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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Millie Milliken

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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What’s the deal with infinity bottles?

When it comes to DIY in spirits making there is one thing that nearly everyone can do: infinity bottles. Millie Milliken explains what this phenomenon is and asks hobbyist writers…

When it comes to DIY in spirits making there is one thing that nearly everyone can do: infinity bottles. Millie Milliken explains what this phenomenon is and asks hobbyist writers how they fill theirs

There aren’t many downsides to being a drinks writer: woe betide the booze journo who complains they’ve got yet another Champagne dinner in the hottest new restaurant in town. Trust me, it doesn’t go down well on the group Whatsapp.

If I had one occasional whimper though it would be the amount of 50ml sample bottles that literally fill drawers, cupboards and shoeboxes in my flat. Between tastings, product launches, and research for features, they somewhat stack up, and in lieu of drinking them all (be responsible, kids) or pouring them (never) there’s only one thing for it: an infinity bottle.

An infinity bottle is the method of gradually blending a category of spirit (usually whisky) in an empty bottle over time in your own home – in other words, decanting your leftover samples into one bigger bottle. It can be done with any spirit, with no limit to the method or formula and over any given time. It’s a hobby embraced by whisky professionals and non -pros alike. Indeed, in 2017 writer Aarson Goldfarb (an infinity bottle fan himself) wrote a piece for American publication Punch titled: ‘How the Infinity Bottle Became a Whiskey Nerd Obsession’. So, which of our UK scribes are doing some DIY blending?

Humble beginnings

“I’ve been doing it a long time, before it was a thing,” says author and whisky consultant, Blair Bowman. He started buying demijohns, tinkering with several at a time, including one using only malt (never peated) and only Scotch, which he used as a so called ‘mother’ bottle to start new blends off – each year, he syphons off half to bottle up and give to friends and family for Christmas, and starts again.

Since starting he now has a smoky one, one that is a fusion of world whiskies and one which lives inside an old-school Johnnie Walker bottle. For Bowman, the hobby is a fun way of sharing his love of whisky with other people: it’s a really nice thing to do and explain to people… If I was doing a tasting at a wedding, that was something I would bring and share it out of a quaich with them. People would almost always say it was their favourite of the tasting.”

Infinity Bottles

Just some of David T. Smith’s many infinity bottles

Not just whisky blending

Spirits writer, consultant and gin expert David T. Smith is no stranger to the infinity game, but he’s gone much further than whisky. He’s got ones for Scotch, bourbon-style whiskey, Cognac, aged rum, white rum, spiced rum, white agave, vodka, gin (one floral, one citrus), baijiu and one just for Johnnie Walker all on the go.

Smith sees the magic of infinity bottles as two-fold. “The approach I take is if someone wants a drink I can ask what spirit they want and I don’t have to get too into the nitty gritty of what about this one what about that one. I also find it is a good way of getting rid of bottles with two or three inches left – it’s like having one biscuit left in the packet, just finish it!” It’s also a nice way of using those bottles that are just too nice to throw away, he adds.

Fellow Master of Malt contributor Lucy Britner has just recently started to get some skin in the game. I’m new to infinity bottles. I started mine this year after judging the International Spirits Challenge brandy category. I was left with about 120 bits of samples. The great thing about having tasted them all is that I used my tasting notes to make my first ‘house blend’. 

She began by choosing all of the samples from the Cognac category in the VSOP and above section and looked for ones with similar flavour profiles. Then she tipped them all into my decanter. When it gets down to about a quarter full, she’ll take the VSs and do the same.

Method madness

Britner’s approach to her first infinity bottle may have some method behind it, but others are slightly more laissez-faire in their approach, occasionally manipulating the blend to steer it a certain way, but generally just adding to them as and when they have a bottle to get rid of. As whisky writer Alex Mennie says: “I suppose there are two schools of thought: whether you try and correct your blend or not.”

I was doing it for fun for such a long time I never properly started with a record,” says Bowman who, in hindsight wishes he had done – from memory his mother bottle contains whiskies that date back to the 1940s and 1950s.

Smith is similar in that his approach is ad hoc, with no written record of what goes into the bottles, and with only the odd bit of steering: “[With whisky] I am usually more inclined to make it heavier on the sherry or the wine [cask], but it’s not written down, it’s all in my head.”

Mennie, on the contrary, likes to know what’s in his bottles – although he isn’t sure why. “I keep quite anally retentive notes down to the millilitre – although saying that I have lost the notebook, a mystery at the minute but one will hopefully be solved. Other than that, no real rules…I don’t really know why I’m tracking it. There are whiskies I’ll never get again, but there is something of the nerd in me which makes me feel like there is a process… After all, I’m never going to recreate it.”

World Atlas of Gin

Neil Ridley (right) with Joel Harrison

To infinity… and beyond!

There are some ways in which you can manipulate the liquid outside of the bottle however. Author and Sunday Brunch regular Neil Ridley, one half of World’s Best Spirits, has recently invested in a 5-litre cask to mature his blend in: “I’ve actually taken it a step further and bought a cask which I seasoned with Port first. It’s a really fun experiment: the key is to make sure the cask isn’t too active first, as in too raw – otherwise it just ruins the whisky.”

Another fan of cask-ageing his blends is Smith who’s played around with Port and Madeira seasonings and while he leaves most of his bottles relatively undisturbed, the barrels are where he does most of his infinity monitoring.

And while their methods may all be different, there is one thing they definitely all agree on: the extra layer of respect for blenders. “You very quickly realise the challenges of blending and it makes your mind boggle that they create that level of consistency in their blends,” said Bowman. A sentiment echoed by Britner: “I don’t think I’ll ever get a job at Hennessy, but it’s a lot of fun – and a great way to ensure you enjoy every drop of a sample. It also highlights just what an incredible job blenders do – I can tell you now that there is absolutely no hope of consistency in this house!”

Fun, experimental and endlessly evolving, the art of the infinity bottle is, ultimately, something to just enjoy. For Smith though, it may be fun, but he’s taken precautionary methods to make sure the fruits of his labour aren’t at risk of extinction: “This might sound funny, but I’ve actually decanted off some of the whisky and cognac, sealed it in bottles and keep them off-site – if the house burns down, at least I have my soleras!”

1 litre cask

One of these bad boys will take your infinity bottle to another level

Tips from the experts

Want to start your own infinity bottle at home? We asked our interviewees for their top tips:

-Your blend doesn’t have to be the best thing to drink on its own, but if you wouldn’t drink it on its own don’t put it in a cask. David T Smith

-Maybe start with a 50:50 ration blend and see how adding that changes it and that could be an interesting way to start. Blair Bowman

-Decide on the type of blend you want to make, ie super sherried or smoky then try and balance everything around that. Neil Ridley

-Don’t ever mixed flavoured things with unflavoured things. David T Smith

-Don’t be too precious about it – the fun is experimenting. Blair Bowman

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Sex on the Beach

This week Millie Milliken dons her visor and heads to 1980s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out the origins of the Sex on the Beach [adult content warning] ‘Spring break’,…

This week Millie Milliken dons her visor and heads to 1980s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out the origins of the Sex on the Beach [adult content warning]

‘Spring break’, a cultural phenomenon that started in the 1930s might be unknown to us Brits but it’s a bikini and budgie-smuggler-clad right of passage for most young Americans partying their way into adulthood. Every March, thousands of college students descend on the Sunshine State’s many beaches to partake in the holiday’s festivities: sun, shots and insalubrious antics are had by all.

It feels only natural then that the Sex on the Beach cocktail, rumour has it, was invented during one such sun-drenched and saucy spring break. Traditionally made up of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry juice, the drink – usually served to look like a sunset – is typically presented in a hurricane glass and topped with a wedge of pineapple or a slice of orange, a glacier cherry and a jaunty cocktail umbrella.

These days you’re most likely to see it featured on large, laminated menus alongside Piña Coladas (a personal favourite) and Long Island Iced Teas (again, not complaining). So, who invented the ’80s classic you wouldn’t want to order in front of your parents?

“I’ll have a Sex on the Beach” lol

Under pressure

The story goes that in 1987, a company called National Distribution launched a new product – peach schnapps. As a way of selling their new liquid, they launched a competition in Fort Lauderdale during the famous party season, asking bartenders to create a cocktail using it. One bartender was Ted Pizio of Confetti Bar. He mixed the schnapps with vodka, grenadine and orange juice and the partygoers loved it. When Pizio was asked to name his cocktail, his mind went straight to what he believed the Spring Breakers came away to Florida to do… and so, Sex on the Beach was born.

While this is the most accepted story, eagle-eyed cocktail nerds have disputed this being the drink’s origin story, noting its appearance in the American Bartenders School Guide to Drinks (published in 1982). In this version of events, it’s believed that the Sex on the Beach was actually created when a bartender combined a Fuzzy Naval (peach schnapps and orange juice) and a Cape Codder (vodka and cranberry).

Don’t you want me?

Whoever invented in, Sex on the Beach quickly achieved global fame, helped by T-Spoon’s 1997 song of the same name, the Sex on Beach. But it has not been immune to modernisation. Perhaps the most notable version is the Woo Woo, basically everything except the orange juice and a lime wedge garnish instead of pineapple or orange.

The most obvious change over the years has been the transition from grenadine to cranberry juice, while some recipes also call for the addition of pineapple juice for a slightly more tropical taste. A dash of raspberry liqueur is also a popular riff – think Chambord, Tiptree (of jam fame) or St George.

Then it’s the look. Some bartenders choose to mix the ingredient together punch-style before serving (as opposed to layering a combination of cranberry and vodka over the top of orange juice and peach schnapps). Glassware too has changed, from a Hurricane to a Highball, and more simple, low-key garnishes have come into favour.

Sex on the Beach Cocktail

Sex on the Beach, classic layered style in a Hurricane glass

Walk this way

It’s so easy to make this underrated serve at home and it’s just as easy to pump it full of quality. When it comes to the vodka, adding something salty like Mermaid Salt Vodka may help to balance the sweetness of this cocktail and satisfy 2021 drinkers. Ciroc Black Raspberry or Pineapple could be a hybrid option if you’re eschewing raspberry liqueur or pineapple juice. While Misty Isle Vodka is the sort of clean and crisp liquid able to bring this cocktail up in premium.

And then there’s the schnapps. You can’t go wrong with a trusty Archer’s Peach Schnapps but something like Freihof’s 1885 Marille Apricot will elevate your Sex on the Beach. Needless to say, make sure your juice is as fresh as possible. When it comes to the garnish, I’m in favour of a cocktail umbrella and a slice of pineapple for a touch of kitsch, although pineapple leaves in favour of the brolly make for a more sophisticated flourish. At the end of the day, this cocktail is meant to be a bit of fun – make sure you have plenty of it, if you catch my drift.

How to make a Sex on the Beach

50ml Master of Malt vodka
25ml peach schnapps
2 oranges, juiced
50ml cranberry juice

Mix the vodka, peach schnapps and orange juice together and pour into a hurricane glass over ice. Pour over the cranberry juice and garnish as you please. Stir before drinking.

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Going bananas: Why banana drinks are everywhere

From infusions to macerations, esters and cocktails, banana-flavoured drinks seem to be everywhere. Millie Milliken speaks to the makers and shakers who are going bananas for bananas. Hands up who…

From infusions to macerations, esters and cocktails, banana-flavoured drinks seem to be everywhere. Millie Milliken speaks to the makers and shakers who are going bananas for bananas.

Hands up who made banana bread as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. Thought so. Yes, the nation went banana mad over lockdown. My childhood love of bananas in the form of milkshakes, frozen and dipped in chocolate and in sandwiches with bacon has continued unflinchingly into adulthood. Over the last year, I’ve been happily falling over banana-forward drinks.

“In recent times, banana is a flavour that has been forgotten,” says Giulia Cuccurullo, the recently appointed head bartender at the award-winning Artesian bar at the Langham Hotel. The team reopened with a banana bread-inspired cocktail on its new Connections menu (more on that later). Banana’s current resurgence, however, is seeing not only bartenders playing with it as a flavour, but producers are injecting some of the yellow stuff into spirits too.

RedLeg Banana Old Fashioned

RedLeg Banana Old Fashioned

Perhaps the most popular spirit for the banana treatment is rum. Within the last year, two such rums have been launched: RedLeg Banana Rum and Grand Kadoo Carnival Banana Rum. Where RedLeg’s expression (based on the core rum which is distilled in the Caribbean, rested in oak barrels and infused with Jamaican ginger, vanilla and banana) smacks of pic n’ mix foam bananas, Grand Kadoo’s Bajan-hailing liquid brings more caramelised and banana fritter vibes.

Fruit fusion

My favourite on the market, though, is Discarded Banana Peel Rum – not just for the taste but also its sustainability credentials. “Like all of our Discarded Spirits Co. range, our Banana Peel Rum has two discarded ingredients,” brand ambassador Sam Trevethyen tells me.

First, is a Caribbean rum that was used to season a cask for a William Grant & Sons whisky. Instead of selling on this rum – or even destroying it – it becomes the base for the product.

Second is, of course, bananas – specially, you guessed it, the peels. “When flavour companies extract banana flavour, all they use is the fruit, leading to the peel being discarded,” he continues. “We get our banana peels from a flavour house in the Netherlands in the form of dried banana peel chips. We rehydrate and ferment them, to really boost that flavour, before steeping them in alcohol for two weeks to extract the flavour. After that, we blend the cask rum base and the banana peel extract together to create Discarded Banana Peel Rum. The result – liquid banana bread.” Clever stuff –  and the bottle is now 100% recyclable.

Other categories infusing bananas into their liquids include bartender favourite and award-winning Giffard Banane du Bresil, a liqueur made from the maceration of – mainly Brazilian – bananas and with the welcome addition of a soupçon of Cognac. The result? Ripe banana on the nose followed by a more buttery, roasted flavour profile and a touch of oak from the Cognac. A quick message about it on an industry Facebook group elicited responses including “the most glorious of all glorious liquids”; “it’s pretty damn special”; “it’s gorgeous stuff”, and a barrage of banana emojis.

Giffard Banane du Bresil

Giffard Banane du Bresil

Time to split

There are also plenty of liquids that can impart the aromas and flavours of banana simply through production methods as opposed to using the fruit itself. One such spirit is The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve, owner company Pernod Ricard’s first ever rum barrel-finished single malt, which it launched in September 2020.

During a tasting of the liquid at OurWhisky Festival, master distiller Alan Winchester attributed the banana notes in the liquid – which can be found in its new make spirit – to the use of the rum cask, bringing those specific notes to the fore where perhaps other cask types may not have done.

Another spirit that surprised me with its banana esters is Boatyard Distillery Vodka. Head distiller Orlaith Kelm uses selected Irish wheat which is fermented slowly and at low temperatures with no added enzymes which creates banana-like flavours. Think of the taste of a traditional German wheat beer, that’s an ester called isoamyl acetate (which occurs naturally in bananas). Kelm then accentuates this flavour using the still’s plates to create a seriously characterful – and banana-led, liquid.

Isoamyl acetate and other esters develop during the production process of various rums. Which is why you often get that distinct green banana note in rhum agricole, clairin, and some Jamaican rums. Have a sniff, next time you’re near a bottle of J Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum – banana city!

Master of Malt bucket list

Hampden Estate in Jamaica, home of some banana-laden high ester rums

Flavour a-peel

Bartenders are also turning out banana creations faster than bananas in pyjamas chase teddy bears. East London’s bar and pizza joint Nebula features a Banana Blaster (Jameson, banana and soda); bottled and canned cocktail brand Easy Social (from Nebula’s owner) has a bottled banana Manhattan as part of its product range; while a peanut butter and banana cocktail is in development over at Sexy Fish.

Ryan Chetiyawardana’s Lyaness launched with its Infinite Banana ingredient on the original menu. The team cured, slow roasted and blended banana in a solera system to get its complex and versatile banana creation.

When the Artesian bar emerged from the last lockdown, it reopened with a new menu called Connections, focused on the shared experiences of the nation during the last year. Split into five sections, it is in the Wellness & Mindfulness list that you’ll find Banana Bread 1933. “One of the things everyone was doing over lockdown was making banana bread, so we wanted to make a drink around that relaxing baking memory,” explains Cuccurullo.

The cocktail comprises Woodford Rye Whiskey, Oloroso sherry, Banana Monin, ground spice, cocoa butter, burnt toast and vanilla. Cuccurullo and the team have been playing with banana as an ingredient since even before the pandemic, doing trials with different spirits and using all parts of the banana, including the skin. “As a flavour, it is really easy to work with, plus it gives a more creamy mouthfeel. It’s a flavour you can recognise straight away in a drink but it is never overpowering.”

Going bananas for bananas

Trevethyen has seen Discarded Banana Peel used in a cacophony of cocktails too, from simple serves including ginger beer “that tastes of liquid Jamaican ginger cake with banoffee glaze”, to more traditional whisky serves, like Banana Old Fashioneds, Banana Manhattans and a twist of a Boulevardier, his personal favourite.

For Cuccurullo, banana’s resurgence in cocktails could be a source of comfort for drinkers. “It’s a flavour that reminds you of your childhood, it’s a security flavour, it’s nostalgic.”

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The peculiar allure of smoked drinks

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much?…

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much? Millie Milliken asks those in the know, and tries to explain the peculiar allure of smoked drinks.

Most summers of my late teens were spent sitting around a firepit into the early hours, a bowl of Strongbow cider in one hand (we’d run out of cups) and a powerless, useless Nokia in the other. For the weeks that followed everything smelt of smoke. Everything, no matter how much vinegar or baking soda it was bathed in.

Corte Vetusto

Mezcal cooking the traditional way (image courtesy of Corte Vestusto)

While the smell of smoke certainly isn’t for everyone, for myself – and countless Scotch and mezcal drinkers – the addition of smoke aromas and flavours are (if well balanced) a welcome characteristic in a drink. When I ask Deano Moncrieffe, owner of agave bar Hacha in London, whether he thinks smoke is becoming a more popular flavour for customers, his answer is less than vague: “100% yes! We now have many customers coming to a bar and asking for smoky cocktails,” he tells me.

He’s also seen more and more bars using the word ‘smoke’ on their menus to describe a cocktail in the knowledge that “consumers won’t be afraid of the word when they see it”. Smoked Negronis, Smoked Daiquiris and Smoked Old Fashioneds – even Smoky Martinis – have all passed my lips.

Getting lit

Smoke in drinks isn’t anything new. There’s the use of peat in Scotch (particularly from Islay) whisky production which, when burned, produces a range of smoky flavours (or compounds called phenols). Or while the traditional method of cooking agave in pits to make mezcal imparts a smoky flavour ranging from the subtle to the volcanic. But why do we like the smell and taste of smoke so much? And why in our drinks?

In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, ‘Smoke: Why we love it for cooking and eating’, barbecue and grill expert (yes) Jim Shahin traces it all back to our ancestry: “Of the three elements of flavour [taste, physical stimulation and smell], it’s smell that rocks our dawn-of-man world,” he writes. “That’s because the sense is lodged in an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system, which houses emotion and long-term memory. Smells trigger personal memories as well as atavistic, or ancestral, ones. ‘In evolutionary terms, we all started cooking with fire,” Marcia Pelchat, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says. “That smoky smell is a really strong stimulus’.”

When relating this directly to whisky, Charles MacLean in his 2004 book MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky agrees. “Perhaps the big Islays, the smokiest of all malt whiskies, recollect the whiskies of the past. And perhaps one of the reasons for their current popularity is their ‘authenticity’, their ‘heritage’. An atavistic folk memory, like candles and open fires, Christmas trees and stormy nights.”

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends – it’s pretty smoky

Let it burn

For Sam Simmons, head of whisky at Atom Brands (Master of Malt’s sister company), seeking out smoke can be something to boast about: “Seeking out smoky whisky is almost like a badge of honour in the [same] way [as] higher ABV, or IBU (International Bitterness Units) in beer or SHU (Scoville Heat Units) in chilli sauces.” One product to come out of Atom Labs in the last year is Burnt Ends, a blended whisky from Scotland and the USA, combining a 4-year-old Tennessee rye whiskey with a heavy sherried 10-year-old Islay whisky. As the name suggests, the liquid conjures plenty of smoke.

Simmons also mentions the other methods Atom uses to get smoke into their whiskies, such as using casks that held peaty whisky to hold unpeated malt to get some of that character. He also notes that in the USA, he knows distillers who infuse raw materials (corn, wheat, rye or malt) with hickory, cherry, apple or other woods to obtain a certain flavour that get carried through mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. While others infuse the final spirit with smoke from particular woods, aerating or allowing the smoke to flow through the spirit itself. And when it comes to Iceland and Australia, “I know distillers who use dried livestock dung to dry their barley”. Tasty.

When mezcal brand The Lost Explorer came onto the scene in 2020, the agave category was going from strength to strength and bringing more smoke into peoples’ palates. “The Lost Explorer is what I would describe as agave led or agave forward in its flavour and as you progress through the varietals, the smoke aroma changes and develops in different ways,” explains Moncrieffe who acts as the brands ambassador in the UK.

What determines the smoke profile in the three expressions is the cooking time, the amount of volcanic rock and the reclaimed wood used. He describes the Espadin as having “sweet smoke”; the Tobala a “more cigar kind of smoke” and the Salmiana as “more spiced smoke”.

1881 shots

The still at 1881 distillery in Scotland

Smoke on water

It isn’t just whisky and mezcal that can bring the smoke. The Chase Distillery (previously of Tyrells crisps fame) launched an oak-smoked vodka in 2010, designed to use in Bloody Marys while more recently, Scotland’s 1881 Distillery (which opened in 2018) launched its own smoked gin, Rafters. The distillery, which is housed within the Peebles Hydro Hotel takes inspiration from a fire that ripped through the original hotel in 1905.

“We use fresh oak smoked water to achieve a light, savoury smokiness,” says head distiller Dean McDonald of how they created the smoky expression of their original 1881 Gin. “We didn’t want heavy peat smoke-style phenolic flavours that may have overwhelmed the carefully considered balance of our botanicals.”

Achieving that sweet spot of smoke intensity is judged by taste and smell alone, as the smoke intensity in the water can vary. For McDonald the smokiness of the gin brings out the spicier notes while also adding a velvety creaminess, and is an expression that would suit smoke lovers as well as drinkers of dark spirits like rum or whisky.

That whisper of smoke – as opposed to a shout – is something that Simmons finds appealing too: “In blending, a little smoky whisky goes a long way and, in tiny amounts, doesn’t always even register as smoke but as some sort of umami, some memory of Maillard effect – it just adds that yummy yummy.”

Header image courtesy of Kilchoman.

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The 12 new bars to visit in 2021

As UK hospitality slowly wakes up from lockdown, sadly slower than originally anticipated, there are a slew of new bars to go out and celebrate in. From new hotel classics…

As UK hospitality slowly wakes up from lockdown, sadly slower than originally anticipated, there are a slew of new bars to go out and celebrate in. From new hotel classics to neighbourhood joints, Millie Milliken rounds up 12 new bars to visit in 2021.

As if opening an existing bar after being locked down for the best part of 18 months isn’t stressful enough, some madcap bar operators have decided to open brand new offerings – and it’s just the (nearly) end-of-lockdown news we needed.

Some of the biggest names in hospitality have given 2021 the boozy boost it needed – from the Nomad London to the Schofield brothers (who are also well known for their Schofield vermouth), and the kings of modern Irish hospitality – and we’ve rounded up some of the ones on our list, as well as a couple coming soon. So, get your diaries out – you’re in for a treat.

12 new bars to visit in 2021

Get your hustle on at Side Hustle (credit Simon Upton)

Get your hustle on at Side Hustle (credit Simon Upton)

Best for… the very cool kids: Side Hustle, NoMad Hotel, London WC2

Arguably the most exciting hotel opening in London, nay, the world, is the new NoMad Hotel in Covent Garden. Although the atrium restaurant and bar has taken Insta by storm, it is its darker little sister, Side Hustle that has had bar folk descend on the old police station the hotel is housed in. British-pub-meets-New-York is the vibe (the hotel’s NYC outpost is legendary) and the menu is split nicely between classics and new creations with a leaning towards agave spirits. Under the watchful eye of bar director Pietro Collina, it’s no wonder this place is the spot to be this summer.

Best for… classics lovers: Schofield’s Bar and Atomeca, Manchester

It’s hard to believe that the brothers behind one of this year’s most anticipated openings haven’t owned their own bar before. And not content with opening just one after a national lockdown, Joe and Daniel Schofield have gone and opened two. First up, is Schofield’s Bar. Classic in its stylings (white stone façade, a large glass entrance, white aprons) the menu comprises 12 classics – from Gin Fizzes to Daiquiris – and an additional 12 of the brothers’ creations. Second is Atomeca, a slightly more reserved but no less impressive small plates, wine and cocktail bar.

A Bar with Shapes for a Name,

No, not a shoot from The Face circa 1986 but the natty boiler-suited staff at A Bar with Shapes for a Name,

Best for… inquisitive drinkers: A Bar with Shapes for a Name, London E2

With this latest opening, bar mavericks Remy Savage and Paul Lougrat have taken their inspiration from the Bauhaus art movement of 20th century Germany and the ever-changing cocktail world. The coloured shapes above its door makes it instantly recognisable while also paying homage to artist Kandinsky. The team have already been causing a frenzy in the drinks world with their colourful, playful and scaled-back menu, innovative creations and what now, even after a few weeks of opening, feel like signature staff boiler suits. Get yourselves to 232 Kingsland Road. Now.

Best for… agave-spirits lovers: Mezcaleria, Kol Restaurant, London W1

This mezcal bar headed up by bartender extraordinaire Maxim Schulte (previously of the American Bar at The Savoy) is a very exciting addition to London’s burgeoning agave-centred bar scene. Part of Kol restaurant, headed by chef Santiago Lastra who champions Mexican food using British ingredients, Mezcaleria has over 70 different agave spirits on the menu (arranged by agave species) as well as a range of cocktails that include Schulte’s twists on classics, such as a French 75 using sea buckthorn espadin mezcal, sea buckthorn, Nixta corn liqueur and sparkling wine. Salud!

HOMEBOY BATTERSEA APRIL 2021 CREDIT @lateef.photography-36

Homeboy Battersea is here

Best for… Irish whiskey heads: Homeboy Embassy Gardens, London SW11

Another bar that had drinkers itching to get out of lockdown is the new Homeboy bar from Irish duo Ciaran Smith and Aaron Wall. A larger offering than their Islington original, the new Embassy Gardens venue has more of an all-day vibe to it with an extensive food menu alongside the boys’ signature Irish whiskey-focused offering. 150 bottles of the stuff line the statement back bar while classics from the original such as the lads’ signature Irish Coffee feature alongside new creations, some with rather Insta-friendly glassware. And I think it might be illegal to visit without ordering a pint of Guinness and a bag of Tato crisps.

Best for… the after-work crowd: Lost Cat and Junior Jacksons, Manchester

Yet another double act of openings from Manchester, this time from tastemaker Lyndon Higginson (of Bunny Jaksons and Crazy Pedro fame). Housed on separate floors of the same building, the two bars are signature Higginson with neighbourhood vibes and fun events. On the ground level, Lost Cat serves up fun cocktails featuring ingredients like carrot cake syrup, cream cheese foam and miso caramel; downstairs, Junior Jacksons is the spot for bourbon and beer lovers, while both joints offer drink-friendly food from bagels to burgers.

Publiq

“Pint of mild and a packet of pork scratchings, please”

Best for… savouring ingredients: Publiq, London W8

Positioned to be a modern British public house, this new opening from Greg Almeida and Charles Montanaro (the minds behind some of London’s most regarded hospitality joints) has already gathered copious amounts of praise from the drinks industry. When it comes to food, guests can expect regularly changing seasonal plates, but let’s focus on the drinks. Nine, seasonally driven cocktails sit on the menu including a Beetroot and Rosehip Highball, Lemongrass and Caao Gimlet and a Tumeric and Kumquat Negroni. There’s also an interesting wine list from countries including Morocco to Slovakia.

Coming soon…

Best for… modern pub fans: The Cadogan Arms, London SW3

The Kings Road institution is being readied for reopening after new investment. A dream team of hospitality names are behind the project including James Knappet whose Kitchen Table holds two Michelin stars, while the drinks offering will be cask and craft ales alongside an extensive wine list and contemporary cocktails. Opening July 2021

Best for… those after a new regular: Fox and Chance, Birmingham

Opening soon at 45 Pinfold Street, Fox and Chance has kept a relatively low profile, but looks set to be an enchanting new addition to the Birmingham drinking scene. Teaser cocktails on its social channels showcase serves like The Flip & Pip (banana-infused rum, maple syrup and stout), a Stone Fence and a rather slick looking Espresso Martini.

Best for… natural wine inquisitors: aspen & meursault, London SW11

A new minimal intervention wine bar, café and shop is coming from Sunny Hodge, the man behind Elephant & Castle’s destination wine bar, Diogenes the Dog. The new venture in Battersea will looks to demystify the natural wine trend with a list including biodynamic Champagne and Franciacorta, orange wines plus low-intervention classics from around the world, even Wales. Opening August 2021

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Family spirit: father and daughter/ son distillers

We’re keeping it in the family today as Millie Milliken takes a look at some of the father and daughter/ son distillers around the world – they’re braver than we…

We’re keeping it in the family today as Millie Milliken takes a look at some of the father and daughter/ son distillers around the world – they’re braver than we would be

One of my earliest memories is of my grandad (papa) showing me how to make beer in his garage, probably at a much younger age than I should have been. Luckily, there are some families who actually know what they’re doing when it comes to making drinks. Well-known brands from whisky like Teeling, Glenfarclas and Kilchoman trade on their family name, and there are plenty more out there from bourbon to brandy.

In celebration of this year’s Father’s Day, I’ve unearthed some of the father and daughter/ son distillers from around the wide world of drinks. From Florida to Manchester – and including a touching tribute to a recently lost father – they’re an eclectic bunch, and testament to the benefits of keeping their distilling and blending secrets in the family. Maybe it’s true: blood is thicker than whisky.

Jimmy and Eddie Russell at Distillery

Jimmy and Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey

First up is one of America’s most famous bourbons, Wild Turkey. Master distiller Eddie Russell and his father, the legendary Jimmy are a team with around 100 years of whisky making experience between them. And it was all down to Eddie’s mother, Joretta.

“I really wanted to move away as a young man, when I got the chance,” says Eddie. “I played football on scholarship at Western Kentucky University, but when I came home for my first summer break, my job options were the distillery or… the distillery. The mandate wasn’t Jimmy’s, but at my mother, Joretta Russell’s insistence.”

Eddie started at the bottom, rolling barrels, mowing lawns, painting houses before Jimmy moved him into the distillery to learn about yeast and mashing. Now Eddie sits alongside his father on the illustrious Bourbon Hall of Fame. Jimmy isn’t hanging his whisky making boots up any time soon either. “I’ve never thought of it as work. I’ve always said ‘the day it becomes work, I’ll retire.”

Where Eddie gets his father’s strong work ethic, Jimmy benefits from Eddie’s honesty: “When Eddie tells you something, it’s true. If he doesn’t like it, he will tell you!” Between the two of them, they’ve grown an empire that now Eddie’s son is getting in on, and there are now four generations working at Wild Turkey.

Until that day that working at Wild Turkey feels like work, though, Jimmy Russell will (for Eddie at least) always be the reigning patriarch: “For my dad, it took about 17 years before he became a master distiller. It was 34 years for me because my dad is still working – you should really only have one master.”

Father and son at Prestwich gin

Michael and Jack Scargill, Prestwich Gin

This Manchester born and bred gin was the result of a family dinner. “With my Dad approaching retirement, we were talking over dinner about what he was going to do with his spare time and the idea of starting our own gin cropped up,” explains Jack. “I didn’t think much of it but the next time I went round, Dad had bought a few books and a small still and started working on a few recipes and it went from there.”

With a background in chemistry, Michael takes on playing around with recipes and tweaking them as he sees fit, while Jack prefers tasting – as well as sales and marketing, which he has a professional background in.

The father/son duo’s love for gin came long before the gin boom, with birthday and Christmas presents often coming in the form of a bottle of the botanical spirit. Now, they can enjoy the fact that other people are giving theirs as gifts on special occasions – maybe a few fathers will receive one this Father’s Day.

Kristy and Billy Lark

Bill Lark and Kristy Lark-Booth, Killara Distillery

“Working with my Dad can be super amazing and at times very exasperating!” So says Kristy Lark-Booth, founder of Killara Distillery in Tasmania. Having spent years working at the family whisky business, Lark Distillery, with her father Bill, she branched out on her own in 2016 to set up her own venture.

Despite not working together as regularly day-to-day, Bill’s tutelage of Kristy on all this whisky distillation is testament to their working relationship: “I have learnt so much from him, not only how to distil amazing whisky but also a great work and personal ethic. Things like how to relate to people and to see the best in others, to follow your dreams and never give up. Working with him has given me the opportunity to explore and develop my own distilling style and certainly develop my palette.” 

Kristy’s integration into the family business wasn’t always a given. She had her eyes on a career in Air Traffic Control – and while she got a coveted place at the ATC school, having spent some time working at the distillery, she changed her mind: “They were, of course very supportive of that so I began learning whisky making from my Dad, and gin/liqueur making from my Mum. We worked closely together right up until Lark was taken over by investors.”

Looking to the future, Kristy and Bill will be working on a few projects that will see them come together again in a father/daughter – or daughter/father – capacity, including bringing back the old distillery school. Anything about distilling you don’t learn in there, ain’t worth knowing.

Wayne&Holly Bass & Flinders Distillery

Holly and Wayne Klintworth, Bass & Flinders Distillery

From the Bass & Flinders Distillery in Mornington Peninsula, Australia, head distiller Holly Klintworth produces gin, liqueurs and brandies, including a recent Maritime Gin with locally-foraged samphire, salt bush and kelp, as well as  Heartbreak Gin infused with Pinot Noir. The distillery started its life in 2009, but it wasn’t until a few years later that Holly decided to join her dad.

“Over the years dad would ask my opinion on a product or packaging, and here and there I would help out on weekends with bottling, or peeling oranges for our gins. I got a good feel for the passion my dad had for the craft spirits industry and I suppose it was pretty infectious.” Having previously spent time working in marketing in the wine industry, Holly joined her father’s distillery in 2016.

It didn’t come easy: Holly found getting up to speed so quickly a challenge without having a science background and not being initially too familiar with the production process. She was also one of few women working in the Australian distilling industry, although her father was keen to not let that deter her: “He would say to me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you you aren’t as capable as a man in production’… He really empowered me to take ownership of the still, of the spirit and of the product from start to finish.”

Sadly, Wayne Klintworth passed away in early 2020, but his mentorship and inspiration have fuelled his daughter’s love and passion for producing fine spirits. “My dad was a real mentor and inspiration for me as I stepped into the distilling world. Having him mentoring me and him also being my dad, meant I learned the ropes extremely quickly as I had access to his knowledge and expertise at all hours of the day or night and he was always ready for a chat about the business.”

Rollins Distillery, father and son

Paul and Patrick Rollins, Rollins Distillery

If you look closely at the Rollins Distillery logo, you’ll notice it’s two rams butting heads. Florida isn’t known for its rams, so it’s probably more likely that those rams represent Patrick and Paul Rollins, the son and father who distil their 100% Floridian molasses rum.

It all started with father, Paul, whose time at the Naval Academy saw him studying chemistry and growing an interest in distillation. Several years later, the family was stationed in Scotland, where Paul spent some time studying operations at the Old Fettercairn Distillery. Back in Florida, with grown up kids, Paul decided to take the plunge, being sure to utilise Florida’s agriculture in the process.

Patrick was more interested in beer when his father approached him with the idea of setting up a distillery. Dreams of a brewpub slowly faded when he started learning more about distilling and rum – attending lectures and seminars – and he fell in love with the craft.

For Paul and Patrick, two heads are better than one: “Dad is a very inside-the-box technical thinker. He sees the trees. I am a very outside-the-box creative thinker. I see the forest. Together we are able to create so much more than we could separately.”

Paul agrees, with a slight caveat: “Let me be frank, I would have tried to make the distillery happen with or without Patrick, but I cannot say it would be as successful as it is today without him.”

 

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 6: Bowmore

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 6: Bowmore time! Today, we’re taking a look at all the online excitement going on at the distillery while Millie Milliken delves…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 6: Bowmore time! Today, we’re taking a look at all the online excitement going on at the distillery while Millie Milliken delves into the dark art of mixing smoke with sherry.

For the sixth day of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021, we’re heading to the west coast of the island to visit Bowmore, the home of some of Scotland’s most revered whiskies. You can’t be there in person but you can get into the spirit of things by visiting some of the online events below, watching our video from Feis Ile 2019, listening to our Islay memories Spotify playlist and, of course, drinking some tasty Bowmore single malts. And we’ve got Millie Milliken below finding out how distillers balance smoke with sherry casks. What a line-up!

What’s going on today:

Visit the Bowmore Feis Ile page for the full itinerary.

11:30am A Warm Welcome – opening event

12:30pm Bowmore Distillers Art tour – learn how the whisky is made

1:30pm Cook along with Pete McKenna – top Scottish chef shows you how it’s done.

5pm Our Island Home – join the team for a tour of Islay

6pm Malting with the Manager – distillery manager David Turner talks about how malt affects the flavour of the whisky.  

7pm Live tasting – panel including master of spirits Iain McCallum, David Turner and others taste and discuss some fine Bowmore malts. 

There will also be a festival bottling. Sign up here to enter the ballot for a chance to buy it. 

Bowmore

Bowmore distillery on a glorious summer’s day

Smoke and sherry 101

What happens when you bring the flavours of smoke and sherry together in a whisky? Turns out, quite a lot. Millie Milliken spoke to the people in the know about how to marry the two together harmoniously.

As far as alliterative double acts in whisky production go, smoke and sherry is an intriguing one. Peat levels, sherry origin, barley strain, ageing time and cask wood all play their parts when it comes to that final liquid – be it Bowmore 15 Year Old, Talisker 2010 Distillers Edition or Ardbeg Uigeadail.

“Most of our expressions are a combination of bourbon and sherry casks,” David Miles, Bowmore’s brand ambassador, tells me. It is the 15 year old though that really stands out when it comes to smoke and sherry. “We do something different there. We do 12 years maturation in bourbon barrels then transfer everything to sherry casks for the final three years.” That final three years, Miles says, transforms the smokiness into something that more resembles cinder toffee.

It ain’t cheap though, he points out, but the reward for the whisky maker of having more opportunity to play around – and the added layer of flavour – make it worth it.

For Jason Clark, Talisker brand ambassador, he sees the addition of aging in sherry casks as “a subtle seasoning to enhance complexity without dominating our signature distillery character”.

Easier said than done. So, what key elements of the whisky making process do makers need to focus on when it comes to balancing the two?

Bowmore's floor malting

Bowmore’s floor malting

For peat’s sake

Peat, the source of the smoke, can come in many forms. “Mainland peat does have a more woody quality to it when you burn it, whereas Islay peat is more heather and seaweed,” explains Miles. When it comes to Bowmore, the team combines the two types of peat. They also have the advantage of having their own floor malting meaning they can peat about 30% of their Laureate barley using Islay peat, while what they bring in from the mainland (Concerto barley) will be peated using mainland peat.

Over at Talisker, the team uses a mixture of both peated and non-peated barley. “This means that the smoke is a layer of flavour and aroma amongst many others rather than being the dominant character,” explains Clark.

Get your fill

Sherry cask is, it goes without saying, a key factor too. For Bowmore, it’s nearly always Oloroso sherry casks (with a couple of exceptions) which are sourced from a ‘seasoning bodega’ in Jerez and have been used by the brand for over 20 years.

Talisker tends to use refill casks, “for a gentle maturation process that allows our distillery character to shine through, particularly the savoury salt, the spicy pepper and that classic maritime smoke,” says Clark.

And while the type of sherry, whether its super sweet like a PX or bone dry like an Amontillado, plays its part, so does the wood the barrels are made of. Something Miles is keen to impress: “More often than not, those flavours are probably more to do with the fact that it is European oak being used,” he explains of the dried fruit and spice notes of Bowmore’s sherry cask bottlings. “Lots of sherry casks are made with American oak and that will give you very different flavours. We as an industry just tend to talk about ‘sherry cask’, but we should probably be paying attention to the subspecies of oaks.”

Bowmore 15

Bowmore’s magnificent sherry-soaked 15 Year Old

Age is but a number… or is it?

While the time spent in barrel gives flavour, it can also taketh away. Miles points out that around the 16-18 year mark, the peat influence in Bowmore starts to decline. This fact is true for nearly all peated whisky, meaning everything past those years will mainly be coming from the wood.

When it comes to that Bowmore 15 Year Old, then, it is just at that tipping point: “because the smoke has started to decline it allows that sweetness to come through”.

For Clark, while the casks bring those wonderful winter spice and dry nuttiness notes to the liquid, In some instances, the influence of sherry can be overdone. Balance, he says, is key.

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