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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Millie Milliken

Nine of the best whisky bars in Scotland

It’s World Whisky Week so from Edinburgh to Aberlour, Millie Milliken gives you her choice of the best places in Scotland to enjoy a wee dram. Here are (some of)…

It’s World Whisky Week so from Edinburgh to Aberlour, Millie Milliken gives you her choice of the best places in Scotland to enjoy a wee dram. Here are (some of) the best whisky bars in Scotland. 

We’re pretty certain that taking a trip to Scotland and not stopping for a dram in a whisky bar is a criminal offence. From five-star hotels to neighbourhood pubs and whisky-specific watering holes, the Scots know that locals and tourists alike have a thirst for usquebaugh – and it needs to be quenched. To narrow the scores of excellent bars out there down to the definitive ‘best list’ is no mean feat, so I’ve picked out some of my favourites from across the country. Spoiler alert: your favourites might not be in here – so we’d love to hear about them in the comments. And if you’re in London, here are some great places to enjoy a whisky. 

The best whisky bars in Scotland

Black Cat

The Black Cat, Edinburgh

You’ll usually be alerted to The Black Cat’s presence on Edinburgh’s Rose Street by the sound of a folk band playing in the pub’s front window. Then you’ll be hit by the sight of its whisky-laden bar. The Black Cat does a good job of mixing the classics with new and limited bottlings. It recently became a Kilchoman comraich (sanctuary) stocking a huge range of the Islay brand, sitting alongside the likes of Ardbeg Fermutation and the first release from the new Lochlea distillery. The staff are laid back and knowledgeable and cracking at giving you recommendations too. It also serves regularly changing local beers if you fancy a change of pace or a mid-flight refresher, but we love its 50/50 pairings – a dram paired with a baby serve of a complementary beer. This is the spot for unpretentious whisky drinking.

Bertie's Whisky Bar

Bertie’s Bar at The Fife Arms, Highlands

The newest bar on this list, Bertie’s Bar at The Fife Arms opened in October 2021. It was inspired by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward VII, who was also known as Bertie and to be a bit of a bon viveur. Even calling it a bar is a misnomer because there isn’t actually a bar. Instead 365 whiskies line the walls of this seriously plush space (velvet seating, dramatic lighting and dark wood) giving off the vibe of being a library of booze. We particularly like this bar because of the way the whiskies are arranged – not by brand, age or price but instead by their flavour profiles (fragrance, fruity, richness and smoky), making what could be an overwhelming whisky-choosing experience much more approachable, especially with help from the experienced team. It’s not just Scotch either – bottles from Canada, France, the Netherlands and Japan, well, anywhere that makes whisky, are in there too. Pure whisky immersion.

Quaich-Bar-Hero.png RS

The Quaich Bar, Craigellachie Hotel, Aberlour

Topping the list in terms of its range, The Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel has a whopping 1,000 bottles of whisky to choose from and specialises in global single malts. The bar itself here is absolutely beautiful: handcrafted wood is lined with a silver band made by the Queen’s silversmith, while the walls are lined with bottles. The team here is also one of the best in the business and service is refreshingly relaxed for a bar of this calibre. They also serve some rather excellent cocktails if sipping neat whisky isn’t your jam. This is one you want to have on your Instagram feed.

Athletic Arms

Athletic Arms, Edinburgh

Most people in Edinburgh know the legendary Athletic Arms as ‘Diggers’. Why? Well, sat between two graveyards it was regularly frequented by the gravediggers after a hard day burying bodies. These days, it’s a nutty little pub with a beautifully balanced mix of old-pub-meets-modern-drinkers vibe. Most importantly though, it has over 500 whiskies behind the bar, with eight flighting options to choose from too. There aren’t many surprises on this heavily Scotch-based list but this is the place to go to get the classics and explore ranges from single distilleries. Our favourite portion of the list however is the Silent Distilleries section featuring whiskies from closed whisky houses, from the likes of Port Ellen 1979 24yo Signatory to Dallas Dhu 10yo – and all reasonably priced at that. We suggest soaking up your drams with one of its award-winning pies too.

Pot Still

The Pot Still, Glasgow

From the outside, The Pot Still on Glasgow’s Hope Street is an unassuming proposition. Head inside though and you’ll be met with over 800 whiskies from around the world. The bar dates back to 1867 but it wasn’t until 1981 when the Waterstone family took over McCalls bar, as it was previously known, that it gained its whisky-related moniker and became a whisky bar with 300 bottles introduced behind the bar. Now the Murphy family own the whisky institution and they’ve created an easy-going establishment that feels much more like your local boozer than a specialist whisky bar – and it’s all the better for it. Once you’re in The Pot Still it’s tricky to leave – go for the whisky, stay for the homely atmosphere.

The Cave Bar

The Cave Bar, Meldrum House, Aberdeenshire

At nearly 800 years old, the Cave Bar at Meldrum House Country Hotel & Golf Course is one of the oldest in Scotland and sits in the building’s original larder (the Whisky Club is where meat and fish would have been hung). As the name suggests, it’s a cavernous, cosy space with original stone walls and displays of some of the 120 whiskies to choose from – including the biggest range of Glen Garioch in the world (the distillery is just down the road and a must-visit for whisky nerds). My favourite spot in the bar are the two seats in a hidden alcove where certain regular guests keep their own bottles.

Mash Tun

The Mash Tun, Aberlour

Just set back from the River Spey, The Mash Tun is the mothership of whisky bars in Aberlour. Quite literally: it was constructed by a sea captain, James Campbell, in 1896 who instructed a marine architect to design it in the shape of a ship. After a stroll along the river this is the spot for a hearty lunch and a dram (and an overnight stay in one of its five rooms named after famous whiskies like The Glenlivet and Macallan). Most of the whiskies you’ll find are from Speyside but the main reason to go is for the Glenfarclas Family Cask Collection. It spans 52 single cask whiskies from every year from 1952 to 2003 – the only one of its kind in the world. Who doesn’t want to drink rarer whisky in a bar shaped like a ship?

Torridon whisky bar

The Whisky Bar, the Torridon hotel, Wester Ross

One of the Highlands’ most beautiful hotels, The Torridon is also home to a top class and rather special whisky bar. Its Scotch whiskies sit on one of the most striking back bars of this list (and even comes with a rolling library ladder for the bartenders to reach all 350 bottles that adorn it). The best way to spend a rainy afternoon is to book its whisky tasting experience from 3pm-4pm and be taken through a selection by one of the bar team’s knowledgeable bartenders. Failing that and taking a pew at the bar is the next best thing with the bar team happy to chat whisky while they work. If whisky isn’t your thing, there are 120 gins to try too.

Oran Mor

Oran Mor, Glasgow

For some, drinking whisky is a religion so it’s fitting that the Oran Mor in Glasgow’s West End is inside a former parish church. As well as being an arts and entertainment venue it also houses a characterful whisky bar. Of all the bars on this list, this one is the most charming in terms of visuals with its stone walls, barrel-adorned bar and stained glass windows offset by 10 huge canvases depicting Robert Burns’ epic poem – it’s quite a spot. The whisky collection isn’t too shabby either (300 in total) and every month the team selects a standout malt.

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Making a mint, the Giffard liqueur story

Since 1885, the Giffard family has been making some of the bartending community’s most loved liqueurs and syrups. Millie Milliken travelled to its home of Angers, France, to meet the…

Since 1885, the Giffard family has been making some of the bartending community’s most loved liqueurs and syrups. Millie Milliken travelled to its home of Angers, France, to meet the generations taking the brand into the 21st century

Standing on the almost bare five hectares of land in Chemille where the Giffard family has been growing Mitcham mint for their oldest product, Menthe-Pastille, for the last 10 years, it’s hard to believe that in a few months’ time, this area will be filled with enough of the plant to make the brand’s iconic peppermint digestif.

For a brand with such a rich history, it’s also hard to believe that – while it’s a go-to for bartenders – not more of the British public are familiar with a business that pumps out 60 different liqueurs, from apricot and banana to pepper and peach and around 5 million bottles a year.

Indeed, seeing the inner workings of the distillery where the fourth and fifth generations oversee the making of their liqueurs – not to mention the shiny new factory which turns out 90 syrups – even I’m surprised at the sheer scale of this over 200-year-old dynasty.

So, how did a chemist create France’s leading liqueur company?

Giffard mint

Edith Giffard in field of Mitcham mint

Mint condition

In the distillery’s visitor centre, Edith Giffard, deputy CEO, explains the story of how her grandfather, Emile Giffard, began the family business. Born in 1842, Emile studied to be a chemist in Paris before returning to his home county and setting up his own pharmacy in Angers’ Place du Ralliement. Come the summer of 1885, a heat wave hit the Loire Valley town.

Good timing, as Emile had been studying the cooling effects of mint and making his own mint liqueur. He gave it to the guests of the neighbouring Grand Hotel to help them cope with the heat – its success spurned him on to turn his pharmacy into a distillery and Menthe-Pastille was born.

As was the overarching brand of Maison Giffard, which includes many others from the family within the business. Aside from Edith, her brother Bruno is CEO, his daughter Emillie is sales and brand development manager and Edith’s son Pierre is COO.

The cultural significance of the brand’s original product is clear to see with prints of its vintage advertising posters lining the walls. Some of the art world’s most famous artists, illustrators and animators have depicted the bottle in politically humourous, or striking settings, from ‘the father of modern advertising’ Leonetto Capiello, to Paul-Michel Foucault, Eugène Ogé and Ferdinand Mifliez.

The family brought Mitcham mint, which as its name suggests is originally from Britain, to France and work with a local farmer to grow this crucial ingredient. Harvesting takes place in July when the plants are cut at the base and left to dry on the field (important considering they are steam distilled) before being distilled all in one go. Its continued popularity is evident as I spend a couple of days in the area – with most restaurants I visited listing it as a digestif on their menus.

Giffard

There’s more than mint in the Giffard range

Flavour, flavour

Of course, Menthe-Pastille is only one part of the story. Giffard makes 60 different liqueurs based on fruits, spices and weird and wonderful flavours (including bubblegum).

Watching the distillery in action from the viewing gallery, Edith explains the different processes each ingredient must go through before maceration or infusion (it differs depending on the fruit) in order to create the final liquids: cherries are processed with their stones, elderflower and rose are dried before infusion while mint is kept fresh. Across the board, when it comes to their fruit liqueurs, the entire fruit is used rather than just the juice to make the most of their aromatics (incidentally, when it comes to making their syrups, it’s the opposite).

As well as its classic range, the family decided to launch a premium arm to its liqueur offering inspired by a trip to the UK and the flavour profiles bartenders needed behind the stick. Favourites have to be the premium range’s Banane du Bresil (which I’ve already waxed lyrical about in a banana-themed article) and smacks of caramelised and buttery banana; Cassis Noir de Bourgogne using blackcurrants from Burgundy and an absolute no brainer for a Kir Royale (mixed with Champagne); and the Abricot du Roussillon, made by macerating Rouges du Roussillon apricots. The core range has plenty of standouts too: Crème Fraise de Bois, bursting with wild and grassy strawberry notes; Crème de Violette, perfect for using to make Aviation cocktails; and Poire William, infusing William pears with Poire William brandy.

Edith Pierre Emilie et Bruno Giffard

It’s a family affair: Edith, Pierre, Emilie and Bruno Giffard

Sweet nectar

As well as creating new and exciting flavours in their liqueur range, the Giffard’s are also bringing the syrup side of the business (which began in 1992) into the 21st century. In 2017, it began operation in a new facility complete with a solar panel, water reuse system and plans to reduce the weight of its glass bottles, reducing it by a whopping 400,000 tonnes in the process. Marketing director Romain Burgevin tells us that plans to do the same for the liqueurs are in motion for 2023.

Giffard also works hard to engage with the global bartending community. It celebrated the relationship between art and drinks with two books chronicling UK and Southeast Asian bartenders’ stories behind their tattoos, while the 2022 round of its annual West Cup competition is underway with bartenders across 17 countries invited to enter.

Considering the origins of the Giffard brand, born in a small pharmacy in France’s Loire Valley, its ability to still excite bar – and home- tenders is testament to its dedication to capturing and bottling flavours in all their complexity. Next time you find yourself in hot climes, think about prescribing yourself a dose of Menthe-Pastille.

Click here to browse the Giffard range at Master of Malt.

 

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Cocktail of the week: The Black Velvet

This week we take a trip to the 19th century for a macabre cocktail created in honour of royalty. Don your most elegant finery, and say hello to the Black…

This week we take a trip to the 19th century for a macabre cocktail created in honour of royalty. Don your most elegant finery, and say hello to the Black Velvet.

“I’ll take you to Scott’s and we’ll have some of their dressed crab and a pint of Black Velvet.” Words which, frankly, make my knees buckle. They are uttered by the world’s most famous secret agent, James Bond, in Ian Fleming’s novel Diamonds Are Forever, the invitation being for chief of staff Tanner. At the time Scott’s, which was a favourite of both Bond and Flemings, resided at 18-20 Coventry Street – now, the legendary seafood restaurant sits on Mount Street and sadly it seems, didn’t bring the Black Velvets with it.

The cocktail is simultaneously simple in its makeup and surprising in its ingredients: one part stout, one part Champagne or sparkling wine. It’s a striking – and acquired – combination and is one of those cocktails that I’d feel rude not dressing up for. But if like me you like a cocktail that uses minimal, exceptional ingredients and presents them in a bold and no-nonsense manner, then the Black Velvet might just be one to add to the list. 

The cocktail bar at Rules

The cocktail bar at Rules

Even the Champagne should be mourning

It originated in another London institution back in 1861, Brooks’s Club, and was created by a bartender to mark and mourn the death of Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort, Prince Albert. As the story goes, it was said that “even the Champagne should be mourning”, and so the Black Velvet was born.

Fast-forward 160 or so years and while the Black Velvet remains largely elusive, it can be found in what I believe to be its most successful guise at another Bond favourite, Rules in Covent Garden. It’s no surprise with bartending legend Brian Silva at the helm. Listed as a house cocktail, it mixes Guinness and Champagne, and is served ice cold in silver tankards. It’s a glorious thing. 

Other guises include one at Wilton’s (although slightly disappointing and definitely less grand, being served in a hurricane glass) while seafood institution Sweetings (which opened in 1889 and looks like it has hardly changed since Victorian times) serves Black Velvets by the half and full pint, in pewter tankards. Seafood is the perfect pairing for this creamy yet crisp cocktail – I happily washed down a dozen oysters with my tankard at Rules.

Sweetings restaurant London

There’s nothing better with seafood than a Black Velvet (photo courtesy of Sweetings)

Guinness is not the only beer

While Guinness is the preferred beer to use in a Black Velvet there are some legitimate variations of this historic cocktail. The use of cider or perry instead of stout is one (with it still being classified as a Black Velvet) while the Champagne Velvet, as mentioned in Jacob Grohusko’s 1910 Jack’s Manual cocktail book, calls for the use of porter: “For this drinks a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of porter (both cold) must be used. Fill the goblet half full of porter and balance with Champagne, stir with a spoon slowly and carefully and serve.”

Indeed, the question of stirring or not stirring gives Black Velvet drinkers another variation to play with. While all of the versions I’ve tried have been mixed, the method of first pouring the Champagne and gently topping with stout, poured over the back of a spoon, gives the cocktail – when served in a glass – an aesthetically pleasing layered look.

For me, the perfect Black Velvet uses Guinness (draught, not bottled) and Perrier-Jouet Champagne, mixed and served in a chilled tankard with a side of oysters. It might not be served with dressed crab a la Bond, but my knees are officially weakened.

Refreshing Cold Black Velvet Cocktail

How to make a Black Velvet (as told by Dave Wondrich)

100ml Guinness
100ml Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne

Chill both ingredients. Half-fill a Collins glass or flute with stout and top up slowly with Champagne. Stir gently with glass or plastic rod.

 

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Annabel Thomas from Nc’Nean on building a sustainable whisky brand

From strategy consultant to distillery owner, Annabel Thomas is the impressive force behind Nc’Nean whisky. As part of our International Women’s Day coverage, Millie Milliken spoke to her about entering…

From strategy consultant to distillery owner, Annabel Thomas is the impressive force behind Nc’Nean whisky. As part of our International Women’s Day coverage, Millie Milliken spoke to her about entering the industry, building her team, and relaunching its women-only internship programme.

The last few months have been exceptionally busy for Annabel Thomas, founder and CEO of organic whisky brand Nc’Nean from Drimnin on the west coast of Scotland. In November of 2021, she appeared on a panel at COP26 alongside Nicola Sturgeon to discuss whisky’s role in combating climate change. Last month, the brand received B Corp accreditation status, and today on International Women’s Day, it opens entries for a week-long internship exclusively for women looking to get into the whisky industry.

“We last did this in 2019,” Thomas tells me from her London base, fresh from a trip to see her distillery. “The idea was to offer two women work at the distillery and get their heads inside the industry, help break down those barriers and show them it’s an industry you can really work in.” Over the course of a week, two women will get the chance to experience all aspects of a working distillery, from fermentation to distillation, as well as foraging, bartending, and blending – and even access to post-internship marketing and sales mentorship if that side of the business sounds more appealing.

As the UK’s first net-zero operations whisky distillery, Nc’Nean is an exciting brand to get under the skin of. And with a woman at the CEO level, for any woman looking to build a career in the whisky industry, that barrier is already somewhat dismantled from the get go. So, how did Thomas herself come to the industry? And what have her experiences of being a woman been like while launching a new whisky brand?

Annabel Thomas

Look, it’s Annabel Thomas!

Scene change

“It’s hard to remember,” Thomas says of her first forays into the industry. “What I do remember is going to a trade show in London when we were really early on – I might not have left my job then [as a strategy consultant for Bain & Company]. The only way to get in was to say we were trade so it was just me and my dad and a load of distilleries. We were thinking ‘how are they going to react to us, we’re a potential competitor’, but everyone was so friendly and delighted to talk to us.”

When she finally did leave Bain & Company to start Nc’Nean in 2013, it was with a goal to do something different in the world of whisky – something nobody else was doing in terms of sustainability and having a different approach. She enlisted the help of the legendary Dr Jim Swan, and spent the next four years fundraising and building her distillery on the family farm from scratch. Three years later and the first organic single malt was ready for the public.

Working on launching a whisky couldn’t have been more different to her former life. “There is one thing that they have in common as they’re both quite fun… Bain was very, very long hours, high pressure, lots of travel, a typical corporate city job with no control over your own life,” she says while also keen to point out that she loved her time there. “It’s a client service industry which is fundamentally different to what I’m doing now – my output these days is a bottle of whisky, not a Powerpoint presentation.”

Of course, launching a whisky comes with its own sacrifices too. “It is all encompassing in a different way… there are no boundaries between life and work. I also have two kids, and I took six weeks of maternity leave because it was impossible for someone else to run the business.”

Annabel Thomas

Few distilleries are as forward thinking as Nc’nean

Female focus

Being a woman entering the industry wasn’t something Thomas initially thought about – “no I never thought about being a woman to begin with” – but as Nc’Nean became more visible she found that her gender did become a talking point. “It didn’t occur to me until about three or four years in when we were doing some work on the board,” she recalls. “We’d been undercover for three years and had no public presence… Inside the industry everyone is so friendly and nobody really bats an eye, but people outside find it weird. Once we launched, had a public face and started meeting non-industry people, a lot would be asking ‘do you like whisky?’ and commenting on the fact I’m a woman… I think that was when I started to think that this was unusual.

A few years later and Thomas has a whole team around her, one that does weigh more heavily on the male side but admits that her recruitment is something she has thought about more in the last couple of years. “As a result of me being a woman I’ve certainly recruited more women – not that I set out for that as a strategy, but I think that shows the value of diversity as a woman is more likely to put women in positions.” A lot of the Nc’Nean team are also new to whisky and bringing people into the category is something Thomas has been keen on from the start. 

That desire is reflected in the branding of Nc’Nean, a stark contrast to the majority of whiskies on the market right now. Thomas was keen to make it attractive to both men and women, as well as people who might be trying whisky for the first time so enlisted the help of a brand agency who had never designed a drinks bottle before. “I think it was that lack of hang ups of what it should be like has allowed us to get to where we are today.”

Annabel Thomas

Fancy following in Thomas’ footsteps? Nc’Nean’s 2022 internship is open now

Future forward

And that ‘today’ is a bright one. The brand’s shiny new B Corp status is testament not only to Nc’Nean’s incredible sustainability credentials, but also to the company’s ethos as a whole. “You can’t be B Corp just by being sustainable,” she explains. “It’s also about how you treat your people and how you run from a governance point of view: do you have a board, proper board meetings, is it a diverse board, how well do you work with your local community? We don’t talk about it as much but at the core of our mission is building jobs in a small and remote community. Whilst we are still small there are still nine jobs at the distillery and that is really significant.”

And then there is that appearance at COP26 alongside Nicola Sturgeon, Becky Paskin from Our Whisky and Scotch Whisky Association CEO Karen Betts who left a lasting impression on Thomas. “Seeing Nicola Sturgeon up close and in action… she was whisked in, had two media interviews, from there she sits down and opens this panel then is whisked off to the world leaders’ summit… I have so much respect for her. It was also amazing to have a panel on whisky with four women on it and Nicola Sturgeon remarked on that too which was great. I was very proud we were represented there and I hope the broader impact we can have as a brand is to accelerate progress.”

If you would like to apply for Nc’Nean’s 2022 internship, click here to find out more.

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How to pair whisky with food

Bored of serving wine at dinner parties? Well, whisky may just be the answer to making your evening more flavourful. We ask the experts how to pair whisky with every…

Bored of serving wine at dinner parties? Well, whisky may just be the answer to making your evening more flavourful. We ask the experts how to pair whisky with every course and set out a sample menu for you to try at home.

The pairing of food and drink isn’t as easy as it looks. There is a reason why the best sommeliers and bartenders in the world train their noses and palates in order to provide the rest of us with memorable, thoughtful and – most importantly – delicious combinations.

Sure, while it would be handy to have an in-house drinks expert on hand to help design a drinks programme at home, sadly, not all of us have that luxury. And when it comes to pairing whisky and food, its range of styles, origins and prices make that exercise even more difficult. What goes with a smoky Scotch, a sweet Bourbon, or a spicy rye? And what comes first: the food or your favourite whiskies?

I don’t believe there is a no-go zone with pairings. The challenge is finding the right combination,” says Robert Wood, bar director at Birmingham’s The Wilderness. Wood has been particularly daring with pairing whisky and food at the ‘rock ‘n’ roll fine dining restaurant’ from chef-owner Alex Claridge.

Alex Claridge pairing whisky with food

Alex Claridge from the Wilderness doing that folded arm thing that chefs always do

Playful pairings

So, what are the pros doing? In the past, Wood has matched wagyu beef with a cocktail called the Pampered Cow. “We used wagyu fat to fat wash through a blend of sherry cask whiskies (Nikka from the Barrel & Nikka Pure Malt), then we combined the ‘wagyu fat whisky’ with Kokuto, a savoury sugar and three-year-old soy sauce.” Perhaps not one to try and replicate at home, but certainly thought-provoking.

He’s not the only one having fun with whisky and food. Up in Cardiff and The Dead Canary bar is renowned for its whisky dinners, with general manager Mark Holmes and his team working with brands like Ardbeg, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Cardrona and Johnnie Walker to deliver four to six courses alongside their numerous expressions.

Recently, drinks journalist Becky Paskin caused a stir on TikTok with her combinations of whisky and sweets. Want to go old school with some After Eights? “I find high rye whiskies like Bulleit and Rebel Yell have a grassy, minty and chocolatey character which makes them a perfect partner for this classic after-dinner treat,” Paskin tells me, while suggesting something like Compass Box Hedonism grain whisky with chocolate truffles to “amplify the chocolate’s caramel and vanilla sweetness”.

Oysters and Islay malt

Oysters and Bowmore? Yes, please!

Try this at home

There are, of course, some fool-proof combinations that are easy to replicate at home. Oysters and whisky is a fun way to start a meal – and Bowmore 12yo is a tried and tested winner with its fresh, smoky and slightly saline notes matching beautifully with oysters. Suggest to your guests to first sip the oyster brine, then take a sip of the Bowmore 12 Year Old, eat the oyster, fill the shell with the whisky; and drink the Bowmore from the shell.

Oily fish is another perfect bedfellow to whisky with its robustness able to match bold flavours. The Wilderness’ Wood has recently married a mackerel dish with Suntory Toki Japanese whisky made into a Highball with ponzu soda. However, we think the whisky’s fresh citrus and white pepper notes would also work wonders with an oily fish like mackerel made into a simple Highball with soda water or a yuzu soda for home cocktail makers. If you’re going for a lighter white fish, think about using a young single malt so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the fish.

When it comes to the main event, your core ingredient will sway your choice. If it’s grilled or barbecued red meat, bourbons or peated Scotch will hold their own; while dishes full of spice lend themselves nicely to Highland whiskies like Glenmorangie, Dalmore and The Glenturret.

Perhaps the easiest course to pair with whisky is dessert. The options are endless with an array of whiskies combining notes like chocolate with dried fruits, nuts and spices. Masterchef judge and celebrity chef Monica Galetti has recently been on The Singleton’s Instagram channel pairing its 12 Year Old with pear and chocolate. Or try a new favourite whisky of mine, East London Liquor Company’s Single Malt 2021, with chocolate and peanut butter ice cream. If you’re finishing the meal with cheese, read Lucy Britner’s guide to matching it with whisky.

For after dinner, this one’s a bit of fun and courtesy of Paskin whose affection for whisky and sweets is no more obvious than in using cola cubes. “Drop one in a glass of Old Forester or a smoky Scotch like Lagavulin 16 and just let it dissolve slowly. The sugar and cola flavour will melt into the whisky, giving it a rich, candied and herbaceous edge.” A seriously fun end to any whisky dinner. Isn’t that what this is all about?

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

Pairing Glenlivet with chocolate at the distiller’s visitor centre

Tips and tricks to take away

Check your strength: For Holmes, putting anything cask strength (around the 60-65% ABV mark) at the beginning of your dinner is something to avoid as you could be in danger of going too big too soon.

Think about age: Instead, choosing one distillery and moving from young to old in age can often be a logical and easy way to pair your whiskies, he says.

Consider your flight: If you’re using a mix of styles and ages, take a look at what your whisky flight looks like. Is there a logical progression with your whiskies? Without the food, would it be a nice journey to go on?

Decide between neat and cocktails: do you want to serve cocktails, neat serves or a mixture of both. For Wood, cocktails are a safer option so as not to detract from the food.

Origin can play its part: As with other food and drink pairing principles, taking whisky and food from the same origins (Scotch with Scottish produce for example), says Holmes, can be a good place to start.

Casks play their part too: If something is aged in a PX sherry cask or something similar, chances are you’ll want it towards the end of your meal.

Don’t forget to have fun: Enough said.

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Is the dive bar finished?

Dive bars from the Dolphin to the Crobar are on the ropes. But a new roster of bars with divey vibes are emerging, and their cocktails are making waves. Millie…

Dive bars from the Dolphin to the Crobar are on the ropes. But a new roster of bars with divey vibes are emerging, and their cocktails are making waves. Millie Milliken asks what makes a good dive bar in 2022 and picks out seven of the best.

Spending 10 days isolated in your flat can really do wonders for one’s ability to do housework. My flat has never been so spotless and during my frenzied shelf-reorganising, book alphabetising and clutter-throwing-outing, I came across a framed, black and white photograph of eight people, posing for their portrait on a beach.

London Calling

A lovely piece of memorabilia, I decided to keep it – despite the fact that I have no idea who any of these people are, when they lived or even really how I came to acquire it. What I do know though is that it came into my possession after a night out at The Dolphin pub in Hackney, my local dive bar 10 years ago. 

Any Londoner looking for a really, really good time until 4am should know this Mare Street institution. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, and being branded with its blue, dolphin-shaped stamp is akin to a badge of honour.

People have many definitions of a dive bar. The Urban Dictionary uses descriptors like ‘unglamorous’, ‘shabby’ and ‘well-worn’, with the drinks described as ‘simple’ and ‘cheap’. For me, however, the quality of the drinks (or lack of) isn’t the defining factor of a dive bar, it’s the attitude of the owners and an unspoken agreement between them, the customers and everyone involved that we’re all just going to have a fucking good time.

Ten years ago, such places made up the majority of my drinking destinations: flashbacks to rolling down the steep staircase into Soho’s Trisha’s with a flourish; dancing around my handbag (and getting it stolen) in Shoreditch’s Jaguar Shoes; and pouring pints down peoples’ trousers in Holloway’s The Big Red (don’t ask). Back then, a £4 spirit and mixer or a pint of mediocre lager did the job.

Sadly, many classic venues are falling victim to Covid, changing consumer tastes and the growing costs of running a bar. One such institution is The Crobar (photo below) which, despite raising considerable funds to save it from the claws of Covid, has sadly closed its doors. Owner Richard Thomas opened the legendary rock ‘n’ roll bar back in 2001 after a bartending career that began in 1981. After stints at two former music destinations, The Borderline and The Garage, he opened the rock and roll bar he’s always wanted to drink in. “It was something that a lot of people wanted, not just myself,” he tells me. “Within a year or even eight months we took off, we were busy before we’d even got a name.” For those who might not have figured it out yet, The Crobar was named after the heavy metal tool.

Crobar London

Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy nights!

Dive bar paradiso

Drinks may have been simple (spirits and mixers, and beers) but Thomas never wavered on quality. “I’ve always been a believer in giving people quality booze… Right from the start our aim was to have the best liquor in town.” With a rock crowd bourbon was a popular choice, with around 50 on the back bar and Bulleit as the house pour – selling 90 bottles a week at its peak. Thomas was also sure to have about six to eight Scotches, half a dozen Irish whiskeys and 12 good quality Tequilas which Thomas was keen to give his guests as a serious sipper. “We stopped offering people salt and lime with Tequila because it was nice to drink by itself and our Tequila sales just went up and up.”

He even eschewed fridges (“fridges in bars are the most pointless waste of money) for chilling his beers in ice and water to ensure someone ordering a beer at 2.45am had as cold a beer as someone who ordered one at opening time. A refreshing approach to many of the other rock bars I’ve frequented over the years. “This idea of doing booze like McDonald’s appals me – a good bar is when you’d rather be there than in your house… That’s why people always arrived at 8pm with intentions of leaving at 11pm and staying till 3am.”

Is this the end of the dive bar?

So, why are these institutions struggling to survive? Thomas is refreshingly open about how financially difficult it became for bars like The Crobar to keep their doors open, citing a decline in office workers, less tourists who would spend good money in theatres and restaurants which in turn was spent by their staff in his bar, and landlords upping the rent. 

“Soho in the ‘90s and the early ‘00s was bloody fantastic. You could go out and you could go to half a dozen really cool bars and rock clubs. But after 2008, that was a game changer… It got tougher and tougher, landlords got greedier, the government got greedier, in 2014 they put the rates up by 111% overnight. My rent when I left was £130k a year… Margins got smaller too – in the 90s margins were 72%, but by the time I left Crobar it was 42% because of endless costs.” 

Two Schmucks

Diveyish, it’s The bar at Two Schmucks

Divey vibe, but with great drinks

It might look like the classic dive bar’s days are numbered, yet a recent trip to Barcelona in November pointed to the future. I found myself in Two Schmucks, a bar that defines itself as a ‘five-star dive bar’. It has all the hallmarks of a classic dive (neon signage, Converse hanging from the walls, a definite dancing on tables vibe) but its drinks certainly aren’t. Drinking fancy cocktails like the Melon, Cheese and Pepper (combining melon cordial, gin, vermouth and burrata) amidst the revelry that comes with the Two Schmucks crowd might be the most fun I’ve had while drinking cheese foam.

“The concept of Two Schmucks wasn’t decided by us, it happened as a result of us trying to work around a tonne of limitations – mostly financial,” laughs co-founder Moe Aljaff. “We knew what we could do and we believed in the service we provided. We started without any money so we built everything ourselves and tried to get whatever we could to deck out the bar.  It took us a year before we first used the phrase ‘a five-star dive bar’, the bar took on its own concept and we just kind of went with it.”  The combination of quality cocktails and divey vibes has clearly paid off, with the bar being ranked at number 11 at World’s 50 Best Bars and the end of 2021.

Looking for a raucous night out?

But what about back on UK soil? After two days with the Schmucks (including at their new karaoke bar Lucky Schmuck) I realised – Covid-aside – it had been ages since I’d had such a raucous night out in my own hometown. When I posted on a London bartender Facebook group asking for people’s favourites, one member replied with eight damning words: “There are no real dive bars in London.” Shots officially fired. 

That’s not to say these kinds of bars don’t still exist – they just appear in different guises. Lyndon Higginson, the brains behind Junkyard Golf Club, Crazy Pedro’s, The Liars Club and other Manchester haunts has done a formidable job of combining divey surrounds and late-night destination bars with drinks lists to please a more discerning drinking crowd. Below Stonenest, a new basement bar in Soho, is making its mark too with cocktails like White Port and Tonic, Joan Collins, Zombies and a small but discerning wine list.

And the old guard are revinenting themselves too. Richard Thomas is waiting for Covid subsidies to come through before unveiling the new guise of The Crobar which will undoubtedly be welcomed with open arms and mouths from its already loyal following – and hopefully, a new one too. He is eagerly counting down the days. “You have no idea how much I want to listen to heavy metal and get shitfaced.” Here’s to diving into 2022.

6 of the UK’s best dive bars

We called for members of the bar industry to tell us their favourite dive bars. Here are five of the most popular

El Camion, London

This bar industry regular is still a sure thing if you find yourself in Soho and in need of a bar to prop up till 3am. It’s basement bar, The Pink Chihuahua, is where you’ll find all the tequila and a place to dance with zero judgement.

El Bandito, Liverpool

‘Roses are red, violets are blue, shots of tequila, Blink 182.’ It seems poetry and agave spirits are both a strength of this basement tequileria in Liverpool. Walls are festooned with a mish mash of Mexican memorabilia while cocktails are fun but packed full of the bar staffs’ knowledge of all things agave.

Crazy Pedro’s, Manchester

Pizza and nachos seem to be Pedro’s favourite drinking foods, and chances are you’ll need some to soak up all the cocktails that scream out from the menu. Classics include the likes of El Diablo and Ped’s Spritz, while house cocktails use ingredients like Batanga Reposado, Koch Espadin and supasawa.

Slim Jim’s Liquor Store, London

This Islington-by-way-of-America favourite is described more as a ‘vibe’ bar but people who have worked there firmly put it in the dive category. Whisky is the spirit du jour with over 80 bottles from around the world on the back bar and live music and the obligatory jukebox add to the vibes.

La Pantera, Cardiff

Mexican wrestling on the TV, and memorabilia on the walls, and Batangas on the menu make La Pantera a favourite in Cardiff. Merch is popular (and another sign of a good dive bar to sell to its loyal following) while drinks have catchy names like Shark Tooth and come in fun colours like the Midori Sour.

Blondies, London

A proper rock n’ roller, Blondies is dark, dingy and the stomping ground of punks, partiers and karaoke lovers alike. You might go to this Hackney venue for the music but with pizza, Midori Margaritas and the licence to let seriously loose, this might just be the perfect antidote to two years of being well behaved.

Please let us know some of your favourite dive bars, past and present, in the comments or on social. 

 

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How to keep agave spirits sustainable

With an ever-growing market for Tequila and mezcal of Mexico comes an inevitable conundrum: how do we keep agave spirits sustainable? We ask the brands and businesses investing in the…

With an ever-growing market for Tequila and mezcal of Mexico comes an inevitable conundrum: how do we keep agave spirits sustainable? We ask the brands and businesses investing in the future of the agave category how they’re working to keep Tequila in business

The rumours are true: Tequila is booming. According to The Drinks Report, data from the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) – the body which protects the spirit’s Denomination of Origin – revealed 2020 as a record year for the agave spirit, with 374 million litres of liquid being produced, 286 million of which were exported to over 120 countries. The current export value of Tequila is estimated at US$2 billion.

1.7 million litres of that was shipped to the UK in the same year. Yes, the original party spirit is starting to be taken more seriously. Tequilas once not available to the UK market are starting to spring up and bars and their tenders, as well as shoppers, have more choice than ever. But with a surge in demand come some very real, domino-effect issues for agave growers. 

One is that typical blue weber agaves take as long as seven years before they reach full maturity – that’s enough time for demand to change and leave jimadors (farmers and harvesters of agave plants) out of pocket. Another is that in order to meet demand, some agaves aren’t reaching full maturity and in turn aren’t being pollinated. “Big companies don’t wait for plants to mature, so they don’t flower and the genetic pool of agave is disappearing – we’re losing diversity because of that situation” explains Eduardo Gomez, founder of TequilaFest and director of MexGrocer UK. And by losing diversity, this leaves agaves more susceptible to plague and disease.

“It is a very difficult and complex topic,” explains Gomez. “Many brands are talking about it: some of them are actually doing something, some aren’t.”

Mijenta Tequila

Mijenta Tequila lying in the soil

Sustainable brands

One brand that is working for change is Mijenta Tequila. Made in the highlands of Jalisco and launched into the UK this year, Mijenta (inspired by the phrase ‘me gente ‘which means ‘my people’ in Spanish) works hard to take care of the land, buying agaves from a non-pesticide farm, and ultimately working hard to look after its people. The co-founders are former Bacardi CEO Mike Dolan, Juan Coronado and Elise Som, who studied sustainability at Harvard. “The current situation, I would say, is one to be watched,” says Som of the agave market. “In the lands of Jalisco we have to be careful to maintaining biodiversity… asking how can we possibly conserve that biodiversity in this area. It’s so important for the region to keep the soil healthy. We are concerned about regenerative farming – that’s my job right now, I’ve been busy with figuring out how to make everything work.”

Another brand putting sustainability at the heart of its business is Tiempo Tequila which launched at the end of this year. The small London-based operation has taken advantage of its youth and begun cementing a sustainable ethos right from the get go. “Sustainability is the preservation of everything we do and love, and when you make this as a small company there are things you have control of and you don’t,” explains co-founder James Hughston. “We could control the distillery that we used. We chose them as they have contracts with their farmers with price guarantees, and for us it’s really important that the population of farmers continues to grow. As a small company it is something that is a future target, how can we help sustainable farming. We don’t own agave fields but we can ensure we work with best practice in place. The organic side of agave growing is steeped in mystery. Demand will drive the quality of product, so it is quite a complicated web, but we’ve stuck firm.”

Elise Som, co-founder of Mijenta Tequila

Elise Som, co-founder of Mijenta Tequila

Passion project

Dedication to sustainability doesn’t stop at agave either. “We really do go the extra mile,” says Som of the work Mijenta does to stay green. “Our agave is older, so our agave is more expensive. The leaves are dried in the factory around us and we create labels and papers, our labels and packaging is completely 100% recycled paper and our bottles are stock bottles.” They’re also working with a charity, Whales of Guerrero, that works to protect Mexico’s whales and in turn its ocean. “Everyone is planting trees but we’re helping the ocean as there is a lot to be done. To help preserve one whale is the equivalent of planting thousands of trees.

Tiempo has clever ways of utilising its bottles and raising funds for sustainable endeavours. “We made our bottle to be able to be cut in half and become a candle. We sell them and the profits go into our kitty for the agave fields, bats, deforestation, elements like that where we’ve seen positive uptake.”

It’s not just the brands doing the work. Numerous projects are working to help maintain Mexico’s agave industry, including the Bat Friendly Tequila Interchange Project – a project Gomez finds particularly interesting. It’s aim? “To promote and incorporate bat friendly practices in the agave management and spirit production derived from these plants allow 5% of the agave population to flower to ensure there is food for the nectar feeding bats of the Leptonycteris genre, and in consequence we have pollination.” In layman’s terms, the Leptonycteris bat is the most important animal in the agave pollination process. By carrying pollen from one agave to another, the genetic pool of agave grows – and in turn, so does its population.

Its board is made up of members from the world of Tequila (David Suro, Carlos Camarena and Joaquin Meza) as well as botanists and professors and Bat Friendly brands include the likes of Tequila Tapatio, Tequila Ocho and mezcal brand Don Mateo de la Sierra.

mezcal

Mezcal: it’s all about agave

Future first

So, what does the future hold? For Som, there are some integral changes that need to happen both within and outside of the industry. “If nothing is done, we risk having poor soil, unbalanced soil. A lot of people are understanding that the region could be in danger if we keep planting agave and not regenerating the land… We should come all together as brands to work together.”

For Hughston, regulation change might be the answer. “The premise of the CRT was to preserve Tequila but this can also have adverse effects. In terms of regulations it is difficult, brands are looking to the regulations to loosen the belt.”

For Gomez, while discussion of this issue is very new for the industry, like climate change, it may be too late. “We knew about these issues and people are only just starting to do something… Mexico cannot run out of Tequila.” Amen to that.

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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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