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Master of Malt Blog

Category: We’re drinking…

Cocktail of the Week: The Piña Colada

Today we’re making one of the world’s most delicious cocktails, the way it should be made. With a good flavoured rum and fresh ingredients. I had a Piña Colada epiphany…

Today we’re making one of the world’s most delicious cocktails, the way it should be made. With a good flavoured rum and fresh ingredients.

I had a Piña Colada epiphany a few years ago. I’d always dismissed it as the sort of lurid concoction laden with sugar, cream and cocktail umbrellas that Del Boy might order in Only Fools and Horses. Or that my older brother would drink on family holidays on Lanzarote. But a French friend made one for me with fresh pineapple, coconut water and Martinque rum, and it was about the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. It was so delicious, that I didn’t notice how much rum was in it until I tried to stand up. 

So what is a Piña Colada? The name literally means ‘strained pineapple’ in Spanish and something like the modern version was invented in 1954 by a barman at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico called Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, or so the story goes. There are other pretenders to the crown of the inventor of the world’s greatest pineapple-based cocktail. The story is further complicated by the existence of a Cuban cocktail called a Piña Colada mentioned in the 1920s which mixes pineapple with rum but doesn’t contain coconut. It was the Puerto Rican version, however, that went global in the 1960s and naturally it began to change a bit. The cream of coconut from the originally was substituted with the sort of cream that might once have had something to do with cows, pasteurised or tinned pineapple replaced the fresh stuff, and cheap rums sneaked in like cheap rums do along with glace cherries, umbrellas, fireworks etc. Just the sort of thing that Del Boy would have ordered in the Nags Head.

But made properly, a Piña Colada is a magnificent thing combining as it does the three most tropical ingredients imaginable: pineapple, rum and coconut. Imagine if you could get a mango in there somewhere, or would that be too tropical? Anyway, as long as you use decent ingredients you can’t go wrong. So fresh pineapple juice, coconut cream or water and, of course, a rum that tastes like rum. 

We’re using Aluna Coconut rum; it’s unusual among coconut rums in really tasting of both rum and coconut. In fact, it tastes like opening up a coconut to find that it’s full of rum rather than coconut water. Wouldn’t that be amazing? That’s because it’s not only macerated with coconut but also sweetened with coconut water so it’s about the nearest thing you’ll get to a rum-filled coconut. The base spirit is a blend of Guatemala and Caribbean rums. It’s bottled at 35% ABV, so significantly stronger than some other coconut rum drinks so be careful standing up after a couple. 

So whether you’re celebrating Piña Colada day on the 10 July or want to make the ultimate a tropical cocktail now, here’s how to do it properly:

50ml Aluna Coconut rum
50ml Coconut water
100ml Fresh pineapple juice
Juice of half a lime

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker. Shake hard and strain into a tumbler or Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of lime or pineapple. And, what the hell, a glace cherry, umbrella and sparkler too. Lubbly jubbly!

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Garnish 101: what are they and how to use them

We chat to some industry greats about all things garnishes, from what actually counts as a garnish to their weirdest and wackiest creations, and even some handy home tips. Consider…

We chat to some industry greats about all things garnishes, from what actually counts as a garnish to their weirdest and wackiest creations, and even some handy home tips.

Consider the garnish. It can be anything from a single olive in a Martini to lavish leaves in Tiki cocktails. It can also make or break a drink – I’m sure we’ve all been to a bar with an unwelcome limp mint leaf or mangy strawberry in your drink.  

But lemon peels and olives aside, what exactly is as a garnish, what is its purpose, and how important are they? The aesthetics of a cocktail were important long before the ‘gram, to tell the story of the drink you’re about to savour. We managed to get some words from some industry experts who know exactly how it’s done.

What even is a garnish? 

The first and most important question for anyone looking to jazz up their serves. First up is Ryan Chetiyawardana, of Lyaness (formerly known as Dandelyan), Super Lyan and White Lyan fame, who manages to invent futuristic and simultaneously minimalist cocktails. “To me, it has to be functional, adding a different dimension to something you want in the drink” he tells us, though he doesn’t believe you have to be able to consume it. “A spray, a paint, physical garnish, vessel, theatre, are all things we’ve employed over the years.”

For Belgium’s Matthias Soberon of social media cocktail wizardry @ServedBySoberon, “a garnish is anything that’s added to the drink that elevates it in any sensory way, whether it be visual, auditive, tactile, gustatory or olfactory.” If you can sense it, it’s a garnish.

cocktail garnish

Coupette’s minimalist Shimmer cocktail from last summer’s menu, complete with geode coaster.

As we ask our final expert, it looks like everyone is in agreement. “A garnish can have multiple forms,” adds Andrei Marcu, of Bethnal Green’s wonderful Coupette. “It’s the final touch added to the drink, there to complement the drink and boost certain flavours or aromas.” 

So in a nutshell, what our talented trio are saying is that a garnish can be almost anything that enhances a serve in some way. The bad news is that’s pretty vague, but the good news is that it allows for a whole load of creativity.

Does every drink need one?

“I want an olive in my Martini!” says Chetiyawardana. “But only if it’s a decent one – I’ll go sans if it’s a sad, old olive.” We’d have to agree. Having said that, he also acknowledges that sometimes “the confidence to leave it bare is sometimes the best thing to do.” It looks like Chetiyawardana and Soberon are on the same page, who adds “don’t overcomplicate it just for the sake of it. Sometimes the liquid in the glass absolutely needs 100% of the focus.” Be bold, believe in your serve and go bare.

garnish cocktail

Chetiyawardana keeping it simple at Lyaness with the Rook Pool Sazerac

But as we turn to Marcu, he reminds us of the importance of certain garnishes. “A standard Martini would have a lemon twist or an olive as a garnish. But if you add a pickled onion instead, it will be a Gibson Martini which means it becomes a completely different drink.” Now, whether to put an orange or lime with your G&T may not be quite as important as this example, but what you choose to accompany your spirits with does make a big difference.

Some garnishes are integral to the formation of the drink, becoming more of a core ingredient as opposed to a garnish, because as Marcu notes, “an Old Fashioned without orange peel would be just whiskey and sugar.” Easy to make, but not what you’re looking for. While you don’t mess with some garnishes, others are totally divisive, such as “the ‘issue’ with the salt-rim on the Margarita,” Soberon points out. “Some people love the salt, others despise it, that’s why most bartenders will serve the drink with half a rim salted, to make sure that you have the option to either go for it or not.”

Aesthetics 

So far, everything we’ve talked about has altered the taste or smell of the drink in some way, But is there any point in a purely aesthetic garnish? Our industry minds were divided on this one. Marcu takes the view that “drinks are very sensorial, and everything influences the taste. I would only use an aesthetic garnish when we have a conceptual drink.” A bed of sand for a drink inspired by the sea, for example, to enhance the storytelling aspect of the serve, or a colourful geode coaster to imitate the look of the sea (as shown in Shimmer above) have both been used at Coupette.  

garnish cocktail

Soberon’s flamboyant Tiki cocktail!

For Soberon, it’s a yes. “For Tiki drinks, a single orchid doesn’t make any difference to the drink’s flavour profile, but it makes all the difference in how the drink is perceived.” Plus, he’s not going to ignore the fact that social media has a huge part to play in the formation of many drinks these days. “In this day and age where everyone is walking around with their smartphones (and all bars requiring to have social media presence), everything just needs to be prettier.”

Each to their own, and aesthetic garnishes aren’t for Chetiyawardana. “I see what they add, but it’s just not my style.”

Weird and wacky

Now, we couldn’t possibly chat to all these awesome bartenders without getting the garnish gossip. Classic cocktails and olives are one thing, but we want to know about the weird and wacky, the ones that make it onto the ‘gram and into our memories.

For Chetiyawardana, his wildest garnish is the truly awesome whisky Mousetrap contraption at what was formerly known as Dandelyan. Two years in the making, everyone’s favourite childhood game had a few boozy changes; the ball was swapped for ice, and you get whisky at the end! This is definitely taking the notion of a garnish to a whole new level, and you can see it in action here.

Marcu recalls the time he channelled his green finger into his mixology, creating a mini greenhouse with micro herbs planted inside. “Sitting in the middle of that green house was the drink. Every time you had a sip you could pick one of the herbs that were growing and surrounding the drinks and eat it.” It’s a bit like a choose-your-own-ending version of a cocktail. “Every single different micro herb was putting the drink in a different light and bringing out different aromas and flavours.” No surprise this one made it to Instagram fame right here.

garnish cocktail

Soberon’s zaniest creation, octopus arms and all…

Soberon can’t pick just one finest serve, with his cocktail portfolio showcasing squirt guns filled with booze, octopus arms, and veins of blood in the form of dehydrated beetroot powder on top of drinks for Halloween. Sometimes he even adds “small ornaments that people could take home afterwards, as little gifts.” A cocktail with a party bag? We’re in.

Let’s get garnishing!

After all this talk, I’m sure we’re all fancying a drink! But without our own professional contraptions, most of us are going to have to make do with what we have in our homes already. Our industry pals are back to guide us towards what to use, simply reaching for the cupboard rather than the stars. 

So citrus peels are probably the go to garnish for most people, someone always has a lemon or lime laying about. “Citrus peels are obvious, and often you don’t need as much citrus peel as you think,” Chetiyawardana tells us. “Sometimes a big swathe is wonderful, but the oils can also overpower and can become bitter. A small ‘coin’ expressed over a drink can give just the right brightness and lift you need.” Soberon adds, “make sure there’s as little pith as possible,” leading us onto some handy slicing tips from Marcu: “Peel the fruit on a diagonal line and cut the edges into a nice square shape,” to help you to twist it over the drink. Don’t forget to save a slice of your morning orange for that Old Fashioned.

garnish cocktail

Express yourself!

But what about when we leave the fruit bowl? “Everyone should definitely have a little look in their spice racks,” Soberon suggests. “A single star anise or cardamom pod is hugely aromatic. Or maybe dust (sparingly!) some ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, Chinese five spice powder, pepper.” If you’re looking to try out a handful of different spirits, then Soberon recommends keeping the strongest aromatic spices for darker spirits, such as rum and whisky, and the lighter ones for gin, vodka and Tequila. Though heed his warning: “Just make sure you don’t dust every drink!”

And Marcu’s home suggestions? Pair your Calvados with apple, your tropical drinks with pineapple (or lime, if it’s rum-based), and grate some chocolate for those cream liqueurs.

Happy mixing! Though seeing as bars are back open this weekend, perhaps you could get somebody else to do all the hard work for you…

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Dram Club – July 2020

Say hello to July, and to another month of Dram Club! Here’s what this month has got in store for members, where another load of lip-smacking Tasting Sets await… Though…

Say hello to July, and to another month of Dram Club! Here’s what this month has got in store for members, where another load of lip-smacking Tasting Sets await…

Though the weather may not have got the memo, today is the first day of July! That also means it’s time for another nail-biting Dram Club reveal. A handsome box packing five smart wax-sealed drams will be arriving on each member’s doorstep, giving them something delicious to sip on while trying not to talk about the weather.dram club july 2020

Dram Club Whisky for July:

dram club july 2020

Dram Club Premium Whisky for July:

dram club july 2020

Dram Club Old & Rare Whisky for July:

dram club july 2020

Dram Club Gin for July:

dram club july 2020

Dram Club Rum for July:

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Five expert rules for BBQ drinking

The mercury is rising across the northern hemisphere, which means one thing: donning a novelty apron and firing up the barbie. While beer is a valid and worthy barbecue hero,…

The mercury is rising across the northern hemisphere, which means one thing: donning a novelty apron and firing up the barbie. While beer is a valid and worthy barbecue hero, we reckon you can go one better this year – just follow our drinks pairing rules, as told by the experts…

Whether it’s the Australia ‘barbie’, or the South Africa ‘braai’, barbecue cooking is ubiquitous. However, the ways in which different cultures approach the grill – in terms of meat types, sauces, marinades, rubs, and other flavourings – varies wildly from one country to another. Variables like smoke, equipment, fuel, cooking temperature and cooking time (as anyone who has eaten an over-charred, bitter burger patty will know all too well) also have a massive influence on the final flavour of the food. 

“Humans have been cooking over live fire all around the world for hundreds of years, so you can imagine there are thousands of techniques alone, without even getting into sauces, marinades and so on,” explains Helen Graves, editor of Pit Magazine. “In recent years, we have become more aware of the ‘low and slow’ style of cooking associated with American barbecue, but barbecue cooking is so much more than that. It may take the form of skewers such as kushiyaki in Japan, it may be buried in a pit in the ground as with Mexican barbacoa or it might be cooked in a tandoor in India.”

Pit magazine, well worth a read

With so much flavour potential, deviating from the classic ‘beer and a burger’ combination might seem daunting. Fret not. Whether you’re an amateur ‘cue-er or a barbecue legend, we’ve cobbled together five drinks-pairing rules, as recommended by those in the know… 

  1. Choose light – but not delicate – cocktails

“Typically speaking, you want flavours that have a like-for-like quality with the barbeque food,” says Joe McCanta, global head of education & mixology at Bacardi. “I try to avoid anything too acidic and look to pair barbeque food with cocktails such as the Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz,” he says – 35ml Grey Goose vodka, 15ml fresh lime juice, 25ml St Germain, 60ml cold soda water built over ice in a wine glass and garnished with two lime wedges. 

Drinks with bitter, herbaceous notes also work well, says Graves. “This isn’t the time to bring out a drink on the more delicate end of the spectrum,” she explains. “You want something big, gutsy and honestly, quite alcoholic. The spirit needs to come forward to stand up to the ‘cue.” 

Try a  vermouth-spiked take on the G&T – the Rose Spritz combines 50ml Bombay Sapphire, 100ml elderflower tonic, 25ml Martini Rosato vermouth and two orange wedges in a balloon glass over ice. “If you can’t find elderflower tonic, you can opt for a regular tonic with a splash of honey,” says McCanta. “For a less zesty, sweeter serve, try raspberries in place of the orange wedges to garnish.”

It goes without saying that long, refreshing whisky-based serves are a barbecue dream. “Elderflower cordial is such as a simple ingredient that works well with whisky cocktails, such as a whisky highball with soda – so refreshing for summer,” says Stewart Buchanan, global brand ambassador for Glenglassaugh, BenRiach and The GlenDronach distilleries. 

Drop your preconceptions about what you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing with a spirit. “We always encourage people to step outside of ‘the classics’” says Quinzil de Plessis, master of wood and liquid innovation at Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey. “BBQ should be an experience, not just a process, so look for a mix of versatile, new and different flavours to add to your experience.”

Le Grand Fizz from Grey Goose

  1. Alternatively, opt for bold – or spiced – serves

Bright and bold flavours stand up and complement the smoky char of a BBQ, says James Chase, director at Chase Distillery. This could be a flavoured gin, for example – Chase recommends his Pink Grapefruit and Pomelo Gin “mixed with Mediterranean tonic and a fleshy slice of grapefruit to garnish”.

Alternatively, you could try a spiced rum. As part of a partnership with London restaurant Berber and Q, Bacardi has explored different ways of using Bacardi Spiced as a key ingredient for cocktails and meat marinades. Something like a Bacardi Spiced & Ginger Ale – using a ratio of 50ml rum with 100ml ginger ale – is a match made in heaven.

Mezcal, too, shines in a barbecue setting. “We have a preference for long, refreshing drinks with a bit of a punch,” says David Shepherd, founder of Corte Vetusto, “so we’d be sipping on a great Mezcal Margarita, a Mezcal Paloma or a Mezcal Collins, using citrus and bubbly effervescence to complement the smoky agave notes of mezcal.”

Whatever you do, just don’t confuse ‘bold’ with ‘rich’ when it comes to drink pairings.Something like a Bloody Mary may be a little too heavy,” says Chase. “A BBQ is all about the food, and the drink needs to complement and not be another meal in itself.” 

  1. Stock up on ice

Temperature is everything in the grill – and the same goes for your glass. “Avoiding anything that is served straight up, as it will become warm in the hot sun,” says Metinee Kongsrivilai, brand ambassador for Bacardi UK. You can never have enough ice, so make sure you’ve got plenty in the freezer. Which leads me nicely to our next tip…

Try making your Margaritas in advance so you can concentrate on the grill

  1. Get your prep work in

A little bit of preparation can go a long way, says Shepherd. “Pre-batching your mezcal Margarita and keeping it chilled in the fridge means you can effortlessly get your guests into the vibe on arrival,” he says. “Marinade your meat overnight to let all of those flavours really sink in.”

Always use the best quality ingredients available to you, suggests Liz Baker, marketing manager at Wilkin & Sons Ltd (creator of the Tiptree spirits range) – and don’t forget the smaller details. “Why not invest in some lovely glasses and take time to think about garnishes,” she says, “this could be a slice of lemon or lime, a sprig of mint or a fresh strawberry or plump raspberry.”

Make sure your guests have a drink in hand on arrival because you might be busy on the grill, and have no time for small talk, adds Chase. “Prop up a table and lay a selection of spirits out, with some random bottles that have been in your drinks cupboard for too long, with pre-cut garnished and cups – preferably red cups!”

Helen Graves’s awe-inspiring goat shawarma

  1. Keep the ‘cue simple

This is meant to be fun. You’re not going to enjoy yourself if you’re trying to cook eight different things at once to perfection, says Paul Human, founder and head chef at We Serve Humans and The Collab in Walthamstow. “You’ll also fail, especially once you’ve had a few beers in the sun,” he says. “Do one thing and do it really well. Try and keep to a theme – do a shoulder of lamb and some flatbreads, tzatziki, a little Greek salad. Summery, simple, all stuff you can prep a day ahead. Sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on it, pass around a glass of retsina or iced rosé and bathe in the glory.” 

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New Arrival of the Week: Frapin Millésime 26 Year Old 1992

Today we talk to cellar master at Frapin, Patrice Piveteau, about what it takes for a Cognac to be singled out for the vintage treatment, and taste the very special…

Today we talk to cellar master at Frapin, Patrice Piveteau, about what it takes for a Cognac to be singled out for the vintage treatment, and taste the very special 26 year old 1992 release.

It can be something of a culture clash when British journalists talk to French drink producers. Journalists asking increasingly specific empirical questions, will often make Gallic producers become more abstract. Our recent Zoom chat with Patrice Piveteau, cellar master at Frapin, conducted for the launch of a 26 year old vintage Cognac from 1992, is a good example. Everyone wanted to know what makes a vintage good enough to be bottled separately, is it a specific quality of the grapes? But Piveteau refused to be drawn. Yes, you need ripe grapes with plenty of acidity but he does not know for sure until they have been fermented and distilled. “I decide to make a vintage not from the grape, I have an idea during harvest, I have an idea after vinification but the real decision is after distillation. It’s not during the harvest,” he said. 

To ensure that his spirits have the necessary structure for long ageing, he distills with the lees from yeast and with some of the pulp. “We are really artisan,” he said “there is no computer to tell you where to cut. From picking grapes to bottling, the main decision is only through the tasting.” Frapin produces vintages in most years. Even in years that are generally thought of as difficult like the frost-affected 1991, he found parcels of vines that made exceptional spirit: “1991 is not a good year on paper, but Frapin is on a slope, and part of the slope had no damage. It’s not a good year in general, but it is possible to find a vat from a year with a special characteristic,” he said. As the man said, it’s all in the tasting.

Patrice Piveteau in the vineyard

According to Piveteau: “We have a window between harvest and March to decide, then we call the authorities and they come and put a seal on it [cask of vintage wine].” This is to ensure against fraud so that only casks with the official seal can be sold as vintage. Such releases are rare in Cognac, “vintages tend to either be luxury releases from big brands or from small producers”, Piveteau said. “Frapin is small in Cognac but big for an independent grower in Grand Champagne.” It only uses grapes from its own vineyards. The 240 hectare property has been in the family for 22 generations, and is currently run by Jean‐Pierre Cointreau whose grandmother was a Frapin.

It’s a compact domaine entirely within the Grand Champagne region with a consistent chalky top soil with clay subsoil throughout, planted with Ugni Blanc (there is also a little experimental Folignan, a Folle Blanche/ Ugni Blanc cross planted 12 years ago so it is too early to speak about the quality). Vintage expressions, however, come only from the vineyard around Château Fontpinot. When asked why Piveteau replied: “I think the answer is in the question. . . . It’s the specificity of the terroir.” Thrillingly French! 

Piveteau then explained a bit about the aging process. For the vintages, he uses 350 litre Limousin oak casks. Larger casks impart less wood flavour. The spirit spends only six months in new oak to pick up the tannins (and colour) needed for long ageing before transferring to 5-15 year old casks for one year before moving to old casks which have no oak flavour. 

Château Fontpinot

Frapin has two types of cellar, dry and humid. Interestingly, vintage Cognacs are only ever taken from the dry cellar. This ageing gives: “more evaporation, more concentration, you lose more water than alcohol,” Piveteau said. Apparently dry cellars are unique to Frapin. Again, he refused to be drawn on what the specific differences in flavour are between dry and humid cellars. “Humid cellars are smoother and more round,” he said, “but it is possible to find the same flavours in dry cellars. In dry cellars things mature more slowly. We don’t sell Cognac from dry cellars at less than 20 years. All the vintages come from the dry cellar, every time I prefer when I have to make the choice. But humid is also possible. . . .” he added just to complicate things. When deciding whether to bottle a Cognac as a vintage, he’s not just looking for quality but difference: “During ageing if a vintage is the same as the rest of range then I put it in a blend,” he said. 

“What is interesting is not what I say, it’s the result in the glass,” Piveteau explained. And what is in the glass is very good indeed: the 1992 is rich but it’s also fresh and fruity, the flavour changing in the glass over the course of the day. Piveteau described it as: “like a firework, bof!” He went on to say: “It’s fine, fruity and elegant. You can find the rancio but it’s not heavy, that’s a real characteristic of Frapin. It’s a Cognac with purity, it’s not too woody. I’m really keen on complexity.” Sometimes you have to stop asking why, and just let the quality of the Cognac speak for itself.

Tasting notes from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: So fruity and fresh, fresh apricots not dried, strawberry, floral, dark chocolate and toffee, plus aromatic notes of tobacco and orange peel.

Palate: Super zingy: citrus, grassy, peppery, lots of eau de vie character, with that strawberry fruity note coming through. In the background some toffee lurking.

Finish: Very very long, lingering toffee, tobacco and citrus peel. 

Frapin Millésime 26 Year Old 1992 Grand Champagne Cognac is now available from Master of Malt.

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Master of Malt tastes… Waterford Single Farm Origin whiskies

These must be some of the most eagerly-anticipated whiskies ever, Waterford’s inaugural releases each made only from barley grown on a specific farm in Ireland. Mark Reynier, ex-Bruichladdich supremo, is…

These must be some of the most eagerly-anticipated whiskies ever, Waterford’s inaugural releases each made only from barley grown on a specific farm in Ireland. Mark Reynier, ex-Bruichladdich supremo, is the man behind it, and he’s got a lot to say.

Mark Reynier is not a man to mince his words: “The whole principle of provenance based on terroir is understood in wine and Cognac, but for some reason when it comes to whisky everybody seems to have had a lobotomy.” Scotch whisky might be made from Irish, Canadian or even, sharp intake of breath, English barley, and, though this might surprise some readers, is considered completely normal in the industry. Received wisdom is that where a barley is grown has a negligible effect on the finished product.

Reynier has a different perspective perhaps because his background is in wine. He spent 20 years in the trade before moving into whisky with the revival of Bruichladdich in 2000. Here he became interested in the raw materials, producing an organic whisky and a release made from bere, an archaic type of barley. But on Islay, there wasn’t the space, infrastructure or climate to conduct a commercial experiment in terroir so he could prove that different bits of land affect the flavour in the end product.

Reynier described terroir as: “the 3D connection between bedrock, subsoil, soil, microclimate, topography, elevation, orientation to the sun, drainage”. Ireland proved the perfect place to realise his dreams. He said: “Climatically it’s much much better to grow barley in and you don’t have geese, autumn gales, the deer, or the other associated issues.” Ireland being further south has milder weather and a longer growing season. He was inspired by the late Duncan McGillivray from Bruichladdich, “he told me the best barley he ever saw came from Ireland,” Reynier said.

Quiet, demure, unopinionated, it’s Mark Reynier!

He looked at various old distilleries around the country, there wasn’t much around, but he stuck gold in 2014 when an ex-Guinness brewery came on the market in Waterford. It was state of the art having only been built in 2004 at the cost of €40 million. “Brewing is two thirds of distilling,” he said, “we just introduced the copper element to shiny stainless steel.” It took one year and a day to convert it into a distillery. The copper element came in the form of two old stills from a now closed lowland Scotch distillery, Inverleven. The high tech equipment proved ideal for the terroir project as it involves processing a huge amount of data: “Diageo equipped distillery with latest date collection material for efficiency and volume which we have repurposed for quality  and analysis,” Reynier said. 

Farms and farmers:

Then it was a question of finding farmers who wanted to be involved. The Waterford team works with 40 farms each year, though they have changed as, according to Reynier, “some wily old farmers either found it too much hassle or weren’t up to scratch. It’s the young farmers really get what we are trying to achieve.” Around 100 farms have been involved in total. The grain from each farm has to be processed separately. Data is collected every step of the way, over 8,000 pieces per farm.

Interestingly, according to Reynier, there is no discernible difference between different varieties of barley. That is because they are “all based on the same parents and selected for disease resistance and yield. Not for flavour”, he said. The team is currently experimenting with early 20th century strains but this is a long term project.

Harvesting, drying and malting:

Waterford has what Reynier calls a ‘cathedral’ located in the heart of the barley-growing area. It contains 40 bins, each one can take 140-50 tonnes of barley. Here the barley is dried to preserve it before it’s off to the maltsters. It’s a huge undertaking, this is not a little craft distillery. 

Waterford uses Boortmalt in nearby Athy. The distillery has its own mini-maltings just for its barley within this larger facility. “Malting is a vastly underrated part of the distilling operation. One that just gets passed over. That’s where the great artistry is, being able to malt barley properly,” he said. Initially, each load of barley was malted in a one size fits all way but that led to some erratic results so each batch is subjected to a mini malting in the lab to ascertain the best way forward. 130 tonnes barley from the field results in around 75 tonnes of malt.  

Ex-Guinness brewery, now the Waterford Distillery

Mashing and fermentation:

Because this is a modern brewery, the equipment is more advanced than you would normally find in a distillery. Instead of a traditional mash tun, there are a series of pneumatic filters which according to Reynier means that you get more flavour out. 

Waterford uses a standard distilling yeast but uses about half of what most distillers use. The next step will be to propagate wild yeasts from certain fields, “that’s the next part of the project”, Reynier said, “but it’s not as interesting as terroir.” The team do a long fermentation of about 120-150 hours using the temperature control to slow it down, a facility that most distilleries don’t have. Reynier said: “not only are we getting more flavours extracted by our mash filter, but we’re also getting purer flavours”. As you would hope, he was on fighting form comparing the Waterford approach to the industry norm: “Distillers see fermentation as a bottleneck that has to be overcome. It is overcome by using a double volume of yeast to obtain a highly volatile, aggressive fermentation that is over in less than 24 hours, sometimes considerably less.” I’m sure many distillery managers would have something to say about that, but the Waterford approach would be uneconomic for most Scotch whisky producers. 

Distillation:

Reynier handed us over to Ned Gahan, who spent 15 years working with Diageo before joining Waterford in 2014. The stills date back to 1974 were designed to create an elegant floral spirit. Waterford uses double distillation as in Scotland and, interestingly, spells ‘whisky’ without the ‘e’. The process is slow with a narrow cut between around 66-75% ABV taken, all in the name of purity. Again, as with the malting and fermentation, the exact cut depends on the barley used. The spirit is not diluted before running into casks. The distillery produces around 1 million litres of pure alcohol per year.

Ned Gahan in action

Wood:

As you might expect, Reynier has some strong views on wood: “Now people say 80% of whisky’s flavour comes from wood, I bloody well hope it doesn’t.” He went on to say: “They [large whisky companies] have corrupted wood into this marketing pseudo thing where every whisky you see now has to be finished, why can’t you just start with the right barrel in the first place, then you don’t need to finish anything at all?!” 

The wood used is top quality, 30% of production costs go on barrels. The team uses a mixture French oak, virgin and first fill from wine producers, American oak, virgin and first fill bourbon, and fortified wine casks which they refer to as VDN (Vin Doux Naturel), not just sherry and Port, but also Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes from France. 

Taste that terroir:

From tasting the new make spirit, Reynier noticed different flavours: sandy soil produces more fruit flavours, clay soil more malty, limestone-influenced soil giving more spice. Gas chromatography analysis backs up sensory experimentation, we were told. In September, the University of Cork will publish a paper, which is currently being peer-reviewed, showing how terroir does influence flavour. 

Reynier puts it down to the three ‘t’s: terroir, traceability, transparency: “we believe in real provenance. It’s no use having it and saying you have it you have to be able to prove it.” In the words of the Sultans of Ping, “I like your manifesto, put it to the testo”. It was time to try some new make, both from Olympus barley harvested in 2017.

The first from Meadow Lodge Farm in Galway owned by Brian Kenny. Soil type: loamy drift with limestone. This smelt spicy with notes of liquorice and a saline freshness. In the mouth it’s fresh and peppery with some oaty porridge flavours.

Second sample came from Groveside farm in Wexford owned by John Cousins. Mixture of shale and limestone with some sand and an undulating topography. This smelt vegetal and fruity with green olives, lemon, honey and a malty sweetness. On the palate, it’s sweet and fruity, with lots of malt character. 

They certainly taste different. Rather proving Reynier’s point about where they are grown. And also the quality is obvious, both samples at around 71% ABV were incredibly smooth.

But would the terroir character persist after cask maturation?

Terroir, transparency and traceability

Whisky:

The first two releases are from single farms: 

Produced from barley grown by Ed Harpur in Wexford, right by the ocean at sea level.
Variety: Overture from 2015
Filled 23/06/2026
Bottled: 5/2/2020
ABV: 50%
Spirit aged for 3 years and 7 months
American oak first fill: 35%
American new: 20%
French first fill: 25%
VDN: 20%

Tasting note: Sweet smelling with notes of hay, vanilla, coconut, spicy oak, liquorice and cloves. In the mouth, banana custard with some oak tannins and spice. Initially it seems like oak dominates but apple fruit, elegance and depth come through with time open. Lovely texture.

Waterford Single Farm Origin – Ballykilcavan 1.1

Produced from barley grown by David Walsh-Kemmis in Laois
Variety: Taberna from 2015
Filled 19/04/2016
Bottled 5/2/2020
ABV: 50%
Spirit aged for 3 years and 10 months
American first fill: 45%
French first fill: 37%
VDN: 18%

Tasting note: Wow, this is so different: fruity nose, wine-like, red fruit plus some funky touches of barnyard, and sherry vinegar. Acidity and freshness followed by earthy notes, chestnuts, and baking spices, like mulled wine. Not as elegant as Bannow island, very intriguing. 

They taste so different: The Bannow island initially a bit young but coming back to it, the depth of flavour even at that age is startling. It’s in no way raw or one- dimensional. Ballykilcayan tastes pretty crazy, tasting it you’d think there was a lot more wine cask influence than in Bannow Island. Again, great depth of flavour for how young it is. You’ll notice that the cask regime is not identical because Waterford had yet to acquire any French new oak when the 2015 Ballykilcavan barley was distilled. In future, all single farm expressions will have exactly the same oak treatment. They are both bottled with no colouring or chill filtration at 50% ABV, Reynier recommends a drop of water to bring out complexity.

These are not limited edition whiskeys. 200 barrels of each has been produced Reynier described it as an artisanal method but made to a “sensible commercial volume.” 

The bottles are pretty fancy too

The future:

In 2021, Waterford plans to release what Reynier refers to as a Grand Vin though will probably be called Cuvée. It’s an assembly of the best farms to create something like a Grand Cru Bordeaux or a vintage Port with “layers upon layers of complexity”. Further in the distance will be the Arcadian range made from organic, biodynamic and/ or heritage barley strains.

The Waterford project is fascinating for its sheer ambition and from tasting the new make and these young whiskies, the team are clearly on to something special. When asked about how the big boys would respond, Reynier was characteristically forthright: “In the next three, four or five years expect lots of images of barley, lots of images of farmers, lots of Gladiator-like fields of shimmering barley as they carry on doing exactly as they’ve always done. The word terroir will be abused beyond belief, it will be corrupted to being almost worthless.” 

Waterford Single Farm whiskies are now sold out. We don’t know when we’ll get any more in.

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Cocktail of the Week: the Bicicletta

Spritzes are two-a-penny these days, if you really want to be ahead of the cocktail peloton, then get yourself a Bicicletta. The Bicicletta is the ultimate DIY cocktail. Fancy ingredients,…

Spritzes are two-a-penny these days, if you really want to be ahead of the cocktail peloton, then get yourself a Bicicletta.

The Bicicletta is the ultimate DIY cocktail. Fancy ingredients, you won’t need them. Exact measurements, throw that jigger away and just pour. It’s a mixture of white wine, amaro and fizzy water. Apparently the name comes from how old Italian men would wobble home on their bicycles after a few. It’s essentially a slightly less spritzy Spritz as it’s made with still wine instead of Prosecco.

The big question is, ‘which bitter thing to use?’ Now, most people will be reaching for the Aperol, and if that’s what you like then ignore the Aperol critics (honestly why do people get so upset about Aperol? That’s a subject for another blog post). Or for those who like it a bit bitterer, then Campari is the obvious choice. I actually like a mixture of half Aperol and half Campari

There’s a whole world of amari to try but seeing as Spritzes, Biciclettas and aperitivos in general are typically Venetian, we’re going with Venice’s own Select Aperitivo. It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The drink was created in 1920 in the Castello district of the city at the Pilla distillery. Today, it’s made with over 30 botanicals including rhubarb and juniper berries. The flavour profile is fruitier than Campari with less bitterness but without being quite as sweet and orangey as Aperol. It’s custom made to do with all those little snacks that the Venetians do so well: green olives, cured anchovies, bruschetta, that sort of thing. 

Could this be any more Venetian?

Then you have to decide what wine to use. Decisions, decisions! Well, anything goes really but you shouldn’t use something too expensive or too rich; you don’t want a great big oaky chardonnay in the middle of this. But at the same time, Select isn’t going to cover up that bottle of wine that’s been sitting on the counter for a week. A Bicicletta calls for a fairly neutral (but not completely bland) white wine of the kind that Italy does so well like Pinot Grigio, a dry Orvieto, Grillo from Sicily etc. Rosé also works a treat, either pale pink Provence or something darker and fruitier from Spain. The final thing you could do is use a light red, Spanish Garnacha or Italian Barbera to create something like an instant Sangria. Sounds a bit mad, tastes absolutely delicious. 

It’s the perfect hot weather lazy day in the garden sort of drink. Just keep topping it up with soda water, Select, wine and ice, and it’ll last all day. Just be careful on your bike on the way home. 

Right, here’s the recipe, if you need one:

50ml Select Aperitivo
50ml white wine like this Pinot Grigio
30ml sparkling water

Fill a tumbler or wine with ice. Add the first two ingredients, give it a good stir, top up with soda, stir again and garnish with an orange wheel and a green olive if you have any.

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Six super-simple Scotch cocktails!

Missing bars? Us too! While it’s not all that long to wait until some in England reopen, there’s still going to be ample in-garden drinking opportunities this summer. And we…

Missing bars? Us too! While it’s not all that long to wait until some in England reopen, there’s still going to be ample in-garden drinking opportunities this summer. And we reckon Scotch whisky-based cocktails are the way to impress, even from a social distance.

Full disclosure: cocktails seem slightly scary to us. Historically, we’re Scotch sippers rather than mixers. And getting all the kit, mixers and garnishes out can feel like a bit of… a faff. But no longer! Stephen Martin, global single malt whisky specialist from Whyte & Mackay joined us for an Instagram Live, and well and truly busted the myths that cocktails are a challenge. If we can manage to make six different serves, you can, too!

The drinks range from twists on the classics (Mules, Ice Teas, even an Espresso Martini), to original serves (the Jura 10 Sunset is especially mouth-watering). You can watch the how-to video right here, with the recipes in full below. 

 

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Cocktails with Shackleton:

Scotch cocktails

The Explorers Iced Tea

Explorers Iced Tea

25ml Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

12.5ml Triple Sec

20ml lemon juice

10ml sugar syrup

Pop it all in a shaker with loads of ice. Prep your tall glass with even more ice. Shake hard and strain into the glass, top with premium cola and garnish with a lemon wedge.

The Antarctic Mule

Antarctic Mule

50ml Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

25ml fresh lime juice

Build in a Mule mug or tall glass over loads of ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lemon wedge 

Jura cocktails

Jura 10 Sunset

25ml Isle of Jura 10 Year Old

25ml Aperol

Top up with premium tonic

Build over loads of ice in the biggest wine glass you can find. Garnish with a large orange wedge.

Scotch cocktails

The Island Coffee

The Island Coffee (Espresso Martini twist)

50ml Isle of Jura 12 Year Old

25ml Cointreau

25ml coffee liqueur

25ml chilled espresso

Pop it all in a shaker, and shake hard with ice. Double strain into a chilled Martini glass.

Cocktails with The Woodsman

Woodsman Highball Twist

Woodsman Highball Twist 

50ml The Woodsman

Soda

Fresh lime juice

Build in a tall glass and garnish with a lime wedge and generous mint spring

Scotch cocktails

Maple Syrup Old Fashioned

Maple Syrup Old Fashioned

50ml The Woodsman

1 dash maple syrup

1 dash bitters

Stir everything together with loads of ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist

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Easy guide to blender cocktails

Your kitchen blender is a lean, mean cocktail machine, and it’s time you started treating it as such. Quit churning out bland hummus and flavourless smoothies – below, you’ll find…

Your kitchen blender is a lean, mean cocktail machine, and it’s time you started treating it as such. Quit churning out bland hummus and flavourless smoothies – below, you’ll find eight blender cocktail recipes to make at home, plus bartender-approved tips and tricks to help you master those slushie-style serves…

The blender cocktail isn’t the technicolor toothache it once was. With artificial flavours swapped for fresh produce, lurid liqueurs replaced with natural syrups, and all from-concentrate juices ditched for freshly-squeezed, these (often) slushie-style drinks have been reimagined and premiumised by modern bartenders, with their sense of fun very much intact. 

“Nothing says ‘summer in a glass’ better than a frozen tipple,” says Sebastian Stefan, head bartender at London’s Jim and Tonic. “Rising alongside the craft cocktail movement, frozen drinks have merged into gastronomy. These fun concoctions have made their way not only onto cocktail bar menus but in fine-dining establishments as well as a multitude of boozy desserts and sorbets.” 

There’s some debate about the origin of the first blender cocktails – as there is about most aspects of booze history – depending on how you define them. However, it was the introduction of the Waring blender in 1937 that really brought mechanically blended drinks to the masses for the first time, with the Daiquiri and Piña Colada among the first to receive the frozen treatment.

By the time the seventies rolled around, Frozen Margaritas were iconic; even spawning the creation of the Margarita Machine, a purpose-designed blender, says Stefan. “It was around this time that merchants started adding bright colourings as a marketing strategy,” he says. This sparked a surge in “sugary, almost glow-in-the-dark drinks”, that eventually saw frozen cocktails fall out of favour.

This is not what you’re aiming for

Today, bartenders across the globe are looking beyond those founding frozen trio to create new blender drinks. As well as experimenting with blender versions of other classic serves (G&Ts, Negronis, Sazeracs), they’re also “playing about with less common spirits such as herb liqueurs, amaro and eaux de vie to create a new palate of flavour,” says Stefan. 

“There are no clear rules on what to mix and not, so this is where a bartender’s skill and knowledge can shine through,” he says. “Tiki drinks can easily be turned into a frozen, as the packed fruity flavour allows a lot of water dilution – but with the right adjustments you can twist any classic cocktail.”

Before you wipe down the blades and give the jug a rinse, read through the following five tips for making top-notch blender cocktails at home:

1. Start from scratch

Avoid pre-mixed products and choose fresh ingredients where possible. “Make your recipe from scratch instead of buying a ready-made option from the supermarket,” Stefan says. “This way you avoid using stabilisers, colouring, preservatives and it also allows you to calculate and control the amount of sugar that goes into your drink.” And try to only use fresh fruits, ideally in season, as they tend to have more flavour and aroma, he adds.

2. Be picky

Even though you’re blending it with other flavours, be sure to choose a high-quality base spirit. “This will give body and influence the character of your drink,” Stefan says. “Don’t think you can get away with cheaper options by masking the flavour.”

3. Lay the foundations

“Pre-chill your ingredients beforehand, as this will slow down water dilution in your glass,” Stefan says. You could also rinse your glasses and pop them in the freezer (or fill them with ice and leave them to stand) for a few minutes before you make your drink.

4. Don’t fear DIY

“Make your own sugar syrup,” Stefan says. “Most cocktails require a sweet element to balance out the acidity. If you want to avoid sugar altogether, you can use honey or agave nectar.” 

5. A word on ice

Most – but not all – blender cocktails are made with ice. Avoid using large cubes, and opt for crushed if you can, suggests David Indrak of The Cocktail Service. If you are using crushed ice, don’t blend for too long. “The final drink should be blended into a fine vortex of liquid folding over itself and not sloshing,” he says.

When it comes to ice quantity, as a rule of thumb, double the amount of the serve, he says. “For example, the Margarita contains 75ml of liquid in total, therefore you need 150g of ice.” But you should always add ice slowly.

Here, we’ve picked out eight blender cocktail recipes to take for a spin, from frozen classics to brand new serves:

Frozen Daiquiri

By David Indrak of The Cocktail Service

Ingredients:
50ml Mount Gay Eclipse gold rum
25ml lime juice
20ml simple syrup

Method: Blend all ingredients with 190g cubed ice. Serve in a coupe glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

The Pineapple Express

By David Indrak of The Cocktail Service

Ingredients:
50ml Jamaica Cove pineapple rum
25ml lime juice
40ml pineapple juice
10ml simple syrup

Method: Blend all ingredients with 250g crushed ice. Serve in coupe glass, garnish with pineapple leaf and pineapple wedge.

Frozen Braemble 

By Glasshouse Whisky

Ingredients:
40ml Glasshouse Whisky
10ml Braemble Liqueur (sic)
5ml honey
10ml lemon juice
100ml ginger beer

Method: Blend with 4 ice cubes. Garnish with star anise.

Cherry-Boozy Milkshake 

By Remy Savage, of Bar Nouveau and Le Syndicat, in association with Love Fresh Cherries

Ingredients:
30ml Ephemeral vodka
5 fresh cherries (pitted)
30ml milk
1 large scoop of vanilla ice cream 

Method: Blend all ingredients in a home blender for 30 seconds or until thick. Pour milkshake into a tall glass, and garnish with a cherry.

Strawberry & Watermelon Slushie

By Black Cow Vodka

Ingredients:
180ml Black Cow Vodka & English Strawberries
1 small watermelon
1 punnet of strawberries
Juice from 2 limes
Half a chilli (optional)

Method: Cut watermelon into cube sized pieces, taking care to remove the seeds. Remove the stems off the strawberries and cut in half. If adding chili, deseed it first. Add all ingredients to the blender with 1 cup of ice and blend. Garnish with 1 sprig of mint.

Tin Can Cocktail

By The Highland Liquor Company

Ingredients:
50ml Seven Crofts gin
1 tin of peaches
Tonic water

Method: Chill all the ingredients. Blitz half the can of peaches (with syrup) to form a puree. In a large wine glass, combine 25ml peach puree with gin. Top with tonic water and garnish with a mint sprig and orange slice.

Frosé 18

By Timeless Drinks Ventures

Ingredients:
1 bottle of Nine Elms No. 18
1 punnet of strawberries
2 teaspoons of sugar or sugar syrup (optional)

Method: Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Fill a shallow, wide pan with the liquid and place in the freezer for 1 hour. Break up the freezing liquid with a fork, and refreeze for another 20 minutes (up to 1 hour if necessary). Break up the contents again with a fork to achieve a slushy granita consistency, and spoon into a glass. Garnish with a fresh strawberry.

Frozen Cosmopolitan

By David Indrak of The Cocktail Service

Ingredients:
35ml Ephemeral vodka
15ml Cointreau triple sec
40ml cranberry juice
5ml simple syrup
5ml lime juice

Method: Blend all ingredients with 200g crushed ice. Serve in a coupe glass and garnish with expressed orange peel.

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New Arrival of the Week: Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed…

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed to reveal which island distillery it comes from. . . . 

John Crabbie was one of the great pioneers of blended whisky like John Walker and Arthur Bell. Crabbie, who lived from 1806 to 1891, owned a grocery and tea-blending business in Edinburgh, but moved into the whisky trade when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Cognac leading to demand for an alternative from English drinkers. He acquired casks and started bottling whiskys from more than 70 distilleries around Scotland. With his friend Andrew Usher, he began blending whisky to create a consistent product. This led to him purchasing a brewery in Leith where he set up his own distillery producing not just whisky but also gin and liqueurs including a famous ginger wine. Later the two of them, along with William Sanderson (of VAT 69 fame), would set up the mighty North British grain distillery.

The North British is still going strong but until very recently the Crabbie name was only known for ginger wine, all that whisky heritage was largely forgotten. In 2007, Halewood, the company behind Whitley Neill gin as well as the Aber Falls Distillery, City of London Distillery, Liverpool Gin Distillery, and the Bristol & Bath Rum Distillery, acquired Crabbie. Production of Crabbie’s ginger wine moved to Liverpool, shock horror! But Halewood has not neglected Crabbie’s Scottish roots. Far from it, in December 2018 the company opened Crabbie & Co, Edinburgh’s first single malt distillery in over 100 years. Whisky, of course, takes a long time, so Crabbie has been building a reputation with some award-winning single malts releases from mysterious distilleries. 

The latest release, however, Crabbie is proud to announce is from Tobermory, a popular distillery at Master of Malt and not only for its excellent whiskies. This particular one was distilled in 1994 and aged in an ex-sherry hogshead and then bottled without chill filtering or the addition of colour at 46.2% ABV. John Kennedy, head of sales for Scotland, commented: “Crabbie 1994 Island Single Malt is one of our most carefully planned releases to date. We’d had cask samples from distilleries all across Scotland and it was a difficult choice, but this sherry cask from Tobermory was absolutely stand out with its nose of sweet macerated dates, fruit cake, warming spice and its orange marmalade and rich dark chocolate finish. It will most certainly appeal to those who take their whisky seriously.”

We take our whisky very seriously here and were suitably impressed. Despite the all sherry cask ageing, it’s not what you’d think of as a ‘sherry bomb’. The nose is aromatic, minty even, followed by sweet toffee, coffee and dark chocolate notes. In the mouth, it’s fruity and fresh, with cedar, black pepper and muscovado sugar on the finish. All round, it’s an elegant drop. It’s also a very limited edition with only 247 bottles available for all of the UK market. We think it’s a great tribute to a giant of Scotch whisky who deserves to be much better known.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Brandy butter and fruitcake, with a hint of menthol sneaking through.

Palate: Soft on the palate, with sultana, chocolate mousse and malt loaf. A slow build of clove and caraway warmth.

Finish: Tiffin, chocolate peanuts and some fresh mango fruitiness.

Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994 is available now from Master of Malt.

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