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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

Five minutes with… Cleo Farman, founder of Diablesse Rum

Cleo Farman, the creator of the Diablesse Rum, joins us to talk about challenging preconceptions, betting her house on the brand and receiving a ‘Guardian of Rum’ commemorative coin from…

Cleo Farman, the creator of the Diablesse Rum, joins us to talk about challenging preconceptions, betting her house on the brand and receiving a ‘Guardian of Rum’ commemorative coin from Foursquare Distillery

In case you missed it, July is now the month of rum. In the spirit of things, we began this week with not one, but two new arrivals of delicious rums, then suggested some terrific expressions for you to enjoy, and we’ve still got National Piña Colada Day (10 July), National Mojito Day (11 July) and National Daiquiri Day (19 July) to look forward. And that’s not all, today we’re lasering in on one of the most exciting new brands to have launched in the UK recently, Diablesse Rum.

Its founder, Cleo Farman, joined for a virtual chat during the lockdown. Most of the previous year had entailed meetings, staff training and talking about her rums in person. Her focus had to shift to account for the pandemic, which means she’s been increasing her social media presence, responding to questions and comments, hosting live cocktail sessions that are then posted on YouTube, taking part in online rum tastings, overhauling the website with a rebrand and balancing all of the above with homeschooling her son. There’s already a lot to do given it was only a year ago that the Manchester-based brand launched a new range consisting of two signature products, Diablesse Caribbean Rum and Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum

The former marketing manager for Richard Branson’s Necker Island, Farman “fell in love with rum”, as she put it, on press trips to the Caribbean. For thirteen years she was also one of Manchester’s most well-known bar owners, with Odd, Oddest, Odder and the Blue Pig all being part of her roster, which provided a platform to further explore rum. By 2018 Farman had decided that her next adventure would be to launch her own brand and began formulating a plan to do so in March of that year. 

Diablesse Rum

Say hello to Cleo Farman, founder of Diablesse Rum!

Most of the early days of Diablesse Rum were spent visiting multiple distilleries and bringing back samples to experiment with, which Farman did in collaboration with The Main Rum. Every blend she made she would send to people in the trade, from chefs to bartenders, before she settled on the final blends n February 2019. “I’m fortunate to know a lot of wonderful industry professionals who helped, like Main Rum and Stephen James. What they don’t know about rum isn’t worth knowing in my opinion. They’ve offered me a lot of advice and information and most importantly told me not what to do”.

Farman makes it sound like a simple process. You know rum, you love rum, so you launch your own rum. But the process of creating a brand is rife with difficulties. “It’s insane! It’s so hard. You don’t realise something is going to be a hurdle until you’ve tried to overcome an obstacle and then find out there are even more obstacles you missed before. Raising the money and sorting the legislation is really tough. I put my house on Diablesse. That’s how much I believed in it,” Farman explains. “There’s a lot of conversations and inspections done with HMRC. You can’t start trading until you get the licenses but they take months to process, so what I did was develop the rum while I was waiting and hoping that I would be granted them”.

In the twelve months of trying, testing and tasting Farman had two basic principles: one being to, as she puts it, “let the rums speak for themselves,” which meant no adding any sugar or colouring and the second being that she would work with “establish, respected distilleries that have been doing this for a long time and have a lot of provenance and cultural relevance”. The three distilleries that ended up supplying the Diabelsse brand with rum with certainly fit that description: Foursquare, Worthy Park and the Diamond Distillery (fun fact: the latter still uses a 19th-century wooden Enmore column still which is thought to be the only still of its kind in operation today). Main Rum helped establish the connection, but Farman expertise and vision clearly sold the project. So much so that she received a ‘Guardian of Rum’ commemorative coin from Foursquare. A Richard Seale of approval, if you will. “It’s a massive honour and it means I’m on the right track. When I was given it I nearly burst into tears,” Farman admits, laughing. 

Diablesse Rum

Worthy Park Estate is one of three distilleries Farman has collaborated with

Diablesse Caribbean Rum features all three distilleries, including an eight-year-old pot and column still Bajan rum from Foursquare Distillery, a four-year-old Jamaican pot still rum from Worthy Park distillery and a three-year-old Guyanese (wooden) column still rum from the Diamond Distillery. All the rums in the blend have been aged in ex-bourbon casks in the Caribbean, so our friend tropical ageing plays a role here, before the rums are shipped to the UK, blended by Main Rum and bottled in Manchester to Farman’s preference, with no additional colouring or additives. 

Diablesse Caribbean Rum is refined rum that’s not overly sweet, which is the profile that Farman herself enjoys. “There’s this smooth, light Bajan rum at the core, with the power and funk of the Jamaican rum adding body and then the natural sweetness of the Demerara rum rounds it out,” she says. “This is a rum for people who know and love rum and value provenance and authenticity. They’ll want to know all the details of how it’s produced, which I’m transparent about”.

Diablesse Clementine Spiced Rum, by contrast, is an expression to welcome people into the delightful world of rum. A single origin and unaged Demerara rum from the Diamond Distillery which was flavoured with clementine and spices, it’s sweeter and has an accessible and delightfully mixable profile. Farman thinks this kind of premium spiced bottling can seduce gin drinkers who are looking for their next spirit love. She’s seen the beginnings of rum establishing a wider dominance in her role advocating her brand and trade shows and tastings. “When I began doing this at a show there’d be five gin stalls there. Now there are five rum stalls. Prior to the pandemic, I saw that the on-trade was increasingly requesting tastings and talks because they wanted to increase their rum range. Even during the lockdown, there’s been a wave of people wanting premium rums that they can experiment with at home”.

Diablesse Rum

Farman and Jones have created some truly delicious cocktails

Farman’s appreciation of cocktail culture has her well-placed to meet this demand. Along with award-winning Cottonopolis bartender Gethin Jones, she has created a number of delightful serves. She suggests the classic Daiquiri as a wonderful way to enjoy Diablesse Caribbean Rum and recommends the Chocolate Orange Negroni for the Diablesse Clementine Spiced Rum (I can confirm it’s also delicious in a regular Negroni), while both work well in Old Fashioneds and Sours. Her favourite, however, is Jones’ creation, the Mama Dlo. It represents Farman’s desire to create sophisticated, delicate and high-end serves. “Everyone immediately thinks of rum and Coke or ginger. But I want to help promote rum’s versatility. It’s great with all kinds of tonic water and can be used to make a number of amazing cocktails you might associate with different spirits”. 

This ability to challenge preconceptions of rum is of great importance to Farman as she’s aware that the category still carries some negative connotations. “Some people still think rum is a cheap party spirit that lacks versatility or sophistication. It’s worth remembering that gin overcame this problem. People used to call it mother’s ruin. Now look what’s happened. It’s about education,” Farman says. This perspective has also fuelled Farman’s desire to ensure that women don’t feel excluded from the joys of rum, which influenced her brand story and name. “I wanted to create a female inclusive brand. A lot of rum imagery is very bullish, featuring gods of the sea or pirates and captains. My rum is for everybody, but I wanted to have that female perspective. Hence why I chose La Diablesse, who is brilliant. She was a beautiful temptress from ancient Caribbean folklore and legend has it she had deals with the devil and would cast spells on unsuspecting men and lure them to their fate in the night”. 

Looking forward, Farman reveals that she’s currently working on a new expression, saying “I can’t tell you any more than that or I’ll have to kill you…” She’s hoping to launch relatively soon, but with the current climate, she’s biding her time to see when the best moment is. Farman admits that she’d love to release some cask strength, small-batch rums from the Caribbean. She also reveals she trademarked another brand that will release English rums but that it won’t be seen until much further down the line, adding that “I’d also love to have my own distillery, but that’s pushing it right now!” At the moment, the focus is on spreading the word about Diablesse Caribbean Rum and Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum. For my money, it should be an easy sell. These are well-balanced, versatile and delicious bottlings. You can taste the quality of the base rums in the blend and both have enough character to stand out even when mixed. I’ve had a very enjoyable time experimenting with them and I’d really recommend trying some of the Diablesse cocktail recipes on the website

You can both purchase Diablesse Caribbean Rum and Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum here.

Diablesse Rum

Diablesse Caribbean Rum Tasting Note:

Nose: The first thing I get is a really pleasant dose of Jamaican funk, with dunder notes and plenty of tropical fruit with overripe banana, chargrilled pineapple, papaya and citrus peel. There’s then plenty of sweet spices and vanilla fudge, as well as toffee apple, brown sugar, melted white chocolate, fresh herbs and a hint of sweetened coffee.

Palate: Dry, clean and delicately sweet, the palate has more of that tropical fruit blend (pineapple cubes mostly) and vanilla, with hints of lime and gooseberry adding a slightly sour and tart element. Peppery oak, black tea and the slightest touch of wasabi add real complexity as butterscotch and molasses make things sweeter as the palate moves towards the finish.

Finish: Long and lightly spiced, with a combination of vanilla and butterscotch making the finish quite sweet. 

Diablesse Rum

Diablesse Clementine Spiced Caribbean Rum Tasting Note:

Nose: Like a thick, full slice of Jamaican Ginger Cake that somebody has spread a huge heap of Seville orange marmalade on. That might sound strange but it’s beautiful. The blend of spice is complex and well balanced, with nutmeg, cinnamon, red chilli, then clove and star anise which give it a slight East Asian element. There’s a dollop of golden syrup, as well as dried fruit, vanilla and red cola cubes underneath. 

Palate: The palate is sweet, slick and has a liqueur-like delivery, which is then lifted by an aromatic and full-bodied hit of spice, mostly ginger. In fact, it’s like a slab of gingerbread. With marmalade on it. I’m not sure who’s spreading marmalade on all these desserts in my mind, but it’s definitely working for me. The clove is more pronounced here, as is the dark fruit note, adding more sweetness which Demrara sugar, toffee apples and another handful of cola cubes enhance.

Finish: The finish is a good length and has more of that spicy blend I like.

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Master of Malt bucket list

With the world tentatively opening up, we asked some of the team here at Master of Malt where they would go if they could go anywhere. Some picked exotic locations,…

With the world tentatively opening up, we asked some of the team here at Master of Malt where they would go if they could go anywhere. Some picked exotic locations, others went for their local boozer. Horses for courses.

Like most of the world, we at Master of Malt have not been moving around much recently. Some of us have barely left the house. The little matter of a global pandemic put the kibosh on all our plans for the year: trips were cancelled, festivals postponed and even our locals were closed. But as the world slowly gets back on its feet, we’ve been talking about the first place we’d like to visit. As this is a drinks website, most of our answers involve booze. This could be a dream destination, a much-loved distillery or even just a favourite bar. Being near people is quite exciting enough, thank you very much. We’d love to hear from readers about places they want to visit and what they’ll drink when they are there.

Master of Malt bucket list

Getting to Islay has proved a long road for Adam.

Who: Adam O’Connell, writer

Where: Islay

My post-pandemic dream is Islay. In nearly three years of being a drinks writer I’ve come close to making it to The Queen of the Hebrides but a cancelled flight here or change of plans there has always thwarted me. Going to Fèis Ìle next year would be a great way to scratch my Islay itch (#FèisÌle2021), but frankly, I’d be just as happy to spend a few days there myself getting to know the place and the people as well as all the whiskies and distilleries. There’s history, community and sights to see beyond the peat and spirit. Although, rest assured, I will make sure I have a dram in hand as often as possible.

Master of Malt bucket list

Henry has visions of imbibing funky, tropical rum at Hampden Estate

Who: Henry Jeffreys, features editor

Where: Jamaica

For my first post-COVID drinks trip, I want to go on a rum-soaked tour of Jamaica. When I see the names of distilleries like Long Pond, Clarendon and Hampden Estate on bottles, my mind drifts into thoughts of fields of sugar cane, clanking, steaming Heath Robinson-esque stills and fearsome-looking dunder pits. Then my mouth begins to salivate in anticipation of a taste of pungent, tropical-fruit laden, funky as hell high ester rum. If the Jamaica Tourist Board can’t make my dreams come true then I will have to make do with a tour of Trailer Happiness, a specialist rum bar in London. 

Master of Malt bucket list

Charlotte wants to relive good memories at Verdigris. Looking at that food, I’ll be booking a table myself.

Who: Charlotte Gorzelak, social media and email assistant

Where: Verdigris, Tonbridge

The first place I’m going to post-lockdown is Verdigris in Tonbridge. Not only a fab wine bar with a fantastic cocktail menu (looking at you Giggle Juice) but also a restaurant. Many an evening I’ve sat on the terrace by the river sipping a glass of wine with my friend watching boats go by. I’m looking forward to sitting there whiling away the hours in the evening sun again. During the lockdown, Verdigris turned part-bakery, part-take away cocktail bar to help keep afloat and they also did an amazing 80 day-aged rib to have at home. It’s not anywhere abroad and it’s actually pretty much on my doorstep, but I will never take being able to pop for impromptu drinks for granted again.

Master of Malt bucket list

Can’t imagine why Mariella would want to go to Oaxaca. Nope. It’s beyond me.

Who: Mariella Salerno, PR manager

Where: Oaxaca

Once the Covid-19 crisis is over, the first country I would like to visit is Mexico! Ever since I took part at the EBS (European Bartenders School) annual convention in Barcelona last year, I have been fascinated with all things agave and so I would very much like to visit Oaxaca and get the real mezcal experience. This will include a visit to the Siete Misterios Distillery for the following reasons: firstly, the distillery seems to be working almost entirely in a sustainable way, so I will be curious to see how that works; second, how cool is the name? (Seven Mysteries Distillery!); and finally, have you seen a better bottle label? I don’t think so. I will then attempt to master the perfect Margarita cocktail and maybe sip it on my own or in some good company on a terrace of one of the local bars. 

Master of Malt bucket list

The scenery, the culture, the history and lots of delicious whiskies. Ben has his priorities in order.

Who: Ben Pender, digital media assistant 

Where: Yoichi, Japan 

Yoichi, while sounding like the lovable Mario character ‘Yoshi’, is also a distillery, famous for Nikka Whisky. It was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. He picked a perfect location: like many of the best Highland distilleries, it’s close to the sea, surrounded by mountains, has a cold, crisp climate with the appropriate humidity and lots of fresh water, all the essential comforts whisky needs to feel at home. What I’m most curious to see are the coal-fired pot stills. This traditional method of coal-fired distillation is rarely seen today because of how difficult it is to control temperature and requires highly skilled craftsmen to operate them. 

Master of Malt bucket list

Jess craves whisky-soaked adventures in the land down under. Starward Distillery is a great place to start…

Who: Jess Williamson, content assistant

Where: Australia

Once I’m officially allowed, you can be sure I’m getting as far away from my house as possible. The other side of the world, specifically. Having only got round to trying Australian whisky in lockdown (specifically Starward Solera), now I just can’t get enough. But to actually drink the good stuff in its home country? Now that would be something else! Truth be told my imagination has run ridiculously wild and I’m imagining sipping on a single malt while riding a kangaroo, but that seems almost as far-fetched as getting through customs at this point…

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Rémy Martin trials climate change-ready grapes

The house of Rémy Martin has long been dedicated to sustainable agriculture, having pioneered green practices in Cognac for well over a decade, and a huge part of its commitment…

The house of Rémy Martin has long been dedicated to sustainable agriculture, having pioneered green practices in Cognac for well over a decade, and a huge part of its commitment involves tackling the threat posed by climate change. Here, cellar master Baptiste Loiseau explains how robust new grape varieties are being trialled across the estate – and what this might mean for the future of the Charente…

“Climate change is already here,” says Loiseau. “It started, let’s say, more than 20 years ago, but we really faced this change during the 2003 vintage. It was a really difficult vintage in the region of Cognac.” An intensely hot summer caused the grapes to grow “in an erratic way that was really new for all the growers of the region,” he explains, “and it was really at that time that we understood that we needed to be focusing on and adapting to climate change.”

The first decision Rémy Martin made was to harvest earlier, in an effort to preserve the freshness and acidity of its grapes. “We are facing quite the same characteristic this year,” says Loiseau. “We had a really hot spring and the ripeness of the grapes is arriving much more rapidly.” This year’s harvest could take place at the beginning of September, potentially even the end of August. By contrast, it typically takes place during the third week of September.

Baptiste Loiseau in the vineyard

An earlier harvest is a temporary solution – an elastoplast – over a far bigger issue, something Rémy Martin was quick to recognise. The best way to preserve the future of the Cognac appellation, Loiseau says, is by experimenting with new grape varieties for the next generation of winegrowers. “We are making some trials on two new cultivars that maybe in the next decades, maybe in 40 or 50 years, will replace the classical cultivar that we are using, called Ugni Blanc.”

The first is an older grape variety called Monbadon which, though native to the Charente, is now mainly found in California. In decades gone by, it didn’t quite fit the bill for Cognac-making in terms of ripeness and aromas, says Loiseau, “but because of climate change, it’s now much more suitable and adapted to the region”. In 2015, the house took an approximately 1.5 hectare plot on its estate and divided it into two, designating 0.8 hectares for Monbadon – equivalent to around 3,000 vines – and the rest for Ugni Blanc. Rémy Martin made its first harvest three years later in September 2018.

For three to four weeks prior, the team conducted analysis and taste testing. Every Monday, the team would go to the field to taste and analyse the grapes, looking at acidity – which needs to be high, since Rémy does not use sulphur – nitrogen levels, and the health of the vine, says Loiseau. “It’s really a combination between the senses, the taste, the shape of the grapes and their weight also, because it’s a question of quantity and a question of quality,” he explains.

Flowering, a crucial time in the development of healthy grapes

When it’s time to pick the grapes, the field is harvested the same day. “We will preserve one press for the Monbadon and one press for the Ugni Blanc, to compare the two cultivars,” says Loiseau. “We do the winemaking and the distillation the same way. The only difference is based on the cultivar itself.” The team analyses both wines and eaux de vies and tastes them both blind, before ageing them in the cellar. 

“We need between five to 10 years of cask ageing to [assess] the evolution of the aromas of Monbadon in comparison to the classical Ugni Blanc,” says Loiseau. And then, given how remarkably each vintage can be, the experiment needs to be conducted over multiple harvests to provide a true picture. “So in fact, we will not have the answer to our questions before 2030,” he says. 

Naturally, Monbadon isn’t the only cultivar under trial at Rémy Martin. There’s another alternative for the future of the appellation, currently under wraps. “We have another plot that is not corresponding to a variety that is known now in the region,” says Loiseau. “It’s a code with a figure, a letter, and a figure – I’m not going to disclose it, because it’s quite secret right now. We have a high expectation on this one. And just besides, we have another four rows of vineyards that are planted with two other secret codes.”

Cover crops between vines

Little is known about the second cultivar, other than it has “this characteristic corresponding to climate change,” says Loiseau. “It’s also a cultivar that is much more resistant, less sensitive, to diseases,” requiring less fertilisation. This helps Rémy fulfil the former – “that is to say, to have less impact because of practises on the environment,” he says.

Despite the decision to keep the cultivar under wraps for now, Loiseau says the research – conducted in partnership with the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) and the French National Institute for Agronomic Research – is for the benefit of the appellation. “When we decide to go in a direction, we have to be sure that it’s the right one and not only for ourselves, but for the next generation to come,” he says.

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Five minutes with… Mikkey Dee from Motörhead

The fastest, heaviest and loudest rock’n’roll band in history, Motörhead’s far-reaching influence on music can’t be overstated – and now, the band is making waves in the spirits world with its…

The fastest, heaviest and loudest rock’n’roll band in history, Motörhead’s far-reaching influence on music can’t be overstated – and now, the band is making waves in the spirits world with its own whisky, vodka, rum, and more. Here, we chat with legendary drummer Mikkey Dee on touring, his favourite drinks and Lemmy’s surprising love of Kinder eggs.

From their prolific back catalogue to their dedicated touring schedule, the trio behind Motörhead – late bassist and singer Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, drummer Mikkey Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell – never did anything by half measures. So when these pioneering rock icons started bottling their own booze, we had a feeling the liquid would be nothing short of incredible.

It took three years and an untold number of cask samples to finalise the recipe for Motörhead’s flagship single malt whisky, made in collaboration with Sweden’s Mackmyra Distillery, and this exacting attitude extends across the entire range: from Motörhead Vödka, made in the Swedish market town of Malmköping using locally-grown wheat, to a rum aged in ex-bourbon casks from the Dominican Republic.

Mikkey relaxing before a show with some on-brand booze

Behind the scenes the creative process has been an uncompromising and hands-on affair, with no detail left unchecked, as drummer Mikkey Dee attests. As Motörhead Premium Dark Rum bags yet another tasting award, its fourth in a little over a year, we caught up with Dee to talk Motörhead Spirits, memorable shows, and the contents of their rider:

Master of Malt: First things first, how did the Motörhead spirits range first come about, who came up with the idea?

Mikkey Dee: Lem always had a dream to make his own drinks brand. We were all on board. Drinking together was a big part of our life, so why not have drinks to call our own! Lemmy also wanted a legacy beyond the music, something else that could keep the spirit of Motörhead alive for years. That’s when the vodka was created, Lem had moved to drinking vodka and orange juice more than other spirits once he was diagnosed with diabetes.  

MoM: Tell us about the process of creating each one – how involved were you, Lemmy and Phil?

MD: It’s got our name on it, so we’re involved in everything. It always started with a product idea – what Lem or we enjoyed drinking, then also thinking of the fans and what they would like and want to see from us. We’re involved in it all, from choosing the liquid, to naming the products and bottle and label design. Lemmy really liked the creative part, he knew how he wanted the bottles to look. I remember we were in the studio recording mixes for Bad Magic when we were brought samples of the Single Malt Whisky – Lem chose it right there. It took three years of tasting to find the right one!

MoM: Motörhead Premium Dark Rum has just won its fourth spirit award. How does it feel for the liquid you created to be recognised in its own right?

MD: We work really hard on our drinks for the quality and we are ready to take on anyone – that’s always been the Motörhead way. The quality was always really important to Lem and will continue to be for anything else we do in the future.

Motörhead’s award-winning rum. Count those medals!

MoM: Could you share a story about a time the band shared a memorable drink together? Where were you, and what made it memorable?

MD: We were doing a show in Stockholm in 2015 at the Hovet Arena. We got together before the show and had some of our drinks there – our lager and the Single Malt Whisky, which was Lem’s favourite. The whisky is made in Sweden by Mackmyra so he called it his ‘Swhisky’ for Swedish Whisky. It was one of the last shows we did together before Lem passed, so I’ll always remember it.

MoM: This isn’t your only spirits project, you also opened Alabama in Paris last year. What made you want to open your own bar, and did you have a specific vision in mind?

MD: Yes I actually got asked by a friend of mine – Sofia – if I wanted to be a part of the bar opening. I had just shut down my other bar in Tenerife which was called Mikkey Dee Rock Lounge. I thought it was a great opportunity and decided to do it with Sofia. The bar is right at Plaza Republic, super central. We have all the Motörhead drinks there and also some merchandise. We really brought in the feeling of Motörhead; a little bit of memorabilia! That was the vision. I try to get there as often as I can but it hasn’t been too much recently.

MoM: What’s your go-to drink of choice when you’re playing a show? And how about when you’re relaxing at home?

MD: I’m not complicated, I like a simple lager. We have our Bastards Lager available around the world – hopefully soon in the UK too!  

Skål!

MoM: You were in Motörhead for 23 years. How did the band’s approach to touring change over time – were the later tours as rock’n’roll as the earlier ones?

MD: Absolutely. With Motörhead the problem we had was Lem couldn’t stay at home! That old bastard never wanted to stop. We had just got back from four or five months’ touring in Europe and the US, I flew home to Sweden and two weeks later Lem called and said, ‘Hey what’s going on, should we go out again?’. I’d say to him, ‘We need to have time off!’ and he’d say, “Fuck it, we should get going now!” The approach was never-ending, being on the road all the time, even in the later years.

MoM: What might we find on a typical Motörhead rider?

MD: We weren’t really that particular to tell you the truth. We were easy going. Lemmy liked bourbon, whisky, and vodka and orange. On my rider – beer, a bottle of whisky, water. Snacks: fruit. The only weird shit was Lemmy was obsessed with Cadbury Kinder Eggs. He didn’t eat the chocolate but loved the gift on the inside. Sometimes he opened the egg and there was a finished piece instead of one you put together and he’d say, ‘This is a shit batch!’ He liked to make the toy himself. My boys would sometimes be backstage with us and would go into Lemmy’s dressing room before the show to hang out – then they’d come into my room and said to me, ‘Hey dad, Lemmy doesn’t eat the chocolate!’ with shocked faces.

MoM: Motörhead will be remembered as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Could you share one of your career highlights from your time in the band?

MD: Oh my god, so many. Basically every time you walk off stage – you felt that was it, no one can follow this. You felt you gave it all. I remember we didn’t care much for awards shows and all three of us had the same attitude – how do you compete in music, why should this song or album win an award over this or that. We always got awarded by our fans and that was enough for us. That’s where the real deal is. But, when we did win a Grammy, Lem was very proud. I could see and feel that. And of course me and Phil as well. Not so much because we won – more that someone finally gave us a little bit more space and attention in this world. I thought that was fair. I’m glad Lemmy got to experience that, he deserved it. The band deserved it too after so many years of total rock and travelling the world. I don’t think we had one bad record. It was nice to be awarded for that from the industry.

Cheers, Mikkey! To toast Motörhead’s excellent taste in spirits, Brands For Fans is offering you the opportunity to get your hands on a Motörhead merch package that includes the band’s Premium Dark Rum, Single Malt Whisky and Vodka. Competition opens this Thursday. Watch this space!

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Reviving a classic Irish whiskey distillery with Tullamore D.E.W.

For a long time Tullamore D.E.W. was a historic name without a distillery. Now the Irish whiskey brand is closing the gap on Jameson’s and enjoying life under William Grant’s…

For a long time Tullamore D.E.W. was a historic name without a distillery. Now the Irish whiskey brand is closing the gap on Jameson’s and enjoying life under William Grant’s stewardship.

The first thing you see when you enter the Tullamore D.E.W. distillery is a copper phoenix. It was adopted as the symbol of the town in 1785, a decade after Tullamore was seriously damaged when the crash of a hot air balloon resulted in a fire that burned down around 130 homes. It’s the emblem of the local sports clubs. There’s a bar in town called The Phoenix. Symbolically it’s the perfect image for the Irish whiskey brand to evoke, as it knows a thing or two about rising from the ashes.

The original Tullamore distillery was built in 1829 by the Malloy Brothers – Michael and Anthony Malloy. After passing through the family for a couple of generations, the business was left to Daniel Edmund Williams to run. “Williams joined the business in 1862 as a 14-year-old boy and by the time he was 25, in 1873, he was the general manager,” says John Quinn, the global ambassador for the brand. “Over the next two decades he proceeded to buy out the owners and began producing a whiskey that became famous and the famous ‘D.E.W. ‘was added, a play on Williams’ three initials and the word ‘dew’”. There’s an air of Willy Wonka about Williams. He added a bonded warehouse and bottling plant to the distillery, and transformed the town bringing modern amenities like electricity, telephones and cars, as well as opening over 20 pub-grocery shops. He even coinined the immortal slogan “Give Every Man his Dew”. “He was an iconic man, an iconic individual. It inspires us and it would inspire anybody,” explains Quinn.

Although the brand initially thrived, by the beginning of the 20th century it was barely surviving, a fate that affected most Irish whiskey distilleries due to a number of reasons. “The rebellion in Dublin that generated independence for Ireland also led to an economic war with Britain, which meant access to the likes of Canada, Australian, India and Britain was blocked. That coincided with the Prohibition in the US so the market was closed to Irish whiskey exports. Then, with the second world war, the American soldiers eventually based themselves in Britain and got a taste for Scotch,” explains Quinn. “Probably the most significant event, however, was the development of blended Scotch. The distillers of Ireland fought hard against its introduction and this inability to move with the times caused the Irish whisky industry to almost collapse. Combined with the financial difficulties that came with the new Irish state after independence a lot of the distilleries struggled, particularly as the overseas business had virtually gone completely. By the 1950s most of the distilleries in Ireland were closed”.

Tullamore D.E.W

John Quinn has been working with the brand since 1974, so he’s seen it all.

Tullamore Distillery held on until 1954 until it had to shut its doors. But the brand didn’t die off. It was sold to John Powers & Son in 1960 and six years later the Dublin distillers merged with two other Irish distilleries to form Irish Distillers. In the 1970s, Irish Distillers closed their existing distilleries and consolidated production at a new distillery built in Midleton, County Cork. In 1994, Irish Distillers sold the brand to the C&C Group before it was acquired by the owners of Glenfiddich et al, William Grant & Sons, for €300 million in 2010. At which point, Tullamore D.E.W. was still without its own distillery, with every expression released under the brand’s name being sourced from Bushmills and Midleton Distillery.

William Grant , however, had other ideas. It put plans into motion to build a new state-of-the-art distillery in Tullamore.”When William Grant took over we heard talk of building a distillery but I kind of refused to believe it because I’d heard it all before. People used to say ‘if we sell a quarter of a million cases, we’ll build a distillery’. We got to 600,000 cases, still no distillery. There was a commitment to build the brand but not to build the legacy!” says Quinn. “When William Grant took over I can remember the joy of talking to people who were also interested in whisky and history and legacy. A lot of people are getting into Irish whiskey trying to make money. With the Grant family, it’s in their blood and they genuinely are passionate about it. When you’re part of a company that lives and breathes whisky, it’s different”. 

Quinn actually first realised that William Grant was serious about the project while managing a ladies football team. “One of the players needed a lift to the game and said ‘I’m sorry I’m late but I had to finish a report I was writing’. She was a ground engineer writing a report for a whisky company and said it was looking at building a distillery. Immediately I knew who she was talking about,” Quinn recalls. “Lo-and-behold, a month or two later we got an announcement that the distillery was to be built in Tullamore. It was the greatest thrill of all time for me because I’m the longest-serving Tullamore D.E.W. person at that time in the business. I’m like a child in a toy shop when I go down there because having spent 40 something years in the business I’m now six years with our own distillery and it’s still a novelty that I can’t get over”.  

Tullamore D.E.W

The delightful new Tullamore Distillery.

After an initial €3 million investment upgrading the visitor centre (housed in the old distillery’s warehouse that closed in 1954), William Grant spent €35 million on a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Tullamore, which opened in 2014. Initially it had the capacity to produce up to 1.8 million litres of pot still and malt whiskey per annum using four pot stills, but provision was made for the installation of a further two pot stills in the distillery, which doubled this capacity to 3.64 million litres. Following an additional €25 million investment, a grain distillery with a gigantic three column still and bottling plant were added in 2017. That spend brought total monies invested over the past eight years to €100m. “We now employ over 90 people locally and we have great facilities now for innovation, for trialling, for working on different casks and finishings,” says Quinn. “We even brought over Tom, the original distiller from 1948-54 who had emigrated to New York City, as the guest of honour. He got the keys that were lent to us by the Williams family to reopen the distillery”. 

The installation of a grain distillery means that the distillery can now produce all three components (pot still, malt, and grain whiskey) of its Tullamore Dew blended whiskey on-site, which matures in six warehouses filled with close to 300,000 casks. It’s the only triple-distilled blend, grain to glass Irish distillery. “We’re very proud of that. It’s the key thing about our brand that we distil three kinds of whisky, malt, pot still and grain, and each of those is triple-distilled [the grain in the column still]. That gives us a whiskey that’s complex, approachable and unique. There isn’t a lot of whiskey made that way,” says Quinn. “Pot still is a very interesting component in that it gives a viscosity and oiliness to the texture of the whiskey. It’s an iconic style in Ireland so it’s important that we have it in our blend and we’ll hopefully release a pot still whiskey in the not too distant future, which will be exciting. A single pot still won’t have been made in Tullamore in a long time, it would have been 65 years.” 

Another blend is the Tullamore D.E.W. XO Caribbean Rum Cask Finish, which finishes its original blend of pot still, malt and grain Irish whiskeys in first fill Caribbean rum casks which previously held Demerara rum, while the brand also has a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old single malt in its portfolio, both of which were produced at Bushmills. At the visitors centre, you can also pick up the Tullamore D.E.W. Old Bonded Warehouse Release, which Quinn describes as “a variation of our original whisky with more pot still and sherry cask, it’s a big seller at our visitors centre because you can’t buy it anywhere else”. Excitingly, there’s more to come. “We’re in a process of innovation and we will be launching new expressions this year. They probably would have been launched sooner if it wasn’t for COVID-19, but we will have at least one, if not two expressions, coming certainly between now and next April. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more about them because there will be a big reveal and launch,” Quinn explains.

Tullamore D.E.W

The old warehouse was converted into the brand’s visitor centre

Tullamore D.E.W has the distinction of being the only distillery in Ireland that uses Irish winter wheat as its grain, which is considerably more expensive than say French corn, a more commonplace choice. “I remember when the grain distillery was being built and the project manager suggested it and I said I would love it to use Irish wheat rather than French corn if it’s possible! The thinking behind it at the time was that Girvan [grain distillery owned by William Grant] works with wheat and so our guys were happy to work with wheat from an engineering point-of-view, but for me, it was fantastic because it’s another part of our story which is interesting and different,” says Quinn. “Being environmentally conscious is still high on our agenda even with a pandemic going on. We have a distillery where the grain is all Irish and where the movement of your spirit from your distillery to the warehouses and from the warehouses into a bottling hall is just there beside you. It gives us an efficient carbon footprint statement. There’s no other distillery in Ireland that’s doing that. We’ve got three types of whiskies, all of them being matured on-site and all of them using Irish grain and all of them being matured and bottled in the same campus”. 

Part of this consideration to act responsibly and ensure provenance meant that William Grant also built a water pipe to receive the water from the Slieve Bloom Mountains as part of the construction of the distillery, which is 14 kilometres away. “The water coming from the mountains is probably softer but mostly we wanted to ensure that we had our own supply of water, rather than taking it out of the town supply or from underground even from wells below the distillery,” Quinn explains. The consideration for the local environment extended so far as to plant plants in the distillery grounds in order to facilitate a bee corridor and use a patented William Grant engineering department system called ‘thermal vapour recompression’. “Essentially it reuses the latent heat built up around the condensers to fire up the stills again so we don’t need nearly as much energy to run them, so it improves our efficiency by another 17% beyond what it would have been. I’m very proud of that part of our business. We’re just lucky that we’ve got this site big enough and the company had the vision to do everything on one site”. 

Tullamore D.E.W malt and pot still whiskey is distilled in handcrafted copper stills that were modelled on the original pre-1954 Tullamore stills, which are actually on display at the nearby Kilbeggan Distillery. “The engineers showed me the designs of the stills before and I thought ‘why is all this familiar to me?’ They told me they found the old designs and we’d gone to Forsyths in Scotland and asked them to make the stills’. That speaks to the importance of heritage and legacy and history in the business,” Quinn says. In keeping with the spirit of innovation, Tullamore D.E.W also brought back the art of coopering to its distillery for the first time in six decades. The brand’s cooperage currently employs one cooper who previously worked in Cognac and for William Grant in Scotland before he came to Tullamore. The plan is to hire an apprentice in the near future. “At first we didn’t think having our own cooper would be essential, but as time went on and the more casks that we put out, we realised we needed to have our cooper man on-site doing all this work’,” Quinn says. “It’s brilliant because it completes the whole picture”.

Tullamore D.E.W

The handcrafted copper stills were modelled on the original pre-1954 model

Tullamore D.E.W is certainly going to be putting those skills to good use as the brand has never shied away from experimenting with cask types, which the Tullamore D.E.W. Cider Cask Finish expression demonstrates. “The Scotch whisky people I talk to do have a degree of gentle jealousy that there’s flexibility in Irish whiskey to play with different casks that they don’t, or least until recently certainly didn’t have. We appreciate that we need to hold onto some of the traditions and not throw everything out, but that we don’t need to hamstring ourselves completely”, Quinn explains. “We’ve got great flexibility to do all sorts of cask finishing, which gives us an opportunity to offer expressions that might not otherwise have been available and therefore Irish Whiskey becomes really interesting. And we need to be interesting because we need people to be talking about it, you know?”

That conversation has been helped by the formation of the Irish Whisky Association in 2014, according to Quinn, who believes that the organisation gives those in the Irish whiskey industry a sense of common purpose and an understanding of the threat of not doing it right. “We’ve developed quality standards and technical and verification files with a view to geographical indication to help define what the category is. It brings us all together and gives everybody a chance to do well so the industry can continue to thrive and grow, employ more people and encourage a tourism industry that we haven’t had” Quinn explains. His ultimate aim is that it becomes sort of second nature to talk about ‘Irish’ when you talk about ‘whiskey’. “I remember a time when we had to remind people that there are other whiskies beyond Scotch and American. When convincing people that Irish whiskey has heritage, quality and flavour was a real challenge. You have to be careful that we don’t get complacent and what we definitely don’t want is the new smaller distilleries to fail and for us to find ourselves with closed distilleries again in Ireland. We want everybody to succeed and I can’t see any reason why anybody would want other than a thriving business”.

Cocktails have become a key part of this conversation and Tullamore D.E.W as a brand has embraced this culture, filling its website with recipes. This is something Quinn never thought he’d see in an article about whiskey and the fact that cocktails have become such a key part of the conversation is a pleasant surprise for him. “Did I ever think I would see myself talking about cocktails? No! But it’s great to hear bartenders responding to the different elements in the blend. I love that they can pick out the sweetness from the grain whiskey, the spice that’s coming from the pot still, the fruit that’s coming from the malt and then make something special with it. It’s this blend of thoughts, cultures and ideas that make us all interesting people and an interesting brand”. 

Tullamore D.E.W

Tullamore D.E.W is Ireland’s second-biggest whiskey brand and its future is bright

Interesting though they are, in the current climate it’s harder than ever to predict what the future holds for Tullamore D.E.W. and Irish whiskey. Prior to the pandemic, it was on course to sell a million and a half cases this year. “If you had asked me this in December my answer would be that I see a very bright future for Irish whiskey, particularly in places where we’re really small and relatively unknown. In Latin America or Asia for example, where there’s a very strong Scotch culture, we’re trying to help people understand that this is a really interesting category and country. Our business is dominated by Europe and North America, so these markets are an incredible opportunity for us as a category,” Quinn says. “There’s potential there and I hope we’ll have an industry where there are lots of Irish whiskey distilleries with different flavour profiles and everybody will have a place in and will be living from a vibrant industry platform that talks with confidence and nobody worries about mothballed distilleries. That’s what I’m hoping, that’s what I dream of and that’s what I envisage. For the last 15 years, we can say that that’s certainly been the trend line”.

The Tullamore D.E.W. range is available from Master of Malt.

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Five of London’s best whisky bars

With the capital’s venues tentatively opening up again on the 4 July, we thought it as good a time as any to celebrate some of our favourite places in London…

With the capital’s venues tentatively opening up again on the 4 July, we thought it as good a time as any to celebrate some of our favourite places in London to drink whisky.

It’s happening, it’s finally happening! Soon, when you want to have a drink with a friend it won’t mean dropped connections and unflattering camera angles on Zoom, or sitting two metres apart in your garden wondering whether using the loo would break government guidelines on social distancing. No, we’re talking about sitting at a table under a roof while someone brings you a drink, and then you pay for it. Sounds bananas, but it could catch on. So, we’ve rounded up five of our favourite places to drink whisky. Where we know, we’ve put when the venue will be opening again and whether booking is required. Please do contact the bar first though. Right, without further ado, here they are. Let us know about your favourites in the comments or on social media.

The Boisdale buzz

Boisdale, Belgravia

Almost every day, Boisdale owner, the magnificently-monickered Ranald Macdonald, is to be found enjoying lunch in the Belgravia branch. Always a good sign. This first Boisdale specialising in Macdonald’s three favourite things steak, cigars and whisky, opened in 1988, and has since been joined by three other venues, Mayfair, Bishopsgate and a mammoth venue at Canary Wharf. Macdonald also loves music and so there are regular jazz, soul and reggae gigs with some serious talent on offer like Courtney Pine or Horace Andy. The Mayfair branch has a special vinyl and cocktail bar in the basement whereas in Belgravia you can indulge your inner plutocrat on the cigar terrace where Glen Collins will suggest the perfect malt to go with your Montecristo. During lockdown, MacDonald has kept the wolf from the door issuing Boisdale War Bonds where one can buy fine whisky, wine, food and music in advance at a massive discount. The Belgravia branch will open from 8 July. 

You could spend a lot of time and money at Bull in a China Shop

Bull in a China Shop, Shoreditch

This amazing bar in London by Old Street roundabout is a booze wonderland especially for lovers of Japanese whisky. It was founded by brothers Simon and Stephen Chan who created the Drunken Monkey dim sum bar also in Shoreditch. Bull in a China Shop has been open since 2015, and offers an incredible range of Japanese whisky including some Karuizawa at £55 a glass and the biggest bottle of Nikka from the Barrel you have ever seen, plus whiskies from smaller producers like Mars. There’s plenty of Scotch too. Stephen Chan told me he had a soft spot for Tomatin, in particular. There’s Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean bar snacks to wash down with your single malt. 

Milroy’s has been a whisky destination since the ’60s

Milroy’s, Soho

Milroy’s is a Soho institution that was revived and revitalised when Martyn ‘Simo’ Simpson took over in 2014. There’s a cocktail bar in the basement and a whisky bar on the ground floor with over 1,000 bottles to try; they claim it’s the largest selection outside Scotland. Simo buys and bottles his own rare casks so there are things here that you can’t find anywhere else. During lockdown, the team kept busy by selling rare casks, offering Zoom tastings and selling bottled cocktails. “We will come out of this stronger than we went in,” he said.  He opened a three story Spitalfields outpost last year which contains a whisky-focused private members club. This will be selling drams to take away while the Soho branch will open up next week with seating at the whisky bar and 16 tables outside as part of Soho’s evening pedestrianisation transformation. He’s taking the opening slowly “we’ll be fully open in September, no one is going to rush back to central London yet.”

Homeboy, a little bit of Ireland in North London

Homeboy, Islington

The aim with Homeboy was to bring a bit of Dublin to Islington, according to founders Aaron Wall and Ciaran Smith. As you’d expect there’s a remarkably range of Irish whiskeys alongside some excellent cocktails along with simple food like toasties or, sure to bring back childhood memories, a crisp sandwich made with Tayto’s cheese and onion. One of London’s smallest bars, it will be reopening on 4 July; Wall told us: “we are just doing table service and blocking off every second table for distancing. We are happy to take walks too and also takeaway. Bookings have been really good for Saturday but really quiet for after that.” Wall has kept busy experimenting with Home Boy Irish Coffee Bitters (why has no one done this before?), which should be coming soon, bottled cocktails and “our own limited release top secret finished Irish Whiskey.” Sounds exciting. 

Unusual whiskeys at Sibin

Sibin, Westminster

We love a bit of theatre here at Master of Malt, and there’s theatre a-plenty at the secret Sibin bar at the recently-opened Great Scotland Yard Hotel. It was so secret that we struggled to find it until a helpful member of staff pressed a discreet button and, James Bond villain-style, a section of bookcase opened to reveal a secret bar. It’s called Sibín, as in an Irish drinking den (sometimes spelt shebeen). The drinks menu takes a turn for the unexpected too with old classics given a tune-up. The Rusty Nail is made with two types of Talisker, and Drambuie, and then left to oxidise for two days to mellow. Bars manager Michal Mariarz adds a little PX to his Smokey Cokey, Lagavulin 16 year old and Coke. For the more classically-inclined there are unusual whiskies like a 2005 Caol Ila part-matured in Hermitage red wine casks. Please note, opening date for Sibin is still TBC.

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Balcones: Where tradition meets innovation

As Master of Malt’s exclusive Balcones Barrel Pick lands, we look back at our 2019 trip to the Texas distillery, remarking at how much can change in a decade… If…

As Master of Malt’s exclusive Balcones Barrel Pick lands, we look back at our 2019 trip to the Texas distillery, remarking at how much can change in a decade…

If anything could capture the disorientation felt by a time traveller arriving in a new sphere, stepping inside the original Balcones distillery must come close. About an hour and a half south of Dallas, Texas, the brand’s Waco hometown takes its form from a mesh of residential streets and independent bars and restaurants, sliced neatly in two by the Brazos River, and dissected again by multi-lane highways. Pulling off the sun-baked carriageway, we entered the network, cutting back through industrial streets, dusty and decked with graffiti. It’s next to an underpass and across from some apparently abandoned garages that you discover the single-storey, brick-clad cream and white building. It is identifiable as a distillery only by the red Balcones logo stamped on a weathered side, reminiscent of a faded lipstick stain.

Balcones is a bit of an outlier when it comes to American whiskey. Built from an idea conceived in 2008, the brand blends ingenuity with time-honoured traditions. It started with a love for Scotch, coupled with a desire to develop taste experiences not found anywhere else. And remember, this all happened before the big distilling boom we’re seeing across the US now. 

Balcones

Balcones head distiller, Jared Himstedt, in his office

“I really adore and respect the tradition,” states head distiller, Jared Himstedt, an individual who is creative and considered in equal measure. He started his drinks career in beer, as a homebrewer and in the on-trade. “We were ready to make stuff,” he recalls. “Whiskey was what we loved. We tried the beer thing, and we were ready to move on and try our hand at this. It wasn’t really about surveying the landscape like, ‘Oh, this is a great time to get into whiskey.’”

He acknowledges some of those players held in high regard as US craft pioneers: St George Spirits, Anchor (now Hotaling), and Hudson. “There were just a few and they were tiny, and they were hard to find. But just knowing somebody was doing it, then your brain is like, ‘Oh, that’s an option’.”

Inside the old Balcones distillery

Step inside the cool, dark space of the old distillery, and you’re now in 2009, the year Balcones started distilling what would go on to become its whisky (note: the brand drops the ‘e’. Like for Scotch.). Once a welding store, the 2,500sq ft production site might be silent, but the cobweb-covered pot stills and hand-stirred mash tun show just how far Balcones has come – and speaks to the philosophy that remains at the heart of the brand today. We were there with Himstedt and distillery manager, Tommy Mote, who also hails from a beer background, and is as flavour-obsessed as his head distiller.

“For me, being a beer guy, single malt is the most obvious, just because of the barley connections,” Himstedt continues. “And with whisky, I think there’s kind of some romanticism. You feel a loyalty [to the first one you loved], it’s part of your personal story and history.”  

Balcones

Behind the scenes in the lab. It tastes as good as it looks

In many ways, once you’re out from under the Texan sun and in the tiny distillery, you could be in Scotland. It’s not just time-bending, but geography-splicing, too. The light carves its way through the dust, falling on still shapes that were for sure inspired by Scotch. Like much of the kit, they were made or adapted by the team. Barley was shipped across the Atlantic – although today more is Texas-grown as the brand explores more grain-to-glass production. Small-batch and craft, in the very essence of the word. 

“We started not really knowing as much about the processes as we should have, we weren’t trained,” Himstedt explains. “It was just very intentional, try something new, some sensory things. Then adjust and do a little research.” At that stage, almost everything was controlled – and indeed carried out – by hand. And the results spoke for themselves. Balcones Texas Single Malt started picking up medals at international spirits competitions in 2013.

Back in the car and it was time to get back into the grid and head to the other side of town. On the way, Mote points out bars, eateries and independent stores. It’s a colourful, bustling town, with people out and about enjoying its fayre, wares and scenery, ambling along the river and through the green spaces. For its harrowing past, Waco has emerged as a vibrant, creative place, with optimism bubbling up everywhere, from its striking Suspension Bridge, to Baylor University’s cavernous McLane Stadium. 

Balcones

Himstedt loves to experiment, and we love his creations!

Balcones: A bold distilling world

Turn the corner into the Balcones parking lot in Downtown Waco, and we are in a bold new whisky distilling world. A huge Balcones logo on the roof of the 1920s four-storey concrete, steel and brick warehouse blocks out the fierce sun, casting no doubt as to where you are. The former Texas Fireproof Storage Co. building was initially purchased by Balcones in 2011 to provide barrel storage – now, it’s a sleek, stylish and inspiring, bar, office and production space. It’s an impressive HQ, about 25 times the size of that original distillery tucked away next to the tired garages on the other side of town.

First impressions are made in the glossy bar, a lustrously industrial hub with copper and turquoise accents and sleek seating. There are cocktails and whisky flights on offer, but it’s as much a community space as a brand haven. Flyers announce future events, and you could imagine the vibe on a busy Friday evening. 

Some of the most impressive copper pot stills you’ll ever lay eyes on. We couldn’t get them all in shot!

We move through the distillery and find enormous 58-tonne hoppers, a traditional 24,600-litre mash tun for barley (and a cooker for other grains), and seven state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled 26,500-litre external fermenters. The scale is extraordinary, and in stark comparison to the rustic kit at the old site. 

The contrast is even more apparent in the vast distillation space, which houses some of the most impressive copper pot stills I’ve ever seen. The necks turn into slinky-like lyne arms, a visually dramatic way to max out reflux. The older still (both are made by Forsyths in Scotland) boasts around 75 metres of coil, while the newer one still has around 35 metres of turns. They tower above us, resplendent and majestic in their polished surrounds. 

The move must have been quite the undertaking. “Yeah, we were worried about it,” Himstedt admits, looking back to 2014 when work began to transform what was essentially a storage unit into what it is today, while taking care not to lose the history of the building. “Even the stills, moving to bigger stills and running stream instead of direct fire, learning how to run them.” He says it took a good “four to six months” to be happy with the distillate. “We like to make samples; we have a whole library from back [before], and we kept checking what was coming off compared to old ones.” Adjustments were made, and now he’s living the history.

Balcones

Balcones barrel samples are here, there and everywhere!

Beyond ‘Scotch’

As well as significantly increasing capacity, building a brand home, and creating a stunning space for visitors, the new Balcones distillery has allowed the team to up the experimentation stakes like never before. As well as the Scotch-inspired single malt, Balcones produces bourbons, other corn expressions, and ryes, smoky bottlings like Brimstone, and even a rum. Mote estimated that the team plays with as many as 18 different mashbill recipes across the range, and that’s before you even start tweaking with fermentation, or the influence of oak.

“I think all of these could be done differently,” Himstedt muses. “All we’ve been doing for the last 10 years is try to do other styles, and make them appealing. It’s believing that we could achieve that if we did something differently to how it’s normally done.”

We head up to his lab, and we’re surrounded 360-degrees by barrel samples, distillates, and all manner of other liquid experiments. Suddenly Himstedt’s desire just to try stuff makes perfect sense. He and the wider team are dedicated to exploring flavour, pushing boundaries, while simultaneously honouring the tradition that’s got the whisk(e)y industry to the place it is now.

After such a decade of such growth and achievement, what drives him to keep going? “It’s a really exciting thing when you see someone and the light goes on,” he says, talking about sharing the whisky love. “It’s getting people out of their shell, getting them discussing, encouraging them that there’s no wrong answer here.” He likens talking about whisky to food flavour memory. “People get more comfortable, less afraid.” And that’s one of the biggest differences he’s seen over his ten years with Balcones. “The education of the amount of information that people come to whisk(e)y with today versus a decade ago is drastically different.” People know what they like. And they like Balcones.

A taste of Texas

Fancy a taste of Texas? Here are three must-try Balcones expressions, balancing heritage and innovation.

Balcones

Balcones Texas Single Malt (cask 10011) – Master of Malt & British Bourbon Society, £89.95

We couldn’t go all the way to Texas and not pick out a cask to bottle as our very own! Technically we had some help from our pals at the British Bourbon Society, who chose from four samples. One of just 240 bottles, this single malt boasts notes of banana fritters and toffee apple on the nose, tobacco and black pepper on the palate, and a Mars Bar-esque finish. Delicious stuff (even if we do say so ourselves).

Balcones

Balcones Baby Blue Corn, £49.95

The first whisky distilled from blue corn! This is deliciously different compared to a traditional bourbon, and makes for an excellent addition to the drinks cabinet. It’s got toasty cereal on the nose, and has a dark caramel palate with a velvety thick mouthfeel. Luscious sweet spices come through on the finish. One to add to the American whiskey bucket list for sure. 

Balcones

Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof , £67.25

A delectable rye released to celebrate Balcones’s 10th anniversary! It’s a 100% rye mashbill – but don’t be fooled. There are loads of different varieties in here, from raw elbron and roasted varietals, to crystal and even chocolate types. The result is a sweet treat: think cinnamon and hot cocoa with added marshmallows, hints of tobacco and orange zest to lift it. Rye fans, get involved! 

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Tarquin’s: Cornwall’s gin pioneer

Tucked away in converted cow sheds by the rugged coast of Cornwall lies Southwestern Distillery, an independent spirits company established by classically-trained chef and self-taught distiller Tarquin Leadbetter back in…

Tucked away in converted cow sheds by the rugged coast of Cornwall lies Southwestern Distillery, an independent spirits company established by classically-trained chef and self-taught distiller Tarquin Leadbetter back in 2013. We shine a light on the distillery as his latest creation, a Caribbean spiced rum called Twin Fin, hits the shelves…

By the age of 25, Le Cordon Bleu alumni Tarquin Leadbetter had founded Cornwall’s first distillery in more than a century, developed his flagship Tarquin’s Cornish Gin, and created the UK’s first commercially-distilled pastis (named Cornish Pastis, of course). All in all, a pretty impressive spirits CV. What started out as a relatively modest aspiration – “go surfing in the morning and make gin in the afternoon,” Leadbetter says – has evolved incrementally into a vibrant small-batch distilling operation with four stills, three flagship spirits, and a 40-strong team. 

The growth has been both organic and sustainable. On a liquid level, the bottles are individually filled, corked, sealed, labelled, numbered and waxed by hand – thankfully not just by Leadbetter these days, who reckons he personally labelled around 50,000 bottles in those formative years – and the distillery has never had any investment other than the money he used to start the business, which was inherited from his grandparents. With no outlandish budgets to hire a consultant or “buy shiny German copper stills”, Leadbetter set up the distillery on a shoestring. He bought a 0.7 litre still off the internet, heating it on a cooker at home.

Tarquin Leadbetter with one of his little stills

“I went to the cash and carry to buy magnums of cheap vodka – which was my neutral grain spirit – and macerated lots of jars of single botanicals overnight,” he reflects. “Then I’d do these turbo batches, distilling 100 single botanicals on my cooker, which would take about half an hour to an hour each, labelling them up and blending them together. I’d add two botanicals, then three, then four, five, six, and went on this extraordinary journey of exploration.” 

The more distillates he experimented with, the clearer his vision became for his eponymous gin. “I realised that one person isn’t necessarily better at smelling or tasting than another,” Leadbetter continues. ”It’s just their vocabulary; being able to articulate the flavours that they come across. By distilling everything on its own, I was able to remember those flavours, which made it a lot easier to decide where to head in terms of final flavour. It also made me a lot better at tasting other gins and working out what I liked and disliked.”

While blending skills are certainly crucial, mastering the technical aspect of distilling is of equal importance, if not greater. After all, it’s little use describing how you’d like your gin to taste if you can’t actually create those flavours. Back then, “free knowledge was generally thin on the ground”, Leadbetter explains. “Primarily, it’s been three multinationals creating this stuff for the past 20, 30, 40 years – the market’s consolidated and all of their research is proprietary”. 

“The best resources for recipe ideas, cut points, temperatures; they were very much found on home-brewing sites or forums for craft distillers,” he continues. “There was this crazy journey of reading everything I could on the internet to cobble together enough knowledge, and then applying it through practice and then through trial and error to come up with the recipe.”

Arrrrrrr! Seadog Navy Gin

“On my journey distilling from botanicals, when it got to things like aniseed, liquorice or star anise, and they louched [went cloudy] when I diluted them down, it instantly clicked, I was like ‘oh my god, this is so familiar to pastis in France or the ouzos from Greece from holidays’ that it opened my eyes into making something else alongside gin, another botanical-flavoured spirit.” This was the genesis of Cornish Pastis.

With his gin recipe perfected and a pastis in the pastis in the works, Leadbetter acquired a 500sqft unit in north Cornwall and bought a 250-litre still to start distilling on a commercial scale. He approached gastro pubs, wine specialists, hotels and farm shops across the county, and sold the first batch on 30 July 2013 from the boot of his car. 

At the end of the first month, Southwestern secured its first export order, and by the end of the first year, Tarquin’s had won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC). Even so, his mum was still signing each bottle. “We have these hand-written batch character tasting notes, so my mum was writing those on the bottle, my sister was helping me stick the labels on, and for the first two years I was still hand-labelling and doing lots of the bottling myself,” Leadbetter says. “It took us about 18 months to make our very first employee.”

Today, Southwestern has four stills which are spread across five units at the same converted cow sheds. “Three are exactly the same type as I first started on, where we can do small batches and be really creative, and the other is a bigger custom-built Italian still made by a company called Green Engineering, which made the stills for Bombay Sapphire’s Laverstoke Mill,” Leadbetter says. 

“We’ve very much got that blend of old and new,” he continues. “We’ve still got these incredibly rustic stills sealed with bread dough*, and then on the other side of the distillery we’ve got this modern, high-tech still with its fancy flow metres that can spit out all these digital readings. All it’s really designed to do is give us information to help us mirror and copy what’s going on with the smaller stills, but on a larger scale. It’s been an interesting evolution.”

Twin Fin, a spiced blend of Jamaican and Dominican rum

A variety of limited edition gins have been added to the range over the years – including blackberry and Cornish honey, rhubarb and raspberry, strawberry and lime – and now, after two years of development, a spiced rum that goes by the name of Twin Fin is the latest spirit to expand the line-up. To make Twin Fin, a secret spice recipe is distilled in Southwestern’s copper pot stills and combined with two Caribbean rums. Then, the liquid is married with charred oak chips before bottling.

“It’s a blend of Jamaican pot still rum, which is lovely and banana-y, and Dominican Republic column still rum, which almost tastes a bit like coconut,” Leadbetter explains. “We wanted to spread our wings a little bit and use our knowledge and experience of distilling botanicals and create a rum, and the best way for us to start is by putting our own twist on a spiced creation. It’s got lots of citrus, lots of vanilla. We soak our oak chips in Pedro Ximénez sherry to add this almost Christmas cake fruit sweetness to the spirit.”

There’s no question that rum seems to finally be having its moment in the spotlight, and it appears to be led by the botanical success seen in gin. Could we see another spiced rum from Southwestern going forward? “In terms of further experimenting we might go down more of a fresh fruit approach as our gins have done, natural fruit flavours potentially, there’s space for some really fun tropical ingredients – or we might do some completely off-the-wall, wacky limited edition one-offs,” says Leadbetter.

“Traditionally rum has been quite an on-trade heavy spirit,” he continues. “Lots of people drink it in bars, but it’s never quite been the hero of the home cocktail bar, and there’s definitely more scope for that. Gin is the most popular spirit that people are buying to drink at home during lockdown, and I think rum could follow in its footsteps over the next few years – with the right products and some British experimentation also helping to drive the category.”

*A tried and tested technique whereby bread dough is used to seal the top of the still in place of a gasket. “It’s been around for probably 1,000 years, since they were using a very similar style of alembic still in north Africa,” Leadbetter says. “It’s super effective.”

Tarquin’s Gin is available from Master of Malt. Find the full range here

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And that’s a wrap

There have been some amazing whisky publicity stunts over the years but none quite as audacious as the one Ian Buxton tried to pull off with the artist Christo. Here’s…

There have been some amazing whisky publicity stunts over the years but none quite as audacious as the one Ian Buxton tried to pull off with the artist Christo. Here’s the full story. . .

You may have noticed that the artist Christo died recently. He was 84. His wife and artistic collaborator Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 and thus Christo’s passing marks the end of a remarkable creative duo. They worked together but always under the name of Christo.

You will remember them of course as the guys who wrapped things. Starting in the 1950s with mundane household objects such as chairs and bicycles they graduated to wrapping trees, fences, bridges, monuments, buildings and, on occasion, islands. They wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris and even the Reichstag (below). 

Imagine getting one of these for Christmas!

They were colourful and sometimes controversial characters. Not everyone cared for their work; there were frequent objections to their planned installations and one lady even died when one of their Umbrellas (1991) was toppled in high winds and struck and killed her.

We didn’t seem to ‘get’ them here in the UK, though after Jeanne-Claude’s death, Christo was able to install his London Mastaba in Hyde Park in 2018. So what’s this got to do with whisky you may be wondering.  Well, if I had been a more persuasive advocate, they might have completed their first UK work in Scotland, nearly twenty years earlier. It’s an unusual story, strange but true.

Prior to this writing lark I worked almost exclusively in consultancy, building on my previous career in marketing. Together with my wife (note the parallel), we established a consultancy business in Edinburgh where we had a number of whisky clients. However, in early 1999 one major client appointed a new president of global brands. This is generally not good news for the incumbent agencies as, determined to make their mark, the newcomer looks to shake things up. Based in the USA, the lady concerned did not appear impressed with anything other than the most fashionable of trendy New York agencies. It was imperative that we come up with a suitably grandiose idea. And fast.

So I proposed that we ask Christo to wrap the client’s main distillery. To bait the hook, I suggested we pay them £1 million, cover all the costs, give them complete creative control and see what they came up with. But I had a cunning plan: to get the client their money back I also proposed a special Hommage à Christo limited edition of wrapped bottles of single malt. 1,000 bottles at £1,500 should do nicely, I reckoned.

How long would it take to wrap a distillery?

Well, the client loved it and I was instructed to go and see Christo immediately and make it happen. Through friends of friends we were put in touch and, in the summer of 1999, I found myself in New York visiting Christo and Jeanne-Claude at their combined store, workshop, gallery, studio and home in an old warehouse in the Meatpacking District (not in those days the most salubrious part of town).   

I was received with great courtesy and we toured the studio, looking at the concept studies for their current project, Over the River. Later abandoned due to local opposition, this envisaged suspending 5.9 miles of fabric panels along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida in south-central Colorado. They told me that they needed $5m to fund the project. My hopes rose – compared to a river, wrapping a distillery would be a breeze and surely a million quid would come in handy.

Some whisky was shared, and then some wine, and they agreed to look at the drawings I had brought. Scotland seemed to appeal; the drawings received close and apparently sympathetic attention and some practical issues were discussed. All seemed to be going well.

But then we hit a snag. Quite a big one, as it happens. Rather gravely and, I thought, a little sadly they explained that, on principle, they never ever accepted commissions. There were no exceptions; they were both completely clear that a commission would not be their artistic vision and thus fatally compromised. A little recklessly – both bottles had been well sampled by this stage – I assured them (quite without any authority) that my client would surely want to increase the fee. I mentioned figures, increasingly extravagant figures, but they were unmoved. So I returned, older, wiser and empty handed to my client to report my failure.

And, you’d assume, we lost their business.  Well, no.  Along with my Christo project I’d also proposed building a visitor centre and they loved that idea as well. So Aberfeldy distillery got Dewar’s World of Whisky – but, sadly, neither of us will ever feature in the history of art!

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Citadelle: Cognac’s renegade gin

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a…

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a gin in the first place, the 18th-century recipe he based it on and his patented brand of gin distillation.

Given that he runs his own Cognac, rum and gin brands, you might think it’s hard to pin down Alexandre Gabriel. But, in my experience, the restless innovator is always happy to make time to chat about booze. Before I ask a question, he informs me he’s just spent the morning planting juniper trees at the Bonbonnet Estate and that he hopes the juniper and lemon supply for Citadelle Gin will be totally self-sustainable within five years. He’s been planting juniper berries since September 2017, inspired by the fact that the south west of France was known for its juniper berries during medieval times. He then explains that as someone one grew up on a farm he’s attached to the idea of growing what he needs, organically, of course. He already grows his own grapes for his Cognac.

In the midst of this discussion, Gabriel moves onto the topic of expansion, explaining that his other hobby is architecture. “We are expanding the distillery at the old estate at Bonbonnet. We do everything ourselves. The stonemasons are the guys who fill the barrels at Maison Ferrand. We’re putting nine pot stills in, old Cognac stills that I found that date back to the 1950s and ’60s and we are refurbishing them as we speak. Right now we are using our Cognac stills off-season to distil Citadelle,” he explains. I still haven’t actually asked a question at this point. “We are going to be able to use an economical system for our cooling water. Instead of using an inverter to cool it down and waste energy, we’re going to use warmer water and install long pipes so that we reuse that water in our greenhouse to grow the lemons that we need for Citadelle. More juniper berries, more stills, more experiments”. 

We’re ten minutes in and I already know this is going to be a productive interview. But you don’t expect any less from Gabriel, as you’ll know if you’ve read our previous features on Pierre Ferrand and Plantation Rum. Today, however, the focus is on Citadelle Gin. In my opinion, it’s his most intriguing brand. Why? Because it’s a premium French gin brand that was released back in the ’90s. It’s hard to put into context now given gin’s boom in the last decade how crazy you would have sounded pitching this idea. Gabriel remembers the feeling well. “It was like a moon landing! There was nobody on the gin planet. In 1996 I thought the world was waiting for an artisanal delicious gin. It was not!”

Citadelle Gin

Drinks maverick Alexandre Gabriel and his locally-grown juniper berries

In the early days of Citadelle, Gabriel recalls a group of students proposing to do a business case on the brand. Naturally, Gabriel accepted, hoping their acumen would provide some insight. Their analysis? “There is no way this can work,” Gabriel says, laughing at his own expense. “This kept happening. I remember our importer in America looking at me like I must have gone mad. A French gin?! This decision was made purely out of passion and it was almost disastrous to our business. I have made many mistakes and I hope I am going to make less,” he says. “It looked like Citadelle wouldn’t work because it was out of time and it was financially painful. But, in the end, the two wrongs became a right. Now there is a new gin every week, right!?”

Citadelle Gin didn’t thrive so much as survive in the early days, slowly building a reputation and fan base for its fresh, clean and delightfully mixable profile. Gabriel is particularly grateful to the influence of Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame. “In about 1997/98 Adrià was on TV. He said that Gin and Tonic is a gastronomic act and a beautiful aperitif and that you should use a great gin. He whipped out a bottle of Citadelle. We were like ‘wow’. That made a difference,” Gabriel recalls. “This guy is the one that put the Spanish Gin and Tonic, which conquered the world, on the map. He really did, I was there and I saw it, and he never took credit for it but he really did. Then in the US, the New York Times wrote a beautiful piece in 1999 called something like ‘Citadelle storms the gate’. It was half a page and that was a big push for New York. Every bit counted for us”. 

But before the days of trying to convince customers to give French gin a try, Gabriel had a much bigger stumbling block. He had to convince the authorities to give French gin a try. The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulations stated that the brandy can only be distilled between November and March. After that stills must be locked up and put into hibernation for seven months. From the outside, that might seem perfect.  The region’s copper alembic stills and distillers have six months of the year free to distil something else and you don’t have to waste money creating a new distillery. But nothing’s ever that simple, as Gabriel found out quickly. Distilling gin in Cognac stills wasn’t simply frowned upon, it was outright banned. The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) had never received a request for this to change and probably never thought anybody would ask. But Gabriel is not one to follow conventional wisdom or pay much heed to what he believed were antiquated laws.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin was ahead of its time and its creation was plagued with roadblocks

What followed was a struggle in which Gabriel lobbied to make his gin, arguing that there was historical precedent for this act. Extensive research uncovered that historically gin was produced in pot stills over a naked flame, which is exactly how Cognac pot stills were designed. “I don’t know about you but when I am pissed at something I work even harder! France is a very bureaucratic country. I was told there’s no rule that allows me to do this, but I was much younger and rebellious in nature and I said there’s no rule that says I cannot”, he said. Eventually, “after five long years, I finally received the AOC approval to distil gin in Cognac in 1995!” 

Gabriel’s keen interest in history also led him to an 18th-century French distillery that inspired the Citadelle name and influenced the profile of the gin he would eventually make. “I tried to absorb everything I could about gin. I’ve always been attached to the idea of revitalising artisanal spirits that are a part of French heritage. We know the ancestor of gin was inspired by the Dutch, but at the time the Netherlands was a huge area that included parts of France and Belgium. I hired interns, I still do this a lot, to go through all the archives in the main cities. One day they discovered in a church an archive with a whole documented history of every parchment about the first official genever distillery in France,” Gabriel says. “I still have all the copies. It was established in the citadel of Dunkirk in 1775 on Louis XVI’s authorisation to smuggle gin to the UK. The distillers, Carpeau and Stival, used 12 copper pot stills to distil their gin and multiple botanicals like exotic spices alongside juniper berries. It was actually transported in barrels too. We uncovered some of their recipes. It was an inspiration and I thought the name was cool. Luckily it was not patented anymore!”

While some inspiration for Citadelle Gin came from this historical booze, Gabriel already had a style in mind: a classic profile that was fresh, thirst-quenching and most importantly juniper-forward. Good thing he’s growing so many of his own. “I wanted Citadelle to be fully integrated with many other elements that give it a rich mouth-feel and a great complexity. The apex of the triangle would be the juniper berries, the second element being citrus, lemon with a little bit of orange in our case and then the third element is the warm wind of exoticism, in our case nutmeg, that true gins should have,” says Gabriel. “We’re lucky because the Cognac stills have a very low swan neck which extracts a lot of the essential oils of the botanicals and it gives you a viscosity effect that balances the freshness of the product and the citrus-feel. I knew I would get that luscious effect from the distillation methods, it’s very slow, that’s the only downside to it”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin is created thanks to progressive infusion, a patented technique

Citadelle Gin is crafted using a unique technique called progressive infusion, which Gabriel describes as being a similar process to making tea, except you brew different elements at different times in the teapot. In the case of Citadelle Gin, the elements refer to the botanicals: French juniper berries, orris root, French violet root, Moroccan coriander, almonds, Spanish lemon peel, Mexican orange peel, angelica from North Germany, Indian cardamom, Indian nutmeg, cassia bark, Sri Lankan cinnamon, Mediterranean fennel, African grains of paradise, cubeb from Java, Chinese liquorice, cumin, French anise, and savory. “Each botanical is infused in neutral alcohol of French wheat for different lengths of proof and time, according to its aromatic function,” Gabriel explains. “While some require a strong degree of alcohol and a long infusion such as juniper berries, others infuse better in a weaker degree of alcohol, in a shorter time like star anise”. 

The infusion process lasts three to four days, during which the botanicals are added in successive steps while the degree of alcohol diminishes. “We lower the ABV with pure water, the same water that we use to bring down the ABV for Cognac, in which all the mineral elements have been eliminated through the reverse osmosis process. At the end, once the 19 botanicals have been infused, the ABV is about 30-35%. We set 20% of the infused spirit aside before sending it to the distillery and we infuse three extra botanicals, yuzu, cornflower and genepi from the Alps,” Gabriel says. “We then take the infused spirit to the distillery and we distil. Since the spirit has already been distilled at least three times, we only have to do one distillation. We do not keep the heads, we keep the heart and a large part of the seconds as well”. 

This atypical process of progressive infusion is actually a patented technique, something which Gabriel had never thought of doing until a figure within the government recommended it. “There’s a lot of pride in the French gastronomy and we were told our process should be recorded as a French method. Also, if we did it we could be involved in the French research and development programme,” he explains. “This afforded me the chance to hire a young guy from my village, Nicolas, who did a PhD thesis on the terroir of the Cognac. We’ve given this guy training and it’s been great to have him on my side since then. By the way, the patent is fully open, I’m not gathering any money from it. If you want to use it, it’s Patent No. 17 58092”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Réserve was one of the first aged gins of the modern era

The process of creating gin clearly still excites Gabriel more than two decades later. The potential to explore an array of aromatics that were different from the ones I grew up with is very attractive. But also, look at the regulations on how Cognac is made. It’s 23 pages long. With gin, it’s more like a page or half a page, so the only real limit is your imagination which is very exciting when you come from the Cognac world. I am trained classically in Cognac so I am playing Bach, if you will, so when I make gin it’s like getting to play rock’n’roll or jazz instead. That freedom is wonderful,” Gabriel explains. “When we made Citadelle Réserve we aged it in acacia barrels, a style my grandfather taught me. But if I do that in Cognac… I’d be looking at five months! Yet, we know that classic Cognacs from the 1900s were aged in chestnut barrels thanks to English archives. It’s illegal now. Crazy right?”

He first released Citadelle Réserve back in 2008. Once again, this puts him ahead of the curve in the craft gin game, as there weren’t many aged gins around back then. But Gabriel is quick to clarify that it wasn’t his idea. Instead, it was inspired by another round of research into the history of gin. “I’m ashamed to say, it didn’t come to my mind until I was reading this old document from the archives about gin being shipped gin in barrels. It was really late at night and I immediately ran to our barrels and started pouring gin in a Cognac barrel,” he explains. “It was the first revival of the yellow gins that I know of. Some people followed suit, but it’s still very niche as a category”. 

Acacia wood was just a starting point for Gabriel’s cask experimentations. At Maison Ferrand, you’ll find barrels of wild cherry woods, chataignier (chestnut) and murier (mulberry), as well as French oak having contained Pineau de Charentes or Cognac. All have been used to make editions of Citadelle Réserve, and spirit from all these wood types have been blended in the egg. What egg? The huge wooden egg on site. No, seriously. It’s a patented wood receptacle in which aged Citadelle Gins are blended, making it the first and only gin in the world to use this method. “We call it ‘the ovum’. When I saw this egg I fell in love. It’s a slow and constant blending process designed to integrate the different wood essences,” Gabriel explains. “At 2.45 meters high and with the help of natural convection, the gin inside is in a state of perpetual motion, reducing oxygenation, and preserving the palette of aromas and evaporating volatile aromatic components”.

Citadelle Gin

All hail ‘the ovum’

Gabriel’s desire to explore and test the limits of gin led to the creation of the limited edition Extreme Collection. The first was Citadelle No Mistake Old Tom Gin, made with caramelised Caribbean brown sugar that was aged in the barrel with its cask-aged Citadelle Réserve. Wild Blossom followed, a gin inspired by his mother’s love of herbal infusions that was distilled wild cherry blossom petals and aged in cherrywood casks for five months. “They keep me sane. Take ‘Saisons of the Witch’, which I made by roasting my juniper berries and distilled it with the other botanicals to create a slightly smoky, roasted pepper gin. We sell it only on the estate and we made a few hundred bottles, but I love it,” Gabriel says. “Right now I can tease that we’ve got a new aged gin expression on the way and, also some breaking news, we have a gin maturing in 100-litre vats made from juniper berry tree. All this crazy stuff that I’m having fun with is all part of that new frontier of gin! Then 2021 will be the 25th anniversary of the launching of Citadelle, so the 25th anniversary will come with some surprises as well”. 

The freedom of distilling gin does have its drawbacks for Gabriel, who’s very passionate about gin being a juniper-forward spirit in profile. “I disagree with people just adding the flavour of fruit into a gin. I am older now, I have learned to be respectful. I know the flavoured and coloured gins are growing extremely well, but that’s a direction that I’m not interested in. To me, it is to gin what the marshmallow-flavoured vodka was to that category. We have to be careful as producers because it can dirty the name of gin,” Gabriel reasons. “I’m a purist that way. I have been cautious of exploring and pushing boundaries, even though I am usually considered the guy who is always pushing things. But an approach that is motivated by purely commercial goals is a problem. We are confusing people. We have to be careful that gin isn’t looked at as a different category. The real definition is that gin is a spirit with the dominant flavour of juniper berries”.

Despite his reservations about the flavoured category, Gabriel remains optimistic that gin has got a very exciting future. “Gin has been around for a long time and has gone through a renaissance, a revival that I would never have expected in 1996. But there is still a great interest in gin that’s not going away too quickly. I know England and Spain were the precursor and have been crazy about it for a while but the French are just getting started,” Gabriel says. “People are really excited about gin because of the possibilities that the producer, and therefore the drinker, can explore. That’s the beauty of gin”.

Citadelle Gin

So how to use Citadelle Gin? Gabriel has a few thoughts: “I love a G&T and with Citadelle it’s incredible, but my little sin is actually a Gin Reserve with just a glassful of dry Curaçao,” he says. “Not the blue stuff, we make an original curacao made with real orange. I also love a gin martini with a great vermouth like Dolin and of course I love a French 75”. My advice would be to explore and experiment. It’s what Alexandre Gabriel would do. 

Citadelle Gin Tasting Note:

Nose: Bright, piney juniper is at the forefront, with warm citrus from orange and coriander in support alongside some green cardamom and fresh flowers. In the backdrop, there are deeper, spicy notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and grains of paradise, which are joined by a slight nutty quality and the sticky sweetness of liquorice. 

Palate: The juniper is front and centre once more, but it’s joined by spice from cracked black pepper, the floral sweetness of Parma Violets and a savoury, woody quality. It’s a rich and full-bodied palate that features orange peel, cumin, star anise and cardamom throughout. 

Finish: Dry and a little peppery at first, the finish then develops with plenty of aromatic baking spices, fennel, more liquorice and a sweet hint of angelica.

Overall: A complex, intriguing and well-integrated gin that does a particularly good job of balancing floral and spicy notes.

Citadelle gin is available from Master of Malt.

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