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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Kristiane Sherry

Five minutes with… Mark Bruce, Jura brand home manager

We pour a dram and catch up with Jura’s brand home manager Mark Bruce, chatting through favourite drams, bottles for Christmas, and why the island itself is just so enchanting……

We pour a dram and catch up with Jura’s brand home manager Mark Bruce, chatting through favourite drams, bottles for Christmas, and why the island itself is just so enchanting…

Most whisky geeks around the world will know about Islay. A trip to the island is something of a pilgrimage. A fewer, but definitely increasing, number know about the hidden gem just to the north and but a short ferry hop: the Isle of Jura.

The island is simply spectacular. It spans the same land area as London but is home to just 200 people (and a casual 6,000 deer). It’s wildly mountainous, but it’s also got sweeping white beaches. It’s where George Orwell wrote 1984. It’s even got palm trees, thanks to the warm air swept across the Atlantic by the jet stream. And it’s home to a whisky distillery!

Jura has become known in recent years for its cask finishing balanced with a gentle peat influence. But its island home has a huge impact on the distillery, too. We find out just how from Mark Bruce, Jura’s brand home manager, who lives on the island.

Jura whisky distillery

6,000 deer, 200 people, mountains, beaches and one brilliant distillery – welcome to Jura

Master of Malt: Jura is a little-known Scottish island, but it is truly stunning – white beaches, mountains, deer! What are your favourite things about the island?

Mark Bruce: My favourite thing about life on Jura is that I get to live and work within a community that’s dedicated to making great whisky. Jura Whisky and our tiny island community go hand in hand, therefore without one, the other wouldn’t be what it is today. But it isn’t always about whisky. Come the weekends and longer days you’ll often find me out walking the hills after work and enjoying Small Isles Bay on paddleboards and canoes.

MoM: Jura is also incredibly remote – it takes quite the journey to get there! How does this impact island life and whisky production?

MB: I would say our location impacts every aspect of life, but it wasn’t until I moved here I began to fully appreciate that. With just one shop (our community store), one pub and a handful of island businesses, Jura relies entirely on the ferries between us and Islay, as well as those running from Islay to the mainland. The problems tend to occur when the wild weather kicks in and high winds force the ferries to stop running. 

Our whisky production also finds itself at the mercy of the ferries during bad weather. Our distillery manager Graham Logan and his team are able to maintain 24-hour production for two or three days before we desperately need the ferries up and running again.

MoM: The whisky a distillery makes is as much a product of its location and community as the production methods. How does Jura’s tiny but close-knit community impact the character of Jura whisky?

MB: I couldn’t agree more. Our location itself doesn’t just make Jura a difficult island to get to, but makes every part of life and whisky-making that bit harder. This brings our community together and ensures anyone in need of help gets it. It also translates directly into our whisky and team here at the distillery. There are 17 of us working in our distillery, and all of us live here on Jura. It’s very much the community helping to make each and every drop of spirit!

Jura whisky distillery

The amazing view of the distillery from the water

MoM: One of my favourite memories of Jura is swimming off the coast in front of the distillery – what are your personal highlights from your first visits to the island?

MB: One of my most memorable experiences was on my first visit to Jura, which was part of an immersion experience with Whyte & Mackay. I was fortunate enough to visit for four days and experience all the best parts of what this wonderful island has to offer. We got to climb The Paps [the island’s mountains], experience Jura’s east coast from a fast boat, and walk up to the distillery’s water source, The Market Loch. We also explored the north end of the island, which has some of its most remote beaches. And we enjoyed the freshly-caught seafood! Of course, we also had an in-depth tour of the distillery, and tasted Jura whiskies with our distillery manager, Graham Logan. 

MoM: Talk us through the core Jura range. How do you celebrate the island of Jura through each expression?

MB: I think the entire range of whiskies within our Signature Series is worth celebrating. Exploring them all is a journey in itself, but most importantly, there’s a whisky in there for everyone. We begin with Jura Journey, a great example of how our new-make spirit works perfectly well with American white oak ex-bourbon casks. The 10 and 12-year-old single malts then expand on this with 18-14 months in Oloroso sherry casks. Our Seven Wood is a beauty because it’s different for me every time I try it. American white oak and six different types of French Oak are brought together to create a truly exciting dram of whisky. Jura 18, an island favourite, is best described as armchair whisky for me. It’s very complex, a whisky that can be nurtured on its own and paired perfectly with your main course or dessert. It’s the enhancement period in very special Bordeaux red wine casks that makes Jura 18 an absolute favourite!

MoM: If someone’s thinking of gifting a bottle of Jura for Christmas, where would you suggest they start?

MB: I’d suggest trying one (or both) of our new cask edition releases. Whether it’s the Jura Red Wine cask or the Jura Winter Edition, you simply can’t go wrong. Both of these are perfect for sharing with your friends and family, pairing with food, and mixing in your favourite cocktail.

Jura whisky distillery

A dram on one of the island’s remote beaches. I can think of worse ways to pass the time…

MoM: What dram will you be toasting Christmas with this year?

MB: A sample we’ve just drawn from a cask destined for next year’s Fèis Ìle. You’ll hear all about it soon enough!

Like the sound of Jura? You could win a trip to the island! Check out our blog post for more. 

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MoM Loves: Woodford Reserve

From Old Fashioneds to XO Cognac cask-finishing, Woodford Reserve has long balanced tradition and innovation. We get the latest from the American whiskey pioneer’s master distiller, Chris Morris. Paid partnership …

From Old Fashioneds to XO Cognac cask-finishing, Woodford Reserve has long balanced tradition and innovation. We get the latest from the American whiskey pioneer’s master distiller, Chris Morris.

Paid partnership 

While resolutely American, Lexington-based Woodford Reserve’s spirit has a subtle, albeit distinct, Scottish accent. Like many of its Scotch cousins, it has a long and storied history. It’s carried multiple names; Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and Labrot & Graham Distillery signs have hung over its classic stone walls. Its annals have been punctuated by periods of closure. When current owner Brown-Forman acquired and reopened it in 1996, it brought pot stills back to Kentucky. In fact, once you turn off the road that winds through the rolling hills of horse country, lined by smart wooden post-and-rail fences, the quintessential Americana, you could well have landed in Speyside. 

“It was a changing moment for the industry,” says Chris Morris, recalling that reopening. He’s worked in whiskey with Brown-Forman since 1976, and has played a pivotal role in Woodford Reserve’s rebirth. We’re catching up via video call (it is 2020 now, after all), but hearing him describe the buildings take me right back to a visit around six years ago. The lush green surrounds, those copper pot stills, the wooden washbacks, the nearby brook… the distillery has a charm about it that certainly stays with you. 

“There was no bourbon tourism, no Bourbon Trail at that time,” he continues. There’s another production method Woodford Reserve brought to America: triple pot still distillation. Everything in the philosophy from reopening onwards is about pursuing distinctiveness. “We’ve come to the industry about being different,” Morris states. “Our approach is all about finding flavour – how we can provide a new flavour, or focus on a new experience.”

Woodford Reserve

Say hello to Chris Morris!

Flavour first

There are a number of production processes that set Woodford Reserve apart and contribute to its grain- and fruit-forward distillery character. One is the surprisingly low fill strength when the spirit enters the barrels, just 55% ABV – industry standard would be around 63-64% ABV. “It’s a big flavour statement for us,” Morris explains. “So many of the wood compounds are water-soluble.” For him, it’s about maxing out the impact of the barrels on the spirit. “You also need 14% more barrels,” he quips, signalling the distillery’s commitment to the role of the cask – the team will use as many as it takes to get things just right. 

Woodford Reserve became the first US producer to offer the four core straight mash bill styles: bourbon, rye, malt and wheat – the latter being a four-grain recipe. There’s a surprisingly high malt content across each of them. “We never add artificial enzymes,” Morris details, adding that whatever he does, be it tweak the mash bill or play with cask finishes, the distillery character must shine through. 

Woodford Reserve

Wood policy is of huge importance to Woodford Reserve

Elevating American whiskey

One such cask finish to have received a whole load of attention recently is Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition. Already launched in travel retail and set for imminent arrival on UK shores, the expression sees Woodford Reserve age its bourbon in three-times-used XO Cognac barrels made from French oak. Well-seasoned stuff indeed. The liquid is then presented in a gorgeous crystal incarnation of its signature bottle shape – which in itself is also Cognac inspired. It’s impressive stuff, and carries a £1,500 price tag. 

“We’ve taken American whiskey to a whole new level,” says Morris, explaining that this elevation has never really happened before. And it’s a permanent addition to the new range. I’m curious as to what difference the French oak itself will have on the resulting flavour. 

“It’s got a different grain,” he explains, adding that the oak doesn’t grow as straight or dense as its US counterparts. “French oak is a little more porous – you don’t char it, you toast it.” He also adds that the ex-XO vessels are twice the size of the standard Woodford barrels, and are shipped over whole. 

Woodford Reserve

The beautiful Woodford Reserve Distillery

How did the whole collaboration come about? After all, it’s the first time an American whiskey producer has been encased in Baccarat crystal. “They approached us!” Morris laughs. He tells the story of a Baccarat executive taking a trip to Woodford Reserve. “When he came to the distillery he sees our Cognac casks and thought, ‘that’s really cool!’” After the visit, the Woodford team received the call from Baccarat. “We never would have dreamed of that possibility.”

The super-fancy Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition in a super-fancy setting

The result is a richly toasted number, with chocolate, cocoa and vanilla bean notes, with classic malt and gentle spices coming through, too. It’s deep, velvety, and with a coffee suggestion on the finish – luxe stuff all round. 

Oak and smoke

Away from fancy crystal, there’s another type of shiny glassware that’s important right now: the Old Fashioned glass. Because it’s Old Fashioned Week from 30 October to 8 November! (Ok, it’s more than a week, but with so much tastiness to pack in, we’ll go with it.) And the Woodford Reserve team will certainly be celebrating.

“When I have a cocktail I want to taste Woodford,” Morris continues, citing a Manhattan as one of his very favourite serves, along with a Boulevardier. Then he mentions a Smoked Old Fashioned made using Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and I start salivating. 

Woodford Reserve

Don’t be afraid to experiment, this whiskey works on a number serves

Ok, so full disclosure, it might be tricky to make at home. To get the smoulder in the serve, sugar is smoked over burning Woodford Reserve barrels. Which might be a bit tricky if you’re stuck inside (cheers, 2020), But the rest still sounds incredible. Simply take 50ml of Double Oaked, a barspoon of sugar (smoky or otherwise), and up to five dashes of Angostura bitters. Chuck it all in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir, stir, stir! Strain into a serving glass over ice and garnish with a gently squeezed orange peel. “It’s like drinking a s’more,” Morris says, of the smoked version. I’d take either.

We exchange stories of delicious whiskey serves before Morris becomes reflective for a moment. “I have seen our industry at the lowest ebb, distilleries closing…” Not so long ago times were very different. Now American whiskey is a vibrant, fast-growing category, with distillers and blenders pushing the boundaries, buoyed by the momentum. “I still can’t fully comprehend where we are today.” And with expressions and innovations like the Baccarat Edition and a real focus on flavour, there’s a lot more to come from Woodford Reserve.

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Diageo Special Releases 2020: Details are in!

It’s that time of year again – Diageo has just released the details of its Special Releases 2020 haul and we’ve had a taste! Here’s everything you need to know….

It’s that time of year again – Diageo has just released the details of its Special Releases 2020 haul and we’ve had a taste! Here’s everything you need to know.

It’s always a big day in the whisky calendar when the embargo lifts for Diageo Special Releases. A collection of unusual and generally pretty rare cask-strength single malt Scotch whiskies (no grain this year – obsessives of that style collectively stifle a sob), Special Releases celebrate distillery character, notable firsts, and often, pleasing quirks. 2020’s haul is no different!

The Rare by Nature theme returns, which is a deliberate throwback to 2019. And the eagle-eyed among us will note that the distillery line-up is a repeat from last year, too. The liquid, however, is all new. 

“The first selection we did of Rare by Nature was really well received,” explained Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global Scotch whisky master, when he introduced the Special Releases 2020 line-up on a Zoom call. “People liked that they were all related to each other, the spread of piece points.” 

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

Eight delicious whiskies, the highlight of which for our money is that young Talisker…

Stand-out highlights? The first pot still Jamaican rum-finished Talisker expression – hello! – and a 20-year-old Cragganmore, the first release of that age from the distillery. It was also an absolute treat to get to sample a 30-year-old Pittyvaich, liquid from the ghost distillery. 

“For those who enjoy spicy flavours, my recommendation would be to try our Cardhu,” Dr Craig Wilson, Diageo’s master blender, who curated the collection, said in a statement. “For those who favour rich, intense and smooth flavours my choice would be Mortlach 21-year-old.”

But enough of the recommendations! Here’s the glorious line-up in full, complete with our tasting notes.

Cardhu 11 Year Old

ABV: 56.0%

Region: Speyside

Cask: From refill, new, and ex-bourbon American oak

Availability: Limited quantities worldwide 

RRSP: £85

On the nose, this is a pretty juicy, wood-forward wonder, rounded out with loads of green fruit (mouth-watering apple especially), and some boiled sweets – pear drops and rhubarb and custard. On the palate, it’s creamy, buttery and lifted by a smidge of pepper. The finish is long, lingering and warming.

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

Cragganmore 20 Year Old

ABV: 55.8%

Region: Speyside

Cask: From refill casks and new fresh-charred casks.

Availability: Limited quantities worldwide 

RRSP: £130

A pretty relaxed dram for the ABV, with banana, pear and vanilla pods on the nose, along with a cedar wood quality. The palate is more savoury than you might think with toasted bread, black pepper and some pecan nuttiness. On the finish, there’s sweet chilli and more toast.

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old

ABV: 51.9%

Region: Highland

Cask: From refill hogsheads 

Availability: No. bottles available: 6,978

RRSP: £550

A mega-aged Dalwhinnie, often thought of as the gentle dram. And this continues its reputation! The nose is soft, herbal and shortbread-led, while the palate comes through with soft sweet spices – a smidge of cinnamon with a helping of orchard fruit. The finish plays up on the spices.

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

Lagavulin 12 Year Old

ABV: 56.4%

Region: Islay

Cask: From refill American oak casks

Availability: Limited quantities worldwide  

RRSP: £125

An earthy delight! This packs an ashy punch, with pronounced smoky notes, but with lashings of boiled sweets, too. It’s lively, packed full of sweet spices, and there’s a vanilla ice cream cone note in with all the medicinal qualities. The finish is super long, with waft after waft of smoke. 

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

Mortlach 21 Year Old

ABV: 56.9%

Region: Speyside

Cask: From Pedro Ximenez & Oloroso Sherry seasoned casks

Availability: No. bottles available: 7,692 

RRSP: £575

According to Dr. Wilson, this is “the Beast of Dufftown tamed”. But fear not – if you like robust whiskies, this still more than stands up. The PX and Oloroso casks preserve the meatiness, while on the palate there are loads of tannins to make the mouth water. The finish is bursting with savoury notes. 

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

Pittyvaich 30 Year Old

ABV: 50.8%

Region: Speyside

Cask: From first-fill ex-bourbon casks

Availability: No. bottles available: 7,056

RRSP: £400

An absolute gem, overflowing with tropical fruits on the nose, plus a linseed oil quality and forest-floor leaves. The palate holds up fruit-wise, with peppery vanilla and a mouth-filling oiliness keeping it complex. While the finish is on the shorter side, it gives a surprisingly spicy warmth. 

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

Talisker 8 Year Old

ABV: 57.9%

Region: Isle of Skye 

Cask: From pot-still Caribbean rum casks. 

Availability: Limited quantities worldwide 

RRSP: £90

The expression of Special Releases 2020 for us. And the first from the distillery to be matured in ex-pot still Caribbean rum casks! It’s aromatic and smoke-led, but with pear drop, seaweed and even a meatiness on the nose, too. The palate adds in tropical fruit hints and peppery spices, while the finish blends in chilli pepper, too. 

Diageo Special Releases 2020:

The Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year Old

ABV: 55.1%

Region: Highland

Cask: Matured only in refill American oak hogsheads.

Availability: Limited quantities worldwide  

RRSP: £110

A more chilled out expression, but still all-around delicious. The nose is waxy with honeycomb and magnolia vibes, while on the palate there’s a cream soda suggestion, along with British orchard fruits. The medium finish has hints of ginger, too.

What’s on your shopping list? Any expressions you can’t wait to try? Let us know in the comments – and keep an eye on the New Arrivals feed for availability!

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Balcones: Where tradition meets innovation

As Master of Malt’s exclusive Balcones Barrel Pick lands, we look back at our 2019 trip to the Texas distillery, remarking at how much can change in a decade… If…

As Master of Malt’s exclusive Balcones Barrel Pick lands, we look back at our 2019 trip to the Texas distillery, remarking at how much can change in a decade…

If anything could capture the disorientation felt by a time traveller arriving in a new sphere, stepping inside the original Balcones distillery must come close. About an hour and a half south of Dallas, Texas, the brand’s Waco hometown takes its form from a mesh of residential streets and independent bars and restaurants, sliced neatly in two by the Brazos River, and dissected again by multi-lane highways. Pulling off the sun-baked carriageway, we entered the network, cutting back through industrial streets, dusty and decked with graffiti. It’s next to an underpass and across from some apparently abandoned garages that you discover the single-storey, brick-clad cream and white building. It is identifiable as a distillery only by the red Balcones logo stamped on a weathered side, reminiscent of a faded lipstick stain.

Balcones is a bit of an outlier when it comes to American whiskey. Built from an idea conceived in 2008, the brand blends ingenuity with time-honoured traditions. It started with a love for Scotch, coupled with a desire to develop taste experiences not found anywhere else. And remember, this all happened before the big distilling boom we’re seeing across the US now. 

Balcones

Balcones head distiller, Jared Himstedt, in his office

“I really adore and respect the tradition,” states head distiller, Jared Himstedt, an individual who is creative and considered in equal measure. He started his drinks career in beer, as a homebrewer and in the on-trade. “We were ready to make stuff,” he recalls. “Whiskey was what we loved. We tried the beer thing, and we were ready to move on and try our hand at this. It wasn’t really about surveying the landscape like, ‘Oh, this is a great time to get into whiskey.’”

He acknowledges some of those players held in high regard as US craft pioneers: St George Spirits, Anchor (now Hotaling), and Hudson. “There were just a few and they were tiny, and they were hard to find. But just knowing somebody was doing it, then your brain is like, ‘Oh, that’s an option’.”

Inside the old Balcones distillery

Step inside the cool, dark space of the old distillery, and you’re now in 2009, the year Balcones started distilling what would go on to become its whisky (note: the brand drops the ‘e’. Like for Scotch.). Once a welding store, the 2,500sq ft production site might be silent, but the cobweb-covered pot stills and hand-stirred mash tun show just how far Balcones has come – and speaks to the philosophy that remains at the heart of the brand today. We were there with Himstedt and distillery manager, Tommy Mote, who also hails from a beer background, and is as flavour-obsessed as his head distiller.

“For me, being a beer guy, single malt is the most obvious, just because of the barley connections,” Himstedt continues. “And with whisky, I think there’s kind of some romanticism. You feel a loyalty [to the first one you loved], it’s part of your personal story and history.”  

Balcones

Behind the scenes in the lab. It tastes as good as it looks

In many ways, once you’re out from under the Texan sun and in the tiny distillery, you could be in Scotland. It’s not just time-bending, but geography-splicing, too. The light carves its way through the dust, falling on still shapes that were for sure inspired by Scotch. Like much of the kit, they were made or adapted by the team. Barley was shipped across the Atlantic – although today more is Texas-grown as the brand explores more grain-to-glass production. Small-batch and craft, in the very essence of the word. 

“We started not really knowing as much about the processes as we should have, we weren’t trained,” Himstedt explains. “It was just very intentional, try something new, some sensory things. Then adjust and do a little research.” At that stage, almost everything was controlled – and indeed carried out – by hand. And the results spoke for themselves. Balcones Texas Single Malt started picking up medals at international spirits competitions in 2013.

Back in the car and it was time to get back into the grid and head to the other side of town. On the way, Mote points out bars, eateries and independent stores. It’s a colourful, bustling town, with people out and about enjoying its fayre, wares and scenery, ambling along the river and through the green spaces. For its harrowing past, Waco has emerged as a vibrant, creative place, with optimism bubbling up everywhere, from its striking Suspension Bridge, to Baylor University’s cavernous McLane Stadium. 

Balcones

Himstedt loves to experiment, and we love his creations!

Balcones: A bold distilling world

Turn the corner into the Balcones parking lot in Downtown Waco, and we are in a bold new whisky distilling world. A huge Balcones logo on the roof of the 1920s four-storey concrete, steel and brick warehouse blocks out the fierce sun, casting no doubt as to where you are. The former Texas Fireproof Storage Co. building was initially purchased by Balcones in 2011 to provide barrel storage – now, it’s a sleek, stylish and inspiring, bar, office and production space. It’s an impressive HQ, about 25 times the size of that original distillery tucked away next to the tired garages on the other side of town.

First impressions are made in the glossy bar, a lustrously industrial hub with copper and turquoise accents and sleek seating. There are cocktails and whisky flights on offer, but it’s as much a community space as a brand haven. Flyers announce future events, and you could imagine the vibe on a busy Friday evening. 

Some of the most impressive copper pot stills you’ll ever lay eyes on. We couldn’t get them all in shot!

We move through the distillery and find enormous 58-tonne hoppers, a traditional 24,600-litre mash tun for barley (and a cooker for other grains), and seven state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled 26,500-litre external fermenters. The scale is extraordinary, and in stark comparison to the rustic kit at the old site. 

The contrast is even more apparent in the vast distillation space, which houses some of the most impressive copper pot stills I’ve ever seen. The necks turn into slinky-like lyne arms, a visually dramatic way to max out reflux. The older still (both are made by Forsyths in Scotland) boasts around 75 metres of coil, while the newer one still has around 35 metres of turns. They tower above us, resplendent and majestic in their polished surrounds. 

The move must have been quite the undertaking. “Yeah, we were worried about it,” Himstedt admits, looking back to 2014 when work began to transform what was essentially a storage unit into what it is today, while taking care not to lose the history of the building. “Even the stills, moving to bigger stills and running stream instead of direct fire, learning how to run them.” He says it took a good “four to six months” to be happy with the distillate. “We like to make samples; we have a whole library from back [before], and we kept checking what was coming off compared to old ones.” Adjustments were made, and now he’s living the history.

Balcones

Balcones barrel samples are here, there and everywhere!

Beyond ‘Scotch’

As well as significantly increasing capacity, building a brand home, and creating a stunning space for visitors, the new Balcones distillery has allowed the team to up the experimentation stakes like never before. As well as the Scotch-inspired single malt, Balcones produces bourbons, other corn expressions, and ryes, smoky bottlings like Brimstone, and even a rum. Mote estimated that the team plays with as many as 18 different mashbill recipes across the range, and that’s before you even start tweaking with fermentation, or the influence of oak.

“I think all of these could be done differently,” Himstedt muses. “All we’ve been doing for the last 10 years is try to do other styles, and make them appealing. It’s believing that we could achieve that if we did something differently to how it’s normally done.”

We head up to his lab, and we’re surrounded 360-degrees by barrel samples, distillates, and all manner of other liquid experiments. Suddenly Himstedt’s desire just to try stuff makes perfect sense. He and the wider team are dedicated to exploring flavour, pushing boundaries, while simultaneously honouring the tradition that’s got the whisk(e)y industry to the place it is now.

After such a decade of such growth and achievement, what drives him to keep going? “It’s a really exciting thing when you see someone and the light goes on,” he says, talking about sharing the whisky love. “It’s getting people out of their shell, getting them discussing, encouraging them that there’s no wrong answer here.” He likens talking about whisky to food flavour memory. “People get more comfortable, less afraid.” And that’s one of the biggest differences he’s seen over his ten years with Balcones. “The education of the amount of information that people come to whisk(e)y with today versus a decade ago is drastically different.” People know what they like. And they like Balcones.

A taste of Texas

Fancy a taste of Texas? Here are three must-try Balcones expressions, balancing heritage and innovation.

Balcones

Balcones Texas Single Malt (cask 10011) – Master of Malt & British Bourbon Society, £89.95

We couldn’t go all the way to Texas and not pick out a cask to bottle as our very own! Technically we had some help from our pals at the British Bourbon Society, who chose from four samples. One of just 240 bottles, this single malt boasts notes of banana fritters and toffee apple on the nose, tobacco and black pepper on the palate, and a Mars Bar-esque finish. Delicious stuff (even if we do say so ourselves).

Balcones

Balcones Baby Blue Corn, £49.95

The first whisky distilled from blue corn! This is deliciously different compared to a traditional bourbon, and makes for an excellent addition to the drinks cabinet. It’s got toasty cereal on the nose, and has a dark caramel palate with a velvety thick mouthfeel. Luscious sweet spices come through on the finish. One to add to the American whiskey bucket list for sure. 

Balcones

Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof , £67.25

A delectable rye released to celebrate Balcones’s 10th anniversary! It’s a 100% rye mashbill – but don’t be fooled. There are loads of different varieties in here, from raw elbron and roasted varietals, to crystal and even chocolate types. The result is a sweet treat: think cinnamon and hot cocoa with added marshmallows, hints of tobacco and orange zest to lift it. Rye fans, get involved! 

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Six super-simple Scotch cocktails!

Missing bars? Us too! While it’s not all that long to wait until some in England reopen, there’s still going to be ample in-garden drinking opportunities this summer. And we…

Missing bars? Us too! While it’s not all that long to wait until some in England reopen, there’s still going to be ample in-garden drinking opportunities this summer. And we reckon Scotch whisky-based cocktails are the way to impress, even from a social distance.

Full disclosure: cocktails seem slightly scary to us. Historically, we’re Scotch sippers rather than mixers. And getting all the kit, mixers and garnishes out can feel like a bit of… a faff. But no longer! Stephen Martin, global single malt whisky specialist from Whyte & Mackay joined us for an Instagram Live, and well and truly busted the myths that cocktails are a challenge. If we can manage to make six different serves, you can, too!

The drinks range from twists on the classics (Mules, Ice Teas, even an Espresso Martini), to original serves (the Jura 10 Sunset is especially mouth-watering). You can watch the how-to video right here, with the recipes in full below. 

 

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Cocktails with Shackleton:

Scotch cocktails

The Explorers Iced Tea

Explorers Iced Tea

25ml Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

12.5ml Triple Sec

20ml lemon juice

10ml sugar syrup

Pop it all in a shaker with loads of ice. Prep your tall glass with even more ice. Shake hard and strain into the glass, top with premium cola and garnish with a lemon wedge.

The Antarctic Mule

Antarctic Mule

50ml Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

25ml fresh lime juice

Build in a Mule mug or tall glass over loads of ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lemon wedge 

Jura cocktails

Jura 10 Sunset

25ml Isle of Jura 10 Year Old

25ml Aperol

Top up with premium tonic

Build over loads of ice in the biggest wine glass you can find. Garnish with a large orange wedge.

Scotch cocktails

The Island Coffee

The Island Coffee (Espresso Martini twist)

50ml Isle of Jura 12 Year Old

25ml Cointreau

25ml coffee liqueur

25ml chilled espresso

Pop it all in a shaker, and shake hard with ice. Double strain into a chilled Martini glass.

Cocktails with The Woodsman

Woodsman Highball Twist

Woodsman Highball Twist 

50ml The Woodsman

Soda

Fresh lime juice

Build in a tall glass and garnish with a lime wedge and generous mint spring

Scotch cocktails

Maple Syrup Old Fashioned

Maple Syrup Old Fashioned

50ml The Woodsman

1 dash maple syrup

1 dash bitters

Stir everything together with loads of ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist

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New Arrival of the Week: Bathtub Gin 2020

The new arrival siren is sounding so that must mean we’ve got some new deliciousness to discuss. This week it’s a Master of Malt exclusive that we’ll donate £20.20 for every…

The new arrival siren is sounding so that must mean we’ve got some new deliciousness to discuss. This week it’s a Master of Malt exclusive that we’ll donate £20.20 for every bottle sold to help those affected by Covid-19. How delightful.

When the good folks at Bathtub Gin see an opportunity to help, help they do. It’s also useful that they really like creating new and delicious things. The result of both these facts in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis is Bathtub Gin 2020 – a new limited-run Bathtub Gin expression that raises vital funds for those in the hospitality industry badly affected by the pandemic. 

So what is Bathtub Gin 2020, and how exactly does it help? The new bottling gets its name for three reasons. One, it’s 2020 (obviously). Secondly, the usual ten-botanical Bathtub Gin recipe has been bolstered by another ten to make 20! Speedy maths. And last, but very clearly and obviously not least, for every bottle sold we’re donating £20.20 to help people in the hospitality industry affected by Covid-19. That’s a triple whammy of 20-based goodness right there.

Bathtub Gin 2020

£20.20 from the sale of every bottle will go to help those affected by Covid-19

And what does it actually taste like? Is it just like a supercharged Bathtub Gin? Yes and no. The second you lift your tasting glass to your nose, it’s different and distinct. It’s a great deal more complex (as you’d expect from the bolstered botanical list), but it’s genuinely different, too. The ‘regular’ Bathtub Gin starts its life as a distilled gin, and then the usual characters of juniper, orange peel, coriander, cassia, cloves and cardamom are all infused into it for an average of seven days. The new additions include dried yuzu peel, cubeb berries, camomile, silver needle tea, allspice and black pepper. The result is a distinct departure – but the family resemblance is for sure there. 

Bathtub Gin 2020 is rich, oily and inviting, with all those tasty baking spice notes enticing you in for a second sniff. On the palate, it’s distinctly Bathtub – all the usual citrus notes you get from the usual infusion, plus entirely new flavours and textures. It remains smooth and mouth-filling, but there’s some extra vibrancy from the yuzu, an intriguing forestry-floral vibe from the tea, and a delightful peppery warmth cutting through all that oiliness from the juniper. It’s a tasty little number, indeed.

And what to do with it? Gins of this intensity and vibrancy can make or break a cocktail. We reckon the oiliness will stand up well in a Negroni, and at the smidge higher 45.3%, it would absolutely sing in a G&T (just keep the tonic neutral, you don’t want to shout over all those wonderful botanical flavours). We also think Bathtub Gin 2020 would be a dreamy component in a Hanky Panky, with the sweet vermouth and Fernet-Branca beautifully balancing those sweet spices for something with a delectable punch indeed.

Bathtub Gin 2020

We recommend you enjoy it with a neutral tonic, or in a swish Hanky Panky

Hanky Panky recipe:

45ml Bathtub Gin 2020
45ml sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet-Branca
An orange twist to garnish

This is a super simple one – pop it all into a mixing glass with a good helping of ice and stir. Then just strain into a chilled glass and pop the orange twist on top. Voilà!

Last but not least, this isn’t just a new gin for gin’s sake. Bathtub Gin 2020 was created to help continue to raise funds for hospitality workers affected by the Covid-19 crisis. As we all know, restaurants, bars and clubs will remain affected for a very long time – challenges are myriad, from working out financially viable ways to reopen while maintaining social distancing, to opening up new platforms to sell drinks either outside or by mail order. And this is not a small problem – more than 3.2 million people are employed in the hospitality sector in the UK, according to UKHospitality. The industry has rallied round, and this is another way you can help. For every bottle of Bathtub Gin 2020 sold, £20.20 will be donated to a group of charities, including Hospitality Action, that helps those worst hit by the impact of Covid-19. Drink good stuff and do good stuff all in one!

Bathtub Gin 2020 tasting note:

Nose: Rich baking spices and black peppercorns combine with the earthy juniper for a luxuriously warming nose. Aromatic citrus peels add a vibrancy, while a fragrant tea note contributes further complexity. 

Palate: The juniper is immediately apparent and imparts a wonderfully oily texture. On the mid-palate, the nutmeg and liquorice turn into old-school cola cube sweeties, and there’s a lush berry component, too. The sweet spices give a pleasingly warming prickle around the side of the tongue.

Finish: Long and luscious, with those rich spices rolling on and on.

Overall: An incredibly complex, expressive gin. Give it a go lengthened with a neutral tonic, or in a Hanky Panky.

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Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Make sure you’re her favourite this Mother’s Day – these are the most delicious gifts to put a smile on her face (and cement your position as top child) on…

Make sure you’re her favourite this Mother’s Day – these are the most delicious gifts to put a smile on her face (and cement your position as top child) on 22 March!

Choosing the perfect Mother’s Day gift can be a tricky game. You want to make her day. You want to be the generous one round the table. But, if you’re like us, you probably don’t want to spend a fortune either. Well, you’re in luck! We’ve scoured the warehouse shelves to pick out some of our favourite liquid pressies guaranteed to delight both your mum’s palate and your wallet. Hurrah! 

(Pssst… for the latest deals and even more gift ideas, check out our dedicated Mother’s Day page!)

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Silent Pool Gin Gift Pack, £62.95

If your mum adores all things juniper and is also partial to the prettier things in life, we can think of no better pressie than Silent Pool’s gorgeous Gift Pack. Not only is there a full-size bottle of delicious gin (botanicals include chamomile, lavender and honey locally sourced from the Surrey Hills), but there’s a pair of striking glasses, too! She’ll just have to share that G&T with you…

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Two Swallows Cherry & Salted Caramel Rum, £23.95

This flavoured rum is right up our street – and it could well be perfect for your mum, too! The rum base comes from Guyana’s Diamond Distillery (a MoM Towers’ fave), and with cherry and salted caramel too, it’s almost like a Bakewell Tart in a bottle! We also adore the 20s vibes the label is serving us. Winning all round!  

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Glenmorangie Lasanta 12 Year Old, £41.75

An absolute classic from the world of Scotch whisky, this 12 year old, sherry cask-finished Glenmorangie single malt is a joy to behold. The influence from the Oloroso and PX casks used in the latter stages impart delectable dark chocolate, honey and dried raisin notes – a highly giftable bottle, especially if your mum likes her whisky on the luxuriously creamy side…

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Manchester Gin – Raspberry Infused £33.95

If your ma likes to try her hand at mixing drinks, this is a marvellously versatile gin. Infused with oodles of raspberries, Manchester Gin’s fruity concoction works splendidly in a Bramble, a Gin Smash, a twist on a Martini, or even splashed into a glass of fizz. A perfect gift, or one to snap up now so you can make her a drink on Mother’s Day…

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Premium Gin Tasting Set, £19.95

What if your mum’s a bit of a drinks chameleon? Perhaps exploring a world of different tipples is her favourite pastime? We’ve got all sorts of solutions! This Premium Gin Tasting Set looks the part, and comes with five deliciously different 30ml expressions to keep her entertained. But what if she likes whisky, rum, Tequila, vodka, something else? We’ve got all bases covered with our Tasting Sets range. You could even build your own for something truly tailored!

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Bowmore 15 Year Old, £52.90

Perhaps your mum is of a peated whisky persuasion and you’re stuck for what to get her. We’re big fans of Bowmore 15 Year Old, a classic Islay expression that balances that signature smoke with the rich dried fruit sweetness from its sherry cask finish. She’d have to share a dram with you – which means she’d get the gift of a catch-up, too. Two pressies in one! 

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

J.J. Corry The Sonas, £59.95

Ok, ok, we’re a bit biased on this one. But it’s our very own Irish whiskey, so how could we not be! Our editor Kristy actually blended this one with our buyer Guy, under the watchful eye of J.J. Corry founder Louise McGuane. A proper sunshine dram (‘Sonas’ means ‘happiness’ in Irish Gaelic), full of fresh fruitiness, creamy vanilla and caramelised pecan notes. And, if you buy a bottle from the J.J. Corry range, you could win a trip to Ireland to blend your very own bottling, too! That would make an epic Mother’s Day gift…

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Bathtub Gin, £28.95

A multi-award-winner, Bathtub Gin is made using a traditional cold compounding method which sees the likes of juniper, orange peel, coriander, cassia, cloves and cardamom-infused in copper pot-spirit for up to a week. The botanicals are depicted on the gift tin as well, which makes it as pretty as a bunch of flowers, but with the added bonus that you can actually drink it. What more could your mum possibly want?!

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

Aske Stephenson Garden Bramble, £28.83

We’re well on-board with this pre-mixed cocktail delight. Take the traditional blackberry-based cocktail and add in a host of florals, including elderflower and clary sage, and you get this delectably refreshing sipper that you can simply serve over ice, or give it a go with tonic. Another one that makes a cracking gift, or alternatively it’s an easy solution for pre-Mother’s Day dinner apéritifs. We think of everything. 

Top 10 brilliantly boozy Mother’s Day gifts!

That Boutique-y Gin Company Fruit-y Gin Gift Set, £19.95 

Another splendid solution to Mother’s Day gifting dilemmas if your mum is into all things gin. This brightly colourful gift set features four 50ml bottles of four fabulously flavoursome expressions (Cherry Gin, Chocolate Orange Gin, Strawberry & Balsamico Gin and Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin) from That Boutique-y Gin Company! It’s a taste extravaganza that’s highly giftable and we’re here for it. 

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Top 10 New York bars to visit

New York bars have a reputation for greatness. We spent some time sipping our way through the city, and behold! Here are our findings. We present 10 great bars to…

New York bars have a reputation for greatness. We spent some time sipping our way through the city, and behold! Here are our findings. We present 10 great bars to check out on your next trip!

Eating, and in this context, drinking, your way around a city can be the best way to get a feel for the heart and soul of a place. And if that place is New York, your palate is in for an absolute treat. We had a few days in the city in between visiting distilleries and taking part in the American Distilling Institute’s annual Judging of Craft Spirits (we know it’s on the west coast, but we made it happen). The best way to kill time? Sampling some of the world’s best bars, which just so happened to be on our doorstep.

We stayed part of the trip in Midtown, making a good few of these names in walking distance (it was a little bit of a stretch on occasion). We then hightailed it over to Greenpoint, taking in two delightful Brooklyn drinking holes en route.

Full disclosure: New York has hundreds of bars on offer, and a chunk of those have become internationally renowned for creative menus, ace hospitality, and simply put, damn good drinks. We could have stayed in the city for a year and not hit them all up. So we narrowed it down to 10 that we loved for various different reasons. 

We know there are LOADS of other excellent bars in NYC. Have you visited? Which were your favourites? Any bars on your New York bucket list we should know about? Let us know in the comments below, or on social!

A Manhattan in Manhattan!

Lot 15

At The Kixby, 45 West 35th Street

A relatively recent addition to the New York scene, this cosy ground-floor Midtown lounge-style haunt is seductively lit and swathed in murals by Fumero, an international graffiti artist inspired by the city’s subway art. The 360-degree bar is the focal point, and we recommend grabbing one of the 12 seats there to chat to the wonderfully engaging bar team (don’t panic if it’s full, there’s loads of table space, too!). The current menu is based around the classics, and can be tricky to navigate if you’re not up to speed on cocktail families. But don’t panic – folks are on-hand to help. We went for a Classic Manhattan (it was our first drink in actual Manhattan; it needed to be done) and it was a fabulously balanced, delightfully robust serve. 

The Private Eye (L) and Dusk Till Dawn

The Modern

At MoMA, 9 West 53rd Street

Whether you’re arted out and in need of refreshment, or just in the area and fancy something literally very fancy, Michelin-starred The Modern, located at The Museum of Modern Art, is a dreamy spot to stop and sip. (And eat. We really recommend the carrot rillettes on the Bar Room menu.) Sit at the bar and you’ll be in good hands; the service is impeccable, and the vibe is actually pretty lively during the afternoon. We tried (and adored) the Dusk Till Dawn, made with pisco and genever, a twist on the Sour that really works, and the Private Eye, a boozy number made with baijiu, rum, cachaça, pineapple and chilli. It’s one of the first baijiu serves we’ve really adored, and it really demonstrates the potential the category has in cocktails.

Much more Chuck Bass than anything in a flute

The Empire Lobby Bar

44 West 63rd Street

XOXO… yes, we headed to The Empire with one iconic (yes, I said it) TV programme in mind: Gossip Girl. This is a hotel made famous by highly flawed character Chuck Bass, a ladies’ man with an off-the-charts ego who loves boozy serves. In honour of the show, we rocked up and swiftly ordered a Chuck Bass cocktail – which arrived in a flute and felt… well, not very Chuck at all. But this was our first and only criticism. The bar was incredibly fun, the team was brilliant, the serves incredibly tasty, and the environment felt really rather sumptuous. Plus, The Empire is only a stone’s throw from Central Park, so an ideal stop after an afternoon of touristing.

The Katana Kitten interior

Katana Kitten

531 Hudson Street

Now this is a fun one. On first appearance, Katana Kitten* genuinely gives off dive bar vibes, albeit with a kitschy spin. It’s a two-level space filled with lights (it looks incredible after dark) and is filled to the brim with stylish types (definitely make a reservation if you are in a group). The Japanese-US hybrid food and drink menu is impressive, but everything remains familiar enough to be easily navigable. Highballs are a speciality – we especially enjoyed the Aki Paloma (Tequila and grapefruit, obvs, with jasmine tea, fig leaf and smoked pomelo salt, too), and the Belle Epoque (heavier, with Irish whiskey, vermouth, miso-sesame orgeat, creme de cacao, lemon, ginger, and absinthe). Oh, and the whole thing is highly Instagrammable, in case that’s important to you.

Good vibes and the Billionaire Cocktail at EO

Employees Only

510 Hudson Street

Almost opposite Katana Kitten (it would be rude not to stop in at both if you’re in the West Village), lies Employees Only. Some say it’s not what it once was. We say it’s a riot of fun with a fabulous classics-heavy menu, and is possibly the best spot to people-watch. The bar space was filled to the brim, mostly with what appeared to be folks on first dates (hence the joy in observation), and despite being incredibly busy, the floor and bar team were happy to have a little chat and provide recommendations. The Ginger Smash was a perfect pick-me up and mega refreshing (muddled ginger root and kumquat, gin, apple liqueur and lemon juice), while the brash and boozier Billionaire Cocktail (bourbon, lemon juice, and homemade grenadine and absinthe bitters) was splendidly potent. Remind you of a Gossip Girl character..?

That view though…

Westlight

At The William Vale, 111 North 12th Street 22nd floor, Brooklyn

Where to go for both an incredible view of Manhattan, and a genuinely exciting drinks programme? Outside Manhattan, it transpires! The trip over to Williamsburg is absolutely worth it for this one. Chef Andrew Carmellini’s NoHo Hospitality Group is the brains behind the 22nd floor rooftop operation, which, while cocktail-focused, also offers some delectable bites (if you don’t adore the butternut squash hummus, we probably can’t be friends). And the drinks are so good, you almost forget about the devastating view. Almost. There’s a mix of classic and signature serves; we adored the Vicious Circle (essentially a Martini with gin, vermouth and Green Chartreuse), and The Battleship (reposado Tequila, sherry, agave, lemon and bitters) was also heavenly. Obviously it’s a popular spot, so making a reservation is highly recommended.

Drink in an actual distillery

The Shanty

79 Richardson St, Brooklyn

Fancy something a little more down to earth, and set in an actual distillery? This unpretentious spot at New York Distilling Company (NYDC) packs a punch with its full-service bar, sizeable cocktail offering and impressive craft beer spread in a cosy, welcoming and relaxed setting. There’s the full complement of NYDC booze, as you’d expect, but the team genuinely wants to nurture a neighbourhood bar vibe, so there is a plethora of other options, too. We had a dram of something very special (whiskey from the first-ever NYDC cask!) and while we can’t guarantee the likes of that, there’s all kinds of tastiness. And complimentary distillery tour options at the weekend, too! Can’t say fairer than that.  

It’s a beauty

The Dead Rabbit

30 Water St

The big one. The one that’s won all the awards. The Irish bar gone superstar from Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon. Downstairs is The Taproom, where we mostly hung out, home of the renowned Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee, hearty food, and a cocktail menu that delights, even if it’s not the main focus (we rocked up in the afternoon so The Parlour, with its celebrated menu, wasn’t open yet). That said, the drinks ROCKED. A word of warning though – Google (and Lyft, for that matter) have The Dead Rabbit pin in the wrong place. Use both with caution to get you to the Lower Manhattan vicinity, then actually walk along Water until you get to number 30. The bar is NOT in the office building with Le Pain Quotidien, however much the apps insist!

The glories of Mace

Mace

505 East 12th St

A minimalist, unassuming brick-lined spot in East Village that offers surprise and delight in huge helpings through its unexpected, spice-based drinks menu. At first, it’s tricky to tell whether you should navigate by cocktail number or spice name. But the team will chat you through, and dietary requirements the cocktails meet are clearly displayed (a huge bonus that many bars could learn from). The eponymous Mace itself is a joyous concoction with its Aperol and aquavit base, and we also liked the Corn Husk, an unusual medley of corn husk-infused mezcal (name makes sense), Campari, sweet vermouth, more corn husk (charred this time) and cayenne. A must-visit if you like your cocktails on the weird and wonderful side. 

Parade of the Fairies!

Pouring Ribbons

225 Avenue B

A joyful spot not all that far from Mace, but with a very different vibe. We were there on a quietish Tuesday; there was a cocktail class taking place in the bar area, groups of friends were chilling, and a couple of people were having a quiet drink on their own. The team were engaging and easygoing, with a sixth sense for when a guest wanted a chit-chat, and when they wanted to be on their own. It’s a breezy space, almost with a sixth-form common room vibe, but for actual grown-ups. And the drinks! The menu came with a handy navigation guide, helping you choose from something refreshing or spirit-led, comforting or adventurous, with a little sliding scale detail under each serve. So easy to understand! Our favourites were the Parade of the Fairies, made with mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Green Chartreuse, Galliano, and a good helping of rosemary, as well as the delicious Gladys Bently, with bourbon, black eyed peas, rum, maple and cacao. Both on the boozier side, and both brilliant.

*Sadly nothing to do with top 90s girl band Atomic Kitten.

 

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Our top drinks trends for 2020!

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year….

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year. Read on for our top drinks trends for 2020!

It’s not just a new year – 2020 brings with it a box-fresh decade, too. But what will be drinking this year? We’ve had a good chinwag in the office, looked at sales trends from the last few years and kept our ears to the ground for word of the Next Big Thing in booze. 

Before we crack on with our top ten trends, a quick note on two topics. First up: sustainability in terms of both production and packaging. We reckon every single producer should have this on their radar by now. We’re working hard to make our own ops here are as lean and green as they can possibly be. It’s not a trend, just the right way to do things. We’ve not included this in our list as it’s a societal shift that’s here to stay. Similar with low- and no-alcohol products. 2019 saw the segment explode – but it’s not going anywhere. Brands that give us the option to drink less alcohol while keeping things delicious are a welcome and permanent part of the drinks industry.

So. What else does the year have in store? This is what we reckon we’ll be drinking for the next 12 months!

spiced rum drinks trends for 2020

Spiced rums will continue their dominance into 2020

Spiced and flavoured rums are just getting started

One of the runaway successes of 2019 has been spiced and flavoured rums. In fact, over the whole of 2019, 15 of our top 20 rum best sellers were spiced or flavoured. It’s a trend that accelerated over the course of the year, and while you’d expect an uptick in November and December (hello Christmas!), sales of the likes of Bombo, Cloven Hoof and Pirate’s Grog rums are in year-on-year growth for the start of January, too. One shift we think we’ll see? A move towards more ‘grown-up’ flavours and bottle designs. Spiced and flavoured rums don’t have to be all about the party; they can hold their own as respectable cocktail ingredients, too. 

world whisky drinks trends for 2020

No need for a passport – explore the world through whisky!

Genuinely world whisky

Move over, Scotland. Hang back, America. You too, Ireland and Japan. Yes, you make delicious whiskies. But 2020 looks set to be the year that world whisky meaningfully comes to the fore for more of us. Take Israel, for example. There are three distilleries already up and running (Milk & Honey, Golan Heights, Pelter), but there’s the Jerusalem Distillery, Legends Distillery and Eder’i Malthouse and Distillery all hot on their heels. Up in Finland, you’ve got Kyrö, Teerenpeli, The Helsinki Distilling Co, and Panimoravintola (and no doubt numerous others at the development stage). Australian whisky continues to gain momentum (Starward, Sullivans Cove, and Hellyers Road, anyone?), and we’re excited by what distillers are doing across New Zealand, Sweden and France, too. And there’s India, South Africa, England, Wales, The Netherlands… you get the picture. We’re also thrilled by the geographic diversity of whisky production and the different approaches and flavours inherent in that. We reckon loads of you will be, too. 

vodka drinks trends for 2020

Get set for a vodka revival

Viva vodka!

A slightly unexpected one, now. Did you know our vodka sales in 2019 soared by 30% year-on-year? It’s a bit of a surprise for us, too. Bottle sales ramped up gradually but noticeably over the course of the year, and it initially had us scratching our heads. After a pretty break time in the 2000s and 2010s, why is vodka falling back into favour? We looked at our top-sellers and noticed a couple of things. It’s generally not flavoured vodka that’s hitting the mark (a couple of notable exceptions: Thunder Toffee Vodka and Whitley Neill Blood Orange Vodka). Instead, it’s the classic, neutral, big names that seem to have appeal. But that’s not all. Smaller brands playing on their legitimate flavour differences derived from their raw materials are doing especially well. We think the likes of Black Cow Vodka (made from leftover whey from cheese-making), East London Liquor Company 100% Wheat Vodka and Konik’s Tail (made with three different grains: spelt, rye and wheat) will drive this trend forward into 2020.

hard seltzers drinks trends for 2020

Hard seltzers will be A Thing

Hard seltzers and sodas

Call them what you like (the seltzer vs. soda debate could go on), but this sparkling, low-ABV mix of flavoured water and booze isn’t going anywhere. Hard seltzers have been big news Stateside for some time now, and we reckon 2020 is the year they’ll make their presence really felt this side of the Pond. Why? Beer sales are down, people are embracing low- and no-, and we’re all rather partial to a train tinnie, which, if you think about what cocktails in a can actually are, we’re barely a swift step from a hard seltzer anyway. Last year saw the UK launch of Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water, and native names DRTY Hard Seltzer and Bodega Bay are already in the market. Plus, White Claw, the US hard seltzer hero, has already registered its trademark here, too. We’re ready

Beyond bourbon drinks trends for 2020

American single malts for the win!

Beyond bourbon

Hands up who loves American whiskey? Us too. And it’s hardly new. So why does it feature on our list of drinks trends for 2020? Bourbon has long been seen as a synonym for American whiskey, but when you think about its legal definition (in short, it’s made in the US; its mashbill recipe contains a minimum of 51% corn; it’s matured in new, charred oak) it becomes clear there’s a whole load more to American whiskey than perhaps we collectively understand. Step in rye. Come in, American single malt. Oh hello, wheat whiskeys. And of course, there’s a whole host of category-defying whiskeys coming out of the US that can’t be called bourbon. Rules are there to be broken, and when distillers shrug off the bourbon confines, deliciousness can spring forth, and we think 2020 is the year we’ll get to grips with these expressions. Want in now? Check out Balcones Texas Single Malt, Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, St. George Baller Single Malt, and WhistlePig 12 Year Old – Old World.

calvados drinks trends for 2020

Appley goodness right there

Calvados returns

If you’re unfamiliar with this historical French brandy, you are not alone. Calvados is made from apples and pears in Normandy, distilled in either traditional alembic or column stills, and is aged for at least two years. And it’s mighty tasty. We’re waking up to its mixing and sipping potential: last year our Calvados sales soared by an enormous 40% in 2019 over 2018. One of the key drivers was the launch of Avallen in June, a more modern expression that is all about sustainability and boosting biodiversity. Calvados Coquerel has undertaken a re-brand, bringing more energy to the category. And the likes of Berneroy and Château du Breuil are also seeing renewed momentum. 2020 is the time for Calvados to shine.

mezcal drinks trends for 2020

How mezcal gets its smoke

The advent of Mezcal

Tequila’s smoky cousin made its presence felt in 2019, when we saw sales climb by 31%. But what will 2020 have in store for Mezcal? Quite a lot, we think (especially when you consider its 2017-18 growth stood at just 5%). The biggest-selling brands are increasingly well-recognised (Del Maguey, Pensador and Montelobos are rapidly becoming familiar names), and customers in bars and in shops (on and offline) have a deeper understanding of the Mexican spirit. So, what’s next? More at-home mixing and sipping, and a deeper appreciation for all things Mezcal out and about. Bring. It. On.

scotch whisky casks drinks trends for 2020

Bit cold out there

Unconventional cask finishing in Scotch

In June 2019, the Scotch Whisky Association widened the list of permitted cask types in Scotch whisky production. In short, as long as what was previously held in that cask wasn’t made with stone fruits, and hasn’t had flavourings or sweetening added, you’re good to go. It wasn’t an unexpected decision, and loads of Scotch distillers already had experiments under way (Glen Moray Rhum Agricole Cask Finish Project, we’re looking at you). So what? In 2020 we reckon we’ll see loads more esoteric expressions, perhaps some agave finishes, and maybe even some Calvados casks. And probably some stuff we’ve not even thought of yet. Get set for a new wave of flavour in Scotch whisky. (At this point, we’d also like to add a nod to Irish distilleries, who have been playing with different casks for some time.)

aquavit drinks trends for 2020

Delicious dill

An age of aquavit 

Similar to Calvados, aquavit is a traditional category with strong local ties that flies way too low under the radar for our liking. We’re going to stick our necks out and say 2020 is going to be the year that starts to change. To kick off, last year our aquavit sales blossomed by 27%. More people are seeking out the dill- or caraway-flavoured Scandi spirit than ever. What’s also interesting is that some producers in international markets are looking to aquavit for inspiration and are crafting their own expressions, most notably Svöl Danish-Style Aquavit, from Brooklyn, and Psychopomp Aqvavit, hailing from Bristol, UK. This comes hot on the heels of the botanical spirits trend – tried all manner of gins and want something new? Eschew the juniper and look to aquavit instead. It’s a narrative that could well play out this year. 

liqueurs unicorns drinks trends for 2020

RIP, unicorns

Liqueurs ditch the unicorns

2019 was a bumper year for liqueurs, growing 31% to rank as our third-largest drinks category by bottle sales. It’s a notoriously diverse category, defined really only by sugar levels rather than style or flavour. Good job really, three of our top 10 most popular liqueur products are ‘unicorn’ flavoured, whatever that means. There has been a slight shift already though: for the last three months of the year, whisky, coffee, herbal and caramel varieties proved far more popular. Yes, it could be Christmas. But we reckon there’s an underlying trend of a return to more conventional liqueur flavours. Yes, they’re still going to be sweet (that’s kind of the point). But 2020 looks likely to be the year more traditional liqueur variants reclaim the realm from mythical beasts.

Over to you! What do you think will be the biggest drinks trends for 2020? Have we missed something out or got it wildly wrong? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and on social! 

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Did our 2019 drinks trends predictions come true?

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for…

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for all things booze came true…

One of our favourite January activities is to dust off the crystal ball (AND the fancy crystal tasting glasses) and have a bit of a think about what might make waves in drinks in the coming months. 2019’s trend musings were one of our most-read features on the site this year. But how accurate were they? 

Boom time for liqueurs

Our prediction that liqueurs were set for a bit of a boom certainly came to fruition. The number of bottles we sold soared by 30% year-on-year, and there were some interesting flavours going on. Three of our top 10 best-sellers try and replicate the essence of unicorn (if you know what unicorns are supposed to taste like, let us know. And we don’t mean in burger form…) while other popular variants were coffee, herbal, caramel and all kinds of other puddingy-type concoctions. Long live the liqueur!

Teeling aside, 2019 wasn’t the year when Ireland’s new distilleries took off

Irish whiskey

We predicted we would see a whole load of new expressions from Ireland’s shiniest distilleries hit the market and liquid came of age. Actually, this didn’t really happen – but we did see even more distilleries get the green light and/or start production. Could next year be the one where we start to taste the fruits of their labour?

Botanical spirits

Back in January we reckoned botanical spirits would be a ‘thing’ this year. And we think we were mostly right! One of the biggest launches to back this up was Ketel One’s Botanical series where the vodka was infused with natural botanicals, then re-distilled. Not a juniper berry in sight. Others started to play in this space, but really what we saw was the launch of even more gins with a questionable level of ‘predominant’ juniper. Perhaps it’s time for some actual legislation?

Category-defying ‘spirits’

Another prediction where we reckon we were sort-of right. Category-defying spirits are products that don’t neatly fit into the rules of one category – think a grain spirit made in Scotland but not from malted barley so it can’t be called a single malt, as one very simple example. But it literally could be anything. While we certainly saw new products from some fresh producers (Circumstantial Mixed Grain from Bristol’s Circumstance Distillery, we’re looking at you, and Affinity, Compass Box’s whisky/Calvados hybrid, too). But we weren’t overrun with these hard-to-define expressions. Another smaller trend set to bubble away in 2020, perhaps.

2019, however, was the year of low/zero products like Three Spirit

Alcohol-free imbibing

Here’s a trend where we were bang on the money. Low- and no-alcohol product sales soared by 89% year-on-year, and there were a whole host of new launches to delight those who for whatever reason are off the sauce (or looking to reduce their intake). At London Cocktail Week, revellers sipped on Nogronis alongside full-ABV serves, and Hayman’s made waves on social media and beyond with the launch of its Small Gin. Other launches that caught our eye? Nine Elms No. 18, Three Spirit, Whyte & Mackay Light (kind of another category-blurrer, too) and Atopia. There’s never been a more delicious time to eschew the booze.

Cognac and Armagnac

We were expecting a bit of a French resurgence this year, and while it wasn’t immediately perceptible, dig a bit deeper and we can see the big names all performed really well. As a whole, however, things weren’t quite as emphatic. Cognac bottle sales climbed 18% as a whole, while Armagnac saw 22% gains. The surprise French spirit to break through? Calvados! Sales soared by almost 40% year-on-year. Can newer players to the market, like Avallen, keep up the momentum? 2020 could be a stellar year for the lesser-known apple- and pear-based French spirit. 

Yeast conversations

After lots of chit chat in Scotch whisky about terroir and cask types, we thought the conversation would shift over the course of the year to the role yeast strains play in production. Apart from the launch of Glenmorangie’s Allta, we didn’t really see much of that. But what we did see in June was the Scotch Whisky Association relax its rules on permissible cask types in Scotch. This brought a new energy to how drinkers and makers think about maturation, and it’s a theme we could see continue on into 2020 as more esoteric finishes hit the market. 

Johnnie Walker highball collection

The Highball, still very much a drinks industry thing

Blended and blended malt Scotch

A tricky one to quantify, this. While we did see more conversation around good blended Scotches (and there was a LOT of lingo around the whisky Highball) we’re not sure it had any mega meaningful impact on what we’re buying. Perhaps it was a prediction too soon – but we do think Highballs rule. 

Could agave beat rum in the premiumisation stakes?

Here’s one where we can now say yes and no. How do you define premiumisation? Is it drinking less but better? Is it spending more on a product for better quality? In many ways, both rum and Tequila and mezcal all made great premiumisation strides this year. Then you factor in spiced and flavoured rums. While rum bottle sales literally skyrocketed (48%! It was emphatic!), so much of this came from spiced and flavoured rums. Now, this is no slight on the sub-category. Good expressions can be the absolute dream. But they tend to cost less per-bottle, and don’t represent meaningful premiumisation to most. In that regard, agave spirits win hands down, even if they represent a far smaller slice of the overall spirits pie. One to keep an eye on – it certainly looks like the race is on. 

Caution from the big players
Brexit, elections, trade tariffs… 2019 was a challenging year for the business types in booze. We predicted companies would operate with caution, and it’s a forecast that has come entirely true. Sizeable spirits acquisitions were few and far between (Diageo snapping up a ‘significant’ majority stake in Seedlip, Campari nabbing a trio of rhum agricole brands including Trois Rivières, and Hill House Capital taking over Loch Lomond were probably the biggest stories), and there weren’t really any huge new launches to shout about. With the exception of CBD-infused products, which while totally legal, still have a disruptive air about them, the drinks industry seemed to like it quiet in 2019. 

The verdict

We’d give ourselves a 6/10. In some areas, our trends forecast was completely spot-on. In other regards, some categories just weren’t quite ready yet. But we’re going to give it another go for 2020! Keep your eyes peeled for what we think could dominate all things booze in the coming months, live on the blog in the New Year. 

What did you think about 2019 in drinks? Were there any big surprises for you? Or did anything play out as planned. Perhaps we missed something entirely? Let us know in the comments below or on social

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