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Master of Malt Blog

Category: We’re drinking…

Master of Malt tastes… Delamain Pléiade Cognac

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM…

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM HQ. What took you so long?

Delamain is aiming at the enthusiast rather than the plutocrat with a new range of Cognacs called Pléiade. Admittedly with prices going up to £1000, these will be quite well-healed enthusiasts. The packaging with information about age, ABV, the village where the grapes were grown, cask size, and distillation type, is more nerdy than blingy. These are Cognacs for single malt or wine lovers according to Rebecca Montgomery, who works on the export and marketing side of the business and was our host at a launch dinner at the Carlton Club in London.

The new range comes in three levels, (each linked to an accompanying video):

Révélation: Cognacs of 20 to 30 years
Plénitude: very old mature Cognacs of 30 to 50 years
Apogée: extremely old, exceptional Cognacs 50+ years

Cognacs so valuable they have to be kept behind bars

These will be single cask or demijohn and, mainly, single vintage releases. All have been matured in a special cellar above a crypt. This lets in the sun so the temperature is not constant. Cellar master Dominique Touteau only uses old casks so there’s no bitter tannins from the wood. Some of the range will be bottled at cask strength while others are diluted. Montgomery described dilution as an “art in itself” where watered down Cognac at 15% ABV is slowly added to the cask. All of them are bottled with no boize or colouring. Anyone who knows Pale & Dry will recognise the style in these Cognacs, they are light, fruity and joyful. Montgomery described them as perfect for the “sophisticated” British market. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Pale and Dry XO, Delamain’s flagship bottling, has long been a British favourite, particularly among the wine trade. It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and to celebrate, the house has tuned the blend a little. As before it only contains fruit from premier cru vineyards within Grand Champagne but now contains more from the aptly-named Bellevigne, where Delamain has recently begun cultivating fruit again. The blend is now done earlier so the component parts have longer to marry and crucially it is now bottled at a higher ABV, 42%, with no colouring or syrup added. Previously, at 40% ABV, a little caramel was added for consistency and syrup sometimes added depending on the batch. According to Dominique Touteau, this higher alcohol brings out the natural sweetness. It’s a double celebration this year because  Touteau celebrates 40 years with the firm.

The vineyard at Bellevigne

Delamain has a long history: it dates back to 1759 when James Delamain went into the Cognac business with his father-in-law Jean-Isaac Ranson. Like many Cognac dynasties, there’s an Irish or British connection, the Delamain family were French protestants who had been living in Ireland since the 17th century. In 2017, the firm was bought by Bollinger, something Rebecca Montgomery described as “perfect marriage”, but it is still run by a direct descendant of James Delamain: Charles Braastad. Now, that it has begun working vines again, for the first time since 1910, the company is looking to own some too so that eventually it will have complete control of the entire process, though good vineyards in Grand Champagne don’t come on the market very often.

The company only produces Cognacs at XO level and above, and only from Grand Champagne. Though blends (link here to full range) will remain at the heart of the business but these new releases explore the quality and variety of the terroir in Grand Champagne. Prices range from around £150 up to £1000 a bottle. So, they are not cheap but if you think what Macallan, for example, would charge for a 50 year old single cask bottling, neither are they outrageously expensive. Quality Cognac is currently undervalued, it won’t be for long.

Here are the first three releases which have just landed at MoM:

Collection Révélation Malavile

Cask number: 709-01
Village: Malaville
Age: not a vintage release, it is described as very old
45% ABV

Nose: Very grapey, fruity and floral, orange blossom, a little apricot and Brazil nut. It’s a bit like nosing an old Muscat de Rivesaltes

Palate: Gentle, soft and very fruity, floral, creamy texture with some pepper and toffee. Just a little oakiness.

Finish: Very long with oak and rancio notes. 

Collection Plénitude Mainxe 1980

Cask number: 212-01
Village: Mainxe
Age: 40 years
Vintage: 1980
44% ABV

Nose: Wow! this is like stepping into a vintage Bentley (something we do a lot of here at MoM), or expensive furniture shop: old leather, walnut, and furniture polish. Then there’s autumn leaves and rancio notes.

Palate: so mellow and soft, with baking spice, creamy toffee, and fruitcake.

Finish: salted caramel ice cream. Utterly gorgeous. This was my favourite. 

Collection Apogée Verrieres 1965 

Dame-Jeanne number: 339-01
Village: Verrieres
Age: 50 years old, distilled in 1965.
42% ABV

Nose: menthol, tobacco, dried apricot, orange marmalade and dark chocolate. So rich and powerful.

Palate: Chocolate and fresh apricot with just a little tannic bitterness coming, huge hit of aromatic tobacco. Very savoury.

Finish: walnuts and more tobacco, bring on the Havanas! 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Metaxa Spritz

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar…

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies. 

If you’ve ever been on holiday to Greece, then you’ve probably tried Metaxa. Many restaurants give customers a little glass after a meal rather as they do with limoncello in southern Italy. Only, in my opinion, Metaxa is a far superior drink. It’s often described as a brandy, but this isn’t quite right as it’s a blend of brandy with sweet wine and natural flavours such as anise, rose petal and herbs.

The brand was founded in 1888 by Spyros Metaxa in Piraeus, the port of Athens. From the beginning, the firm has used sweet Muscat wine from the island of Samos. This is an ancient style of wine that was especially-prized in the Middle Ages but Muscats crammed full of sugar are still made all over the Mediterranean not just in the Greek islands but Sicily, France and Spain, and as far away as South Africa and Australia. The brandy is high quality too, double pot-distilled brandy from Savatiano, Soultanino, Kourtikakis grape varieties and aged in Limousin oak. The wine, flavouring and brandy are then married in cask for a year.  The man in charge of the process is the so-called Metaxa master Constantinos Raptis, only the fifth ever to hold this title.

The Metaxa journey starts with the 5 Star expression, the sort you’ve probably tried in Greek restaurants and goes up in age and complexity to 7 and 12 Stars plus various special bottlings. I find the older they get, the less sweet they taste, with more Cognac-like woody notes but always with that floral Muscat and rose petal taste. 

It’s a unique spirit, but the idea behind it isn’t so unusual. From fortified wines to sherry-cask whisky, mixing wine and distilled alcohol has a noble history. There’s even a law in Canada known as the 9.09% rule allowing whisky producers to add up to 9.09% non-Canadian whisky to the blend such as sherry or Port. You can try this at home, a spoonful of Oloroso sherry is a great way to liven up an indifferent whisky. Anyway, I digress…

Metaxa, supremely national

What I love about Metaxa is you can really taste the quality of the ingredients, the Muscat-laden sweet wine, the delicate spicing and then the long finish from aged brandy. I’ve been fiddling around with a bottle of 7 Star and it’s really an incredibly versatile drop. The cocktail below is from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies, and very nice it is too, but you don’t need to go to such lengths to get the best out of Metaxa. As a mixture of wine, brandy and spices, it’s basically a cocktail in a glass. You don’t need to add much or really anything to get a delicious complex drink. 

I added a measure to a Champagne flute, topped it up with some Biddenden Kentish dry sparkling cider (though sparkling wine would also be great) and then added an orange twist. Absolutely delicious. It’s also great neat and chilled, especially after a big Greek feast. But the recipe below from the Clumsies shows how well this adaptable spirit works in more elaborate cocktails. Behold, the magnificent Metaxa Spritz!

50ml Metaxa Amphora 7 Star
100ml Chapel Down English Sparkling Rose
10ml Fever Tree tonic water
10ml honey
Pinch of Salt 

Build over ice in a large wine glass, stir gently, garnish with an orange twist and sprig of mint. Yamas!

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New Arrival of the Week: The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage

Back in August, we heralded the imminent launch of a rather special whisky from The GlenDronach – a wonderfully well-sherried 29 year old single malt, created by master blender Rachel…

Back in August, we heralded the imminent launch of a rather special whisky from The GlenDronach – a wonderfully well-sherried 29 year old single malt, created by master blender Rachel Barrie to coincide with the upcoming release of The King’s Man. Ahead of the GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage hitting shelves this week, MoM took a moment to sample the liquid. Here’s what we thought…

The folks at The GlenDronach certainly know their way around a sherry cask, and this latest release is no exception. Created in collaboration with the Kingsman film franchise director Matthew Vaughn – and also MARV films and Disney – The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage has been exclusively matured in oloroso casks before a delicious finishing period in Pedro Ximénez casks from Spain. Because, well, why not?

For those unfamiliar with Kingsman, the action-comedy film franchise is centered on a fictional secret service organisation of the same name (it’s also a screenplay of a comic book series, but we digress). Set during world war one, the latest instalment – The King’s Man – delves into the origins of the intelligence agency. While most of the plot details remain under wraps, here’s what we do know: There are tyrants. There are criminal masterminds. They have nefarious plans that involve inciting some kind of war that will wipe out millions. Saving the world is down to one man and his protégé, who must figure out how to stop them in an exhilarating race against the clock.

It’s proper fancy…

A combination of six casks distilled in 1989, the new release is said to be inspired by the oldest bottle of whisky housed at The GlenDronach Distillery – a 29 year-old whisky bottled in 1913, just before the outbreak of the first world war. The story behind it goes like this: three friends bought a bottle each before the war, promising to open them together once they came home. Only one returned. Having never opened his bottle, his family donated it to the distillery, where it’s displayed in remembrance of fallen friends. What a tragic tale.

Master blender Rachel Barrie commented: “This expression is deep in meaning, paying homage to ​fallen friends who bravely fought during WWI, and the depth of character and integrity shared by both The GlenDronach and the Kingsman agency. This is none other than a whisky truly fit for a King’s Man.”

There are just 3,052 bottles available, all labelled, numbered and wax-sealed by hand, and signed by Barrie and Vaughn – who also shared his thoughts on the release. “There is an important line which says, ‘Reputation is what others think of you, character is what you are’,” he said. “Strength of character and dedication to upholding the highest values perfectly encapsulates the true spirit of both the Kingsman agency and The GlenDronach Distillery.”

The packaging is quite smart too

So, what does it taste like? Flavour-wise, Barrie described “smouldering aromas of dark fruits and sherry-soaked walnuts, vintage leather and cedar wood”. On the palate, “dense autumn fruits meld with date, fig and treacle, before rolling into black winter truffle and cocoa”. Throughout the “exceptionally long” finish, she said, you’ll find lingering notes of “blackberry, tobacco leaf and date oil”. 

Sounds rather tasty, doesn’t it? So, without further ado, here’s our take on The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage:

The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage tasting note:

Colour: Pouring the whisky into a glass, you’re instantly struck by how dark it is – almost a mahogany brown. There’s no colouring added, we’re assured. Spending 29 years in Sherry casks is a heavy enough influence on the colour, with no need for any extra ‘assistance’. Ahem.

Nose: Dark brown sugar, cherries, plums and salted caramel with a touch of aniseed. Another whiff and you’ll find raisin, vanilla and a hint of citrus peel.

Palate: Thick waves of juicy dark fruits give way to tart pluminess that evolves into powerful and pronounced dusty oak spice.

Finish: Incredibly rich and long. Rum-soaked raisins, leather and tobacco dryness, rounded off with dates and a touch of clove and cinnamon.

Overall: Sweet and intense. Remarkable how it transforms on the palate. Like Willy Wonka made his Three Course Dinner Chewing Gum in an orchard.

The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage is now sold out. That went fast!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Harvard

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book…

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book called The Cocktail Dictionary

In January 2019, I started writing, with help from Adam and Annie, a weekly cocktail column for this blog. The first entry was the Brooklyn. Since then I was asked by Mitchell Beazley to do The Cocktail Dictionary, part of a series of booze books like The Whisky Dictionary, The Tequila Dictionary, you get the idea. And now it’s here! It’s an A-Z of drinks with entries on shaking, ice, equipment etc. Not only are the words top quality but it has witty illustrations by George Wyesol. 

Anyway, that’s enough shameless plugging. Let’s talk cocktails. This week we’re making the Harvard, part of a series of old time drinks named after Ivy League universities such as the Princeton, the Yale, and erm, the Brown. It’s rather like a Manhattan but made with Cognac instead of bourbon, and then diluted with a splash of soda. The Harvard may actually predate the Manhattan, however. Many cocktails were originally made with brandy. Cognac was king in the 19th century but its preeminence among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. British drinkers switched to blended Scotch whisky and American cocktail enthusiasts switched to bourbon or rye. So the Harvard is a little taste of what Americans were drinking in the 1880s.

Just one of the excellent illustrations by George Wyesol

As with all cocktails, there are lots of ways to make it. In some recipes, the Harvard is just a Manhattan but made with brandy instead of bourbon or rye, and very nice it is too made like that. According to David Embury in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), if you use orange bitters it’s a Harvard but if you use Angostura, it’s a Delmonico try asking for that one in your local bar. Other versions call for sugar syrup, lemon juice and even grenadine (!) which sounds much too sweet. Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1935) makes his with half brandy and half vermouth with a dash of sugar syrup and two dashes of Angostura. But earlier still, George J. Kappeler Modern American Drinks (1895) was adding a splash of soda which is how we’re going to do it today. It makes it more accessible than a Manhattan and the dilution brings out the fruit in the brandy. You could even, in the summer, up the soda quotient and serve it as a Highball-type thing. But the evenings are getting cold now, so we’re not going to do that.

Traditionally Cognac would have been used but I’m using Janneau VSOP Armagnac which is very fruity and with a wine-like tang. It’s a very superior brandy for the money. Instead of Italian vermouth, I’m using Gonzalez Byass La Copa from Spain. This is made with PX sherry so it’s really quite sweet. Too sweet, I find, to drink on its own but works beautifully in booze-heavy cocktails. You really don’t need any sugar syrup. After a bit of experimentation, I found that adding the soda in two stages kept some fizz without warming up the drink. Finally bitters, the recipe in the book doesn’t call for bitters, but it’s a nice addition. Angostura or orange, it’s up to you.

Are you a Harvard man?

Right, got your ingredients ready? Let’s Harvard! Oh, and here’s a final plug for the book: The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Z of cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99. Totally shameless.

60ml Janneau VSOP Armagnac
30ml Gonzalez-Byass La Copa vermouth
Two dashes of Angostura bitters (optional)
30ml soda water (ideally chilled)

Add the first three ingredients and half the soda, a splash, to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir for 30 seconds until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupette or Martini glass, add another splash of soda water and garnish with an orange twist.

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New Arrival of the Week: Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (COIWC)

Today we’re welcoming a series of exciting bottlings at MoM from that mecca for whisky lovers, the Jewel of the Hebrides itself, Islay, including releases from Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Octomore…

Today we’re welcoming a series of exciting bottlings at MoM from that mecca for whisky lovers, the Jewel of the Hebrides itself, Islay, including releases from Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Octomore and, rarest of all, Port Ellen. The collection is called The Stories of Wind and Wave and it’s brought to you from the aptly-named Character of Islay Whisky Company.

It can be quite an adventure getting to Islay. Many times Master of Malt team members have tried to reach the island only to be thwarted by adverse weather conditions. And should you be lucky enough to have your flight from Glasgow cleared for take off, the wind-blown descent into the island’s airport on the tiny propeller plane can be terrifying for the uninitiated. Or there’s the joy of a two hour crossing on a CalMac ferry through rough seas. The fun doesn’t stop when you arrive down either, on a visit last year to visit Islay’s newest distillery, Ardnahoe, the air was thick with the scent of burnt heather. A combination of high winds, dry weather, and, probably, a stray cigarette end had set much of the south of the island on fire. The air smelt just like Islay whisky. 

For whisky lovers, this very inaccessibility is part of the magic of the island. You have to really want to visit. And the lure is, of course, the extraordinary concentration of distilleries all with their own unique character and the way the whiskies taste of their location, salt, peat smoke and seaweed. There are other peated whiskies from Scotland, but it’s the ones from Islay that get all the attention. 

Laphroaig John Campbell

Laphroaig on a rare sunny day

Those names, Ardbeg, Bowmore, and Laproaig, are music to whisky enthusiasts. And aiming to bottle some of that music, if such a thing were even possible, is a batch of rare malts that has just landed at MoM towers. It’s from our friends at the Character of Islay Whisky Company which previously released whiskies from anonymous distilleries on the island, but for this batch has revealed where they came from. Which is nice of them. The series is called the Stories of Wind and the Wave and includes bottlings from Bowmore, Laproaig and Ardbeg (see below). Plus still to come some Octomore and something tres fancy from Port Ellen.

The one we’re highlighting today is from Laphroaig, the most medicinal of all the Islay whiskies. It gets its distinctive character from only using Islay peat. The distillery has a traditional floor maltings and makes about 25% of its requirements using local Machrie moss peat which cold smokes the barley. The rest of the malt comes from the nearby Port Ellen maltings. Islay peat is largely made from seaweed which is where that love-it-or-hate-it salty iodine flavour comes from. The reason it tastes of the sea is because it comes from the sea, albeit a long time ago. This smokiness is accentuated by taking a late cut, so you get more of that peat smoke. 

The classic expression for lovers of medicinal malts is the 10 year old. But the longer you keep Laphroaig, the less smoky it becomes and the more tropical fruits start to appear. Release No.11693 was distilled in 2004 and aged for 15 years in a refill bourbon cask so you’re not getting that much wood influence. It’s bottled at 50.2% ABV. All that smoky character is still there but it’s been joined by stone fruit and quince (see below for full tastings notes). It’s a great dram to launch a series of rare and unusual whiskies that Islay fans will not want to miss. They’re the next best thing to a visit to the island itself.

Here is the full range of Stories of Wind and Wave whiskies currently available from Master of Malt:

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11694)

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11693)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11715)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11714) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11698) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11699)

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11697)

Ardbeg 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11673)

Tasting note for the Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11693) from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Waxy peels, peppermint leaf and smoky black tea with a touch of baked earth to it.

Palate: Sweet smoke with savoury hints of salted butter and cedar underneath, plus stone fruit developing later on.

Finish: Polished oak, a touch of ash and continuing fruity elements.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Southside

Some people know it as Al Capone’s go-to cocktail, others as gin’s answer to the Mojito or the signature serve of New York’s famed 21 Club. This week we’re making…

Some people know it as Al Capone’s go-to cocktail, others as gin’s answer to the Mojito or the signature serve of New York’s famed 21 Club. This week we’re making the Southside, folks!

There are plenty of prohibition-era cocktails that have enjoyed a resurgence renewed in the last few years. But one classic serve that is still hardly ever seen: I’m talking about The Southside, a delicious combination of gin, simple syrup, freshly squeezed citrus juice and mint leaves. You can think of it as a minty Tom Collins and it has plenty in common with The Mojito, but even in an era where gin is all the rage, The Southside hasn’t received the kind of love its exotic, rummy cousin gets. Which is crazy. It’s incredibly refreshing, looks great and is easy to make. What’s not to love?

Well, back in the day, in all likelihood, the gin. Hence why this cocktail was made in the first place. Like the Bronx and the Bees Knees, the Southside was an elegant solution to the lack of quality gin. So, where exactly did it come from? I’m going to shock you with what I’m about to say next. Its origins are subject to speculation. Where have we heard that one before? Seriously, if we did a documentary on cocktail history it would mostly be Henry looking down the camera and shrugging. I know I aired this gripe a couple of weeks ago but for goodness sake, it’s not like it was the Dark Ages. 

At least Harry Craddock was on the ball (like he was for the Blood and Sand, shout out to you Mr Craddock). His Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) featured a recipe for the Southside in his book which included soda, which suggests the first edition of this drink was actually what we now consider to be a variation, the Southside Fizz. However, there are plenty of other origin stories that challenge this narrative. The most notable of which traces the drink’s history to the Southside of Chicago in the 1920s where bootleggers ruled supreme, using lemon juice and sugar to mask the harsh taste of black-market alcohol. Al Capone was said to be a big fan of the drink (though you’d think he’d have had no problems getting hold of some decent gin.)

The Southside

Legend has it the drink was a favourite of Al Capone’s

Others suggest the cocktail was invented at the Southside Sportsmen’s Club in Long Island, a private members’ club for the hunting, fishing and drinking set frequented by such notables as Ulysses S. Grant. The Southside is still a common sight at similar establishments today. Probably the most commonly shared history of the cocktail, however, involves New York’s 21 Club, which during prohibition was a speakeasy. The bar’s ingenious design meant all of the alcohol and the bar itself could be quickly hidden via an intricate maze of levers and chutes should the police show up (it’s basically like this iconic Simpsons scene). The 21 Club is still running today and continues to serve a mean Southside.

The debates around the Southside don’t just extend to its origins. There’s little consensus regarding which is the correct citrus fruit to use. Depending on which bar you go to, you might get a lemon or a lime-based Southside. The 21 Club traditionally makes their Southside with lemon juice and we’re actually going with the latter in this one, mostly because I had a lemon to hand. Make yours according to your own preference. One thing everyone can agree on is that your mint needs to be fresh and that you’ll want to ensure you muddle the leaves gently so you don’t bruise them. When you’re garnishing, spanking a mint sprig against your hand to release the oils is customary. And terrific fun.

As for your choice of gin, feel free to try some different options and go for the style that suits you. Bathtub Gin works beautifully and keeps the prohibition theme going, while a vibrant, clean and classic London dry expression like 6 O’clock Gin really allows the other elements of the cocktail to shine. Here’s a recipe for a simple syrup. Don’t be afraid to experiment with alternative versions as well. Add soda water and you get the Southside Fizz, a longer cocktail ideal for summer days. If you’re in the mood to celebrate, top up your drink with Prosecco or Champagne and you’ve got yourself a Southside Royale. Here’s the classic recipe to get you started:

The Southside

It’s The Southside!

50 ml 6 O’clock Gin or Bathtub Gin
25 ml fresh lemon juice
15 ml simple syrup
1 handful of fresh mint leaves

In a cocktail shaker, gently muddle mint leaves with simple syrup. Add all other ingredients and then ice and give it a good firm shake until chilled. Double strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a sprig of mint.

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Bag a Boutique-y birthday bargain!

It’s That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s birthday and to celebrate we’re treating to you some incredible bargains! Did you know that the wonderful That Boutique-y Whisky Company turns eight years old…

It’s That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s birthday and to celebrate we’re treating to you some incredible bargains!

Did you know that the wonderful That Boutique-y Whisky Company turns eight years old on the 12 September? Time really does fly when you’re bottling amazing spirits. To mark this delightful occasion, we’ve decided to do something wonderful for the fans of not only TBWC but also That Boutique-y Gin Company and That Boutique-y Rum Company who have supported the brands over the years. How? By slashing the prices on all kinds of delicious Boutique-y booze! In this blog, we’ve rounded up a selection of some of the finest deals on offer, including expressions from Bowmore and Foursquare. Oh, and happy birthday TBWC!

Bag a Boutique-y birthday bargain!

Auchentoshan 10 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

Lowland’s very own Auchentoshan distillery is home to all kinds of delicious whisky, from Three Wood to American Oak, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when That Boutique-y Whisky Company bottled up some for itself. Expect notes of yellow plum, white grape, subtle baking spice and lemongrass from this beauty and be sure to play around it because it’s delicious mixed as well as neat. If you don’t believe us, check out cocktail genius Ryan Chetiyawardana putting together something special on the bottle’s label, complete with the recipe!

What’s the deal?

It was £58.95, now it’s £48.95.

Bag a Boutique-y birthday bargain!

Chocolate Orange Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

Everyone knows chocolate and orange go hand-in-hand, so it was only a matter of time before they brought together in perfect harmony in a tasty bottle of gin. That Boutique-y Gin Company made this treat using a mix of classic gin botanicals, orange peel, and cocoa nibs, giving it a profile that we think would make a great base in an interesting Negroni…

What’s the deal?

It was £29.95, now it’s £21.95.

Bag a Boutique-y birthday bargain!

Foursquare 12 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

The first offering from Foursquare Distillery to make an appearance as part of That Boutique-y Rum Company’s line up, this blend of pot and column distilled rum lives up to the high standard the Barbados-based producer sets with its independent bottlings. It’s also got one of the most mysterious Boutique-y labels, featuring a specific number of a specific variety of birds, delicious crisps and a famous face. What does it all mean?

What’s the deal?

It was £64.95, now it’s £54.95.

Bag a Boutique-y birthday bargain!

Bowmore 19 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

This is a 19-year-old single malt Scotch whisky from the Bowmore distillery, independently bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Do I really need to say anything else? You all know how good this is going to be. Who wouldn’t want a well-aged expression from the oldest distillery on Islay? Nobody I know.

What’s the deal?

It was £172.95, now it’s £152.95.

Alamedapocalypse Gin – St. George Spirits (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

That Boutique-y Gin Company’s collaboration with California’s St. George Spirits was made using botanicals that include juniper berries, angelica, and coriander, but you don’t care, do you? You want to know what’s going on with that label. Well, it shows the post-apocalyptic Alameda Island (that’s San Francisco smouldering in the background), an explosive mushroom cloud from a recently dropped atomic bomb and some kind of holy ninja knights, fighting an anthropomorphic shark with a laser cannon. Any questions?

What’s the deal?

It was £31.95, now it’s £16.95.

Secret Distillery #3 10 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

This bottle of rum is from an undisclosed distillery, which basically means that all we know about it is that it’s a 10-year-old expression from Jamaica that was snapped up by That Boutique-y Rum Company. Oh, and that it’s utterly delicious with notes of charred tropical fruit, spiced molasses, salted vanilla ice cream, Madeira cake and red cola cubes. Plus it’s got a really cool label with dogs on it. That’s all I need to know!

What’s the deal?

It was £44.95, now it’s £34.95

 

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New Arrival of the Week: The Epicurean Rivesaltes Finish

This week we’re highlighting the arrival of a new version of the Epicurean, a blend of Lowland malts from independent whisky bottlers Douglas Laing. It’s part-aged in Rivesaltes casks. What…

This week we’re highlighting the arrival of a new version of the Epicurean, a blend of Lowland malts from independent whisky bottlers Douglas Laing. It’s part-aged in Rivesaltes casks. What on earth is Riveslates? Read on, and all will be revealed. 

Fortified wine and whisky go together like Morecambe and Wise, or for younger readers Wallace and Gromit, or for even younger readers Charlie and Lola. Anyway! This liquid symbiosis was probably discovered by accident. Whisky would have been stored in whatever container was easily available and seeing as sherry was arriving in Britain in huge quantities in the 19th century, there were a lot of empty casks to go round. It wasn’t just sherry, other fortified wines and spirits such as rum and Cognac were also shipped in cask, so these would have been used too.

Sherry, Port and Madeira are the big three of fortified wines. But this style of wine is made all over the world particularly in hot climates (adding brandy was a way of preserving wines before refrigeration became the norm while if you add the alcohol while the wine is still fermenting, you can preserve sweetness and the fresh taste of the fruit, something that would be lost in a hot fast fermentation). There’s Marsala from Sicily, liqueur muscats and all kinds of Port and sherry-style wines from Australia (Starward whisky makes good use of such casks) and Vin Doux Naturals from the south of France. 

The epicentre of VDNs, as they are known, is the Roussillon, the part of France that was until the 17th century in Spain; there is a long tradition on both sides of the border of producing fortified wines. The best-known in France are Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes. The first two are reds wines, made mainly from Grenache Noir and fortified during fermentation to create something a little like Port but drier and less sweet. Rivesaltes is made in a similar way but from white grapes, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo and Muscat. After fortification it’s either aged in cask or in glass demijohns that are left out in the sun so that the wine cooks, a bit like Madeira or Noilly Prat vermouth.

These VDNs would have been drunk as aperitifs in France, Belgium and Holland but with the rise of beer, gin and especially Scotch whisky, they fell out of favour in the 1960s. Table wines are now the main business of most producers, but limited amounts of sweet wines are still made. These are either blended in solera or sold as vintage bottlings, some of incredible age. There are people who sniff out rare and exceptional casks and bottle them (check out this 1931 vintage from Chateau Mosse), rather as whisky companies like Douglas Laing do.

Only two casks of this special Epicurean were filled

Which, after a very long preamble, is a neat segue way into this week’s New Arrival. It’s a blend of Lowland malts, aged in, according to Douglas Laing, “traditional” casks, mainly ex-bourbon, we’d guess, before being finished in two Rivesaltes casks. Each cask produced 546 bottles at 48% ABV. The press release states: “In the passionate belief that the cask can give the spirit up to 70% of its flavour, our Limited Edition Wood Series has seen us tirelessly journey the globe, searching for the finest casks in which to finish our Epicurean spirit.” 

The flavours you get in Rivesaltes are not unlike an old Cognac or indeed a sherried whisky: nuts, apricot, pineapple, classic rancio flavours. In fact, the word ‘rancio’ is Catalan, it comes from this part of the world. These casks add a layer of dried fruit intensity to the classic citrus, honey and flowers of the Lowland style. A perfect combination, you might say.

The Epicurean Rivesaltes Cask Edition is available to buy from Master of Malt

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt: 

Nose: Sweetly honeyed with pear drops, oats and dried fruit.

Palate: Fresh oranges and lemons, followed by dried fruits like prunes, dates and apricots, rich chocolate and citrus peel.

Finish: Nut city, hazelnuts and almonds. Long and creamy. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Ayuuk Margarita

This week we’re putting a deceptively simple spin on a classic. If you like a smoky and refreshing summer sipper, this one is for you. One of the eternal joys…

This week we’re putting a deceptively simple spin on a classic. If you like a smoky and refreshing summer sipper, this one is for you.

One of the eternal joys of making cocktails is there is always room for experimentation. You can take any quintessential serve and put your own stamp on it by simply changing an ingredient or altering the process. Right now there are more category-defying and intriguing expressions entering the market than ever before. There’s also more ingredients, equipment and expertise readily available to the average consumer than ever. This means the potential to alter and create has never been greater. And when you have a spirit with a great story behind it to use as your base, it would be rude not to put it to good use.

Take our chosen serve this week, the Ayuuk Margarita. Typically, when you order a Margarita from a bar you can expect (or at least hope for) a combination of fresh lime juice, Cointreau, salt and a good quality Tequila. In this version, every element other than the latter is present. The base spirit has been changed to Empirical Spirits Ayuuk, which is not a Tequila or mezcal. It’s a truly individual expression that was created using a particularly special ingredient and an intriguing production process. 

Ayuuk Margarita

The Pasille Mixe chilli

Although Empirical Spirits makes its category-defying booze at its Copenhagen-based distillery, the DNA of Ayuuk is Mexican. Its core ingredient is the Pasilla Mixe chilli. Technically it is a variety of Capsicum annuum, the most common species of domesticated chiles. Yet Pasilla Mixe is anything but common. They are grown at 2,700 meters above sea level by the Mixe people who reside in the Sierra Norte mountains outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. In their native tongue, they call themselves Ayuuk (or Ayüükjä’äys), meaning ‘people who speak the mountain language’ and the Pasilla Mixe chilli is an important part of the communal life and identity for them. 

Naturally, they use a traditional production process to create Pasilla Mixe, which entails placing fully ripened chillis on wicker racks over gnarled hardwood smoke to attain their signature smoky, earthy and red-fruit flavour. They’re used in a variety of ways in local cuisine, typically to make chintextle, a flavourful paste of garlic, salt and other spices, or salsas and the large ones are often used for filling with various ingredients. It’s even used as incense for funeral ceremonies and piles of Pasilla Mixe are burned to cleanse the burial sites of the deceased.

Ayuuk Margarita

Empirical Spirits co-founder and Pasille Mixe super-fan Lars Williams

But as soon as Empirical Spirits co-founder Lars Williams was made aware of Pasilla Mixe, they were always destined to find their way into delicious booze. Williams first saw them at a bustling market in Oaxaca City back in 2019. He was taken aback by their character and tried to find an equivalent in his travels and once he returned to Copenhagen, sampling numerous other types of smoked chilis to no avail. Willaims found that Pasilla Mixe had the most interesting, complex flavour and an obsession began.

“Ayuuk is our most cherished flavour story. The flavour came first. We had no idea when we first encountered Pasilla Mixe at the central market of Oaxaca, Mexico that it was the start of something greater. I only began to realize the potential after we had distilled the first Pasilla Mixe blend and tried to get more,” says Williams. “There is so much more than just smokiness: there is an earthy roundness and a distinct, deep red orchard fruit note that distinguishes it from all the others. It also has a palatable spice that allows you to truly taste it, and not just be blown away by heat.”

Ayuuk Margarita

The chillies aren’t easy to grow but are certainly worth the effort

Empirical Spirits initially bought in Pasilla Mixe from the market to create its spirit but decided that it would be better to partner with the Ayuuk people directly to source the chillis, which are not an easy thing to get your hands on. Cultivation is extremely labour-intensive thanks to high altitudes, erosion, lack of pesticides or fertilizers, and rugged terrain. It’s difficult to turn a profit. There are 5,000 people in the village, and one-fifth of them used to farm Pasilla Mixe. Now, there are only eight. This means that production had diminished over the years and so the Ayuuk people shifted to subsistence farming, producing only what they need for themselves and their families.

A supply of Pasilla Mixe was secured thanks to the help of Efraín Martínez, one of a few academics to have studied the Ayuuk through fieldwork and a local of the area. In order to make the production worthwhile for the Ayuuk people, Empirical Spirits arranged to pay three or four times more than the price Pasilla Mixe fetch in Oaxaca markets. In fact, Williams was so enamoured by the history and profile of the chilli that he became keen to preserve its cultivation and tradition and sought out the help of another local academic, Adan Jimenez, an agronomist, who set up workshops to pass on his understanding and insights to help the farmers of Ayuuk in their endeavours.

Ayuuk Margarita

The drink is crafted at Empirical Spirits’s impressive Copenhagen distillery

“With this spirit, we’ve developed a way to work directly in partnership with these farmers to support this beautiful tradition and ingredient. There’s a parallel between this relationship and my background as a chef: On my days off, I would often visit farmers and purveyors to better understand their methods and how to use their products,” Williams explains. “Being more connected to our producers—to their stories, their experiences, and their processes—is an extremely positive thing. There’s a natural symbiosis that keeps us all pushing forward.”

To make Ayuuk, Empirical Spirits macerates the Pasilla Mixe chillies in low wines before it’s distilled with a combination of pilsner malt and purple wheat. This spirit is then blended with kombucha made from Pasilla Mixe pulp before it is allowed to rest for five days in Oloroso casks before being bottled. The result is a smoky, earthy, sweet and fruity expression that’s difficult to compare to another style, although I’d say it is probably closest to mezcal in profile. What I can say for certain is that it works beautifully in this Margarita. There’s some bitterness from the earth and smoke that plays off the refreshing citrus sharpness and a complex blend of spice and heat that the salt cuts through pleasantly. 

So, there you have it. Now it’s time to make our twist on the classic Margarita.

Ayuuk Margarita

The Ayuuk Margarita

40ml of Empirical Spirits Ayuuk

20ml of Cointreau

20ml of fresh lime juice

Begin by pouring your Empirical Spirits Ayuuk, orange liqueur and lime juice into a shaker filled with plenty of ice. Give that a nice hard shake. Then rub a lime quarter along the rim of the glass and dip it into a salt mix (Empirical recommends a salt and black lime mix, but regular salt does work fine). Pop some ice into your chosen glass and fine strain the Margarita in. If you need a hand, the brand has put together this neat little instructional video, which should help. All there’s left to do now is to raise a glass to the Ayuuk people and enjoy your cocktail!

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Our favourite specialist bars for specific spirits

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new…

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new tipple, we’ve rounded up a few awesome specialist bars that are pros in specific spirits!

They say variety is the spice of life, but on the flipside, there’s also the conundrum of being the jack of all trades and master of none. Well, these bars are each the master of one chosen spirit. In the words of Wham!, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.

When it’s safe to go back out to all the wonderful places the world has to offer, make sure you have this list to hand to guide you through the glorious world of spirits!

specialist bars

Hacha

What? Agave spirits
Where? London

Tequila and mezcal line the back bar of Hacha over in East London, which is also home to the legendary Mirror Margarita. Trust me, forget about any misgivings you’ve had about Tequila in the past, it’s like no other Margarita you’ve tried before. There’s a selection of 25 spirits behind the bar, and while you may have been expecting that number to be higher, when a bottle is finished a new one takes its place. Now you’ll never get bored of the same old choices! What’s pretty cool about this place is that owner Deano Moncrieffe (who was previously a Diageo Tequila ambassador) pairs different nibbles with the ever-changing selection of agave spirits. Some come with Monster Munch, others come with Toblerone. It’s all-round awesome. 

specialist bars

Smugglers Cove

What? Rum
Where? San Francisco

Opened in 2009, Smugglers Cove is everything you’d expect from a bar that specialises in rum. The three-story tiki bar boasts the largest rum selection in the country (over 550 behind the bar at one time), and it’s a place that really embraces part of rum’s identity with waterfalls, lots of nautical paraphernalia and an entirely wooden interior. Meanwhile, the cocktail list takes into account the centuries of history behind the spirit. You’ll find both classic and more contemporary serves, and one that has made quite the name for itself is the Smuggler’s Rum Barrel, a punch made with 15 different rums and 20 different juices!

(Smugglers Cove isn’t currently open because of COVID, but be sure to take a trip over there when it’s safe!)

specialist bars

Bobby Gin 

What? Gin
Where? Barcelona

Well, the clue is in the name here, and you’ll find Gin Club in the home of the Gin Tonica, Spain! Specifically, Barcelona. At Bobby Gin you’ll find those classic fishbowl glasses, with almost countless numbers of gins, tonics and garnishes to play with. With a sign on the wall stating ‘the perfect Gin & Tonic doesn’t exist’ (well, it actually says ‘el gintonic perfecto no existe’, but I thought I’d save you the trouble of translating), though you  may as well start here to try and find it!

specialist bars

Black Rock 

What? Whisky
Where? London

Now, choosing just one whisky bar was a near impossible mission. But, finally, Black Rock emerged as a winner, boasting both London and Bristol locations! Aside from the truly jaw-dropping selection of whiskies you’re faced with (over 250), the London site even has the city’s first whisky hotel, along with a blending room where you can take home your very own creation. It’s a brilliant place for people who want to explore the spirit more as well as seasoned drinkers, because each bottle is clearly labelled with one of five flavour profiles and its price. If you’re really stuck, the clever chaps behind the bar will certainly be able to help you out. Whisky for all!

specialist bars

Le Syndicat Paris 

What? Cognac
Where? Paris

Le Syndicat only stocks French spirits, so it’s not technically a Cognac bar per se, though you will be greeted with a lot of brandies among a scattering of absinthe and eau de vie. You’ll find DJs on the weekend playing mainly hip-hop (with half of the artists played probably sporting their own Cognac brand), French food and French twists on classic cocktails. If you don’t just want to try out the cocktails, you can treat your taste buds to a Cognac tasting, too!

specialist bars

Spirits Bar Sunface Tokyo

What? For when you’re feeling lucky
Where? Tokyo

Here’s a fun one. Over in Shinjuku, Spirits Bar Sunface doesn’t actually have a drinks menu. They serve brilliant cocktails, make no mistake, but instead of you choosing a drink (how normal that would be), you have a chat with the folks behind the bar and then your drink will be made to suit you. We’ve heard that it sports quite an extensive collection of Tequila, though its back bar spans quite a range of spirits! The place itself is just as unique, with its centrepiece a fabulous tree trunk which serves as the bar. It’s a bit like a tarot card reading, but with cocktails. Let us know what you get!

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