Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

Category: We’re drinking…

Cocktail of the Week: The Suffering Bastard

This week there’s been a whisky focus at Master of Malt what with World Whisky Day coming up, whereas next week it’s all about gin. So for our Cocktail of…

This week there’s been a whisky focus at Master of Malt what with World Whisky Day coming up, whereas next week it’s all about gin. So for our Cocktail of the Week, we’ve combined the two with a Suffering Bastard. Oh, and it’s World Cocktail Day tomorrow. Will the fun never end?

The great thing about cocktails is that you can sling all kinds of things together and if they taste good, then that’s all that matters. I mean who could have predicted that Campari, vermouth and gin would work such magic together in the Negroni? The flipside is that it’s easy to make something revolting. Today’s drink is in the former category combining some seriously strong, disparate flavours: gin, bourbon and ginger beer. It’s one of those drinks that shouldn’t work but somehow it does. Unlike most cocktails whose origins are lost in the mists of time the Suffering Bastard has a fixed who, when and where.


The who was a man called Joe Scialom, who was bartender at the Long Bar in the legendary Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. And the when was 1942. Scialom was an Egpytian Jew of Italian extraction, his surname is an Italianised version of the Hebrew word “shalom”, meaning peace.

The hotel was a popular haunt of British officers and assorted hangers-on during the war. As you might expect, quite a bit of drinking went on with the resultant hangovers and one day Scialom was inspired to create a cure.

Anyone who has had a hangover will know that ginger has magical palliative properties. Or seems to anyway. When I worked at Oddbins in Leeds, a bottle of Fentimen’s Ginger Beer and a couple of paracetamol was all too often the breakfast of champions.

Joe Scialom

Joe Scialom, in the white DJ

Brandy or bourbon?

To that ginger beer, Scialom added lime cordial, brandy and gin, not something we’d recommend as treatment for a hangover but delightful as a long drink. All those strong flavours were partly a way of disguising that by 1942, good quality booze would have been in short supply. This is from a 1957 New York Times interview with Scialom:

When liquor was short during the war, he had to concoct “something to quench the boys’ thirst.” He combined equal parts gin and brandy with a dash of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of Rose’s lime juice, and English ginger ale. He garnished the drink with a sprig of fresh mint, a slice of orange and a cucumber peel. The bartender advised Americans to substitute ginger beer for the ginger ale because the British version of the soft drink is more heavily seasoned with ginger than ours.

Or was it bourbon? In an interview with Collier’s Magazine from 1953 – it’s worth reading the whole thing on this wonderful blog Egypt in the Golden of Travel – it reads:

“I always thought that gin, which I had, and bourbon, which I had, don’t marry,” Joe says. “But I stuck some gin and bourbon into the vase, and looked about for something to take the curse off. There was some Angostura and some lime cordial and some dry ginger ale for fizz. I shook it all up with some ice and decorated it with mint.

“I was most surprised at the result. The customers did not drop dead. They recovered, and clamoured for more. Been clamouring ever since.

So the story isn’t quite so straightforward after all.

Shepheard's Hotel Cairo

Shepheard’s Hotel in its heyday

Two revolutions later 

Sadly, in 1952 Shepheard’s Hotel was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the monarchy and brought President Nasser to power. Nasser’s aim was to free the country of foreign influences which involved nationalising industries including the Suez canal. Most non-Arabs including the country’s ancient Jewish community took the hint and left but not Scialom who moved across town to open Joe’s Bar at another hotel, the Semiramis. That is until he was imprisoned under suspicion of espionage.

On his release he left Egypt, worked for Hilton hotels in Puerto Rico and then later Cuba, where again he had to flee a revolution. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: to be caught up in one revolution may be regarded as a misfortune, to be in two looks like carelessness. If you want to know more, it’s worth reading this post on Scialom which hints that he may well have been involved in espionage in some way.

From its birth in wartime Cairo, the Suffering Bastard, sometimes known as the Suffering Bar Steward for those who don’t like a bit of good old fashioned swearing, became a staple of tiki bars. It was on the menu at Trader Vic’s though made with rum instead of brandy, and it was served in a special mug that looked like a particularly lugubrious chap holding his head in his hands following a hard night – see below.

Suffering Bastard - Image courtesy of Difford's Guide.

Oh my head! Image courtesy of Difford’s Guide.

How to make Suffering Bastard

The version in Difford’s Guide is made with Remy Martin Cognac, though nowadays it’s usually made with bourbon. The version we’ve got below is based on David Wondrich’s Esquire Drinks: An Opinionated and Irreverent Guide to Drinking with 250 Drink Recipes.

It eschews the lime cordial which was probably there in the first place to cover up bad booze and seeing as this is the Master of Malt blog, we’re not likely to use such a thing. For bourbon, we’re using Woodford Reserve, plus a good London dry gin, Fords. And then Fentimans ginger beer to finish the whole thing off.

Down the hatch or rather l’chaim!

Suffering Bastard

Suffering Bastard, surprisingly delicious

30ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
30ml Fords London Dry Gin
1tsp lime juice
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
Chilled Fentimans or any good strong ginger beer

Add the gin, bourbon, lime juice and bitters to an ice-filled Highball glass. Top up with ginger beer, stir gently and garnish with an orange slice and a sprig of mint.

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: The Suffering Bastard

Celebrate World Whisky Day 2021 with Master of Malt

We’re not content with World Whisky Day 2021, so at Master of Malt, we’re celebrating a world whisky week. To kick things off, we’ve picked some of our favourite whiskies…

We’re not content with World Whisky Day 2021, so at Master of Malt, we’re celebrating a world whisky week. To kick things off, we’ve picked some of our favourite whiskies from around the globe and included an unmissable event for malt lovers.

It’s World Whisky Day on Saturday 15 May but we can’t wait until then so we’re putting on a week’s worth of activities to celebrate our favourite spirit. Come to think of it, every day is World Whisky Day here at Master of Malt.

We’ve picked some of our favourite bottles from the wide world of whisky. So there’s not just the big boys like Scotland, Japan and America, but we’ve included bottles from India, Taiwan, and a global blend. We were hoping to include a Welsh single malt from Aber Falls but sadly it won’t be ready in time. But we are hoping to get an advance sniff very soon, and as soon as we do, we’ll let you know. 

And finally, to watch as you merrily dram there’s the Virtual World Whisky Summit.

What’s a Virtual World Whisky Summit?

We’re glad you asked. This is an event put on by our friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC). It takes place on World Whisky Day 2021 itself, Saturday 15th May  at 7pm (BST), on all your favourite social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Youtube – click here for the full details.

Presented by two of the mightiest beards in the whisky firmament, Sam “Dr. Whisky” Simmons, and “Boutique-y Dave” Worthington, the event will, according to the press bumf, feature: “30 bartenders, distillers, buyers, writers and enthusiasts, live discussion with friends of Boutique-y, and the always silly Silly Games, there will be real talk but as many hijinks as highballs.”

Blimey! It all sounds fun. This is the second year TBWC has put on such an extravaganza so the team really knows what it’s doing. And if you’re stuck for what to drink, here are some suggestions:

What to drink on World Whisky Day 2021

J&B rare whisky Highballs

J&B Rare

One of the world’s great brands, it was created by wine merchant Justerini & Brooks specifically to appeal to the American palate, and landed with perfect timing in 1933 just after Prohibition ended. Since then, it’s become something of a cult, drunk by Frank Sinatra and appearing in Goodfellas and Mad Men.

What does it taste like? 

Deliciously fruity with toffee, walnuts and orange zest. It’s the consummate mixer but we particularly love it with ginger beer. 

Whisky - Amrut Fusion

Amrut Fusion

After some big names from Scotland and America, Amrut is the most searched-for distillery on our site. Perhaps because it was a pioneer of the single malt category in India, the world’s largest whisky market. This example gets its name because it’s a fusion of Indian barley with peated barley from Scotland. Clever eh?

What does it taste like?

Fresh citrus fruit, spice, dark chocolate, marmalade and mellow smoke. This is one to sip neat with old friends after a meal and let the conversation unwind.  


Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak

Another pioneering distillery. Kavalan put Taiwanese whisky on the map. And no wonder as they had a certain Dr Jim Swan as consultant.  This release contains the same liquid as the cask strength bourbon-matured Solist but diluted down to 46% ABV with natural spring water.

What does it taste like?

Vanilla, coconut and banana with all kinds of spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. With it’s sweet flavour profile this would make a great Old Fashioned especially with fruit bitters.

Woodford Reserve Rye

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye

They do things a bit differently at Woodford Reserve using pot stills instead of the column stills more usually found in Kentucky. The distillery is branching out with this as it’s a rye rather than a bourbon. The mash bill is 53% rye with the rest corn and malted barley. It’s bottled at a useful 45.2% ABV making it a great cocktail whiskey.

What does it taste like?

Lots of up front spices with pear, cherry and chopped mint. We can’t think of a better whiskey to make a Manhattan with. 

Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

Glenfiddich Experimental Series – Fire & Cane

A peated whisky at Glenfiddich? You better believe it. Part of the Experimental Series, Fire & Cane was created in 2018 by malt master (not to be confused with Master of Malt) Brian Kinsman and features a peated single malt finished in rum casks bought from a variety of distilleries in South America.

What does it taste like?

Baked apple, sweet toffee and campfires. With its mixture of sweetness and smoke, we think it would make a cracking Rusty Nail, easy on the Drambuie

Nikka Days

Nikka Days

The blend from Japan is easy like Sunday morning. Notice we didn’t say Japanese blend as Nikka Days doesn’t meet the new criteria to be judged as Japanese whisky so it may contain some non-Japanese spirit. No matter, this is a delicious drop that melds sweetness with a faint smoke character to perk up your taste buds.

What does it taste like?

Lots of fruit like pears and melon backed up with roasted nuts and vanilla. This might be the ultimate Highball blend especially if you’re adding a fruit element.

The Glenrothes 12 Year Old - Soleo Collection

The Glenrothes 12 Year Old – Soleo Collection 

The name soleo comes from the practise used in the sherry region of drying grapes in the sun to concentrate the sugars so it will come as no surprise that there’s plenty of sherry cask deliciousness in this whisky. For many years, Glenrothes issued only vintage releases but most are now labelled more conventionally with age statements.

What does it taste like?

Stewed apple, vanilla, chocolate, tobacco and more spices than you could shake a stick at. Probably one to sip alone but we can’t help thinking it would make a cracking Rob Roy.

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends

A whiskey inspired by the magic of proper American BBQ where the meat is gently smoked until it falls apart. Mmmmm falls apart. Anyway, to get that taste the clever chaps behind this blended Tennessee rye whiskey and sherry cask-finished peated single malt Scotch whisky. A maverick move that turned out really, really well. 

What does it taste like?

Wow! BBQ sauce and smoked meat with spicy rye and fruit notes. We’re thinking Mint Julep or even mixing it with Coca-Cola.

World Whisky Blend serves

World Whisky Blend

And finally, to celebrate World Whisky Day 2021 what could be better than a World Whisky Blend. Yes, this magical concoction is a mixture of whiskies distilled all over this great planet of ours. There’s over ten countries involved with contributions from Europe, Asia, the USA and beyond!

What does it taste like?

Honey, orange marmalade, toffee and vanilla. It’s a massively mixable drop but perhaps its favourite partner is coconut water. 

No Comments on Celebrate World Whisky Day 2021 with Master of Malt

New Arrival of the Week: Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus

Now that the sun is out again finally we’re in the mood for a nice, refreshing Spritz. Good thing Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus has turned up on our doorstep…

Now that the sun is out again finally we’re in the mood for a nice, refreshing Spritz. Good thing Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus has turned up on our doorstep this week…

When we spoke with Pinkster Gin inventor Stephen Marsh nearly two years ago he laughed at the suggestion that he was in some way responsible for the birth of a monster: pink gin. But his brand of authentically fruity pink gin struck a chord with people when it was released in 2013 and there are few signs that the desire for flavoured gin is letting up. He was very much at the forefront of something. And, judging by the brand’s new releases, he’s in the mood to do so again.

It’s not a gin

Yes, Marsh is back at the innovation game again with a new range of Spritz-style drinks. This is interesting because you don’t often see gin brands branch out and make anything else other than flavoured variations of the juniper-based spirit. Which makes sense. Why go down the non-gin route given how lucrative the category has proved to be?

Well, Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Elderflower and Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus are the kind of low-ABV, versatile and fun spirit drinks that are increasingly in demand and have only just started emerging in earnest in the last couple of years. Once again, it appears Marsh is on the right side of the curve.

Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus

The drinks offer you the perfect chance to take your Spritz game in tasty new directions

In a press release, the brand’s founder says that the move was undertaken to create a “mainstream alternative for Spritz drinkers with discerning taste buds, looking for a naturally delicious light aperitif”. Even if your taste buds aren’t that discerning you’ll still be able to taste plenty of raspberry-based goodness in Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Elderflower (also en route to MoM Towers) and Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus.

As the name rather gives away, our 24% ABV spirit drink of focus today is made using local supplies of the fruit leftover from the production of its classic Pinkster Gin as well as helpings of hibiscus. 

English Spritz

A Spritz is typically a wine-based cocktail made with Prosecco, a bitter liqueur such as Aperol, Campari, or Cynar, and soda water. You’re probably picturing sitting in the Italian sun with a red, fizzing concoction housed in a wine glass in hand. And you’d be right. But it’s this kind of serve that Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus was made for. Think of it as an English summer spin on the classic.

The brand recommends pairing it with soda water and a lime garnish for a lower-ABV take on a traditional Spritz that removes the need for sparkling wine. But we can imagine you’ll have plenty of fun playing with this one. There’s a QR code linking to further product details and suggested serves on the back label if you need inspiration.

Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus

We think the Spritz could well be the serve of the summer

Lower ABV

As you might imagine for someone who is usually one step ahead, Marsh has also ensured that the spirit drinks meet the demands of those who are committed to the decidedly modern trend of ‘wellness’. Calorie and unit health information is on the back label of the Spritz bottles, which is not something I’ll ever have any love for.

But, as Marsh says, “with more and more people trying to lead healthier lifestyles and cutting back on alcohol, all consumer insight indicates that lower-ABV and lower-calorie drinks are totally on-trend”. So there you have it.

While this aspect might appeal to some, the biggest selling point for Pinkster Spritz will be its vibrant, fruity, and refreshing taste. This kind of drink is about to come into its own with the summer months on the horizon and the UK emerging out of lockdown. Marsh rounds off by saying that Pinkster is expecting “a fresh, fizzy and fun spritz to be the drink of the season as friends reunite for alfresco get-togethers”.

We’ll certainly drink to that. Although, personally, I won’t be counting the calories, if it’s all the same to you.

No Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Pinkster Spritz Raspberry & Hibiscus

Cocktail of the Week: The Matador

In the second part of our Cinco de Mayo special, we’re celebrating the rich life of one of Tequila’s greats, Tomas Estes from Ocho Tequila, with a cocktail recipe provided…

In the second part of our Cinco de Mayo special, we’re celebrating the rich life of one of Tequila’s greats, Tomas Estes from Ocho Tequila, with a cocktail recipe provided by his son Jesse. It’s the Matador!

The Matador is one of the answers to the often asked question of what do you drink when you want a Margarita but want something a bit longer and less strong. If you’re cooking up a Mexican feast, this would be the perfect drink to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

The recipe comes from Jesse Estes’s book Tequila Beyond Sunrise. He’s a bartender with stints at notable venues as Callooh Callay, a world-renowned Tequila expert and judge, and the son of Tomas Estes, who sadly died last week. You can read our tribute to him here.

Tequila Beyond Sunrise by Jesse Estes

Tequila Beyond Sunrise by Jesse Estes, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£7.99) Photography by Alex Luck © Ryland Peters & Small

The Ocho philosophy

The Estes philosophy is summed up in the family’s Tequila brand, Ocho, a collaboration with Carlos Camarena, a third-generation Tequilero. All the agave used comes from land belonging to the Camerena family in the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of Jalisco. No chemical fertilisers or pest controls are used. They only harvest very mature agave with high sugar and acidity levels. 

After harvesting, the piñas (plants minus the leaves) are cooked for three days, milled and water is added to create what is known as agave miel (honey.) It’s then distilled first in a copper and steel pot still, and then again in an all-copper one to around 55% ABV. The Tequila is either diluted with spring water or aged in used casks to reposado or añejo level. There are no additions before bottling.

Ocho is inspired by Tomas Estes’ love of Burgundy so all bottlings are from single fields and single vintages. We’ve been fortunate enough to taste along with Estes Junior on a few occasions and the difference between sites and years can be startling. There is a family resemblance, however, a green olive note and a refreshing minerality, which you can taste even in the aged examples because they have very subtle cask influence.

Jesse and Tomas Estes

Tomas and Jesse Estes

The history of the Matador

Today, that refreshing quality is coming to the fore in Estes’s take on the Matador. 

The first mention for this cocktail is in the Café Royal Cocktail Book from 1937 written by William J. Tarling which consists of Tequila, Orange Curaçao and dry vermouth. It was probably one of the first ever Tequila cocktails. It would certainly have been something of a novelty in 1930s London.

Fast forward 35 years to the 1972 edition of Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide and there’s something called a Tequila Matador.  It consists of one part Tequila, two parts pineapple juice shaken with the juice of half a lime and strained into a coupe. Ever since then pineapple juice has been a component of the Matador making it a sort of tiki Margarita.

My edition of Mittie Hellmich’s incredibly thorough Ultimate Bar Book has something similar but it’s served on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass. She also has a frozen version made in a blender with pineapple chunks and crushed ice which sounds splendid on a hot day. Difford’s Guide adds triple sec taking his version even further into Margarita territory. 

Matador Cocktail, Jesse Estes

Jesse Estes’ Matador on the right (photo from Tequila Beyond Sunrise credit: Alex Luck)

How to make a Matador, Jesse Estes style

Estes’ version takes the classic Matador recipes and riffs on the green note in Ocho Tequila with the addition of Green Chartreuse. We’re using the unaged La Laja Tequila from 2019 which has that classic green olive and mint Ocho profile. It gets its name from ‘laja’, a type of flat stone which you’ll find many of in this particular field. The herbaceousness of the Tequila chimes beautifully with the Chartreuse.

This recipe calls for a dehydrated pineapple slice or lime wheel which you can make in the oven. But fresh fruit is fine too. We do recommend the pink pepper at the end which does all kinds of wonderful things. 

It’s a fitting way to celebrate Mexico’s national holiday, Cinco de Mayo, and pay tribute to Tomas Estes. ¡Salud Tomas!

Here’s the recipe

50ml Tequila Ocho Blanco (La Laja 2019)
20ml lime juice
25ml pineapple juice
10ml Green Chartreuse
5ml agave nectar

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, strain into a large rocks glass (you could also serve it on the rocks). Garnish with a dehydrated pineapple slice or dehydrated lime wheel, and freshly cracked pink peppercorns.

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: The Matador

Top ten: Mexican spirits for Cinco de Mayo

Today, Cinco de Mayo, is Mexico’s national day of celebration so, if you want to get involved, we’ve picked some bottles to help you get in the mood. And not…

Today, Cinco de Mayo, is Mexico’s national day of celebration so, if you want to get involved, we’ve picked some bottles to help you get in the mood. And not just Tequila and mezcal, there’s also rum, whisky and more!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll know that we are pretty keen on Mexican’s finest produce. Why only last week we ran a profile of Don Julio Tequila. But did you know there’s more to Mexico and booze than Tequila and mezcal? So as the world gears up to celebrate Mexico’s national holiday, Cinco de Mayo, we round-up some of our favourite bottles from one of our favourite countries. Naturally, we’ve also included some agave-based action in there. We’re not complete mavericks.


El Destilado Rum

If you’re a fan of rhum agricole, grassy pungent spirits from the French-speaking Caribbean, then you’ll love El Destilado. Like agricole, this is made from raw sugar cane rather than molasses and fermented with wild yeasts.

What does it taste like?

Slightly tangy with green apple and white grape, with cut grass and peppercorn spice in support.


Sierra Norte Yellow Corn

Whisky from Mexico, whatever next? It’s made from 85% native Oaxacan yellow corn fermented with 15% malted barley. Sounds like a recipe for a bourbon-like whisky, but the distillate is then aged in French oak for a taste that’s completely unique.

What does it taste like?

Buttered popcorn, vanilla cream and cloves, with smoky barrel char and a nutty floral finish.


Ilegal Joven Mezcal

Don’t worry, this isn’t actually illegal (the spelling is slightly different). We wouldn’t sell anything that wasn’t legal. This unaged mezcal is in Oaxaca using traditional methods, like roasting the agave in an earthen pit for a rich full flavour. 

What does it taste like?

Sweet caramel, peppermint and smoky agave with hints of raisins, dried herbs and black pepper.


Nixta Licor de Elote 

You can probably tell by the name, if not the shape of the bottle, what the star of this liqueur is – corn. This liqueur from Nixta is made from maize grown surrounding the Nevado de Toluca volcano, so it’s packed full of buttery corn sweetness at 30% ABV. 

What does it taste like?

Buttered popcorn and fresh sweetcorn, swiftly followed by silky caramel. This would be great in an Old Fashioned. 


El Rayo Plata Tequila

El Rayo Tequila pays homage to the legend that lightning struck an agave plant, cooking it and creating the first ever Tequila. This particular expression is made from Blue Weber agave distilled twice in 105 year old copper pot stills.

What does it taste like?

Exceptionally smooth and gentle, with an oily mouthfeel, notes of citrus, lots of earthy agave and a hint of flinty minerals, with a warming peppery finish.


Mezcal Amores Espadin 

This is the latest edition of Mezcal Amores’ Espadín-based mezcal. The producers work with small agave growers to plant ten agaves for each one they use, and make sure they’re paying the mezcaleros they’re working with a fair price.

What does it taste like?

Fresh vanilla and citrus blossom, balanced by spicy herbs, wood smoke and leafy coriander.


Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Tequila & Mezcal Collection 

If you can’t make your mind up what to buy, then why not get this collection? In that stylish box there are 12 different 30ml wax-sealed drams of absolutely delicious Tequila and mezcal from some of Mexico’s best producers. 

What does it taste like?

What doesn’t it taste like? There are 12 delicious agave-based wonders to explore in here.


Ocho Blanco Tequila 2019 (La Laja) 

Sadly, the man behind Ocho Tequila, Tomas Estes died last week. But his son Jesse is keeping the flag flying for single rancho (field), single vintage Tequila. This unaged bottling was made with agave harvested from La Laja, named after a type of flat stone which you’ll find many of in this particular field. 

What does it taste like?

Waves of fresh mint and cooked agave sweetness, leading into dried herbs, green olive, warming, peppery spice and subtle smoke.


Montelobos Joven Mezcal

Montelobos Joven Mezcal is made with espadin agave and distilled by mezcal guru Iván Saldaña. You can read an interview with the man himself here. It also offers a really stylish bottle with a rather ferocious-looking wolf on the label.

What does it taste like?

Wood smoke and green pepper freshness on the nose, with a tropical fruit and powerful smoke character on the nose. 


Storywood Double Oak Añejo

Scotland, Spain and Mexico meet in one bottle thanks to this añejo Tequila from Storywood. This Double Oak expression has spent 14 months in both Scotch whisky barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. It was bottled at cask strength, 53% ABV.

What does it taste like?

Honeyed roasted agave sweetness, with jammy forest fruits, oak spice and dried fig.

No Comments on Top ten: Mexican spirits for Cinco de Mayo

New Arrival of the Week: Scratch Faithful Rum

This week we’re shining our New Arrival lamp on a Scratch Faithful Rum which was distilled not in Jamaica, Cuba or Barbados, but in Stevenage. And that’s not all because…

This week we’re shining our New Arrival lamp on a Scratch Faithful Rum which was distilled not in Jamaica, Cuba or Barbados, but in Stevenage. And that’s not all because Faithful is the basis for a whole range of rums made by Doug Miller, entirely from scratch. Hence the name.

In an age of media-trained master distillers and slick brand ambassadors, it’s refreshing to talk to someone who just says what he thinks, even if it might get him into trouble. Someone like Doug Miller, the man behind Scratch rum, who has strong views about a lack of transparency in the fast-growing ‘English rum’ category. But more on that later.

It’s also refreshing in an age of City-funded start-ups to find somebody distilling in an old stables near Stevenage using one 500 litre copper pot still rather than a shiny state of the art distillery. He’s doing what he always wanted to do. “I got into rum at university and I started just doing ferments and beers. Then post-uni I started just distilling,” Miller said. 

He quickly realised what he was doing wasn’t exactly legal, so in 2016 he obtained a distilling licence and got to work. He spent a couple of years experimenting, “trying different yeasts, different sugars, different fermentation times,” he said. From the beginning the focus has been on rum alone. “I didn’t want to set up a distillery and do gin, whisky, and vodka,” he said. “Rum as a category is so broad, there’s enough of it to fill a lifetime of exploration and distillation.”

Doug Miller by his 500 litre Hoga still

Doug Miller by his 500 litre Hoga still

Making Faithful from scratch 

“I am one of those slightly weird people who actually likes fermenting and making things from scratch and doing things the hard way”, he said, “well you get more control so you get a nicer product in my view… but I would say that of course!” 

The basis of the current Scratch range is what he calls Faithful. It begins with molasses and a very long fermentation, between two and three weeks. It took a lot of experimentation to find a yeast that worked in England’s cold climate. He uses the Jamaican technique of adding dunder – left over from the first distillation – to the ferment. “What you get is consistency of flavour across a number of ferments but also the nutrients and the compounds found in that leftover stuff feed that yeast and over time make the flavour profile more pronounced. It’s almost like reducing a stock.”

This fermentation stage is not something to be hurried through. “You can never make a great rum from a shit ferment,” he said. The final step before distillation is to filter the ferment which, according to Miller, makes the end product “cleaner” and prevents “bitter flavours” during distillation

He uses a 500 litre copper pot still from Hoga in Spain but his technique is unusual. After the first distillation rather than putting it back through again, he ages the low wines in new Scotch whisky casks with “a small portion of the heads and tails from previous runs. So you’re getting a full blend of the spectrum of distillation.” After ageing, the liquid goes back through the still. It’s then blended with water and bottled at 42% ABV to create Faithful rum.

But that’s not all, Faithful is the basis of everything at the distillery at the moment.

Scratch botanical rum

Can you spot the botanicals?

Secret botanicals

Miller makes a sloe rum and a secret recipe botanical rum using only British ingredients. “I’m not a fan of spiced rum. I find spiced rum cloying, and essentially a way to mask a bad spirit. So what I tried to do with Botanical is create a product using British foraged local botanicals,” Miller said.

He’s cagey about the process and recipe, “because I’ve seen big producers come in and copy stuff.” But will say it involves British botanicals that mimic classic spiced rum flavour. Using his one still, “we put in a smaller 50 litre copper pot, with the botanicals in the vapour trail and then we take cuts from between 85% ABV down to about 78% ABV.”

Despite the lack of tropical botanicals, it really does taste of citrus, vanilla and coconut. Very clever and makes a refreshing alternative to a G&T as well as a killer Daiquiri.

Cask master

Miller produces two ages rums, Golden, matured in new oak casks, and a longer-aged rum called Patience which won a bronze medal at the IWSC this year. “Patience is a blend of three and two year old spirits. The bourbon cask is the three years, it makes up 90% of the blend and then the final 10% is that two year old new oak cask.” 

There’s clearly a massive amount of potential at Scratch particularly with cask releases. Miller compares British rum to Japanese whisky, taking traditional techniques but innovating. “It can remain grounded to rum as a whole, but it can move the category forward.”

He’s a fan of Foursquare in Barbados particularly the single cask releases but thinks that he’s trying to do something different. “Most of the Caribbean producers tend to use ex-bourbon casks because of the proximity to the US. In the UK we’ve got proximity to a wine industry, we’ve got beer guys, you’ve got whisky guys, you’ve got a whole range of Cognac producers in France,” he said.

Aged products will always be small batch releases either blends or single casks. He said, “We’ve only got about 300 bottles of Patience left and when that’s done I’m going to make another cask release.” He’s got all kinds of different barrels on the go including Cognac, Tequila, bourbon and Scotch whisky, sweet wine and others.

He’s also playing around with different ferments including one based on a yeast strain that he isolated himself and by adding things to the ferment including hops and fruit. 

Doug Miller Scratch rum maturing casks

Can’t wait till these beauties are ready!

What is British rum?

Miller is aware that rum’s greatest asset, its lack of rules, can be a liability compared with more strictly-governed spirits like Scotch whisky. He thinks there’s a “lack of transparency” in the industry. He is particularly outspoken about how confusing rum can be for customers with many seemingly British producers using imported base spirits: “I don’t think you should be able to import a rum that’s aged in the Caribbean, flavour it or water it down here and then stick it in a British branded bottle or a label that says ‘made in Britain’ or ‘crafted in Britain’ or ‘British rum’, I think that’s disingenuous to say the least.”

Miller also thinks there needs to be more “transparency around the production methods as well as what you can and can’t do post-distillation.” He described some flavoured products as like “alcoholic squash”. He thinks: “the more shit rum that’s on the market, that’s full of all kinds of flavouring, sugars, and caramel, that puts off people from actually trying other rums.”

“The industry as a whole needs to actually own some of the stuff that it’s peddling and some of the stuff that it’s selling to consumers,” he said. It’s similar to what Richard Seale from Foursquare and others have been saying about the need for an agreed classification so that people know exactly what’s in the bottle and where it came from. But with so many producers including the industry’s giants invested in the current opaque system, it seems unlikely there will be any progress in the near future. Miller acknowledges that “he’s probably in a minority.”

Plans to expand

Scratch, however, has built a reputation in a short space of time based on the quality of its products rather than being part of some sort of ‘British rum’ movement. Since signing up with a distributor Oak and Still, “we’re starting to get bigger order volumes now and we’re at maximum production given that we don’t make a huge amount anyway,” he said. At the moment it’s only Miller, his sister-in-law Ellie and their one still. So the next step is to expand which requires money. He’s planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign in September. As Scratch grows, let’s hope that expansion doesn’t involve Miller being sent on a media training course. That would be a shame.

Scratch Faithful Rum is available now from Master of Malt. Click here to see the full range.

1 Comment on New Arrival of the Week: Scratch Faithful Rum

Top ten: Bottlings to immerse you in the world of rum

From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to…

From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to help you get under the skin of this wondrously diverse category.

We love a bit of rum here at MoM Towers. And why not? Whether it’s got a molasses or sugar cane juice base, a fun mixer or a serious sipper, or something completely quirky all together, there’s so much deliciousness to be found in the wide world of rum. And we’re pretty proud of our enormous offering!

That said, it can be a fairly tricky category to navigate. The flavour experience between each style can be vastly different – which can make choosing the perfect bottling for you (or as a gift) a little tricky. So this is why we’ve picked out ten of our favourite bottlings (ok, there’s a tasting set in there, too) to serve as a useful place to start.

Browse on, and bring on the rums Oh, and made a new discovery recently? Let us know in the comments or on social. We’re @masterofmalt everywhere!!  


Spiced Rum Tasting Set 

So you know you like spiced rums. But even within this rapidly growing and ever-expanding style there are a whole load of discoveries to be made. Which is why we put together this fabulous tasting set! You’ll get 30ml tasters of five different expressions from an array of different producers. Sip, mix, and be [responsibly] merry!


Eminente Reserva 7 Year Old

Aged rum more your thing? You’ll be in super safe hands with this seven year old expression, which hails all the way from Cuba. It’s big, round and mouth-filling, with notes like tobacco and coffee adding depth to the fruity sweetness. A great one for springtime sipping, or why not try it in a Rum Old Fashioned?


The Duppy Share 

Did you know that Duppies are the mischievous spirits said to travel from island to island across the Caribbean, pinching their share of the ageing rum reserves? That’s what this brand pays homage to with its blend of five year old bourbon-barrel-matured rum from Barbados, and Jamaican three year old liquid!


Tidal Rum 

Reckon flavoured rums are only ever sweet? Think again! Tidal Rum brings together a blend of rums from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic, with oak-smoked dulse seaweed from Jersey! It’s a green, herbal, slightly vegetal rum with a wisp of smoke running through it – just divine!


Project #173 Chocolate Rum

But if sweeter flavoured rums are your thing, you won’t be disappointed with Project #173 Black Chocolate! It’s tangy, vibrant, and bursting with authentic chocolate notes. Possibly most delicious with cola, this expression also works over ice as a sipper. We also reckon a splash over ice cream would make the most decadent dessert…


El Destilado Rum 

Like your rums on the grassier side? This is a bottling you’ll want in your collection. Hailing from Mexico, El Destilado is made using raw sugar cane juice that’s been wild fermented for all kinds of lush, green notes. The label tells you everything you could ever want to know about the spirit you’re drinking – we love the transparency. And the rum!


O Reizinho 3 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

And if you’re after the vegetal vibes of sugar cane juice rums and a cask influence, we recommend you check out Madeira’s O Reizinho’s 3 Year Old! This is full of fabulous funk (green olive and banana) plus the vanilla and treacle notes associated with cask ageing. Both irresistibly delicious and fabulously fun.


Discarded Banana Peel Rum

Like your rum to be tasty and do good? Step forward Discarded Banana Peel Rum! Its creators have taken an aged Caribbean rum and then infused it for a fortnight with banana peel. Here’s the good bit: the peel comes from a flavour house that would otherwise have chucked it away! Hurrah for sustainable sourcing. 


El Dorado 3 Year Old White Rum

Did you know that lots of producers will sometimes age their spirits and then filter out the colour? This is how El Dorado 3 Year Old was made! The result? An award-winning sipper that combines the citrus, icing sugar and fruity notes of molasses rum with subtle coconut, vanilla notes of oak ageing. Win-win!


East London Liquor Co. Rarer Rum

We love rum. We also love puns. East London Liquor Company has brought the two together with its Rarer Rum. How so? ‘Rare’ as in ‘Demerara’, its base! This Guyana-made beauty was distilled in the world’s last remaining wooden Coffey still, and was then matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Delicious indeed.

No Comments on Top ten: Bottlings to immerse you in the world of rum

Cocktail of the Week: The Horse’s Neck

Today we’re going to the movies with a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret. The drink in question is the Horse’s Neck, a delightfully simple mixture…

Today we’re going to the movies with a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret. The drink in question is the Horse’s Neck, a delightfully simple mixture of brandy, ginger ale, and bitters, garnished with an all-important spiral of lemon.

We’ve just been sent a new book which has been keeping us amused for hours. It’s the new edition of Cocktail at the Movies by Will Francis and illustrated by Stacey Marsh. Highlights include from Cocktail, inevitably, probably the most ‘80s drinks ever made, the Turquoise Blue, from Casablanca, a French 75, and you can probably guess the cocktail that features in ‘80s Mel Gibson snorefest Tequila Sunrise.

Charlie Chaplin with adorable dachshund

But we’re going  way back with our Cocktail of the Week, way back to 1914 and the release of a Charlie Chaplin picture called Caught in a Cabaret which features a classic concoction called the Horse’s Neck. Before we get into the cocktail, we’ll tell you about the film.

It features Charlie Chaplin, with adorable dachshund, trying to court a society girl called Mabel (that’s her in the header by Stacey Marsh) played by silent screen star Mabel Normand, who also wrote and directed the film. The problem is Mabel already has a boyfriend and Chaplin is just a lowly waiter pretending to be the prime minister of Greenland. As you do.

Mabel orders a refreshing drink

The drinks scene in question is described in the book:

“It’s such a scorching hot day that Charlie’s dachshund – who is, as he says, ‘built too near to the hot sidewalk’ – needs cooling off. An inevitable caper ensues as Charlie tries to hydrate the hound in a fresh spring by the road. He falls into a shrubbery, loses the dog and causes uproar when he pushes over the boy returning his furry friend. All the while society girl Mabel is preparing for her ‘coming-out party’ and in the hot midday sun she sensibly asks for a Horse’s Neck to be mixed for her before embarking on her afternoon stroll. As she enters the woods with her beau, it’s a stick-up! But an unlikely hero appears in the form of bumbling Charlie, who bravely saves Mabel and earns himself a ‘tête-à-tête’ at the young debutante’s chic chateau.”

You can see it from 5.49 thanks to the miracle of Youtube:

History of the Horse’s Neck

The Horse’s Neck has a long pedigree. It’s part of the Highball family of drinks: booze,  ice, something fizzy and in a tall glass. Originally though, it was made without alcohol except a dash of bitters and dates back to the 1890s. It gets its name from the long strand of lemon peel curling out of the glass that apparently looks a bit like a horse’s neck. 

Eventually, someone had the brilliant idea of adding a spirit to it thus making it 100 times better. The Horse’s Neck might have originated in America but was taken to heart by the Royal Navy in the 20th century where it displaced the Pink Gin as the drink of choice for officers. At naval functions known as Cockers P’s (cocktail parties), guests would be offered a choice of an HN or a G&T.  Ian Fleming describes it in the 1966 James Bond novel Octopussy as a drunkard’s drink. But don’t let that put you off.

Over the years, the Horse’s Neck has proved a popular cocktail in cinema cropping up in Fred Astraire film Top Hat, with Humphrey Bogart in A Lonely Place and rather less glamorously alongside George Formby in No Limit (1935).

Horse's Neck

A nice refreshing Horse’s Neck (Photo credit: Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons, published by Ten Speed Press)

The perfect Cognac to use

It’s usually made with Cognac or bourbon, though there are gin versions out there. For this version I’m using Seignette VS from Sazerac, the company behind Peychaud’s Bitters, Buffalo Trace and, of course, Sazerac itself. It’s a great cocktail Cognac having lots of fruity flavour at a good price. Then all you need is some ginger ale, Fever Tree is nice, some bitters and maybe spend some time practising spiralising your spiralising. 

Anyway, without further ado…. 

Here’s how to make a Horse’s Neck

50ml Seignette VS Cognac
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Fever Tree ginger ale

Fill a Highball glass with ice and add a spiral of lemon zest. Add the Cognac, bitters and ginger ale, stir, top up with ginger ale, stir gently and serve.

Cocktails at the Movies by Will Francis and Stacey Marsh is published by Prestel £9.99.

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: The Horse’s Neck

New Arrival of the Week: Pol Roger Winston Churchill 2012

Today, we’re raising a glass to resilience in the face of adversity, with the latest vintage of a great Champagne, Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2012. We talk to James…

Today, we’re raising a glass to resilience in the face of adversity, with the latest vintage of a great Champagne, Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2012. We talk to James Simpson MD of Pol Roger UK about thriving during a pandemic, Pol’s high tech new winery and how he’s terrified of running out of stock as the restaurants reopen. 

Moët & Chandon first released its prestige label Dom Perignon in 1935, and the first commercial releases of Louis Roederer’s Cristal was in 1945 but Pol Roger was rather late to the fancy Champagne party with the launch of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill in 1984. 

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, he really liked Pol Roger Champagne

Pol Roger’s biggest fan

As the world’s most famous drinker of Pol Roger Champagne, Churchill was the natural choice to be honoured in this way. The company has an invoice in its archives from 1908 for the purchase of the 1895 vintage. Following the liberation of France, Churchill met with Odette Pol-Roger where they apparently got through plenty of the great 1928 vintage. It was the start of a great friendship. In the last ten years of his life, he bought 500 cases of his favourite Champagne, and on his death in 1965, Pol Roger edged its label in black.

Whereas Dom Perignon is associated with James Bond, and Cristal with rappers and film stars, Winston Churchill has a more sedate image. It tends to be drunk just by people who fancy a really really good glass of fizz rather than making a splash in the nightclubs of Dubai.

Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill is only made in exceptional vintages. We were fortunate enough to be invited to the launch of the 2008 way back in 2012.  There was a bash in London attended by members of the Churchill and Pol Roger families. Sadly, because of the pandemic, the launch for the 2012, had to be a more low key affair ie. there wasn’t one. Or if there was, we weren’t invited. 

2012 – an excellent vintage

2008 was a superb vintage but 2012 might be even better. Some are comparing it to the legendary 1996. James Simpson from Pol UK said it’s “as good a young Churchill as I have tasted, ever.” But it wasn’t just the weather that was good, serious upgrades to production were completed in time for the vintage. “It’s a combination of a great year and the fact that Pol is now a state of the art modern winery allowing for each parcel of grapes to be fermented separately,” Simpson explained.

“There’s not a lot to Churchill,” he said, “just take the best grapes from best vineyards.” It’s always a big meaty wine made with a high percentage of Pinot Noir with the rest Chardonnay, both from Grand Cru vineyards. The exact blend is, according to Simpson, “a closely guarded family secret.”

He went on to say that it’s “a smallish vintage” so there’s not going to be much to go around. “We could have sold our allocation two or three times over,” Simpson said. Unlike Dom Perignon which measures its production in millions, Winston Churchill can be measured in the ten of thousands. Though Simpson is cagey about exact quantities. For a brand with such a strong image, you might be surprised to hear how tiny Pol is making around 1.7 million bottles per year compared with Moët’s 30 million. 

Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 2012

Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 2012, don’t mind if we do

A mild panic

Simpson thinks that this strong image and Pol’s loyal customers were a godsend during the pandemic. While overall UK Champagne sales were down around 20%, Pol was only down 0.5%. 

In fact, Simpson admitted to being in a “mild panic” that he might run out of stock now that the country is opening up, “London is heaving at the moment. You can’t get a table anywhere,” he said. 

Delicious now, even better if you can wait

Unlike with almost any other premium wine, prestige cuvée Champagne can be enjoyed on release. Simpson compared it with grand cru white Burgundy where you have to pay double the amount and wait at least five years before you can drink it. Even then, there’s no guarantee that your pricey Burgundy will be any good. Compare that with this latest Winston Churchill: “We’ve sat on it and looked after it for 10 years, “ he said. 

But if you can keep it longer, you’re in for a treat. Wine lovers are increasingly waking up to the joys of ageing the best Champagne. Simpson reckons you should wait five years to enjoy Winston Churchill at its best. Or longer in magnum.

So, if you’re planning to wait, may we recommend buying some of the standard 2012 Pol Roger which is exceptionally good to drink while you wait for your Churchill to mature? Both wines are a fine way to celebrate the slow return to normality. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Delightful hints of macadamia and cashew nuts, floral honey, lemon rind, sweet, ripe apples and squishy fresh brioche. Bold and full-bodied with a gently dry finish this has a wonderful depth and character, exquisite!

Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2012 is available from Master of Malt.

1 Comment on New Arrival of the Week: Pol Roger Winston Churchill 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Cuba Libre

From classic cars to crumbling buildings, Cuba carries the faded beauty of an old movie. Famous for revolutions, communism and its delicious drinks, country’s political history often goes hand-in-hand with…

From classic cars to crumbling buildings, Cuba carries the faded beauty of an old movie. Famous for revolutions, communism and its delicious drinks, country’s political history often goes hand-in-hand with its liquid one. Today we’re making one the island’s classics, the Cuba Libre.

While classic concoctions such as the Daiquiri, the Mojito and El Presidente might require a little more skill (or a good bartender), this week we turn our attention to a much more simple drink: the Cuba Libre. On the face of it, the Cuba Libre is just rum and Coke with a bit of lime. But dig deeper, and it becomes so much more. This is not just a spirit/mixer, this is a cry for freedom.

Cuba Libre Bacardi advert

Free Cuba

The Cuba Libre (which means Free Cuba) became a popular drink on the island following Cuba’s war of independence with Spain in the late 1800s. Before the arrival of Coca-Cola to the island, reports suggest the original Cuba Libre was a mix of honey or molasses with water and rum, or just water and brown sugar.

But by 1900, Coca-Cola was well-established in the country and no doubt a welcome sight for American soldiers still garrisoned there, following the war.

Bacardi, which at that time was still making its rum in its native Cuba, calls the Cuba Libre “part cocktail, part rallying cry”. And original recipes call for Bacardi in the mix.

The rum brand’s archivist Rachel Dorion says that in August 1900, a messenger to Roosevelt’s commander General Leonard Wood, who was later appointed the Military Governor of Cuba, witnessed a new incarnation of the Cuba Libre that used Coca-Cola.

The messenger, Fausto Rodriguez, said that shortly after the war in Cuba, with military intervention still in effect, two Americans opened The American Bar on Neptuno Street in Havana.

The invention of the Cuba Libre

“Rodriguez remembered meeting an American member of the Signal Corps named Russell who ordered Rodriguez a Coca-Cola. He himself ordered his Coca-Cola with Bacardi Gold rum and a wedge of lime,” says Dorion. “The drink became extremely popular among the American soldiers who regularly gathered at the bar.”

The story goes that Russell and his soldier friends decided the cocktail deserved a name. They went for ‘Cuba Libre’, since the phrase ‘Free Cuba!’ was a cry embraced by both Cuban revolutionaries and sympathetic American soldiers.

Rodriguez later affirmed under oath in the State of New York that the event was the first time the phrase Cuba Libre was applied to an alcoholic drink, and that the ingredients were Bacardi Gold rum and Coca-Cola.

Records from the Bacardi archives show that the Cuba Libre cocktail made with Bacardi rum has been mentioned in publications as early as 1928 and in recipe books in the late 1930s. The earliest advertisement that mentions the Cuba Libre cocktail in the Bacardi archive dates back to the 1930s and it reads: “Say ‘make mine with Bacardi’. Try our Bacardi Cuba Libre.”

Cuba Libre advert

Refreshers to lamb chops

In fact, the Cuba Libre has been advertised in several different ways over the years. In a 1946 LIFE magazine ad, the drink was hailed for being refreshing and by 1953, it was all about calorie counting. This ad claims a Cuba Libre has fewer calories than a lamb chop! Good to know, I guess. 

Besides Bacardi, Pernod Ricard’s Havana Club also champions the Cuba Libre. The rum is made in Cuba and in 2018, Havana Club relaunched its Añejo Especial, with a big push for the Cuba Libre cocktail.

“Not to be confused with a basic rum and cola, the authentic Cuba Libre needs a generous squeeze of lime to even out the drink’s sweetness,” says Havana Club.

First taste of ‘freedom’

Balance is always important in a drink. And, as it happens, when you’re standing up on a train.

My first Cuba Libre  – and not just a plain old rum and Coke – was 2009, on board an old Hershey’s Chocolate train that rattled through the sugar cane fields near Havana to Hershey station. US chocolate magnate Milton Hershey had set up business in Cuba in the early part of the 20th century, establishing a railway for the transportation of his sugar.

Anyway, nearly 100 years later, I was on the train in Cuba with Havana Club rum and about 15 bartenders.

It turns out that besides rum, cola and the necessary citrus, you need three other things to make a good Cuba Libre on the back of a rickety old train: pre-cut limes, plastic glasses and a steady hand. Of course, it also helps if you’re surrounded by bartenders.

So, without further ado, here’s how to make it:

Rum and Cola Cuba Libre

How to make a Cuba Libre

50ml Bacardi Carta Oro rum
100ml Coca-Cola
2 lime wedges

Fill a glass with ice, squeeze over the lime and drop the wedges into the glass. Add the rum and cola. Give it a gentle stir and garnish with more lime. Raise a toast to Cuba Libre!

3 Comments on Cocktail of the Week: The Cuba Libre

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search