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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

20 pro tips to make bar-quality cocktails at home

Curious about how the professionals make cocktails at home? Wonder no longer. From pre-freezing glassware to emulsifying egg drinks, here’s 20 expert-backed tips, tricks and hacks you can adopt to…

Curious about how the professionals make cocktails at home? Wonder no longer. From pre-freezing glassware to emulsifying egg drinks, here’s 20 expert-backed tips, tricks and hacks you can adopt to make bar-standard drinks in your kitchen…

No matter how well-versed you are at knocking up an Old Fashioned or a Daiquiri from the comfort of your own home, nothing quite beats the finesse of a bar-side serve. The question is: why?

Turns out, there’s more to making a cracking cocktail than just combining measured liquids in the correct order. But you don’t need loads of fancy kit and obscure ingredients to achieve them – all you need is a little know-how. We asked bartenders, brand ambassadors, and other knowledgeable drinks industry folks to share their hacks for making the best possible cocktails at home. Here’s what they had to say…

You’ll need ice, lots and lots of ice

Ice

Use more than you think you need

“There is one rule that I always stick to when making cocktails at home: Use good ice, and a lot of it,” says Renaud de Bosredon, Bombay Sapphire UK brand ambassador. “Using just two ice cubes in a Gin & Tonic or to stir a Martini will only add water and won’t cool the drink down properly. Don’t hold back. The more ice, the better!”

Filter before you fill up

“Ice is often overlooked as an ingredient, but in certain cocktails it can add up to 50% of dilution, so you want to be using the best quality ice possible,” says No. 3 Gin brand ambassador Ross Bryant. “Water quality is different all over the country, so anyone making ice in a hard water area should filter their water first before freezing.” 

Freeze your own large format ice 

“You can do this by filling a take-away container full of ice and leaving it to freeze, use a serrated knife to then cut it into nice big blocks,” says Dan Garnell, head bartender at Super Lyan, Amsterdam. “This will help keep the drink cold but won’t add too much dilution.” 

Know the difference between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ ice

“If your ice is ‘wet’ – i.e. wet on every side, it has been out of the freezer for a while – it will dilute your drink quicker,” says Bryant, “whereas ice cubes taken straight from the freezer are ‘dry’ and will dilute your drink slightly slower.”

Manhattan Duke

Manhattan: 2 parts rye, 1 part vermouth, dash of bitters

Methodology

Resize drinks via ‘parts’

“Try transforming measurements in parts instead of ml or ounces,” says Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “For example, a Manhattan will work with 2 parts base spirit, 1 part modifier and a couple dashes of bitters. Instead of 50ml/25ml or 60ml/30ml, there’s less to remember, and it’s easier to adjust according to the available glassware.” 

Introduce new flavours slowly

“You can always add more, but you can’t remove,” says Osvaldo Romito, bartender at the Megaro Hotel in London. “If you’re not sure, just start with a little bit and add more as you go.”

Look to physical cues

“Shake or stir until the temperature has reached an equilibrium,” says Talapanescu, “until you see condensation on the stirring glass or frost on the stainless steel shaker.”

Dry shake egg-based drinks

“When making drinks that contain egg, you must first ‘emulsify’ the egg,” says Bryant. “To do this, you must first shake all your ingredients without ice. Once shaken, open your shaker and add ice in order to chill and dilute your drink.”

Ask yourself, is that garnish really essential?

Garnish

Identify the essentials

“Garnishes can be divided into two: aromatic enhancers and aesthetic enhancers,” says Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “Do not omit the aromatic ones such as citrus zest, mint, or a spray. The rest can be left out.”

Dehydrate wheels of fruit… 

“These are so easy,” says Karol Terejlis, bars manager at Baltic and Ognisko, both in London.  “Put your oven on 70 degrees celsius and dry slices of orange, mandarins, tangerines, lemons and limes for around 8 to 10 hours. I also dry out strawberries and raspberries for the same time, then blend them to make a powder. Good for garnishes with a strong colour!”

…Or alternatively, freeze them

“Pre-freeze fruit slices,” suggests Metinee Kongsrivilai, Bacardi rum UK brand ambassador. “This will help reduce food waste as it preserves the fruit, but it’s also great for chilling your drinks and it adds to the drink’s presentation. This would be most effective with perfectly diluted drinks.”

Utilise kitchen kit

“Potato peelers will cut you great citrus peel twists,” says David Eden-Sangwell, brand ambassador at Old J Rum. “The Y-shaped peelers are the best for this and will leave most of the bitter pith behind.”

Terri Brotherston in action

Prep

Chill the glass

“Making drinks without ice?,” says Eden-Sangwell. “Chill the glass with ice and water while you mix the drink and empty just before pouring the drink in. This will keep your drink cold for longer.” Alternatively, pop your glass in the freezer for a couple of minutes.

Pre-batch your ingredients

“If you are making multiple drinks, prepare in advance,” says Terri Brotherston, whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory UK. “You can make a small batch of sugar syrup in advance and store it in the fridge. You can juice two or three lemons or limes beforehand and keep it in a jug. It means your ingredients are already to hand and will make it a much smoother, more enjoyable process.”

Keep bottles in the freezer

“If you’re more of a stirred-down, spirit-forward – dry vodka Martini, for example – kind of person, whack that pre-diluted spirit in the freezer,” says Nicole Sykes, bartender at Satan’s Whiskers in London and Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition 2020 UK Winner. “That way you’ll get consistently ice cold Martinis with a great texture, straight from the bottle and you don’t have to panic if you don’t have any ice. Pour straight into a pre-frozen glass.”

Blend your cocktail

“Utilise that blender,” says Sykes. “For really quick, consistent and cold drinks, stick your favourite cocktails into a blender, add 10ml more sugar syrup – which you can also make in your blender using equal parts caster sugar and water by weight – and blend with supermarket ice to make a slush!”

Pre-batch your cocktails

“I’ve got bottles of pre-batched drinks ready to go,” says Bartender Paul Mathew, owner of Bermondsey bar The Hide and founder of Everleaf, “including a Negroni, a Last Word (just add lime and shake), and a Diplomat (my wife’s favourite) – plus plenty of Everleaf for non-drinking evenings and aperitifs.”

The Nightcap

Sometimes, the best tip is just to keep it simple

Creativity 

Create your own cordials

“Experiment with home cordials,” suggests Garnell. “For instance, after doing fresh orange juice in the morning, boil the husks in a mixture of water, orange juice and spices such as clove, cinnamon or nutmeg. Leave it to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes and strain – you have your own spiced orange cordial!”

Try a milk wash

“Add one part spirit to a bowl and one quarter of its volume in lemon juice,” says Adam Rog, senior bartender at The Four Sisters bar in Islington. “Pour your spirit and lemon mixture into milk and watch it curdle. Once split, usually after 10 minutes, run it through a filter – try a microfibre cloth or some kitchen towel, as you’ll want it to catch the curds but keep the lactose. After this, you can add whatever flavours you think best. We milk wash coffee liqueur and add vodka, sugar, vanilla essence and cacao to create a smoother take on a White Russian.”

Or, just keep it simple

“One of my favourite cocktails to make at home is a Negroni,” says Ben Flux, bartender at Merchant House in London. “It’s simple, but a bartender’s favourite! Add a sustainable twist with Discarded Cascara Vermouth and spent coffee grounds to create a cold brew Negroni.”

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Alan Gray, Scotch whisky industry expert – obituary

Today, Ian Buxton pays tribute to one of Scotch whisky’s greats who died recently: Alan Gray, the man behind industry bible the annual Scotch Whisky Industry Review. Here at Master…

Today, Ian Buxton pays tribute to one of Scotch whisky’s greats who died recently: Alan Gray, the man behind industry bible the annual Scotch Whisky Industry Review.

Here at Master of Malt, we were greatly saddened to note the passing of Alan Gray. Alan Gray – ‘who he?’ some of you might ask. 

Alan may not have been well-known outside the industry, and he is unlikely to have been recognised by the whisky drinker, but he was widely respected by industry insiders for his insightful commentary on the Scotch whisky business.

Born in Lanark in December 1939, he trained initially as a chartered accountant, became a financial journalist in London and, on his return to his native Scotland, a stockbroker. Bear in mind that in the 1960s there were still very many more independent whisky companies and thus stocks quoted on the market. But whisky became his great love and, in 1977, he launched the first edition of his Scotch Whisky Industry Review.

As he developed his contacts and networks (which were extensive, for he was a clubbable man), this came to be seen as the most credible independent source of information and commentary on the industry. Each issue went into meticulous depth on production, stock levels, shipments, brand and marketing activity, frequently covering 300 pages or more of closely packed argument.

Alan Gray (photo credit: The Keepers of the Quaich)

His reputation grew with the publication of a monthly newsletter and he was valued for his discretion and his respect for the many ‘off the record’ conversations which added such depth to his commentary.

Alan was recognised as a Keeper (later Master) of the Quaich, an honour which he greatly valued. He was not afraid to challenge some of the industry’s conventions or to debunk the myths and spin that he detected from time to time in marketing. During his long life, Alan recorded the whisky industry moving from the depression of the ‘whisky loch’ to today’s current prosperity and expansion, always with sharp wit and a keen intelligence.

Think of him as a latter-day Alfred Barnard – a chronicler and enthusiast who has left an invaluable and unrivalled record. He had only recently completed work on the latest Scotch Whisky Industry Review 2019, remarkably the 42nd edition (photo in header from this publication). Its 284 pages will be a lasting memory of an impressive lifetime’s achievement.

Alan Gray died on 20th February 2020 and is survived by his wife of 56 years, Margaret, his three sons Barry, Colin and David, his brother Jim and by six grandchildren.

 

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Top 5 drink books (and a jigsaw)

A good drink has transporting qualities. One sip of Lagavulin and your senses will tell you that you’re on the storm-battered coast of Islay, a chilled glass of Santorini wine…

A good drink has transporting qualities. One sip of Lagavulin and your senses will tell you that you’re on the storm-battered coast of Islay, a chilled glass of Santorini wine is almost as good as a trip to the island itself, and shut your eyes while sipping a good strong Martini and you could be in New York City. The magic is even stronger if you add a good book into the mix which is why we’ve picked five of our favourite drink books in stock at Master of Malt. So, you can explore the world, drink in hand, while maintaining social distancing. If there are any that we have missed, do let us know in the comments or on social. Oh, and we’ve stuck a jigsaw in at the end because you can never have too many whisky-based games. 

 

The Home Bar Henry Jeffreys

If you can’t go out to the bar then why not bring the bar to you? That’s the premise of The Home Bar written by MoM’s very own features editor. It features tips on how to get the right look from an old fashioned pub bar to turning your room into a tiki wonderland, the basic kit you need, and cocktail recipes from the top bartenders. You might never need to leave the house again.

 

Whisky: The Manual Dave Broom

As experienced drinkers you probably think that you don’t need a whisky manual. It’s not a piece of flatpack furniture, just open the bottle and pour. Well, put your scepticism aside because this book from one of the country’s best loved and most majestically bearded whisky writers will take your appreciation of whisky to the next level. 

 

Distilled Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

The dynamic duo of Harrison and Ridley have written quite a few books but we like this one because it distills (pun fully intended) what the duo do best: insatiable curiosity about drinks, and an amusing style that belies a deep knowledge and understanding of the wide world of booze. Taking in whisky, Calvados, baijiu, Armagnac, gin and more, it’s all here. There’s even a tasting set to go alongside it.

 

 

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020

Love him or loathe him, there’s no doubt that Murray has mastered the art of setting the whisky agenda. When Murray made a Japanese whisky, a Yamazaki sherry cask, his whisky of the year in 2014, it made the front page of the papers around the world. Most whisky writers would sell their grannies for that kind of clout. So find out who’s up and who’s down in Murray’s view in this year’s guide, just don’t take it all too seriously.

 

The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace Tristan Stephenson

If you’re serious about cocktails, then you need to read Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender. He’s been in the industry since his early twenties, won all kinds of awards and he’s a great writer. You almost want to dislike him. We stock a few of his books and they’re all brilliant but we’ve highlighted this one as we know how much our customers love gin.

 

And finally. . .  The Whiskies of Scotland Jigsaw Puzzle 

Here’s the perfect thing for when you can’t go outside, a whisky jigsaw! Produced by the cleverly-named Bamboozled, it’s a map of Scotland market with famous distilleries. It’s the brainchild of Rebecca Gibb, an actual Master of Wine (she knows a thing or two about whisky as well), so you should learn something while you puzzle. 

 

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Agave cask Scotch whisky: what fresh madness is this?

In June 2019, the SWA issued a statement outlining changes to the Scotch whisky rules allowing, among other things, ageing in casks that previously held agave spirits. Now the first…

In June 2019, the SWA issued a statement outlining changes to the Scotch whisky rules allowing, among other things, ageing in casks that previously held agave spirits. Now the first agave-aged whiskies are here (or nearly here , the UK market will have to wait a while), and Ian Buxton wants to know: what came first, the new rules or the whiskies? 

Well, that didn’t take long.

Back in January 2018, you might recall excited commentary around a story that Diageo had a ‘secret working party’ suggesting new rules expanding the types of casks that could be used to finish Scotch whisky. The Wall Street Journal broke the story but it soon led to much speculation on social media, with some commentators having a minor fit of the vapours at a proposal considered shocking, radical or heretical (insert your adjective of choice – you get the general idea). If you believed some of the responses, the whole future of Scotch was at stake.

Diageo’s secret jungle HQ. . . allegedly

At the time industry leader Diageo played the predictable dead bat. Speaking quite possibly from a hidden lair in an extinct volcano while stroking a white cat, an anonymous spokesman offered these priceless words to a breathlessly waiting world:

“Scotch is the most important category for Diageo and we have an unwavering commitment to the integrity, long-term success, history and tradition of the category. As champions of Scotch, we are always looking at ways to innovate to both protect and secure the future success of the category. In doing so, we work with the Scotch Whisky Association [SWA] on a range of ideas that seek to strike a balance between tradition and innovation, in a way that ensures consumers get the great products they want. We will never compromise on the quality and integrity of Scotch.”

And so matters remained until June 2019 when the SWA, previously reported to be unenthusiastic about the changes, quietly announced an amendment to the prosaically-named Scotch Whisky Technical File.  This permitted Scotch whisky to be matured in casks previously used to age agave spirits (such as Tequila and mezcal), Calvados, barrel-aged cachaça, shochu and baijiu, as well as some other fruit spirits. Discreet industry lobbying had evidently persuaded the SWA to revise its position. However, as an industry-funded body, it had little choice if larger members insisted on the change which had been duly approved by the SWA Council in the previous December.

In any event, it’s now clear that much surreptitious activity had been going on anyway in warehouses across Scotland.  Unsurprisingly, Diageo was very quick off the mark with the low-profile announcement of Buchanan’s Two Souls in Mexico in May 2019 (before the SWA amendment). The blend is finished in Don Julio Tequila casks, a brand that Diageo owns, and which happens to sell a Tequila finished in old Lagavulin barrels.  

With this timing a pedant might consider that in its enthusiasm – how shall we put this politely – Diageo’s Mexican team were sailing close to the wind in promoting a still illegal whisky. Mexican press coverage refers to a “launch” on 16 May, yet the rules did not come into force for another three weeks. On investigation though, it transpires that this was a media pre-launch briefing for influencers and Two Souls was not publicly available until 1 July.  That could have been embarrassing but we may, of course, safely assume that not a drop was served.

However, we’re now seeing a number of new cask finishes joining the party. As of this month Diageo’s Buchanan’s offering has been matched by Chivas Extra 13 finished in Tequila casks and Dewar’s Ilegal SmoothIlegal being a fashionable Mezcal brand in which Dewar’s ultimate owner Bacardi has a share. The Chivas Extra 13 forms part of a small range, also including Oloroso Sherry, Rum and American Rye finishes.  Not to be outdone, Dewar’s brought its Caribbean Smooth (it’s a rum finish, as if you hadn’t guessed) to North American markets in September last year though it should be noted that these other finishes had been permitted for some years prior to the new regulations.

Ewan Gunn in action on Islay

Wondering what Diageo will do next? Predictably, they’re pretty tight lipped about future plans. This is what senior global brand ambassador Ewan Gunn (above) had to say:

“Whilst we never reveal any of the hundreds of ongoing experiments our whisky makers are constantly engaged in, you can rest assured that we will continue to be at the forefront of making great whisky and pioneering new and exciting expressions. Watch this space…”

Nothing, thus far, on how Buchanan’s have got on in Mexico, so it remains to be seen how markets will accept products such as Two Souls, Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth and Chivas Extra. Traditionalists should hold onto their hats though as the marketing folks undoubtedly aren’t done monkeying around with Scotch whisky. One thing I suppose is clear. We may not have seen cachaça, shochu or baijiu finished whisky yet (though we assuredly will) but the world hasn’t ended. Scotch will survive which, given we’re all likely to be in lockdown soon, is a reassuring thought.  (Note to self: better lay in a few bottles).

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

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 Introducing Martini’s alcohol-free aperitivo

Indulging in your typical Italian aperitivo hour is usually a lowish ABV affair – placing the Negroni firmly to one side – but it’s almost impossible to enjoy the drinking…

Indulging in your typical Italian aperitivo hour is usually a lowish ABV affair – placing the Negroni firmly to one side – but it’s almost impossible to enjoy the drinking occasion totally sans-booze. Until now, that is. Martini has just launched a duo of delectable non-alcoholic aperitivo, made with wines used in its classic vermouths. We take a look at the range…

Beloved by our Italian neighbours, aperitivo is that golden period – generally between 7pm and 9pm – to unwind from the day’s events over a glass of something satisfying and a few choice nibbles. Traditionally that glass has been filled with something boozy, be it a sparkling Sbagliato or an Aperol Spritz. When you’re taking a break from alcohol, be it for one night or one month, there aren’t many sundowner options. 

“In the past, deciding not to drink alcohol meant a fizzy water while everyone else enjoyed cocktails; or staying at home on a Friday while your friends go out and enjoy aperitivo time,” Nick Stringer, global vice president of Martini, explained in a press release. “But times are changing, and consumers don’t want to feel like they are missing out when they are being more mindful about their drinking.”

Try it on its own. . .

Too true. To remedy this terrible dilemma, Italian spirits behemoth Martini has very kindly released a two-strong range called Martini Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo, which are made using the same white wines as its classic vermouths. Drawing on hundreds of years of distilling know-how, master herbalist Ivano Tonutti and master blender Beppe Musso remove the alcohol from the wine using vacuum distillation before infusing the resulting liquid with a special selection of botanicals.

“We always use a mix of botanicals – we’re never using one single botanical, because we’re really going for the complexity,” says global brand ambassador Roberta Mariani. “Artemesia is the main botanical for the production of vermouth, and it’s really the signature of Martini. Any of our products, from our bitters, to our amaros to vermouth, they all contain artemisia.”

Martini’s new fruity Vibrante variant is centred on Italian bergamot, while Floreale focuses on Roman chamomile to give a floral profile (as the name indeed suggests). Like with its regular alcoholic aperitivo range, the historic producer uses a variety of techniques to extract flavour from the botanicals. As Mariani explains, each part of the plant benefits from slightly different treatment. 

“You’ve got flowers, you’ve got leaves, seeds, barks, roots – so each item needs a different method to extract the flavours, such as infusion, maceration or distillation,” she says. “Usually there are three: one is a bitter extract, one is herbal, and one is a distillate.” Typically, herbal and bitter extracts deliver body and mouthfeel, while the distillate dictates the nose. “Most of the aroma comes from the distillate,” she continues. “Oranges, raspberries… Anything that has a big perfume is usually distilled.”

MARTINI NON-ALCOHOLIC VIBRANTE AND TONIC WINTER (WITH BOTTLE)

Or even better, with pizza

Removing alcohol from the equation was a pretty big challenge, Mariani admits. While a touch of sugar certainly goes some way towards carrying the flavours found in any vermouth, booze brings a certain texture and mouthfeel that’s especially hard to replicate in such a complex product. This is where the extra botanicals really came into their own. “It took a little bit of time to balance the aperitivo without alcohol, because it usually plays a big part in the production,” she says. Time well spent, we say.

You’re probably wondering how to drink the fruits of their labour. The essence of aperitivo boils down to creating a refreshingly simple serve – less time pouring over recipes, more time snacking on nocellara olives, amiright? – and the Martini Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo range very much fits in with that philosophy. 

If long drinks are your bag, Martini suggests combining 75ml of Vibrante or Floreale with 75ml tonic over a generous serving of ice in a balloon glass before garnishing with an orange wheel. Alternatively, simply pour 75ml Martini Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo over ice and sip slowly to appreciate the depth and complexity. 

If you’re a whizz behind the back bar, you could even pair a Martini Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo bottling with any one of the many alcohol-free gins on the market and – can you see where we’re going with this? – attempt your own weeknight-safe Negroni with a touch of Martini Bitter (which comes in at a reasonable 25% ABV). Close your eyes, whack some Arancini in the oven and pretend you’re sipping cocktails in a vineyard as the sun sets over Sicily. Bellissimo!

Martini Non-Alcoholic Aperitivo will be coming soon to Master of Malt.

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Master of Malt tastes… Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

We tried the exclusive new collection of bottled Johnnie Walker whisky Highballs with Johnnie Walker’s whisky ambassador Ali Reynolds and discussed the role this simple but sublime serve will play…

We tried the exclusive new collection of bottled Johnnie Walker whisky Highballs with Johnnie Walker’s whisky ambassador Ali Reynolds and discussed the role this simple but sublime serve will play in the future of the spirit.

“Whisky has been quite a tired category for a while and it’s been aimed at men of a certain age for a long time. We were telling people how to drink it in terms of ‘you can only add a dash of water’ or ‘maybe one ice cube’,” says Ali Reynolds, whisky ambassador for Johnnie Walker. “There are all these flavours within the Scotch category and we should be exploring them more in cocktails. I’m always asking why isn’t whisky one of the biggest spirits on more cocktail lists? Brigadiers have been brave enough to stock four pre-bottled whisky sodas and it’s just a great way to get people into Scotch. We need to relax that conversation. Talk less about Scotch, talk more about the flavours within it”.

We’ve met to talk about the whisky Highball and its potential to bring new drinkers to the whisky category at Brigadiers, an Indian restaurant and bar in the City of London inspired by the army mess bars of India where military regiments eat, drank and socialise. It’s recently launched a series of four Highballs which are carbonated and bottled in-house made with various types of Johnnie Walker. 

Johnnie Walker as a brand is all over cocktails. The distillery’s website has a dedicated cocktail section that and a quote: “The mark of a truly great whisky is its versatility and even when mixed”. As the distillery enters its 200th year and prepares to open the Johnnie Walker whisky experience in Edinburgh, it’s understandable how much time and resource its devoting to converting people into whisky lovers. The Highball is clearly at the centre of its strategy and there’s a good reason why. As a serve it has a realistic chance of opening up the world of whisky to people who never considered it before. It’s whisky’s closest relative to the gin and tonic and a favourite of bartenders. And Japan, for that matter. It makes whisky seem modern, enticing and refreshing. 

Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

Look, it’s Johnnie Walker’s whisky ambassador Ali Reynolds!

One of the challenges for the 2019 World Class bartender competition, which was to create a pre-canned Johnnie Walker Highball. “It’s a daunting challenge because a lot of people would question how many flavours could you possibly get out of it. But every single drink was different,” Reynolds explains. “But the way bars are heading now, they want drinks that mean quick service, simplicity and easy access for their bartenders. There’s no longer five deep at the bar, someone shaking and stirring drinks until their arms are falling off. It’s quick, easy, clean and about dedicating more time to the customer than just being behind the bar, busy. Pre-bottled Highballs offer a really good way to do that”. 

Changing perceptions around whisky is very much an ongoing process, however. Reynolds recalls being told off a few years ago for combining Lagavulin 16 Year Old and Coca Cola. He was told in no uncertain terms that you don’t make a 16-year-old whisky to be mixed with Coke. By Fèis Ìle 2019, he was serving a ‘Smokey Cokey Floaty’, made with Lagavulin 16, Coca Cola and a scoop of ice cream on top. “We’re always looking to bring more diversity to the category, whether that’s women or young people. At a lot of recent events and festivals we’ve been making Highballs with peach tea, green tea, lemon, ginger and elderflower, so that’s five very different flavours,” he says. “If you went back 15 years and talked about mixing elderflower with Scotch, people would recoil and say ‘What are you talking about, what’s going on here?’ But that’s silly because I can’t honestly name another spirit category that has that breadth of flavour that Scotch has. We have the smoke, we have the sweetness, the fruit, the waxiness, the wood. It’s incredible. Accessibility is the key for us”. 

With this in mind, the first of the four expressions arrives. It’s the Jal-Jeera, a mix of Johnnie Walker Black, apple and chaat masala ginger ale. “The smoked apple note and then that addition of masala has just given it such a unique taste. It reminds me of smoked fish, kedgeree style, which is such a weird tasting note to put into something so refreshing but it really works. I’m a fiend for spicy food, I absolutely love it and this one is perfect for it,” Reynolds says of it. I think it’s fabulous, instantly refreshing and beautifully spiced and the aromatic combination of the ginger and apple is wonderful. 

Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

The Jal-Jeera, Sandalwood Sharbat and Passion Fruit Lassi

We then moved on to the Passion Fruit Lassi, a combination of Johnnie Walker Gold, passion fruit, pandan and clarified yoghurt soda. “This one I think is very much based around the Pornstar Martini. The fact that they’ve used passion fruit, yoghurt and pandan just makes it a little bit more accessible to the regular drinker. It’s super-fruity and creamy,” says Reynolds. “Gold Label has got this amazing viscosity to it and oiliness which kind of coats the palate and they’ve taken that element from it and then recreated it in a soda. If you gave this and the Sandalwood Sharbat to anyone they wouldn’t bet their money on whisky being in it.” We both agree that this isn’t our personal favourite of the selection, but it’s interesting because it totally differs from what your expectation of a whisky and soda would be in the best possible way.

Next, we tried that Sandalwood Sharbat, a Highball consisting of Johnnie Walker Green, amontillado sherry, sandalwood and banana soda. “The Green Label has got Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila in there and the sandalwood brings out all the wonderful wood characteristics from the four distilleries. The amontillado sherry complements the bit of saltiness from the Caol Ila, but again this is a really refreshing and easygoing serve,” Reynolds says. “Throughout this range, they’ve done a really good job of dissecting the whisky in terms of its flavours”. This was probably the highlight of the range for me, it’s complex and bittersweet and ridiculously moreish. I’d drink the soda element on its own happily and the touch of sherry is beautifully measured.

Finally, we tried the showstopper of the range. The Nepalese Butter Tea, which was made from Johnnie Walker Blue Label, pineapple caramel, brown butter, milk oolong tea and Champagne, is served in a Champagne-style bottle and intended for four people to share. “The flavours are great. Whisky and Champagne is an overlooked pairing, for sure. But when we did the Blue Label tasting we agreed that it’s got waves of flavours which is why the ingredients they’ve used here, the milk oolong, the Champagne, they’re quite delicate so they don’t take away too much from the whisky,” Reynolds explains. This is by far the most indulgent of the range and it’s an interesting demonstration into how you can turn a humble serve into a premium cocktail. It’s still  refreshing enough to work as a Highball, but the butter element, in particular, adds a decadent richness that’s amazing, although I would say best enjoyed in small quantities.

Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

The decadent and delicious Nepalese Butter Tea

Tasting this range, my immediate thought is that I know people who don’t like whisky who would happily drink these cocktails. It’s an impressively comprehensive selection for just four drinks and I can imagine that there will be something there for everyone. If these Johnnie Walker whisky highballs are a sign of the direction that whisky drinking is going in, I think we’re on to something. 

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The world’s best audiophile bars

Even though we engage all our senses when enjoying a cocktail or sipping a spirit, the one that we rarely (if ever) acknowledge is sound – but thanks to music-mad bar…

Even though we engage all our senses when enjoying a cocktail or sipping a spirit, the one that we rarely (if ever) acknowledge is sound – but thanks to music-mad bar owners across the globe, things are slowly starting to change. Meticulous about quality sound and excellent drinks in equal measure, we’ve picked out five unmissable audiophile bars to add to your bucket list…

They may be a relatively new phenomenon in the west, but in Japan, soundscaped lounges or ‘listening bars’ have been an institution since the 1920s. The oldest of them is Tokyo’s Lion Meikyoku Kissa, a two-story theatre established in 1926. It plays exclusively classical music, and boasts more than 5,000 records, 3-metre high wooden speakers and a strict ‘no talking’ policy.

While today’s cocktail venues might not take such a hardline stance with their own guests, the importance of background sound has never been so well-understood. “Sound, particularly music, plays a key role in creating the right atmosphere in a bar because it’s a medium that everybody can connect with,” explains Adam Castleton, CEO of music technology company Startle. 

Castleton says mood-setting playlists help to set a venue’s tone, a subtle factor that’s crucial in today’s drinks world. “Due to the highly competitive nature of the industry and the growing number of options out there, every little detail needs to be considered to give people a reason to visit a venue,” he adds. “Music absolutely falls into this bracket.”

Whether you’re mad on jazz, can’t get enough guitar, or prefer an uptempo house beat, there’s an eclectic audiophile bar out there for you. We’ve picked out five of the world’s best where you can pull up a pew and get lost in their especially-chosen music selection. Just remember to switch your phone to silent first.

1. In Sheep’s Clothing

Where? 710 East 4th Place, Los Angeles, California

‘To hear more, say less,’ is the mantra at all-day venue In Sheep’s Clothing, and it’s a philosophy that carries throughout the venue, where guests are asked to keep conversation volumes low and refrain from taking pictures. A sanctuary for music lovers, the vinyl-only bar boasts an immensely expensive and carefully created sound system that allows listeners to savour every note. Drinks-wise, expect cocktails, craft beer, wine and plenty of Japanese whisky.

2. Spiritland

Where? Venues across London, England

Split across three distinct London venues – a café-workspace-bar in King’s Cross, a restaurant located on South Bank, and a ‘headphone bar’ in Mayfair – Spiritland boasts an impeccable rosta of guest selectors along with talks, album launches and more. It was born of a desire to “engage with music in the deepest possible way,” the website states, “to hear it as the artist intended, to connect with the emotions within – with food and drink to match.”

3. Bridge

Where? Parkside Kyodo Bldg 10F, 1-25-6 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Being located on the top floor of an office building, Bridge offers unparalleled tenth-floor views of the famous Shibuya crossing, but its impeccable Rey Audio sound system remains the most compelling reason to visit. Serving up a selection of locally-inspired cocktails, the focus here is on electronic music – they call it a ‘DJ’ bar, since the venue regularly has guest sets from Tokyo’s finest DJs – but it’s nothing like your typical nightclub. 

4. Rhinoçéros 

Where? Rhinower Str. 3, 10437 Berlin, Germany

With a focus on jazz, soul and funk, cosy Prenzlauer Berg-based bar Rhinoçéros spins records from its vast collection and occasionally invites guest selectors in, too. Guests are welcome to bring their own records and give them a whirl on the incredible vintage sound system, which dates back to the early Seventies. Drinks-wise, there’s a wine and whisky focus. They have a dedicated Highball cocktail menu and make a mean classic too.

5. Public Records

Where? 233 Butler St, Brooklyn, New York

Listening bars have had a real renaissance in New York, with one of the newest being Brooklyn’s Public Records, located in an historic building on the Gowanus Canal. Essentially a hi-fi vegan cafe, cocktail bar, and ‘sound room’ (a performance space) split across three stories, the venue features custom sound systems that represent the pinnacle of acoustic design. Expect live acts, vinyl DJs and tasty AF drinks.

 

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Cointreau: it’s all about the oranges

Cointreau features in some of the world’s best-known cocktails, from the Margarita to the Singapore Sling. But how much do you actually know about this bartender staple? Here, we chat…

Cointreau features in some of the world’s best-known cocktails, from the Margarita to the Singapore Sling. But how much do you actually know about this bartender staple? Here, we chat with master distiller Carole Quinton – the ‘nose of Cointreau’ – to peel away the layers of this historic orange-flavoured triple sec liqueur…

Cointreau was first created by Edouard Cointreau at a distillery in Angers, France where he combined sweet and bitter orange peels with sugar beet alcohol, initially naming his creation Curaçao Blanco Triple Sec. Today the colourless liqueur is produced 20 minutes’ drive away in neighbouring Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou under the watchful eyes of master distiller Carole Quinton, who manages each step of the process from ingredient selection to blending, distillation and the finished product. 

“Cointreau is a very versatile liqueur with more than 40 scent notes,” Quinton explains. “The essences from the bitter and sweet orange pair perfectly in any cocktail. Whether it’s sweet notes of chocolate and cherry, or fresh and floral such as basil and mint, Cointreau can be paired with countless fruits and herbs.

Carole Quinto, not to be confused with Caroline Quentin from Men Behaving Badly

“Thanks to its exceptional sensory qualities, you can enjoy it as it is, on ice, in a cocktail or even cook with it,” she continues. “On my side, I’m regularly trying new associations. For example, this summer, I experimented with an infusion of meadowsweet, a wild mint syrup, a homemade raspberry liqueur, and a liqueur of wild blueberries.”

When she isn’t travelling the world testing oranges and their peels – citrus fruit has ‘terroir’ too, it turns out – or dreaming up delicious flavour pairings, you’ll find Quinton working with bartenders around the world to showcase what Cointreau can do. Here’s five things she taught us about the iconic liqueur…

  • 1) Quinton started her career breeding fruit

After graduating from the Graduate School of Agricultural Studies of Angers, Quinton trained as a small fruit plant breeder at the James Hutton Institute in the United Kingdom. “I then built my career in research and development in the spirits sector, and since Spring 2016, I have been in charge of transmitting and enhancing the precious expertise of Cointreau,” she says. When it comes to her leisure time, Quinton’s passions include “gardening, the Impressionists of the Musée d’Orsay, and the harmonious music of Mozart and Vivaldi.” 

  • 2) She’s the sixth-generation custodian of the brand

On a ‘typical day’ at the distillery, Quinton arrives early to meet the operators – distillation begins at 7am – and taste the Cointreau production of the day. “My role is varied,” she explains. “Sometimes I work as an engineer, keeping a close watch on the production settings, sometimes as a craftsman, implementing routines passed down through generations, and sometimes as a perfumer, guided by the olfactory and gustatory notes of the liqueur.” 

Margarita? Don’t mind if I do

  • 3) It’s all about the oranges

Quinton also oversees the brand’s orange terroirs and evaluates the quality of peels. The selection “is part of the ​Cointreau know how,” she says. “The perfect oranges come from different parts of the world, where I visit our partners. The terroir is different in each place where oranges are grown around the world, and terroir is what influences the quality and aromatics of the peels that we use to create Cointreau. This, in turn, gives us a selection of incredibly special oranges, grown in different terroirs around the world.”

  • 4) The House of Cointreau was founded in 1849

It was a very different world back then, says Quinton. “The train line had just arrived in Angers directly from Paris, and it was a true revolution at the time for those who lived there,” she says. “It was during this time of immense change that two brothers, Adolphe and Edouard-Jean, created the House of Cointreau distillery.” Back then, most liqueurs were created in kitchens, so the Cointreau brothers were the first in the area to scale up production. The same year, Edouard Cointreau – son of Edouard-Jean – was born. “He invented a new distillation process that made it possible to obtain a transparent liquid with three times the concentration of aromas, but less sweet than the other products of the era,” says Quinton. “It was Edouard’s passion that gave birth to the original orange liqueur that is known today as Cointreau.”

No bar is complete without a bottle of Cointreau

  • 5) Cointreau is created by a distiller-liqueurist

The title isn’t frequently used in the industry these days, but liqueurists maintain and develop the flavours of liqueurs, creating “his or her own aromas from the distilled product,” says Quinton.  The bitter peels and the sweet orange peels are distilled in one of 19 alembic copper pot stills unique to the House of Cointreau, “with a plates column and a long, swan-neck pipe,” she continues. The aromatic distillate is then “combined with sugar, water and alcohol to create the liqueur. Creating our product in this unique way is what really sets us apart from our competitors.”

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It’s Indian whisky, my friend

Indian whisky brands sell a staggering amount on their home turf but much of what is sold as ‘whisky’ wouldn’t be recognised as such in the EU or America. But…

Indian whisky brands sell a staggering amount on their home turf but much of what is sold as ‘whisky’ wouldn’t be recognised as such in the EU or America. But now this distilling giant is producing single malts to take on the world. Ian Buxton takes a closer look at the biggest whisky market of all.

What’s the best-selling whisky in the world? You’d probably guess Johnnie Walker, or perhaps Jack Daniel’s. You’d be wrong. In fact, it’s Officer’s Choice, which outsells Walker roughly two to one. Diageo’s global behemoth is also outpaced by a number of other little-known brands such as McDowell’s No. 1, Imperial Blue and Royal Stag.

Of course, ‘little-known’ is quite incorrect.  As befits their staggering sales – Officer’s Choice alone sells over 32 million cases annually – they are very well known indeed in their home market, which just happens to be India, the world’s largest whisky market. Even the tenth biggest seller, Bagpiper, accounts for some 6 million cases which would make it easily the world’s third largest selling Scotch. It’s not as it happens, though you might think the name and packaging just a trifle confusing.

For years, most of us outside India have tended to look down on Indian whisky, if we thought about it at all. Quite a number of the cheaper brands are distilled from molasses, which makes them rum in the eyes of EU and US regulators, hence the fact that they never appear on our shelves. The better Indian whiskies, however, are distilled from grain and frequently blended with a proportion of real Scotch. Scots distillers aren’t above shipping bulk whiskies to India for local bottling with Indian-made spirit, it’s just that they don’t make much noise about it.

The inability of the huge Indian distilling industry to sell most of its products in the EU has long been a source of friction and partly accounts for India’s significant tariff barriers on imported Scotch (up to 150% with additional regulations at individual state level). However, in recent years the more innovative Indian distillers have been producing single malt whiskies that meet EU legislation in full and, from a slow start, have been gaining sales here.

Ashok Chokalingam from Amrut in action

One of the pioneers was Amrut Distilleries, based in Bangalore who first launched in the UK in August 2004 in Glasgow. Since then they have collected both awards and appreciative fans who look to Amrut for both flavour and value.  Because of the rapid maturation of Indian whiskies and their willingness to experiment with finishes there has been a steady stream of releases and there is more to come. “We have released three different versions of Greedy Angels 10 Years Old last year and a single grain (first ever single grain whisky from India and one more first from India),” master distiller and head of international sales, Ashok Chokalingam told me. “In 2020 we are planning to release a number of exciting single casks for a number of countries, mainly for Europe and America. Also one more first of its kind is planned from India by May 2020,” he added intriguingly.

Amrut have progressively moved up-market: the 2019 Greedy Angels release commands a near-£700 price tag, albeit at 55% ABV. Stocks are very limited but such is the demand that a price hitherto unimaginable for whisky from the sub-continent can be sustained. Similarly, the Paul John range from John Distilleries of Goa also includes a number of interesting variants at £100+ prices.

Nor have rivals been idle. Rampur, based in the foothills of the Himalayas and one of India’s oldest distilleries, currently offers its Select single malt expression with a Double Cask and PX sherry finish variant due to follow shortly. Well informed critics tell me that Double Cask is an excellent product. “Rather nice” is how one understated Scots distiller described it; which, take it from me, is praise indeed. But then, this is a serious distilling operation – the company’s 8PM blend is one of India’s top ten whiskies, with annual volumes estimated to exceed 7 million cases.

Rampur Double Cask, “rather nice”

No surprise then, that Rampur has been looking at the lucrative European markets with interest and employing Scottish expertise to provide the essential skills. The legendary Dr Jim Swan was involved in their early single malt production and, more recently, former Diageo master distiller Charlie Smith (once of Talisker and latterly responsible for getting Ballindalloch up and running) has been working to install new distilling plant with a production potential approaching 2 million litres of spirit annually.

The new distillery will be capable of producing two distinct spirit types (think Roseisle) and is to be supported by new warehousing facilities with sophisticated humidity control to combat the estimated 12% angel’s share. These are substantial investments and indicative of the serious long-term thinking behind this project and the company’s commitment to quality.

Perhaps then, it’s time to rethink our attitude to Indian whisky.

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

 

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Five minutes. . . with Kerri Watt

We talk to Scottish singer Kerri Watt ahead of her gig at Glengoyne Distillery on 20 March about music, meeting your heroes and the best ever song about whisky.  Whisky…

We talk to Scottish singer Kerri Watt ahead of her gig at Glengoyne Distillery on 20 March about music, meeting your heroes and the best ever song about whisky. 

Whisky and music have a long history together. Dave Broom’s recent film, The Amber Light, is as much about his love of music as it is about whisky. Continuing in this grand tradition is Glasgow-born singer-songwriter Kerri Watt. She shot to fame with her single ‘Long Way Home’ which was all over the radio in 2015. Since then she has played Glastonbury, opened for Coldplay, and played with legendary Latin smoothie Julio Iglesias at the Royal Albert Hall. Her latest track is the excellent ‘Kissing Fools’.

On Friday 20 March she will be playing a special gig at the Glengoyne Distillery near Glasgow aptly-called ‘The Spirit of the Song’ (tickets available here).  It will be a special all female line-up with Liv Dawn (runner up of the BBC Scottish Songwriter Award) and Beth Keeping (founder of movement ‘Write Like A Girl’). When we discovered what an enormous whisky fan she is, we jumped at the chance to talk to her: 

Master of Malt: How did this event at Glengoyne come about? 

Kerri Watt: I had the idea after touring round Scotland last year. There was such incredible history and things to discover during the day but most of the little towns went quiet at night. I thought it would be so cool if there was something happening in the evenings. Some of the distilleries I visited had great entertaining spaces where you’d start off the tour. It got me thinking they could be perfect for a small intimate gig. I think music and whisky often go hand in hand and when I started floating the idea to a few people they thought it was great! Ultimately, I’d like to take ‘The Spirit of Song’ on a tour of Scotland hitting as many distilleries as possible. But I thought Glengoyne was a good place to start. When I approached them, they loved the idea! I’m so excited it’s finally happening.

MoM: Can you remember the dram that made you fall in love with whisky?

KW: I think it was Laphroaig when I was 25. Definitely a late starter, but I used to really not get the fascination. I met my partner in 2015, and every time he’d have a whisky in the evening, he’d go through the ritual of offering me one. I eventually gave in and the rest is history. I love that it’s something we can enjoy together especially when we’re travelling. He’s English so it’s been so much fun visiting places like Laphroaig since we moved up to Scotland together.

Anyone for tennis?

MoM: What’s your favourite everyday whisky?

KW: The Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old. It’s accessible and affordable no matter where I am, which makes it great for an everyday whisky.

MoM: And what’s your dream dram?

KW: Hmm tough one! Anything rare that I might otherwise not get to taste. But if I had to name one that I’ve had my eye on, it would be Dalmore Constellation 1973.

MoM: Do you have a favourite distillery that you have visited?

KW: Last year, I had some American friends come to visit, so I took advantage of a holiday in my own country and took them to Islay. It’s crazy because I grew up here, but it really was such an adventure driving down to Kennacraig and getting the ferry across. We visited Laphroaig, Bowmore and Lagavulin. It was amazing to walk through the whole process. The guides are so knowledgeable and passionate about whisky and many of them have been associated with the distilleries for generations. Despite growing up five minutes down the road, I’d never actually visited Glengoyne until recently. My uncle was a tour guide there for years, so that has to be my favourite! They also sell incredible Glengoyne whisky-infused tablet which is to die for. If you haven’t been to Scotland you might not be familiar with tablet it’s much like fudge but less soft and a bit grainier.

MoM: How important are whisky and music in Scottish culture?

KW: Stories of music and whisky are woven into the fabric of our history and both have been enjoyed on Scottish soil for generations. It’s the reason so many people from around the world come to visit us. So many cultures can relate to enjoying music while sharing a drink and Scotland is one of the best places to do it!

MoM: What’s your favourite song about whisky?

KW: There are so many! Especially if you’re into country music like me. But when Chris Stapleton’s album ‘Traveller’ came out in 2015, ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ was the track that made me fall in love with him. If you’ve never heard the song, check it out. Or even better, look up the duet he did of it with Justin Timberlake at the Country Music Awards a few years ago… amazing!

MoM: What did you miss most about Scotland when you were in California?

KW: Well I definitely missed my family. We’re really close so moving to the other side of the world at 16 years old was definitely a bit of a shock. But they came to visit and Skype had just come about around that time. Although i’d never complain about the sunshine, at times i did miss the rain! I’m big into hiking and you can’t wait for a sunny day here in Glasgow, so I’m used to braving the stormy skies for some exercise. There’s no feeling like it!

MoM: And what do you miss most about California?

KW: So many things. The people for a start. I think the sunshine just puts people in a good mood. Everybody was so friendly where I lived a little beach community called Dana Point in Southern California. I miss that you could get up at 5am to go down and watch the surfers catch the first waves (no I wasn’t one of them!) The tacos, the frozen yoghurt and the sunsets. 

MoM: Who is the biggest influence on you musically?

KW: Sheryl Crow. I loved her growing up and she has stood the test of time. 30 years in the business and she’s still a total rockstar. Amazing lyrics, incredible stage presence and she’s just the definition of cool. After being a superfan much of my life, I finally saw her play live a few years ago and was totally blown away and very inspired. Her classic songs from the 90’s still regularly feature on my playlists and I always play her ‘C’mon, C’mon’ album on a roadtrip.

MoM: Do you ever get nervous playing with or meeting your musical heroes?

KW: Luckily, most of them are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met so I’ve always felt welcomed. Chris Martin must be the biggest super star I’ve rubbed shoulders with backstage he was really kind! And getting to share the stage with Keith Urban last year was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. His stage presence is second to none. Funnily enough, I was at a music event recently and got talking to this American guy. About half way through our conversation it clicked with me that he’s the dude who co-wrote all of Sheryl Crow’s biggest hits! Suddenly he was a totally different person to me and admittedly I did feel a bit star struck but I had to tell him I was a fan.

MoM: Finally, do you have a favourite whisky cocktail and if so what is it?

KW: You can never go wrong with an Old Fashioned. It’s a timeless classic that’s relatively simple and I love it with Woodford Reserve after coming off stage. But I’m always up for trying exciting new brands!

 

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