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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

Five minutes with… Mark Bruce, Jura brand home manager

We pour a dram and catch up with Jura’s brand home manager Mark Bruce, chatting through favourite drams, bottles for Christmas, and why the island itself is just so enchanting……

We pour a dram and catch up with Jura’s brand home manager Mark Bruce, chatting through favourite drams, bottles for Christmas, and why the island itself is just so enchanting…

Most whisky geeks around the world will know about Islay. A trip to the island is something of a pilgrimage. A fewer, but definitely increasing, number know about the hidden gem just to the north and but a short ferry hop: the Isle of Jura.

The island is simply spectacular. It spans the same land area as London but is home to just 200 people (and a casual 6,000 deer). It’s wildly mountainous, but it’s also got sweeping white beaches. It’s where George Orwell wrote 1984. It’s even got palm trees, thanks to the warm air swept across the Atlantic by the jet stream. And it’s home to a whisky distillery!

Jura has become known in recent years for its cask finishing balanced with a gentle peat influence. But its island home has a huge impact on the distillery, too. We find out just how from Mark Bruce, Jura’s brand home manager, who lives on the island.

Jura whisky distillery

6,000 deer, 200 people, mountains, beaches and one brilliant distillery – welcome to Jura

Master of Malt: Jura is a little-known Scottish island, but it is truly stunning – white beaches, mountains, deer! What are your favourite things about the island?

Mark Bruce: My favourite thing about life on Jura is that I get to live and work within a community that’s dedicated to making great whisky. Jura Whisky and our tiny island community go hand in hand, therefore without one, the other wouldn’t be what it is today. But it isn’t always about whisky. Come the weekends and longer days you’ll often find me out walking the hills after work and enjoying Small Isles Bay on paddleboards and canoes.

MoM: Jura is also incredibly remote – it takes quite the journey to get there! How does this impact island life and whisky production?

MB: I would say our location impacts every aspect of life, but it wasn’t until I moved here I began to fully appreciate that. With just one shop (our community store), one pub and a handful of island businesses, Jura relies entirely on the ferries between us and Islay, as well as those running from Islay to the mainland. The problems tend to occur when the wild weather kicks in and high winds force the ferries to stop running. 

Our whisky production also finds itself at the mercy of the ferries during bad weather. Our distillery manager Graham Logan and his team are able to maintain 24-hour production for two or three days before we desperately need the ferries up and running again.

MoM: The whisky a distillery makes is as much a product of its location and community as the production methods. How does Jura’s tiny but close-knit community impact the character of Jura whisky?

MB: I couldn’t agree more. Our location itself doesn’t just make Jura a difficult island to get to, but makes every part of life and whisky-making that bit harder. This brings our community together and ensures anyone in need of help gets it. It also translates directly into our whisky and team here at the distillery. There are 17 of us working in our distillery, and all of us live here on Jura. It’s very much the community helping to make each and every drop of spirit!

Jura whisky distillery

The amazing view of the distillery from the water

MoM: One of my favourite memories of Jura is swimming off the coast in front of the distillery – what are your personal highlights from your first visits to the island?

MB: One of my most memorable experiences was on my first visit to Jura, which was part of an immersion experience with Whyte & Mackay. I was fortunate enough to visit for four days and experience all the best parts of what this wonderful island has to offer. We got to climb The Paps [the island’s mountains], experience Jura’s east coast from a fast boat, and walk up to the distillery’s water source, The Market Loch. We also explored the north end of the island, which has some of its most remote beaches. And we enjoyed the freshly-caught seafood! Of course, we also had an in-depth tour of the distillery, and tasted Jura whiskies with our distillery manager, Graham Logan. 

MoM: Talk us through the core Jura range. How do you celebrate the island of Jura through each expression?

MB: I think the entire range of whiskies within our Signature Series is worth celebrating. Exploring them all is a journey in itself, but most importantly, there’s a whisky in there for everyone. We begin with Jura Journey, a great example of how our new-make spirit works perfectly well with American white oak ex-bourbon casks. The 10 and 12-year-old single malts then expand on this with 18-14 months in Oloroso sherry casks. Our Seven Wood is a beauty because it’s different for me every time I try it. American white oak and six different types of French Oak are brought together to create a truly exciting dram of whisky. Jura 18, an island favourite, is best described as armchair whisky for me. It’s very complex, a whisky that can be nurtured on its own and paired perfectly with your main course or dessert. It’s the enhancement period in very special Bordeaux red wine casks that makes Jura 18 an absolute favourite!

MoM: If someone’s thinking of gifting a bottle of Jura for Christmas, where would you suggest they start?

MB: I’d suggest trying one (or both) of our new cask edition releases. Whether it’s the Jura Red Wine cask or the Jura Winter Edition, you simply can’t go wrong. Both of these are perfect for sharing with your friends and family, pairing with food, and mixing in your favourite cocktail.

Jura whisky distillery

A dram on one of the island’s remote beaches. I can think of worse ways to pass the time…

MoM: What dram will you be toasting Christmas with this year?

MB: A sample we’ve just drawn from a cask destined for next year’s Fèis Ìle. You’ll hear all about it soon enough!

Like the sound of Jura? You could win a trip to the island! Check out our blog post for more. 

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A spotlight on… Satryna Tequila

Satryna Tequila founder Nitzan Marrun joins us to talk about the secret to making great Tequila, how she came to work with a 60-year-old recipe passed down through three generations…

Satryna Tequila founder Nitzan Marrun joins us to talk about the secret to making great Tequila, how she came to work with a 60-year-old recipe passed down through three generations and overcoming the odds as a young woman in a male-dominated world.

Nitzan Marrun is a Tequila purist. Her mission is to show people how good Tequila can be, how it should be made and what the drink means to Mexico. She has an assured, forthright and determined voice, but it’s one that was not always heard. The young entrepreneur has overcome prejudice and perception to create Satryna Tequila, a premium brand dripping in glamorous aesthetic but with seriously good spirit and cultural appreciation at its core. She’s also generous with her time and knowledge, which is handy because despite only being in her mid-twenties, her story goes back a long way.

“When my grandmother and her brother were very young they were very close friends with this little kid from the neighbourhood, Carlos Newton, who grew up to become the owner of Newton’s Distillery”, Murran explains. “He would send very special bottles of Tequila Blanco to my grandmother. It was a recipe devised only for the consumption of my family and our friends. We’ve had it for over half a century. I grew up with that Tequila. I would steal barrels for my parties with my friends, you know! Everyone in my family loves to drink it and when we are having a meal we always accompany it with different types of Tequila. I didn’t grow up surrounded by the production of Tequila, but I have always had a wide knowledge of it from my family’s heritage.”

This history with Tequila would eventually lead her down the path to founding her own company. She remembers fondly the moment that prompted her to consider the potential of such a move, which happened in the way it does with so many brands. With a conversation in a bar. “I met my now partner Vic at a bar in London and he asked for a really bad Tequila, he was trying to show off with this girl. I heard and said ‘hey dude, you know that’s a horrible Tequila, you should ask for his instead’,” says Marrun. “We became close friends and I invited him to Mexico, I gave him a shot of my Tequila and he said ‘this Tequila is amazing, why don’t you start a brand and sell it in Europe. ”

Satryna Tequila

Say hello to Satryna Tequila founder Nitzan Murran!

Despite seeming destined to enter the world with Tequila and armed with a 60-year-old recipe in her back pocket, founding Satryna was still a leap of faith for Murran. But her belief that consumers deserved to see Tequila as its best drove her on. “Tequila is more than just a drink: it’s very special, very powerful. It has so much heritage. You need to appreciate everything that is behind this liquid to create it,” Marrun explains. “I wanted to educate the consumer and to let them know the difference between good quality Tequila and bad quality Tequila. I wanted to champion the correct process. My vision is to show people from the outside that don’t know much about it what great Tequila is”.

For Marrun, this means the process must be as artisanal as possible, always choosing flavour and quality ahead of convenience and cost. “The first question is how many years do you grow your agave? The more mature the agave is the better it’s going to be as it will have more concentrated sugar to convert into alcohol. We mature from ten to 13 years to make sure that the agave is perfect,” she says. “If you’re not maturing it fully, you’re cutting corners. It’s the same if you make a Tequila with only 51% agave and mix it with sugarcane’. For me, it has to be 100% agave. We use blue weber agave from the rich volcanic soil of Jalisco, near Guadalajara”.

The next important step is how you can cook your agave, in either a steam oven or an industrial oven, with Marrun opting for the more traditional former. “An industrial oven is cheaper and you can cook many agaves at the same time. A steam oven is like an artisanal pizza oven. If you go to Domino’s Pizza they will use an electric industrial oven. It’s faster, it’s cheaper, but it doesn’t create a product that tastes too good. It’s the same for the Tequila,” Marrun explains. “The agave needs to be cooked at a certain temperature to reach a point where the sugar concentrates creating more flavour. It takes 24 hours, but it’s worth it. We also distil our Tequila three times. For it to be legally named ‘Tequila’ it needs only to be distilled two times, but we feel doing it three times makes a more pure, concentrated spirit”.

Satryna Tequila

Satryna Tequila is made using traditional production processes

The process of making Satryna Tequila could only ever happen in one place: Newton Distillery, on the same grounds where that recipe which was carried over three generations was developed. It’s not made under the watch of Carlos Newton, however, but Maestro Tequilero Mireida Cortes, who Murran admires greatly. “She has a lot of experience and she is extremely passionate about the Tequila. Everybody underestimates how hard it is to become a maestro tequilero. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of dedication. We have just been very impressed by her because she always creates the profile that we want. When you’re super-artisanal, you cannot add any chemicals to create a consistent flavour. It takes a lot of work to repeatedly capture our character, but Mireida is amazing!” 

Satryna’s core expressions are its Blanco and Cristalino. The former, Murran explains, has a lot of character and is very easy to drink, but it’s not super smooth, “because a blanco should never be super smooth. It’s important to taste the agave. Ours has a lot of citrus notes”. As for the Cristalino, it’s matured for 18 months in American oak barrels before going through a charcoal filtration, removing the spirit’s colour, but not the flavours imparted by the ageing. “It’s a style that’s trending, but there are not many brands in Europe that have this type. It’s very smoky because it has 18 months in a barrel and then it’s filtered with charcoal. It’s very special because you get to taste the agave still and its complemented by the notes from the American oak.”

In the future, the brand’s reposado and añejo will arrive in Europe (and at MoM Towers), with the global pandemic playing its part in slowing down their release. Murran gives us an idea of what to expect from the upcoming releases. “Our reposado is aged in American white oak for eight months, while the añejo is matured for 24 months, 12 months in French oak from Cognac and 12 months in American oak barrels, creating a really interesting profile,” she says. 

Satryna Tequila

A Día de los Muertos celebration in Oaxaca like the one pictured here inspired Murran’s branding

One of the most striking aspects of the Satryna brand is its distinctive bottles, which were inspired by Murran’s love for el Día de Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and Mexican heritage. “We went to Oaxaca in the early days of Satryna and there were these artists that made these beautiful silver skulls. We bought one and the rights to make it the stopper of our bottle. We also have ancient Aztec art engraved on the neck and we pay tribute to La Catrina, an iconic female symbol and the Goddess of Death. Our logo is her mask and she inspired the brand’s name,” Murran says. “For me, it is the most special celebration in Mexico. Everybody comes together. We wanted to portray the character and history to show a special side of Mexico. There are some difficult stereotypes that we have in Europe especially. We work very hard to fight this”.

Murran knows a thing or two about facing stereotypes. Starting Satryna at just 19 years old, there were plenty ready to dismiss her. “It was a bit of a struggle, a 19-year-old girl getting into an old man’s business is challenging. I had a lot of intentions and I have always had a tough character but it was hard. People wouldn’t even take my calls because they thought everything was a joke,” she recalls. “But we are becoming more progressive. Hopefully, the fact that I have challenged some preconceptions about gender and age will inspire people to follow my path. We have a lot of work to do still here in Mexico, certainly, but we have worked hard to get to where we want to be and we’re already very far ahead of where we expected to be. We are off to a really good start and on a really good path”.

It’s hard to disagree with that assessment tasting Satryna’s first two expressions. The blanco is always the key for a Tequila brand, get it right and you’re onto a winner. Which is exactly what Satryna has here. It’s got a lovely balance between citrus, vegetal, fruit and cooked agave notes and is complex and characterful enough to be enjoyed neat, the way Marrun likes (although she does concede to enjoying an Espresso Martini with her spirit too). All in all, a very refined Tequila. The Cristalino, while not being the style I would usually go for, avoids the pitfalls of candied sweetness, retaining enough agave profile and plenty of smoky, savoury elements to keep it interesting. It’s exciting stuff. I look forward to the reposado and añejo arriving on our shores. For now, you can purchase both the Blanco and Tequila here

Satryna Tequila

Satryna Blanco Tequila

Nose: Fresh, vegetal agave is the core of the nose, from which aromas of orange peel, honey, vanilla, marshmallow, petrichor, mint leaves, wood char and delicate flowers develop. 

Palate: More of that vegetal sweetness from agave emerges with toasted almonds, grapefruit, vanilla, and caramel. Lavender, faint marzipan, charred pepper and a little white chocolate appear underneath.

Finish: The finish is sweet (vanilla and agave) a little salty and a touch spicy from black pepper.

Satryna Tequila

Satryna Cristalino Tequila

Nose: Sweet, roasted agave leads with a fair amount of coal smoke as well as fresh herbs, dried earth and peanut brittle. There are hints of cedar, vanilla and grapefruit peel in support.  

Palate: Plenty of cask sweetness – butterscotch, vanilla and a little milk chocolate – balances more fresh and crisp agave. Touches of cinnamon, clove, almond, tropical fruit, banana milkshake, green apple and pink grapefruit add depth.

Finish: Delicately sweet, creamy and with a little minerality. 

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Flor de Caña: rum and adversity in Nicaragua

Nestled at the base of the tallest and most active volcano in Nicaragua lies rum distiller Flor de Caña, a fifth-generation family business whose 130-year history is peppered with political,…

Nestled at the base of the tallest and most active volcano in Nicaragua lies rum distiller Flor de Caña, a fifth-generation family business whose 130-year history is peppered with political, personal, and environmental crises. Today, the FairTrade-certified operation is a force for change that utilises 100% renewable energy to create a sustainable rum range in every sense of the word. We spoke to global brand ambassador Mauricio Solórzano…

Having weathered a civil war, a revolution, hyperinflation, distillery fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions – the distillery is located along the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, which has the most volcanic activity in the world – Flor de Caña has experienced more than its fair share of strife. And yet, despite all the odds, it has remained in family hands for five generations (for context, only three in every 10,000 family-owned businesses make it that far).

The brand’s story begins 1890. The distillery’s location – at the foot of the San Cristóbal volcano – was decided by founder Alfredo Francisco Pellas. The Italian entrepreneur left his hometown of Genoa in 1875 to construct the Grand Interoceanic Canal, a proposed shipping route through Nicaragua to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The project never came to fruition, but Pellas remained in the country and bought a sugar mill in Chichigalpa, where the distillery remains to this day.

Originally, Flor de Caña was made in limited quantities for friends and family but in 1937 the business became Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua in 1937, and the brand was commercialised for the Nicaraguan market. Safe to say, it hasn’t been an easy ride. “As a brand and as a country, it’s been very hard to get to where we are now,” says global brand ambassador Mauricio Solórzano. “Nicaragua through history has been through natural disasters, civil war, hyperinflation. Right now we just are getting out of two monster hurricanes. We’ve been through a lot.”

Flor de Caña Distillery

The distillery in the shadow of the San Cristóbal volcano 

One of the most striking events in Flor de Caña’s history is a devastating plane crash involving fourth generation family member Carlos Pellas and his wife Vivian. “Miraculously, they survived,” says Solórzano. “But when Mr Pellas went to rescue his wife from the plane, it exploded.” The couple suffered burns that covered 80 percent of their bodies. The accident, which killed 148 people, is considered the greatest air disaster to occur in Central America. In 1991, Vivian set up an NGO, Aproquen, to provide child burn victims in Nicaragua with free medical services.

Flor de Caña: the rum

While historic distillers are sometimes slow to embrace and prioritise sustainability, the same can’t be said for Flor de Caña, which has planted 50,000 trees annually across Nicaragua since 2005. Distilled with 100% renewable energy, its rum is the only spirit in the world to be both certified FairTrade and carbon-neutral, meaning all carbon emissions during its entire life cycle, from field to market, are offset. The liquid is also gluten free and certified kosher.

Its sugarcane fields – all 35,000 acres of them – are located five miles from the active San Cristóbal volcano, which has erupted some 30 times since the 16th century. Both the soil and water are enriched by minerals and organic material from the volcano, lending a “volcanic character that is very different from other producers of rum,” says Solórzano, while the unique microclimate in this region means wood interaction ageing process is “more intense and more dynamic”.

The distillery follows a sustainable model throughout production. Excess material from the sugarcane harvest is used to power a turbine that powers the entire facility. When the molasses from the sugarcane is fermented with Flor de Caña’s own yeast cultivar, the CO2 emissions that are naturally released during this process are captured, repurposed, and sold to the brewery industry in Central America. 

Maestro Ronero of Flor de Caña

Flor de Caña’s current maestro ronero

The wort is distilled five times in stainless steel columns and the distillate aged in charred ex-bourbon barrels “from four to 30 years,” says Solórzano. The rum is free from added sugar and additives. “If you put a little bit of Flor de Caña into the palm of your hand and you rub your hands together, you won’t have a sticky sensation at all. That’s because we don’t add any caramel or anything artificial.”

Fascinatingly, Flor de Caña is home to the most bountiful reserve of aged alcohol in the region. In the 1980s, foreign trade was nationalised by the socialist Sandinista government. Rather than turn over their stocks for a meagre profit, they decided to age them in neighbouring Honduras, “which is very close to our facility, because we are located on the north side of the country,” says Solórzano. “When the government changed a few years later, we brought back those reserves of alcohol.” By the early nineties, Flor de Caña had the largest reserve of aged rum in the world.

As well as stock, sustainability of people is also key to Flor de Caña’s operation. The company has provided free schooling for the children of all employees since 1913 – including the current maestro ronero,  Tomás Cano, a third generation distiller who went to primary school, secondary school and university through that model – and free healthcare services for employee’s families since 1958. “I like to say that we grow with our people,” says Solórzano. “They’re our biggest asset.”

For a distiller that has already endured so much, 2020 has not been without its own unique challenges; the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, plus the brutality of Hurricane Iota and Storm Eta. But Solórzano remains unrelentingly positive. “These things give us the strength to build our character for the future,” he says. Make no mistake: for Flor de Caña, the only way is up.

Flor de Cana

Flor de Caña 12 year old is great neat or in simple cocktails

Flor de Caña 12 Year Old tasting notes:

Nose: Toffee apple and buttercream, with notes of vanilla pods and honey. A second whiff reveals crisp, tart citrus.

Palate: A huge hit of dark brown sugar and cocoa evolves into caramel, brandy and plums on the mid-palate.

Finish: There’s spicy oak and a touch of dryness, followed by long, lingering stewed fruit notes.

The Flor de Caña range is available from Master of Malt.  

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Inside Destilería y Bodega Abasolo: Mexico’s first whisky distillery

Mexico’s first whisky distillery has launched its inaugural whisky, Abasolo, as well as a corn liqueur. We talk to its creator, Dr. Ivan Saldaña, about the importance of corn, why…

Mexico’s first whisky distillery has launched its inaugural whisky, Abasolo, as well as a corn liqueur. We talk to its creator, Dr. Ivan Saldaña, about the importance of corn, why he chose to use a 4,000-year-old process and more.

News of a release from a new whisky-producing country always raises a few questions: will it emulate Scotch whisky like Japan or forge a new path? Will it represent its country of origin? And, most importantly, will it taste any good? Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky, which has just arrived in Britain, isn’t Mexico’s first whisky, but it is from the country’s first dedicated whisky distillery. 

Called Destilería y Bodega Abasolo, it is based in Jilotepec de Abasolo (about an hour and a half’s drive outside of Mexico City). It might be new but it has some serious pedigree behind it in the form of  Dr. Ivan Saldaña and Casa Lumbre. They make spirits that explore the potential of Mexican raw materials, prioritising provenance and sustainability, which you’ll know if you’ve tried Montelobos and Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur. It seemed only natural at some point they would make their way to whisky. “We aim to bring Mexican biological, cultural and ancestral heritage into the world of Mexican spirits. Mexican whisky was a category we wanted to be part of and we felt we could truly add a new flavour and style as a New World Whisky,” he explains.

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky

Dr. Ivan Saldaña (left), the master distiller of Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky

The basis of the profile is corn, as you probably guessed from the whisky’s name. Doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary but corn in Mexico is a bit different. This is the birthplace of the grain and home to at least 59 different varieties. It’s central to Mexican culture and the beginnings of its cultivation began nearly 9,000 years ago altered the way people eat there. “We wanted to find out if Mexican corn could provide something distinctively different from the standard corn used in the bourbon industry,” says Saldaña.

After a year-and-a-half of testing multiple varieties, Saldaña settled on using non-GMO cacahuazintle (Ka-ka-wha-SINT-lay), a variety with large kernels prized by generations for its taste. It’s the only raw material used, which is unusual. Corn-based whisky like bourbon typically also includes wheat, rye and/or barley in its mash bill. However, Saldaña says the cacahuazintle, which is sourced from three local farms from which the company buys directly, is unlike much of the corn used in the whisky industry. It hasn’t been hybridized or genetically modified to prioritise long shelf life and disease, herbicide and pest resistance ahead of flavour. “The better the raw material you have, the more straightforward your process is to transform it into a rich and interesting spirit,” he explained.

After being field-dried, a small percentage of the corn is malted. The majority of the corn, however, is nixtamalized. It’s a 4,000-year-old process used to make staples such as masa, tortillas, tamales, which involves soaking and cooking the corn in an alkaline solution (usually a lime bath), which is then washed and then hulled. “We truly wanted to use processes and techniques that are part of Mexican heritage. This is the first time, as far as we are aware, that anyone has used this process in spirit production,” says Saldaña. “Nixtamalization opens up the floral sweetness and warmth of the grain. It allows us to mill a finer flour so more of the starch can become sugar, and those sugars can become alcohol”.  

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The unique strain of corn that’s the basis for the flavour of Abasolo whisky

Gigantic coffee roasters have been adapted to roast the nixtamalized grain to create a flour which becomes the base of the mash. Fermentation takes place in 14,000-litre stainless steel washbacks using a Champagne yeast, which Saldaña says was favoured because it can tolerate high concentrations of sugar and alcohol. The length of fermentation, five to six days, is a long time for a grain spirit in particular, but Saldaña explains that the longer you maintain fermentation, “the more you create a more complex mash and alcohol. It absorbs flavour from the raw material that has not become alcohol but is floating in the washback. We’re getting all the flavour that is possible to attain which creates more densely rich and delicious alcohol”.

The whisky is double-distilled in onion-shaped copper stills and the first distillation comes out as 40% ABV. The cuts are simple, Saldaña says he takes a couple of litres of heads out and doesn’t really cut the tails. After the second distillation, it comes out as 62% ABV and he ages the liquid in 200 litre second-fill American oak barrels, most of which are from Buffalo Trace and have a Level 4 char. It’s not aged for longer, not just to be mindful of Mexico’s climate, but, Saldaña explained: “We don’t age our spirit for too long as our purpose is not to create too much cask influence, it’s to showcase the exquisite complexities the corn can bring and complement it with the wood”.

The Destilería y Bodega Abasolo sits at 7,800 feet above sea level, making it one of the 10 highest whisky distilleries in the world, according to the team. They have made no effort to curb the climate and environment here, however, but instead have harnessed it by eschewing traditional warehousing and transforming former horse stables into open-air warehouses. “In this region the average temperature fluctuates greatly even between day and night, going between humid and dry, warm and cold anyway, so the climate and environment are having a profound effect. We are truly in a condition where the liquid is actively working,” Saldaña says. 

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The first purpose-built whisky distillery in Mexico

Saldaña says he’s very proud of the distillery and that it’s the most ambitious project he’s ever been part of. He’s created a brand that is at the centre of the conversation about what Mexican whisky is and could be. Abasolo reflects the terroir and production processes from where it’s from. Other brands like Pierde Almas Ancestral and Sierra Norte have also used heirloom corn varieties as the base for its whiskies and it would be wonderful if that became a defining feature of the category. Add a process like nixtamalization into the mix too and the result is you have a whisky like Abasolo that is truly Mexican in process and profile. This is exactly what we want from new whisky-producing countries.

Having already answered the first two questions asked in the first paragraph, all that remains is to address the most important one. Does it taste good? In a word, yes. It’s rare to sample something where the production process and raw material are so evident. It’s earthy, husky, fruity and sweet in equal measure, with a character clearly founded in the corn. The unique methods used have achieved what Saldaña intended. The cask adds delicate, understated notes and provides plenty of room for the distillate to breathe. If people are expecting a bourbon alternative, they’re going to be disappointed, it’s completely singular in a way that won’t be for everyone. It’s a little rough around the edges and a more aged expression with classic cask notes would be more appealing to some. But if you’re looking for something original and interesting, it ticks all the right boxes. Check out the full tasting note below for more on what to expect. 

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky and Nixta Mexican Corn Liqueur are now available from Master of Malt.

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky Tasting Note:

Nose: Roasted corn, buttery popcorn and some green, vegetal notes lead in a distinctive, direct nose. Give this time to breathe to allow the aromas to settle and develop and you’re rewarded with notes of vanilla, a hint of toffee and tinned peaches, with earthy black tea, floral honey, new leather, clove and pencil shavings in support. There’s a hint of corn husk throughout as well as a soft, cookie dough element (with chocolate chips). 

Palate: An initial tannic abrasiveness subsides for plenty of more the same corn-notes as the nose, as well as milk chocolate, soft vanilla and oak char. Touches of baked apple, caramel and salted butter add depth, amongst some spice from white pepper, cinnamon and clove.

Finish: Like a big scoop of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, with a little salted popcorn and orchard fruit in the backdrop.

Recommended serve: The Jilo Old Fashioned. To make, add 50ml of Abasolo whisky, 10ml of Nixta Mexican Corn Liqueur and 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir under cold and diluted. Zest lemon and/or orange over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass then strain the drink into this glass. Roll a lemon and/or orange twist on top of the ice as a garnish. This whisky should also work in any sour or citrus-forward cocktail too and will mix well with ginger beer or coconut water.

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky

Nixta Mexican Corn Liqueur

Alongside the whisky, Casa Lumbre also launched this tasty little treat. Much like Abasolo, Nixta was made to express the deepest flavours of corn. It’s crafted from new make Abasolo whisky as well as fresh corn and roasted corn and the distillate is sweetened with piloncillo and previously clarified sweet must. The result is a sweet, thick and rich concoction, as you’d expect from a liqueur, but with some husky, earthy qualities that add dimension and make this really interesting.

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Master of Malt tastes… GlenAllachie’s Virgin Oak Series

We taste our way through GlenAllachie’s limited edition Virgin Oak Series and talk to master distiller Billy Walker about wood policy, oak species, local terroir and more, as well as…

We taste our way through GlenAllachie’s limited edition Virgin Oak Series and talk to master distiller Billy Walker about wood policy, oak species, local terroir and more, as well as how to ensure distillery character isn’t lost in experimental maturation. 

In October The GlenAllachie Distillery tweeted that “Wood policy is an essential part of our master distiller, Billy Walker’s craft. He meticulously hand-selects all the casks from around the world”. The brand then invites fans to suggest cask types they’d like to see Walker use, and in the background, you can see a cask from Koval Distillery in Chicago, a ruby Port pipe and a Pedro Ximenez cask.

It’s a demonstration of how Walker works and what he wants GlenAllachie to be. October also marked three years since Walker bought the distillery near Aberlour in 2017 with Trisha Savage and Graham Stevenson and in this time they have become familiar with the site and its inventory and defined GlenAllachie as a distillery with a full-bodied, fruity, sweet and biscuity spirit, delivered in part by long fermentation (something of a signature of Walker’s) with a wood policy that emphasizes using oak with history and unique characteristics.

Which brings us to The Virgin Oak Series, a new range consisting of whiskies finished for twelve months in casks of different oak species from  regions around the world: 12 Year Old Spanish Virgin Oak Finish12 Year Old French Virgin Oak Finish and 12 Year Old Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish. Each whisky was first matured in white American oak ex-bourbon barrels and and every virgin oak cask was toasted and charred to the same level (medium, toast for 30–40 minutes, char for 30–40 Secs). They were also bottled without any additional colouring or chill-filtration at an ABV of 48%, which means every parameter was kept consistent so any distinctions and nuances between the expressions will be down to the virgin oak casks.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

Billy Walker with the new range

Walker, who was awarded Master Distiller/Master Blender of the Year 2020 at the Icons of Whisky Awards, commented: “We had already a lot of knowledge on the behaviour of a variety of different virgin oak casks and thought it might capture the imagination of the curious inquisitive consumer. We have endeavoured to showcase how different oak genera can determine the flavour and organoleptic profile of the maturing whisky. We selected three oak styles which from our experience we know would deliver significant differences that the consumer could recognise and appreciate.” He went on to explain how the three oak species each have their own distinct flavours caused by wood structure, pore size and chemical make-up. These characteristics are exacerbated by the different lengths of time each wood is air-dried for (see tasting notes). Walker said: “Natural air drying provides a more natural and gentle drying experience in reducing the water presence down to under 10%.” 

Experimenting with maturation in this regard is incredibly exciting, but it does come with risks. A series like this is only interesting if we can observe how the GlenAllachie distillery character is affected by the cask types. If it’s overwhelmed by the virgin oak (which can easily happen), then the series falls flat. A full-bodied distillate helps, but Walker says that to avoid this pitfall, experience and knowledge are key. “We ensure that the secondary wood management does not overwhelm the fundamental DNA of the GlenAllachie distillate and allow the secondary maturation to continue only until the “sweet spot” has been achieved. This requires a lot of sampling to follow its development. We were checking every fortnight”.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

The GlenAllachie Distillery, home to much experimentation and tasty whisky

Tasting the Virgin Oak Series (which you can watch Walker doing here), I think it’s fair to say that the experiment worked. The contrast between each expression is stark and, while the integration wasn’t always consistent, I was impressed with how much GlenAllachie personality is here. There’s a whisky for all palates in this range. The French Virgin Oak is the finest of the three in my book, but we’d love to hear which you enjoyed the most. Looking forward, Walker confirms that GlenAllachie has a lot of interesting things going on (look out for British oak and Mizunara casks) which he assures us will lead to some absolutely stunning releases. We look forward to trying them too. For now, check out our tasting notes and details on the new releases, which you can buy here, below.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Spanish Virgin Oak Finish

The Spanish Virgin Oak was finished in hogsheads made of Spanish white oak (both it and the French oak are types of Quercus Robur) from the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. Walker says this area has a cooler climate and greater humidity than the rest of the country and that the pores of the Spanish virgin oak are less tight. When combined with the length of air drying (18 months), he says it imparts distinctive spicy, treacly notes with heather honey, treacle, coconut, orange zest, nutmeg and cinnamon”

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: Soft toffee pennies, Bounty chocolate bar, floral honey and orange peel with dark chocolate, bruised peach, hazelnut, buttery biscuit, mini foam bananas and hints of fresh clove and cinnamon in support.

Palate: Waves of chocolate and milky coffee come through with treacle, apple blossom, floral notes, dried fruit, black pepper and stem ginger.

Finish: Long, delicately sweet and with Sugar Puffs some lingering spice and floral elements.

Overall: The cask has brought out the citrus, biscuity and spicy elements in an approachable, bright that possesses weight and complexity. The most fun of the three, but without the depth of the French oak.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old French Virgin Oak Finish

The French Virgin Oak Finish is made from French oak from the Haute-Garonne region near the Pyrenees and the wood was air dried for 15 months. Walker says the wood is very finely grained and rich, which creates a subtle, sweet and earthy taste with silky tannins, honey, fruit, orange zest, honey and ginger.

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: At first there’s drying red apple skins, some earthiness, digestive biscuits and heather honey followed by a little mocha, pink grapefruit, chocolate orange, cinnamon and honeycomb.

Palate: Lots of coffee, tannins and butterscotch upfront, with orchard fruit, dried apricot liquorice and a touch of bran muffin underneath. 

Finish: Rich, sweet and long with cinnamon, white chocolate and citrus.

Overall: An earthy, more mellow and bittersweet dram that’s got so much depth and subtlety as well as the best integration of cask and distillate. 

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish

Finally, the Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish is made from casks from the northern Ozark region in Missouri, USA. Chinquapin is a sub-species of quercus alba (Quercus Muehlenbergeii). The casks are air dried for nearly four years which Walker explains creates flavours of liquorice and even hints of rosehips, which accompany complex, zesty flavours with notes of heather honey, barley sugar, toasted biscuit and orange zest, mocha, anis, fennel, cinnamon.

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: Vanilla tablet, fragrant citrus, honey and a little cacao leads with heather, polished oak, drying nutmeg and Thorntons Caramel Shortcake Bites in support.

Palate: Initially there’s butterscotch biscuits, stewed apple, hazelnut and honey on toast before those liquorice, aniseed boiled sweet elements appear among a little baking spice and sandalwood.

Finish: A big scoop of chocolate ice cream, buttery vanilla and plenty of cinnamon.

Overall: Hugely decadent and full of personality, but it’s a touch overwhelming for me.

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Shaken vs stirred: the science behind mixing a cocktail

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred…

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred versus shaken, we asked two bartenders to divulge the ‘rules’ behind each method, offer technique tips, and share four lip-smacking recipes to try at home…

Chances are, unless you’re a bartender – or James Bond – you’ve rarely given much thought to the technicalities of cocktail methodology. If the recipe instructs you to “shake”, you shake, and if it says “stir”, you stir, without ever really pausing to consider what the process brings to the drink, or why you’re doing one rather than the other. 

“Both shaking and stirring will ensure the individual ingredients are well-mixed, and so the overall cocktail has the right balance from start to finish,” says Patrick Pistolesi, founder of Drink Kong in Rome – one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and head of mixology at NIO Cocktails.

Opening a bar during the COVID-19 pandemic

The team from Swift in Shoreditch

Both processes also cool the cocktail, Pistolesi continues, although shaking gets the job done slightly quicker. “Shards of ice break off and melt faster as the surface area of the ice is increased,” he explains. “Aside from cooling, the other main purpose of either shaking or stirring with ice is to dilute the cocktail to deliver the perfect drink.”

If both approaches mix the ingredients, dilute the drink, and cool the liquid – albeit at different speeds – when does one method take precedence over the other? It’s all to do with the tiny air bubbles that form during the shaking process.  “Shaking aerates the cocktail, which changes both its texture and its taste,” says Pistolesi.

Those bubbles are the reason a stirred drink will be crystal-clear, while a shaken drink will be cloudy, or at least opaque. Therefore, drinks made with ‘clear’ ingredients, like neat spirits and liqueurs, are typically stirred, while those with already ‘cloudy’ ingredients – such as citrus, syrup, fresh juice, egg whites, cream or milk – ought to be shaken. 

One of the most important (and oft-forgotten) ingredients? Ice. “Put simply, high quality ice delivers a better-tasting cocktail,” says Pistolesi. “Experience with different types of ice is important, as the quality of the ice can also affect the time required to shake or stir.” Good ice (very good blog post on the subject) starts with quality filtered water. You don’t want your ice to melt too quickly or it will have too much dilution, so use it straight from the freezer and avoid that ready-made ice with holes in.

The shake

Perhaps unsurprisingly, you’re going to need a shaker. But which one? “The Boston shaker is the classic two-piece, one part usually stainless steel and the other glass,” says Pistolesi. “This is really great for a sour drink that needs a lot of froth, as the shaker is pretty large and can contain more liquid.”

Alternatively, you could opt for the classic three-piece or ‘continental’ shaker. “This holds a smaller amount of liquid than the Boston shaker, will cool faster and deliver the right amount of air in the drink,” he continues. “I use it mostly for three-ingredient cocktails, for example a White Lady or a Daiquiri.”

In terms of technique: add ice into the shaker first, don’t overfill the vessel with liquid, and opt for a longer, harder shake when using viscous ingredients or those that don’t mix easily, Pistolesi says. Remember, you don’t need to shake as long you would stir – “anywhere between 15 and 20 seconds should be about right,” he adds.

Whatever you do, don’t risk an overshake. “It could make your cocktail watery and gritty with ice shards,” explains Mia Johansson, managing partner of London’s Bar Swift – also one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and creator of cocktail delivery platform Speakeasy At Home.

“There is no way of perfectly timing it because it has to do with what is in your tin – and how much, more precisely,” she continues. “Make sure you fill your tin with plenty of ice and try to listen to the sound of the shake, when it goes from clunky to broken up it should be just perfect.” 

Ready to give it a crack? You’ll find two shaken classics from Johansson below:

Adnams Rye Malt Whisky Sour cocktail

A Whisky Sour made with Adnams Rye Malt and served on the rocks

Whiskey Sour 

3 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part lemon
1 part simple syrup or honey
1 egg white (or 25ml aquafaba)

Give it a good shake with plenty of ice in your tin. Serve straight up in a glass or over ice if you prefer. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry. For an extra touch, try adding a dash of Amaretto – 0.5 parts is enough.


The French 75!

French 75: 

3 parts Bathtub gin
1 part lemon
2 parts simple syrup
Sparkling wine to top

Shake in a tin with plenty ice, double strain into a coupe or flute and top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with cherry or lemon twist. For a twist, add 0.5 parts of elderflower cordial.

The stir

For this method, you can use your cocktail shaker or a stirring glass – either works fine. “Again, make sure you have plenty of ice, as you want to be able to control the dilution,” says Johansson. “The more ice you have, the more time you’ve got.” Give it “a good stir until you feel the ice has lost its edges and feels smoother,” she says, “usually around 20 to 30 seconds”. Pause and taste it to see if it is cold enough. Texture-wise, it should be “silky but still packed with flavour.”

Pistolesi, meanwhile, advocates for a longer stir. “You’d need to spend upwards of a minute and a half stirring a cocktail to achieve the same cooling and dilution as 15 to 20 seconds of shaking,” he says. In terms of method, “the simplest way is to dunk the spoon in and out of the drink – once the ice and ingredients have been added – while twirling the spoon.” Alternatively, you could use a Japanese method called the Kaykan stir. “The objective is to move the ice and the liquid as a single body and hence to avoid aerating the drink,” Pistolesi explains.

The perfect stir requires a little common sense, so keep an eye on the drink to make sure it doesn’t dilute too much. Get your stir on with the recipes below, again from Johansson:

The classic Boulevardier


2 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth 

Stir over ice and serve on the rocks. Garnish with an orange peel. For an extra touch, add a dash of cherry brandy, no more than 0.5 parts.

Stinger made with H by Hine Cognac


4 parts H by Hine Cognac
1 part Giffard crème de menthe 

Stir and serve straight up in a coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist. Perfect classic for a Christmas tipple. 

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Why Tequila is increasingly a spirit in demand

Demand for Tequila is increasing year on year and the future for the category looks bright. But what’s behind the boom? We talk to Proximo Spirits Tequila educator Oli Pergl…

Demand for Tequila is increasing year on year and the future for the category looks bright. But what’s behind the boom? We talk to Proximo Spirits Tequila educator Oli Pergl to find out.

While gin continues to dominate headlines and rum muscles its way into the spotlight, the rise of Tequila consumption hasn’t gone unnoticed here at Master of Malt. More and more people are waking up to the versatility and deliciousness of Mexico’s national spirit and a raft of new producers have sensed the potential, building premium brands on a bedrock history, tradition and craft.

The stats make for pretty good reading, too. Waitrose reported in May this year that its Tequila sales boomed by 175% since the lockdown in March and new Nielsen data revealed that in the US,  Tequila sales were up 55.5% in September and October 2020 in the off-trade. Becle, a Mexican company whose flagship brand is Jose Cuervo Tequila, reported better-than-expected results for the July to September quarter this year, with net global volumes growing by 26% compared to the same three months last year and shipments rising by 28% to 3.38 million cases. Wall Street analysts called the figures both “outstanding” and “amazing” when they were announced last month.

But what’s driving this growth? To find out, it’s worth talking to somebody who knows the spirit inside-out, like Tequila educator Oli Pergl. He spends his time enlightening and delighting folks on the pleasures of the agave-based spirit for Jose Cuervo, a Tequila brand which is not only the world’s best-selling but the oldest, having been granted the first license by King Carlos IV of Spain to produce and distribute Tequila in 1795.


Say hello to Proximo Spirits Tequila educator, Oli Pergl!

For Pergl, the desire for ‘craft’ spirits and the heritage, provenance and character of Tequila has galvanised the industry and is responsible for the boom. “This is an era in which people want to look beyond the label. They want to know who the producer is, how the spirit is made. Tequila is perfect in that respect. It’s got such a rich and deep history and the craft of Tequila is unique and specific to Mexico,” Pergl explains. “And people are now discovering it in new ways. We’ve seen so many new brands come over the last few years and Tequila is one of the fastest-growing categories of spirits at the moment. Vodka has been on the decline for a little while. There’s an oversaturation of gin in the UK which has prompted people to look elsewhere. I believe Tequila is on its way to being the next big player in the market”. 

The pandemic did little to halt this impressive rise. “We’ve seen a lot of people enjoy Tequila over lockdown. They want to be reminded of summer holidays, having fun, and Tequila fits the bill. Virtual Mexican nights and cocktail hours have been hugely popular and driven demand” says Pergl. “With quality, premium Tequilas being much more widely available, and easy to work with when making cocktails at home, we think this trend will continue to grow for a good while yet”.

In light of the increased interest in the category, it’s little surprise to see that celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon, including George Clooney, Dwanye Johnson, Michael Jordan. Pergl acknowledges that celebrity endorsement has plenty of advantages, but can be a double-edged sword. “You don’t want millions of celebrity endorsements to saturate the market,” Pergl explains. “But, overall, it’s a good thing. It’s created more awareness and has broadened the premium market because that’s typically where celebrities get involved. Thankfully there hasn’t been too much cheesy product placement or gimmicky marketing. They’re often almost romantic about their businesses and are just as in love with the spirit as the people making it. That, in turn, tells the consumers ‘maybe I should fall in love with it as well’”.


Appreciation of the legacy, production process and culture of this unique spirit has helped drive growth

The biggest cultural shift, however, has been the movement away from identifying Tequila purely as the rough and tumble party spirit that you knock back with salt and citrus. Education in this regard is still needed, but increasingly consumers are sipping and appreciating. “We want people to understand the passion involved. We’re targeting events towards consumers to ensure that tequila isn’t just seen as a party shooter or a Margarita ingredient,” Pergl says. “We promote the versatility and mixability of Tequila. We want people to dive deeper and realise you can have Old Fashioneds, Mojitos, Piña Coladas etc. I personally believe any cocktail can be twisted with Tequila and we want to demonstrate that it has a diverse enough character to replace rum, whisky, gin or vodka”.  

The growth of premium Tequilas (which are usually made with 100% blue weber agave) casts an inauspicious light on ‘mixto Tequilas’, a term given to more economical expressions made from the mandated minimum of 51% agave, with the other 49% coming from sugarcane or another sugar source. However, Pergl says this style still has its merits and a future. “That type of Tequila still has a massive part to play because it introduces people to the fun and light-hearted side of the category,” he explains. “There’s always going to be times for celebration in our lives and the need for a mixable spirit and it’s great that consumers have options because not everyone has the budget for premium Tequila. Producers also have to be very careful about what they are going to be making their Tequila from because 100% blue agave isn’t necessarily the most sustainable option”. 

This is one of the challenges the industry faces. While things are looking good for Tequila, the increased demand for agave-based products has raised concerns about sustainability. “It’s not just Tequila, there’s a huge demand for agave syrup. It’s putting serious pressure on a lot of brands. We’re constantly assessing our role in this and creating solutions. We have a laboratory onsite to analyse different conditions and how they affect the crop to ensure that our agaves are treated as best as they can. We have about 4,000 jimadors, all of them are generational-led experts, in the field every day tending to millions of plants who prioritise the safety of the crop,” Pergl explains. “We’re also working to make sure that our agaves, after turning into Tequila, have a much longer life as well. We recycle its fibrous materials, for example, and donate them to local businesses to be turned into straws, rope, aprons or kitchenware. It’s not just a case of using the agave purely for Tequila, we want to extend the life of it”.


Pergl believes the future is bright for Tequila

Looking forward to how Tequila can maintain consistent and sustainable growth, Pergl says that companies like Jose Cuervo have a responsibility as a leading brand to ensure that the traditions and the culture of Mexico remain respected and that the quality of new expressions adheres to a certain standard. “We always feel a responsibility to the industry. We’re never trying to trample over anyone. Our position allows us to innovate, to take that next big leap and show the other companies we can be brave together. Once we do that and master certain techniques then we can share that knowledge so Tequila doesn’t have to be this one thing,” Pergl says. “We also have a responsibility to our farmers, our neighbours and to the town of Tequila, to represent Mexico with integrity. Jose Cuervo himself was the mayor and he introduced a lot of measures to ensure that people had the right facilities. Those values paved the way and the eleventh generation members still ensure that those traditions are met”. 

The question is, will the demand for Tequila continue to rise in 2021? Pergl has no doubt that it will. “Rum and Tequila are yet to have their heyday in terms of the popularity that gin and vodka have enjoyed. I think that’s about to change. We want more of the world to fall in love with our spirits and, lockdowns permitting, we’ll be getting out there educating and working to increase the appreciation and adoration of this great spirit. 2021 is going to be a big year for us”.  And if you’d like to see it in with a quality Tequila in-hand, you can pick some up right here.

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Five minutes with… cocktail trailblazer Julie Reiner

A trailblazer in the modern American bar scene, Julie Reiner is credited with shaping New York City’s booming cocktail culture. She’s the brains behind some of the city’s finest watering…

A trailblazer in the modern American bar scene, Julie Reiner is credited with shaping New York City’s booming cocktail culture. She’s the brains behind some of the city’s finest watering holes – Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club and Leyenda, to name just three. We took five with Reiner to discuss mango Margaritas, longevity in the bar world, and making tonic water from scratch…

Julie Reiner has been changing the way New Yorkers drink since the late 1990s. The Hawaii native began her bartending career in San Francisco before making her way to the Big Apple in ‘98, where she founded Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan back in 2003. From there, Reiner opened Pegu Club in 2005 as a silent partner, before co-founding Clover Club in 2008 and Leyenda in 2015. All closed their doors having amassed prestigious awards during their time.

When she’s not opening hugely influential bars, Reiner can be found imparting her knowledge as a drinks author – The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks for Every Occasion is a home bar staple – and as a judge, mentor, or consultant (her business goes by Mixtress Consulting). Her work has influenced a generation of bartenders; Reiner is one of a handful of people to scoop the title of Best Bar Mentor at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards.

Most recently, Reiner released a line of craft canned cocktails, Social Hour, with legendary bartender and Clover Club co-owner Tom Macy. She’s worked closely with many big names over the years, including her mentor Dale DeGroff – known as the King of Cocktails, the bartender and author is widely credited with laying the foundations for the craft cocktail revival we’re enjoying today – plus Pegu Club founder Audrey Saunders, and the ‘Modern Mixologist’ Tony Abou Ganim. 

Julie Reiner in action behind the bar

From memorable serves and creative influences to canned drink development, Reiner answers our burning questions below – and shares a cocktail recipe to try out at home:

MoM: Thanks so much for your time, Julie! When and where did your love of hospitality begin? 

Reiner: I grew up on Oahu in Hawaii and as a kid my house was a revolving door of visitors. It was as if we were running an AirBnB for our extended family and friends. Hospitality was in my blood, I helped my mom pass hors d’ oeuvres and blend up mango Margaritas and loved it. We had a limousine van so that we could tour the island all together. It was a big part of my childhood and really solidified my future in the hospitality industry. 

MoM: What are your biggest creative influences in terms of shaping your bartending style? 

Reiner: Early on in my career, tropical flavours were my biggest influence as I had a lychee tree in my front yard and a mango tree in the back. I naturally gravitated towards those fruits and island flavours. I met Dale Degroff, Audrey Saunders and Tony Abou Ganim early on in my career and discussed cocktails and flavour pairings with all of them in the early stages of my career. They all had great influence on me and my bartending style, as did the chefs I worked with at various restaurants.  

MoM: To fast-forward to 2020 – how has the coronavirus pandemic changed your working life? 

Reiner: In terms of how it has affected business: we were originally scheduled to launch Social Hour in April, just in time for the spring/summer season… and then Covid hit. We lost some of our funding, and had to regroup before we could launch. We also had to shut down Clover Club and Leyenda, which was very stressful. 

And enjoying a well-earned drink

MoM: How did the development process for Social Hour compare to designing cocktails for a bar setting? 

Reiner: It was similar in some ways and very different in others. The biggest difference is we had to create ingredients like tonic water or ginger beer from scratch so we could adjust variables like sweetness, acidity, spiciness, etcetera. It was great to have that flexibility but it took a while to get it all right. The end goal was the same as it is in a bar, but the road we had to take to get there was different.

MoM: Could you share a story about a memorable drink you’ve made over the years?

Reiner: When we were preparing to open Clover Club, I created a cocktail called The Slope named after my neighborhood of Park Slope [see below]. It was meant to be our house Manhattan variation and became an instant classic at the bar. It is one of the only cocktails that has never left the menu. The Slope is a fan favorite with our regulars and has been featured on menus all over the world. It was even featured in a Brooklyn-themed cocktail box in France.  

MoM: What key qualities does it take to forge a career in the bar industry? And, how do you foster longevity and prevent burnout?

Reiner: It’s not an easy path to be sure. In my experience, which includes many highs and lows over the years, the most important thing is pick the right partners. Also, continue to innovate and look ahead, don’t rest on your laurels. Hire well. Give people the opportunity to grow… and keep your consumption in check!  

We asked Reiner to share a cocktail you could recreate at home – so below you’ll find the recipe for The Slope, a twist on the classic Manhattan. Enjoy!

The Slope

70ml Rittenhouse Straight Rye whiskey 100% proof
20ml Punt e Mes
5ml Giffard apricot liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Bitters 

Stir all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe.

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Johnnie Walker film: ‘The Man Who Walked the World’

There’s a Johnnie Walker film called The Man Who Walked the World coming out today, 12 November, and we were fortunate enough to get a sneak preview and talk to some…

There’s a Johnnie Walker film called The Man Who Walked the World coming out today, 12 November, and we were fortunate enough to get a sneak preview and talk to some of the people behind it. Here’s what we thought.

As you might have noticed from the release of fancy new whiskies, the revamping of distilleries and the publication of a splendid biography, it’s the 200th anniversary of the Johnnie Walker brand. Now, there’s a film too. We can’t wait for the video game. But back to the documentary: it’s called The Man Who Walked the World and it’s directed by award-winning filmmaker Anthony Wonke for independent production company Something Originals and Partizan films. It features a mixture of whisky types including Dr Nick Morgan and Alice Lascelles with celebrities like Cappadonna from the Wu-Tang Clan, and people who are a bit of both like actress and brand ambassador Sophia Bush. There’s also some top cultural commentary from Jason Solomons, John Hegarty and Ekow Eshun.

Cappadonna from the Wu-Tang Clan is a fan of Johnnie Walker

We were fortunate enough not only to see the film but, as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, listen to a discussion featuring some of the film’s participants. Though sadly not, from none more black heavy metal band The Black Label Society, who tried and failed to get endorsement from Johnnie Walker whisky. What’s amazing about The Man Who Walked the World was that it was made during the pandemic so the director Anthony Wonke couldn’t travel. He had to shoot the whole thing remotely using local film crews. Not so easy as the film travels from Baghdad to Brazil and had to be made as different countries were locking down.

The documentary is a race through the history of the whisky from its beginnings in Kilmarnock to becoming the world’s number one whisky brand. Wonke takes a global perspective looking at what Johnnie Walker means to different cultures and individuals. There’s a lot to cram in, too much really for a 45 minute film. At times it had the feel of a trailer for a longer, more satisfying film, But then, it’s not really aimed at hardcore whisky fans. Those looking for the full history should read Morgan’s book.

As the Wonke said during the press conference, after watching the film the audience should “feel like they’ve had a couple of shots of Johnnie Walker”. I certainly felt a little like that after viewing it though that might have had something to do with the Black Label Highball I was sipping at the time. 

1950s Johnnie Walker billboard advert

Here are five things we learned from the film:

Johnnie Walker fits in everywhere

Johnnie Walker has the ability to “walk with kings and not lose the common touch” as Alice Lascelles put it quoting Kipling. From the trans community of Burma to protest movements in Brazil; from your local cornershop to the swankiest bar in Dubai, Johnnie Walker is at home everywhere. 

Johnnie Walker was into diversity before it was popular

The brand was running aspirational adverts with black Americans enjoying Johnnie Walker back in the 1950s and ’60s (see above). There was no message beyond saying that Johnnie Walker is for everyone. Quietly powerful.

Johnnie Walker’s big birthdays tend to be in interesting times

It’s eerie how the brand’s 200th anniversary echoes its 100th which took place at a time when people were reeling from the first world war followed by the global flu pandemic. He does pick his moments, does Johnnie. 

Johnnie Walker is a global currency

One of the best bits in the film was an interview with an American intelligence officer working in Iraq who said that meetings with Iraqi politicians could not begin until there was a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label on the table.

Johnnie Walker was an Indian film star

An Indian actor called Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi (1926-2003) who changed his name to Johnnie Walker. He was famous for playing drunks though as an observant Muslim he never touched a drop. His son features in The Man Who Walked Around the World.

The film will be broadcast on Discovery’s portfolio of brands and services from 12 November. For more information visit https://themanwho.film

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Your guide to the emerging New World whisky category

Where once whisky was solely the product of Scotland, Ireland and the US, today more than 30 countries produce the amber nectar. Free from the ties of tradition, New World…

Where once whisky was solely the product of Scotland, Ireland and the US, today more than 30 countries produce the amber nectar. Free from the ties of tradition, New World distillers are treading new ground with customised yeasts, heirloom grains, and alternative oak species to boldly take whisky where it’s never been before. With insight from industry accelerator Distill Ventures, we take a fresh look at the global category…

From Australia’s wine cask-matured whiskies to Scandinavia’s wholegrain rye bottlings, our tasting glasses have gone global in recent years. In turn, our cupboards are fuller, too; the whisky category grew by 7% to 440 million nine-litre cases in 2018, according to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis Global Database (one case is typically 12 x 750ml bottles, FYI. So, more than five billion bottles). While the projected forecast – 581m cases by 2023 – is likely to be rattled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, whisky’s meteoric rise is only set to continue, with New World producers ‘setting the stage for a new defining era’, as The New World of New World Whisky, a whitepaper by Distill Ventures (Diageo’s venture capital arm), described it.

To be clear, the New World category doesn’t just encompass distillers in regions not typically associated with whisky production – such as Bolivia, South Africa and Russia – but also unconventional whisky made in established whisky-making countries. The report defines New World Whisky as: 1. A whisky not produced in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the US or Japan OR 2. A whisky made in a style not traditionally associated with the country that it is made in – for example, American single malt or Scottish rye. With flavour development the ultimate goal, producers are ‘manipulating raw materials and processes in ways that reflect their own locality and cultural identity’, it states – and that’s true whether they’re in Scotland or South Korea.

For one, whisky-makers are looking beyond yield to create a wider spectrum of flavour through their grain selection. “This is part of a trend of distillers wanting complete traceability of their ingredients and working with farmers,” says Frank Lampen, Distill Ventures’ CEO. “If your grain is being grown next door, you don’t want to send it hundreds of miles away to be malted – so we’re seeing more distilleries like Stauning [in Denmark] taking control of the whole process and doing 100% of their own malting” (see photo in the header.)

Stauning whisky

The nine founders of Stauning distillery in Denmark

There’s a focus on diversity – exploring local, heirloom, and non-traditional grains – and the concept of terroir. “Diversity is about going beyond single varietals of grain to harvest fields that contain multiple varietals, as pioneered by [England’s] Oxford Artisan Distillery with their Oxford Rye,” Lampen says. “Terroir is about seeing how the same varietal grown in different places produces different results, and preserving those differences in flavour through distillation, as Waterford Distillery [in Ireland] is doing.”

New World producers also tend to be big on brewing techniques; customising their own yeasts or cultivating wild strains, and often roasting and smoking their malts with locally-sourced plants, wood or peat. They’re passionate about the ‘beer’ they produce, says Lampen, and utilise longer fermentations and different yeasts “to create something that is delicious and full of flavour before it goes into the still”. American single malt producer Westward Distillery is a great example of this, he adds.

In terms of maturation, producers are looking beyond French and American oak to explore alternative oak species and woods – including acacia, mizunara, chinquapin, and garryana – as well as collaborating with local beer, wine and spirits producers in cask exchange programmes, and toying with new maturation techniques. “Casks which might previously have been used for a short ‘finish’ are being used for the full maturation of the whisky,” says Lampen, “such as the red wine barrels used by Starward [in Australia] to house their spirit from the moment it comes off the still to the moment it’s bottled.”

Starward Nova

David Vitale from Starward in Melbourne

However, as the whitepaper aptly points out, with greater choice can come greater confusion – New World Whisky can quickly go from exciting to overwhelming. “The strength of the category – and what makes it so exciting – is the diversity and range of what’s on offer,” says Lampen. “But this is also a challenge, as it can make it hard for whisky drinkers to navigate and find things they’re going to love, unless they’re prepared to do lots of research themselves.”

That’s where we come in, of course. Below, we’ve picked out 10 New World Whiskies that we think you’ll love. Not only are these distillers bringing something new to the category, but better yet, they’re really only just getting started on the long road to whisky greatness. Behold!

Mackmyra Grönt Te

A Swedish single malt from Mackmyra Distillery finished in casks seasoned with Oloroso sherry and green tea leaves (!!) sourced from Japanese tea specialists Yuko Ono Sthlm.

Yushan Blended Malt

A Taiwanese blended malt from Nantou Distillery matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks (and named after the highest mountain in Taiwan).

The ONE Orange Wine Cask Finished

An English blended whisky from The Lakes Distillery that sees its single malt combined with single grain and malt whiskies from Scotland and finished in first-fill American oak casks seasoned with orange wine.

Amrut Madeira Cask Finish

An Indian single malt whisky from Amrut Distillery – the first of its kind to be finished in Madeira wine casks from the Portuguese island.

Langatun Old Deer Classic Cask Proof

A Swiss single malt from Langatun Distillery, matured in an unusual pairing of sherry casks and Chardonnay casks before being bottled as cask strength.

The Cardrona Just Hatched – Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish

A Kiwi single malt from Cardrona Distillery, aged in ex-bourbon barrels before a finishing period in Oloroso sherry casks and, again, bottled at cask strength.

Teeling Stout Cask Finish

An Irish single malt from Teeling Distillery, aged in former stout casks that first aged its own Teeling Small Batch (caskception!) in collaboration with Galway Bay Brewery.

Sonoma Distilling Co. Cherrywood Bourbon

A US bourbon from Sonoma Distilling Company made from corn and rye from California and Canada and Cherrywood smoked barley from Wyoming.

Starward Solera

An Australian single malt from Starward Distillery, made entirely from Australian barley and matured in re-coopered Apera (Australian fortified wine) barrels.

Millstone 100 Rye Whisky

A Dutch rye whisky from Zuidam Distillers, made from 100% rye with 100% small pot still distillation and matured for 100 months in 100% new American oak barrels.

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