . . 95% of people out there in the world don’t really care, they just want to have a nice time and have a nice drink.” Amen to that!

So there you have, follow these simple rules, and with a little luck and some money, you could have a successful bar on your hands.

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Despite everything, American whiskey is booming in Britain

With the Super Bowl taking place this weekend, we take a look at how American whiskey sales are growing in the UK, and pick some of our favourites for you…

With the Super Bowl taking place this weekend, we take a look at how American whiskey sales are growing in the UK, and pick some of our favourites for you to enjoy in front of the big game.

Due to recent, ahem, disagreements between the European Commission and the current US administration, there’s currently a whopping 25% tariff imposed on American whiskey (you may have noticed how your favourite bourbon isn’t quite as good value as it once was). People were predicting catastrophe for American whiskey exports – and yet, the UK market is not only holding up, it is positively booming.

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