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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Millie Milliken

Glen Garioch: investing in the future by looking to the past

With a £6m investment under its belt – and a recent royal visit – Aberdeenshire’s Glen Garioch has had an exciting new upgrade. Millie Milliken travelled to the distillery to…

With a £6m investment under its belt – and a recent royal visit – Aberdeenshire’s Glen Garioch has had an exciting new upgrade. Millie Milliken travelled to the distillery to find out what the future of its whisky will look – and taste – like.

When I arrive at Meldrum House, the destination hotel which I have the pleasure of staying in for my visit to Aberdeen, it’s been a big week for both the hotel and for nearby Glen Garioch distillery. The former has just been paid a surprise visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a stay, while the latter has even more recently hosted HRH Prince of Wales for a tour of its refreshed distillery.

Old casks at Glen Garioch

Old casks at Glen Garioch

Important visitors

For Pom Nijs, our host for the visit and Glen Garioch’s assistant visitor centre manager, it was a chance to show off the newly upgraded Oldmeldrum distillery in all its glory: “It was an honour. Because we are all so proud of Glen Garioch, there was a slight nervousness and apprehension about making sure we presented Glen Garioch at its very best, but because HRH was so engaging, we felt like we were welcoming him to the home of Glen Garioch as we do with all our guests which left us with an overwhelming sense of pride in ourselves and our wee distillery. It is a delight to have such a special day to remember and share with the team and community.”

Before I go any further, I feel it’s only right to inform you that – if you don’t already know – Glen Garioch is actually pronounced Glen ‘Geery’, from the Doric dialect of Aberdeenshire. It was bought by John Manson in 1797 to house a brewery and tannery and handed down the generations. One descendant, Sir Patrick Manson was nicknamed Mosquito Manson for his discovery of the connection between mosquitoes and malaria. World war two saw the distillery cease operations, followed by a brief reopening and closing in the ‘60s before a relaunch of its single malt in the early ‘70s. What stands today is a small but perfectly formed working distillery that, despite its recent investment from owner company Beam Suntory, looks to have retained much of its original charm. 

Glen Garioch still

One of the new massive direct-fired still at Glen Garioch

Present past

So, what does that £6m entail? Most notably, the reintroduction of floor maltings and the installation of direct-fired heating to the wash still. Constructed by Forsyths, this new vessel has replaced the previously indirectly fired wash still that was in operation since 1997. Allowing for more Maillard reactions, this means a new make spirit with more complexity. “We are now getting a heavier, more complex new make spirit coming off the stills,” explains Nijs. “This will need a bit more maturation to bring it to its full potential [with] the extra complexity that comes from [the new] floor maltings.”

Both of these exciting changes are a bold return to tradition for the distillery. And there’s perhaps an even more fundamental change that the Glen Garioch team are making – a return to making peated whisky. In five years’ time, Glen Garioch will be producing a lightly peated whisky similar to what they were producing in the early 1990s. “We haven’t fully decided the peating level yet, but light peat tends to give a drier mouthfeel and less on the nose. It won’t be a peat flavoured malt,” explains Nijs.

The past five years have already seen the team make changes to its new make spirit (the use of clear wort, cream yeast/brewers yeast and longer fermentation time on top of the new direct-fired still and floor maltings). Over the next five years, anyone familiar with the Founders’ Reserve will, over the next five years, notice a move away from the cereal notes and a move towards more fruitiness.

Big picture

In terms of equipment, the distillery has invested in new washbacks (perhaps not the sexiest detail but a memorable one for the incredible banana bread smell they omit), that big shiny new Forsyth wash still (complete with a rummager to avoid any solids forming in the still due to the direct heat) and the 100,000 litre heat recovery tank that operates on a closed loop system and has apparently reduced the distillery’s energy usage by 15% and water usage by 46%.

Glen Garioch (13)

Looks good, doesn’t it?

Tasting game

On our visit we were lucky enough to taste the distillery’s current range. In Meldrum House’s new Titan outdoor dining dome we were shown how Glen Garioch’s liquids work in cocktails with Orchard Bar’s assistant GM Ryan Mackie.

Highlights included The Renaissance 17 Year Old Highlander aged in sherry and bourbon casks worked a treat in Mackie’s Old Fashioned with a pear garnish to complement the whisky’s baked bread and honeys notes; and the 1999 Chateau Lagrange cask-matured expression (one of my favourites) was given the Whisky Sour treatment balancing out its Amaretti biscuit, Christmas spice and red fruit notes. Perhaps the most special experience at Meldrum House though was a night-time cheese and whisky pairing in the candlelit dovecot. This is where we got to try the Glen Garioch 1990 bottling – an example of what the distillery might be returning to in the coming years.

While we wait for that though, the distillery’s latest single cask is its 1991 Bourbon cask. Outside of the distillery team, we were the first people to try the new liquid. If this is the sign of things to come, I’d keep Glen Garioch on your list this Christmas – and beyond.

Glen Garioch whiskies are available from Master of Malt. Click here for more information. 

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Party spirit: Why we need fun drinks right now

From blue vodka to green cocktails, the world of drinks can bring a real pop of colour into our lives. We ask the people making them why colour should be…

From blue vodka to green cocktails, the world of drinks can bring a real pop of colour into our lives. We ask the people making them why colour should be embraced in the world of booze

When Tato Giovannoni opened Abajo bar this summer in London, he opened with a cocktail menu based around colour. Drinks called Something Blue, Something Pink and so on festoon the menu and are served on top of lit coasters to really make them shine. As the trend for simple, clear and paired back drinks continues to pervade most of London’s top bars’ menus, it certainly made a statement.

“The idea of the concept behind Abajo was 80s Argentina,” Giovannoni explains. “I chose the colours to interpret telling people how the city and the country felt after so much darkness,” he says, referring to a time when the country was enduring a particularly tempestuous time. 

Fast-forward 30 years or so and the world is coming out of 18 months of Covid-19 – and the rest. If there was a time to be fun and colourful, it – arguably – is now.

fun drinks

Fun drinks are back

Fun liquids in a serious world

Good news then, that JJ Whitley has launched its Blue Raspberry Russian Vodka. Delivering on those raspberry notes while also packing a heavy blue punch, it’s a fun liquid entering a rather serious new world. 

“As a brand, we love experimenting with the latest, on-trend flavours – from Watermelon & Lime to Passionfruit,” explains Simon Jackman, senior global marketing manager, Halewood Artisanal Spirits, of the launch. 

“With our Blue Raspberry flavour, we saw a trend emerging for coloured liquids within the spirits category, and it felt like a really natural fit for the JJ Whitley brand. From the eye-catching blue liquid to the dazzling blue metallic bottle, it has been a great product to launch – it’s fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this is something that seems to be going down well with consumers at the moment.”

fun drinks

Colourful classics like the Sex on the Beach are being embraced again

The attraction of colour

There certainly seems to be a move towards colour when it comes to both consumers and bartenders. When international drinks consultant Julian de Feral worked at the now-closed legendary bar Milk and Honey, his director made it clear when it came to the drinks, variety was key. 

“He used to say ‘I don’t want all the drinks to be the same colour, so he was always trying to encourage me to open up the spectrum,” de Feral explains. “If all those drinks are set next to each other, they need to look different. It’s a good idea to look at colour – people are attracted to it.”

For Giovannoni, a move back to colour can be seen not only in drinks but across all industries, from fashion to interior design. When it comes to drinks though, something like JJ Whitley’s new vodka can be used both behind the bar and in people’s homes. 

“The liquid itself is so vibrant, it looks really attractive mixed with lemonade or soda, but also makes some very fun looking cocktails,” says Jackman. “It’s perfect for on-trade venues, but also for people entertaining and making cocktails at home. We like to think it conjures up fond holiday memories of those more retro serves like the classic Blue Lagoon, or a more Studio 54, disco feel.”

That sense of nostalgia has also, no doubt, played a role in people wanting more fun and retro drinks. Jackman pointed out that during lockdown, consumers were experimenting a lot more with making cocktails at home, resulting in a surge in popularity for some of the more traditional ‘party’ cocktails, like the Piña Colada, Sex on the Beach, and the Long Island Iced Tea.

fun drinks

It doesn’t take much too much your drink stand out

So, how do you get colour into your drinks? 

At Abajo, Giovannoni and the team use a mix of natural ingredients and coloured spirits to create their spectrum of shades. 

“We use all-natural ingredients. Most of the colours come from fruit or spirits or liquids that we’re using. For example, Something Pink uses a raspberry vinegar, pink cocchi rossa which is already pink and pink pepper gin so everything is pink already.” In Something Blue he uses spirulina alongside Principe de los Apostoles gin, Ojo de Tigre mezcal and tonic, while for Something Red, he managed to lift the darkness of Fernet Branca by infusing it with cherries and mixing it with maraschino and pink grapefruit soda.

For Féral, it can be as easy as simply adding food colouring – “the most miniscule amount will really make that drink pop” – although he does have a roll-call of coloured spirit brands who deliver both on flavour and colour that are worth adding to any drinks cabinet: “Ones that stand the test of time are Campari, Midori which does deliver in terms of taste and blue curaçao.”

fun drinks

The Papa Smurf

How to make a blue drink

So, if you’re hosting a Halloween, Bonfire Night or Christmas party, maybe eschew the clear or dark drinks and opt for something more colourful instead. Because, let’s be honest, if there was a year to bring some fun into our lives, this year would be it.

We asked JJ Whitely for a signature recipe using their Blue Raspberry Russian Vodka. They did not disappoint:

Papa Smurf

50ml JJ Whitley Blue Raspberry Russian Vodka

25ml pink grapefruit juice

20ml honey

1 egg white (or 25ml chickpea water for vegan option)

Add all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe glass and garnish with an edible flower.

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Negroni Week: Seven twists on a classic

It’s finally here – Negroni Week (13-19 September) has officially begun. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up seven of the best twists out there and asked their creators for the inspiration…

It’s finally here – Negroni Week (13-19 September) has officially begun. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up seven of the best twists out there and asked their creators for the inspiration behind them. And you can get involved too – scroll to the bottom to learn about our Negroni Week competition. 

Count Camillo Negroni or General Pascal Oliver Comte de Negroni? Who invented the classic cocktail, the Negroni? It’s a question that has been posed by drinks historians, writers and Master of Malt’s own Henry Jeffreys with opposing – or non-committal – views.

What we do know though is that the vibrant, bitter aperitif – classically made using equal measures gin, vermouth and Campari – has been enjoying a prolonged revival in the UK since 2009. Step inside any bar or restaurant in the UK and you’d do well to find one that doesn’t serve a Negroni. 

Twelve years since the great Negroni revival and it shows no signs of waning. The Guardian called it “the cocktail of 2021” and you can even buy them ready-made in a bottle, a can or a pouch. And while we love the original, we thought we’d celebrate 2021’s Negroni Week, 13-19 September, with some of the best twists on the classic being served in bars across town.

From swapping gin for Tequila, infusing mixes with herbs and giving them a fruity component, we asked the makers and shakers for the story behind their creations. They even gave us the full recipes so you can try your hand at home*.

*Though some of them are pretty involved, so we’ve divided them up into ones to attempt and ones that should be left to the professionals. 

You’ve been warned.

Ones to try at home

Credit: Shots London

“Wanky” Negroni, FAM Bar

7.5ml Fords Gin
17.5ml Singani 63
25ml Londinio Aperitivo
12.5ml Punt e Mes
12.5ml Londinio Rosé Vermouth
15ml water

Build and serve over ice with an orange slice garnish.

“I wanted to play on the idea of the multiple ingredient “Wanky” Negroni and create something that actually wasn’t that wanky and satisfied both hardcore bitter drinks fans like myself and people just edging into that bitter realm with a twist on a Negroni that will fulfil both varying palates.” Tatjana Sendzimir, bar manager.

Sbagliato Carafe

Sbagliato carafe, Tayer + Elementary

200ml Campari
200ml Martini Rosso
200ml Pago de Tharsys cava (or another sparkling wine)

Combine all ingredients in a carafe with ice and share.

“We love it because it’s delicious, and it’s a fizzy and low-abv alternative.” Monica Berg, bar co-owner.

Nebula Negroni

Nebula Negroni, Nebula

25ml East London Liquor Gin
25ml Carpano Bitter
25ml Punt E Mes Sweet Vermouth

Combine ingredients and infuse with basil until you have the flavour you want. You can store it in a bottle. When serving, garnish with orange slice and basil leaf.

“At Nebula, we’re proud of our awesome pizzas, so we wanted to pay homage to their Italian birthplace and really cement the link with our Negronis by infusing our blend with dried basil. We use East London Liquor Co gin not just because it’s awesome, but because it’s made just down the road (neighbourhoods are the future!). We finish our blend with Carpano bitter and the powerfully herbaceous Punt E Mes vermouth, so all things sing together in a herby take on the classic that pairs perfectly with our pizzas.” Nate Brown, bar owner

Heads and Tails - Rose Negroni

Rosé Negroni, Heads + Tails

40ml La Vie en Rosé or another Provence rosé
20ml Lillet Rose Vermouth
15ml Campari

Stir down, strain into a rocks glass and garnish with grapefruit. 

“It’s a Negroni, in the south of France and it’s sunny. I made the drink for a festival in Nice where we needed a bitter drink that had a slightly lower abv yet had the feel of the area. Using a Campari to follow the brief but pull the bitterness for the beverage paired with a Provence rosé allowed for the elegance of the area. Finished off with slight fruity and aroma of Lillet Rose gave a Negroni that you could drink throughout the summer days at a festival.” Callum Dunne, bar manager 

Leave it to the professionals:

Pandan Negroni - Nomad

Pandan Negroni, Nomad Hotel

45ml Pandan-infused Tapatio Reposado Tequila
22.5ml Campari
22.5ml Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
15ml coconut water
7.5ml cold-brew coffee

Build in rocks glass with a large ice cube, stir and serve.

“The Pandan Negroni was created after we discovered how delicious Reposado Tequila incorporates with pandan [a herbaceous tropical plant]. The pandan brings out all the green aspects of the Tequila while enhancing the barrel spice notes and softening the acidity. The almond flavour coming from the leaf also plays off the coconut water, which is the only component which dilutes the cocktail, giving it more body and a rounder finish.” Pietro Collina, bar director.

Rhubarb & Tarragon Negroni..jpg RS

Rhubarb and Tarragon Negroni, Publiq

22.5ml Belvedere Heritage 176 malt spirit
2.5ml Tarragon-infused Sipsmith VJOP
25ml Rhubarb-cooked bitter blend
25ml Vermouth rosso blend
25ml Mineral water

Have all ingredients stored cold in the fridge. Pour all ingredients in a rock glass over an ice block. Garnish with an orange slice.

“When looking for a new flavour for our seasonal Negroni, rhubarb was at the peak of its flavour, with lovely fruity and earthy notes, making it an obvious choice for us. Tarragon, with its fresh menthol and anise aroma, brought freshness to this favourite of the summer.” Greg Almeida, bar co-owner.

LITTLE MERCIES FINAL JULY 2021 @lateef.photography-155

Passionfruit Negroni, Little Mercies

20ml passion fruit vermouth
20ml Victory house gin
12.5ml Campari
2.5ml passion berry vodka
0.08ml MSK passionfruit flavour drops

Stir over ice and strain into a rocks glass with block ice and garnish with an orange wedge.

“We have had a house Negroni on our menu since the day we opened. We decided that we would make a sweet vermouth in house, from a seasonal fruit rather than from grapes. The passion fruit was the latest in the line of fruits we chose to work on, more as a challenge as they don’t contain much in the way of juice, and they are high in acid so hard to ferment. We actually ended up soaking the fruits in a mixture of water and sugar, and then letting that ferment. We also made an Oleo Saccharum with sugar and the spare fruit, so that ended up being the sweetness in the vermouth. We also add a passion berry infusion to this Negroni, as it brings some extra complexity and aroma that ties nicely to passionfruit.” Alan Sherwood, bar owner.

Show us your Negroni with a twist recipe, for a chance to win a Jaffa Cake Gin Negroni bundle! Post a video or image on your Instagram feed (not Instagram Story), showcasing your creative “Negroni with a twist” cocktail recipe; and include the hashtag #momnegronitwist (so we can locate your entry)!  Comp opens 12:00:00 BST on 13 September 2021 and closes at 23:59:59 BST on 26 September 2021. Full T&Cs below. Open to 18+ or legal drinking age only. The best and most creative entry wins.

 

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How to win at whisky auctions

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what…

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what newcomers should be bearing in mind.

There are only 14 bottles of the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 year old in existence – one of which was bought for approximately £1.3m at Sotheby’s in London in 2019, the most expensive single bottle of whisky ever sold at auction. Other bottles and collections to join Macallan at the top of the pile are Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series (£1.1m), The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60yo (£765,000), and The Macallan Red Series which raised a whopping £756,400 for charity.

Auctions are, unsurprisingly, big business (it’s small business too with a recent rare collection of 400 miniatures selling for a total of £56,732.95 via Whisky.Auction). But there are bargains to be had. So, how does the auction world work? And how can first-time bidders navigate the (virtual or live) auction room?

Springbank

Miniatures can be big business. This Springbank 5cl went for £5600 via Whisky.Auction

The auctioneers

“I actually come from an art background,” Georgia Porteous of Bonhams in Edinburgh tells me of how she got into the auction game. “I’ve worked for Bonhams since leaving university, so 10 years ago now. I always had a passion for whisky so when I moved up to Edinburgh, a job finally came up in the department.” Now, she’s the junior whisky specialist at the auctioneer, working alongside Martin Green (head of whisky) and Diego Lanza (whisky specialist) valuing bottles, cataloguing them ahead of quarterly auctions, and consigning items for sale.

As first sales go, Porteous’ – a Macallan Peter Blake 1926 which fetch upwards of £700,000 – wasn’t a disappointment: “What I love about working at an auction house is that it so varied: you can be handling a lot of five bottles that are worth £300 and then you can go on to a £350,000 bottle of whisky – it’s a real privilege.”

Sam Hellyer, wine and spirits specialist at Chiswick Auctions unknowingly began his career in drinks when he got himself a job at a Bottoms Up wine shop at 18, before heading to university, getting his foot in the door at Oddbins after graduating, a couple of nights a week and finally embarking on a decade-long job with the retailer. After a time working for small importers, Brexit hit and Hellyer decided a move into the world of auctions was the more disaster-proof option.

Georgia Porteous of Bonhams

Death, downsizing and divorce

“We operate on the three ‘d’s: Death, downsizing, and divorce,” he explains matter-of-factly. “It’s a miserable way to look at things but the pandemic has actually particularly seen a lot of downsizing… so we’ve picked up quite a few cellars.” One recent cellar held a 2004 vintage of Bordeaux en primeur on which the seller made a 200% profit.

As well as valuations, visiting cellars, and negotiating listing timings, Hellyer is also a key factor to the live auction, acting as auctioneer for the wine and spirits lots – I say key as the sale rate drops by 20% when he misses one. Why? “Knowing the wines and being able to talk about them and even pronounce them is very important… there is a recognised value in the knowledge when you’re working in the auction side.”

And when it comes to valuing the goods, Hellyer has a layman’s explanation: “The most basic explanation is everyone looks over everyone else’s shoulder. I see what it sold for at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams… all of these places because they set the price and once they’re not selling it, I’m setting the price,” he said.

The Nightcap

It’s not just about whisky, this Taylor’s 1977 Port sold through Chiswick Auctions recently

The bidder

Over his time in the drinks industry, Matt Hastings, now blender at Nc’Nean whisky, would acquire bottles of fun liquids that he didn’t want to drink and would sit in a dark cupboard. So, he started selling them in auction to fund the purchase of liquids he did want to drink. “I’ve entered bottles in batches five or six times and never been disappointed – I always get a good or fair price.”

Hastings opts for the platform Whisky Auctioneer which he came across organically and was so impressed with that he used them for Nc’Nean’s inaugural release auction – an auction that saw its first bottle go for £41,004.

But Hastings started buying at auctions before he embarked on selling. “I was just looking for fun things I couldn’t buy in shops anymore… seven or eight years ago you could get some absolute bargains with bottles selling for less than they originally sold.” And although he admits that coming across these bargains is harder nearly a decade later, there are still some specific bottles that get him excited. “Things that pique my interest are bottles like earlier Compass Box releases and old Jack Daniel’s before they changed the ABV, like an early 80s Jack Daniel’s 90 proof which is just amazing. [You’re paying for] a piece of history and to get the chance to taste something in its early [phase] of phenomena.”

Matt Hastings frequents auction sites as a buyer and seller

The industry

Of course, when it comes to selling and buying at auction, there are some variables that have impacted the industry over the years. Most notably, and recently, the EU/ US trade war that saw Scotch whisky hammered by tariffs. “In our February sale barely anything whisky-wise shifted,” explains Hellyer while continuing that there was a huge uptick in brandy, Cognac and Armagnac. “Trump’s final passing shot was putting a tariff on the brandies too, so in February those didn’t shift either, not because people don’t want them, but because a huge chunk of brokers’ clients are in the US, so they all pulled out.”

Now that those tariffs are lifted though, Chiswick Auctions did a big whisky sale, selling over 90% in one go, while 87% of the brandies listed also went. “It would be so much cheaper for the end-user to buy directly from us [rather than through a broker],” he laments, “but you’ve got to know when the auctions are and be available to be there on the day.”

A subtle change Porteous has discovered has been the type of bidder turning up to Bonhams’ auctions. While they’ve been online for years (unlike Chiswick who moved online due to the pandemic), she’s noticed that “over the last 18 months we’ve seen new, keen bidders who are participating for the first time and have more questions.”

So, with that in mind, we asked our experts for some of their top tips for newbies to the world of auctions.

Tips for first-timers to whisky auctions

Ask for a condition report. This is something you can do a few days before the auction – don’t be scared to ask, it’s what I’m paid to do! Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Check the fees before you bid. See what fees the auction house charges and don’t forget about VAT. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

Do some value research. The platforms have their old lots on display so you can look at pricing to see what similar bottles are getting which will help guide your decision. Matthew Hastings, Nc’Nean

Have a maximum budget for everything. Someone outbids you by £10 and then you’re in it and you could spend £100/£200 over – I see it all the time. The increments get bigger the higher you go too (before £100 your bidding in £5 increments, £200 it’s £10 and so on). Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Don’t forget shipping and insurance. The most important thing to do is get a quote before you bid because most people aren’t aware of how much shipping and insurance is. The auction house is not responsible for the bottles once they leave the property, so do your research and get a reputable shipper with insurance. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

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The wonders of wine casks and whisky

As the popularity of ageing or finishing in wine casks continues to grow in the whisky industry, Millie Milliken takes a look at some of the latest experimental bottlings out…

As the popularity of ageing or finishing in wine casks continues to grow in the whisky industry, Millie Milliken takes a look at some of the latest experimental bottlings out there.

On a recent trip to the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery alongside Master of Malt’s Adam O’Connell, I had the pleasure of trying York’s first single malt whisky finished in STR (shaved, toasted and re-charred) ex-red wine barriques from Rioja vineyards in sunny old Spain. Oak, spice, vanilla ice cream and chocolate were the resulting nosing and tasting notes – accompanied by vigorous nods and satisfied oohs and ahhs from my fellow tasters.

Wine casks and whisky are becoming more frequent bedfellows. As this article goes to press, Aberfeldy is set to release its new 18 year old finished in Côte Rôtie casks as part of its Red Wine Cask Collection (more on that later); while The Oxford Artisan Distillery has made its third Oxford Rye batch which has undergone a second maturation in Moscatel casks; and Tel Aviv’s Milk & Honey has launched its Apex White Wine Cask using Chardonnay casks from local winery Domaine du Castel.

The use of wine casks in whisky isn’t new, but it’s certainly a phenomenon that has grown over the last few decades. And while we might be increasingly au fait with ex-sweet wine casks being used in whisky production (PX sherry, Sauternes, Port), whisky distilleries are increasingly playing with red wines, white wines – and even orange wines – in their quest to produce liquids with a hybrid of whisky-and-wine characteristics.

Casks at the Lakes Distillery

Casks at the Lakes Distillery

Whole new world

“Over the last few years we’ve seen lots of new wine casks coming in because we’ve got young distilleries and while your house style might take years to develop lots of these younger distilleries are using these casks for a different flavour,” explains Mark Thomson, Glenfiddich brand ambassador. “We’ve all tried ex-bourbon, rum, sherry, but wine casks seem to be a real trend.”

So, why are we all lapping them up? And what’s the difference between ageing and finishing? For Thomson, a change in consumers’ palates is a factor when determining their growing taste for wine casks, with people moving away from those sherry bombs and peated whiskies towards lighter styles. “People also know wine – there’s a familiarity there,” he adds.

Stephanie MacLeod, master blender at Dewar’s Aberfeldy distillery, agrees: “Increasingly our whisky drinkers are not only interested in the flavour of the whisky that results from a wine cask finish, but also the provenance of the wine and our whisky drinkers also tend to be knowledgeable wine drinkers – a wine finish can satisfy both passions.”

Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar's

Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar’s

Ageing or finishing?

When it comes to ageing and finishing, you’re more likely to see the latter. This technique involving a second stage of ageing in a different cask often for just a matter of months came to the fore in the 1990s.

Which brings us back to that Aberfeldy 18 year old. It has spent 18 years in a combination of re-fill and re-char ex-bourbon casks, before being finished for six months in French red wine casks from Côte Rôtie – a Syrah-based wine from the Northern Rhone. 

“The process always begins with the casks – we often come across parcels of wine casks and other types of casks that we think might be interesting, and think how the character of the wine cask will interact with the character of the whisky,” explains MacLeod of how she begins the process.  “Once the casks arrive we nose each one to ensure that there are no off odours and then fill the casks with the chosen spirit. This is when sampling begins: at least once a month the casks are sampled and assessed – we look at colour, aroma and maturation related compounds. Once the aroma and colour starts to have an effect on the aroma and the appearance of the whisky, we either increase sampling or stop the finishing process because the purpose of finishing is always to complement and not to dominate the character of the whisky.”

The resulting liquid is red berries on the nose, like raspberry and redcurrants, followed by the softening of vanilla and butterscotch – what the team describe as being “deeply evocative of an Eton Mess”.

The Nightcap

Glenfiddich Grand Cru

Outside the cask

White wine casks are also used. In 2019 Glenfiddich’s first release in its Grand Series was the 23 year old single malt matured in sherry casks and finished for four months in French oak casks used for fermentation of wines that will become Champagne. Glenfiddich refer to them as ‘rare French cuvée oak casks’ because the wine was still so cannot legally be called Champagne. 

Thomson elaborated: “With the Grand Cru it is important to note that no sparkling wine was involved in any stage… When the Champagne industry makes their assemblage they take a selection of still wines from their growers and leave those wines for a period of time in cask… very few these casks were offered up to us from a cask broker, and have only ever contained still wine but the quality of the wine has been exceptional.”

For Thomson, the main difference between red and white cask finishing is unsurprisingly the level of tannins (with red wine casks producing more tannins in the whisky), followed closely by a drier note in the whisky as well. With white wine casks however, “you’ll get orchard fruits, or strawberry flavours which is interesting (although not all the time).”

Meanwhile, 2020 saw The Lakes Distillery release its The One Orange Wine cask, taking its The One blend (a blend of grain and malt Scotch whiskies from Speyside and Islay with The Lakes Single Malt at the centre), using first-fill American oak casks seasoned with Vino de Naranja – a white wine macerated with orange peels from Huelva in Andalucia. The result? Marmalade, butterscotch and dried tobacco on the nose, followed by candied oranges, tropical fruits with peat smoke and a buttery finish.

Bright future

So, what does the future of wine-cask ageing and finishing look like? “I have no idea,” Thomson says while also admitting that Glenfiddich has a number of experiments on the go involving wine – “but I couldn’t say”. What he is keen to impress though is that the distillery’s interest in wine casks is nothing to do with its growing trend but is an ongoing discovery for the brand.

For the team at Aberfeldy, while red wine casks from the old world have been their modus operandi to date, they are starting to experiment with new world styles. MacLeod also divulges that they are running trials at the moment on white wine, using the same approach to determine the perfect finishing period. And that’s all before the endless possibilities they have when it comes to the type of oak they use too. One style of wine will however, she thinks, remain on top: “I’m not convinced that sherry will ever be replaced in the hearts of whisky drinkers, but wine gives another dimension to the flavour of whisky – something which we are more than happy to explore.”

 

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Classic bars – Gordon’s Wine Bar

From Londoners to tourists, spooks to football managers, Gordon’s Wine Bar is a London institution. Millie Milliken heads into the cavernous world of the capital’s oldest wine bar to find…

From Londoners to tourists, spooks to football managers, Gordon’s Wine Bar is a London institution. Millie Milliken heads into the cavernous world of the capital’s oldest wine bar to find out what treasured stories can be told. 

The phrase ‘if walls could talk’ doesn’t quite do justice to the bar that has sat at 47 Villiers Street in London’s West End for over 130 years. Gordon’s Wine Bar is a London icon: a must-visit for out of towners, and invariably the centre of many a Londoner’s wine-fuelled tales. Having been going myself on a regular basis for the last 12 years and counting, I can confirm that out of all the bars I’ve frequented over the years – and it’s a lot – Gordon’s reigns (for my sins) as my most visited.

It was opened in 1890 by vinter Angus Gordon whose son and grandson (both called Angus too) took over respectively, but it is another Gordon family of no relation that took over the business in 1972 and have been keeping the famed bar at the top of its game ever since. “My memories of the bar are pretty clear,” says Simon Gordon of his first experiences at the family business. He’s the son of Luis and Wendy Gordon who bought the bar back in the seventies and has been owned by Wendy since Luis’ sad passing in 2002, with Simon taking the reins of operations. “When my father bought Gordon’s he had been working in the sherry trade, importing Domecq sherry into the UK. He was very early on in seeing that wine bars would become popular.”

He wasn’t wrong – getting a table at Gordon’s is gold dust and when you do get one, you settle in. Luckily, the charm of Gordon’s as well as the extensive wine list, crowd-pleasing cold cuts and cheese menu, and characterful surroundings and ephemera (cavernous candlelit space, clippings from old newspapers, family photos, and dusty bottles) make the hours – and it will be hours – fly by.

Gordon’s Wine Bar

The capital’s oldest wine bar is also one of its most distinctive drinking holes

In the beginning

“When I first started working there it was tiny,” explains Simon. “There was a little bar upstairs and the back cellar – which is now the really iconic part of the bar – was just used for storage. My dad thought “God, this cellar is fantastic”, it was just too good to waste.” Once he was convinced to open it up as part of the bar, they bought some candle holders, furniture, moved the men’s toilet upstairs, put in a kitchen and a food counter and moved the bar to where it sits today, and put all the cellar barrels behind it.

It wasn’t just barrels they found in the cellar though. “We found a lovely old bottle of 1945 Champagne which we opened on the first day,” says Simon fondly. “It was just stuck in the cellar in a cubby hole and it was absolutely delicious. It still stands in the bar alongside my grandfather’s bottle collection.”

While the inside of Gordon’s is the most recognisable, most guests will have spent their time there in the outdoor alleyway. When Luis was in charge, he popped six sets of tables and chairs on the first small section. When Simon came back to work at the bar after a career in accounting, the outside became more and more popular. He erected awnings he bought while sailing in France, stuck some heaters on and now they can seat 168 extra customers (compared to the indoor capacity of 80) along the length of the entire terrace. “I never thought in a million years that people would go down to the end of the terrace – but it just went ballistic.”

Gordon’s Wine Bar

The menu is full of delicious wines, including some of the bar’s own offerings

On the grapevine

I may have been patronising Gordon’s for over 10 years but I don’t think I’ve drunk the same wine twice. From the specials board to reams of wine, sherry, and Ports on the menu, not to mention the staff’s extensive knowledge of what you’d like based on a quick rundown of your preferred style, there are plenty of opportunities to try something different.

White, rosé and red wines include more traditional bottlings such as Henri Gaillard Cotes de Provence, South African Chenin Blanc, and  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Passofino, to natural, vegan, low sulphur, and even a non-alcoholic offering. Sherry comes from the barrel (like a chilled Manzanilla La Goya) or bottle, and there are even Gordon’s-own Ports and wines.

“I’ve got a pretty useless palate,” admits Simon. “I do however know what I like and I don’t like. I don’t like wines that are too acidic, and I can’t stand purple coloured red; I do like a nice white burgundy… You can easily see what the [trends] are: Prosecco went through a stage, and in summer we sell bags of rosé.”

Gordon’s Wine Bar

Joan with Simon and his mother

Leading characters

While the wine list is varied, you’ll see a lot of regular faces behind the bar – some of the staff have been on the payroll for 75 years. When Simon first started working at Gordon’s he remembers someone called George, despite never meeting him: “People would always be asking ‘How’s George? Where’s George?” One stalwart he did meet though was Joan, a once customer who frequented the bar from 1936 (“when someone offered her a sherry and tried to get her sozzled”) and continued working at the bar until she was 90 years of age.

When it comes to the punters, it’s the stomping ground for plenty of famous people, Simon tells me, from politicians to actors, newsreaders, and football managers (although he’d rather not divulge their names to honour their anonymity thanks to Gordon’s dark corners). He also mentions that it’s a hot spot for members of the Ministry of Defence, as well as senior police and even some spooks due to the cavernous, noisy, and echoey nature of the bar meaning it’s hard to bug but easy to have secretive conversations.

Gordon’s Wine Bar

You can find Gordon’s on 47 Villiers St in Embankment, London. We highly recommend you pay it a visit

Future tales

Of course, Gordon’s succumbed to Covid as much as any other hospitality business over the last 18 months, but Simon admits that he prefers the operation now in terms of customer experience and in fact, a lot of what was implemented during the pandemic was already in place. “We were already doing table service [for wine as well as the cold menu of cheese, pies, scotch eggs and other items of a similar ilk],” but the no-booking policy means that while there is usually a short queue on the pavement upstairs, people are more than happy to chat to each other while they wait and tales turn quickly giving as many people as possible the chance to experience Gordon’s for the first (or 100th) time.

There have been a couple of additions to Gordon’s brand over the years too, which have sadly closed down. One was another Gordon’s-style place in an old garage in Stockbridge, while a bar called Villiers was opened a few doors up from the original bar but has since closed down. Saying that, Simon alludes to a potential new purchase that may be an extension of the original bar in the not too distant future. And it’s lovely to hear that his daughter Lucy has set up her own drinks company, From Our Cellar, showcasing producers of wine, spirits, and food all in one marketplace – “it’s really nice seeing her doing something in the wine trade.”

As for Gordon’s Wine Bar, Simon is keen to keep customers old and new coming back to enjoy the unique experience you can only get at Gordon’s: When I first took over I thought I’d open a chain, but it’s so unique, it’s the perfect location, it’s manageable. It’s just too difficult to keep the same [level of experience] when you have too many places.”

One customer who’s happy to hear that is myself who, as I sign off this piece, am planning on spending a Monday lunchtime off work down in those hallowed cellars. They really don’t make them like Gordon’s anymore.

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The seven new international bars giving us wanderlust

As the world begins to reopen for travel, we’ve scouted out some of the new bars that are opening abroad to add to our bucket lists – when we can…

As the world begins to reopen for travel, we’ve scouted out some of the new bars that are opening abroad to add to our bucket lists – when we can finally visit them. Here are seven new international bars with mouthwatering menus. 

Is it just me or is your Instagram feed currently full of other people jetting off to far-flung places for their first dose of international travel in the last 18 months? #Outofofficeon has never been more triggering. There has also been a slew of bar openings around the world as their respective homes have reopened for tourists and locals alike.

From Barcelona to Hong Kong, Madrid to Singapore, our favourite holiday spots have just added some new spots to bar fans’ bucket lists. And while we’ve had some exciting new additions to the drinking scene here at home, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t excited to get off British soil. Green, amber or red list (vaccine passports or no), we’ve rounded up some of the best you should visit when you can.

Fat Schmucks, Barcelona

Long drinks are the speciality at Fat Schmucks, Barcelona

Fat Schmuck, Barcelona

From the award-winning team behind Two Schmuck (which sits just two doors down) is Fat Schmuck, a new all-day restaurant and bar serving American food with pan-Asian influences and long drinks. Originally a six-month pop up, this now permanent new destination venue will give fans of Two Schmuck’s stirred down and classic cocktails something a bit different, with long drinks and spritzes taking centre stage, alongside 12 cocktails on tap.

We like the sound of the Not a Paloma: a carbonated cocktail built around buttered Tequila, mezcal, pear eau-de-vie and grapefruit with a rim of seasoned tajin (a well-known Mexican condiment comprising mainly lime, chilli and salt). Judging by the antics at the venue a couple of weeks ago (Flamenco dancers, seafood-strewn tables and Mariachi bands) Fat Schmuck is going to go off!

ARGO - Yvonne Chan, head bartender mood

Yvonne Chan, head bartender at Argo

Argo, Hong Kong

Behold: the ground floor of Hong Kong’s Four Seasons has a new drinking hole in place of its Blue Bar. Argo – headed up by Lorenzo Antinori whose previous tenures have included Dandelyan and the American Bar at The Savoy – looks over the city’s Victoria Harbour and takes its name from the ship that appears in the Jason and the Argonauts myth on the hunt for the Golden Fleece. That sense of discovery is mirrored by the drinks menu which offers spirits flights, bottlings that have never been seen before in Hong Kong, as well as the bar’s own gin and the world’s first AI-produced gin too.

Drinkers will discover some intriguing homemade ingredients in their cocktails too: think Longan shell & ivy leaf tea, sake lees cream and aged rice. Our pick of the bunch? Holy Grains which comprises Mackintosh whisky, sake lees cream, fried peanuts, tumugi koji and banana. Amen.

Isa, Madrid

Another country, another Four Seasons, this time the hotel group’s new outpost in Madrid where gastrobar Isa is soon to open. Managing the bar will be Sophie Larrouture, a bartender from Paris who, during a stint in Switzerland, was named the countries Best Bartender of the Year in 2016 at Diageo’s World Class competition.

While you wait for Isa to open (and we wait for more intel on the cocktail offering) the hotel’s El Patio and Dani dining spots are already turning out inventive drinks offerings like vermouths straight from the barrel as well as Madrid-inspired cocktails: La Mariblanca pays homage to the goddess Venus who is a symbol in the city and combines Verdejo white wine, Ketel One vodka, Italicus, Appletizer, Chinchon and Supasawa.

Drinks at Philomena in New York

Drinks at Philomena’s in New York

Philomena’s, New York City

Speciality ice is the order of the day at this new Williamsburg joint (see photo in header) from brothers Kyle and Sean O’Brien. And they won’t just be carving them beautifully – they’re infusing them too. Its namesake cocktail, the Philomena, features a watermelon-rose ice cube in Prosecco; then there’s the Felix with a cucumber, lime and tajin (there it is again) ice cube in mezcal and expressed orange; while the Aileen sees a habanero ice cube in Tequila blanco, guava, lime and Cointreau.

Dean & Nancy, Sydney

From the brains behind everyone’s favourite Maybe Sammy, comes Dean & Nancy atop Sydney’s new A by Adina hotel. Mid-century surrounds are juxtaposed with playful cocktails. Guests who pick the Rolling a Double (Havana 3, pineapple shrub, coconut water and rum Agricole) will be given a pair of dice – roll, you guessed it, a double and they’ll get a complimentary glass of Champagne. 

For a more sensory experience, the Coffee Champagne (Mr Black, vodka, peach wine, vanilla, orange blossom and Champagne) comes with a vanilla and coffee-infused hand cream meaning drinker will get a hit of its aroma with every raise of the glass. We also like the sound of the mini food and drink combos, specifically the mini vodka Martini and oyster nam jim (a spicy chilli, garlic and ginger dressing).

The Fed

The Fed is inspired by the great British pub, apparently

The Fed, Boston

There’s a new British pub-inspired drinking destination at Boston’s The Langham. The Fed mixes British pub touches with New England influences on the hotel’s ground floor, although those more familiar with an actual British pub may not see it reflected in the slick and marble-topped bar that dominates this new space.

There is (unsurprisingly) a strong draught beer selection, from Harpoon Irish Stout and Cambridge Brewing Company’s Flower Child to a Von Trapp Bohemian Pilsner, while cocktails include Spice Up Your Life which mixes tequila with cardamom, passionfruit and lemon and Deja-Brew with vodka, green tea, blueberry and lemon.

Firangi Superstar, Singapore

This new Indian restaurant in Singapore has been gaining traction with foodies but its drinks menu has also caught our eye. Showcasing some of Indian cuisine’s most popular flavours, the 12 cocktails at Firangi explore twists on traditional mango lassis, play with flavours of chai and experiment with spices, while also explaining cocktail strength and the drinking vessel guests can expect their libations to arrive in.

The Chai Masala Milk Punch stands out, with vodka, gin, chai masala, lemon, pineapple, coconut water and milk; while the Saffron Vodka Sour sounds simple but complex, combining saffron vodka, peach, lemon and jaggery.

 

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Hidden stems: The joys of collecting glassware

From bric-a-brac finds to new ergonomic pieces, glassware collections and their owners come in many guises. How do you start? We asked some of the drinks industry’s most avid collectors….

From bric-a-brac finds to new ergonomic pieces, glassware collections and their owners come in many guises. How do you start? We asked some of the drinks industry’s most avid collectors.

“I think it’s over 1,000 in this house, at least,” Remy Savage tells me when I ask him how vast his famous glassware collection is. The man behind bars including London’s A Bar with Shapes for a Name, Floraison, and Paris’ Le Syndicat is known for his love of drinking vessels and has even got his own range on the market as part of a collaboration with ‘simple is beautiful’ glassware specialist, Nude.

So, it comes as no surprise that Savage is about to launch The Glassware Archive, an Instagram account where every day, a different piece of glassware is featured complete with specs and where to buy it from.

Like any self-respected bon vivant, my own glassware collection is a who’s who (or a what’s what) of antique and second-hand shop escapades, and the trophies of surviving perilous tube journeys and rental car rides to the safety of my home. It includes a now odd number of Babycham coupes, a pair of Raffles Martini glasses, some Port sippers complete with four little feet and sipping tubes, obligatory cut glass whisky tumblers, a pair of kitsch Irish coffee glasses with ingredient measurements and illustrations marked up the side, and many, many more (see header).

There are myriad joys to be had from collecting glassware: so, where do you start – and why?

remy-savage Credit Remy Savage/ Bombay Sapphire

Remy Savage behind the bar Credit: Remy Savage/ Bombay Sapphire

Finding your groove

When Henrietta Lovell, founder of Rare Tea Company, started her collection, she embarked on it using a singular approach. “I started by thinking ‘this is going to be my favourite glass for water, and one for drinking sake, one for wine…’ I don’t have many sets, occasionally they come into my life but it was really about every single piece being special to me.”

Lovell acquires her pieces from bric-a-brac stories and second-hand shops she might be passing, rarely buying brand new pieces, bar a recent clear-crystal sake cup shaped a little like a tea bowl.

Go to any of Savage’s bars and it’s hard not to notice the attention that’s gone into their glassware. He’s been an avid collector for the last 15 or so years, even keeping Guinness pint glasses when the opportunity presents itself. He reckons he’s the largest collector in the world of Bimini glasses. Founded in Austria in 1923 by Fritz Lampl, Bimini Glass was known for producing glass sculptures of figures and animals, and Savage’s collection includes glassware with stems in the shape of nude women.

When it comes to more contemporary glassware, he is a big fan of Japanese company Kimura which specialises in beautiful, premium, delicate pieces of varying designs, from a crumple effect wine glass to its signature engraved Kikatsu range – “they do very cool stuff”.

Bimini glass from Remy Savage's collection

Bimini glass from Remy Savage’s collection

What’s in the glass?

While the variety of glassware for drinking cocktails may be one of the broadest – Highball, Hurricane, coupe, Martini, etc – whisky isn’t short of options either, although its drinkers are usually more fanatical about their choices.

Micky Plummer, UK brand ambassador in the north for Mackmyra Swedish Whisky, has an impressive collection of dramware at his disposal and is swayed by practicality and nuance over trends or aesthetics. But, there is one style of glass that is his go-to for drinking whisky – the copita. “I just like the feel of a stemmed glass and what you can do with it,” he says of his preference. “You can pick one up for £8-£11 and they’re used by about nine out of 10 blenders to analyse their liquids… they’re great, whether it’s for a comfort dram in front of the telly or getting to grips with something in the [whisky] collection.”

Of course, the choices in glassware of whisky drinkers spans pieces far more complicated – and expensive – than the humble copita. Plummer points to his Norlan whisky glass, designed to look like a tumbler from the outside, while the inside is shaped like industry standard Glencairn whisky glass.

He also gives good airtime to the Norlan Rauk (‘rocks’) glass which has some clever fin-like grooves at its interior’s bottom, to “allow the ice to sit on top of the fins and the liquid to be able to move underneath it.” While Plummer likes his Norlan, he admits he doesn’t use it as much as a Glengairn and, in fact, thinks the latter is probably the “bullet-proof” go to glass for whisky drinkers looking to invest in glassware. There’s even a cut-glass version.  

Plummer’s preference for certain styles of glassware for drinking certain styles of drinks is matched by Lovell, who’s opinion was only strengthened while working on a project at the Victoria & Albert Museum. “I was working on a project at the V&A about how we taste things and we were looking at the collection of tea and glassware. We tried the same tea out of many different vessels, tried it on the public, and they had a different reaction depending on the [vessel]. Fineness of the lip-feel was a really important one – if you put something very fine to the lip, …the flavour is much more nuanced.” 

She’s also a huge advocate of antique glasses due to them usually being smaller than more modern glassware. “If you drink out of a smaller glass you appreciate it a little bit more – it certainly helps me to sip. I spent some time in Copenhagen and bought old schnapps glasses; if I put whisky in a schnapps glass I sip my whisky in a completely different way.”

Savage even goes as far as being inspired by glassware when it comes to creating certain cocktails: “the visuals come first, the drink after.” He’s also an advocate of thin and delicate glassware – “if I have the most extraordinary eau-de-vie I want there to be as little between the consumer and the liquids as possible.” But when it comes to drinking certains liquids out of certain vessels, the most obvious piece isn’t always the way – sometimes, he says, it’s the bartender’s job to break those rules.

Micky Plummer glassware

Micky Plummer glassware, Norlan glass is on the middle row, second left

Putting your money where your mouth is

Collecting glassware can be as cheap or as expensive as you want – whether it’s an off the shelf lone purchase in a charity shop or a rare antique online – but it’s always important to watch out for seller’s spiel. “Try not to be dumbfounded or befuddled by the marketing bullshit,” advises Plummer, who between his £50 Norlan and £6 Glencairn, prefers the latter. When he does invest, the science behind the design and the uniqueness play a decent part in how much money he parts with. And if you can, try before you buy, he suggests.

For Savage, of course well-made, new glassware is definitely worth investing in, but he’s also using a £1 Ikea glass at his new bar, Florian – sometimes it’s just as important to buy the pieces you actually enjoy using. Lovell agrees, telling me she uses her favourite glassware every day – whereas most people only use it for special occasions: “The things you touch every day should be lovely things”.

And it’s always worth remembering that, inevitably, some of your glassware will become victims to slippery fingers or an overly rambunctious dishwasher. Having been widowed many times, this is often more traumatic with something that was second hand. But both Lovell and Savage see this is the glass version of the circle of life. For Lovell it’s practical (“it just makes room for new glasses”) while Savage has a slightly more philosophical approach: “Glasses are meant to be touched and enjoyed, and I have a five-year-old daughter so glassware breaks in this house… sometimes glasses are meant to be broken.”

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Cocktail of the Week: The Bullshot

The heyday of the Bullshot cocktail was in the 1960s and’70s when it was enjoyed by such stars as Joan Crawford, Malcolm McDowell, and, um, Rodney Dangerfield. Since then, it’s…

The heyday of the Bullshot cocktail was in the 1960s and’70s when it was enjoyed by such stars as Joan Crawford, Malcolm McDowell, and, um, Rodney Dangerfield. Since then, it’s never quite reached such glittering heights. But Millie Milliken thinks the Bullshot is ripe for a revival. So grab a can of Campbell’s beef broth, and discover it for yourself.

It all started with a can of Campbell’s soup. So says cocktail historian Dave Wondrich in his recounting of the origins of the Bullshot cocktail. Detroit’s Caucus Club bar is the setting for this slightly strange cocktail which was invented by a soup PR man and a bartender. Somehow, it became a mainstay of American bars during the 1950s and ‘60s.

The Bullshot (which has also been known as a Jumping Bull, Matador and Ox on the Rocks is unsurprisingly bovine in nature. Traditionally, it comprises beef bouillon, vodka, lemon juice and hot pepper or Worcestershire sauce – a meaty version, for some, of a Bloody Mary – and although originally served cold, it can also be served hot as a warming toddy.

Despite its popularity in mid-20th century America, the Bullshot isn’t something you see on many bar menus in the UK. It did make an appearance at Claridge’s’ The Fumoir bar in 2014 and The Times even reported that it was among the meaty cocktails (‘stocktails’) making a comeback as recently as 2018. Surely, beef broth’s reputation as a virtuous liquid lately gives it a pretty good chance.

So, how did it all begin? And what can they look – and taste – like now?

Campbell's Beef Soup - The Bullshot cocktail

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can

Holy cow

As Wondrich regales, one night, Lester Gruber, owner of the Caucus Club, got talking over the bar to John Hurley, a local PR man who just so happened to be looking after the Campbell’s account. One of the soup brand’s products at the time was a canned beef broth – the bouillon – and Hurley was having trouble shifting it. Gruber volunteered to help and with the addition of vodka, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, the Bullshot was born.

In the 1970s the brand took it one step further with a catchy ‘soup on the rocks’ advert, showing a can of Campbell’s beef bouillon being poured over ice: “Take it straight or add a dash of Worcestershire or lemon peel for a kicky switch,” the ad reads, notably eschewing the vodka. It’s follow-up was an ad for a Frisky Sour – beef bouillon, ice water, fresh lemon juice, shaken and served in a Champagne flute, again a non-alcoholic family-friendly drink.

If it’s good enough for…

The boozy version has been enjoyed by some of the 50s and 60s most notable Hollywood stars – except for Marilyn Monroe who apparently said, “What a horrible thing to do with vodka”.

Those in favour though include Malcolm McDowell who was reported to have been seen drinking beef bouillon and vodka while promoting Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange.

A contemporary of Monroe, Joan Crawford (of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? fame) was also a fan. She was said to enjoy a Bullshot – or six – 1960s TV sensation Richard Chamberlain at New York hotspot La Grenouille.

For those familiar with the 1980s golf comedy Caddyshack, you’ll even hear actor and comedian Rodney Dangerfield ask the film’s lead Chevy Chase: “Hey, can you make a Bullshot?”

Can-do attitude

Just like the Bloody Mary, the Bullshot is a drink that can be made easily at home, and can be as cheap or as premium as your palate prefers. Sticklers for tradition may want to do justice to the original recipe by using Campbell’s beef broth as the base (or something more contemporary such as Spring Broth’s bottled beef broth), while homemade broths will, of course, work just as well. Vegans can also get involved with a hearty mushroom consommé.

Staying with vodka and the likes of Black Cow Pure Milk vodka brings a slightly more creamy and sumptuous character to the drink, while Mermaid Sea Salt Vodka brings home the savouriness. Just as with a Bloody Mary as well, additions like Marmite in the mix or a celery or chilli salt rim on the glass can also add that extra kick of umami and spice. The recipe below is based on the one from Difford’s Guide. You may want more or less seasoning. 

Bullshot (credit: Difford's Guide)

The Bullshot (credit: Difford’s Guide)

How to make a Bullshot 

120ml beef bouillon
60ml vodka
15ml lemon juice
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 dashes of hot sauce
1 pinch each of salt and black pepper.

Mix your vodka and beef bouillon together, add the lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Pour over ice into a Highball glass. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and a salted rim (optional).

 

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What’s the T?: Using iced tea in cocktails

As the weather heats up, Millie Milliken takes a closer look at her favourite soft drink – the iced tea – and asks the experts how to incorporate it into…

As the weather heats up, Millie Milliken takes a closer look at her favourite soft drink – the iced tea – and asks the experts how to incorporate it into your cocktails.

Did you know that it wasn’t until 2012 that ‘iced tea’ appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary, along with other new entries such as ‘ice wine’, ‘bike courier’ and ‘Darwinic’? Neither did I, and yet long before then I’d enjoyed the cold tea beverage in Florida, Malaysia and all across Europe – in fact, I’d go as far as saying that when it comes to soft drinks and cocktail lengtheners, it’s my numero uno.

In Australia, they call it ‘sun tea’, leaving an infusion of tea and water in the sun to brew over time before chilling it down with ice. Some countries sweeten it, others don’t. In Thailand, they include condensed milk to make it creamy. And let’s all take a moment to hail bubble tea, an iced milk tea traditionally served with tapioca pearls that originated from Taiwan.

Despite its surprisingly recent acceptance into official English parlance, the iced tea dates back to as early as the 1700s, where English and American cookbooks feature cold green tea in boozy tea punches. According to Revolution Tea, one such version was the 19th-century Regent’s Punch named, of course, after George IV.

Fast forward to today and bars across London and beyond and the appetite for using iced tea in cocktails seems to be mounting. From whisky specialist Milroy’s using it in one of its pre-batched cocktails, to a signature serve at Black Rock; a mezcal serve at Silver Linings and a peachy number at FAM Bar, fans of iced brews have never had it better.

iced tea

The iced tea has more boozy applications than you might think

Time for a brew

Perhaps iced tea’s most traditional guise is that of the sweetened cold black tea, most associated with the southern states of the USA. One of the earliest recipes for this iteration – and one that originated outside of the southern States – was from Mrs Mary Lincoln, the head of the Boston Cooking School in 1884. Her recipe called for cold black tea to be poured over cracked ice, lemon and two sugar cubes.

Methods of making iced tea have somewhat evolved since then. I started making iced tea for David Chang at Momofuku, we’re talking 12 to 15 years ago,” says Henrietta Lovell, arguably the doyenne of tea and the founder of Rare Tea Company, a specialist in loose-leaf premium teas sourced from all over the world. Frankly, what Lovell doesn’t know about tea isn’t worth knowing. She had just started selling tea in America and was focusing on hot tea, but Chang had other ideas. “He said, ‘I understand what you’re doing and I love your tea, but I don’t want to serve hot tea, I want to serve iced tea – and not shit iced tea’.”

So, they started work on a serve to go with a pork bun. They worked for a long time using an oolong tea and discovered the best way in which to get the flavour stability was through cold extraction (essentially extractive a substance or flavour using cold water). Why not just make a hot brew and let it cool? “When you put hot water on tea, you break down the cell structure [of the leaves] so within 20 minutes the flavour is dissipating… With cold extraction you get complete flavour stability as you don’t break down the cell structure,” explains Lovell. The same can be said of alcohol extraction and Lovell has been working hard since to encourage bartenders to adopt this proven and successful method ever since.

Lovell’s go-to recipe is to take 5g of Rare Tea Company’s loose leaf Early Grey per litre of cold water and leave it overnight. Strain it off in the morning and you’ll get a really refreshing, stable iced tea. If you want to mix it in cocktails, take the quantity up to 7g-10g per litre – “you’ll get a really intense rich flavour which you need to build more body into it for a cocktail”.

iced tea

Few people know their tea like Henrietta Lovell

Feeling peachy (and the rest)

When it comes to tea, spirit and flavour combinations, the options are endless. For Lovell, there are some favourites, like Jasmine tea and gin or rooibos with mezcal. Kuba Korżyński, general manager at whisky den Black Rock cites rooibos’ deep and rich aromas as to why it works especially well with smoky whiskies. Philip David, one half of bottled cocktail company Distill + Fill, “tequila is phenomenal with tea, bringing out those green and grassy notes.”

Having spent time in New Zealand and tended bar, David has always been fascinated with using tea in cocktails – most recently in the company’s new Afternoon Tea (which combines gin, rose vermouth, Monin raspberry iced tea syrup, fresh grapefruit juice, water and bitters). For David, having that tea flavour in a syrup is the easiest way to ensure consistency and balance.

There does seem to be one flavour that regardless of the spirit used reigns supreme: peach. According to the recipes that flurried in from bartenders on request on an industry Facebook group, peach was undoubtedly the star of the show, whether as the flavour of the iced tea or a standalone ingredient (as evidenced in two of the recipes at the end of this piece). “I essentially spend a lot of time trying to make things that taste like peach iced tea,” admits Tatjana Sendzimir of FAM Bar. “One of my favourite things is Snapple Peach Iced Tea – although I also like Lipton Peach Iced Tea too.”

A current cocktail on the agave-specialist bar’s menu is the Peachy Keen, a mix of Metaxa, Peche, camomile iced tea and soda. Sendzimir tried it with black tea but the flavour was too harsh, with the lighter more floral camomile being the more balanced option. Iced green tea and matcha is another favourite, while she is also experimenting with trying it in a shorter, Martini-style serve.

For Lovell, one of the biggest benefits of using iced tea as a mixer though is that it doesn’t have any sugar in it, so you can decide what other part of your drink can bring the sweetness.

iced tea

Afternoon Tea

Take a leaf

Black Rock’s Korżyński took me through two iced tea serves on the menu at Black Rock Tavern. First up was Toki Mizuwari(ish), inspired by the ‘mizuwari’ method of cutting whisky with water, which mixes Toki whisky, blueberry liqueur, green tea, sugar and acid. “We infused the green tea in overnight for six to eight hours as a cold brew to bring out the more delicate flavours in the tea,” explains Korżyński. The result? “This cocktail is quite clean with the green tea, while the flavours of the whisky ad the fruitiness of the blueberry brings it all together.”

The bar’s signature serve though is the East London Iced Tea slushie, combining Johnnie Walker Black, Rinquinquin peach liqueur, cold brew black tea, sugar and acid. Where green tea is delicate, the backbone of a black tea was necessary to match the flavours in the Johnnie Walker Black. “Cold-brew black tea is richer and deeper in flavour and goes nicely with the smoky flavours in the Johnnie Walker as well as the peach flavours – this is just a really nice, boozy peach iced tea.”

Whichever way you use iced tea in your drinks at home, Distill + Fill’s David is an advocate of using it as often as possible, for one simple reason: “What is tea? Essentially an extraction of flavour into water – everything we do in cocktails is essentially that.

Three recipes from the experts

iced tea

Peach, Max Hayward, Lab 22

Using Assam tea and local peaches, Hayward has created this serve that brings peach Melba and Aperol spritzes to mind 

12.5ml Grey Goose Vanilla

25ml Martini Fiero

50ml homemade peach iced tea*

75ml prosecco

75ml soda

*Peel 500g of fresh peaches, chop and add to 750ml water in a pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for half an hour on low heat with the lid on. Take off the heat and crush the peaches in the water. Give it a stir and leave for an hour. Strain the mixture and add sugar (2:3 ratio sugar:water) and stir until dissolved. Steep Assam tea (1g per 100ml) in cold water for 30 minutes. Add the tea to the peach syrup at 1:1 ratio).

Build first three ingredients over ice and top with prosecco and soda.

iced tea

Instant Georgia, Gergő Muráth, Trailer Happiness

While working with some fellow bartenders on some simplified versions of classic cocktails using easily accessible ingredients, Muráth took the Georgia Julep as a starting point to create this fun little number

50ml VSOP Cognac
125ml Lipton Peach iced tea
Sprig mint

Build in a highball glass with cubed ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.

iced tea

AMBER, Alex Farrow and Zoé Donadio, Silver Lining

Part of the orange wine bar’s monthly changing cocktail menu, ECHO, which sees every cocktail designed to mimic the experience of drinking different styles of wine, AMBER was created by the duo to mimic an orange wine

50ml mezcal blend
40ml peach and rosemary cordial
60ml cold brew green tea*
1 dash gentian liqueur

*Add two green tea bags to 1L of filtered water and brew in the fridge for 24 hours

Build over ice in a highball glass and top with green tea. Optional garnish of powder made from leftovers of cordial productions (dehydrated and blitzed with 1:1 sugar).

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