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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

Five must-haves for the perfect virtual tasting with friends

It’s time to get your friends together over, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, whatever your preferred mode of video chat, and taste some delicious spirits together! Everything you need is right here……

It’s time to get your friends together over, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, whatever your preferred mode of video chat, and taste some delicious spirits together! Everything you need is right here…

So, you’re virtual-pub-quizzed-out. You now have all of the general knowledge and you need a new activity for you and your pals. Well, virtual tastings are going to be the next big thing! No need to be a spirits connoisseur for this, it’s just a bit (okay, a lot) of fun and a great opportunity to get together with your friends and try some new tipples together. We’ve also done most of the hard work for you, because we’ve rounded up everything you need right here! 

5 must haves for virtual tasting

This could be you!

Tasting Set 

First things first, you’re going to need a drink. Obviously. Our ideal candidate would be an awesome tasting set from Drinks by the Dram! That way, you have five different spirits to taste through together, all wrapped up in a neat little box. They even come with tasting notes already, so you can compare and contrast, like an expert! You and your friends can order one each, and then do a little taste-along. Like those singalong versions of films, but with more drinks.

There’s the Premium Gin, for all you juniper heads out there, Premium Rum if darker spirits are more your cup of tea. Plus, we’ve gone and knocked 10% off these two! Whisky fanatics, taste round Scotland with Regions of Scotland Whisky Tasting Set, or if you’re wanting a bumper tasting, there’s a double whammy with Ian Buxton 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die Tasting Set, complete with 10 drams and even a copy of Buxton’s book! 

five must haves virtual tasting

They literally have our name on them!

Tasting glasses 

Next thing you’ll need is something to put your drinks in. It turns out that the shape and whatnot of a tasting glass is rather important, with tapered glasses directing all those lovely aromas right to your nose. Well, luckily we have our very own Master of Malt Glencairn tasting glasses for you! You can either grab yourself a single glass, or treat yourself to a set of six so you don’t have to rinse one out every time you crack open a new dram, missing out on all the fun. We may have a lot of time on our hands, but it’s still precious! 

It’s time to get your friends together over, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, whatever your preferred mode of video chat, and taste some delicious spirits together! Everything you need is right here...

Time to get mixing!


Here’s where it’s time to get inventive! We don’t have any qualms about mixing spirits over here. What we rather like doing is having just one nose and taste of your spirit neat before you mix it, just to get a feel for it and compare… but no pressure! This is your tasting. Then it’s time to mix it with whatever you think is best. Keep it simple with a good ol’ tonic water from 1724, or perhaps branch out with The Artisan Drinks Co. Barrel Smoked Cola or Fiery Ginger Beer, ideal for dark spirits! If you’re feeling creative, fancy a garnish out of whatever you can find in your fridge or fruit bowl… 

five must haves virtual tasting

Pink sofa and plant not essential…

A comfy corner 

Somewhere for you to let your hair down and have some (delicious) fun! Get that sofa plumped, lights down, music on and maybe even some bar snacks. It can be your dram den. Your spirit sanctuary. Your tasting retreat! We ran out of alliteration, so we’ll stop.

five must haves virtual tasting

Pray for full bars!

Good wifi 

Okay, so we can’t help with this one. May the wifi gods be with you. Hopefully your flatmate won’t be downloading every episode of The Simpsons. Maybe try rubbing your phone on your head? Yeah, that definitely works…

And that’s it! So grab your phones and computers, get those spirits in your snazzy glasses and get ready for a deliciously fun evening with your pals. Who says staying in can’t still be fun? Happy tasting!

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Inside the archives at Irish Distillers

You might not be familiar with the name, but Irish Distillers – maker of Jameson, Powers, Redbreast and more – is an Irish whiskey linchpin, and not just because it’s…

You might not be familiar with the name, but Irish Distillers – maker of Jameson, Powers, Redbreast and more – is an Irish whiskey linchpin, and not just because it’s the country’s largest distiller. Without it, Ireland’s national spirit would’ve been consigned to the history books. Here, archivist Carol Quinn delves into the company’s history and shares insight into her own fascinating role…

Until the 1960s, never had a drink category’s future hung so heavily on the cooperation of three rival companies. It’s no exaggeration to say that without the ingenuity and flexibility of Cork Distilleries Company, John Jameson & Son and John Power & Son, Irish whiskey would’ve been toast. It certainly wasn’t part of a plan to monopolise the industry – the three family-owned producers pulled together as the category collapsed around them. 

“The 20th century had not been kind to Irish whiskey, and that’s an understatement really,” says Irish Distillers archivist Carol Quinn. “ In the 19th century it was sold all over the world – I have records from Cairo, Uruguay, Honolulu, Portugal, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada… you name it, Irish whiskey was sold there. And it was a very high-end, prestigious drink. It was sold in places where customers ordered Cognac, Champagne.”

The success of the category started to unravel with the arrival of the first world war. Irish whiskey trade was export-led, says Quinn, and there was a lot of submarine activity around Ireland, being the last stopping-off point before you cross the Atlantic to America, so shipping was restricted. It was a blow, but despite the turbulence, Ireland’s distillers simply knuckled down and carried on.

“I see this in the Jameson records,” she says. “In 1919 – when the war was over and the restrictions were lifted – they had their best distilling season ever. They were producing more whiskey than ever and were delighted with life. Which was unfortunate, because in 1920, Prohibition hit America. While they hadn’t been selling in America for a few years anyway because of the first world war, Prohibition meant they weren’t going to re-enter it for a long time.”

Carol Quinn in the archives

For a decade, this wasn’t too disastrous. Ireland’s distillers were still exporting to the likes of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and beyond. But that came to an end in the 1930s, says Quinn, when Ireland entered into an economic trade war with Britain and lost any territory associated with the British Empire.

“Now at this point, they’re frightened,” she says. “This has been 20 years of bad times. And then you go straight into the second world war, and that’s the killer blow. In the 1940s and 1950s you see distillery after distillery closing. They just didn’t have the money to recoup what they’d lost, even when the export markets opened back up. There were a number of years in the 1950s when Old Midleton was only distilling three weeks a year.”

By the 1960s, the only three distilleries left open were – you guessed it – John Jameson & Son and John Power & Son, both in Dublin; and Midleton, owned by Cork Distilleries Company. Irish whiskey had shrunk to the domestic market, says Quinn, and it was still an expensive drink. It became clear that the three distilleries would wipe themselves out if they remained in competition. 

“At the time, those three distilleries were owned, managed and run by the descendants of their founders,” she says. “Frank O’Reilly, of Powers, invited the other two companies – John Jameson representing Jameson and Norbert Murphy representing Midleton – to come together and discuss the situation. They met in secret at the home of Shane Jameson under the guise of a country house weekend and formulated this incredibly radical idea that they would merge; combining all their resources with the express intention of saving Irish whiskey.”

After two years of negotiations – there was a lot to work out, after all – Irish Distillers formed in 1966 (it’s now part of Pernod Ricard). From there, they set about rebuilding the category, starting with their own blends. In 1975 they refurbished and reopened Midleton Distillery as Europe’s most modern distillation plant, not only to distil their three very different styles of whiskey – Powers, Jameson and Midleton – but improve on them, too. 

“The idea was never simply to replicate the past, it was to build upon it and to look forward and to move forward,” says Quinn. “Irish Distillers has always been incredibly progressive and fostered innovation, because it was born out of necessity and dangerous times. The guiding principle was to create a situation where we wouldn’t be the only distiller – where there would be such an interest in the Irish whiskey category that new entrants could come on stream.”

Barrels of Jameson ready for export, circa 1950

Irish Distillers’ forward-thinking ethos is unrelenting to this day. Throughout the 1980s, head distiller Barry Crockett laid down single pot still stocks at a time when this signature style of whiskey wasn’t selling, while operations manager Brendan Monks set about implementing a cask management programme that’s seen in the company’s recent releases, from the resurrection of Green Spot, Yellow Spot and Red Spot to the development of its pioneering Method and Madness range. 

Fascinating stuff you’ll agree, and as Quinn continues her mammoth undertaking of cataloguing Irish Distillers’ vast archive, who knows how many more pieces of Irish whiskey history will emerge. Here, she shines a light on the everyday aspects of her incredible job, from archival training basics to historically significant finds…

Master of Malt: First of all, could you share a little about your own career and how it led to your role as Irish Distillers’ archivist?

Carol Quinn: I’m an archivist by training. It’s a very old profession, and there aren’t too many of us about. It’s a graduate qualification and you have to have your primary degree first. My BA was in history and archeology, so I always had an interest in the past, but not so much in dates or events – it was the more the stories of people and how the past could shine a light onto the lives of individuals. That’s why I like the archive. These letters, diaries and ledgers provide clues to the past, they’re literally the raw material of history. As an archivist, my job is to be a bridge between the items and the end user, which at the moment is Irish Distillers.

MoM: You mentioned letters, diaries and ledgers. What other records are kept in the Irish Distillers archive?

CQ: Everything relating to the production and the sale of our whiskies. Our distilleries were founded back in the 18th century, so there’s well over 200 years’ worth of records. One thing that’s very important are the employee wage books. At their most basic, they give you the name of the individual, the part of the distillery they were working in, the hours they worked and what they were paid. We don’t have a great tradition of record-keeping here in Ireland, and a lot of our official records were destroyed in the 1920s during the Civil War – so for a lot of people mentioned in Jameson’s wage books from the 1860s, there’s no other record of them living on this earth. Although the archive isn’t open to the public, if somebody contacts us I will have a look to see if I can find the name of their ancestor. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t, because we don’t have a complete set and it’s very time-consuming – it literally means taking a huge ledger off the shelf and going through it page-by-page – but I realise how valuable it is when people find that link. The Irish community is huge across the globe, so I get people from Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, enquiring about grandfathers, great-grandfathers… It’s lovely.

It’s the actual notebook of John Jameson II

MoM: That is wonderful. How vast is the archive, what does it look like?

CQ: We have a purpose-built archival repository located in the distillers’ cottage in Midleton. The rooms are temperature controlled, humidity controlled, they’ve UV filters in all the lights and there’s no natural daylight allowed in. That’s where the records are kept. Some of them are digitised, but digitising records doesn’t preserve them, all that does is make access easier so you can search for things quicker. There’s nothing like a handwritten letter to really give you a connection with an individual. They’ve touched that page, they’re folded it with their hands. It’s a very different experience and I find it very visceral. 

MoM: That must feel overwhelming at times! I’d be terrified of damaging it…

CQ: That’s where the archival training comes in, in that we’re taught how to physically handle the material, how to catalogue it properly and how to preserve it. With some of our ledgers, I won’t even open them because I know if I do I’m going to damage them further, so I’ll send them to a man called Paul Curtis first. He’s based in Killarney at Muckross Bookbindery, and he’s trained as a book binder and paper conservator. When I did that for some of our items about six years ago, one of them was this little pocket notebook. It looked early 19th century to me, but again, I wasn’t going to go through it because I thought it was too fragile. When Paul took it apart he discovered that it was the actual pocket notebook of John Jameson II – the son of one of our founders – and it contained his mashbill recipes for Jameson whiskey from 1826, when he was  head distiller. When Paul took the binding apart to clean it down and re-sow it, out fell actual grains of barley from the Bow Street Distillery that John Jameson would’ve scooped up into his pocket as he was distilling.

Inside John Jameson’s notebook with those grains of barley

MoM: Fascinating! That certainly isn’t an everyday discovery  – what can we find you doing in a ‘typical’ week?

CQ: I often start the week in the distillers’ cottage in Midleton checking emails to see what’s come in over the weekend. Very often I’ll be on the train to Dublin mid-week – I might be giving a talk, doing some promotional work sharing our history or [liaising] with our marketing teams. Then, you’ll find me back in the archive doing the never-ending job of trying to catalogue such a vast collection! Sometimes I’ll take out a selection of items for our brand teams or the creative agencies who work with us to offer inspiration. Very often, a colour or font or some little nugget will spark the creative process. Recently we’ve had a repackaging of the Powers range; the design team came down – their brief was to give it a refresh – and when they looked through the records, this emblem absolutely jumped out at them. In the internal correspondence for Powers, instead of the name, they would write this diamond ‘P’, it was on everything. When you look at the new bottle, that’s what you see and it comes directly out of our history.

MoM: In your opinion, what are the most historically significant pieces in the archive?

CQ: What I really enjoy personally is the human element within the records. A few years ago, an elderly woman called up looking for a record of her grandfather, a man called James Leetch, who was a clerk in the spirits store in Jameson Bow Street. She remembered living with him as a young girl with her mother and sister. One day he went down to the cooperage and brought back a stave from a sherry butt, one of the largest of barrels, for her and her sister to use as a see-saw. I thought that was just lovely. The distilleries weren’t separate from the communities that they were located in; they were very much part of it. 


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Top 5 drinks TV shows

We like drinks, and we also like TV. So, here are our top five TV shows with some rather significant tipples in them. A drink can tell you a lot…

We like drinks, and we also like TV. So, here are our top five TV shows with some rather significant tipples in them.

A drink can tell you a lot about a character, if you know where to look. Plus, TV shows are like a snapshot in time, so it’s rather fun to go through the different ages and see how cocktail culture reflected in our TV shows has changed!

Full disclosure, the characters in these series are not necessarily always drinking responsibly or doing responsible things having had a drink. Remember, sip, don’t gulp. Let’s keep it fictional, people!

Christmas drinks trends

Sex and the City 

Nothing has done as much for the Cosmopolitan as Sex and the City. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to you! A true representation of the rise in colourful cocktail culture, the pink drink is a mixture of vodka (often citrus-flavoured, as was the rage in the 90s), cranberry juice, triple sec or Cointreau, and lime juice, all served up in a Martini glass. Just don’t try ordering one at a McDonald’s like our girl Carrie.

You can find Sex and the City on Amazon Prime.

Better Call Saul

Ring, ring, Better Call Saul is on our list! Seeing as the Breaking Bad prequel is also set in New Mexico, you can imagine where we’re going with this. Oh yes, Tequila. The eagle-eyed of you may have spotted a rather fancy bottle appear throughout the show called Zafiro Añejo, complete with an agave-shaped stopper. While Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman starts his journey drinking Rusty Nails alone, soon he’s conning people into buying him fancy Añejo Tequila… Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s clear. Maybe it was filtered? Oh, and its fifth season came out this year, so what better way to celebrate than with a sip of some non-fictional Tequila?

You can find Better Call Saul on Netflix.


‘Sherry’ was probably the most-said word in Frasier. The sitcom, originally a spin-off from Cheers, revolved around Seattle psychiatrists Frasier Crane and his brother Niles, and their sherry decanter. Romantic misadventures, professional disappointments and family feuds, were all ameliorated with a couple of glasses of the very finest sherry (though in some episodes it does look like they are drinking Harvey’s Bristol Cream.) The tension in the show came from the relationship between the snobbish Crane brothers and their beer-drinking ex-cop father Marty, and his equally no-nonsense English carer Daphne (complete with dodgy Manchester accent.) Things got really confusing when Marty starts seeing a woman called Sherry.

You can find Frasier on Amazon Prime.

Mad Men

How could we not include Mad Men on this list? While Don Draper’s whisky consumption may be slightly on the enthusiastic side, we can’t fault his choice of Canadian Club, which he’s regularly seen sipping throughout the seven seasons (though funnily enough, Jack Daniel’s actually sponsored the first season). Like Sex and the City, Mad Men also sparked a cocktail resurgence, though Don Draper has a penchant for classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned, so you know exactly what you should settle in with when you decide to crack this classic show out.

You can find Mad Men on Netflix.

Peaky Blinders

Irish whiskey, represent! The series not only inspired a whole generation to shave of the bottom half of their hair, but also gave wonderful Irish whiskey some proper screentime. Though it’s set in 1920s Birmingham, the Peaky Blinders seem to be rather partial to a dram of Irish whiskey. Plus, there’s even an actual Peaky Blinders whiskey, the ultimate companion to your binge-watching! Even Tommy Shelby’s arch nemesis (played by Tom Hardy, another bonus) is a fan of the stuff, with the (not so) wise words: “Whiskey, now that… that is for business.” 

You can find Peaky Blinders on Netflix or BBC iPlayer.

Whisky is for business | Series 2 Episode 2

We couldn't celebrate #WorldWhiskyDay without this quote from Alfie Solomons could we?

Posted by Peaky Blinders on Saturday, 18 May 2019

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A closer look at Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto

When Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto launched four years ago, it brought centuries of Italian drinks history to the back bar. Here, we talk contemporary rosolio with brand ambassador Luca Missaglia,…

When Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto launched four years ago, it brought centuries of Italian drinks history to the back bar. Here, we talk contemporary rosolio with brand ambassador Luca Missaglia, and share five super simple cocktail recipes to try at home…

First, a little background. Italicus is the brainchild of Giuseppe Gallo, former global brand ambassador for vermouth behemoth Martini, no less. A few years back, he spotted a rosolio-sized gap in the aperitivo renaissance and set out to reinstate the historic liqueur, which dates back to the 17th century. 

Indeed, before vermouth, bitters and amaro, rosolio was the Italian aperitivo. It became so popular that each of the country’s 20 regions had its own distinctive take on the liqueur based on the botanicals grown there. Rosolio was regarded as the ‘aperitivo of the people’ until Vittorio Amedeo III, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy from 1773 to 1796, incentivised the farmers to switch to vermouth production.

“The word rosolio is from the Latin ‘ros solis’, which means ‘morning dew’,” explains Missaglia. “When farmers get up early in the morning and go down to the field, they find morning dew on top of their botanicals. That’s where the name comes from – they harvest those botanicals to infuse into alcohol with sugarcane and a bit of water to make rosolio.”

Great with snacks

Using the blueprint of a rosolio recipe that dates back to the 19th century, Gallo scoured Italy from north to south and set about painting a flavour map of the country with his botanical selection. There’s lavender, gentian, yellow roses and melissa balm from northern Italy; Roman chamomile from Lazio; bergamot from the Calabrian region; and cedro from Sicily. 

Italicus’ botanical recipe centres on a traditional technique known as sfumatura, which sees essential oils extracted from the peel of the bergamot and cedro using little more than sponges and water. Meanwhile, lavender, gentian, yellow roses, melissa balm and Roman chamomile are infused together in a thermodynamic maceration over the course of around two weeks. 

The botanical liquid, which is produced at a family-owned distillery in the town of Moncalieri in Turin, is blended with neutral grain spirit, sugarcane and water before bottling. And what a bottle. The stopper features a renaissance-style Bacchus – the Roman god of agriculture, wine and fertility – harvesting bergamot; the colour of the glass represents the Grotta Azzura in Capri and the Amalfi Coast shoreline.

Flavour-wise, Italicus has ‘fresh tones of ripe citrus fruits’ balanced with ‘light, bitter, floral spice’. Perfect for pre-dinner tipples, such as the Italicus Spritz, which sees the liqueur combined with bubbles – ideally Prosecco, but any bubbles will do – in a 50:50 ratio.

“For us, the Spritz gives a real feeling of what Italicus is,” says Missaglia. “All of us have a bottle of sparkling wine in the fridge; if we don’t, we probably have tonic water. And if you still don’t, you have some soda.” 

Being an Italian brand, the serves that follow champion simple ingredients and fresh flavours. You’ll need plenty of olives for the garnish – it’s aperitivo hour after all – but if you can’t find any, a pinch of salt will suffice.

Italicus Spritz

This is Italicus’ signature serve, and it’s summer in a glass. Floral? Check. Tart bubbles? Check. A hint of saltiness to round the whole thing out? Ooh, check. 

2 parts Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
2 parts Prosecco (or Champagne)

Build over ice cubes in a large wine glass. Garnish with three green olives.

Gin & Italicus

A Martini, except it’s holding a rose between its teeth and there’s a mysterious glint in its eye. We dig it wholeheartedly. 

1 part Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
1 part London dry gin

Stir over ice cubes and serve straight up in a coupette glass. Garnish with three green olives.

Negroni Bianco

The Negroni twist you’ve been waiting for: fresh, slightly dry, and (almost) crystal clear. Use chunky, clear ice and Instagram the hell out of it.

1 part Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
1 part dry vermouth
1 part London dry gin

Build over ice in a rocks glass, garnish with three green olives.

Italicus Sgroppino

Looks fancy, tastes fancy, and yet… so simple to make. This would make a winning dessert on Come Dine With Me, no doubt about it. Just don’t ask us how to pronounce sgroppino.

2 parts Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
1 scoop citrus sorbet
Sparkling wine to top. 

Build in a coupette, garnish with grated bergamot or lemon peel.


There aren’t many liqueurs that pair well with beer, but the floral, citrus-y elements found in both Italicus and your typical IPA pair beautifully together. And may we say – cracking name, too.

1 part Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
4 parts I.P.A. Beer

Build over ice cubes in a highball. Garnish with one green olive.



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Five minutes with. . . Thea Cumming from Dangerous Don mezcal

Soft, floral and perilously quaffable? It could only be Dangerous Don’s new Joven expression, a dazzling 100% Espadin mezcal lovingly crafted in the depths of the Oaxacan countryside. We caught…

Soft, floral and perilously quaffable? It could only be Dangerous Don’s new Joven expression, a dazzling 100% Espadin mezcal lovingly crafted in the depths of the Oaxacan countryside. We caught up with the brains behind the brand, Thea Cumming, to chat about experimental destilados, the original ‘Don’, and a cowboy called Frank…

You might recognise Cumming’s name. As the co-founder of dedicated agave celebration London Mezcal Week – now in its fourth year – and co-owner of Stoke Newington music and mezcal bar Doña, she’s carved a reputation as a figurehead in the city’s mezcal scene. 

While today Cumming may have her fingers in many enchiladas (figuratively speaking), her spirited journey began on the final leg of an epic US road trip, in the port town of Puerto Escondido, situated on Mexico’s Oaxacan coast. 

“That’s where I drank mezcal for the first time,” says Cumming. “We were staying in a place called Sunset Point and met this cowboy from Colorado called Frank. He was going up into the mountains, buying mezcal and mixing it with coffee, vanilla, sugar and some other things in his kitchen, then bottling it and selling it. And he had some amazing mezcals.” 

Thea Cumming with friend in Oaxaca

A few sundowners later, Cumming was sold. “I remember being sat by the pool and deciding, ‘I’m going to start selling mezcal,” says Cumming. “And I’m going to call it Dangerous Don’. That’s my dad’s nickname – his mates from university called him dangerous Don because he had this elaborate plan to go and smuggle cigars with his best mate, big Andy.”

One large bank loan, a tour of Oaxaca and 12 palenques later, Cumming met the Martinez family in Santiago Matatlan, headed by fourth generation master mezcalero Celso. Taking inspiration from Frank’s DIY kitchen blending, she and Martinez would go on to develop the very first Dangerous Don variant, a ‘mezcal destilado con café’.

It isn’t a liqueur – rather, the coffee is treated as a botanical. Martinez twice-distills his 100% Espadin agave in a copper pot still before adding medium-roasted, coarsely-ground Naom Quie coffee beans to the distillate. He allows the mix to steep for 24 hours before distilling again, resulting in a smooth sweet mezcal. 

“The production process of mezcal is unbelievable, it’s such a labour of love,” says Cumming. “Each producer has such different techniques, from roasting the agave to the fermentation process. It’s the same as being a chef – each chef will produce a different dish when they’re asked to cook the same thing.”

Coffee being prepared for distillation

Terroir is also a massive influence in mezcal, as follow-up bottling Dangerous Don Joven demonstrates beautifully. It’s made by master mezcalero Juan Nacho Diaz Cruz in picturesque Santa María Quiegolani – around seven hours’ drive from Oaxaca – where he roasts, ferments and then twice-distils his 100% Espadin agave. 

“It’s very secluded, there’s nothing around for miles and miles,” says Cumming. “I drove out to meet him and his family last April, they’re growing loads of agave and making these incredible mezcals, all super soft and floral and really approachable.”

While the Joven is just hitting shelves, there’s no slowing down for Cumming, whose next destilado is already in the works. There’s plenty of experimentation within mezcal – master mezcaleros love a botanical or two – and Dangerous Don’s master mezcaleros are no exception.

“We’ve just made a ‘destilado con mandarina’ – mandarin – which is really delicious,” says Cumming. “We distil the mezcal twice, peel [the fruit] and leave them to steep for a day, then distil again. The plan this year is to roll out a few more destilados. It’s a really great way to get people to start exploring [the category].”

While it’s beloved by bartenders and drinks aficionados, mezcal is yet to make waves in the mainstream. This presents a unique opportunity for the tight-knit mezcal community to present their liquid as the artisanal product it genuinely is, free from the ‘slammer’ and ‘shot’ connotations associated with its agave cousin, Tequila. 

El joven esta acqui

So long as the category can retain its ‘craft’ credentials, anyway. Which might prove tricky as multinational spirits companies carve their own slice of the agave action. The problem with bigger players coming in, Cumming warns, is that they’ll drive the price point down. And if this sounds like a good thing, trust us – it isn’t.

“Mezcal is an expensive product because of the process,” she explains. “We’re not talking about a grain or sugarcane – we’re talking about something that takes eight years to grow, and that comes with a price point. Many smaller brands can’t necessarily get their price down, and I don’t know that you would want them to.”

On the bright side? As drinkers, we’re more open and invested in the industry than ever before. “The way we consume has changed a lot,” Cumming says. “We care about the origin of the products we buy now, more so than ever, and with mezcal, that’s really important. If that conscious consuming mentality is applied to the mezcal category, then that’s just the dream.”

While we’d always recommend appreciating any artisan spirit neat – at least to begin with – Dangerous Don is also made for mixing. The range is exquisite with tonic (garnish with an orange or grapefruit wedge). If you’re keen to experiment, the original con café variant makes a cracking Negroni when subbed in for the gin. 

“My favourite drink is a Mezcal Tommy’s Margarita,” says Cumming. “Lime and a bit of agave with Dangerous Don Joven, it works really well. If you want to be slightly more creative, you could do a take on an Espresso Martini with Dangerous Don, cold brew, crème de cacao and a tiny dash of agave syrup and that’s delicious too.”

There’s currently £5 off bottles of Dangerous Don original and Joven at Master of Malt.

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Top 5 drinks podcasts 

From whisky to wine, and all things boozy, here are our favourite podcasts to keep you amused when you’re self-isolating. All are best enjoyed with a dram in your hand….

From whisky to wine, and all things boozy, here are our favourite podcasts to keep you amused when you’re self-isolating. All are best enjoyed with a dram in your hand.

With so much time on our hands, there’s never been a better time to become engrossed in a podcast. As great as the radio is, we find that it isn’t, well, boozy enough for us. Now it can be a daunting prospect finding the right podcast for you and there’s a lot of them floating around.  That’s where we come in. We have picked our top five drinks podcasts you can stream right now. So whether you’re a podcast newbie or fully fledged podcast addict, exchange the doom and gloom for some chatter about booze! 

Uncorked, beards not compulsory

Uncorked Whisky Sessions

If you’re after whisky conversation garnished with the odd laugh out loud, then look no further than Uncorked Whisky Sessions – a podcast show all about the wondrous world of whisky from our friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Boutique-y Dave and Dr Whisky take the reins to contribute to the biggest whisky conversations of the past, present and future alongside icons and industry experts. Every episode is jam-packed with quirky games for the listener to play along with, outrageous rants, and whisky laughs galore! 

James Atkinson, about to embark on another drink adventure

Drinks Adventures 

From the land Down Under comes a journey through the world of fine drinks with the Drinks Adventures podcast. As people drink less but spend more on that special tipple, host and drinks writer James Atkinson interviews production experts from around the world. From Champagne and craft beer, to whisky and beyond, what sets fine drinks apart from the rest? Let the Drinks Adventure begin!

Olly Smith getting the party started with Pink

A Glass With…

Wine expert and columnist Olly Smith invites you to drink a glass with celebrities in the A Glass With… podcast. A glass of what, we hear you ask? Mainly wine, but hey, if the celeb fancies something else, you can be sure they’ll drink it! With an incredible array of famous faces (or voices…) including Michael Parkinson, Pink and Mick Hucknall, from industries ranging from food to film, there’s plenty of A-list chatter to sink your ears into! 

You could drink this while listening to Whiskycast


No boozy podcast list would be complete without Mark Gillespie’s WhiskyCast, the godfather of all podcasts that have anything to do with whisky. In fact, host Gillespie started WhiskyCast in 2005, before anyone really knew what a podcast was… 15 years later, WhiskyCast continues to deliver timely whisky news, interviews with whisky experts, and the upcoming whisky calendar. With two episodes released each week, best pour a double measure!

Or one of these while listening to Craft Beer Radio

Craft Beer Radio 

For those of you who think that the universe of craft beer is somewhat of a young phenomenon, it might surprise you that it has been the focus of Craft Beer Radio for 15 years, making it the longest running beer podcast on the internet. That means over 500 episodes of tasting the best, weirdest and most wonderful beers the world has to offer. So sit back, relax and let hosts Jeff Bearer and Greg Weiss take you through the incredibly diverse world of craft beer. 

And there you have it, five of the best boozy, time busting podcasts for you to enjoy. Happy streaming! 

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La Hechicera rum: the Colombian enchantress

La Hechicera makes some of the best Spanish-style rum out there with nothing added: no sugar, no flavourings, no nothing. We caught up with managing director Miguel Riascos for a…

La Hechicera makes some of the best Spanish-style rum out there with nothing added: no sugar, no flavourings, no nothing. We caught up with managing director Miguel Riascos for a few drinks.

La Hechicera as a brand is a recent creation; it was launched in London in 2012. However, the Riascos family’s involvement in the rum business goes back to 1994.  They learned how to make rum in Cuba, Miguel Riascos explained: “After deciding to leave the banana business due to instability and insecurity in Colombia at the time (early ‘90s), my father, Miguel Riascos Noguera, decided to travel to Cuba in search of new business opportunities and alternatives to agriculture, which at the time carried an inherent risk. In Cuba, my father quickly fell in love with the promise of rum and sought a deal with the Cuban Ministry of Sugar with the purpose of establishing a rum factory in Barranquilla with the Cuban establishment’s technical support. As part of this arrangement, several qualified chemical engineers and master blenders were sent from Cuba to Colombia”, including master blender Giraldo Mituoka Kagana who is still with the company.  

Master blender Giraldo Mituoka Kagana looking very cool in white

Barranquilla, a city on the Caribbean coast, near Cartagena, was the perfect place to do this because it had been designated a Free Zone. In the rest of the country alcohol above 20% ABV was a state monopoly. Unlike in Venezuela, there were no private brands, which is perhaps why Colombian rum doesn’t have the same reputation as its neighbour. The family bought in Colombian cane spirit and aged it in ex-bourbon barrels to their own exacting standards meaning no sugar or other additives. The rum would then be sold on to be blended into Colombian or generic Caribbean rums. Which seems a shame. 

So, the decision was taken to bottle some of their own. The result was La Hechicera, the name means Enchantress in Spanish, a reference to the magical fecundity and diversity of Colombia. Riascos said: “Colombia has more species of flora and fauna than any other country in the world.” Appropriately, I was meeting with Riascos in the jungle-inspired splendour of Amazonico in Mayfair. 

The project goes back to when the family got into the rum business , Riascos said: “When we initially created La Hechicera, it was by far the oldest rum that our family had aged. This is the epitome of everything we want to produce”. He went on to tell me a little about the rum: “The idea was to bottle something absolutely pure. It’s a typical Hispanic-style rum in that it is molasses-fermented, column-distilled and aged in ex-Jack Daniel’s American white oak for a minimum of 12 years.” The oldest component is 21 years old. The rum comes off the column at between 88 and 96% ABV so, according to Riascos, “it’s light in its congenic make-up, and yet it’s very characterful in its woodiness. It’s spent so long in the barrel. That is quite simply the way we like to make our rum and I do feel this almost epitomises our rum making style in Barranquilla.” Though at the moment they buy in the spirit, the family has plans to build their own distillery in the near future though will continue to buy in spirit even when it’s up and running as they like the diversity of flavours, according to Riascos. 

Colombia, once a byword for a failed state, is now one of Latin America’s success stories. I asked Riascos if the country was more stable now and he replied with obvious pride: “It’s firmly stable, today it’s one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. It’s the third largest already after Mexico and Brazil. It’s got an unbelievably diversified economy which is obviously a source of growth and future growth for sure.”

Family banana plantation in Magdalena, 1955

Nevertheless, he’s surprised by how his home country has taken to La Hechicera, it’s now the biggest market. “Colombians generally are not big consumers of Colombian products,” he said. In the past sophisticated drinkers went for Scotch brands, especially Grand Old Parr which is a cult drink in the country. Now though, people are taking pride in home-grown products: “Today La Hechicera is almost synonymous with Colombia”, Riascos said. 

The family expected La Hechicera to be an export-led product so they launched it in London in 2012. “ In the UK and in London specifically you do have all the expert bartenders, the awards, the publications, and the master blenders, so it’s a great platform to position the brands in the on-trade,” Riascos said. “We are constantly working with bartenders. A classic cocktail is always a great anchor to create a new idea.” Over our interview, we tried two takes on the Old Fashioned: firstly the so-called Gold Fashioned, made with a gold-coated (yes real gold!) cube of panela (unrefined cane sugar). Then the Banana Republic, made with banana liqueur, bitters and a piece of dehydrated banana. It’s a nod to the family’s involvement in the banana business. “What we try to do with our cocktails is to tell the story about Colombia, about provenance, about who we are, “ Riascos said. 

Michael Fink from Amazanico had also been hard at work coming up with cocktails (yes, it was quite a boozy interview.) First off an Old Fashioned made with Antica Formula vermouth and strawberry and tobacco bitters which really brought out the chocolate in the rum. This was followed by a sort of Daiquiri meets Sidecar cocktail with lime juice, sugar, Italian vermouth and Cointreau. It worked so well because like the best Spanish-style rums, there’s more than a little of Cognac about La Hechicera. It’s a beautifully-poised rum, perfumed and wine-like with intense notes of nuts and vanilla; the long ageing in no way overpowers the spirit. And all the time with that purity, there’s none of the sugar that you get in some Venezualan rums.

Miguel Riascos enjoying some rum

The company currently produces around 20,000 cases a year with plans to raise that to 100,000 in three years. It currently holds around 12,000 casks of rum so there’s plenty in stock. It’s been such a success, that the family has just released a new version called Serie Experimental #1 which is finished in casks that held Spanish Muscat for around 13 years so the oak was heavily impregnated with wine. They had 16 casks yielding 7200 bottles. Riascos said, “it shares the same DNA, but it’s got that added body from that finish.” The Muscat adds sweetness (perceived sweetness that is, not actual sugar) and brings out the rum’s floral side with some added dried fruit and tobacco notes. It’s a great sipping rum, as is the standard bottling. 

You’ll notice that it’s called Serie Experimental #1, so expect others to follow. “We’re currently working on dos, tres and cuatro,” said Riascos. “And we’ll see if one of those hits the market later this year. We’ve been working with wines from Napa Valley. We’ve been working with Canadian rye whisky. We’ve been working with different natural fruits and infusions, things that tell the story of Colombia as the most biodiverse country in the world. We are working together with Colombia’s largest independent brewery to kind of do a barrel exchange. So they’re working with our barrels for their beer and they’re sending them back with a few added notes and then we’re ageing our rum in there to see if that works. I’m very sceptical about it, but if it works it will be very, very good.” We think it will too.


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Meet the Master of Malt editorial team

Today, we take a peak behind the padded leather doors at Master of Malt’s secret HQ (just off the A26, follow signposts for Tonbridge industrial estate) and meet the people…

Today, we take a peak behind the padded leather doors at Master of Malt’s secret HQ (just off the A26, follow signposts for Tonbridge industrial estate) and meet the people who fit words together to make this blog.

Don’t you just love that bit when you go and see a band and the lead singer stops and introduces everyone on stage? “And finally, on bongos, rhythm is his middle name, give it up for Reggie ‘rhythm’ Jenkins!!” No? You just want them to play the hits? Oh well, we like the introducing the band bit which is why we thought we’d do something similar with the Master of Malt editorial team. These are the people tasting those rare whiskies so you don’t have to, visiting distilleries, making cocktails and generally immersing ourselves (responsibly, of course) in booze, and then turning those experiences into words. It’s not an easy life but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, without further ado, here is the MoM editorial team. Then we promise we’ll play the hits and not in a jazz fusion style. Take it away Reggie!

Kristiane Sherry, editor and head of content

Kristiane adores whisky, gin, Tequila, cocktails (pretty much anything delicious and spirited!), and loves geeking out at distilleries around the world. She has written about drinks since 2011, served as a judge at numerous tasting competitions including the American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits, The Spirits Masters and the World Gin Awards, and is an accredited WSET Spirits Educator.  Kristiane is a former editor of The Spirits Business, a leading global trade title, and has been featured as a commentator in The Spectator, The Grocer, RedOnline, and on BBC Radio 5 Live. She lives in glorious Sussex by the sea.

Henry Jeffreys, feature editor

Henry began his career at Oddbins where he worked for two years and picked up a taste for fine wine. After a stint in publishing, he returned to the world of booze by starting a blog called World of Booze in 2010. Following its success, he was made wine columnist for The Lady. He has appeared on BBC Radio 4 and 5 and contributes to The Spectator, The Guardian and BBC Good Food. He won Best Debut Drink Book for Empire of Booze in 2017. This was followed by The Home Bar in 2018 and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary (September 2020).  His favourite drink is a whisky and soda. He lives in Faversham, Kent with his wife and daughter. Oh, and that photo is really out of date, he now looks like an elderly W. H. Auden.

Adam O’Connell, writer

Adam graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA in History and an MA in Intellectual History, which came in handy when he then went on to work as a bartender. There he made a name for himself as the person who wouldn’t shut up about how much he liked whisky. He subsequently joined Master of Malt as a writer in 2017, where he was encouraged to talk about how much he liked whisky. Adam is passionate about all things distilled and delicious, not just the water of life, and has passed the WSET Level 2 Award in Spirits with Distinction. He currently lives in the highest room of the tallest tower in Maidstone.

Jess Williamson, content assistant 

Jess graduated from the University of Bristol having studied English Literature, and stumbled (happily) straight into the world of drinks! She began writing outside her degree for music publications while at university, but working in a rather extensive gin bar for a while sparked her curiosity in the more refined end of the alcohol spectrum. Since then, it’s been a non-stop learning curve for her in the drinks industry, and her mind has been opened to pretty much every spirit she thought she didn’t like, namely whisk(e)y. Now, she’s a big fan of anything with rye whiskey in it, and loves trying all manner of new and weird cocktails. 

Sam Smith, content executive

Sam lugged boxes around a booze warehouse in Somerset for a year after finishing his Creative Writing degree at the University of Winchester, and then found a way to combine elements of those two activities as part of the Master of Malt content and editorial team. When not writing about drinks, Sam spends his time going to see gigs and making salsa. He lives on the west coast of Ireland, and is fond of a Sazerac. This is a different Sam Smith to the famous singer. Our Sam Smith can’t sing.

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20 pro tips to make bar-quality cocktails at home

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

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

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

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

You’ll need ice, lots and lots of ice


Use more than you think you need

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

Filter before you fill up

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

Freeze your own large format ice 

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

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

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

Manhattan Duke

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


Resize drinks via ‘parts’

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

Introduce new flavours slowly

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

Look to physical cues

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

Dry shake egg-based drinks

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

Ask yourself, is that garnish really essential?


Identify the essentials

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

Dehydrate wheels of fruit… 

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

…Or alternatively, freeze them

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

Utilise kitchen kit

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

Terri Brotherston in action


Chill the glass

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

Pre-batch your ingredients

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

Keep bottles in the freezer

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

Blend your cocktail

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

Pre-batch your cocktails

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

The Nightcap

Sometimes, the best tip is just to keep it simple


Create your own cordials

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

Try a milk wash

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

Or, just keep it simple

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

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Alan Gray, Scotch whisky industry expert – obituary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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