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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Kristiane Sherry

St George Spirits: The home of dynamic distilling

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team. Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco…

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team.

Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco – the confines of the street grids and the expanse of sky, the nostalgia and the novelty, the big business and the homelessness – is a startling stretch of nothing. After the colour, the noise, the sharp undulations of the city, arriving the St George Spirits Distillery in Alameda is disorienting.

Driving down West Midway and onto Monarch Street, you feel like you’ve landed on a different planet. The scale is extraordinary; cavernous buildings set back from the road, each in acres of space, barely another car to be seen. The proportions, the flatness, the emptiness are the opposite of the city across the water. I was half an hour ahead of schedule when my Lyft pulled up outside St George, one of the last buildings on the island. I’d enormously overestimated the time it would take to drive over from the city, and was feeling as worried about my early arrival as I was surprised by Alameda’s quiet. It all felt mildly post-apocalyptic.

St George Spirits

Storm incoming: the view from St George back to San Francisco on a grey day. We promise the city is there somewhere

The weather didn’t help. A winter storm was about to roll in; sensible types were already safely harboured from the forecast deluge. My driver had inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, dropped me on the wrong side, keen to get back over the bridges into the city before the worst of the weather. The St George building was as huge as all the others, and I wondered if anyone would hear my knock. They did. A warm, friendly welcome greeted me, completely at odds to the starkness outside; one of the distilling team led me through the impressive 65,000 sq ft production and warehouse space. There were two banks of gleaming stills, vats and tanks galore, and near-floor to ceiling racking – more on all that shortly. It somehow felt far smaller on the inside that it did from the outside, stack after stack of maturing spirits filling the vast space to the brim. Out the other side, right by the really rather obvious entrance I should have arrived at, was a generous visitor area, with two bars and a shop at the far end. Windows down the exterior wall provided a glorious view back to San Francisco, with all its towers. There’s nothing between the distillery and the city except for a wash of wetland, the Bay itself, and an expanse of concrete which turned out to be a disused runway.

St George Spirits roof

St George barrels and the original WWII hangar roof

“This is World War II construction, an old aircraft hangar,” confirmed Dave Smith, St George Spirits head distiller and vice president, an animated yet softly-spoken fellow who joined the team nearly 14 years ago. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me despite my poor timekeeping, and welcomed me with literal open arms. “The last squadron stationed in the hangar prior to the base’s retirement was Atkron 304, known as the Firebirds, which were made up of Grumman A-6 Intruders.” The scale of the buildings now makes sense, and when I looked into the site afterwards it turns out it was a Naval air base that only closed in 1997.

‘Creating a movement’

St George Spirits dates back to well before the airfield closed, though in a different location. Jörg Rupf, widely considered to be the father of American artisan distilling, set up St George way back in 1982 – long before hipster beards and ubiquitous quirkiness overran the territory marked ‘craft’. He travelled to the US on an assignment from the Ministry of Culture in his native Germany, but it was San Francisco, and his family heritage as Black Forest brandy makers, that shaped his course. It started with eaux-de-vie, pear in particular, made in a tiny “20ft by 20ft” room, Smith told me. Times might have changed when it comes to production scale (the team moved to the current site in 2004) but fruit brandy remains an integral part of the St George offering today.

St George Spirits

St George Pear Brandy in front of the distillery – a starting point for the brand

The breadth of the distillery’s product portfolio is one indicator as to why a visit to St George Spirits is high on the bucket list for so many drinks lovers, myself included. And that’s where we began, hunkered down at one of the gleaming bars as the storm swept in across the Bay. As he poured St George Pear Brandy, Smith was keen to stress just how much of a catalyst Rupf was for the US spirits scene. “Jörg was really thoughtful about helping other distillers,” he said. “He really had a sense of ‘all ships will rise’; he created a movement.” Under his mentorship, other distillers set up shop, and he shared his expertise in fermentation and distilling, especially with regards to eaux-de-vies and fruit spirits – drinks totally new to the market, at the time. It’s a category that makes perfect sense for California, with its lush fruit harvests.

And that’s what you get with Pear Brandy – a hit of fresh lushness. It’s made with Bartlett pears, and a lot of them: there are 30-35lb of pears in each bottle. Why Bartlett pears? “We want small fruit, so the essential oils are very concentrated,” Smith said. The cinnamon spice, pear drop notes develop during a two-week fermentation, with the spirit eventually made in a 250-litre pot still. “Our job as distillers is to be expressive of the raw materials,” Smith stated. It’s this pear spirit that is the base for so many other St George products, including the All Purpose Vodka. That vibrant pear note is like a signature sillage you pick up throughout the portfolio.

St George Spirits

All kinds of distilling options at St George

We tasted our way through the vodka line with California Citrus and Green Chile Vodka. It’s here that the St George philosophy to showcase raw materials really hits home. The spirit is made with five different chilies (jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros, then red and yellow bell peppers) in a mix of infusions and distillations, depending on what flavours, textures and heat levels each technique extracts. “We separate these things out, and then recombine,” he explained. “I can use alcohol as a solvent, I can distil, I can infuse… But I don’t want things to be complex for the sake of being complex.” The creativity, the technicalities, the detail… it’s mind-boggling. And this is just for one bottling among 20 or so – not including limited-run expressions.

Transparent production

We moved on from the vodkas to the trio of St George gins, each distinct, each characterful, but each clearly St George. We start with Dry Rye, which, as the name implies, uses 100% pot-distilled rye spirit as a base. It’s juniper-forward, with just five other botanicals: black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, grapefruit peel and lime peel, combining for a rich, warming hit, but never overpowering the rye character. “We’re trying to find things that are expressive, and that have a statement to make,” Smith said. Next is Botanivore, Smith’s “botanical leader” made with a whopping 19 botanicals with a mix of infusions, macerations and distillations. It’s deliciously complex on the palate, still with that vital juniper but with a St George eccentricity, too.

St George Spirits gin

The trio of St George gins

Next up: Terroir Gin, which was actually the first St George gin, Smith explained. It was master distiller and president Lance Winters who came up with the concept. “He was picking up his son from summer camp, when he had the idea,” he detailed. When you taste the gin, you can picture the scene: the mountains, the forests, the sea. It’s California in a bottle, an evocative, aromatic gin made with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, coastal sage and other local botanicals. The flavour is earthy, outdoorsy, and especially effective with a building storm as a backdrop.

Time to segue into whiskey. First stop: the latest batch of Breaking & Entering, an intriguing expression that blends sourced bourbon and rye with some of St George’s own California malt whiskey. “We want to be really transparent that we’re not making it all in-house,” Smith stated. “And as none of the four grains are more than 51%, there really isn’t a category that we can label it as.” The rye, barley, corn and wheat mashbill is balanced so that none is prominent, but all is delicious. The 2018 edition was bursting with rich, pastry notes, jammy red fruits and dash of menthol, all wrapped up in a sweetcorn smoothness. A treat, indeed.

Just one of the very many barrel types

The final thing we tasted before stepping back into the distillery was St George Single Malt, a fascinating expression that Smith described as a “brandy made from grain”. Winters’ background is brewing; combine that with the eaux-de-vie obsession that underpins operations, and this starts to make sense. The barley at the base of this bottling is malted in multiple ways, including smoking some over beech and alder wood. Different barrels, from ex-Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee, to Port pipes and both French and local wine casks, contribute all kinds of flavours. Maturation spans from four to 19 years. You’d expect it to be bonkers, but it works. It’s batch-produced and changes each year, but the 2018 expression was like a sweetly-spiced hot chocolate, with zesty orange top notes. Lovely stuff. And that’s just part of the portfolio; after the distillery tour we sampled the Raspberry Brandy, Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau de Vie, California Reserve Agricole Rum, Raspberry Liqueur, Spiced Pear Liqueur, NOLA Coffee Liqueur, Bruto Americano bitters and Absinthe Verte, complete with a mischievous monkey on the label. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a range from a single producer. Tasting the whole lot in one morning was quite an experience.

Influences and inspiration

St George lays claim to a number of American-firsts in that list, including the Absinthe, which Smith described as “the worst kept secret in the Bay Area for about a decade prior to its official release”. Many defy category definitions (can you even make Rhum Agricole in California? The answer is yes, as long as you drop the ‘h’), and walking through the production space it all starts to make sense. The team here has an infatuation with flavour and a mastery of raw materials and process. There are five pot stills ranging in size from 250 litres to 1,500 litres, including hybrids with column options and an old Holstein, plus a coffee roaster dating back to 1952. If they can possibly make it in house, they will.

St George Spirits

Creation station: All kinds of stills

Grain for spirit currently maturing is floor-malted down the road at Admiral Maltings (“if you think about the real-estate in the Bay Area and what you need for maltings…” Smith says, as an aside). New cask requirements are met by Burgundy-style barrels. The California climate does hit the angel’s share – as much as 10% is lost in the first year, with 3-6% evaporating every year after that. We stopped for a taste of something really exciting – some California Shochu, followed by some unusual cask samples. It was a real treat, and there were yet more examples of surprising ideas coming out of this distillery.

Cali shochu, anyone?

In terms of newness, the stakes ramp up even higher in the St George lab. We stepped into the experiential space and the energy from all the ideas was almost tangible. On the left was a library of samples. Single distillates, infusions and more stack from floor to ceiling. There were two test stills, one 10-litre, one 30-litre, and all kinds of tanks, one even styled to look like Star Wars’ R2-D2. There’s stuff on every surface – you couldn’t call it clutter because it all felt purposeful, like the next big idea could be in any of those little bottles.

St George Spirits

Dave Smith gets the cask sample spirit flowing

“It’s what we’re influenced by, what we’re excited by,” Smith said. “We need to do more than what we did yesterday, increase our repertoire and techniques.” Not everything is successful, he added. But it doesn’t need to be. There’s clearly no fear of failure here, which goes some way to explaining why the range of St George spirits is not just delicious, but incredibly diverse.

St George Spirits lab

Experimental lab stills!

We headed out of the room and back to the bar. The storm was in full swing; rain pounding against the windows, the old WWII wooden roof hollering in the elements. You couldn’t even see across the old runway, let alone make out any shape of the city beyond. Smith looked around back towards the distillery as if taking it all in, and summed up what seems to be the St George philosophy: “We create things because we can.” And what better reason is there than that?

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We chat all things Irish whiskey with Billy Leighton!

St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us! In the spirit of the moment, we caught up with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton to talk Spot Irish whiskey, the ace…

St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us! In the spirit of the moment, we caught up with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton to talk Spot Irish whiskey, the ace cask samples we have up for grabs, new distilleries and innovations for the future.

It’s St Patrick’s Day on Sunday! 17 March brings with it a celebration of all things Ireland, and it would be highly remiss if that didn’t include a splash of something boozily delicious – Irish gin, Poitín, and of course, whiskey! And to help get in the celebratory spirit, we’ve not only taken £5 off each bottle of the marvellous Yellow Spot, but we’re running a competition to win two 700ml bottles of incredible Malaga cask whiskey, too. Hand drawn by Billy Leighton, Irish Distillers master blender, no less!

But Irish spirits are for life, not just St Patrick’s Day. With that in mind, we got Billy himself on the blower to quiz him not only on Yellow Spot and those delicious sample bottles, but the past, present and future of Irish whiskey, too. And from the historical single pot still style to the wealth of new distilleries opening up (Clonakilty became the 23rd earlier this month!), it’s looking bright indeed…

Master of Malt: Hello Billy! First off, in your own words, tell us about the history of Spot and how all the whiskeys came about?

Billy Leighton: I think the Spot range has a really good heritage. It goes back to the family, Mitchell & Son, and they’ve been in Dublin for generations now, close 240 years. And it’s still run by Mitchell and his son; we [Irish Distillers] have a very good relationship with them. They’re a lovely family, Jonathan and Robert are the current father and son. But when their family business started up back in the early 1800s, they were wine merchants, importing wine from all around the world. Casks of oak, fortified wine: sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala, all those fortified wines. And then, about 1880, 1890, they then became whiskey bonders. They had all these empty wine casks, having the wine bottled, and where they’re left with the casks. So they then will have bought new-make spirit from the Jameson Distillery in Dublin and filled that into their freshly emptied fortified wine casks. I don’t know what spawned the colour-coding system, but it was a good idea to colour-code their casks, to designate the age of the whiskey they were going to bottle. For example, they would have put out a green dawb of paint on casks that were intended to be used at ten years old, and that became their ‘green spot’. And likewise, the yellow paint was 12 years old; the red paint was 15 years old. They had a ‘blue spot’ as well, which was a seven year old. So that’s how the whole Spot range came about.

Spot Irish whiskey family

The Spot family of Irish whiskeys

MoM: And that was in Irish whiskey boom time…

BL: Well certainly in the 1970s, 1976-ish I think it was, Irish pot still whiskey had gone through a very, very bad time. Between the early 1900s and right up until the 1960s, Irish pot still whiskey was almost dead and buried! It was brands like Green Spot and Redbreast, two single pot still brands, that endured the bad times. In the mid-seventies, Irish Distillers basically took over the Spot Whiskies – of which there was only one at the time! The Green Spot. It became an Irish Distillers brand but the distribution in Ireland remained with Mitchell & Son. Then we did a bit of a makeover on the brand, and it got a new lease of life. I think the interest in Irish single pot still whiskey was starting to gain a bit more traction again, so we decided then to extend the range. That’s when we re-introduced Yellow Spot with the 12 year old age-statement on it, and then just recently the Red Spot, with the 15 year old statement.

MoM: Why do you think the Green Spot survived and the others didn’t? Was it to do with the age or the flavour profile? Why did one endure when the others fell by the wayside?

You know, it could have been availability of stock. The Irish whiskey category had dwindled away to virtual extinction. They couldn’t have sustained or justified maintaining the full range. The Green Spot is no longer a ten year old, it doesn’t have an age statement. So I think it was just to keep that brand alive. And maybe more for sentimental purposes than anything else, you know?

Bill Leighton Irish whiskey

Billy does his thing

MoM: Sure. And today, aside from age statements, what separates the different Spots, and are they very similar at all to the historical ones?

BL: Well, we like to think so. But the wood management wouldn’t have been as sophisticated as what we have today. So they would have had all of those different fortified wine casks available – sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala – they wouldn’t necessarily have… structured their formulations to call out any cask type in particular. What we have tried to do is stay as close to the heritage of the brand, but we tend now to call out the different fortified wine casks that we’re using. In the Yellow Spot we call out the Malaga cask inclusion, with the Red Spot it’s the Marsala cask, Green Spot has got oloroso sherry casks. It is the only fortified wine cask in there. The Yellow Spot and the Red Spot have a little bit of oloroso sherry in there, but again, it’s kind of doing what the Mitchells did. It wasn’t so much one particular cask type became Yellow Spot and a different cask type became Red Spot. There would have been a mix of casks. Back in the day, the age was the only differentiating factor.

MoM: So we’ve got these two Malaga cask bottles up for grabs, which is incredibly exciting. Tell us a little bit about what sets these apart, and how you go about choosing casks for bottling…

BL: Well for these special bottles that are up for grabs, we went and looked at what Malaga casks we’re currently using in Yellow Spot. We sampled a few of them, and picked out a good one that we felt had a nice balance of the single pot still character and also that Malaga component we’re using in Yellow Spot. How I see the Malaga cask manifesting itself in Yellow Spot is kind of heather-honey sweet note. It takes the sweetness you would see in Green Spot and it takes the sweetness up another level. The Malaga casks, whenever they’re seasoned in Malaga, the wine that’s used is 100% Pedro Ximénez. 30% of the Pedro Ximénez grapes would be sundried, so it’s concentrating the sweetness there. And I’m particularly partial to sweet wine, and the Malaga just fits the bill. Those honey-sweet notes very much complement and balance with the spiciness of the pot-still distillate itself. So it works, it works very, very well for me.

Red Spot Irish whiskey

Red Spot is a recent addition to the Irish pot still family

MoM: Fabulous. More broadly, Irish whiskey is obviously booming. Why do you think that is, and why do you think single pot still Irish whiskies are so popular again?

BL: Taking a step back a little bit, I think it’s fairly well-accepted within the Irish whiskey industry that the whole renaissance has been brought about by the success of Jameson. Around the world, you know?  And where people are getting a taste for Jameson, they’re more inquisitive; a lot of the flavour is being driven by that pot still component. People are always wanting to find out more, and Green Spot would be the opportunity for them to try that single pot still component. I think it’s consumer awareness brought about by the attention that Jameson is bringing to the Irish whiskey category as a whole. ‘Why do we talk about Irish single pot still whiskey, is it not just the same as Scotch malt, only it comes from Ireland?’ When they try it, they find out that Irish single pot still is a completely different style of whiskey from a Scotch malt. And once they get the experience of a single pot still, such as Green Spot, they want to know a little bit more about what other offerings there are. And then of course there are other brands, like Redbreast for example, which is a single pot still Irish whiskey but with a different expression of maturation. I really think the Irish single pot still whiskey is where the future is.

MoM: Absolutely. But Irish whiskey as a whole is changing, not just single pot still. I think one of the reasons is all the new distilleries coming online. And now we’re seeing a lot of new spirit coming into the market. Do you think we’re going to see significant shifts in the structure of Irish whiskey and the character of the category?

BL: There are lot of new distilleries and it’s exciting when you see so many opening up, and they’re all going to want to make their mark and have their own individual style. I think that’s only good for the whole category, consumers included in that. I think for a long time, like ten years ago when we had only four operating distilleries, we didn’t have such a selection. And neither did we need one, to be honest! But each new distillery coming on stream is going to want to make their own mark and do things their own way. The only thing maybe to add there is that [it’s great] as long as all these new styles of whiskey don’t compromise the quality standard that Jameson has set, you know? That’s one thing we want to be careful about, that the perceived quality of Irish whiskey doesn’t slip.

Yellow Spot Irish whiskey

Oh haiiii Yellow Spot

MoM: Yeah, it’s got to be good!

BL: And from that point of view, Irish Distillers has probably been in the business the longest, but our doors are always open. We have a mentoring scheme in place now where new distillers can come along, probably through the Irish Whiskey Association, and see how we do things. We’re not telling them how to make the whiskey because they’d probably all end up making the same sort of whiskey! But it’s just to highlight production methods, even cask procurement, things that people don’t even think about. Like how much freight on casks costs. We’re quite open to tell things as they are, because we want to see everybody succeeding in the Irish whiskey category, making their own contribution to future growth.

MoM: Through the mentoring programme, you and the team must meet a lot of new people and a lot of new minds with a lot of new ideas. Is there anything that particularly excites you?

BL: It’s early days, but a lot of the new brands that we’re seeing in the marketplace now are pretty much different maturation expressions. People are procuring some whiskey for themselves and then doing their own twist on it. That in itself is adding a bit of excitement, maturation styles and tweaks that wouldn’t have been done before. When we had the four operating distilleries [Midleton, Cooley, Bushmills and Kilbeggan], everybody was kind of just set in their ways. They had successful formulations, why mess with them? But now we have the Irish Whiskey Regulations, they’re out there, but they’re there to be tested. There will be opportunities for using different types of wood, for example; Irish regulations allow us to use wood other than oak. So there’s interest there at the moment. We’ve introduced a whiskey finished in chestnut casks with Method and Madness. Bushmills has introduced an acacia cask finish. But also, whenever the new distilleries are up and running there are loads of opportunities for using different cereal types rather than just barley; raw barley and malted barley. There are opportunities there for other grain types, maybe rye or oats, wheat, whatever. I would say in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be seeing a little bit more variation on the distillate type itself, driven by different cereals.

Billy Leighton Irish whiskey experiments

Billy being all experimental

MoM: That’s exciting. And how much of this might be happening at the Middleton microdistillery?

BL: Oh yeah, we do quite a lot of experimentation there in the micro. We have done some trials with various cereals over the past few years. Some of that will actually become whiskey in the next while – it will be over three years old. It’s going along and it’s working very nicely. But we wouldn’t be giving anything away on that or releasing anything until we’re happy that it’s of the quality and the style that we’re happy to share with the consumers.

MoM: And going back full circle to Spot Whiskeys, what’s next for the Spot brand? We don’t have a Blue Spot anymore, might we see a return of that?

BL: We get this on social media all the time: ‘when are you going to complete the family of Spots?’, and it’s not something that we have ignored at all. It’s been discussed, but we don’t have any solid plans at the minute to reintroduce a Blue Spot. There have been discussions. Maybe what could be more likely, I’m not saying it would happen, but we might look at other variants on Green Spot. For example, to add to the Léoville Barton and the Chateau Montelena expressions. So I think there’s a lovely story there that connects Irish families that have left Ireland to go and get involved in the wine business around the world. And the Mitchells are still wine importers, so they have contacts all around the world. So anything we may do in that direction would be in collaboration with the Mitchells. You probably will see maybe the odd single cask offering with the Green Spot label on it. But that’s as much as there is really at the minute.

MoM: Lots of potential developments in the future. Thanks so much, Billy!

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Gordon & MacPhail reveals new whisky distillery details

Whisky distiller and bottler Gordon & MacPhail has unveiled further details for its proposed shiny new distillery in Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park. And we’re excited. At MoM Towers, we’re all…

Whisky distiller and bottler Gordon & MacPhail has unveiled further details for its proposed shiny new distillery in Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park. And we’re excited.

At MoM Towers, we’re all ears when it comes to distillery developments. Those giant ears of ours have been twitching with anticipation ever since Benromach parent Gordon & MacPhail said last year it was planning to open a second distillery. And now have an update.

Set to be built on the banks of the River Spey in Craggan, near Grantown-on-Spey, the proposed distillery has a strikingly circular design. It’s the work of architect firm NORR, and is meant to make the most of the stunning mountain and river views while hiding most of the operational side of spirits production. It’s even got a grass sedan roof (remind you of anything?) to help it blend into the environment.

Gordon & MacPhail's new distillery

Gordon & MacPhail’s super-modern proposed distillery

If the plans go ahead, the Craggan distillery (not its official name) will become the first of the new-wave distilleries to go live in the Cairngorm National Park.

How much whisky will it make? At first, 375,000 litres of spirit will flow, but capacity can increase to 2 million litres in the longer term – which would make it much larger in terms of output than Benromach.

Local residents were recently treated to an exhibition detailing the planned site, with more than 150 people popping in to check out the proposals. According to Gordon & MacPhail, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

“We’re really pleased at the number of people who came along to see our plans, we couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome,” said Ewen Mackintosh, Gordon & MacPhail’s managing director.

“People are saying how excited they are to see a distillery being proposed for the area as they believe it has the potential to support Grantown-on-Spey as a destination and encourage visitors to stay longer in the town.”

Gordon & MacPhail's new distillery grass roof

Round, round baby… and with a fancy grass roof

The Urquhart family, which owns Gordon & MacPhail, also went along to the presentation. “We are a longstanding family-owned business with strong roots and commitment to the north of Scotland,” said Stuart Urquhart, Gordon & MacPhail operations director. “Building and operating our second distillery is part of our generational plan to grow a long-term sustainable business, whilst continuing to be part of the fabric of the local community.”

Let’s hope the plans get the go-ahead!

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IWD 2019: Meet our content assistant, Jess Williamson!

Want to get into writing about whisky? On International Women’s Day, we meet our content assistant Jess, who does just that! It’s International Women’s Day! All week, I’ve been chatting…

Want to get into writing about whisky? On International Women’s Day, we meet our content assistant Jess, who does just that!

It’s International Women’s Day! All week, I’ve been chatting to just some of the women who work at Master of Malt, in all different departments across the business. We’ve met Emma, our head of service; Mariella, our PR manager; Rachel, our trade service manager; Laura, our campaign executive; and earlier today, Charlotte, our digital marketing assistant.

Now, wrapping up our Q&A series, we have Jess, the newest member of the MoM marketing team. She joined Content in January 2019 and immediately hit the ground running, helping to research and write about – and, most importantly, taste! – the very many products we get live on the site every day. She also contributes to The Nightcap, the blog, and a whole host of other drinks and words-related things.

Intrigued about getting into drinks writing? Want an insight into content at MoM? Over to Jess!

Tell us about you and your role at Master of Malt.
I’m the content assistant at Master of Malt, so I mainly help with the shed-loads of new products that flood in, and write some (hopefully) witty and informative content for them!

Talk us through a typical day…  
Mostly I’ll be looking through all the new product listings and writing content for those, with some social media content on the side. Occasionally, we have brands come in to show us their products; those days are always educational and delicious. I contribute to The Nightcap posts each week, and if I’m lucky then I’ll also have some tasty drams to write tasting notes for!

How did you get into content and writing?
I graduated from Bristol University with an English Literature degree, so I’ve always loved writing, and have written for online music magazines in my spare time for nearly three years. I also worked in an extensive gin bar for a while (it had 64 gins!), which is when I realised that drinks were really a thing – when I say that, I mean more than just vodka and squash, which happily I shall never drink again. I started temping in another department within the company for a few months, during which time the industry got me hook, line and sinker, and I applied for my current role at MoM!

Jess, who loves music and booze, is our content assistant!

What’s one of the most surprising things about your role?
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was (happily) surprised at how varied it is, and how everyone is happy to pitch in, and for me to pitch into projects. I don’t think I’d quite understood the scale of the industry and the level of discernment involved – I was blind but now I see! Also, three cheers for the hands-on nature of actually tasting the drinks I write about. Yum.

What makes the drinks industry such an interesting place to work?
As someone fairly new to the industry I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time, and I don’t think that’ll slow down any time soon! Everyone involved is so enthusiastic; there’s such a great combination of tradition and innovation. The whole nature of drinks is so subjective as each consumer is unique, so it feels like the possibilities are endless!

Recommend a drink!
Just one? I’m a big fan of trying any new and exciting cocktail when I’m out, but I love a Bramble. Although if I’m making a drink for myself, then it’ll probably be a Gin & Tonic!

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IWD 2019: Meet digital marketing assistant, Charlotte Gorzelak!

It’s International Women’s Day! All week, we’ve been celebrating by interviewing some of the women who work at Master of Malt. Today, we chat to our digital marketing assistant Charlotte…

It’s International Women’s Day! All week, we’ve been celebrating by interviewing some of the women who work at Master of Malt. Today, we chat to our digital marketing assistant Charlotte Gorzelak, who landed at MoM Towers after working in Germany and LA. Kent is very different in comparison…

8 March is here and it’s International Women’s Day! To mark the occasion, we thought we’d take the opportunity to quiz some behind-the-scenes faces at Master of Malt. Not only have you got to meet some of our dream team, hopefully it’s potentially sparked some drinks industry career ideas, too…

Today we’re chatting to Charlotte Gorzelak, who joined MoM in July 2018 as our digital marketing assistant. Charlotte’s career path so far has certainly been geographically diverse, and she’s also our resident detective with her Criminology degree. Intrigued? Read on!

Tell us about you and your role at Master of Malt…
I’m the digital marketing assistant at Master of Malt, so I do a little bit of everything from pay-per-click, to email and social marketing. I mainly build the social media posts which go out on all channels, and I go to a few events to post stories on Instagram to give our followers an insight into the interesting new things happening in the industry. Most recently, I was in Mayfair for the launch of our new MoMer’s Web Page Gin, and the week after that I was in Covent Garden for an Irish whiskey tasting and book signing with Anne Griffin, the author of When All is Said.

How did you get into digital marketing?
I actually got into marketing by applying for a waitressing role after graduating with a degree in Criminology. They saw I had media and PR experience on my CV, and offered me a different role in the interview. Cue four years of me working in a microbrewery, helping during brewing (read: getting malt in my wellingtons and generally making a mess), making cocktails and serving drinks, and doing marketing for a few drinks businesses. I also did a short stint in Los Angeles working with a film company as their marketing person, and in Germany filming with Audi at the Nürburgring. I then came back to England (and the drinks industry!) to work at MoM.

She might not be a GoT fan, but Charlotte is queen of the Iron Throne.

What makes the drinks industry such an interesting place to work?
It’s varied and fun. It’s such a broad industry. From the making of the drink to the selling and then the serving, you need lots of different skills at each intersection and I think that’s why you get such a mix of people working in our industry. There’s a place for everyone. When I worked in brewing, we used to do the brewing process in these steel vessels next to the bar. I was inside cleaning out the malt one day and popped my head out of the hatch. I totally surprised this couple eating their lunch next to the tank! It was hilarious, and it made their day that they could talk to someone who was really involved in the drink they were drinking at the time.

Tell us about a career highlight…
When I was just starting out at MoM I was asked to go to the Macallan Magnum exhibit to celebrate the opening of the new distillery. It was the first event I attended at MoM. I was able to take an in-depth look at the distillery and chat to people in the industry, while sipping amazing whisky cocktails – and I got to sample the Macallan Magnum expression bottled especially for the opening. I also went to Diageo’s Game of Thrones Johnnie Walker White Walker launch which was amazing, even though I have never seen the TV show! As we were filming, I even made a tiny cameo.

Recommend a drink!
The Penicillin cocktail. Smoke, ginger and sweetness. I’m still yet to perfect it at home but whenever it’s on a menu, it’s my go-to drink.

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IWD 2019: Meet trade service manager, Rachel Matthews!

It’s probably fairly obvious that we love and sell all kinds of delicious boozes here at Master of Malt. But did you know that we also work with the likes…

It’s probably fairly obvious that we love and sell all kinds of delicious boozes here at Master of Malt. But did you know that we also work with the likes of bars, restaurants and pubs? It’s Rachel Matthews and her team who look after this side of proceedings, and in today’s instalment of our International Women’s Day series we’re getting stuck in to all things Trade!

Rachel joined Master of Malt five-and-a-half years ago, and has been instrumental in building the Trade team out. Her hospitality background is a huge advantage, as is a love for the hundreds of new products we see each week. Over to Rachel!

Tell us about you and your role at Master of Malt.
I’m the trade service manager.  What do I do, I hear you ask… well, I’m here to support and help develop the team to provide the best service to our customers that have businesses in the world of booze. We give our on-trade customers a service which is knowledgeable, product-filled and a cut above the rest. And we continue to make Trade a thriving sector at Master of Malt!  Each year we gain more customers through word-of-mouth because of the service we proudly provide.

How did you get into trade service?
I’ve been at MoM for five-and-a-half years; before that, I was waitress at a cocktail bar when I met you (love that song – The Human League!). Sadly, it wasn’t as cool as that – it was a seafood restaurant. I’d worked in the hospitality industry for long period of time after university and I was ready to get out, but I still wanted to continue dealing with customers as I enjoyed that aspect of my work. This is when I decided I wanted to work for MoM, I knew a fair bit about alcohol, but my main love was dealing with customers. I finally, got an interview (after stalking the website daily) with Emma Golds, and they accepted me for a stock assistant role (not what I wanted but it developed my understanding of the company). I quickly transitioned into the Trade department. From there, I grew within the department, continually learning and building my knowledge about how to give our customers the best service possible. I’ve always been a believer that you have to work hard for what you want and always push yourself, learn from your strengths and weaknesses.  

Master of Malt International Women's Day Rachel Matthews

Meet trade service manager, Rachel!

What are the particular challenges to working in Trade?
I love a challenge; it is the only way you learn about yourself. But one particular area I find challenging is keeping up with the constant flow of new products. There are thousands of them, and it is not slowing down! For instance, the gin industry is still booming, and I believe there are 315 distilleries in the UK according to from HM Revenue & Customs figures, and gin drinkers helped category sales exceed more than £1.9bn in 2018. It’s absolutely mind-blowing!

What makes the drinks industry such an interesting place to work?
The industry is ever-changing, you never stop. People said after the EU referendum that the alcohol industry was in danger. Well, I can confirm that Trade is seeing sales climb 65% year-on-year.  People are wanting to spend more on the quality of the liquid, and are more focused on the ingredients and stories behind the bottles. This is great, as we are able to help our customers expand their knowledge on the products available, as well as our own knowledge, too! We are constantly learning, and no day is the same.

Recommend a drink!
Tough question! If I’m needing a pick-me-up then I’d go for an Espresso Martini. If I’m putting the world to right with my friends, then I’ll have a wee dram of the Glenfarclas 15 Year Old.

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IWD 2019: Meet our head of service, Emma Golds!

Our International Women’s Day 2019 interviewee today is Emma Golds, our head of service! Emma leads our trade and retail service teams, is partial to a Japanese G&T, and was…

Our International Women’s Day 2019 interviewee today is Emma Golds, our head of service! Emma leads our trade and retail service teams, is partial to a Japanese G&T, and was also recently featured on a very exciting bottle of gin indeed…

Friday 8 March is International Women’s Day! To mark the occasion, all week we’re giving you a behind-the-scenes peek into the inner workings of MoM Towers and introducing you to different people across the team. Today, meet our head of service, Emma Golds.

Emma joined Team MoM more than six years ago – and you’d be hard-pressed to find a human who cares more about the customer experience than she does. She’s part of the senior management team at Master of Malt, and has an incredibly varied role spanning service (of course!) product, and operations. Over to Emma!

Tell us about you and your role at Master of Malt.
I am head of service for Master of Malt, which means that I’m responsible for managing the Service teams (Retail and Trade) and ensuring that our amazing customers always receive the support and service that they deserve. I have worked at MoM for six years and absolutely love it! I truly believe that our customers are the best in the world and the fact that I get to spend my days coming up with different ways to improve our service delivery and make even more people happy is the greatest.

Talk us through a typical day…
First thing, I’ll have a catch up with our Trade and Retail Customer Service managers to get updates about how their teams are looking and what type of things we have been helping our customers with recently. I want to understand what our customers are asking for and how we can help them better in the future. Listening to our customers and taking their feedback to other areas of the business is something that I absolutely love to do! It really is our customers that drive and shape our business, and I’m incredibly fortunate to work with some amazing colleagues and teams that also love to listen and respond to the challenges that are asked of us.

Then, after a coffee, I’ll continue to test out some of the new systems that we are trialling which will make the customer experience even more seamless. The rest of the day might include more meetings, or knuckling down and working on some upcoming projects. I work very closely with all other areas of the business to make sure that we have complete cohesion in our strategy – from our Fulfilment Centre, to make sure that all of our orders are packed beautifully, to our Stock Replenishment team, to ensure that we have enough stock for an upcoming promotion that our Digital Marketing team will be running over the weekend. The overarching goal is always to make our customer experience the absolute best it can be. 

International Women's Day Master of Malt Emma Golds

It’s Emma!

How did you get into customer service?
I had always worked in customer service but had never really thought about it as a career path – I just knew it was something that I really enjoyed and was good at (I think, really, I just like to chat with people and do what I can to help and make their lives a little easier!). After taking myself off to university and travelling for a few years, I returned home and began working directly with customers again. I found that I was not alone in being shocked and dissatisfied with the customer service I was receiving from companies that I interacted with, and that I was extremely passionate about improving service levels across the board. Fortunately, I found myself joining a business (MoM!) that felt the exact same way, and I began to build and shape a team that puts customers at the absolute forefront of our decision-making.

What makes the drinks industry such an interesting place to work?
I think the fact that it attracts so many different types of people, all with such varied skills but passionate about the same thing. It really breaks down barriers and the opportunities are endless! It is such a fast-paced industry and is constantly evolving. It keeps you on your toes and is so exciting – who knows what trends are just around the corner?!

Tell us about a career highlight…
Being featured on the MoMer’s Web Page Gin label recently has to be a very proud moment!

Recommend a drink!
Easy peasy – Ki No Bi Gin & Tonic with a sprig of rosemary to garnish. Absolutely beautiful (and if you can guarantee sunshine and good company, that is even better!).

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IWD 2019: Meet our campaign exec, Laura Carl!

With International Women’s Day fast approaching, we thought we’d celebrate some of our behind-the-scenes team here at MoM Towers. Today we chat with Laura Carl, our campaign executive, about #WhiskySanta,…

With International Women’s Day fast approaching, we thought we’d celebrate some of our behind-the-scenes team here at MoM Towers. Today we chat with Laura Carl, our campaign executive, about #WhiskySanta, diving, and the joy of bourbon.

Friday 8 March is International Women’s Day! Last year we marked the occasion by interviewing some of the drinks industry’s most exciting luminaries. For 2019, we thought we’d turn our attention to our very own office. Get set to meet more of Team MoM!

As well as getting to know some of the women who work here at Master of Malt, I hope a little behind-the-scenes peek will highlight some of the many varied careers the drinks industry offers. We met PR manager Mariella yesterday, today it’s the turn of campaign exec Laura Carl to talk us through life in the marketing team. She joined Master of Malt in June 2018, and works across all kinds of projects, from #WhiskySanta to our weekly emails. Enough from me, over to the woman herself…

Tell us about you and your role at Master of Malt.
I’m a campaign executive at Master of Malt, our team (big up Jake Mountain and Lois Jõe!) manage the marketing campaigns and all the challenges that go with running them. This includes everything from headline competitions and social media campaigns such as #WhiskySanta, to product selection for the website and managing day-to-day marketing requests.

Talk us through a typical day…
The best thing about this role is that every single day is different for me. We have on-going projects which require constant attention, such as the weekly product email, and then brand new campaigns or ideas which can be turned around in a couple of days. My role includes coming up with design ideas, putting together strategic planning for public holidays or events, analysing results, and acting as a communicator between the many wonderful teams and people we have here at MoM, who make it possible to get the job done.

Laura Carl International Women's Day

Laura spends much of her year liaising with #WhiskySanta while he’s on his holibobs

How did you get into marketing?
My career path seems pretty convoluted; I actually have a degree in marine biology – so obviously marketing was the clear career choice after graduation! I worked in sales for a PR company before running away for two years travelling. In that time, I had a range of roles; most notably I became a dive instructor in Thailand and Indonesia (yeah, I’m pretty cool), and then I moved over to Australia. Over there, I worked in a few bars and managed events for a small craft brewery in Brisbane (check out Aether Brewing with its amazing craft beer and even better people), where I gained a true passion for drinks. Upon my return, I knew I wanted to focus on marketing and I managed to find this amazing role which allowed me to use both the creative and analytical aspects of my personality (as well as my love for all things alcoholic!).  

What are the particular challenges your role?
Clear communication is always key. The easiest way I would explain my role is project management marketing. Making sure every aspect of the campaign is running smoothly and on-time can be a challenge, especially at busy times of the year such as Christmas.

What’s one of the most surprising things about your role?
The opportunity to be as creative as I want when it comes to new social campaigns is amazing; we really do have the freedom to run with what we believe will be effective. MoM has a wonderfully jovial ‘voice’ and working with that kind of marketing image for a company gives you the scope to have a lot of fun when it comes to new campaigns.

What makes the drinks industry such an interesting place to work?
I really am lucky to work in an industry which I’m truly passionate about. It’s constantly evolving, there is such a rich history involved in spirits and, best of all, there’s always something new to learn or try. Everyday people are pushing the boundaries in spirits production, cocktail making and drinks trends, which makes the whole industry innovative, exciting and endlessly interesting.

Tell us about a career highlight…
We recently attended the Gin Magazine Awards (where MoM snapped up Online Retailer of the Year!). We spent the evening sipping the world’s best gins and generally celebrating how awesome we are, which was pretty cool! Also, getting to attend the launch of the ‘A Miscellany of Inventions’ cocktail menu at GŎNG Bar at the top of The Shard was pretty frickin’ awesome. Can I have two? I’m putting two.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into drinks marketing?
You may not feel like you’re always on the right path but seize every opportunity that falls your way, no matter what your current role. You never know when the skills you pick up may come in useful.

Recommend a drink!
Bourbon is the love of my life, so it has to be an Old Fashioned.

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IWD 2019: Meet our PR manager, Mariella Salerno!

8 March marks International Women’s Day, so this week we’ve gone behind the scenes at MoM Towers to introduce you to some of our dream team. First up: PR manager,…

8 March marks International Women’s Day, so this week we’ve gone behind the scenes at MoM Towers to introduce you to some of our dream team. First up: PR manager, Mariella Salerno!

It’s always fun to have a peek at other people’s lives. I don’t know about you, but this extends to browsing property websites, Instagram, and very definitely drinks cabinets. In a similar vein, Take Your Friend To Work Day should absolutely be A Thing. And with International Women’s Day on Friday, it seemed like a good opportunity to have a nose into the lives and jobs of some of my colleagues here at Master of Malt! (Confused/annoyed by all things IWD? Have a read of this post from last year and then come back. We’ll still be here.)    

International Women’s Day is, at its heart, a celebration of women from all backgrounds in all walks of life. And there are a whole bunch of amazing people at MoM Towers who just happen to be women! From our marketing and service teams to digital, trade and beyond, the drinks industry is full of brilliant people in ace roles (beyond Master of Malt, just check out some of the women who we spoke to last year!)

Whether you’re looking for a bit of career inspo or just feeling nosy, this mini-series is for you. First up, we speak to Mariella Salerno, our PR manager who joined our marketing team at the end of last year, who chats Margaritas, sharing stories and celeb encounters. Over to Mariella!

Meet Mariella!

Tell us about you and your role at Master of Malt.
I am the PR Manager at Master of Malt, which means that I look after all external relations and publicity for the company. Historically, Master of Malt hasn’t really had a PR function, and this is the first year we’ve had an in-house team. This makes me so excited as I have the chance to steer our communications strategy in line with what the whole company is up to!

Talk us through a typical day…
The first thought of the morning is to check social media and see what our brilliant readers and customers are saying about us! People talk about all kinds of drinks and share our blog stories and videos. Then I grab a coffee and sit down in front of my laptop ready to spread MoM joy! The rest of the day I might be meeting with brands or events partners, or visiting venues for future events. Or catching up with journalists, or getting a press release ready to send out. The role is a mix of strategy and creativity, so each day is different.

How did you get into PR and communications?
I landed my first communication job as marketing assistant at sports network ESPN, and my boss at the time said he liked my eagerness to chat so much that he thought I would have plenty to say when the channel launched in the UK and Southern Europe. I then went to gain qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in PR Strategy Management and Psychology in Campaign Design, just to make sure I was doing things right!

What’s one of the most surprising things about your role?
You really do have endless opportunities to create stories that can inspire readers and audiences regardless of demographics, background or affiliations. As long as there is a shared passion, you are really free to create new stories that people can engage with.

Tell us about a career highlight…
Dame Vanessa Redgrave walked towards me, asked for my name and toasted to my hard work at the Moët British Independent Film Awards 2011. That was an incredible moment!

What makes the drinks industry such an interesting place to work?
I think the most interesting aspect for me is that the drinks industry really is free from clichés, strict rules and stereotypes – it attracts an enormous variety of people all with different backgrounds and from different walks of life. It means the drinks industry keeps evolving all the time – in doing so, it remains relevant and it’s so exciting to be involved in. In PR you’re always trying to connect with people, and because everyone is welcome, the possibilities really are endless!  

Recommend us a drink!
Simple – a classic Margarita. It never, ever, ever goes out of fashion!

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Are these the most delicious gins in the world?

Gin Magazine has named its World’s Best Gins 2019. From London dry to signature botanical, Navy strength to Old Tom, the winners run the gamut of juniper-based styles. But who…

Gin Magazine has named its World’s Best Gins 2019. From London dry to signature botanical, Navy strength to Old Tom, the winners run the gamut of juniper-based styles. But who came out on top?

Last week saw the World Gin Awards take place – a suitably glitzy ceremony where the great and the good of the juniper-scented contingent gathered in London (Team MoM was there for Icons of Gin Online Retailer of the Year! We’re still getting over the excitement). Trophies were bestowed, backs were patted, and gins were sipped (naturally). But what do the awards mean, how were they decided, and are the winners worth a taste? (Spoiler alert: yes.)

First off: full disclosure. I was invited to join the World Gin Awards 2019 judging panel, and I gladly took the Gin Magazine organisers up on it. One of the great joys of judging spirits is that you get to taste a whole host of products, literally hundreds – the downside on a personal note is that everything is done blind, so you have no idea what that mysterious but delectably unusual treat-for-the-palate is.

Step one was to assess a whole bunch of samples in a preliminary tasting. A massive box of miniature bottles arrived at my house, and then the evaluation began (it’s a marathon, not a sprint, people). Then, after everyone submitted their initial scores, the panel (led by David T Smith, the rest of us largely a mix of on-trade experts and writers) met in London to reassess the leading contenders. At the end of the day, we still didn’t know who had won. And that’s part of the thrill: you’re led only by your nose and palate. And with consensus, comes a rather marvellous list of must-taste gins.

But what’s the deal with spirits awards anyway? They are celebrated, but what do they count for? It’s easy to end up eye-rolling at winners, medals, trophies and the rest. But actually, if you consider a list of award-winning spirits to be a group of industry-endorsed recommendations, they suddenly start to make a lot more sense.

So, are these the ‘world’s best’ gins? According to the collective judges’ palates, from the list of entrants, they scored highest. And, from the list of winners, here’s our pick of the ones that we think are worth exploring (and many come in drams, so you could even build your own tasting set of award winners!).

Whatever you think about awards, if you’re in the market for a gin, give these a go!

Dingle Original Gin

Dingle Original Gin

World’s Best Gin: Dingle Original Gin

Winner of the World’s Best London Dry category, Dingle Original Gin from Ireland went on to scoop the overall World’s Best title – and with good reason. It’s made using a secret recipe (although we know that includes rowan berries, bog myrtle, heather and hawthorn), it’s delicious with tonic, and it’s got an unusual earthy floral quality that sets it apart. And, with St. Patrick’s Day approaching, what better excuse do you need to give it a try?!

Hernö Juniper Cask

Hernö Juniper Cask

World’s Best Matured Gin: Hernö Juniper Cask

Time for a trip to Sweden for this bottle of deliciousness. To make this gin, the Hernö team takes its already delectable gin and pop it in a cask made from juniper wood for a month. The result? A gin bursting with pine, orange and fresh juniper notes, and that’s thick and velvety on the palate. We are fans.

Elephant Gin - Elephant Strength

Elephant Gin – Elephant Strength

World’s Best Navy Gin: Elephant Gin – Elephant Strength

What do we have here? A gin that isn’t just elephantine by size, flavour and strength, but one that donates 15% of its profits to two elephant foundations, too! But back to the flavour: Elephant Gin is made using a whole host of African botanicals, including baobab, Buchu plant, devil’s claw and African wormwood – and at 57% ABV, it packs an irresistible punch.

Sacred Old Tom

Sacred Old Tom

World’s Best Old Tom Gin: Sacred Old Tom

What do you get when you mix cutting-edge distilling with an 18th century recipe? A must-taste gin, of course! Sacred Old Tom takes vacuum-distilled liquorice root and sweet orange peels to give its classic juniper-led expression a slightly sweeter twist. We reckon it makes a cracking Martinez – or a sipper over ice, if you feel so moved.

Gin Eva La Mallorquina

Gin Eva La Mallorquina

World’s Best Signature Botanical Gin: Gin Eva La Mallorquina

Hands up who loves olives? *Most of MoM HQ waves their hands in the air like they just don’t care* Get this on your must-drink list with haste. La Mallorquina is made with actual olive pomace, steeped in alcohol and distilled, and then blended with a juniper distillate and a dash of coriander. It smells like olives and the Mediterranean sunshine. And it tastes even better…

Salcombe Gin Mischief - Voyager Series

Salcombe Gin Mischief – Voyager Series

World’s Best Presentation Design: Salcombe Gin Mischief – Voyager Series

Moving away from taste in terms of palate to taste in terms of the eyes now, and it’s easy to see why Salcombe Gin scooped the presentation design trophy for its Voyager Series. We love the box, the crisp white, the gold accents… it’s almost like we’d judge a gin by its bottle. But it’s ok though, Salcombe Gin is as tasty as it looks.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin

World’s Best Brand Design: Citadelle Gin

Reminiscent of fairy tales, apothecaries and adventure, Citadelle’s brand design mirrors both its French roots and global recipe. Botanicals include Moroccan coriander, Mexican orange peel and Chinese liquorice, and we reckon the charming bottle sums up its appeal. It’s a clean, crisp and floral gin – as atmospheric and aromatic as the bottle suggests it will be.

Kyrö Napue Gin

Kyrö Napue Gin

World’s Best Label Design: Kyrö Napue Gin

“Rye! Rye!” cry the Kyrö crew in greeting, and rye-obsessed they are. The distillery’s rye-based spirits are gaining quite the following – and the bold label design helps. Napue is no stranger to fancy ceremonies: it was the inaugural winner of the IWSC Gin & Tonic Trophy in 2015.

There you have it. The cream of the crop, the most delicious and dashing of the World’s Best Gins 2019. Enjoy!


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