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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Whisky Advent 2019 #20: Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

Behind the door #20 of the Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar lies a classic 15 year old Speyside single malt aged in sherry casks. Yum! Earlier this year…

Behind the door #20 of the Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar lies a classic 15 year old Speyside single malt aged in sherry casks. Yum!

Earlier this year we attended a masterclass with George Grant from Glenfarclas where he talked us through five years of The Last Casks releases of rare whiskies. Well, masterclass isn’t quite the right word. What you’re not going to get from Grant is the slick brand ambassador act: on-brand, on-message and lots of well-honed schtick. Instead, we were treated to jokes, rambling anecdotes about peculiar goings on in a Las Vegas hotel and a startling admission that one bottle in the line-up just wasn’t very good. Everyone had a great time. It helped, of course, that the whiskies (even that particular one) were so good.

Grant can get away with being a bit unconventional because his family owns the distillery and have done since 1865 when George Grant bought the place. As Grant said to the group, it’s a very easy story to remember as pretty much everyone is called George Grant. He is the sixth generation Grant in the business.  There is no corporate hierarchy, no shareholders, and no mission statement. The distillery is a similar experience: it’s not glitzy and polished, the equipment neither particularly old nor brand new. The whiskies are matured in oloroso casks, the stills are direct-fired, a rarity now, and look at those labels, they’ve never been near a brand consultant.

George Grant - Glenfarclas

George Grant with faithful hound

The 15 Year Old lurking behind door number 20 offers much of the sherried goodness of the Last Casks but at a very reasonable price, especially when compared with a certain other Speyside distillery famous for its sherry casks. To tell us more, we spoke to George Grant himself:

Master of Malt: In what ways does being family-owned enable you to do things a little bit differently at Glenfarclas?

George Grant: Being family owned means we can react to things much quicker, can change direction, be a bit more adaptive.

MoM: You spend quite a bit of time on the road spreading the word about Glenfarclas. What’s your favourite place to visit and why?

GG: My favourite place to visit is home and my own bed. Because I sleep much better. I love watching those TV commercials about getting a new mattress and we are supposed to change them every 10 years. My mattress easily will last 30 years then.

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old – sherry heaven

MoM: What has been your highlights of 2019 at Glenfarclas?

GG: Highlight must be the Glenfarclas Trunk, contain 50 x 200ml bottles of Glenfarclas every year from 1954 to 2003

MoM: What does the future have in store for the wide world of whisky?

GG: Continued enjoyment, education of future generations to enjoy such a wonderful spirit.

MoM: Which Glenfarclas will you be drinking at Christmas and why?

GG: Mmm, which ever one Master of Malt send me for answering your questions.1959 Glenfarclas, was the last year we distilled on Christmas day.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: WhistlePig Ten Year Old – Pitt Cue Exclusive

Today we have a Master of Malt exclusive, a 59.7% ABV single cask WhistlePig bottled for the now-defunct Pitt Cue BBQ joint. We talk to Pitt Cue founder, Jamie Berger,…

Today we have a Master of Malt exclusive, a 59.7% ABV single cask WhistlePig bottled for the now-defunct Pitt Cue BBQ joint. We talk to Pitt Cue founder, Jamie Berger, about rye whiskey, his Southern roots and the possible return of his much-loved restaurant. 

You wouldn’t guess it from his accent which is 100% English, but Jamie Berger is 50% American. His mother is from Atlanta, Georgia. On visits to the States, he picked up a love of BBQ. No, not burning things in your garden over hot coals, but the slow cooking technique used in parts of the US, particularly the South. “It’s blue collar food”, Berger told me, “it’s long slow cooking times using smoke to break down collagen, and taking cheaper cuts and rendering them delicious through cooking process.” Berger started a company, Pitt Cue, selling BBQ to Londoners from a food van in 2011. At the time, he said, “nobody had heard of pulled pork. Now, it’s in supermarkets.” The van became a restaurant in Soho and successful cookbook. Along with BBQ, Berger had a taste for American whiskey. He joked that he picked this up from his mother “who drinks a lot.”

Jamie Berger, 50% American, 100% BBQ (photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness)

As with the pulled pork, American whiskey, beyond the big brands, was something of a novelty back in 2011. “It was hard to find anyone who knew anything about American whiskey. I was particularly interested in rye which you couldn’t find”, Berger said. So he would go to America, taste whiskey and buy a barrel to sell in his restaurant, “I’ve done one with Evan Williams, a 10 year old, and Eagle Rare, also a 10 year old, and two with WhistlePig, labelled as a 10 but the liquids inside were older. We would use it as house whiskey, if you wanted a rye Old Fashioned, it would be Pitt Cue own label”. One time, he told us, “I got snowed in Vermont at WhistlePig”, which sounds like every whiskey lover’s dream. 

Meanwhile, Berger was made an offer he couldn’t refuse by Tavern Restaurants. “We sold the business in late 2015,” he said, “for three years I worked for the acquirers to stop me setting up rival business.” The new owners closed the Soho restaurant and moved the business to Devonshire Square in the City. Sadly, things did not go according to plan, and in June this year, Pitt Cue was no more.  

Pit Cue

Berger’s cask, it’s even got his name on

This meant, however, that there was some whiskey left unsold which Master of Malt has acquired. It’s a special single cask 10 year old (though Berger says the true age is closer to 12) bottled at a healthy 59.7% ABV. “I’m looking for  a unique expression”, Berger said, “I like spicy whiskey.” As you’d expect from a BBQ restaurant, it’s all about big flavours. 

Despite the demise of Pitt Cue, Berger is still barbecuing. We spoke to him just before Thanksgiving where he put some of the old team back together for a one-off event. Apparently it sold out in three hours. He’s also bought back the intellectual property so, at some point, the Pitt Cue name will return (see website for more details). Though at the moment, it’s likely to be limited to pop-ups: “I’m in no rush to open another brick and mortar site in the current climate,” Berger said, “the restaurant market is not going through bumper boom period.” But at least while we wait, there’s always this special WhistlePig Rye to keep us amused. 

Pitt Cue WhistlePig, 59.7% ABV, 100% rye

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Marzipan and mint chocolate, with spicy oak, butterscotch and candied orange.

Palate: Warming and spicy, with a hefty dose of allspice, dark chocolate and melted brown sugar, with honeycomb alongside spicy rye.

Finish: Cherry jam, buttery caramel and toasty oak.

 

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5 minutes with Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the…

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the gin boom will end.

Oh you know, those two funny bearded chaps off the telly. No, not the Hairy Bikers, we’re talking about the drinks people from Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. If you’re even slightly interested in booze, you will more than likely be familiar with Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison aka World’s Best Spirits. As well as Sunday Brunch, they give talks and masterclasses, contribute to magazines, websites and newspapers, write books and still have time to attend every spirits tasting in Britain. How do they do it? They must be the hardest working men in the drinks business. 

Their latest book, The World Atlas of Gin, (amazingly Ridley had the time to contribute to another book this year) is a magnificent and thorough guide to a drink that is now truly global in scope. It’s a part of the Mitchell Beazley World Atlas series, anyone familiar with these books will know how what gorgeous objects they are. Without further ado, let’s hear from the toothsome twosome themselves. 

World Atlas of Gin

Harrison & Ridley in action

Master of Malt: What did you do before you became drinks writers?

Harrison & Ridley: We both worked in the music business, as A&R Executives (discovering new talent, signing it and making records) which was an incredible job to do at the time. Neil worked for Warner Brothers and Joel was at Island Records. We both and some amazing artists on the roster at the time such as Muse and Amy Winehouse respectively. We got to see a lot of amazing new talent coming up, but also a lot of rubbish music too!

MoM: How did you become drinks writers?

H&R: We started a blog in 2007, which was one of the very first whisky-focused websites, to document all the drams we were enjoying at the time, and to take an irreverent look at what was at the time quite a serious ‘leather armchair’ product. From that we were asked to write for various magazines and newspapers, and in 2015 our debut book, Distilled was released. It won the Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Drinks Book of the Year and is now the biggest selling book on pan-spirits globally, being translated into 15 languages along the way. We have similar hopes for The World Atlas of Gin, our third book together.

MoM: How did you meet? Was it love at first sight?

H&R: Funny story. Joel was going on holiday to Islay to visit some distilleries. At the back of a gig we got talking about it and shared our love of whisky. We ended up missing the gig, after heading to the bar for a dram or two. . . and the band was the Kaiser Chiefs who went on to sell over a million records. We probably should have stayed for the gig…!

They can do serious too

MoM: Can you remember a certain drink, bottle or cocktail that started your drinks obsession?

H&R: I think it was different for both of us, but certainly the single malts from Islay were a major drive to our shared passion. We both loved them, but there was also a big mix of bottles across our shared collection, from rich Speyside, to light grain, to our beloved Islay malts.

MoM: How long did it take you to research The World Atlas of Gin?

H&R: We developed our writing from whisky into general spirits for our debut book Distilled, and this kicked off a love affair with a variety of spirits from Armagnac through to gin. However, whereas the word of Armagnac has stayed relatively stable, the world of gin has exploded, as a result it took about 18 months of research across all sections of the book, from the production, to the history, to the brands. And we only include brands who make their own product (no contract gins) so that was fun, sifting out those producers who actually make their own liquid.

MoM: How many countries did you visit for this book?

H&R: There are near 60 countries covered in the book and we have visited about 50 of them across our time writing about distilled drinks, much of which was for this book.

MoM: Did you notice certain regional or national styles?

H&R: Yes, the ’new world’ style of gin whereby, in countries such as the US, the base spirit can be slightly lower in abv, vs the EU. In the US it is 95% and in the EU 96%. The 1% doesn’t sound like much but it leaves in a lot of flavour and texture. Therefore, in the ’new world’ style gins, the base spirit is almost like an additional botanical and can add a huge amount of flavour influence.

MoM: What was the most unusual gin you tried?

H&R: I think the London-to-Lima is the most unusual and plays on the idea of a ’new world’ gin, bringing in base distilled from grapes, a la pisco and drawing on Peruvian expertise in that area.

The Nightcap

They love a Negroni, but then who doesn’t?

MoM: Do you have a go-to gin?

H&R: We love a number of different gins depending on the drink it is going in to. For a Negroni, a nice bold spicy style gin works well. For a Martini, something with a clean and crisp, citrus-led flavour. And for a G&T, we love something a little juniper heavy. If we had to choose one that does all well, it would likely be No. 3, a great all rounder.

MoM: Some people get very upset by pink and flavoured drinks. Where do you stand on this divisive issue? 

H&R: So long as there is a heart of juniper, we don’t mind them at all. They can act as a ‘gateway’ for people to get into the gin category and if helps people discover drinks like the Negroni and Gimlet, then brilliant. Warner’s Rhubarb Gin is a fine example of a properly-flavoured, well-made product in this field. It’s delicious.

MoM: What trends are we likely to see in gin (and indeed in other drinks) over the next two years?

H&R: We believe there will be no let up in the gin boom. In the UK we will see people drinking more and more local products, like they do with real ale. So long as gin brands focus on their local market, they’ll be fine. Not all will be world-dominating. Globally, gin will continue to grow as different consumers in different countries discover the gin and tonic (tonic in America, for example, has historically been awful but now with brands like Fever-Tree it is actually a quality product), made with a local gin, and of course amazing cocktails such as the Negroni, Gimlet, Gin Sour, Martini etc…!

MoM: What’s your favourite gin-based cocktail?

Harrison: Anything. But a Gimlet is one of my top drinks, and a more savoury-led Negroni made with a good vermouth and garnished with rosemary, 

Ridley: You can’t go wrong with a clean and crips Martini (such as the one at Dukes or the Connaught Hotel), with a citrus twist. Or indeed just the classic G&T with lots (and lots) of ice.

MoM: What have you got coming up next? Books? TV? World tour?

H&R: We have our regular slot on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch which comes around every 5-6 weeks or so, and we are working on the next book. That’s always the best part of writing any book… the liquid research… 

Behold, the World Atlas of Gin!

 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Snowball

It’s time to get out the shagpile rug, stick some Slade on the stereo and regret chucking out that avocado bathroom, because the most 1970s cocktail ever is back; it’s…

It’s time to get out the shagpile rug, stick some Slade on the stereo and regret chucking out that avocado bathroom, because the most 1970s cocktail ever is back; it’s the Snowball!

It’s a commonplace of TV chefs that Christmas isn’t Christmas without a certain something e.g. mince pies, clementines or family arguments. Well, there really was one drink which (in Britain at least) was synonymous with the holiday season, the Snowball, a mixture of advocaat and lemonade. And then it disappeared as everybody became sophisticated and switched to prosecco and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. That unloved bottle of advocaat sat at the back of the cupboard going crusty and unpleasant. By the time I could legally drink way back in the mid 90s, the Snowball was already something of a joke in popular culture. It was laughed about but never made. I have to admit that before I started writing this column, I had never tried a Snowball. I’d never even tried advocaat. And I call myself a drink writer. 

Snowball

Nothing says “It’s CHRISTMAS!!” like a Snowball

Advocaat is a traditional Dutch liqueur made from a mixture of egg yolks, vanilla, sugar and alcohol, (the leading brand, Warninks, is part of the mighty De Kuyper group). It’s essentially boozy custard and who doesn’t like boozy custard? The combination of eggs and booze is an ancient one. There are many old English recipes for drinks like possets and flips involving alcohol, spices, milk or cream and eggs. Some of these would have been heated with a red hot poker. An ale treated as such was said to be ‘nogged’ which is one possible derivation of the word eggnog. Though it might have come from England, the Americans really took to nogging in a big way. David A. Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks has a whole subchapter on ‘nogs’; there are many different kinds but all contain eggs, alcohol or some sort, milk and/or cream and sugar, lots and lots of sugar. So not that different to advocaat. Incidentally, the word probably comes from the Dutch for lawyer. 

Eggnog rather died out in the old country perhaps because we had the Snowball, which is thought to have been invented some time in the 1940s. It was in the ‘70s, however, that the Snowball reached its apotheosis only to become something of a national embarrassment. This might be because so many people of a certain age began their drinking experiences with an illicit Snowball or two. After all it is essentially boozy custard, much easier on a youthful palate than wine or beer.

But that was all a long time ago and a younger generation don’t have the same cocktail hang-ups. The Snowball is being upgraded for the 21st century. You can even buy it in cans now to make the last train home after the Christmas party even more fun. There are fancy versions available: Difford’s Guide lists a Snowball made with Champagne and fino sherry. 

But for my first Snowball I thought I thought should keep it trad. Though to be properly 1970s, I should have used R White’s Lemonade and omitted the lime juice. I don’t think I saw a lime in Britain until about 1991. And the result? Well, it’s absolutely delicious. In fact, Warninks advocaat neat is pretty damn tasty. Make sure you keep it refrigerated as people in the office have shared lurid stories of what happens to an open bottle of advocaat left in a warm cupboard. Think of the eggs, people.

Anyway, here’s the classic recipe. Best served with Noddy Holder-esque shout of: “It’s CHRISTMAS!!!!”

50ml Warninks Advocaat
25ml fresh lime juice
150ml lemonade

Shake the advocaat and lime juice in a shaker with ice, pour into an ice-filled highball glass, top up with lemonade and stir. Or you can serve it straight up in a coupe, just make sure you use chilled lemonade. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Chairman’s Reserve 2005

This week we’re celebrating 20 years of the Chairman’s Reserve from Saint Lucia Distillers with the firm’s very first vintage bottling.  Chairman’s Reserve was created in 1999 by the late…

This week we’re celebrating 20 years of the Chairman’s Reserve from Saint Lucia Distillers with the firm’s very first vintage bottling. 

Chairman’s Reserve was created in 1999 by the late Laurie Barnard, the chairman and head distiller at Saint Lucia Distillers. It’s a blend of pot and column-distilled spirits, aged longer to produce a richer, smoother and distinctly upmarket drop to be enjoyed by chairmen, chairwomen or just anyone who enjoys sitting behind a big desk with their feet up. Barnard died in 2012, ending the association of the Barnard family with rum on the island that dated back to the 1930s. The family had been there even longer, growing sugar cane since the 1820s. But by the 1970s, it was no longer profitable to grow sugar on Saint Lucia since the lucrative European market had switched to its own protected sugar beet crops. 

With sugar cane growing on the island in crisis, the two surviving distilleries on the island, Dennery on the Barnard family plantation, and the distillery near Roseau Bay owned by Geest, a Dutch company, merged in 1972 to form the Saint Lucia Distillery. All the equipment from Dennery moved to Roseau, now the only distillery on the island. It’s been an interesting journey since then with first Geest and then the Barnard family selling out and the company changing hands. Even more dramatically, in 2007 the distillery was partly burned by a fire started by arsonists. It was only fully rebuilt in 2009. Thankfully no rum was harmed though records dating back years were destroyed. Through these challenging times,  the quality of the rum never dipped no doubt helped by the steady hand of Laurie Barnard at the helm. 

Saint Lucia Distillers

The Roseau valley home of Saint Lucia Distillers

Laurie Barnard was succeeded as managing director by Margaret Monplaisir who used to work with him. The company was then bought in 2016 by Groupe Bernard Hayot, a Martinique-based group which has big plans. Speaking to the Spirits Business not long after the acquisition, Monplaisir commented: “Having recognised the quality of our rum, Groupe Bernard Hayot purchased the company with every intention to invest and take our rums global.”

With a mixture of three pot stills and a continuous still, the Saint Lucia Distillery makes everything from Bounty rums at the cheaper end to the seriously fancy Admiral Rodney range at the top. All the sugar can now comes from Guyana, though the company has begun planting sugar cane experimentally on the island but it has not reached commercial rum production. There are no age statements so the blender free to blend in young rums for vibrancy with older ones for richness.

This latest Chairman’s Reserve (available to buy here) then, is something of a departure. It’s a blend of two rums from a single year, 2005, one from a John Dore pot still and one from a Coffey still. The spirits were aged separately for four years before they were vatted together and aged for another 10 years. 10 casks were made each yielding 340 bottles with 720 being saved for the UK market. A rare rum like this is unlikely to hang about long. We were excited to learn, however, that this 2005 vintage is just the start; Michael Speakman, sales and marketing director at Saint Lucia Distillers, told us: “We can certainly pledge that this is the first of many single vintages and rare releases to come in the future under the Chairman’s Reserve label”. What this space!

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Spiced plum, dried apricot, rum and raisin ice cream supported by lots of baking spice, tobacco and dark treacle.

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day # 5: Steel Bonnets

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle.  First…

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle. 

First of all, why is it called Steel Bonnets? Well, it’s time to don the old tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and indulge in a bit of history. Pay attention at the back, Jenkins! Cumbria, where the Lakes Distillery is situated has long been fought over by England and Scotland. Borderers developed their own fierce outlaw culture (which they took to Ulster and Appalachia). Bandits who operated across the frontier were known as border reivers and wore metal helmets aka steel bonnets. There’s a non-fiction book about them by George MacDonald Fraser (he of Flashman fame) called, Steel Bonnets.

So, what better name for a blend of Cumbrian and Scottish whisky? Steel Bonnets is a blend of malts from the Lakes Distillery and from further north. The distillery was founded in 2014 by Chris Currie, who had previously set up the Isle of Arran Distillery, and Nigel Mills, who made a bit of money in property and hotels. They had some serious talent on board from day one in the form of former Dewar’s master distiller Chris Anderson and Alan Rutherford, former production director at Diageo. In addition to Steel Bonnets, there’s another British blend called The ONE plus vodka and various gins.

In 2016 Dhavall Gandhi joined the team from Macallan. As you might imagine, he’s not averse to a sherry cask or two. And indeed, this year’s long-awaited first commercial single malt release, The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1, is a sherry monster. To tell us more about the Lakes, Steel Bonnets and sherry casks, we spoke with Gandhi:

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Master of Malt: Steel Bonnets is such a great idea, a blend of English and Scottish whiskies. Can you tell me how you came up with it and whether you have any other cross border plans?

Dhavall Gandhi: The idea of our cross-border blended malt, Steel Bonnets, was conceived by our two founders, Nigel Mills and Paul Currie, and our chairman, Dr Alan Rutherford. This is a very unique platform and gives us many opportunities to create some interesting cross-border blends. Watch this space!

MoM: How much do you love sherry casks?

DG: Every cask will influence the character of the whisky in a unique way, and, out of all the casks available for whisky maturation, sherry casks are my absolute favourite. I love them so much that I have decided to make it the focus of my professional career. I continue to study them in-depth and work very closely with our trusted suppliers on a variety of experiments.

MoM: In what ways does it help the Lakes Distillery to be part of a category, English whisky?

DG: English whisky or even world whisky in general is an exciting and growing category. A lot of whisky makers in England are producing great whiskies and it helps to be a part of the category when everybody is doing the best they can to create they own distinctive style and contribute to growing this category. 

Steel Bonnets

Steel Bonnets, an Anglo-Scots collaboration

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

DG: Whisky-making is a subjective topic and hugely influenced by the philosophy of the whisky maker. The focus will be in flavour but the most interesting thing is that every whisky maker will focus on areas they believe are important in creating their own style of whisky. These will highlight the nuances and diversity of flavours created by raw materials, fermentation, distillation, maturation and blending.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DG: It will depend on the time, occasion and the company, but there will be a variety of whiskies and some wine. I am looking forward to enjoying the Quatrefoil Hope with my dad.

Steel Bonnets Tasting Note:

Nose: Hazelnut whip, vanilla pod and gingerbread, with stewed plums and a hint of wood smoke underneath.

Palate: Touches of exotic fruit, cinder toffee and nutmeg emerge through the combination of dried fruit and creamy nuttiness at the core.

Finish: Medium-length, sweet and a little bit smoky.

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #4: Nikka Days

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan. You’ve probably noticed that Japanese…

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan.

You’ve probably noticed that Japanese whisky especially of the age statement variety has become rather expensive. It’s a simple matter of too many customers and not enough whisky. Supply and demand, innit? There are, however, a few Japanese bottlings that overdeliver on flavour per pound like Nikka from the Barrel, a cask strength blended whisky with a high malt content. Not surprisingly, it’s one of our bestselling whiskies and a massive staff favourite. But now there’s a new rival for the coveted top Japanese blend slot and it’s from the same stable. Called Nikka Days, it was launched earlier this year with some rather groovy packaging. It’s gentler, softer and sweeter than the big flavours of Nikka from the Barrel. We think it might be the ultimate Highball whisky.

Nikka has some serious pedigree: it was set up by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. He studied in Scotland where he met and married Rita Cowan. Returning to Japan, he worked with Suntory before setting up on his own in 1934 with the foundation of the Yoichi single malt distillery. In 1952 the name of the company changed from Dai Nippon Kaju to Nikka. Later Taketsuru would be the first person to make whisky in Japan with a Coffey still. To tell us more about Nikka Days, we have brand ambassador, Stefanie Holt:

Masataka Taketsuru

Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky

Master of Malt: Can you tell us a little about the components in Nikka Days?

Stefanie Holt: Nikka Days is  a combination of the Coffey Grain, lightly-peated single malt from Miyagikyo distillery, Coffey malt and Yoichi single malt, so the balance between the main flavours from each of those components is what makes it so rounded and complex. It’s a really well-balanced blend – it starts off fruity and floral on the nose, then soft flavours of toffee, cereal, roasted nuts and a hint of smoke come through on the palate, along with a creamy texture. Finishes off with dried apricot, orange blossom and vanilla. 

MoM: What’s the best way to drink it in your opinion?

SH: It’s fantastic neat and shows a lot of complexity and elegance for a very affordable price, but it was designed for mixing into Mizuwaris or Highballs. The best ones mix Nikka Days with elderflower tonic or coconut water – one part whisky to two parts mixer, served over plenty of ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

MoM: Now that Japanese distilleries like Nikka have upped production to meet to meet demand, are we likely to see more age statement whiskies soon?

SH: I think ‘soon’ might be a bit optimistic, but the aim is for there to be enough for that eventually. You can’t rush good whisky! We still have age statements in the Taketsuru range though (17, 21 and 25 year old – limited allocation each year), and the Nikka 12yo is still available in the UK (even though it’s been discontinued in Japan) until stocks run out, so we have a few age statements around. It’s really exciting about the increased production capacity though as it will give the blenders there some more flexibility and allow them to be creative.

Nikka Days

Thank you for the Days

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

SH: It’s going to be interesting with all the changes to import duties being imposed in various countries around the world, but I think in general we’re still seeing more new distilleries & countries producing whisky. It’s an exciting time as a lot of distilleries started producing three to five years ago, so there are lots of newly released things to taste!

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

SH: I’ll be on holiday in Bali, so will be aiming for Piña Coladas/Miami Vices on the beach, but I’ll also take a bottle of Nikka Coffey Gin with me for some 5pm G&Ts on the balcony! If I was back home having a snowy Christmas, then I’d most likely sip & savour Nikka’s Pure Malt Red or some Hine Homage.

Tasting Note for Nikka Days:

Nose: Orchard fruit, honeydew melon and Campino sweets, then orange oil, golden barley and lemon cheesecake.

Palate: Creamy hazelnuts, toffee apple, sweet cereals and vanilla fudge alongside a hint of barrel char, freshened up by Conference pears.

Finish: Buttery shortbread, brown sugar and vanilla pod.

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Drink books of the year 2019

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by…

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by the fire with this Christmas. 

Well, it’s been a bumper year for drink books. There’s new offerings from old pros like Jancis Robinson and Tristan Stephenson, as well as debuts from Felix Nash and Eddie Ludlow. In fact, it was such a good year that we had trouble narrowing the list down so apologies if your favourite is missing. 

All of them will make great gifts for the drink lover in your life. And we can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays than with a roaring fire, a dram/ glass/ pint of something delicious and one of these books, and that includes watching Casablanca on Christmas Day with a belly full of Port and Stilton. 

A Brief History of Lager Mark Dredge

Lager is so ubiquitous, it’s the beer the world drinks, that it’s hard to imagine how 200 years ago it was a Bavarian speciality. At that time, beer in the rest of Europe was essentially ale. But slowly lager spread and along the way mutated from a sweet, brown beer to the crisp golden brew we know today. It’s a great story told with a real sense of fun by award-winning beer writer and TV regular Mark Dredge. 

Sample line: “Lederer kept contact with Sedlmayr and Dreher, and there’s a wonderful photo taken in 1939 of the three of them all wearing top hats and overcoats, each with a thick moustache, and all holding hands.”

The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip Tristan Stephenson

Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender is the author of many excellent cocktails books. In this latest outing, he takes a journey across America sampling whiskeys from 44 distilleries both large and small including some real MoM favourites like Balcones 44, St George, and Michter’s  nice work if you can get it.

Sample line: “Tuthilltown is home to a huge cat call Bourbon (there another cat called Rye that we didn’t get to meet.”

Fine Cider Felix Nash 

You probably haven’t realised it yet but we are living through a golden age of cider. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet, but all over England, Wales and the cider-producing world (which is much bigger than you think), producers are waking up to the potential of apple-based goodness. Felix Nash, a cider merchant, has written a heartfelt, in-depth hymn to his favourite fruit and drink.

Sample line: “I wouldn’t be able to tell you about all the apples used to make cider or the pears used to make perry, and no one could. It’s not simply that so many varieties exist in the world, but that they can very localised”.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! Ben Howkins

We’ve written a fair bit on the blog about how much we like sherry, so this was a book after our own hearts. Written by a man with more experience in the wine trade that he would like to admit, this is a love letter to one of the world’s great wines. Reading this, you can almost smell the bodegas of Jerez. Warning, it’s almost impossible to read this book without developing a serious sherry habit. 

Sample line: “Olorosos are the wines that will emulate rugby players, rather than ballet dancers.”

Spirited: How to create easy, fun drinks at home Signe Johansen

You might know Johansen (the lady in the header) as Scandilicious, evangelist for all things Scandinavian and delicious. Originally from Norway, now living in London, she’s just as good on drinks as food. This book makes a great introduction to cocktails, tips for non-alcoholic drinks and all round guide to stress free non-nerdy entertaining. 

Sample line: “Life is too short to worry about what anoraks and bores think so now I happily enjoy whichever drinks I’m in the mood for.”

The Whisky Dictionary Ian Wisniewski

Someone who is certainly a bit of an anorak but never a bore is Ian Wisniewski. He’s the one on distillery tours who will always be asking more questions than anyone else. We know as we’ve been round a few with him and we always learn a lot. This book, which we have already found an invaluable reference guide, is a testament to that insatiable curiosity. 

Sample line: “Do enzymes ever get the applause they deserve? Rarely. If ever. It’s time to make up for that with a standing ovation.”

Whisky Tasting Course  Eddie Ludlow

Like many of the best people in the drinks business, Ludlow began his career at Oddbins. Since then he’s become an expert at opening up the often confusing world of whisky. In this book, Ludlow breaks it down into easily digestible segments, explains why whiskies taste as they do, and talks the reader through the most common styles of whisky such as single pot still Irish, small batch bourbon and Islay single malt. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “bonfires on the beach” or muttering “mmm, Jamaica cake” like an old pro.

Sample line: “Your mouth and tongue are actually quite inefficient at detecting all but the most basic flavours.”

The World of Whisky – Neil Ridley, Gavin D. Smith and David Wishart

Lavishly-produced guide to the every-expanding world of whisky by three of the best writers in the business. And you do really need three to cover what is now such an enormous topic. Inevitably the majority of the book is on Scotland with a page devoted to each malt distillery, but the Irish, US and Japan sections are also impressive.

Sample line: “Would even the most discerning of palate be able to detect a differences made using barley grown in Mr McTavish’s bottom field and the one, over yonder hill, behind the tree and the babbling burn?”

The World Atlas of Gin Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

Another book part-written by Neil Ridley! How does it do it? We suspect that he has actually cloned himself to spread the workload. There’s a lot of gin out there and it’s expanding all the time, meaning that this book can only be a snapshot of what’s available but you know with these two that everything in here is going to be worth drinking. Also extra points for not being afraid to put in the big names, like Beefeater, rather than going for hipster obscurity points.

Sample line: “France has embraced the gin revolution with a charismatic style and charm of its own.”

The World Atlas of Wine Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson

This is the 8th edition of an all time classic book, first published in the 1970s and updated every few years. Originally just written by Johnson, Robinson joined the team in 2003. It’s hard to think of a better looking book with its lavish photos and intricate maps of the world’s greatest wine regions. The words are pretty nifty too as you’d expect from (probably) the world’s top two wine writers. 

Sample line: “For centuries, Hungary has had the most distinctive food and wine culture, the most varied grape varieties, and the most refined wine laws and customs of any country east of Germany.”

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New Arrival of the Week: Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens. Barentsz…

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens.

Barentsz is named after a 16th century explorer Captain Willem Barentsz who attempted to find a way through the Arctic to China. He didn’t succeed but gave his name to the Barents Sea somewhere way up north between Norway and Russia. Barentsz’s intrepid nature and never-say-die attitude inspired Michael Claessens to create his own gin.

Drink runs in the family blood: “My father’s business, Claessens, is the foremost specialists for the development and creation of brands for the international beverage industry. It has been developing, re-positioning and creating brands for nearly 40 years,” he told us. So starting his own drinks brand was the most natural thing in the world. And with his Anglo-Dutch heritage, gin was the obvious choice: “Gin has clear ties with my two home countries – UK and Holland. My family’s Dutch roots, blended with my London upbringing, made it appropriate that the new brand should be a gin – which was born in Holland and perfected in London”, he said.

Michael Claessens.

It’s Michael Claessens!

Refreshingly, he is totally candid about where the gin is made, by Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers in London. Claessens knew exactly what he was looking for when designing his own gin with Maxwell: “Barentsz is different in that we actually spent time looking at the concept of gin from the perspective of ‘mouth feel’. It was very important to us that the harsh and often bitter reputation of gin was overcome, in order that we could create a spirit foundation of the finest quality that was soft enough to allow for more delicate and fresh botanicals – and a gin that could actually be enjoyed neat over ice.” He went on to say: “I spent a long time playing with the formulation of our spirit foundation. I wanted it to be something that tasted smooth before the botanicals were added.” The result was a special spirit made from two grains, golden rye and winter wheat.

We are big fans of the standard bottling here at MoM. With its jasmine note, it’s very distinctive but this doesn’t stop it being extremely versatile. It achieves the gin triple crown of being superb in a G&T, a Martini and Negroni. It was honoured with a gold medal at the IWSC in 2018. This new version turns up the jasmine and adds mandarin to the mix. “Once again, we seek to honour the pioneering spirit of the Dutch Arctic explorer, Willem Barentsz,” Claessens said. “Our mandarin and jasmine botanicals are inspired by his quest for a northeastern trading route to China by way of the sea. Mandarin oranges symbolise luck at Chinese new year and our jasmine flowers are sourced from China.”

Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin takes on some colour and sweetness from the mandarins but, according to Claessens, there is “no artificial colouring or sweeteners and no sugar. All sweetness is natural”. Claessens recommends drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange but like its brother, it’s lovely with a decent tonic water. So let’s raise a glass to Williem Barentsz and the Anglo-Dutch alliance and himself. Proost!

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Bartender for life: Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar

The bar at Dukes Hotel is a London institution. The same could be said about the head bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who talks to us about Ian Fleming, moving with the…

The bar at Dukes Hotel is a London institution. The same could be said about the head bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who talks to us about Ian Fleming, moving with the times, and what is and isn’t a Martini. 

Dukes Hotel isn’t easy to find. Located just off St James’s Street, the first time I went there, it felt like I had been initiated into one of London’s great secrets. According to Alessandro Palazzi, the dapper Italian gentleman who runs the bar, “we are hidden away, so it’s a destination place. It’s like a club, but without being a club.” Following stints at the Ritz in Paris, The Great Eastern Hotel (now Andaz), and running his own bar in Perugia (“a big mistake” as he puts it), Palazzi took over at Dukes 13 years ago from Gilberto Preti, who himself was handed the baton by Salvatore Calabrese. You don’t have to be Italian to work at Duke’s but it certainly helps: “Maurizio, my assistant, he’s been with me 13 years. Then I have another gentleman, Enrico, as well, who’s been thirteen years,” Palazzi told me. 

1. Alessandro Palazzi

You don’t have to be Italian to work at Dukes but it helps.

It might surprise people who find Dukes a bit old-fashioned, but the first thing Palazzi did when he took over was to relax the dress code. Previously it was jackets and ties; now it’s just smart casual. He told me that they lost some of their old customers when he took over and modernised the place. Other changes have also gone down badly. “One lady, an important politician, complained when we removed the awful green carpet,” he said.

Others, however, have embraced the changes. “We have a lot of old customers who actually introduced their children and they carry on coming,” he continues. We still have lots of old customers, because they come here for the drink and the building.” It was a different world when Palazzi first came to London in the 1970s: you would be sacked if you were seen in hotel bars like the Savoy. Customers shouldn’t see the staff out drinking. The clientele of Dukes, according to Palazzi, was dominated by politicians and the military, like its most famous customer, Ian Fleming. “Some people think that I used to serve him! I’m not that old,” Palazzi said. “Now you have people in the arts and music. And also younger people now, because this place has become fashionable. People come for their first date, and people propose here because of the place,” he told me. According to Palazzi, younger customers are happy to spend money. “People don’t put money in the bank anymore because they might go bankrupt.”

Duke’s certainly isn’t cheap, at £22 for a Martini. But Palazzi defends the prices: “You get five shots of premium gin, Amalfi lemon, Sicilian olives, snacks, and if you want you can buy one drink and have the table all night.” He compares it to a Savile Row suit. There’s no doubt that Palazzi has a rare gift for making his customers feel special. He prides himself on treating everyone the same and told me a story about turning away a famous actress who wanted to barge the queue. “We don’t have the bling-bling”, he told me. “We probably sell a bottle of Krug or Cristal every six or seven years. We don’t have here that type of clientele. That’s why a lot of people like to come here as well. There’s no showing off, everybody’s the same.” 

3. DUKES Bar

It might look like nothing has changed here since 1953 but Dukes is slowly moving with the times

Customers come for the beautifully-prepared cocktails prepared on a trolley at the table. Palazzi sees being a bartender as a noble vocation. “Bartenders now, they start as a bartender and then they want to become brand ambassador. I grew up in Italy; I knew I wanted to be a bartender for the rest of my life.” In the past, places like Dukes and The American Bar at the Savoy were the only places to get classic cocktails but now, “there has been a bar revolution in London and outside London, in Leeds, in Manchester. You have more and more amazing bars.”

Duke’s has had to move with the times, but do it in its own way. Smoky domes, flames and DJs wouldn’t be quite right. “When I took over the menu was boring”, Palazzi said, “when I say boring, we have the usual cocktails, there was nothing there.” So Palazzi came up with a list inspired by Dukes’ most famous customer, Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books. There’s a Tiger Tanaka, a Kissy Suzuki and Palazzi’s own take on the Vesper using Sacred vermouth, Berry Bros’s No. 3 Gin, and Polish vodka. Sadly, Palazzi told me, “I cannot use the name Fleming anymore, because they [the Fleming estate] want money.”

Another of Palazzi’s innovations was introducing new kinds of gin. “I knew gin was going to become a big thing,” he said. He was an early supporter of Sacred but his new favourite is the superb (and pricey) Procera Gin from Kenya. So, when the time came to have a drink, he suggested a Martini made with this special gin. When I demurred, as I didn’t think I could manage a full Dukes Martini at 3pm, he suggested a “Martini-ini.” 

The famous Martini trolley

The famous Martini trolley

Out came the famous trolley, which was introduced by Palazzi’s predecessor. Then the Sacred vermouth. Palazzi told me that the ritual of putting it in the glass and then throwing it on the floor began as a joke, but it’s now become his trademark. As I wanted a wetter Martini, mine stayed firmly in the glass. Next the frozen gin and then the heady scent of Amalfi lemon, the droplets of oil floating in the thick cold gin. 

Palazzi has strong views on what and what isn’t a Martini. “For me, a Martini is a drink which has to be strong and three ingredients,” he said. “An Espresso Martini is not really a Martini. A Martini is supposed to be all alcohol. It’s the most simple cocktail to make: it’s the temperature, the quality ingredients, the lemon. There’s the vermouth, gin or vodka, and the oil. That’s what a Martini is.” 

Time to take a sip; it’s the lemon that dominates at first followed by the thick, unctuous flavour of the frozen gin tempered with a little vermouth. It’s delicious, of course, but you can’t separate the taste from the escapism, the sense of occasion and Palazzi’s hospitality.  Maybe I will have another

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