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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Cocktail of the Week: The Bramble

This week we show you how to make this modern classic inspired by a childhood spent foraging for blackberries. The origins of most great cocktails are lost in the mists…

This week we show you how to make this modern classic inspired by a childhood spent foraging for blackberries.

The origins of most great cocktails are lost in the mists of time. Not the Bramble though – it was invented in the mid-’80s by Dick Bradsell when he was working at a bar in Soho called Fred’s Club. Bradsell tended bar in some of London’s most notorious venues including Zanzibar in the ‘80s and the Atlantic Bar in the ‘90s. You might remember seeing photos of Noel Gallagher or Kate Moss falling out of the Atlantic. Ah, happy daze!

Bradsell wasn’t just barman to the stars. He pioneered a return to cocktails made from scratch with fresh ingredients when everyone else was making luridly coloured concoctions with syrups. Bradsell was an inspiration to a new generation of bartenders and put London on the cocktail map. As well as perfecting the classics, he invented dozens of cocktails including the Espresso Martini (coming soon to Cocktail of the Week) and this week’s cocktail, the Bramble. How many bartenders can say that they have invented two stone-cold classics? Sadly, Bradsell died in 2016 of brain cancer aged only 56.

The Bramble was inspired by the British pastime of brambling in late summer and early autumn when the blackberry bushes that grow like weeds in hedgerows and on wastelands come into fruit. Back in 2001, Bradsell wrote the following for Difford’s Guide:

“I wanted to invent a truly British drink for reasons that escape me now…. A bramble, by the way, is the bush where the blackberry grows, I know this as I spent an inordinate amount of time in my Isle of Wight childhood cutting and scratching myself on their jaggy thorns in attempts to capture those elusive berries that others had failed to harvest.”

Dick Bradsell

The late, great Dick Bradsell (credit: Diffordsguide.com)

The heart of the Bramble is a liqueur made from blackberries (or you can call them brambles, as they do in Scotland, according to my mother). It’s very easy to make your own: all you need are lots of brambles, some gin or vodka and caster sugar. Steep the fruit with the sugar in alcohol, shaking occasionally every couple of days. After three to six months, strain and bottle. Annoyingly this autumn was terrible for brambles. The intense summer heat meant they ripened too quickly. One day they were nice, the next they were shrivelled, and I had missed my moment. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Luckily, I still have some liqueur left over from the bumper harvest of 2017. But you can buy ready-made crème de mure (blackberry in French), or you can make variations on the Bramble by using cassis, Chambord, or even, Bradsell says, Ribena. Just remember to use the correct fruit to garnish. Next, you need crushed ice. If you don’t have an ice crusher at home, and honestly who does, then put the ice in a plastic bag and hit it with a rolling pin.

Then which gin to use? You could play around with fruit botanical gins (not liqueurs though, they have to be dry). I had a lovely Scottish gin from Darnley made with sloes, rosehips and brambles which would be ideal. But in this case, I used Chase Elegant Gin which is distilled from apples. You don’t get more evocative of a British childhood than blackberries and apples.

The Bramble Cocktail

The Bramble cocktail

Right, that’s enough nostalgia. Let’s make a bloody Bramble!

50ml Chase Elegant Gin
25ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup*
10ml crème de mure

Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup with ice in a shaker, double-strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice. Drizzle crème de mure on the top and garnish with a lemon slice and a bramble that you have foraged yourself (or more likely bought from a supermarket as it’s January).

*Easy sugar syrup recipe: in a saucepan add 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, heat gently (do not boil) until the sugar dissolves. Decant into a jam jar or bottle. It lasts for months in the fridge.

 

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From Dream to Dram: Kingsbarns’ first whisky

Last week, we met with Isabella and William Wemyss, the brother and sister team behind Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife, for the launch of Dream to Dram, the duo’s first commercial…

Last week, we met with Isabella and William Wemyss, the brother and sister team behind Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife, for the launch of Dream to Dram, the duo’s first commercial single malt Scotch whisky release.

There can be few new distilleries as beautiful as Kingsbarns. It’s set in rolling Fife farmland and housed in a converted 18th century farmstead, complete with a dovecote that looks like a wee castle. The Wemyss (pronounced Weems) family is old Scottish nobility with its seat at a proper castle nearby called, naturally, Wemyss Castle. This part of Scotland attracts visitors from all over the world to the home of golf, St Andrews Links. As William Wemyss put it, “We’re bringing together golf and Scotland’s other great export.” He means whisky, not shortbread.

William and his sister Isabella are clearly geared up for tourism: there’s a very impressive visitor centre, a café (try the sausages rolls), and their very own gin distillery which produces Darnley’s Gin, named after Mary Queen of Scots’ notorious husband. The idea for a Fife whisky began in 2010 with an email from Doug Clement, a former pro golf caddy, to William Wemyss saying that they should open a distillery. At the time, William joked, “we couldn’t spell the word washback.” So they brought in some experts. Jim Swan consulted on creating “an early-maturing spirit” and the distillery was designed by Ian Palmer from Inchdairnie, with stills from Forsyths of Rothes.

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The Burns Night poetry comp – we have a winner!

The judges have conferred, discussed, mused and argued. Now after much debate, we have chosen a winner in our Robert Burns Single Malt competition. Here are all the details: It’s…

The judges have conferred, discussed, mused and argued. Now after much debate, we have chosen a winner in our Robert Burns Single Malt competition. Here are all the details:

It’s Burns Night which means that it’s time to announce the winner of our poetry competition. We were inundated with entries, from haikus to rude limericks to long poems written in the style of Burns. There were many that rhymed whisky with frisky, some that made us laugh, and others that made us groan. There were even a few that were too obscene to print. Overall though, we were amazed by how much effort some of you put in. Who knew Master of Malt customers would be so talented? We were so impressed that we’ve picked five runners up who will all receive drams.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Martini

It’s Wednesday evening which means it’s time to get your shaker out. This week we risk the wrath of the cocktail puritans by extolling the pleasures of a Martini that’s…

It’s Wednesday evening which means it’s time to get your shaker out. This week we risk the wrath of the cocktail puritans by extolling the pleasures of a Martini that’s heavy on the vermouth.

There’s no cocktail like the Martini for bringing out the purist in certain people. You know the sort of thing they say: “Show the gin a bottle of vermouth, throw the vermouth in the bin and then drink the gin.” Noël Coward wrote, “a perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy.” Hemingway liked a ratio of 15 parts gin to 1 part vermouth.

I used to order such booze-heavy concoctions, probably to try to look cool. But I actually much prefer my Martinis a little wetter. Happily though, the purists are in retreat as fashion is swinging back towards something like the early Martini. The drink (probably) evolved from the Marguerite: 2 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, and served straight up. The name comes from the Martini & Rossi company which released a dry French-style vermouth in 1900. People began ordering their Marguerites by the vermouth brand and the name stuck. Or that’s the theory anyway, nobody quite knows.

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Talking casks with whiskey bonder Conor Hyde

Cork-based bonders Hyde has been wowing drinkers with its rare bottlings since 2015. We talk to founder Conor Hyde about the art of cask ageing, the history Irish whiskey bonding,…

Cork-based bonders Hyde has been wowing drinkers with its rare bottlings since 2015. We talk to founder Conor Hyde about the art of cask ageing, the history Irish whiskey bonding, and the future of the category.

Conor Hyde’s family have been in the drinks business in Ireland for ten generations. He joked that he and his brother Alan are “the first of the Hyde family not to be born in a tavern or pub in West Cork.” Hyde Whiskey, however, is a new venture for the family. It was launched in 2015. They don’t have a distillery, instead the business is based on buying and maturing new make spirit as well as finishing bought-in mature whiskey.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Zombie

Talk to bartenders about what’s going to be big in the next year and one word keeps coming up: tiki. So, on-trend as ever, this week we’re looking at the…

Talk to bartenders about what’s going to be big in the next year and one word keeps coming up: tiki. So, on-trend as ever, this week we’re looking at the original tiki cocktail, the Zombie!

Tiki is the name of the first man in Polynesian mythology, but tiki bar culture owes more to California than Hawaii. The two godfathers of tiki were Don the Beachcomber (aka Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) who opened an eponymous bar in Hollywood in 1934, and ‘Trader’ Vic Bergstrom whose Oakland bar in northern California became Trader Vic’s. Their bars offered a blend of Polynesian-ish decor, Caribbean-esque cocktails and, for some reason, Chinese food – I suppose anything ‘exotic’ would do. They both proved immensely popular and grew into chains.

Central to the tiki vibe were cocktails such as the Zombie and the Mai Tai, which combine lavish quantities of rum with tropical ingredients like pineapple, lime juice and grenadine. Both Don and Vic claimed to have invented the Mai Tai (the word means ‘good’ in Tahitian), whereas Don is credited as the sole creator of the Zombie.

Don and Vic inspired legions of imitators perhaps because the tiki look is cheap to copy. You just need some tribal masks, bamboo, and grass matts, oh and plenty of rum. Tiki spread across the world in the ‘50s and ‘60s. There can be few cities that didn’t have a tiki bar, there were even whole tiki hotels, and it was common for swinging suburban Americans to have a tiki bar in their basement or garage.

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Cocktail of the Week: the Brooklyn

Introducing a new Master of Malt blog series (trumpets sound): every Wednesday we will present our cocktail of the week. It might be a new serve from a swanky bar…

Introducing a new Master of Malt blog series (trumpets sound): every Wednesday we will present our cocktail of the week. It might be a new serve from a swanky bar or something more familiar. First up, we have a forgotten classic from the golden age of cocktails: the Brooklyn!

You’ve probably had a Manhattan, and maybe a Bronx. But did you know that there are cocktails named after other boroughs of New York City, the Queens and the Brooklyn*?

The Brooklyn was invented around the beginning of the 20th century. It is first mentioned in J.A. Grohusko 1908 bartender’s handbook, Jack’s Manual. The Brooklyn is part of the great family of whiskey-based cocktails that includes the Old Fashioned, the Sazerac and, of course, the Manhattan. But whereas the Manhattan is made from ingredients that most cocktail enthusiasts will have in their cabinets, the Brooklyn requires more specialist kit. The secret ingredient is Amer Picon, a bitter French drink made with gentian, quinine and oranges.

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That’s amaro! The best and bitterest liqueurs from Italy and beyond.

Amari (plural of amaro) are traditional Italian bitter liqueurs which are madly fashionable among the cocktail cognoscenti. No wonder, as they make versatile mixers as well as being delicious on…

Amari (plural of amaro) are traditional Italian bitter liqueurs which are madly fashionable among the cocktail cognoscenti. No wonder, as they make versatile mixers as well as being delicious on their own.

Italians love bitterness. You can taste it in the coffee, in the wine (there’s a Puglian grape called negroamaro – black and bitter) and, most notably, in a class of liqueurs called amari, meaning ‘bitter’. They are made all over the peninsula by steeping herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables in alcohol, then sweetening and diluting the concoction. The best known is Campari but each part of Italy has its own amaro, like Fernet Branca from Milan, or Amaro Montenegro from Bologna. These brands have their roots in the 19th century, but Italian families and monasteries have been making versions for much longer.

Until recently, they were seen as a bit old-fashioned, the sort of things drunk by old men in cafes alongside an espresso. But in recent years they have become fashionable with bartenders all over the world. This has inspired people outside Italy to make their own. There are now a number of boutique producers in America and Britain, and even specialist amari bars like Amor y Amargo in New York.

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Fortified wine, not just for Christmas

Don’t let your bottles of Port, sherry or Madeira gather dust. Our guide to getting the most out of these underrated classics will keep you drinking through the winter and…

Don’t let your bottles of Port, sherry or Madeira gather dust. Our guide to getting the most out of these underrated classics will keep you drinking through the winter and into spring and summer.

What’s Christmas Day without a decent drop of Port with your stilton? For me, it’s the highlight of the festive season, so much more delicious than bland old turkey. But like turkey, for most of us, fortified wines are a once a year thing. Which is a shame as they are some of the best value and most versatile wines known to mankind. Fortified wines are great with food including difficult flavours like blue cheese and chocolate, they make useful cocktail ingredients, and the richer ones are a great lighter alternative to brandy or whisky for post-meal sippage. So here’s a guide to keep you fortified throughout the year with three recommendations at the end.

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Diageo to transform Glenkinchie Distillery

Lowland malt distillery Glenkinchie, an important component in Johnnie Walker blended Scotch, has just been granted planning permission for a new visitor centre. Located just over 15 miles from Edinburgh,…

Lowland malt distillery Glenkinchie, an important component in Johnnie Walker blended Scotch, has just been granted planning permission for a new visitor centre.

Located just over 15 miles from Edinburgh, Glenkinchie is one of very few Lowland malt whisky distilleries. Being so close to the capital means that the distillery has huge potential as a tourist attraction, something that Diageo is now looking to build upon. We have just received news that East Lothian Council has granted permission for development work on the distillery.

There has been a distillery on the site since 1837, but the current Glenkinchie set-up dates back to 1890. As part of Diageo’s plans, its Victorian red brick warehouse will become a new all-singing, all-dancing visitor experience which including a shop, a bar, a cocktail classroom, and tastings rooms. The new visitor centre will also show off Glenkinchie’s unique asset, a scale model of the distillery built for the 1925 Empire Exhibition (watch this short film to see the model in all is magnificence.) Work will begin on the expansion early next year.

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