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Cocktail of the Week: The Mellow Yellow

This week we talk to Stephen Marsh, the man behind Pinkster, and try a summery cocktail especially designed to go with his pink gin. When Pinkster was launched in 2013,…

This week we talk to Stephen Marsh, the man behind Pinkster, and try a summery cocktail especially designed to go with his pink gin.

When Pinkster was launched in 2013, pink gin as a category did not exist. Fast forward six years, and according to the WSTA, flavoured and pink gins are now valued at £165m, up a staggering 751% on 2017. Stephen Marsh, Pinkster’s inventor, laughs when I suggest he created a monster. He describes it as “a hobby that’s grown wildly out of control.”  

It all began when Marsh began reacting badly to alcoholic drinks. A doctor told him that it was because sugar and yeast were upsetting his system and advised that he give up beer and wine. Neutral spirits like gin and vodka, though, were fine. Marsh switched to gin but encountered a problem: “juniper is a very bitter botanical and doesn’t go very well with food, except game”, he told me.

Stephen Marsh, Pinkster Gin copy

Stephen Marsh, the man behind the gin

So, he set out to create a gin that would be more versatile with food, mainly by trial and error; “I’m not a scientist, I’m an arts graduate,” he said. Nevertheless, Marsh has long been a fruit gin maker so he did have some experience. “I went through the fruit bowl, before having a eureka moment. Raspberries and juniper do something really special together.” Having made this discovery, it took four years to perfect the recipe.

According to Marsh, he had no plans to commercialise it. But friends told him how good the product was. So to make sure it “wasn’t just people being nice”, as he put it, he made up a load and took it to food festivals around the country. Rather than just giving out samples and asking people their opinions, he sold Pinkster drinks and made a note of the number of people who came back for seconds. It quickly became clear that he was on to a winner.

Not everyone was so keen. “We got a lot of push back from the trade. People were a bit sniffy about Pinkster because it wasn’t a classic London dry gin”, Marsh said. But customers loved it and began asking for it by name. Pinkster inspired legions of imitators. Marsh is diplomatic about his competitors, but concedes that many pink gins are gins only in name as they don’t really taste of juniper, and they can be incredibly sweet. Pinkster is made by taking a distilled dry gin, produced by G&J Distillers, and then adding raspberries and other botanicals, which is where it gets its pretty colour from.

Mellow yellow

The Mellow Yellow – it’s clearly orange

Marsh recommends drinking Pinkster in a Martini with elderflower cordial in place of vermouth. This week’s cocktail, however, is a little more elaborate. It was created especially for Pinkster by top bartender Joe Brayford when he was at the Worship Street Whistling Shop (since closed) in London. Marsh met him when his son dragged him for a night out in Shoreditch. It’s a refreshing summer drink (if we get a summer this year) and a good way of using up that bottle of limoncello your mother-in-law bought you from her holiday in Amalfi.

Right, without further ado, here is Mellow Yellow!

30ml Pinkster Gin
25ml Luxardo limoncello
3 basil leaves
Ginger ale

Shake the gin, limoncello and two basil leaves with ice. Double strain into a wine glass filled with ice, top up with ginger ale, stir and garnish with a sprig of basil.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Fortunella Golden Orange liqueur

Just landed at MoM towers is a new liqueur that has got us singing an old Rihanna classic. It’s called Fortunella, ella, ella, eh, eh (see what we mean?) and…

Just landed at MoM towers is a new liqueur that has got us singing an old Rihanna classic. It’s called Fortunella, ella, ella, eh, eh (see what we mean?) and it’s made from the smallest member of the orange family, the kumquat.

Oranges have an illustrious pedigree when it comes to booze. There’s Grand Marnier, Cointreau, and errr, Bols Blue CuraçaoNow there’s a new kid on the block, Fortunella Golden Orange liqueur. Golden orange is another name for kumquat. Do you remember how these tiny little oranges blew our minds when they arrived in the 1990s? You’re meant to eat the whole thing skin and all! But actually kumquats on these shores are nothing new. According to the people behind Fortunella, a Mr Robert Fortune introduced the kumquat to London in 1846, and it is he who this new liqueur is named after.

Lukas Stafin

Lukas Stafin engaging in a spot of cocktail alchemy

This new kumquat liqueur is the brainchild of bartender Lukas Stafin, who in his 15 years behind the bar worked at such notable venues as Purl in Marylebone and the Lanesborough Hotel, and Dariusz Plazewski, founder and distiller from Bimber. This west-London-based distillery opened in 2015 and have quickly made a name for itself with its London dry gin, flavoured vodkas, and rum. And watch this space for a single malt whisky. We’re excited!

But back to Fortunella, ella, ella (we’ll stop now); it’s made entirely by hand from fresh, not dried as with most orange liqueurs, kumquats from China, India, South Africa and South America. It’s made in small batches using a table top still. The result is less sweet than most orange liqueurs and comes in at 36% ABV. “As a bartender, I am passionate about creating drinks from scratch and have always looked for original new drinks, which can really deliver on natural flavour and have genuine potential for regular usage,” Stafin said. “In Fortunella I have meticulously sourced the most aromatic fresh fruits and trialled many production techniques to retain their taste sensation and achieve an unusually low level of sweetness balanced by a dry finish; then tasted and refined it with bar colleagues whom I respect for their critical palate and hands-on bar expertise”.

Fortunella might be London made but it’s heart is very much in the east. After all, kumquats are native to south Asia. The earliest reference to these tiny oranges appears in 12th century Chinese literature. The packaging reflects this: that stubby 50cl bottle makes it look like a top Japanese whisky. The label is inspired by Chinese herbal remedies and features a golden orange tree with the words ‘golden orange’ written in Chinese lettering. And very stylish it looks too. We’ve had to wait for our delivery because the first batch of 300 bottles of was snapped up in its entirety for export to the Far East.

Fortunella

Fortunella, full of eastern promise

Stafin recommends drinking Fortunella with soda or tonic but as you’d expect it makes a cracking Margarita, has a great affinity with brandy, so works in a Sidecar, or you can use as the sweetening agent in an Old Fashioned. It’s an adaptable beast.

Welcome Fortunella! May fortune smile upon you.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Toasted Nut Boulevardier

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan,…

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan, and show you how to make a deliciously nutty bourbon and vermouth cocktail.

Jack Adair Bevan (what a great name BTW, it sounds like he should be played by a young Bruce Willis) hasn’t always been so keen on vermouth. In his new book, A Spirited Guide to Vermouth, he writes, “I shared most people’s perceptions of vermouth of ancient bottles that gathered dust in corners of drinks cabinets and kitchen cupboards with faded labels and bottle tops fused shut with crystallised sugar.” Yup, that’s my parents’ drinks cupboard. It was a Negroni drunk in Haus Bar (since closed) in Bristol that made him change his mind.

Bevan got the vermouth bug real bad: whereas you and I might just experiment with some different brands, Bevan went the whole hog and started making his own. In 2012 with the team at the restaurant where he worked, The Ethicurean just outside Bristol, he created a brand of vermouth called The Collector made with Italian wines and spirit distilled from Somerset cider apples. It became a cult hit among British bartenders.

Jack Adair Bevan

Jack Adair Bevan, looking nothing at all like a young Bruce Willis

When he left the restaurant, The Collector project finished, but Bevan’s vermouth fire is burning brighter than ever hence the book which has just been published. A Spirited Guide to Vermouth (Headline Home, £16.99) traces the long history of aromatised wine: the Romans were flavouring wines with bitter ingredients like wormwood (vermouth gets its name from the German word for wormwood, wermut). But vermouth really went global in the 19th century when it was commercialised in France and Italy by firms like Noilly Prat, Dolin, Cinzano and Martini. The book takes an in-depth look at production methods: in Martini the botanicals are steeped in neutral spirit before blending whereas at Noilly Prat they use wine.

Vermouth went into a decline in the 80s and 90s, but in the last six years things have picked up with increasing sales, small brands and new releases from the old guard. The vermouth world is now truly international. In the book, Bevan picks out some of his favourite labels; he even tells you how to make your own. His enthusiasm is so infectious that, you know what, I must just give it a try.  

“I regard making vermouth as an art form.” he writes, “It’s as close to cooking as the drinks world gets. It’s about a careful balancing of a huge array of contrasting herbs, roots and spices, wines and sweetness.” And indeed, there’s a great affinity between vermouth and food. I recall earlier this summer, near Barcelona, eating a dish of boquerones, anchovies in vinegar that would destroy a normal wine, but the Las Vermudas vermouth just sailed through, the sweetness and bitterness of the drink chiming with the acidity of the little fish.  

Best of all are the cocktail recipes; I can see A Spirited Guide to Vermouth becoming one of the most well-thumbed books in my collection alongside David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I am definitely going to try his version of the Gin and It, half gin, half vermouth, pre-mixed and served straight from the fridge into frozen sherry copitas with a little ice at the bottom.

Toasted Nut Boulevardier,

Toasted Nut Boulevardier, note very large ice cube

The cocktail I’ve chosen this week, however, requires a bit more preparation. To make a Toasted Nut Boulevardier, you need to steep your bourbon with nuts for four days. Bevan writes: “The flavour of toasted pecans and walnuts is rich, sweet and superb combined with bourbon. The flavour almost sits like another botanical or ingredient with the Martini Rubino.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Right, let’s get cracking.

35ml Toasted nut bourbon*
25ml Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino
15ml Campari

A strip of orange peel and a toasted pecan to garnish.

Combine the toasted nut bourbon, vermouth and Campari in a chilled ice-filled shaker, stir and strain into an Old Fashioned glass containing, ideally, one large cube of ice (if not just use four or so conventional ones). Twist the orange peel over the drink, drop in and rest the pecan on the giant ice cube.

* Toast 150g of pecans and 100g walnuts in a preheated 180°C oven for about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times to ensure even toasting. Allow to cool and then put them in a Kilner jar with 700ml of Heaven Hill bourbon. Leave to infuse for four days and then strain through a coffee filter into a sterilised bottle.  

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

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Fantastic Father’s Day Gifts

Father’s Day is coming; you need a gift. But there’s no need to panic. We’ve got all kinds of fantastic booze-based presents right here! On 16 June we have a…

Father’s Day is coming; you need a gift. But there’s no need to panic. We’ve got all kinds of fantastic booze-based presents right here!

On 16 June we have a welcome opportunity to show our dads how much we appreciate them. Father’s Day is when we say thanks and give a little bit of love to the father figures in our life. But man can they be hard to buy for.

That’s why we’re here to make it easier. From tasting sets to gift vouchers, our snazzy Father’s Day gift ideas page complete with our shiny new gift finder – we’ve got it all. It’s so simple you’ll be wondering why you ever thought you’d need to leave the house. You should never want to leave the house. Inside is warm and has Netflix.

We’ve also rounded-up a spectacular range of drinks in one handy little blog post just to give you an idea of the kind of treats you can buy for your old man. It beats socks, right?

Happy Father’s Day, all!

The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 2019

Yer da loves whisky, right? But which whisky? What style does he like? Do they have a preference of distillery? What if you get it wrong? These are all questions that can go through the mind of someone trying to buy their dad whisky. But in the The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 2019 (an exclusive made for us by our good friends Drinks by the Dram), none of this matters. That’s because each set contains five different 30ml drams of terrific whisky from world-class producers, so there’s bound to be something he loves inside.

What’s inside?:

The contents of the The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 2019 includes: Tamdhu 10 Year Old, Lagavulin 8 Year Old, 1792 Small Batch, Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky and Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old.

The Father’s Day Gin Tasting Set 2019

Drinks by the Dram have created, just for us, the perfect Father’s Day gift for any gin lover. This tasting set features five different 30ml drams of delicious gin from a range of superb producers, exactly the kind of thing you’d want if you were looking to find a new favourite juniper-based libation…

What’s inside?:

The contents of the The Father’s Day Gin Tasting Set 2019 includes: Hernö Gin, Salcombe Gin – Start Point, Elephant Gin – Elephant Strength, Japanese Gin and Rhubarb Triangle Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company).

Glengoyne 12 Year Old

An especially approachable bottling for newcomers and a welcome dram for experienced whisky drinkers alike, Glengoyne 12 Year Old is a wonderfully-made whisky with a clean, fresh profile and plenty of depth of flavour. You just can’t go wrong with this one.

What does it taste like?:

Toffee apples, a little acacia honey, nectarine in syrup and spice, over-ripe grapes, coconut milk, oak spice and coffee supported by toasted barley and chocolate ice-cream in the background. Yum!

Peaky Blinder Spiced Dry Gin

One for the Tommy Shelby fans out there. For those not in the know, the Peaky Blinders were a street gang from the late 19th/early 20th Century that became the basis for a very popular TV show. This spicy gin is no gimmick, however, as its medals at both the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the International Spirits Challenge in 2018 demonstrate.

What does it taste like?:

Ginger and black pepper make for a spicy opening, though well balanced by ample helpings of ripe orange, oaky cassia, oily juniper, and hints of eucalyptus and coffee bean.

Rumbullion!

If rich, full-bodied rums are what you’re looking for this Father’s Day, then look no further than the proudly maritime Rumbullion! Part of the fantastic Abelforth’s range, this spiced rum was created using a blend of high proof Caribbean rum, creamy Madagascan vanilla, zesty orange peel, a handful of cassia and cloves and just a hint of cardamom.

What does it taste like?:

Intense, sweet vanilla, flamed orange zest, cardamom, old-fashioned cola, Manuka honey, molasses, candy floss, toffee apples, crème brûlée and a fabulous mix of thick cut bitter orange marmalade and tingling, zinging spices from cloves and cinnamon.

Forest Gin

A family-made small-batch gin, Forest Gin is a real labour of love. Karl and Lindsay Bond made it using their own copper condenser with local spring water as well as a blend of classic gin botanicals (think organic juniper berries and coriander seeds) and bundles of foraged botanicals (wild bilberries, gorse flowers, raspberries and local moss) from Macclesfield Forest which were processed using a pestle and mortar. That’s dedication.

What does it taste like?:

Plenty of earthy forest floor notes, sweet berries, moss, rooty liquorice and spice from cassia and cinnamon.

WhistlePig 12 Year Old Oloroso Cask – Old World (Master of Malt)

Why not make your father feel really special this year by getting him a gift he can’t find anywhere else, like this Master of Malt exclusive bottling of 12-year-old rye whiskey from WhistlePig! Finished exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks and released as part of the Old World series, this is a sublime sherried rye whiskey.

What does it taste like?:

Bucketfuls of dried fruit, with sweet caramel and vanilla, new leather, wonderful rich sherry notes and a pinch of tobacco alongside prominent warming spicy notes and orange oil.

Manchester Gin

Emblazoned with the bee from Manchester’s coat of arms and featuring the dandelion and burdock root, Manchester Gin is a delightful celebration of the North. It was created with 12 botanicals in total, including juniper, ground almond, coriander, angelica and citrus peels, all of which were distilled in Wendy (a copper pot still, just to be clear) by couple Jen Wiggins and Seb Heeley (who aren’t copper pot stills, just to be even clearer). A string of awards has followed since its release, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s tasted it.

What does it taste like?:

Earthy and creamy with a pleasant sweetness and balancing juniper and citrus.

Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal Gift Pack with x2 Glasses

If you want to really spoil the father in your life this year, then why not get him a delightful gift pack? This particular edition features a beautiful pair of glasses perfect for enjoying a 70cl bottle of Rémy Martin’s stunning 1738 Accord Royal, a Cognac created to celebrate Louis XV’s decision to grant a young Rémy Martin the right to plant new vines on his land (banned in France at the time) with the Accord Royal in, yes, you’ve guessed it, 1738.

What does it taste like?:

Ripe fruit and vanilla with a slightly herbal vinous note and pronounced, but not overpowering, oak finish.

Fortaleza Añejo

A family occasion should be celebrated with a good bottle of booze created using generations of knowledge passed down through a rich family history. That’s exactly what Guillermo Sauza had on his side when he launched Fortaleza in 2005, bringing back the traditions of previous generations at the family distillery to make expressions like this delicious añejo, which was aged for 18 months in American oak casks.

What does it taste like?:

A beautiful combination of agave and butterscotch, sultanas and mixed peels. Oily, complex, outstanding.

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New Arrival of the Week: Real Kombucha’s Dry Dragon

Our new arrival this week is a fermented tea drink hailing from Asia – that’s right, it’s kombucha! We’re specifically looking at Real Kombucha’s Dry Dragon, made with fermented pan-fried…

Our new arrival this week is a fermented tea drink hailing from Asia – that’s right, it’s kombucha! We’re specifically looking at Real Kombucha’s Dry Dragon, made with fermented pan-fried green tea leaves.

But first, a little about the somewhat mysterious drink. It turns out tea isn’t just for your morning cuppa. Kombucha is made by brewing loose leaf tea in water, adding sugar, and then adding a mother culture (known as a ‘scoby’, which stands for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’) to kickstart the all-important fermentation. Even though, like many boozy treats, kombucha is fermented, it generally only weighs in at less than 0.5% ABV. So it’s hardly surprising that, with current low and no-alcohol trends, the drink is seeing something of a resurgence.

Now, this here is a tipple with some history, as the first recorded use of kombucha was in China in 221 BC when it was also known as ‘The Tea of Immortality’. That would appear to be the beginning of kombucha’s many health claims, which still continue today. We won’t be dwelling on that though, we’re here to talk about the deliciousness of the drink.

So, this week we’re enjoying Real Kombucha’s Dry Dragon, one of the three expressions from the brand. Real Kombucha was founded in early 2016 by non-drinker David Begg. He desired a sophisticated non-alcoholic drink to pair with food, much like you would a wine. A friend introduced him to a certain fermented tea, and Begg immediately began brewing it himself. After almost two years of development and over 150 teas later, Real Kombucha was finally ready.

Dry Dragon is brewed with pan-fried Dragonwell tea leaves from Zhejiang Province in China. Unlike the grassier Japanese green teas, Dragonwell boasts more of a nutty and straw-like flavour. Dry Dragon has been compared to a sparkling citrus-forward wine, which means it’s a brilliant pairing with light salads and particularly with fresh Asian dishes. Or, to be enjoyed simply as a refreshing tipple, if that’s what you fancy. Alternatively, kombucha is now becoming a pretty popular cocktail component, so it may even be the next addition to your home bar to experiment with.

Real Kombucha’s Dry Dragon

Will kombucha soon be part of your home bar?

To taste, Dry Dragon starts off with vibrant and delicate citrus, with notes of bittersweet grapefruit juice and sweeter citrus peels balanced by dry and grassy tea. The finish is refreshingly acidic, followed by a full and nutty finish.

If we’ve got you hooked on the ‘booch hype, why not take a gander at Annie’s wonderful blog post which goes into some nitty gritty detail, while even chatting to Begg himself!

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Master of Malt Dram Club – June 2019

June. It’s June. Somehow, right now, it is June! 2019 is speeding past! With that in mind, let’s take a look a what Master of Malt Dram Club members will…

June. It’s June. Somehow, right now, it is June! 2019 is speeding past! With that in mind, let’s take a look a what Master of Malt Dram Club members will be receiving this month…

We’re halfway through 2019, which often comes as a shock. It feels like just yesterday we were toasting to the new year, crossing our fingers and hoping that 2019 was going to be cooler than 2018. That was many yesterdays ago, and now it is today, the first day of June 2019 already. If you fancy taking a moment to slow down and reflect with a tasty tipple, and you’re a Master of Malt Dram Club member, then you’re in luck – we’ve got the scoop on what you’ll be receiving in your Tasting Sets this month! Let’s have a gander…

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Cocktail of the Week: The Long Sloe Summer

Sloe gin isn’t just for Christmas, says pioneering bartender Nick Strangeway. This week’s cocktail eloquently explains why. Long before foraging became fashionable, people were making sloe gin. These tiny sour…

Sloe gin isn’t just for Christmas, says pioneering bartender Nick Strangeway. This week’s cocktail eloquently explains why.

Long before foraging became fashionable, people were making sloe gin. These tiny sour plums that appear in autumn hedgerows aren’t great for eating but do something magical when steeped with gin and sugar. By the following winter, you have something delicious to drink. Bartender and founder of Hepple Gin, Nick Strangeway told me: “Everybody thinks of it as something you drink around Christmas and then forget about for the rest of the year.”

But he uses sloe gin all year round in a variety of cocktails: “When I worked with Dick Bradsell”, he said, “we made a drink with sloe gin called the Wibble, named after the marketing director of Plymouth Gin at the time who would wobble but wouldn’t fall over”. He also recommended other sloe gin cocktails like the Hedgerow Sling and the Charlie Chaplin.

Strangeway is a stalwart of the London bar scene who worked with Bradsell at such legendary venues such as Fred’s and the Atlantic. Strangeway remembers his mentor very fondly: “Some of the places he worked in were not what you’d call salubrious yet he would look after you as though you’re in the Savoy,” said Strangeway. I asked him what was the most important thing he learned from the master: “Most of it was to do with looking after customers. Bars are about customers, rather than about drinks. Without nice customers and nice staff, it’s irrelevant whether you make good drinks”, he said.

Long Sloe Summer

Nick Strangeway, bartender and founder of Hepple Gin

Anyway, back to those sloes. The Moorland Spirits Company, the business that Strangeway founded in 2014 with chef Valentine Warner and others in Northumbria, has just launched its Hepple Sloe and Hawthorn Gin. It’s less sweet than a standard sloe gin: “Sugar can cloud complex flavours like the sloe”, Strangeway told me. It’s also bottled at a higher ABV than most rivals: “There’s a tendency to default to what already exists, rather than the right ABV. When we did ours, we thought 32% ABV was best in terms of flavour delivery”, he said. The Hawthorn “add another level of dryness to it”, as well as continuing the hedgerow theme.

Strangeway spends half the year in Denmark and he is very inspired by New (well “old now”, he jokes) Nordic Cookery, “a northern style of cookery that’s fresh and light. In terms of flavours Hepple and indeed Northumbria is Nordic”, he said. He’s also inspired by how Scandinavian chefs use technology to bring out flavours. Hepple Gin is made using a ‘Triple Technique’ compromising of traditional pot still, vacuum distillation and CO2 extraction. This juniper-heavy gin is used as a base for the Sloe and Hawthorn Gin.

So now on to the cocktail, the Long Sloe Summer. Strangeway mixes his sloe gin with fino sherry which “adds dryness and salinity.” The final ingredients are a splash of tonic for a spritz and some green olives for a savoury element. “I wanted a long drink that wasn’t massively high in ABV, a drink I could drink all summer long”, he said.

Cheers, Nick!

Long Sloe Summer

The Long Sloe Summer

30ml Hepple Sloe and Hawthorn Gin
30ml Tio Pepe fino sherry
150ml of tonic water
2 Green Olives to garnish

In a large wine glass combine the sloe gin and the sherry, add lots of ice, top up with tonic and stir. Garnish with two green olives.

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New Arrival of the Week: Dingle Single Malt – Batch No.4

Our New Arrival of the Week is something fans of Irish whiskey fans all around the world will have been waiting for… Dingle Distillery is doing a very good job…

Our New Arrival of the Week is something fans of Irish whiskey fans all around the world will have been waiting for…

Dingle Distillery is doing a very good job of making a name for itself in the Irish spirits category. Just this year its Dry GIn was named the World’s Best Gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards. But for whiskey fans, the Kerry-based brand is better known as the home of one of the most in-demand ranges of small-batch spirits, an annual release that has brought us some of the finest Irish single malts on the market.

This year on the 4th of April, Dingle revealed the long-awaited Batch 4 Single Malt (see what they did there, with all the 4s? That’s marketing right there, my friends), as well as its cask strength variant, to the world. This is very exciting. There’s a reason this is our New Arrival of the Week.

Part of Dingle’s appeal as an Irish whiskey producer is that it was one of the first of the delightful new breed of Irish distilleries to have its own distillate to release. Many have not yet reached the stage where the stock has matured enough to be bottled as whiskey, and so have to make do with importing spirit from elsewhere in Ireland or creating gins and vodkas in the meantime.

Dingle Single Malt

The superb Irish distillery has gotten a lot of attention for its delicious spirits.

Dingle, however, is able to demonstrate its own distillery profile in its spirit and has taken this opportunity to emphasise provenance in its whiskey production. Each expression was distilled in its three bespoke copper pot stills and diluted with localised well water, for example. But what probably stands out the most about its annual batches of single malt to fans is the increasing variety of casks used in maturation.

The first batch was drawn from bourbon casks. The second from bourbon and Pedro Ximénez casks. Batch three was a marriage of bourbon cask and Port cask-matured whiskey. And what of Dingle Single Malt – Batch No.4? It was drawn from a combination of bourbon, sherry (both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso) and Port casks. Which technically is four casks, isn’t it? They’ve done it again!

Elliot Hughes, a partner at The Dingle Distillery, said that this maturation in the distillery’s three main cask types, “gives it a really unique point of difference which should once again give people further insight into how our Dingle whiskey will continue to grow in terms of flavour over the coming years.”

But what of the flavour of this particular batch? Well, the first thing to be said about Dingle Single Malt – Batch No.4 is that it’s properly delicious, which is a good start. While this is a rich and creamy dram (think chocolate, vanilla, toffee) with plenty of distinct wine notes present (lots and lots of sherried dried fruit), there’s also some pleasant drying warm spice (gingersnap biscuits) as well as a refreshing burst of citrus (citrus) that makes this a well-rounded and balanced bottling.

Now, there will be some people reading this who are resigned to the idea that they won’t get to taste this beauty for themselves. When it comes to Dingle single malt releases, the volumes that are available tend to be quite low. That’s what you get with small-batch production techniques. These whiskies are highly sought after and its little surprise to see them sell out in a matter of days.

However, batch number four means more this year. Following an increase in production, there are 30,000 bottles of Dingle Single Malt – Batch No.4 available globally, compared to the 2,000 bottles that were created in total for Batch 3. In fact, that number will now be available in the UK alone, with a release of 500 bottles of a cask strength variant to be launched exclusively in the UK and Ireland. This is good news as it hopefully means more people will get to taste this fine whiskey.

Regardless, if you want one – move fast. It’s very tasty and I want more. Sláinte!

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Cocktail of the Week: Grand Sour

This week we talk to the master blender, Patrick Raguenaud, and show you how to get the most out of Grand Marnier’s orangey, Cognac-soaked flavour profile. Cognac runs in Patrick…

This week we talk to the master blender, Patrick Raguenaud, and show you how to get the most out of Grand Marnier’s orangey, Cognac-soaked flavour profile.

Cognac runs in Patrick Raguenaud’s veins. Well, not literally, that would be lethal, but his family has been farming in the region since the 17th century. He distils from his family’s vines in the Grand Champagne region, is president of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), oh, and he’s the master blender at Grand Marnier. Where does he find the time?

We met him last week for the perfect start to a day, a Grand Marnier breakfast masterclass. He presented surrounded by little orange trees and bowls of sweet oranges which looked pretty but are actually very different from the fruit used in Grand Marnier. The recipe calls for bitter oranges which are bought from the Caribbean, Tunisia and South America. The oranges are picked when just turning from green to orange. “They have a very rustic flavour”, Raguenaud told us; the pulp is inedible and goes into compost while the skin is dried in the sun. He gave us some dried fruit to try: it was mouth-puckeringly, almost painfully bitter. The next step is to remove the pith and then the zest is macerated for two weeks in neutral alcohol.

The resulting orangey boozy liquid with the zest included is watered down and redistilled in a special still, similar to how gin is made. Then to make the classic Cordon Rouge expression, the distillate is diluted (to 40% ABV) and blended with sugar syrup and Cognac, which makes up 51% of the finished product. Raguenaud is very particular about the spirits he uses. He wants a light, fruity Cognac so doesn’t distil on the lees. He gave us some to try which was grassy with notes of pear and lemon and only a little wood influence. “We don’t want too much oak or it will spoil flavours”, he said.

Patrick Raguenau

Patrick Raguenaud with the Grand Marnier range

“It’s a very complex job to maintain consistency”, according to Raguenaud. The company both ages eaux-de-vie distilled to its specifications and buys in aged Cognac. This year it released a special version, Cuvée Louis Alexandre, using a higher percentage of Cognac, and older spirits. We tried it alongside the standard model and it’s richer, sweeter and longer. He also let us try some of the completely fabulous and astronomically-priced Quintessence which is made with XO Cognac.

Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge was created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle. Since 2016 the company has been part of the Campari group. The biggest market by far, according to Ragueneau, is America where it’s used in Margaritas. I love a Margarita as much as the next man but I think this week’s cocktail makes better use of Grand Marnier’s intense sweetness, mouth-coating bitterness and length that comes from the Cognac. In fact, as it contains high ABV spirit, a bittering agent, orange, and sweetness, Grand Marnier is almost a cocktail in a bottle. So all you really need to add is something sour and voila! You have an elegant drink.

This recipe comes is based on one from Difford’s Guide. It’s really very special and harmonious. Best of all is the finish where the complexity of the base Cognac really comes through, though I have a feeling that using one of the fancier versions would be even more delicious.

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

Got your bottle of Grand Marnier ready? Let’s get shaking.

60ml Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
30ml Lemon juice
15ml Blood orange juice (both freshly-squeezed)

Shake all the ingredients hard with ice and double strain into a chilled tumbler (or similar) with ice (or you could also serve it straight up in a coupe). Garnish with an orange round.

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New Arrival of the Week: Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

Selfies and Scotch Whisky are the focus of our New Arrival of the Week. Oh, and a little event called Fèis Ìle… As we’re sure you’re all well aware, Fèis…

Selfies and Scotch Whisky are the focus of our New Arrival of the Week. Oh, and a little event called Fèis Ìle…

As we’re sure you’re all well aware, Fèis Ìle 2019 begins on Friday (whoop!). With it comes all kinds of merriment and festivities. But the excitement of the event isn’t contained to the isle of Islay, oh no. Whisky fans all around the world know that Islay’s finest like to mark the occasion with limited edition releases. Whether it’s Bruichladdich with Octomore’s oldest bottling, Event Horizon, or Laphroaig releasing the Càirdeas 2019 edition, there’s lots of liquid loveliness to get your teeth  into each year.

Which brings us on to our New Arrival of the Week, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition. Making his annual appearance courtesy of independent Scotch whisky bottlers and blenders Douglas Laing. In 2018, Big Peat was released with a sheet of stickers that could be used to customise the presentation tube, but for 2019 Douglas Laing took the idea of personalisation to a whole new level. Using people’s actual faces, over 400 of them. It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, in all its glory

Through an online competition, the brand was able to select a lucky few to feature on Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, who will now be able to tell their friends excitedly that they’ve taken a selfie that actually matters. Cara Laing, director of whisky and third generation in the family-owned business, said it was to “pay homage to his friends the world over”, and Big Peat has many of those. The feisty Ileach fisherman has built quite a following over the last decad e.

Speaking of which, Big Peat isn’t just celebrating another wonderful Fèis Ìle in 2019, but also his 10th anniversary in existence. Douglas Laing has big plans for Peat’s birthday including a special 10 year old whisky release, and an online tasting hosted on Big Peat’s Facebook profile during the Feis Ile Festival: selected members of the community will be invited to join a virtual masterclass and enjoy samples of the classic Big Peat, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, the 10 Years Old Limited Edition and the oldest ever bottling released to date, the 26 Years Old Platinum Edition. ! According to Cara Laing, all this excitement “will ensure our big Islay pal celebrates in style all over the world”.

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

One familiar face and lots of delightful new ones!

Big Peat was made to be “the ultimate taste of Islay”, as Cara Laing put it, so you can expect much the same from this latest Fèis Ìle expression. Created from a blend of single malts from Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition was bottled without chill-filtration or any additional colouring, as always, at 48% ABV.

So, does it deliver the usual goods? In a word, yes. The most striking aspect of Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition is its coastal character, which is expressed through notes of sea-washed pebbles and an enjoyable seaweed salinity. Those who are here for a fair share of peat and meat will be pleased, while plenty of ripe citrus keeps it fresh. The overall impression is that the combination of shoreline serenity, tart fruit and muscular notes means there’s a hearty dose of pure Big Peat pleasure in every mouthful. Hurrah!

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