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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Master of Malt

The Nightcap: 10 May

Another week with a bank holiday, but as we’ve seen before, that won’t stop the influx of information that we know as news – specifically about tasty booze! The season…

Another week with a bank holiday, but as we’ve seen before, that won’t stop the influx of information that we know as news – specifically about tasty booze!

The season of short weeks continues, keeping us on our toes when it comes to Monday plans. You have to be rather on the ball in April and May, otherwise you could end up at work all alone, or equally alone on a presumably sunny beach. One of those is probably more preferable than the other…

Anyway, you’re tuned in to The Nightcap, so let’s see what has been happening in the world of booze this week. On our very own blog, our very own Adam took a look at the continuing rebirth of Port Ellen, and then got a little musical with some Eurovision-themed tipples. Jess’ New Arrival of the Week was actually a double-header with the duo of new Nelson’s Rums. Ian Buxton’s guest column this week looked at both delicious and questionable innovations in whisky, while Henry recalled his adventure at Ramsbury Estate. Annie checked out five of the world’s most sustainable bars, and then took us through the story of the Bloody Mary for Cocktail of the Week.

And now, the news!

The Nightcap

This dream is one step closer to becoming a reality

Johnnie Walker Edinburgh attraction secures planning permission

If you talk to Diageo people, they are beyond excited about plans to open a Johnnie Walker venue on Princes Street in Edinburgh (as we revealed back in February). Now the dream is one step closer as this week planning permission was granted by Edinburgh Council. The venue on Princes Street will be more than just a shop: it will include a brand storytelling experience, an events space, and a training academy. It’s part of £150m investment in whisky tourism by the drinks giant. David Cutter, chairman of Diageo in Scotland, said: “We have had great support for our proposals from local stakeholders and businesses in Edinburgh and we are grateful to everyone who has helped us to get to this stage. We will continue to work with the local community as we now progress with construction and with making our plans a reality.” Cristina Diezhandino, Diageo Global Scotch whisky director, added: “We have ambitious plans to make this a truly world-leading attraction, drawing people from the four corners of the globe to Scotland and to give them an unforgettable experience in Scotch whisky and Scottish culture.” Construction work on the period building on Edinburgh’s grandest shopping street will begin very soon. The next step is for the City of Edinburgh Licensing Board to grant an alcohol licence. Let’s hope they do, or it’ll be a pretty sad whisky experience.

The Macallan kicks off ‘Experiences’ video series

Speyside-based Scotch whisky distillery The Macallan has unveiled a new video-based campaign to celebrate ‘innovative, interactive and engaging whisky serves’. The series, called The World’s Best Scotch Experiences, sees the whisky-maker team up with leading chefs and bartenders to give behind-the-scenes glimpses at all kinds of drinks creations. Featured in the series are everything from four-course tasting menus to 3D-printed serving vessels, from the likes of Manhattan and Mexico City. “As the leading single malt Scotch whisky, we strive to lead the way when it comes to new, immersive experiences, which in turn creates memorable moments and long-lasting success for The Macallan,” said Alexis Calero, key city and spiritual homes manager at The Macallan. “Through The World’s Best Scotch Experiences series, we were able to create and collaborate with chefs and mixologists that share the same passion we have for creating unique experiences and memories that bring The Macallan to life in an unforgettable way.” Check out US Macallan YouTube, Facebook, Instagram pages, or search the hashtag #DestinationMacallan to check it all out!

The Nightcap

Absolutely beautiful. That bourbon looks nice too.

Matthew McConaughey taps into Texas roots with Wild Turkey

Celebrities getting involved in the world of booze is nothing new. From George Clooney and Conor McGregor, to Derek Zoolander, it feels like half of Hollywood has tried to add some star-power to their chosen spirit (most impressive from Zoolander, given he isn’t actually real). Sometimes these launches can leave a lot to be desired, other times they can turn out alright, alright, alright. (I apologise for nothing). Wild Turkey will be hoping it can achieve the later with Longbranch, a bourbon launched in collaboration between master distiller Eddie Russell and creative director Matthew McConaughey. Longbranch, named to mark the friends that form the longest branches of our family trees, was inspired by the Academy Award-winning actor’s Kentucky and Texas roots. The small-batch release was made with eight-year-old Wild Turkey bourbon and refined with two separate charcoal filtration methods using American white oak and Texas Mesquite wood. It’s said to possess notes of vanilla, caramel, pear, citrus, pepper, toasted oak and a subtle, smoky finish. “Longbranch, in its simplest form, is an extended hand, inviting a friend into your family,” said McConaughey. “So the branch that was extended to me from the Russells was a long one, one that reached from Kentucky to Texas and back again. I offered the Mesquite from my great state to add to their legendary Kentucky whiskey and together we made Longbranch.” Wild Turkey Longbranch will be available in the UK in June for £40, and if it’s as good as McConaughey was in Magic Mike True Detective, then you’ll want a dram.

The Nightcap

Congratulations to Jonny!

Sotheby’s hires first spirits specialist

Unless you’ve been living under some kind of rock, you’ll know whisky auctions have become a Proper Thing in recent times. It’s a fact not lost on the team at Sotheby’s – in light of the zeitgeist, it’s hired its first dedicated spirits specialist. Say hello to Jonny Fowle! Born and raised in Edinburgh, Fowle founded his own whisky training business in 2012 and worked with companies including Mandarin Oriental, JW Marriot and The Peninsula. He also spent time as an ambassador for booze brands across Japanese whisky, gin and rum. More recently, he’s brokered deals on casks and rare whisky bottles. Rather well-qualified, then! “I am very excited to have joined Sotheby’s as the company strengthens its footing in the spirits market,” said Fowle himself. “It is an incredibly exciting time for a growing industry, and alongside the hugely talented Sotheby’s Wine team, we hope to place ourselves at the centre of that growth.” Congrats, Jonny!

The Nightcap

Anyone for an Aviation?

Pickering’s Gin and British Airways create ‘first’ gin for sipping in the sky

How many gins have you come across that were botanically engineered to be enjoyed at 30,000ft? Presumably none, because Pickering’s Gin claims it has achieved a world first. It’s worked with British Airways to launch its Pickering’s British Airways Centenary Gin! The gin was developed at Edinburgh’s Summerhall Distillery using a balance of 10 botanicals specially selected to combat the suppression of our taste and aroma receptors due to in-flight low air pressure and lack of humidity. The botanicals also celebrate British flora and fauna, with juniper, rose petals and heather used alongside Pickering’s signature ingredients of lime, lemon, cardamom and cinnamon. The new release will be available onboard economy flights and as part of a limited-edition triple ‘Gin Flight’ miniature gift pack. Pickering’s British Airways Centenary Gin actually comes with two different tasting notes, depending on the altitude you’re at when you drink it. At 30,000ft, the citrus and sweet spice of cinnamon and cardamom are said to be more prominent, while at 10,000ft and below, the bold, floral juniper and delicate hints of rose and Scottish heather are more accentuated. “To banish so-called airplane ‘taste blindness’, we have carefully designed a botanical flavour profile that enhances what you lack when you’re soaring in the sky,” said Pickering’s head distiller and co-founder, Matt Gammell. “We trialled multiple iterations of the recipe in the air until we were confident that it would taste as good in the sky as it did on the ground.” It’s one small step for gin and one giant leap for enjoyable in-flight refreshments!

The Nightcap

Holyrood Distillery has it all, from cask programmes to a delightfully dapper dog!

Holyrood Distillery intros personalised cask programme

Edinburgh-based Holyrood Distillery – one of the producers in the mix to make the city’s first whisky for almost 100 years – has announced a fancy cask programme where customers can create their own barrel from scratch. How does it work? In consultation with head distiller Dr Jack Mayo and co-founder David Robertson, interested parties can buy a cask, choosing pretty much everything from the type and oak species to previous fill. Not only that, but they’ll be able to shape the production process too! Why not decide how long the barley is dried and roasted for, which yeast should be used during fermentation, and even have a say in distillation approach and date?! It really is the full customisation shebang! 100 casks have been made available in the programme, and production will start shortly after the distillery opens in July. Prices start from £4,500 for a 200-litre barrel, including flavour consultation, whisky creation, storage for ten years, sampling, insurance, labelling and bottling. “Everything we do at Holyrood is driven by flavour,” said Dr Mayo. “That’s why our Cask Programme gives people the unique chance to tailor a cask of our whisky to suit their flavour preferences.” Head to the Holyrood Distillery site to register your interest!

The Nightcap

Yann Bouvignies’ first menu at Scarfes is hitting all the right notes.

Scarfes Bar new cocktail menu

We headed over to the lovely Scarfes Bar at the Rosewood Hotel in London for a chat with head bartender Yann Bouvignies about the latest cocktail menu which combines music and drinks! Scarfes Bar is one of the few London hotel bars to boast live music every night, so it was only a matter of time until music made its way into the drinks list. The menu is an interactive journey through the genres, with one famous face representing each style, drawn by caricaturist Gerald Scarfe himself. Each genre is given two cocktails representing the music from the artist. For example, Tupac is the face of hip hop, and the two drinks were named Poetic Justice, a nutty, whisky-based cocktail reflecting the gentler, earlier days of his art, and Tradin’ Old Stories, a somewhat more assertive drink mirroring the development of Tupac’s music. It really is a fabulous idea: Aretha Franklin is the face of soul, Prince of funk, Louis Armstrong representing jazz, even the Spice Girls make an appearance in the name of pop. The new menu focuses more on sustainability (which is always good), and on many of the minimalist cocktails there is no garnish (especially if Bouvignies doesn’t deem it necessary and thinks it will simply be thrown away). With 18 cocktails in total, there is quite literally something for everyone, music and drinks lovers alike.

The Nightcap

Massimo Bottura’s (L) non-profit Food for Soul will receive a windfall from The Dalmore

Dalmore L’Anima raises £108,900 for Food for Soul

Remember when we brought you news of (and then got to taste!) The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years, the mega-fancy bottling set to be auctioned for charity? Well, bidding closed at Sotheby’s yesterday [9 May] at £108,900! A phenomenal amount of money. The full proceeds are going to Food for Soul, the non-profit founded by Massimo Bottura, Chef-Patron of Osteria Francescana, who also co-created the expression. Food for Soul, which he runs with his wife, Lara Gilmore, works to counter food waste through social inclusion. “We are honoured to be part of this great collaboration with The Dalmore, which displays the excellent features of this world-renowned whisky together with an Italian touch,” Bottura said. “I’m even more enthusiastic that this unique project, together with Sotheby’s precious help, will support Food for Soul to build projects that celebrate the culture and the potential of communities around the world.” Good work all-round, folks, and congrats to the winning bidder, who along with that incredible bottle, also gets to enjoy dinner for two at Bottura’s Modena restaurant, Osteria Francescana – voted the world’s best restaurant in 2016 and 2018. Buon Appetito!

The Nightcap

Fans of all things Japanese and boozy will surely be seeing more of James

Suntory appoints James Bowker as first UK ambassador

Hibiki, Yamazaki, Chita, Roku, Haku (check the blog on Monday for more!)… The House of Suntory certainly has deliciousness aplenty in its portfolio of Japanese tipples. And now there’s a dedicated UK brand ambassador to help them shine even brighter! Meet James Bowker, the man in the brand-new role. He’s tasked with spreading the spirit of Japan far and wide through the land and coming up with all kinds of education plans and cocktails. He’s been a bartender for more than 10 years, and developed a passion for Japanese whisky in particular at The Edgbaston Hotel in Birmingham. He then spent time making drinks in actual Tokyo, deepening is knowledge of Japanese cocktail techniques and visiting distilleries. “I’ve always had a passion for spirits and grew very fond of The House of Suntory whisky portfolio during my early days behind the bar,” Bowker said. “I can’t wait to become the face of The House of Suntory in the UK, building strong partnerships with bartenders and venues across the country to broaden the appeal for Japanese spirits, serves and the brands’ founding principles for continued perfection.” Congrats!

The Nightcap

The future is here. And it’s slightly confusing.

And finally… Mackmyra and Microsoft create ‘AI whisky’

Hands up if you’re an expert in artificial intelligence (AI)? Us neither (though if you are, and can shed some light on what our ‘And finally…’ this week means for whisky in general, please drop us a line!). Swedish whisky-maker Mackmyra has become an expert in the field after teaming up with Microsoft, of off computers, and Fourkind, a Finnish tech consultancy, to create the ‘world’s first’ AI whisky. Here’s what we think it means: the whisky recipe has been engineered using data based on consumer flavour preferences. According to the distillery, AI is used to “augment and automate the most time-consuming processes of whisky creation” with the possibility to create more than “70 million” recipes. “We see AI as a part of our digital development, it is really exciting to let AI be a complement to the craft of producing a high-quality whisky,” said Angela D’Orazio, Mackmyra’s master blender. “It is a great achievement to be able to say that I’m now also a mentor for the first ever created AI whisky in the world.” According to a Microsoft spokesperson, AI-generation can have an impact in multiple industries. “These new AI solutions can be used to generate products that retain the spirit, look and feel of the brands behind them, while at the same time being new and unique.” It stressed, however, that AI isn’t designed to replace a master blender, who should always have a curation role in the process. Mackmyra’s AI-generated whisky will be available from Autumn 2019 – but it very much seems like the future is now. The robots are coming!

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Whisky innovation – how far is too far?

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks back at how whisky has evolved throughout its history, examines some of today’s more outlandish innovations, and asks whether it’s wise or even…

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks back at how whisky has evolved throughout its history, examines some of today’s more outlandish innovations, and asks whether it’s wise or even possible to try to control experimentation in the category. 

A long, long time ago – when I last had a proper job, since you ask, and thus a very long time ago – my then-MD warned me in portentous and grave tones that too much innovation would confuse the consumer and encourage promiscuous buying behaviour at the expense of brand loyalty.

‘Pompous git’, I thought, and went right ahead with what proved to be Scotland’s first branded, cask strength, single cask release – a blatant crib from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, of course, but carrying a distillery name (oh alright, it was Glenmorangie) instead of an anonymous number.  The late Michael Jackson loved it and devoted his entire column in The Independent to explaining the concept and singing its praises, a source of considerable pride, then and to this day. Shortly after I left the company (a long story) and shortly after that the product was discontinued. Moral: don’t disagree with your MD!

But, unremarkable as that whisky would be today, it was a definite innovation and one which aroused a certain amount of controversy at the time.  Actually, innovation in whisky has generally attracted some controversy, perhaps because people really care deeply about the drams they drink.

The advent of blending from the late 1860s onwards didn’t go down well with the then-dominant Irish whiskey industry. The passionate opposition of the leading Dublin distillers to ‘sham whisky’ and ‘silent spirit’ (that’s grain whisky to you and me) proved to be a major nail in their collective coffin, albeit one that they hammered in very firmly all by themselves. Leading Scotch blenders such as Walker, Buchanan, Dewar’s and others gleefully seized this opportunity.

Charred oak spindles

What fresh madness is this?

Malting technology has evolved considerably over the past hundred years and as for barley varieties, well, that’s an arms race.  For much of the nineteenth century, Chevallier was utterly dominant, but displaced by Plumage Archer which, in turn, was toppled by Proctor and Maris Otter, only for these varieties to be replaced by Golden Promise. This was once widely used: The Macallan famously going so far as to describe it as one of the ‘Six Pillars’ of its brand, a claim which has since been quietly dropped (marketing messages have an even shorter lifespan than barley varieties). But today it’s long gone and the merry-go-round continues.

It’s all about money, of course. Poor old Chevallier produced around 300 litres of pure alcohol per ton of dry malt, where today the accountants, sorry ‘distillers’, are looking for 450 litres or more.  Unless you’re Bruichladdich, of course, or Mark Reynier at Waterford, where the pursuit of terroir is what counts above all.

Or a ‘craft’ distiller in the USA.  Leaving aside the vexed topic of what constitutes ‘craft’, there are now, I was mildly astonished to learn, approaching 2,000 small-scale distilleries in the USA., Unconstrained by the Scotch Whisky Regulations, innovation is absolutely the name of the game among our colonial cousins – for how else is a nascent distiller to stand out in such a congested and competitive market?

The rise of flavoured whiskies from major brands – think Jack Daniel’s Honey and its many imitators – opened the floodgates and small distillers have followed suit, embracing unusual grains, varying production methods and every kind of cask finish you can dream up (and some you’d rather not).  Finishing, incidentally, is generally acknowledged as beginning, in a conscious and deliberate sense, with the 1982 launch of The Balvenie Classic. But little did Balvenie’s mild-mannered David Stewart MBE imagine what mischief popping some whisky into a sherry cask would unleash.

Ever since then, the sorcerer’s apprentices have been busy.  The US craft distillers are taking their smoked whiskeys, whiskeys made with heritage corn, wheat, millet, oats or triticale (a rye-wheat hybrid which, full confession, I’d never heard of either) and putting them in brand new wood of every possible variety of oak, barrels made from old pieces of chestnut furniture, beer-aged casks, any former wine barrel known to man and, apparently, even a Japanese fruit liqueur cask.

Virginia-Highland whisky

Virginia-Highland whisky, the kind of thing that gives the SWA sleepless nights

And then I learned that the Virginia Distillery Co. imports single malt Scotch to blend with its own American single malt, and age the result in a cold brew coffee-soaked cask.

Oh, please! That’s enough!  Innovation stops right here! Or am I now the pompous git?  What say you? How far should (not can) innovation go?

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

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The Nightcap: 3 May

After one of the few weeks this time of year that doesn’t have a Bank Holiday (booo), we welcome May with news that Coca Cola is mixing it up, cocktail…

After one of the few weeks this time of year that doesn’t have a Bank Holiday (booo), we welcome May with news that Coca Cola is mixing it up, cocktail menus galore, and the realisation that Brits are buying lots and lots (we mean LOTS) of rum – it’s The Nightcap!

It’s hard to know what’s more thrilling: the upcoming long weekend or Star Wars Day. Happily, you can celebrate both with an opportune bit of punning, perhaps with a Whisky and Yoda Soda, or a Dark and Stormy (Trooper). If you’re not a sci-fi fan, or you’re one of the seven people who don’t know what we’re on about, then you can still get your content fix with a delightful helping of booze-based news.

On the MoM Blog this week, we launched a fantastic competition with The Cotswolds Distillery – you could win a VIP trip! If that wasn’t exciting enough, Nate Brown returned to talk poitín, Jess took a look at Kopparberg’s new pink gin, Annie checked out some Swedish ice cider, and Kristy celebrated Scotch whisky’s positive effect on the UK economy. Henry then cast an eye over Islay’s newest distillery, Ardnahoe, chose the fruity and fabulous Clover Club as his Cocktail of the Week, and even found time to enjoy Darnley’s Very Berry Gin, which is our New Arrival of the Week. Plus, we revealed what Dram Club members will discover in their boxes this month.

But there’s still even more news to come, so scroll on for The Nightcap, folks – and May the 4th be with you!

The love for rum is real, as bars like London’s Rum and Sugar will know.

Brits buy 35 million bottles of rum in 12 months!

Got a taste for rum? You are clearly not alone. Stats from the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) released this week show that collectively, we’re becoming a nation of rum fans. And spiced rum alone shifted almost 10 million of those 35 million bottles in the last 12 months! The number of brands available is climbing too; in 2006 just 50 were on the market compared to 200 now! In total, the rum category in the UK is now worth just over £1 billion – hot on the heels of gin. “It’s been another great year for rum sales in the UK,” said WSTA chief exec, Miles Beale. “British drinkers have more choice than ever before when it comes to rum. Craft spirits are ‘of the moment’, and an increasing number of artisanal spirits producers are crafting their own interpretations of the spirit – often alongside their gin range.” Are you loving all things rum? Let us know your tipple of choice!

The Nightcap

The mixers will be available in smoky, spicy, herbal, and woody flavours

Coca-Cola launches Signature Mixers with top bartenders

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last couple of years (and no disrespect intended to the vibrant rock-dwelling community, you people rock!), then you will have noticed that the market for mixers has exploded. Now, the biggest beverage of the lot has got in on the action: Coca-Cola. Yes, the soft drinks behemoth has just launched its Signature Mixers range. This consists of four variations on the classic recipe, designed in conjunction with top bartenders: ‘Smoky Notes’ by Max Venning; ‘Spicy Notes’ by Adriana Chía and Pippa Guy; ‘Herbal Notes’ by Antonio Naranjo; and ‘Woody Notes’ by Alex Lawrence. Each new mixer has been designed with specific spirits in mind. For example, Max Venning’s version is meant to go with spiced rums and full-bodied premium whiskies. Ana Amura, senior brand manager at Coca-Cola Great Britain, said: “Coca-Cola has always had a synergy with dark spirits and classic cocktails. With the rise of mixed drinks, we’re excited to announce the launch of Coca-Cola Signature Mixers, a specific range uniquely created to mix with dark spirits.” They should be available later this month. We can’t wait to try them all, and see if any can beat a good old Jack & Coke.

The Nightcap

A decade of deliciousness!

González Byass celebrates ten years of Tio Pepe En Rama

The annual release of a new Tio Pepe En Rama is now such a fixture that it’s hard to imagine that the team at González Byass were very uncertain when it first launched ten years ago. Winemaker Antonio Flores didn’t know whether an unfiltered wine would be stable, so he put ‘drink within three months’ on the label, “like yoghurt,” he joked when the 10th edition was revealed Ibérica restaurant on Great Portland Street, London, this week. “We were nervous about bottling a sherry without any treatment. It seemed very risky,” he said. Furthermore, would anyone buy it? They needn’t have worried. At one wine merchant, the first release sold out in three hours. González Byass president, Mauricio González-Gordon, thanked the UK market for getting behind this innovative wine. Before a special dinner cooked by Asturian chef Nacho Manzano, we drank old En Rama releases. Far from deteriorating in the bottle, some of the older wines had evolved beautifully – though it has to be said the younger wines, particularly the 2018 and the soon-to-arrive 2019 release, were the highlights. En Rama sherries provide a straight-from-the-barrel taste, “Jerez en una botella”, as Antonio Flores put it. They’ve also proved a great way of creating a buzz about sherry, as the packed room demonstrated.

The Nightcap

The new Spritz menu is sensationally summery, and we’re here for it

Swift kicks off summer with Spritz Menu

Forget the clocks changing or the astronomical calendar – we all know the only way to declare summer’s arrival is with a Spritz. And Soho bar Swift went all-out this week with a dedicated Aperitivo menu for summer! Not only are the serves delicious, but if you get to the bar from 3-7pm they are an absolute bargain at £5 each. The five-strong menu is light, bright, and seriously easy-sipping: we adored the Solstice, made with Martini Bitter, blood orange vermouth, passionfruit, and, of course, Prosecco. Also on the menu (and highly recommended) is the Green Liming, made with Ford’s Gin, granny smith apple, elderflower and tonic. There’s also a ‘craft’ focus all summer long; stop in and you might be able to try your hand at the likes of posy- or headdress-making. If you’re in London and in need of a refresher, you know what to do!

The Nightcap

We can’t wait to see the results of the collaborations!

The Zetter Townhouse announces new bar collaboration

We are excited to report that The Zetter Townhouse is relaunching with a new drinks collaboration for the first time in eight years! It will be partnering with Matt Whiley, aka The Talented Mr. Fox, and Rich Woods, aka The Cocktail Guy, in early June, relaunching its two award-winning cocktail bars in Clerkenwell and Marylebone. Whiley and Woods will collaborate with the Zetter Townhouse team on concept and cocktail creation, as well as ingredient and recipe development. It sounds like the joining of some rather strong drinks forces, as the team will have access to Whiley and Woods’ development lab in Hackney and the Townhouse’s own lab in Clerkenwell. We can’t wait to see what incredible creations will come from this dream team.

The Nightcap

A colourful contribution to an important cause

The Benevolent raises awareness with colourful campaign

The Benevolent is a dedicated drinks industry charity that offers a range of services to support professionals, from counselling sessions to emergency grants. And this week, it launched a new initiative called #benevolentcolours! The campaign encourages those within the trade to wear red, white or rosé (or a mix of all three) and raise awareness of the ‘It could be me’ message, which asks for members of the drinks industry to sign up online to donate £5 a month. The initiative is the result of a PR collaboration between Dillon Morrall, emma wellings pr, Limm Communications, Phipps Relations and R&R Teamwork, who will donate £1 for every picture posted on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the #benevolentcolours hashtag and mentioning @drinkscharityuk. The Benevolent has also specifically asked drinks folks heading to The London Wine Fair in Olympia on 21 May to show support for the campaign. “We wanted to get the best creative minds round the table to help to raise awareness of all the great work that the Charity is involved with,” said Michael Saunders, The Benevolent chairman, and Chris Porter, CEO, in a joint statement. The wine trade’s very own snappy dresser Jancis Robinson added: “I can’t wait to get rummaging in my wardrobe to find a red, white or pink outfit for 21 May (though white poses challenges for wine tasters…). £5 a month to help fund all the valuable work The Benevolent is doing is surely a no-brainer.” The Benevolent does indeed do great work, so check it out and, if you can, donate!

The Nightcap

Our MoM-tastic whiskey tasting for visitors to the Cork Book Festival

We take a trip to the Cork World Book Festival

MoM spent an action-packed two days in Cork with Anne Griffin supporting her whiskey-filled novel When all is Said. While we were there, we couldn’t not visit the home of Irish whiskey, Midleton Distillery! Our brilliant guide David Corr showed us around the old distillery where we marvelled at the old 140,000 (no there isn’t an extra zero in there) litre pot stills that were used in the old days (they now only use tiddly 80,000-litre stills). He also gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the Method and Madness micro-distillery where some of Midleton’s more experimental whiskies are made. Best of all, he was very generous with the Barry Crockett Legacy single pot still whiskey. There was just time for a quick nap before our next appointment, putting on a whiskey tasting for visitors to the Cork Book Festival. A few people said they didn’t drink whiskey and asked if we had any wine, but were soon converted by a dram of Bushmills Black Bush. Our bags were much lighter on the flight home. Thank you Midleton, and thank you Cork for making us feel so welcome!

The Nightcap

Aidy Smith, Helena Nicklin and Colin Hampden-White, who will deliver two masterclasses

The Three Drinkers head to London Whisky Weekender

Have you been following The Three Drinkers’ exploits on Amazon Prime? If so, you’ll already be familiar with this trio. Colin Hampden-White, Aidy Smith and Helena Nicklin taste their way through the world of drinks, making all kinds of discoveries along the way – and now they will host two master classes during the three-day London Whisky Weekender at London’s Kia Oval from 10-12 May! The wider event, now in its ninth year, will feature more than 150 whiskies, and, alongside the masterclass programme, there will be opportunities to get your bottles valued, and even immerse yourself in the world of gin (yep, it’s not just whisky!). For more info and tickets, check out the London Whisky Weekender Eventbrite page.

The Nightcap

Happy Anniversary to the wonderful Grosvenor House!

Happy 90th birthday, Grosvenor House!

On Tuesday, we hightailed it up to super-fancy-pants hotel JW Marriott Grosvenor House London to join in its 90th-anniversary celebrations! To mark the occasion, the team threw open the doors for a big bash, showing off not only its bulging address book (there was many a celeb) but a gorgeous multi-million-pound renovation, too. On the night, the hotel recreated neighbouring Hyde Park in its forecourt, filling both inside and out to the brim with yellow roses. It was enchanting. Once inside, we were treated to the full food and drink offering, and, naturally, we found our home-from-home in The Red Bar. It’s a cosy, atmospheric nook, filled with mirrors, cosy seats and an air of chicness. From barrel-aged cocktails to signature creations, if you find yourself in West London and in need of a treat, we can highly recommend. Here’s to Grosvenor House deliciousness for the next 90 years!

And finally… Love! Jonathan Van Ness fronts glitziest beer for Seattle Pride

Can you believe?! Jonathan Van Ness, hairdresser, figure skater and Queer Eye phenomenon, has partnered with Elysian Brewing Company to front its GLITTERis Pride Ale! Set to be released in time for Seattle Pride on 30 June, the ale is truly giving us Beyoncé. It’s made using Mandarina hops, weighs in at 4.4% ABV, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Seattle Pride organisation. Can you handle the CON-FI-DONCE?! But there’s more! Not only is our beloved JVN the face of GLITTERis Pride, his partnership with Seattle Brewing and Elysian Brewing includes a very special competition. JVN will officiate a wedding on 4 June, and he’s searching for the magic couple! We are NOT getting basic, basic, basic. Want in? If you’re planning to get married and are part of the LGBT+ community, you simply have to check out Elysian Brewing’s site for more details. Yas queen!

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Master of Malt Dram Club – May 2019

Oh hey, it’s May! I say, on this Wednesday, without delay… Right, doing that rhyming has become tiresome. Let’s look at this month’s Master of Malt Dram Club Tasting Sets! Since…

Oh hey, it’s May! I say, on this Wednesday, without delay… Right, doing that rhyming has become tiresome. Let’s look at this month’s Master of Malt Dram Club Tasting Sets!

Since everyone on the internet is heavily concerned about spoilers right now, whether they’re about great swaths of super powered celebrities or people fighting over a regal chair or something along those lines, we feel like we need to say that there will indeed be spoilers in this blog post… Spoilers about what our Master of Malt Dram Club members will be receiving in their Tasting Sets this month! What an elaborate ruse we played on you there. Quite the gambit, we’re sure you agree.

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Poitín is the star at new Dublin bar 1661

Poitín is a spirit usually associated with shebeens, rebels and criminal activity, not fancy cocktails and swanky decor. But that is now changing: Nate Brown investigates a Dublin bar that…

Poitín is a spirit usually associated with shebeens, rebels and criminal activity, not fancy cocktails and swanky decor. But that is now changing: Nate Brown investigates a Dublin bar that is taking Ireland’s original spirit upmarket.

Dublin is no stranger to the concept of revolution. Yet, with hindsight, the peaceful corner of Green Street and Little Britain Street in the unpopular Smithfield area of the city seems like an unlikely place to make a start. It is here, in an old dingy drinking den that Dave Mulligan is looking to transform not just the venue, not just the area, but to redefine industry views of Dublin as a cocktail powerhouse.

“This used to be what you might call an unsavoury bar. We found like 250 spent heroin packets in the basement,” pronounces Mulligan, “and you see that building across the street? That’s a dry hostel. Loads of people warned me off the area. It’s the wrong side of town.”

Needless to say, this didn’t stop Mulligan from acquiring the site for his latest bar venture, and his first permanent offering in Dublin. 1661 is a cocktail bar with a strong penchant for the nation’s own spirit poitín, which alongside the likes of Irish Single Pot Still was recently granted GI status by the EU.

Poitin

Bán Poitín! Actually, on second thoughts, don’t

“But I look around and I see the park, the church that will forever be our backdrop, the fruit markets what an amazing thing to have the doorstep of a cocktail bar daily, seasonal shopping. We got so much press from our pop-up that it confirmed to me there was an appetite for what we’re bringing. Dublin needs a bar like this.”

The name refers to the year when Ireland’s colonial rulers placed a market ban on the production of homemade spirits, or ‘poitín’. Since then, the spirit had descended into folklore. Every Irish expat could get their hands on a bottle, often of dubious quality, without ever knowing anyone directly involved in the production.

Recently however, Mulligan and handful of others have sought to bring poitín back into the spirits fold. Today, Dave’s own brand, Ban, can be found on the menu at the American Bar in the Savoy among a whole host of other prestigious menus. Big players Teeling have released their own ‘Spirit of Dublin’, and are accompanied by an increasing number of smaller producers from all over the island.

“Nobody’s ever given poitín a proper platform. Some bars here might have two, but they don’t do anything about them, people are always asking me ‘where can I drink it in Dublin?’”

Fast forward to this weekend and 1661 is preparing to open its doors to the public for the first time. Mulligan has taken a step away from the purely poitín offering of his pop-up in 2017; the bar is a cocktail bar first and foremost, whilst hoping to deliver a unique showground for poitín.

Poitin on the Ritz

Poitín on the Ritz

Stepping into the space itself feels like entering into a classic cocktail bar in New York or further afield. The walls are dark with clever, gold accentuations, the wooden table tops have been carved from Irish oak and sycamore the natural cracks filled in with traditional carpenter’s bows. The deep green of the seating is the only obvious nod to the Irishness in the concept. The bar counter is raised to poser height, which combined with the drinks shelves in the windows outside give 1661 an unmistakably continental vibe. The centrepiece of the room is a huge sharing table belying the community feel that Mulligan wants 1661 to evoke.

Unsurprisingly therefore, one of his traits is an eagerness to heap praise on those around him. He repeatedly tells us that he “wouldn’t have been able to do this without Oakheart Joinery.” There are real touches of finesse throughout the space, an upmarket feel that is not expected in a shrine to Ireland’s underbelly spirit. Even Mulligan notes his surprise at the levels of sophistication: “We’ve created the type of bar I’m usually not allowed into”.

The impressive back bar is testament to this sharing ethos: 1661 has a large collection of poitíns, not just Mulligan’s own brand, and many of which feature as strongly as Ban on the cocktail list. These sit alongside some real gems in other categories. Where most Dublin venues align strongly with either Diageo or Pernod Ricard listings, 1661 is fiercely independent.

The cocktails themselves are a collection of whiskey highballs, poitín-based creations and a signature Belfast Coffee made with in-house cold brew and Ban. Luckily for Dave, execution of these is in the well-travelled hands of one of Dublin’s (and London’s) most respected bartenders, Gillian Boyle. Expect lots of wild Irish ingredients, hedgerow fruits and orchard flavours.

Making poitin cocktails

Making poitín cocktails

The aforementioned basement has been cleared up, and Mulligan has big plans for the space. He says away from calling it a lab, and instead offers the label of R & D space. There will be vacuum stills to create new spirits, not just deviations on the poitín he so adores.

“I want to be the first bar to transcend Dublin, to feature on the global scene.”

Is Dublin ready? It better be.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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The Nightcap: 26 April

Another short week, but that has not stopped the deluge of booze news occurring – get ready for another edition of The Nightcap! The super-long weekend continued into this week…

Another short week, but that has not stopped the deluge of booze news occurring – get ready for another edition of The Nightcap!

The super-long weekend continued into this week for us here at MoM Towers, meaning Monday was spent as far away from office desks as possible. However, by Tuesday, we were eager to get back to it – and clearly so was everyone else in the world of booze, as there is plenty of news to go through in The Nightcap! Let’s get to it, shall we?

On the MoM Blog this week, Ian Buxton was back to ask the difficult questions once again, this time concerning investment in whisky, before Adam championed English-made booze to mark St. George’s Day. Then he explored Scotch whiskies from Speyside, as we look forward to the upcoming Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. Annie was busy checking out the new Super Lyan bar in Amsterdam, but still made time to acknowledge Earth Day and Patrón Tequila’s contribution to it. Henry looked into how we can tackle the Malaria crisis with gin, while his Cocktail of the Week was The Iceberg Slim. Kristy also demonstrated an affinity to a Compass Box release for our New Arrival of the Week.

That’s a whole lot of news for a shorter week, but hold on to your hats because we’ve got even more – it’s The Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Samples are flowing off the stills!

Lagg Distillery kicks off whisky production

Some very exciting news came our way this week via Isle of Arran Distillers. Distillation has begun at Lagg Distillery! The very first middle cut of spirit was recorded back on Tuesday 19 March at 14.35, to be precise. The commissioning phase has now been completed and Cask Number One, a sherry butt reserved exclusively for members of the Lagg Cask Society, was filled on Wednesday 10 April with a heavily-peated (50ppm) spirit at 63.5% ABV. So, what can we expect from the eventual Lagg Single Malt? Well, the distillery hopes it will become a rich, earthy and smoky dram, making it something of a departure from the character of whisky currently produced at the original distillery in Lochranza. James MacTaggart, master distiller, said: “It’s incredibly exciting to be taking the very first steps in producing what will eventually be a magnificent Lagg whisky and something truly unique to anything we’ve produced previously.” The news comes as construction of the new distillery and visitor centre enters its final stages, with the outer structure now complete and many of the elements of internal design starting to come together. Lagg Distillery is expected to open fully in early summer, with the brand projecting that the distillery and visitor centre will increase total visitor numbers at both sites to over 200,000 by 2020. It’s all coming together, folks!

The Winchester Distillery’s range – for now…

Winchester Distillery reveals expansion (and crowdfunding!) details

As fifth birthday celebrations go, this is a pretty exciting one. Winchester Distillery has unveiled plans to expand its Hampshire-based production facilities! There’s a new higher-volume still going in, so the team can continue to explore new categories (it’s already got rum and whisky in the pipeline). It’s also looking into using locally-grown malted barley for its gin, vodka and whisky, too! But these adventures all need money, which is where the new Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign comes in. “With Winchester Distillery’s fifth birthday in May we are delighted to be in the position, with our annual average sales growth of 82% year on year, to take the business to the next level,” said Paul Bowler, the distillery’s managing director. “Having more capacity will mean we can make more of our well-loved spirits so we can enter new markets both here in the UK and overseas. We also intend to upgrade the current space here among the watercress beds in Old Alresford so that we can host more visitors for tours and tastings, and open a gift shop.” Thrilling stuff, indeed!

The mouthwatering result of globe-spanning teamwork

Diageo teams up with baijiu producer for ‘east-meets-west’ whisky

Exciting news if you’re a fan of intriguing whiskies: Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits player, has formed a joint venture with Jiangsu Yanghe Distillery, China’s third-largest baijiu-maker, to launch something brand-new in the country. It’s a whisky called Zhong Shi Ji, and while production details are scarce, it sounds like a curious thing indeed. Diageo’s Scotch master blender, Craig Wallace, and China Alcoholic Drinks Association’s baijiu master, Zhou Xinhu, worked on the project, which included some maturation in Chinese ceramic pots. We’ve not found out much else, except the result is said to be “unique, full-flavoured” and “exceptionally smooth”. “We believe that Zhong Shi Ji can play an important role in the Chinese dining occasion, launching a new era for whisky drinkers in China,” said C.H. Chu, MD at Diageo Greater China. Zhu Wei, vice president of Yanghe, added: “I firmly believe Zhong Shi Ji will quickly become Chinese consumers’ new favourite, with its ultra-smooth taste and superior quality, created through unique processes and craftsmanship from both China and the West.” If you come across it in the wild, let us know what it tastes like!

The Nightcap

It’s about time we got to enjoy whisky on the high seas!

The Dalmore sets sail on Queen Mary 2 cruise ship

Batten down the hatches, this week The Dalmore revealed an exclusive ‘whisky flight at sea’ on board the world’s only ocean liner, Queen Mary 2! This takes whisky to a whole new level (although we suppose it’s only sea level), as the Highlander can be sipped and savoured on board the ship between Southampton and New York. At the same time, an exclusive whisky experience will be offered on board during the Transatlantic crossing. To round off the whisky experience, master distiller Richard Paterson will be giving a presentation on board the ship. “The Dalmore is celebrated in iconic locations around the world,” Paterson said. “We see celebrations of The Dalmore at Baccarat Hotel New York, at 40,000 feet on board Emirates First Class, and now a unique opportunity to savour the Cunard whisky flight at 28 knots.” Also aboard the Queen Mary 2 will be two rare expressions from The Dalmore Constellation Collection, a limited edition collection of individual rare casks released by the distillery. We’ll certainly say ‘aye aye’ to that.

The Nightcap

Delicious booze and a good cause? We’re in!

Hedgepig gives a helping hand to hedgehogs with new gin liqueur

Hedgepig has increased its range of small batch gin liqueurs to four with the launch of a new flavour, Zesty Elderflower. The reveal coincides with and will benefit Hedgehog Awareness Week (5-11 May). By donating 50p for every bottle sold to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, the brand is doing its bit to alleviate the plight of the tiny, spiny mammals, who really don’t have it easy. Hedgepig was created by the team behind Pinkster gin, and crafts all its liqueurs from locally-grown or foraged fruits – Zesty Elderflower was made from wild elderflower. It’s said to have a ‘delicate’ flavour with subtle citrus notes and is best enjoyed cold with pudding or as a cocktail topped up with Prosecco. “We’re thrilled to be supporting the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, especially during their awareness week,” said Hedgepig founder, Stephen Marsh. “The plight of the hedgehog makes for desperate reading. In rural areas, numbers have fallen by half over the past two decades. We’re delighted to be supporting the fine work of the unsung heroes at this cracking little charity. Every little counts.” Don’t forget to check out The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which offers help and advice to those with sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs, if you’d like to do your bit to help those snuffly little fellows.

The Nightcap

Congratulations to Nick Savage, the new master distiller of Bladnoch!

Macallan master distiller joins Bladnoch

Lowland distillery Bladnoch has a new master distiller! Nick Savage will join the team from 1 July. This is big news, not only because the brand has replaced Ian MacMillan, who left the distillery to establish his own whisky consultancy firm in January, but because Savage has stepped down as master distiller of The Macallan to work with Bladnoch. Savage, who prior to his three-year tenure at Macallan was a distilling technical leader at Girvan Distillery and had a four-year stint at Diageo, will work alongside newly-appointed distillery manager Neil Bulloch. He explained his decision was down to “the vision and ambition shown by David Prior and the team at Bladnoch distillery”. He continued: “The opportunity also allows me a new challenge in single malt Lowland Scotch whisky from a 200-year-old distillery.” Prior, Bladnoch CEO and owner, added: “It’s a great privilege to welcome Nick Savage to the Bladnoch business. His youthful, positive and energetic approach will add great value to our team and business, as will his technical and operational skills.” As for Macallan, this announcement follows the departures of whisky maker Bob Dalgarno and former creative director Ken Grier to lead the team at Glenturret Distillery. There could be some interesting times ahead for the Speyside brand, which celebrated the opening of a state-of-the-art distillery in 2018 and seems to break numerous auction whisky records on a weekly basis. As of yet, there is no word on who will be replacing Savage in the role of the master distiller, but we’re sure it won’t take them too long to… make the call.

What time is it? It’s time to get tropical!

Laki Kane’s Georgi Radev launches tiki tome

Love tiki cocktails? Then you’ll probably already know of Georgi Radev. After managing London’s tiki outpost Mahiki for more than a decade, he opened his own rum embassy, Laki Kane, in 2018. It’s even got its own rum microdistillery upstairs (head on down and you can even re-distil your own!). Now he’s evangelising about all things rum through the written word with Let’s Get Tropical, a recipe book detailing over 60 delicious serves. The best bit? They’re all curated so we can make them easily at home! It starts with super-easy how-tos, from how to make a sugar syrup to learning to swizzle properly. Then Radev cracks on to the good stuff. He’s packed in the classics (the likes of Daiquiris and Mai Tais, with optional twists and reinventions) and then he’s treated us to some ‘Modern Tropical’ cocktails form his own imagination. There are punches, if you need to impress the masses, and even treats from the current Laki Kane menu, including the mouth-watering watermelon-based Wiki Tiki (we tasted it at the book launch. It was wonderful). If you’re prepping for a summer party, Let’s Get Tropical is essential reading. It’s priced at £9.99, and hits UK shelves in May!

The Nightcap

Introducing: Benromach Cask Strength Vintage 2008 Batch 1

Benromach launches new cask strength expression

We do love a story about more new whisky, and that’s exactly what Benromach Distillery has given us this week. The family-owned distillery has a new addition to its Classic Range, Benromach Cask Strength Vintage 2008 Batch 1. The limited-run single malt whisky was laid down in 2008 and matured in a combination of first-fill sherry and bourbon casks. It was then bottled in 2019 at a cask strength 57.9% ABV with an outturn of 5,500 bottles. According to Benromach, the rich and full-bodied dram has notes of cracked black pepper, fruits and milk chocolate, with a delicate smoky edge on the palate. The bottle itself was created to mirror the shapes and textures of the Speyside distillery and will detail the vintage year, batch number and age. “By offering the opportunity to own and enjoy batch releases, we are able to further showcase the expertise of our distilling team while determining the right time to bottle each batch to take full advantage of the remarkable single malt whiskies we produce,” said Keith Cruickshank, Benromach distillery manager. “We believe this expression will allow Benromach drinkers to understand more about the provenance of the whisky they are drinking.” We’ve got some on the way to MoM Towers so keep an eye out, folks!

The Nightcap

We think it’s safe a bottle of this beauty wouldn’t be Money for Nothing

Sultans of Gin! Former Dire Straits frontman teams up with Portobello Road

London dry gin brand Portobello Road has partnered with the legendary Mark Knopfler OBE (if you haven’t heard of him or Dire Straits, then get your act together) to make a distinctive, special edition ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ gin, Local Heroes No.3. It’s a move that’s as awesome as it was inevitable. (He had a song called Portobello Belle, folks. It was only ever a matter of time.) Local Heroes No.3 was created by Knopfler and Portobello Road Gin’s co-founder, Jake F. Burger using the nine botanicals from its Portobello Road Gin with the addition of lime zest, fresh cucumber peel and olive oil, which were distilled in the 400-litre copper alembic still King Henry, then bottled and labelled by hand. The label design is understandably guitar-themed, and each bottle even comes with a miniature version of Knopfler’s iconic sweatband from his Dire Straits gigs. “As a gin fan, it is a wonderful opportunity to work with a prestigious brand like Portobello Road Gin to craft my own blend,” said Knopfler. “It is robust in flavour and strong in spice – exactly the kind of gin that I enjoy and I hope my fans will too.” Burger added: “It is a huge honour to be able to work with Mark to create a London Dry Gin with a rock n roll edge. As expected, the flavours are totally unique and we believe the result is extremely exciting. So why not mix yourself a cocktail, turn the stereo up and listen to one of Mark’s many classic albums?”

The Nightcap

Founder Annabel Thomas wants to encourage more women to work in whisky

Ncn’ean offers whisky-making internships for women

Scotland’s first 100% organic whisky distillery is offering two women the opportunity to learn to make whisky, from mashing and distilling through to maturation, with two all-expenses-paid summer internships. Ncn’ean Distillery, situated in converted farm steadings on the grounds of the historic Drimnin Estate on the Morvern peninsula, will also teach interns how to forage for the local plants that are used in Ncn’ean’s Botanical Spirit and how to make cocktails. Annabel Thomas, founder of Ncn’ean, launched the initiative to raise the profile of distilling as a career option among women. “I wanted to challenge the outdated views a lot of people still have,” she explained. “The number of times people ask me ‘do you actually like whisky?’ just because I am a woman, and the lack of gender balance in the industry in Scotland, suggests we all still have more work to do.” She said she hopes women from all walks of life will apply. So, if you fancy trying your hand as a distiller then you should probably get applying! The internships are open to all women aged 18 or over and will take place from 15-20 July. All travel, accommodation and food are included. It sounds like it could be the opportunity of a lifetime!

Hannah Lanfear, Phil Duffy, and plenty of Cognac

Culture Cognac champions Cognac cocktails – we approve

This week, we hot-footed it over to East London for an educational Cognac immersion with the UK’s brand of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac – and it was brilliant! The UK Cognac Bureau put on the Culture Cognac workshop for the trade to highlight the spirit’s role in contemporary cocktails. Phil Duffy and Hannah Lanfear chatted through production choices (think: terroir, grapes, barrels, ageing and more) and how they influence flavour – clearly vital when it comes to cocktails. “It’s so positive to see the Cognac category continuing to grow in popularity, now more than ever, which is of course due to London’s love of cocktails being at an all-time high,” said Duffy. “Cognac is no doubt one of the most versatile spirits and is one of the hottest cocktail ingredients going.” The team from The Devil’s Darling bar helped out with the serves. Feeling inspired? Why not check out the Brandy Sour and give it a go this weekend?

Think about playing Monopoly with your Tequila-loving friends? Maybe think again…

And finally… Science suggests we shouldn’t trust Tequila drinkers

This week a mighty intriguing press release crossed our desks. Apparently, you can tell how likely someone is to cheat by their booze preference. This is from ghost-writing company EduBirdie, and is clearly Highly Scientific. Ahem. Anyway, it surveyed 18-24 year olds in the US and from more than 2,000 responses, somehow concluded that wine drinkers are by far the most reliable: only 16% admitted to cheating at school, with just 8% fessing up to cheating romantically. Whisky drinkers were less angelic; just over a third said they had cheated on a partner, and 78%(!) cheated at school. Beer drinkers were (slightly) more honest academically, with 68% saying they’d cheated at school – but almost half had cheated in a relationship. Then, we have the Tequila fans. While a third said they’d cheated at school, a whopping 81% said they’d cheated on a partner. We’re an office of whisky and agave lovers, and we’re shook.

On that revelatory note – that’s it for The Nightcap this week. Have a great weekend (and if you’ve got a date, give the Tequila a wide berth).

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FYI – we do next-day weekend drinks delivery!

Saturday night soiree and missing something critical? Got a Sunday birthday gathering and forgot the all-important gift? Fret not – we can save the day with our next-day weekend drinks…

Saturday night soiree and missing something critical? Got a Sunday birthday gathering and forgot the all-important gift? Fret not – we can save the day with our next-day weekend drinks delivery!

Our mission in life is to create amazing drinks experiences and get all manner of delicious things out into the world. And we love doing it. So much so that a while ago we introduced Sunday shipping, on top of our weekend Saturday service. All for just £8.95!

And it’s super speedy, too! If you’re on most of the UK mainland and order before 9pm on Friday night we’ll reach you on Saturday. If you want your boozes on a Sunday, just order before 3pm on Saturday afternoon. (Sorry, Highland and Island-dwellers. We can still reach you but we’ll need a little more time. We’ll need to summon the ferries, extra delivery folks and the like, they’re not always nippy. Not sure? Pop your postcode in at the checkout.)

This isn’t anything particularly shiny and new. But now spring has finally sprung and barbecue weekends might actually be A Thing again in the UK, we thought we’d give it a mention. Consider it a public service announcement, if you will. If you need next-day deliciousness, we can help. Even at the weekends!

If you’re not the sort to plan ahead, it now literally doesn’t matter. Weekend drinks delivery is here! Although that does mean you’ve got one less excuse for turning up at Sunday lunch empty-handed…

Weekend drinks delivery

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Is investment money bad for whisky’s soul?

In the last few years prices for the world’s top whiskies have gone through the roof. Whisky is now an asset like fine wine, art and classic cars. Ian Buxton…

In the last few years prices for the world’s top whiskies have gone through the roof. Whisky is now an asset like fine wine, art and classic cars. Ian Buxton does not approve. In fact, he’s downright furious.

I’ve been banging on about the ‘investment in whisky’ trend for quite a while – and for some while I’ve got it wrong, as least as far as the prices of certain whiskies go. The sky, it would seem, is the limit and my doom-laden prognostications of a crash in prices have yet to be fulfilled.

So that’s that, then.  Fill yer boots and make money while you can would seem to be the moral.

Never mind whisky’s soul.

Lovely box, but will it ever be drunk?

However, if you care about whisky, really sincerely care, then you will readily appreciate that ‘investment grade’ whisky such as limited edition Macallans, virtually all Port Ellens these days and anything in a ‘collectable’ box is not simply a specious concept but a damaging one. Whisky that is never going to be drunk, whisky whose future is to be traded like an ingot of bullion, whisky forever condemned to be the slave of the spreadsheet is whisky that will never fully live. It’s whisky devoid of meaning, whisky without a soul, reduced to a barren commodity. There may as well be cold tea in the bottle, no matter the lavish packaging.  Remember the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes and you may look on the most elegant of bottles and see a rotting corpse beneath the silk.

Whisky attains its highest state when it is consumed; its apotheosis poignantly coinciding with the moment of its destruction. Only then is its destiny fulfilled. Whisky is disputation, conviviality, a metaphor for a nation’s identity and sense of self-belief. Whisky is romantic, metaphysical and phantasmagorical. As Burns relates, whisky is “the poor man’s wine”.

‘Investment grade’ bottles are the vampire squid wrapped around whisky’s face, relentlessly jamming their blood funnels into anything that smells like money careless of the consequences and conscious only of the sterile arithmetic of the profit and loss account.  Leave these trophies, the fevered creation of huckstering spinmeisters and their band of useful idiots, to the Gollum-like investor, poring over soulless spreadsheets and taking joy only in the bloodless contemplation of a paper return on investment. “My precious,” indeed.

Here we see the triumph of packaging over content. All too often these whiskies are lavishly draped in the most luxurious wrapping that the ingenuity of the design world can conceive – hand-blown bottles, silver stoppers, exquisitely-crafted oak cabinets and leather-bound volumes filled with ever more baroque and far-flown tasting notes. All of which costs money, lots of it, which leads me to suggest that this market is driven as much by presentation as product.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton about to drink some whisky

If you doubt my word, consider the following intriguing tale.  Back in June 2013, The Macallan released a pack of two 35cl bottles to commemorate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th anniversary.  There were a mere 1,953 packs produced (to mark the 1953 Coronation – geddit?). What you got was two half bottles in a handsome box with a colour leaflet, released at £350.  While the strength of the whisky was indicated, there was no age statement – but as this was designed to sit in a vault, why would anyone care?

Naturally, they were all snapped up as fast as you could sing the national anthem and, equally quickly, they appeared on auction sites where they changed hands for up to £2,300 (before commission). But, interestingly, in the November 2018 on-line auction of a well-known Glasgow site an orphan bottle appeared all on its own, only to be knocked down for £400. Given this was a 35cl bottle, that suggests the market valued the whisky content of a standard bottle at £800. In the same sale a complete pack reached £1,900.  Or, to put it another way, someone paid £1,100 for an admittedly lovely box and a brochure. It’s an interesting set of priorities.

By all means collect whisky and enjoy it as you will but do not succumb to the siren calls of self-serving false prophets.  If you want an investment, buy Diageo shares (up around 27% in the past 12 months and 65% over the last five years; easily traded and paying a dividend). Remember, as Shakespeare tells us “All that glisters is not gold” or, as they say in Edinburgh, “all fur coat and nae knickers!”

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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The Nightcap: 18 April

Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday here for your friends at MoM Towers, so The Nightcap is coming to you a whole day early! Wait a minute. It’s not Friday. This…

Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday here for your friends at MoM Towers, so The Nightcap is coming to you a whole day early!

Wait a minute. It’s not Friday. This is an imposter Friday. A pseudo-Friday. A fake Friday. Does that mean that all the booze news in this edition of The Nightcap will be “fake news”? No, of course not! It’s simply just arriving in your eyes a day early as we won’t be here tomorrow due to the bank holiday. Expect to see us on the beach, surfboard and parasol in hand.

On the blog this week, Annie talked desert island drams with Joe Hall of Satan’s Whiskers, while Adam looked at sweet treats for Easter and imbibed some delicious English whisky for our New Arrival of the Week. Henry’s Cocktail of the Week was a Martiki, a delicious blend of the exotic and the classic. Kristy then looked at Pernod Ricard’s latest purchase, Malfy Gin and guest writer Nate Brown pondered why so many bars don’t serve good coffee.

Right. Let’s get on with the show!

The Nightcap

Look – it’s the ‘world’s first’ Scotch cross bun!

Now you can enjoy Scotch cross buns this Easter!

Reading this in London or New York? Then you are in for a right treat. Noted chef Rory Macdonald, off of NYC’s Patisserie Chanson has teamed up with The Dalmore to create a ‘world-first’ Scotch cross bun! “We’ve used a nutriglaze, which means the whisky is heated but not to the point where the alcohol evaporates,” Macdonald himself explained. “This means the buns aren’t whisky flavoured – it’s a pure whisky glaze – so these Scotch Cross buns are the real deal.” The whisky in question? Dalmore 12 Year Old. A spokesperson from Whyte & Mackay, which owns the Scotch brand, added: “When Patisserie Chanson came to us with the idea of elevating the humble hot cross bun, we knew that they would produce something really special.” Due to the booze content, you do have to be over 18 (21, we presume in New York) to enjoy them. They’re available in the cities from 19-21 April – baked goodies and Scotch? Count us in.

The Nightcap

An artist’s impression of a swanky new visitor centre

English Spirit plans a boozy visitor centre in Cornwall

Live in Cornwall or got it on your travel list? If English Spirit gets its way, there will soon be another essential stop for visitors to the county. The distillery has submitted plans for a swanky new visitor centre at Treguddick Manor in Launceston. The new space, which will open in Spring 2020 if the team gets the green light, will give guests an insight into spirits productions. Plans also include a café bar, an event space, and a shop. The idea is that other local businesses will get involved and showcase their wares. Most of the details are still under wraps, but we’re excited about this one!

The Nightcap

We’ve had a century of delicious Aperol!

Aperol celebrates 100 years of joy

1919 was a momentous year, World War One was over and the Barbieri brothers, Luigi and Silvio launched a new drink called Aperol at the Padua International Fair. The drink quickly became popular in the nearby city of Venice in the form of the Spritz Veneziano but it’s only in the last 10 years that the drink has gone truly global: according to Drinks International magazine the Aperol Spritz is the 9th bestselling cocktail in the world. To celebrate the anniversary, naturally Aperol has a few things up its sleeves (if drinks can be said to have sleeves). These include the not entirely grammatical Together We Joy global campaign featuring a video; limited edition bottles with labels based on works by Italian artists Lorenzo Mattotti; a graphic novel by Tito Faraci with illustrations by Sergio Gerasi; and a summer tour around the Med with DJ’s, pop-up bars and amphibious vehicles. Finally, there will be something called ‘Grazie Veneto’ where Aperol thanks the region where it was born with three artists, one from Italy, England and America, who will be creating artwork to be exhibited in the town square in Padua. In short, this summer’s colour will be orange.

The Nightcap

A selection from the new High Coast range

FMV brings High Coast Swedish whisky to UK

Fields, Morris & Verdin (Berry Bros’s wholesale arm) announced this week that makers of delicious Swedish whisky High Coast has been added to its extensive spirits portfolio. Which in layman’s terms means more delicious Swedish whisky, folks! One of a handful of Swedish distilleries to be founded in recent years, you might know the brand from its original name, Box Distillery, it was renamed High Coast after Compass Box raised concern. Fresh from its rebrand, High Coast has launched a range of whiskies to show off all aspects of what the distillery is capable of. The first whisky in the selection is Älv, a single malt whisky crafted from 100% unpeated malt and matured in bourbon casks for 6 years. There’s also Hav, a blend of 20% peated, 80% non-peated malt whisky aged initially in 40-litre virgin American, Hungarian and Swedish oak casks for 3-4 months before it was transferred into bourbon barrels for 3-6 years. Timmer is the only 100% peated malt whisky in the selection and was matured in bourbon casks for 5-6 years. The last drink in the range is Projekt 63, an experimental dram that was aged for 63 months in 63-litre first-fill bourbon casks on the 63rd parallel, 63 decimetres above ground. We’re looking into why it was named Projekt 63. Berg, a 100% unpeated single malt matured in bourbon casks for 2 years then finished in PX casks for another 2 years, will join the range from September 2019. Berry Bros & Rudd’s spirits buyer Doug McIvor commented on the news: “I have been following the emergence of High Coast over the past few years after tasting new make spirit from the distillery a while back. My thoughts on tasting the spirit back then were that this was a world-beating whisky for the future. Everything I’ve tasted from High Coast since then has confirmed this to be true.” They will be coming to MoM Towers, so get excited Swedish whisky fans!

The Nightcap

The scenic Smoke & Mirrors, which boasts a pretty good view we’d say…

Smoke & Mirrors presents new head bartender and menu

Singapore bar Smoke & Mirrors has certainly been busy this week. Not only has the rooftop establishment got a new head bartender, Jorge Conde, but it has also launched a cocktail menu, ‘Illusion of Flavours’. Conde previously worked in bars in Spain and London over the last fourteen years and has experience in graphic design, which has come in handy already in menu influenced by Dalí, Picasso and Van Gogh. ‘Illusion of Flavours’ is divided into six categories: Fizzy & Elegant, Sour & Neat, Long & Refreshing, Strong & Neat, Fruity & Punchy and Savoury & Umami, and features Conde’s first creation for Smoke & Mirrors, La Fumata Bianca, which means ‘the White Smoke.’ This is a twist on the Negroni, smoky agave-based raicilla replaces gin, gentian liqueur stands in for Campari and, a blend of Bianco and quinine vermouth takes the place of sweet vermouth in his debut drink. “For this menu, my goal was to reimagine classic cocktails, focusing on traditional flavour profiles and exploring new ways to create them,” says Conde, “I find that people often have preconceptions about how a drink will taste, and I wanted to challenge those expectations with our drinks. While the presentation may appear to be simple, the flavour profiles are quite complex and layered, evolving as you enjoy the drink. As you may expect from the name, there is more than meets the eye.” So if enjoying creative cocktails while taking in spectacular panoramic views of Singapore’s skyline sounds like your thing, you know what to do. And if it doesn’t, have a word with yourself for goodness sake.

The Nightcap

Founder Deano Moncrieffe has plenty of experience with agave spirits

New agave spirits bar Hacha opens in London

Fans of all things agave will be delighted to know that a specialist agave spirits bar (or ‘agaveria’) has opened on Kingsland Road, Dalston, London. Hacha, pronounced ‘acha’ and named after the axe used to cut agave pinas, was founded by Deano Moncrieffe, the luxury Tequila ambassador for Diageo Reserve who has worked on its Tequila and mezcal portfolio for over a decade. Moncrieffe’s bar will serve an evolving menu of 25 different Tequilas, mezcals and lesser-known agave spirits, including fine and rare bottles that would otherwise be hard to find in the UK. Each drink will be available to order individually or as part of a tasting flight, which will pair the chosen spirit with a flavour enhancer, for example, añejo Tequila and rum-soaked grilled pineapple. Of course, no good bar would be worth its salt without a good selection of cocktails, which Hacha has in abundance. The bar’s signature drink is the Mirror Margarita, which is served on tap from a striking glass piña on the bar. Latin-inspired small plates, decor and music also feature. Any new establishment that champions agave-based spirits in an innovative, accessible way sounds like a winner in our books.

The Nightcap

The delicious Anna Pavlova cocktail at Swingers

Swingers: where golf and cocktails meet

We swung on down to Swingers West End crazy golf club for a fabulous evening of cocktail tasting with the head bartender Leo Glé. We were treated to six outstanding cocktails, including three creations that are completely unique to Swingers, named Anna Pavlova, Put The Lime In The Coconut and Elderflower Spritz. When he presented us with Put The Lime In The Coconut, which marries Havana Especial, coconut syrup, lime, passionfruit, mint, Glé told us that if we closed our eyes it would be just like we were on a beach somewhere. Of course we obliged, and, of course, he was right! Then, there were three which threw a twist on a classic, including a tonka bean Espresso Martini, a Clover Club, and an XXX Martini, which was basically a Pornstar Martini with the nutty addition of frangelico. All of the cocktails were absolutely beautiful and outrageously delicious, so a huge thanks to the talented guys behind the bar at Swingers. Glé has been working with Swingers pretty much since the original site opened back in 2016, and it is an understatement to say that his creations are well above par. Unlike our golfing skills.

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Glen Moray master distiller Graham Coull and Scottish rugby star Jamie Ritchie enjoyed a dram

Glen Moray masterclass at Murrayfield

Last week Speyside distillery Glen Moray released a special rugby-inspired whisky called the Edinburgh Rugby Private Edition. Just 312 bottles of this 52.8% ABV whisky have been produced. Each will cost £100 with all profits going to a charity, Hearts and Balls, which raises money for injured rugby players. The whisky comes from a cask chosen by Scotland internationals, John Barclay (the captain, no less) and Damien Hoyland. And what better way could there be to launch this whisky than with a masterclass at the home of Scottish rugby, Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. It was hosted on Friday 12 April by Glen Moray’s master distiller Graham Coull and Scottish international player, Jamie Ritchie, popped in for a wee dram.

The Nightcap

Cocktails with just two ingredients are all the rage at Artesian Bar now

Artesian Bar launches new minimalist cocktail menu

The Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel in London has won more awards (including World’s Best Bar) than you can shake a stick at. We know because we’ve tried to shake a stick at all the awards and failed. It used to be famous for its elaborate cocktails but no longer because now at the Artesian less is more. A new minimalist menu has been created by bar manager Anna Sebastian and head bartender Remy Savage, who both joined the Artesian in 2017. The new menu which was introduced this week consists of a series of cocktails containing only two ingredients. And to make things even harder for themselves, these new cocktails aren’t exactly what you would call classic pairings: there’s Perrier Jouët Champagne and cream, Star of Bombay Gin with golden beetroot, and St Germain Elderflower Liqueur and red carrot. Elderflower and carrot? It all sounds a bit mad but if anyone can pull it off it’s this team. We’ll be visiting soon and will report back. Watch this space.

 

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A Brad Pitt-ed olive would go nicely with this. Right? Because… Oh never mind.

And finally… Waiter! There’s a George Clooney in my drink

How much do you like George Clooney? Do you think he’s a good actor but hasn’t done anything really great since Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000? Well, then you probably won’t be ordering a special new cocktail at Bassment bar in Chicago. This drink could not be any Cloonier: not only is it called The Clooney but it contains Clooney-brand Tequila, Casamigos Reposado, and a giant ice cube featuring the face of Clooney himself smiling up at you as if to say: ‘you really love me, don’t you?’. It’s part of a series of cocktails based on famous people including Beyoncé, Elton John and Adele. The other ingredients in The Clooney are Carpano Antica vermouth, crème de banana, vanilla bean simple syrup, honeyed apricot and smoked hickory. Actually, that sounds rather nice. I wonder if they’ll do one but with a Jeff Goldblum ice cube instead.

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Why don’t bars serve good coffee?

Nate Brown loves a good cocktail and he loves a good cup of coffee. So why, he asks, do so few bars in Britain do both well? A great coffee…

Nate Brown loves a good cocktail and he loves a good cup of coffee. So why, he asks, do so few bars in Britain do both well?

A great coffee served alongside a Whisky Highball, a bitter espresso in the same sitting as a clean Negroni, an americano and an Americano. Little moments of heaven. Or so I imagine. Because as delightful as these sound, the chance of me getting a decent coffee where I can get a decent drink is frankly slim to none. There are exceptions, of course. However, on the whole, the coffee that bars serve is so usually embarrassingly, insultingly terrible.

It shouldn’t be like this. After all, coffee is a mixed drink, prepared to order and delivered. A few rounds of Martinis followed by a bright, bitter espresso can be the shortcut to why we go to bars in the first place.  And if that’s a bit too much for you, the rise of low-ABV drinking walks hand-in-hand with the coffee world. In theory, they’re the same thing. In practice, the bar world has all but turned its back on the bean. Which is a bloody error. If I meet a colleague, we shouldn’t have to choose between going for a coffee or a for a drink.

Espresso

Wouldn’t that look even better with a Negroni on the side?

And don’t talk to me about margins. I’m not advocating replacing drinks with coffee, I’m talking about additional quality offerings. There is something contemptuous about the token hot drinks offering. If you’re going to do it, do it well; your guests deserve better. I asked one of the precious few who has migrated from booze into coffee and back again what his thoughts were. “Bars cannot be fucked,” was his response. This is more depressing than it first appears, because bars should be there for the guest, not for the ego of the bartender.

Is it a culture clash? Do those baristas that embrace the pull of espresso exist in the energy of the morning, and the shot-slugging bartender crew arise only for the glamour and sex of the evening? If so, then they’re missing a trick because guests no longer define their days in this on-duty/off-duty dichotomy. Why do bars and coffee shops?  Last month’s Coffee Festival showed some of these cultural differences in the cruel light of day. The general atmosphere between the dozens and dozens of competing soft drinks brands, espresso machineries, roasters, and merchandisers was jovial, friendly and positive. The booze additions, however, brought scandal. Mr Black’s juvenile attempt to undermine Tia Maria was ill-judged, especially considering that Tia Maria was one of the main sponsors for the event. The brandishing of spiteful stickers was at least appropriately childish. It was a stunt that may have impressed bartenders, but to a coffee crowd it was generally seen as darn right bitchy. Shame on us.

Moreover, coffee is growing up. The processes involved in bringing bean to cup have clear parallels with distillation. Washed processing, like column distillation, creates cleaner flavours; in contrast, natural processing is the pot distillation of the coffee world, producing bolder funkier flavours..And then there’s terroir: try beans from Ethiopia for berry-like fruit, like, say Pinot Noir; or beans from El Salvador for a richer, maltier flavour. See where I’m going with this? Perfect fodder for today’s more aware guest.

Sure, to some, the coffee and alcohol crossover manifests itself as the increasingly popular Espresso Martini and no further. This is hardly surprising, given the general disregard given to the coffee by bartenders. Just once, I’d love to have an Espresso Martini that celebrates and showcases the coffee. Nespresso Ne-no-no.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, don’t make him choose between coffee and booze

Bars have a duty to provide a third-place world for their guests. And yes, they are guests, not customers. We are in hospitality, not retail. It makes a difference. And when we position the emphasis on providing a welcoming, affordable place for our guests to enjoy, to escape into, to mingle in and connect, the drinks we serve become mere vehicles for this hospitality.

Indeed, the drinks we serve have to excite and entice, to create conversations and provide intrigue and value. This is exactly what coffee can do just as well as booze. Hell, the word ‘Barista’ even means ‘bar-tender’. It’s about time bars realised this. Time to wake up and smell how crap your coffee is.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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