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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Lucy Britner

How to mix BBQ and booze for Father’s Day

If your dad has moved beyond the classic cremated sausage (black on the outside, raw in the middle) and supermarket lager combo, this is the blog post for you. And…

If your dad has moved beyond the classic cremated sausage (black on the outside, raw in the middle) and supermarket lager combo, this is the blog post for you. And him. So here are our tips on putting together BBQ and booze this Father’s Day.

Beer and a burger are about as perfect a match as Kylie and Jason. But the world of the barbecue offers a range of ingredients and flavours, opening up a whole load of drinks opportunities. From marinating meats with a splash of whisk(e)y to pepping up tomato sides with a slug of vodka, barbecues and booze are brilliant bedfellows.

Cooking with alcohol

Let’s take a closer look at how to put the booze on or in the food:

“We love adding a small quantity of alcohol into a barbecue marinade or glaze,” say Aaron & Susannah Rickard, authors of the newly published book Cooking with Alcohol. “The volatile alcohol molecules will gradually evaporate from the warm food as you eat, and this evaporation carries the vibrant, fresh aromas to your nose – fragrance is a big part of how our brains perceive flavour, so the addition of alcohol can literally make it seem more delicious.”

Well, there’s the science. The Rickards tend to use dark spirits when barbecuing with alcohol – they look for booze that can stand up to the strong, smoky flavours without adding too much liquid. “Dark rum, bourbon and even Jägermeister are all great options,” they recommend.

Cornish sustainability expert and development chef James Strawbridge from Strawbridge Kitchen agrees. He recently worked with online farm shop 44 Foods to create National BBQ Week ideas and he says using whisky in marinades helps to build a robust depth of flavour.

“It works wonderfully with the following spices and herbs: clove, mustard, rosemary, allspice, smoked sea salt, soy sauces, cinnamon and orange zest,” he explains. “Bourbon with its vanilla, spiced caramel notes is excellent with maple syrup for a smoky glaze brushed onto sticky ribs or with pulled pork.”

Buffalo Trace and butcher Jonny Farrell

Jonny Farrell demonstrates the thrill of the grill

BBQ and bourbon

Speaking of bourbon, Buffalo Trace has gone big on Father’s Day this year, with a competition for people to nominate a strong father figure for a chance to win a bourbon and barbecue experience. The brand has teamed up with renowned butcher Jonny Farrell, who has given MoM a top tip for the grill.

“If you’re outside and have a decent space around you – no covers and walls nearby – you can always use a little Buffalo Trace to flambé your steaks,” he says. “Just as they’re about to finish, carefully pour a shot over the coals and watch the flames lick the meat!”

Farrell explains that not only does this look “seriously cool”, but it also adds a little extra flavour.

Peat smoke and fire

Away from bourbon and back on this side of the pond, Strawbridge is a fan of peaty Scotch, which he says works “wonderfully well with BBQ beef short ribs or smoked beetroot to enhance the woody notes”.

The folks at Ardbeg are also unsurprisingly big on smoke – and smoking meat. They have once again joined forces with DJ BBQ to bring “big, smoky flavours to backyard barbecues”. The DJ’s big hit has to be 18-hour whisky smoked pulled pork, a recipe that features half a bottle of Ardbeg.

If that’s not enough Ardbeg, you could also make the Hot or Cold Apple Cider drinks pairing – a heady mix of Ardbeg Wee Beastie, cider and ginger (recipe below).

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Ardbeg Wee Beastie, smokin’!

Beyond meat

But if red meat or big peat are not your bag, Cornish chef Strawbridge has a dish for that, too. “Irish whiskey is the drink to use with a little orange zest on lobster tails or to flambé wood roasted scallops in their shells,” he explains. “It’s lighter, complex and can be paired with seafood or poultry.”

Cooking with Alcohol authors the Rickards also have some tips beyond the meaty main. To pep up side dishes, they reckon stirring in a little alcohol can add a bright, fresh flavour.

“The zesty, herbal notes of gin will enhance a coleslaw beautifully, while just a teaspoon of vodka in a spicy tomato sauce adds a lovely zing,” they say. “And to finish your meal, marinade large pieces of pineapple or peach together with a little brown sugar, lime juice and spiced rum, before tossing them on the barbecue. The sugars in the fruit will caramelise over the heat to create a deliciously sticky sauce with incredible depth of flavour.”

Whatever you’re barbecuing this Father’s Day, there’s a drink for that.

Hot or Cold Apple Cider


50ml Ardbeg Wee Beastie
50ml apple cider
50ml ginger beer
25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
Demerara vanilla sugar to taste

Decide whether you would like to make cocktails individually or as part of a batch. Add the ingredients together and stir well. Heat the mixture on a BBQ (depending on your preference) and serve with a ladle or use a hot poker to heat individual serves (careful now!) Garnish with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and a mini toffee apple

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The story of Grey Goose vodka

This is the story of Grey Goose vodka, the brand that kickstarted the super-premium movement and changed the face of the category. But did you know that before it was…

This is the story of Grey Goose vodka, the brand that kickstarted the super-premium movement and changed the face of the category. But did you know that before it was vodka, the Goose was a brand of cheap German wine? Lucy Britner has the whole story.

The tale of Grey Goose can’t take flight without talking about its creator, the US booze tycoon Sidney Frank (who with his bow tie and cigar looked just like you hope a booze tycoon would look). It might surprise you to know that Grey Goose wasn’t always a vodka. The brand ‘Grey Goose’ started life as a German Liebfraumilch (like Blue Nun) – registered by Frank in the ‘70s. And although the sweet wine died, the trademark lived on, revived by Frank two decades later, to become a vodka.

The ultimate vodka brand

It was the ultimate vodka brand – it started life with no liquid, no distillery and no bottle. But Frank knew there was a tremendous opportunity. Absolut was already making waves and he had the contacts, thanks to his success with Jägermeister.

You see, Frank started Sidney Frank Importing Co (SFIC) in 1972, bringing Jägermeister from Germany and putting it on the map in the US. Among SFIC’s contributions to its success are the Jägerettes – what the company claimed were the first promotional models in the spirits industry. SFIC also introduced the Jägermeister Tap Machine, which brought the brand out of the freezer and onto the bar. So, Frank and his team were well connected in the US bar world.

Grey Goose vodka advert

Ooh la la!

Super Premium

Frank could see Absolut was doing pretty well, but he had worked out how he might do even better. In an interview with Inc, he points out that Absolut was selling for $15 a bottle. “I figured, let’s make it [Grey Goose] very exclusive and sell it for $30 a bottle,” he said.

And the story of how it came to be made in France is just as ‘matter of fact’ as Frank’s pricing structure. “I said, France has the best of everything. I asked a distiller there whether they could make a vodka. They said sure. The product manager and I tasted about 100 vodkas on my front porch here, and we agreed on one vodka as the best-tasting,” he told Inc.

If you’ve been to Cognac, you might’ve seen the big grey, Grey Goose plant outside of the town. And despite its location among the vines, Grey Goose is made using winter wheat from Picardy, France.

The liquid was created by François Thibault (below), Grey Goose’s own maître de chai. “The vodka was created in Gensac, near Cognac, a region renowned for its high-quality wines and spirits and high mastery of the distillation process,” says Sébastien Roncin, heritage curator for French brands at Bacardi (which now owns the brand). “The pure grain undergoes a five-step distillation process, maximising the flavour at each stage and retaining the unique qualities of fine French wheat. The spirit is then combined with naturally-filtered water from the Gensac spring.”

The vodka quickly won ‘best-tasting’ status with the Beverage Testing Institute and the story goes that Frank put all his projected profit for the year into advertising. The brand went from nothing but a name to 1.5-million cases by 2004. 

Francois Thibault Grey Goose Vodka

Frank becomes a billionaire

And in that same year, Frank sold Grey Goose to Bacardi, for a reported “more than” $2bn.

Bacardi made the purchase to become a “serious player in the strategically important vodka category”. And Frank, though rolling in cash, was a little bittersweet about it. He said of the sale: “One cannot avoid having mixed feelings on the sale of such a great brand. However, I cannot think of a better new home for Grey Goose than Bacardi. The people at Bacardi understand brand building, and this will ensure the development of the full potential of Grey Goose.”

Frank handed out big bonuses to his employees so they wouldn’t quit the company and he also splashed a bit of cash on himself – he bought two big Maybachs and a Bentley. And he gave $100m to Brown university, which is used to provide financial aid to students in need. (Frank himself had attended Brown in 1942 but had to leave after a year because he couldn’t afford the tuition.)

Before he sold the brand, Frank, who was a big golf fan, contributed to the creation of the Grey Goose 19th Hole TV programme on the Golf Channel. This was continued after the acquisition by Bacardi and in 2005, golfer Retief Goosen was endorsed by the brand, then Matt Kuchar in 2012.

The story goes that in his older years, Frank, unable to still play golf, would ride around on his cart, instructing a team of aspiring pros to play for him. And they say money can’t buy you happiness.

Frank died in 2006, at the age of 86, having fulfilled his dream of becoming a billionaire.

And the story of Sidney Frank Importing went full circle when, in 2015, it was acquired by Mast-Jägermeister. Two years later, the company’s name was changed to Mast-Jägermeister US.

Grey Goose is celeb-tastic


The Bacardi years

With Bacardi in the driving seat, Grey Goose has continued to champion the super-premium mentality, with straplines like ‘Fly Beyond’ and ‘Live Victoriously’.

The company has also carried on producing flavours, after Frank introduced L’Orange in 2000 and Le Citron a couple of years later. La Vanille ran from 2003-2007 and was reintroduced in 2018, while La Poire (2007), Cherry Noir (2012) and Le Melon (2014) have kept things fruity over the years.

All the while, Grey Goose has gained traction in popular culture. It was explicitly mentioned in the Sex and the City TV series and in songs such as Stop Playing Games by 8Ball & MJG. Roncin says these mentions contributed to Grey Goose vodka’s popularity.

And ‘sleb’ tie-ups are still on the bill. In 2018, Grey Goose announced a partnership with top Hollywood actor Jamie Foxx. The collaboration included a 9-part digital series called ‘Off Script’, which featured Foxx interviewing other superstars, including Denzel Washington, Benicio Del Toro and Melissa McCarthy.

The brand’s latest iteration, Grey Goose Essences, also got a spot at the Oscars. The 30% ABV flavoured vodka range was launched in February and it comprises three flavours: Strawberry & Lemongrass, White Peach & Rosemary and Watermelon & Basil. The Oscars push included a 30-second ad that ran during the ceremony.

Interestingly, Roncin describes Bacardi’s investment in Essences as the “largest investment in the brand since the original Grey Goose”. 

Today, Grey Goose is available in 152 markets – and it’s not yet 25 years old.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg time! For the ninth day we travel to the mighty Ardbeg to see what the team has planned while Lucy…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg time! For the ninth day we travel to the mighty Ardbeg to see what the team has planned while Lucy Britner shares her own painful memories of the distillery.

We’re so near the end of the Master of Malt Islay festival 2021. This is the last day on the island itself before we head to Jura and from there back to MoM Towers at a secret location in Kent. We’ve got a treat today, as we’re going to Ardbeg, home of some of the most individual and fiercely-loved whiskies in Scotland. 

Before we hand over to Lucy Britner for her memories of Ardbeg and the Islay half marathon, we’re going to take a look at what kind of online shenanigans the team has planned for Ardbeg Day. But before that, check out our very own Jake Mountain talking to now-retired distillery manager Mickey Heads from Feis Ile 2019 and don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify 

What’s going on today?

As you might expect, Ardbeg is doing things a bit differently with what’s described as a “Fantasy Island Map” that you can navigate around to discover whisky-based treasure. “Simply click where you want to travel to, pour yourself an Ardbeg, and enjoy uncovering the myth behind this year’s malt – Ardbeg Scorch,” it says. It’s a bit hard to explain so we recommend going to the special page to find out more. 

What’s the festival exclusive?

Ardbeg Scorch, of course! This will be released in time for Ardbeg Day on 5 June. That’s today! Naturally, Ardbeg Committee members get first dibs. The name comes from a dragon that apparently lives in Dunnage Warehouse no. 3. The limited release whisky is aged in heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks and bottled with no age statement at 46% ABV. Dr Bill Lumsden described it as “a fire-breathing beast of a dram!” The tasting note is quite something: “A long and heroic finale, with a subtle tarry aftertaste. A finish that will drag on, well into its happily ever after.” Blimey! 

Colin Gordon, Ardbeg’s new distillery manager, said: “This year will be my first Ardbeg Day ever: a baptism of fire! It’s a shame we Ardbeggians can’t enjoy it together in person, but the online event is shaping up to be tremendous fun. With a whole virtual world to explore, including fantasy inns, campfire tales, medieval feasts and live tastings, there’s plenty for people to be excited about this year.” 

The brave runners of the Islay half marathon (credit: Phil Williams)

The brave runners of the Islay half marathon. Lucy Britner is 132

Tales from Islay: The Ardbeg half Marathon

This is the story of how Lucy Britner came to be wearing the former Ardbeg distillery manager’s socks. It’s also a story of friendship, loss and an ill-advised ceilidh.

The mile marker said ‘7’. I was over halfway in the half marathon that I’d only half trained for. Horizontal rain turned to hail and then back to sunshine, and I could no longer see any of the other drinks journalists that were also taking part in the Ardbeg Islay half. We were all doing the race in memory of one of our peers, Alan Lodge, who had died of a brain haemorrhage shortly before his 30th birthday. 

Ardbeg had always been Alan’s favourite dram, and he would mention it frequently and passionately. And so here I was, plodding along a country road, trying to avoid grain trucks as they sped past. The rain kept coming and with it, every emotion I had. Of course, I was sad to be thinking about Alan but then moments later, laughing out loud at what he would’ve made of this motley crew of booze hacks running 13.1 miles. 

I suspect I looked genuinely deranged. More so, perhaps, because mile seven was going on forever. And ever. I knew I couldn’t give up because I was alone in the middle of nowhere – and as I was fighting a feeling of despair, finally a mile marker came into view. It was mile 10. It turned out the others had blown away.

The finest illustration of just how lonely the run was, is Phill Williams’ brilliant picture of booze journo Richard Siddle. We called it the ‘never-ending road’ – and I genuinely don’t know how he’s smiling in the picture. Well, actually I do… Richard, or ‘the chief’ as he is known, ran the race on a cocktail of painkillers, owing to a bad back. He told me later that he’d been listening to Kylie and even enjoyed a blissful few miles where she had been running along beside him. Maybe that’s how to run a half marathon…

Celidh, Islay half marathon. Credit: Phil Williams

Never do this after a half marathon

The end of the road

The race started and ended in Bowmore and as I approached the finish, I could see familiar faces, already wearing medals and spurring me on for the final few paces.  A stranger shouted ‘C’mon, Lucy’ and for a second, I thought I was some kind of new local celebrity, but then I remembered my name was printed on the back of my top. Still, it gave me a boost for those last steps, especially as to meet the 13.1-mile requirement, you had to sort of run beyond a natural finishing point and round a little corner, away from the bustling main drag of Bowmore.

So, we finished. We ate snacks on Bowmore beach and patted each other on the back. The competitive ones among us talked times and tactics, showed each other app readings and compared running notes.

But I had something else on my mind. I’m a big believer in rewarding myself after any kind of exercise, so my thoughts naturally turned to what I could eat and drink after running that far. And so, just a couple of hours later, I was sipping from a can of lager in the village hall, awaiting my turn to be flung around the dance floor at the ceilidh. The hall was packed with locals and runners, and no one showed any of that ‘school disco’ fear. Indeed, we clapped and danced for hours and hours.

This, it turns out, was a huge mistake.

The next morning, my blisters had blisters and no amount of plasters would let me put on yesterday’s trainers. For some reason, I had taken flipflops to Scotland, which was a blessed relief until I got to the Ardbeg distillery.

We were hosted by the wonderful Mickey Heads, who was the distillery manager at the time – and if  my memory serves, we got to try many drams, including a limited-edition Ardbeg from 1973, as well as Alligator, Corryvreckan and Galileo. (Soz, Alan, you would’ve loved this.)

Mickey heads Credit: Phil Williams

Mickey Heads to the rescue with a fresh pair of socks

You can’t hike to a water source in flip flops

After a tour of the distillery, Heads announced we were going to hike to Ardbeg’s water source, Loch Uigeadail, for a picnic. Now, it’s not that far – about 1.5 miles – but there’s always a danger of ticks and the like, so my flip flops quickly became a bone of contention. There was no chance the trainers were going back on and soon a pair of wellies appeared, and then Mickey handed over a fresh pair of socks. From his own sock drawer. What a legend.

And so we walked (slowly) and lazed by the loch, eating, drinking, chatting.

In hindsight, the Ardbeg half was a wonderful way to see a chunk of Islay. And I’d do it again, just with better trainers.

And so, for this year’s virtual Fèis Ìle, I raise a glass of Ardbeg to you, Alan. Gone, but never forgotten. 

Photos of Islay half marathon courtesy of Phil Williams.


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Cocktail of the Week: The Kamikaze

A shot that mixes vodka, triple sec and lime, the Kamikaze is a party drink. And its most famous slinger is everyone’s favourite fictional bartender… In the words of the…

A shot that mixes vodka, triple sec and lime, the Kamikaze is a party drink. And its most famous slinger is everyone’s favourite fictional bartender…

In the words of the ‘World’s Last Barman Poet’ (aka Tom Cruise’s character Brian Flanagan in the 1988 stone-cold classic movie Cocktail): 

I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make,
America’s getting stinking on something I stir or shake,
The Sex on the Beach,
The schnapps made from peach,
The Velvet Hammer,
The Alabama Slammer.
I make things with juice and froth,
The Pink Squirrel,
The Three-Toed Sloth.
I make drinks so sweet and snazzy,
The Iced Tea,
The Kamikaze…

And so it goes on. And on.

The Kamikaze’s mention in this movie gives you a good indication of the type of drink we’re dealing with here: think ‘70s/’80s disco realness. And according to cocktail historian David Wondrich, the Kamikaze appeared on the bar scene in 1976.

This cocktail started life as a shot. According to drinks experts Lynnette Marrero and Ryan Chetiyawardana in their MasterClass series, the recipe contains equal parts vodka, triple sec and lime. Not dissimilar to a Margarita, except with vodka in place of Tequila. Sometimes blue Curaçao liqueur is added to this classic cocktail in place of triple sec to turn it into a Blue Kamikaze,” the pair add.

Like pretty much every cocktail going, there are a few recipe variations when it comes to quantities. But since these are pretty staple ingredients, they are likely to already be in the cupboard/fruit bowl, so you can play around to suit your own tastes. Better still, stick Cocktail on in the background and chuck some bottles around the kitchen.

Disco inferno

In the book on which the film is based, also called Cocktail, author Heywood Gould describes Flanagan’s contempt for the drink, mainly because it’s a pain to make, only to be gulped down in one go.

“The Kamikaze is one of a class of disco cocktails invented by barbiturated teenagers,” Gould writes. “It is a senseless, infuriating concoction made of equal parts vodka, lime juice, and triple sec (some regional variations include Tequila), shaken and strained into an ounce-and-a-half shot glass, and thrown down in one gulp. Its intent is instant inebriation.”

Flanagan laments that a large shot of any spirit would do the job faster but then “these little sadists wouldn’t have the fun of watching the bartender pouring and measuring and shaking and straining to absolutely no end”.

I heard a bartender say once that he would tell customers he had run out of mint, when he could no longer bring himself to make yet another Mojito. Unfortunately for Flanagan, if you ran out of vodka, lime or triple sec in an ‘80s cocktail bar, you’d be pretty screwed.

Boozy Lime and Vodka Kamikaze Shots

The Kamikaze – it’s a lot of work for such a tiny drink

Linger longer

Though the days of disco might’ve been the perfect place for shots and shooters, the Kamikaze of today doesn’t have to be in miniature. In fact, Marrero and Chetiyawardana suggest the drink has “evolved into a fully-fledged cocktail served in a chilled cocktail glass, like a Martini glass or coupe”.

And Sex and the City Cosmo fans will also note that the cocktail isn’t a million miles away from the pink drink enjoyed by Carrie et al. In fact, bartending legend Salvatore ‘The Maestro’ Calabrese says a Cosmo is “basically a twist on a Kamikaze”, but, of course, the Cosmo sees the addition of cranberry juice.

When Gould wrote Cocktail (in 1984), he obviously wasn’t blessed with the plethora of vodkas we have access to these days. He writes that the drink has no particular attributes that would make it a bad or a good one. Now, though, we’ve got access to stuff like single estate vodkas, rye or potato vodkas, making for a more sophisticated Kamikaze. If you want one. 

Serious side

While there is a silly side to this drink, the origin of its name is more serious. The word Kamikaze is Japanese and translated means ‘divine wind’. The word was synonymous with Japanese pilots in World War II, who would deliberately crash themselves into their targets, committing suicide in the process. Why ‘divine wind’? Well, according to the encyclopedia Britannica, it’s a reference to a typhoon that fortuitously dispersed a Mongol invasion fleet threatening Japan from the west in 1281.

And though the Kamikaze cocktail is widely associated with the ‘70s and ‘80s, there is some speculation that its origins can be traced back to an American naval base in Japan, after World War II. Though it really hit the bar scene in the mid-1970s. Indeed its popularity in ‘70s and ‘80s US bar culture no doubt went hand in hand with the popularity of vodka.

Back to Brian Flanagan for some final words on the Kamikaze: “It exists merely to confer a little cachet on these pimpled baboons.”

Still, it’s worth a shot.

How to make a Kamikaze*

30ml Ketel One vodka
15ml Cointreau Triple Sec
15ml Freshly squeezed lime juice

Shake all ingredients over ice and fine strain into a shot glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. 

*Recipe from Difford’s Guide.

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Not another one! How can gin brands stand out?

There’s a lot of gin out there. A hell of a lot. So, how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Lucy Britner meets three British…

There’s a lot of gin out there. A hell of a lot. So, how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Lucy Britner meets three British brands doing things a bit differently.

If someone were to illustrate ‘Gin Lane’ now, the sign would be on a decorative metal plaque and it would read ‘Gin O’Clock!’ or, even worse, ‘Let the fun be-GIN’. The juniper spirit has captured the hearts, minds and gift shop owners of the nation, and barely a week goes by when a new gin or a new expression isn’t released. 

Once upon a time, Hendrick’s dined out on ‘unusual botanicals’. Now, rose and cucumber seem relatively usual in comparison with some of the bonkers concoctions that are on the market today. (Hi, Unicorn Tears! Though shame on you for making unicorns cry.)

And there are so many of them. In fact, according to booze trade group the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), combined sales of gin and flavoured gin in shops, supermarkets and online went up 22% in value in 2020, breaking the billion-pound mark for the first time, worth £1.2 billion and totalling 75 million bottles.

That’s a lot of gin. The question is: how can gin brands stand out in such a crowded market place? Especially the ones that don’t have giant drinks companies with their hefty marketing budgets behind them.

Rachel HIcks from Skywave Gin

No gimmicks, it’s Rachel Hicks from Skywave Gin

Get to know your customers

Sky Wave Gin, based in Oxfordshire, differentiates itself in a variety of ways, which aren’t always immediately obvious,” says Rachel Hicks, partner and distiller. “There’s no huge marketing budget to flash the brand in consumers’ faces, but firmly and consistently we promote our beliefs in craft, quality and originality.”

Simon Pettit, the brand’s business development manager, delves deep into the analytics, highlighting the impact of different social media platforms on reaching the Sky Wave drinker: “We have just started a Facebook campaign to target the over-40s, without generalising, as initially we were finding the Instagram and Twitter stuff was just getting re-shared and not generating click-throughs.” This is combined with more traditional marketing campaigns in publications including Cotswold Life, and the Chilterns Society’s magazine, as well as events like the Artisan Food Market at nearby Waddesdon Manor.

He says the aim is to form a deeper customer relationship. “We still reckon the ‘old school’ approach has merit when coupled with engagement on Facebook. We’re already seeing small indications of a better level of interest.” Hicks added: “We are very happy targeting the ‘older drinker’ and not chase the younger market”.

No gimmicks

As the old saying goes, ‘fish where the fish are’. Indeed Hicks adds that Sky Wave consumers already “know and love” gin and they are not interested in gimmicks. “We’ve paired our premium gins with a classic, timeless brand image of clean, simple lines which appeals to our target age range of 35-55 years old,” she continued.

There’s also another draw: the distillery. The venue is at Bicester Heritage, a former RAF site and now the home of historic motoring, which again is a good fit for Sky Wave customers. “You may pop in for a bottle of Navy Strength and spot a 1934 Bugatti driving past or a World War II Tiger Moth landing on the airfield next to us,” says Hicks.

Elsewhere, she says quality comes before short-term profit. “We’ve always been more concerned with the quality of our gin than how much profit there is to be made,” she adds. “For example the majority of our gins are created at 42% ABV or above to achieve the flavour profile we want.” To be legally called a spirit, gin must be at least 37.5% ABV, but duty is paid based on the percentage of pure alcohol per litre. Therefore, it’s cheaper to make a lower ABV gin than a higher one.

Off Piste Gin

Off Piste Gin, on-trend branding

Going off piste

From historic motoring to ski slopes and Off Piste’s gin has its very own USP. The brand, which has been around since 2020, is Off Piste Wines’ first foray into spirits.

Brand ambassador Helen Chesshire says the aim is not simply about appealing to skiers or snowboarders but to a wider demographic who enjoy a bracing walk in the countryside and who are discovering new adventures. “Our customers may well be adventurous types but they also know gin well,” she says. “We had a lot of messages and comments from people over the past year who told us they were buying the gin for themselves or a loved one who was missing the mountains.”

She describes Off Piste drinkers as a mix of discoverers and adventurers. She says the gin appeals to an “older generation of hedonists – 50+ original Glastonbury goers – and younger gin drinkers looking to discover new brands”.

When it comes to engaging fans, Chesshire says the brand will appear at The National Snow Show later this year, with plans to meet a wider community. The brand also had a sponsorship deal with Winter Olympian Chemmy Alcott.

“With all new gins or indeed other spirits, there needs to be a hand-sell,” Chesshire explains, describing “engagement and loyalty” as well as hearing feedback from drinkers to help “understand how we could expand on our cocktail serves and our future plans for brand growth”.

The taste, too, she describes as ‘bracing’, with the delicate herbaceous and floral notes that you might expect from an Alpine-inspired gin.

Darnley's Original Gin & Tonic

Darnley’s Gin & Tonic, very nice

Cottage industry

In Scotland, Darnley’s is a veteran of the modern gin movement, having set up shop in 2010. Director William Wemyss says it started “before the gin craze really took off”.

The great thing about having a bit of time under your belt is that you can also get a real handle on who your drinkers are.

“Our target demographic is 25-45 female gin drinkers who also have an interest in other lifestyle categories such as food, entertainment and gardening,” Wemyss says. “We know this because of the data that comes through our website tracking with Google analytics.”

He says that provenance across food and drink is becoming even more important to consumers, and within gin, that means touting natural botanicals and, as far as possible, local ones.

The brand includes a limited edition ‘Cottage Series’, which is inspired by botanicals local to the cottage that houses the Darnley’s distillery. The most recent release is Smoke & Zest, which features Fife-grown barley smoked over pine wood chips, and rowanberry that grows around the distillery. Wemyss also hints at a brand new release, though he’s keeping it under wraps until World Gin Day (12 June). Watch this space.

These three brands have carved their own niche – and they know who their drinkers are. That’s surely a great way to remain relevant in a crowded marketplace.

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The roof is on fire: the best bars with a view 

Finding a roof with a view and a decent drink can sometimes be a challenge. You might get the view, but what’s in the glass ends up being a bit…

Finding a roof with a view and a decent drink can sometimes be a challenge. You might get the view, but what’s in the glass ends up being a bit of a dud. Luckily the team at MoM has been scaling tall buildings to find the good stuff. Spider-Man ain’t got nothing on us. So, here are some our favourite bars with a view

2021 might just be the year of the roof terrace, as venues up and down the UK look to make the most of any outdoor space. I love a good cityscape as much as the next roof terrace tourist, but I also want it to come with a decent drink.

For this particular rooftop round-up, the focus is on two of my favourite cities: London and Edinburgh. The former is full of great bars with a view, while the latter is really an excuse for us to mention just how excited we are about the soon-to-be-open malt Disneyland that will be Johnnie Walker Princes Street.


Who’s a pretty boy then?

London Calling

Starting in London and the talk of the town has to be The Dorchester’s new space, aptly named The Dorchester Rooftop. The top deck offers views over Hyde Park, with live music, making it a great place for sunset cocktails. And we’re talking The Dorch, so you know the drinks are going to be on point. The new cocktail line-up (from 10 May) features some serious drinks. The Colombo Sour is a mix of Colombo gin, peach liqueur, kümmel, lemon and Angostura orange bitters; while Hikkaduwa sounds like the perfect sundowner, a blend of tropical mix, peach, Aperol and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.

Next is a personal favourite of fellow MoM writer Millie Milliken’s. Yep, it’s Seabird at The Hoxton, Southwark (see photo in header). The Insta-worthy drink here is The Toucan (above) – it’s a heady mix of Olmeca Altos Tequila, mango, cinnamon and aji pepper, served in a sort of ceramic parrot. Fortunately, it can’t fly away.   

But if you want to drink and dine like a professional, then take note of Milliken’s wise words: “It was actually at Seabird that I first tried the combination of straight mezcal and oysters – and I’m never going back,” she says, pointing out that the bar has seven mezcals on its menu to choose from. “I’d go for something herbaceous and vegetal like the Derrumbes Zacatecas to marry with a Jersey No.3’s crisp, green and lemony flavours.”

A few miles north and there’s another new kid on (top of) the block: The Standard. The vista at this London outpost of the US hotel group takes in the beautiful St Pancras Station, and Eder Neto, head of bars has got the recs. He suggests a Spicy Tommy’s Margarita from Black Lines with blanco Tequila, chilli, lime, agave nectar. “It’s refreshing, so it’s great for the summer, yet still packs a punch with a spicy kick,” he says.

ROOF GARDEN Glasshouse, Edinburgh

The massive roof garden at the Glasshouse in Edinburgh

Head north

While you’re near Kings Cross, you could just hop on the train to Edinburgh? And if The Standard roof terrace was a bit small for your tastes, head to The Glasshouse. This place has a two-acre roof garden. According to Google, that’s the same size as an actual football pitch!

Tom Gibson, general manager at The Glasshouse recommends a touch of Islay goodness for a summer evening, in the form of the Peaty Kiss signature cocktail. “With a base ingredient of Laphroaig 10 year old single malt, the flavour is delicately offset with fresh grapefruit and orange juice, with a sweet touch of honey and a small drop of Jägermeister,” he explains. “Scotland can do exotic and traditional all at the same time.”

If actual smoke (rather than peat smoke) is your bag, the hotel is also a great place for whisky and cigar pairings. Especially since the bar stocks about 100 whiskies.

“We recommend pairing the profound flavours of The Dalmore King Alexander III single malt with one of our individually picked cigars such as the Partagas Series,” says Gibson. “The deep and complex flavours of the whisky blend harmoniously with the bold and powerful aromas of these Habano cigars, making this a delectable combination.”

Johnnie Walker Princes Street Edinburgh

Artist’s impression of Johnnie Walker’s soon-to-open brand home in Edinburgh

Coming soon

Staying in Edinburgh and this summer promises another magical roof space – and good drinks here should go without saying. Yep, it’s nearly time to say hello to Johnnie Walker Princes Street. This eight-floor ‘experiential’ space features everything from a shop and entertainment space to an ‘interactive flavour activity’, all under the 1820 Rooftop Bar. There may even be ‘bars’ plural up there – and they will have views to the castle and across the city skyline to east, west and north.

Artists’ impressions suggest there’s an indoor-outdoor vibe to the roof space, which is handy to know. And while there’s not much more to tell until the space opens this summer, there’s always time to fix yourself a highball and dream of dizzy heights. Try a Johnnie & Lemon: 50ml Johnnie Walker Red Label, 150ml lemonade. Pour over ice and garnish with lemon zest and a lemon verbena sprig – or an orange wedge if you’re fresh out of lemon verbena sprigs.

There’s no reason why we can’t raise the bar and the roof this summer.

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English wineries to visit this summer

Staycations are the 2021 holiday. And although we might be missing out on some exotic booze from foreign climes, there’s plenty to get excited about in ol’ Blighty – particularly…

Staycations are the 2021 holiday. And although we might be missing out on some exotic booze from foreign climes, there’s plenty to get excited about in ol’ Blighty particularly when it comes to visiting English wineries.

From dinner among the vines to fizz flights and afternoon tea picnics, English wineries are bringing their A game for visitors. And you don’t even need to get on a plane! Hurray!

For readers in the South East, there are now so many vineyards that you could easily do a week of day trips or even boujie your way around boutique hotels – many of them even owned by wine producers.

Anyway, here are five of our favourites to get the fizz flowing:

Licensed to Rathfinny Estate for worldwide, non restricted use.

The view across the vines at Rathfinny


A few miles in-land from the Sussex coast, Rathfinny is a giant among English wine producers. For an adventure (and to work up an appetite), get off the train at Seaford and walk for about 1.5hrs across the Downs to the winery.

There’s plenty on offer and guests can plan the ultimate food and wine getaway with packages including bed and breakfast in the Flint Barns. There’s a plate to suit all tastes – with wine tasting and dinner in either the gastro pub-style Dining Room or the Michelin Plate Tasting Room restaurant.

Summer al fresco dining options include picnic boxes, an antipasti bar and wine and nibbles on the Tasting Room balcony.

New for 2021

All menus are brand new, created by estate head chef, Chris Bailey who has come up with “contemporary dishes inspired by freshest, seasonal British produce”.

Two new Sussex Sparkling vintages: the second release of the house-style vintage 2017 Classic Cuvée and the new limited-production release of the 2017 Blanc de Blancs.

Hush Heath winery

The spectacular Hush Heath winery in Kent

Balfour Winery 

Balfour, located on the Hush Heath Estate, is a destination for lovers of a nature walk. You can take a stroll through the 400-acre estate, which features vineyards, apple orchards and ancient oak woodlands, or join an expert-led tour and tasting experience. The Balfour Brut Rosé is a good bet for enjoying on the terrace – and the shop even offers a magnum for the 2016, perfect if you’re having six people round to the garden, say.

Top tip

This is a great place to take friends who aren’t necessarily big wine fans. The estate also features Jake’s Drinks – a collection of beers and ciders made using local ingredients. For example, the ciders are made with 100% juice from the Kentish dessert apples Russet, Cox and Bramley.

Balfour also owns a few pubs across Kent and Sussex, many with hotel rooms. Why not make a weekend tour of it?

Bus at Hambledon

Hambledon has an actual wine bus


This is England’s first commercial vineyard of the modern era, planted in 1952 – and the treat for visitors here is the underground cellars, cut straight into the chalk. MoM recommends a sparkling afternoon tea tour for two, which includes a tour and tasting as well as a picnic and a glass of Classic Cuvée Rosé. Or if seafood tickles your tentacles, the vineyard will feature an oyster and fizz bar later in the summer.

Champagne fans should try the Première Cuvée  – this Non Vintage is a blend of 73% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier.

New for 2021

Dine in the vines! Hambledon will be hosting a series of al fresco dining experiences over the summer, centred around English fizz and Hampshire produce, including

smoked chalk stream trout, cheeses and charcuterie.

And as luck would have it, the vine rows are 2.2m wide, so with tables in alternate rows, you are naturally socially distanced. (As someone who prefers to be naturally socially distanced, this is music to my ears.)

Chapel Down Kit's Coty Vineyard

Chapel Down’s famous Kit’s Coty vineyard

Chapel Down 

Situated in the Kent countryside, near Tenterden, Chapel Down will be opening for vineyard tours again from 19 May 2021. There will be a variety of experiences on offer from guided tours, wine tastings, masterclasses and food and drink experiences combining a meal in The Swan restaurant.

New for 2021

“We’re in the process of releasing five new 2020 vintages of some of our best-selling wines, all of which will be available in store to sample along with others from our award winning range,” says Chapel Down’s Guy Tresnan​, retail and export director. Wowsers, FIVE!

Grape picking at Sharpham

Grape picking at Sharpham in Dorset


This Devon estate is one for cheese fans. We recommend the Guided Tasting, which includes four wines and two cheeses – as well as a tour through the different wine making processes at Sharpham. Cheese comes from the Sharpham Dairy, which is famous for Sharpham Brie, made with fresh milk from the creamery’s Jersey herd.

New for 2021

Sharpham Summer Sparkling Wine has just landed for summer. It is a blend of estate grown Dornfelder and Pinot Noir red grapes from the 2011 and 2012 vintages. Sharpham calls it “a lost batch” that was rediscovered while moving to the new winery at Sandridge Barton in 2020.

That must’ve been a happy discovery.

The wine is described as “soft and spritzy with fruit salad, peach yogurt and strawberry characteristics”. Summer in a bottle.

See you for a scone in the vineyard

The great thing about English wineries is that they have grown up realising the importance of visitor experiences. This makes them well equipped to offer wonderful days out with world-class wines. And if ever there was a year to support them, as well as find fun things to do in the UK, this is it. 

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What the heck’s a swan neck?

Ever wondered why Sipsmith has a swan for its spokesbird? Or what the bit that bends at the top of a still is called? Well, wonder no more. Lucy Britner…

Ever wondered why Sipsmith has a swan for its spokesbird? Or what the bit that bends at the top of a still is called? Well, wonder no more. Lucy Britner explores the world of the swan neck and looks at how different iterations affect the flavour and character of spirits such as whisky and gin.

Stills are a bit like people. They come in all shapes and sizes, they all have their own character and some even sing (hello, Mortlach). A still’s swan neck – the bit at the top that curves to connect to the lyne arm – also has its own vibe and the angle of a swan neck can have an impact on the spirit in question.

Sipsmith swan

Sipsmith has a swan brand ambassador

Sipsmith’s swan

Swan necks are so important that intense focus on the first still’s swan neck design at Sipsmith caused the swan to creep (waddle? glide? swan?) into everyday conversations  – and it went on to influence the brand’s entire identity.

“I remember a sign inside the door of the tiny garage on Nasmyth Street where we started out: ‘Swanny says – did you remember your keys and wallet?’,” Sipsmith master distiller Jared Brown tells me. “The artist who sat in the distillery taking notes before creating our label and immortalising our swan had to see that sign and must have heard the word a few times.”

Not only is Brown a master distiller, he’s also a master at explaining the swan neck. Pour a G&T and take note.

Copper contact

“A classic copper pot still begins with the pot, which holds the liquid and is where it is gently heated to convert it to steam,” he starts. “The steam rises from the pot, then condenses on the sides of the helmet above the pot. This causes it to run back down the inside of the still against the highly-reactive copper repeatedly, with impurities leaving the spirit and bonding to the copper with each pass. Once steam reaches above the helmet it passes into the swan neck which leads to the condensing coil where it will be cooled and returned to a liquid state.”

A still’s swan neck dictates how easily the liquid passes from the pot and helmet to the condensing coil. Brown explains that stills with broader swan necks that slope steeply downward carry heavy, smoky, oily, peaty flavours. Meanwhile, stills with necks that slope upwards from taller helmets, and have narrowed diameters bring more refined notes, while causing the heaviest flavours to remain in the still.

Makes sense.

The Sipsmith master distiller says that while in whisky distilling, the shape of the swan neck dictates which flavours of the base fermentation of malted grain come over the still, in gin the swan neck dictates how the botanicals present themselves in the final liquid.

Stills at Sipsmith

Te still set-up at Sipsmith, note the elegant swan necks on the stills

New necks

Of course, the beauty of building your own distillery is that you get to choose everything.

New kid on the block White Peak Distillery in Derbyshire is launching its first whisky in autumn this year. The dram will join its Shining Cliff Gin, which is already available.

“One of the unique benefits of starting a whisky distillery is the opportunity to design bespoke equipment, including pot stills to achieve a desired style of spirit, and the connection this gives for the whisky-makers through design to spirit,” says White Peak co-founder Max Vaughan.

He describes the distillery’s spirit still as having an oversized pot (for the batch size) with a modest fill level, a tall and relatively thin neck and a gently upward sloping and long lye pipe, and finally a copper shell and tube condenser. Vaughan says the combination of these features encourages reflux/copper contact and the spirit to “work hard”, therefore helping to strip out some of the heavier compounds.

“We also run the still slowly which gives the still shape more influence and helps with hitting our desired cut points to produce a smooth and fruity, lightly-peated spirit,” he adds. 

The convoluted swan neck at Macduff distillery

The convoluted swan neck at Macduff distillery


Building a distillery from scratch isn’t a reality for everyone and on many occasions, especially when it comes to re-jigging older facilities, fitting in with the space can determine the set up of a swan neck.

Bacardi brand ambassador, Matthew Cordiner describes the Macduff distillery, which makes The Deveron, as a “bit of a Mad Hatter’s tea party”. Indeed, if a real swan had the neck from a Macduff still, it would either be able to see around corners or be in serious pain.

“Two wash stills have a right-angled kink in them [in the foreground above], which is pretty unusual, leading to the vertically mounted shell and tube condensers,” says Cordiner. “This was more about how to best fit them into the space than a flavour-led decision. But the fairly steep upwards sloping lyne arms will encourage more reflux and re-boiling action – meaning less lower volatility compounds will be able to make it through the first distillation run.”

The distillery also has a rather unusual spirit still set up – pretty small and narrow stills, giving lots of copper contact and very short lyne arms [in the background above], which are also angled upwards and have a right angled kink in them.

Don’t forget the condensers

“These would again encourage a bit more reflux, though any ‘lightness’ this might have brought is almost undone by having horizontally mounted shell and tube condensers,” Cordiner adds. “The horizontal condensers mean that less ‘weight’ is stripped from the spirit through copper contact. This creates almost a midpoint between a vertical shell and tube and an old fashioned worm tub, we do have a light/moderate sulphur character in the new make spirit because of this, too.”

Cordiner emphasises that it’s a combination of all of this, plus how the distillery makes its cuts, which creates the balance between fruitiness and cereal/nutty characters, as well as the signature ‘apple’ note The Deveron is known for.

Macduff stills

Macduff’s unusual spirit stills with swan neck and right angle lyne arm leading to horizontal condenser

It’s the way that you do it

“Still shape and configuration is really important but it is also down to how you run them,” he says. “If you take our Aultmore distillery for example, with its short stills and descending lyne arms, at a glance you would have thought they were producing a more robust style of whisky, but by the way in which they are run, we are able to create a light, grassy and biscuity style of whisky.”

And so, it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is the whole process combined that creates a spirit’s character – but there is no denying the swan neck plays an important part.

So important that the eagle-eyed Latinists among you will note the term ‘cygnus inter anates’ on the bottom of all Sipsmith bottles. A slogan created by Sipsmith co-founder Fairfax Hall, meaning ‘a swan among the ducks’.  

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Cocktail of the Week: The Cuba Libre

From classic cars to crumbling buildings, Cuba carries the faded beauty of an old movie. Famous for revolutions, communism and its delicious drinks, country’s political history often goes hand-in-hand with…

From classic cars to crumbling buildings, Cuba carries the faded beauty of an old movie. Famous for revolutions, communism and its delicious drinks, country’s political history often goes hand-in-hand with its liquid one. Today we’re making one the island’s classics, the Cuba Libre.

While classic concoctions such as the Daiquiri, the Mojito and El Presidente might require a little more skill (or a good bartender), this week we turn our attention to a much more simple drink: the Cuba Libre. On the face of it, the Cuba Libre is just rum and Coke with a bit of lime. But dig deeper, and it becomes so much more. This is not just a spirit/mixer, this is a cry for freedom.

Cuba Libre Bacardi advert

Free Cuba

The Cuba Libre (which means Free Cuba) became a popular drink on the island following Cuba’s war of independence with Spain in the late 1800s. Before the arrival of Coca-Cola to the island, reports suggest the original Cuba Libre was a mix of honey or molasses with water and rum, or just water and brown sugar.

But by 1900, Coca-Cola was well-established in the country and no doubt a welcome sight for American soldiers still garrisoned there, following the war.

Bacardi, which at that time was still making its rum in its native Cuba, calls the Cuba Libre “part cocktail, part rallying cry”. And original recipes call for Bacardi in the mix.

The rum brand’s archivist Rachel Dorion says that in August 1900, a messenger to Roosevelt’s commander General Leonard Wood, who was later appointed the Military Governor of Cuba, witnessed a new incarnation of the Cuba Libre that used Coca-Cola.

The messenger, Fausto Rodriguez, said that shortly after the war in Cuba, with military intervention still in effect, two Americans opened The American Bar on Neptuno Street in Havana.

The invention of the Cuba Libre

“Rodriguez remembered meeting an American member of the Signal Corps named Russell who ordered Rodriguez a Coca-Cola. He himself ordered his Coca-Cola with Bacardi Gold rum and a wedge of lime,” says Dorion. “The drink became extremely popular among the American soldiers who regularly gathered at the bar.”

The story goes that Russell and his soldier friends decided the cocktail deserved a name. They went for ‘Cuba Libre’, since the phrase ‘Free Cuba!’ was a cry embraced by both Cuban revolutionaries and sympathetic American soldiers.

Rodriguez later affirmed under oath in the State of New York that the event was the first time the phrase Cuba Libre was applied to an alcoholic drink, and that the ingredients were Bacardi Gold rum and Coca-Cola.

Records from the Bacardi archives show that the Cuba Libre cocktail made with Bacardi rum has been mentioned in publications as early as 1928 and in recipe books in the late 1930s. The earliest advertisement that mentions the Cuba Libre cocktail in the Bacardi archive dates back to the 1930s and it reads: “Say ‘make mine with Bacardi’. Try our Bacardi Cuba Libre.”

Cuba Libre advert

Refreshers to lamb chops

In fact, the Cuba Libre has been advertised in several different ways over the years. In a 1946 LIFE magazine ad, the drink was hailed for being refreshing and by 1953, it was all about calorie counting. This ad claims a Cuba Libre has fewer calories than a lamb chop! Good to know, I guess. 

Besides Bacardi, Pernod Ricard’s Havana Club also champions the Cuba Libre. The rum is made in Cuba and in 2018, Havana Club relaunched its Añejo Especial, with a big push for the Cuba Libre cocktail.

“Not to be confused with a basic rum and cola, the authentic Cuba Libre needs a generous squeeze of lime to even out the drink’s sweetness,” says Havana Club.

First taste of ‘freedom’

Balance is always important in a drink. And, as it happens, when you’re standing up on a train.

My first Cuba Libre  – and not just a plain old rum and Coke – was 2009, on board an old Hershey’s Chocolate train that rattled through the sugar cane fields near Havana to Hershey station. US chocolate magnate Milton Hershey had set up business in Cuba in the early part of the 20th century, establishing a railway for the transportation of his sugar.

Anyway, nearly 100 years later, I was on the train in Cuba with Havana Club rum and about 15 bartenders.

It turns out that besides rum, cola and the necessary citrus, you need three other things to make a good Cuba Libre on the back of a rickety old train: pre-cut limes, plastic glasses and a steady hand. Of course, it also helps if you’re surrounded by bartenders.

So, without further ado, here’s how to make it:

Rum and Cola Cuba Libre

How to make a Cuba Libre

50ml Bacardi Carta Oro rum
100ml Coca-Cola
2 lime wedges

Fill a glass with ice, squeeze over the lime and drop the wedges into the glass. Add the rum and cola. Give it a gentle stir and garnish with more lime. Raise a toast to Cuba Libre!

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Five minutes with… Scott Davidson from Glencairn Crystal

From swanky decanters to the famous tasting glass, crystal and glassware manufacturer Glencairn is synonymous with the whisky industry. And as the family-owned East Kilbride company celebrates its 40th year,…

From swanky decanters to the famous tasting glass, crystal and glassware manufacturer Glencairn is synonymous with the whisky industry. And as the family-owned East Kilbride company celebrates its 40th year, new product development director Scott Davidson tells us about that eponymous glass, competing with Rolex and the time he lent his brother a car.

Glencairn Crystal was founded by Raymond Davidson in 1981. Over the years the company has created decanters for pretty much all of the major drinks companies – from ruby-encrusted whisky vessels to decanters housing the world’s oldest port. And in 2000, Raymond created The Glencairn Glass, described as “the world’s favourite whisky glass” with 3.5 million per year going to around 140 countries.

Today, the company is run by Raymond’s sons, Paul and Scott. And Scott is here to tell us more about the business and his latest projects…

Glencairn Glass

The famous Glencairn Glass

Master of Malt: Everyone uses the famous Glencairn tasting glass. How did it come to be so widely used? And what makes it so good for tasting?

Scott Davison: Three things come to mind: there was nothing generally being used as a standard before – that was the big thing for my dad.  Secondly, it was an evolution of how people would want you to consume it – we got the master blenders and people like Michael Jackson to help us create that shape. But probably the best thing is that it’s quite simple to engage with as a product, both for a novice or an experienced taster. It is easy to use. Whatever a master blender is talking about, you can get those aromas and flavours really quickly. And it encourages you to nose while you drink, which is what we wanted to do.

And with nothing else out there, it was the right glass at the right time.

MoM: You’re in charge of NPD – can you tell us what you’re working on?

SD: Consumers don’t often know the products we are involved with, so we’re doing some podcasts at the moment to interview some of those people we developed products with. We just did Michael Urquhart from Gordon & MacPhail – and the Mortlach 70 Generations project – the teardrop shaped decanter with the silver on it, made to look like a slight pagoda. That decanter took about two years from the initial concept.

In terms of recent launches, we worked on two 50-year-olds for Edrington – Highland Park and The Glenrothes. We did Brugal’s [Dominican rum] decanter last year…

Ruby Pagoda Glencairn Decanter

‘A really complex bloody thing’

MoM: In the wine world, there seems to be a different decanter for different types of wine. Is it the same for spirits? 

SD: It goes back to the ‘80s and generally if you wanted a whisky decanter, people just thought ‘square decanter’ and that was it. You know when you see the metal name tags around them – they would just put their name on the tag because there wasn’t anywhere to engrave it. Whereas today, everything is more driven by the brand – so we’re doing more from scratch to fit in with the profile of the brand. Companies are investing in custom shapes.

When a company comes to us, they say ‘we’re going to do something much higher end, how far can we push the brand identity’. For example, when Loch Lomond relaunched Littlemill, they picked a nice flat-ended oval decanter shape for the 25-, 27- and 29-year-olds. But they also had a 40-year-old and they said they wanted the same shape crystal but with fancy patterns. It follows the brand identity, but at a different level. That seems to be the driver – companies spend more time and resources because they get a better return if they do it at that level.

MoM: What’s the most elaborate commission you’ve ever worked on?

SD: Have you seen the Pagoda Series for Glenfarclas? Basically, it was an angular crystal decanter with copper finish, a silver finish and a gold finish and a special injected resin. It was a really complex bloody thing. And then they went from that to the Ruby – which was a 62-year-old whisky. And they asked for solid instead of plated silver and to set the ‘62’ with rubies. Then they did a Sapphire release – we’re talking £1500-2000 just on the crystal and the sapphires. It probably sold for $60-70,000 a bottle for the magnum size.

MoM: I bet that weighs a fair bit…

SD: Yeah – with whisky in it, it’s probably four or five kilos.

Royal Brackla

No, not holy hand grenade of Antioch, it’s the Royal Brackla 35 Year Old The King’s Own Whisky

MoM: What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever made?

SD: One of the most difficult things I’ve made is the Dewar’s Legacy decanter. And The Royal Brackla 35 Year Old The King’s Own Whisky. For Dewar’s, they wanted it to pour through the silver. The whisky pours from the crystal, through a gold-plated lining tube which is part of that silver bit on the side. Never been asked to do it before – it was really complicated. It was not just blowing it and engraving it and getting the perfect shape, it was actually joining that piece of metal to the glass without the seal breaking on it and without it coming apart. If the seal weakened at all, then it might leak, and we couldn’t have that. The testing on it was unbelievable.

For The Royal Brackla, that’s a complete sphere of crystal, suspended on four points, 5mm x 5mm. And it wasn’t allowed to come apart so we had to ‘drop test’ it from about a metre to make sure it wouldn’t split. 

The products we are making are generally a limited release – The Royal Brackla was about 120 pieces. It’s not like we’re manufacturing loads of these bottles a year. And they are competing against products that are being sold in duty free, for example. It’s going up against Rolex, against similar products at a similar value. But if you buy a Rolex watch – they make a hundred thousand of them. I’m being asked to manufacture a product of the same standard for just a short time. And that’s what we do. That’s what gives us the niche. For example, I have a team of eight people who are just dedicated to assembling metal ware on decanters by hand. And a team of 15 engravers and decorators. That’s our DNA.

MoM: How long have you been working in the family business?

SD: Since the ‘80s when I was still at university. I started before then but that wasn’t official.

MoM: You’re celebrating your 40th anniversary this year with the opening of a newly expanded studio – what’s new?

SD: We’ve been on the same site for over 25 years, but we have slowly bought all the factories around us and now we’ve just finished joining them all together. We have added capacity for warehousing and doubled our production space. We’ve always run out of space every five years, so we’ve more than doubled up to try and give us some longevity. We’ve upgraded everything as well and we’re introducing solar panels, so we’ll be independent of the grid.

Scott Davidson from Glencairn Crystal

Scott Davidson – ‘mine’s a JD and Coke’

MoM: How do you get on working with family members? Any funny stories you can tell us?

SD: I work with my brother! It doesn’t get worse than that. Here’s a story that we still laugh about now: I like cars and in the ‘90s, I’d got myself a new BMW. I loved it. My brother asked to borrow it to go and visit a distillery. He drove away and came back, said it was great. That was that. I went outside and anyway, it turns out Paul had been in the queue at a roundabout, trying to figure out the stereo, and he went into the car in front!

I’m into cars and he’s into his music, so that just about sums us up. Let’s just say we’re always challenging each other.

MoM: What’s your favourite dram to sip from a Glencairn glass?

SD: That’s a tricky one. I like that I can run through them all. I do hark back to Hibiki 21. I’ve got two or three I jump between – Hibiki, Benromach 10-year-old and I do like Ben Nevis. Oh, and Craigellachie 23 and Glenmorangie Signet.

My default drink is Jack Daniel’s and Coke, from my uni years. I might go for a premium version now, but I still enjoy the original.

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