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Master of Malt Blog

The Nightcap: 3 July

It’s a bumper week for The Nightcap, with stories about The Macallan, Diageo, competition winners, the artist formerly known as Plantation rum and a new Swift bar. Lovely stuff. It’s…

It’s a bumper week for The Nightcap, with stories about The Macallan, Diageo, competition winners, the artist formerly known as Plantation rum and a new Swift bar. Lovely stuff.

It’s been another busy week and a whole heap of boozy news has occurred. With so many stories floating around it can be hard to keep up. It’s not as if you have some kind of contraption to corral it up into one place to hand, like a big booze news net or one of those massive gloves they have in that American sport with the baseball hats. Lucky for you, we’ve got just the thing. Our delightful round-up of all the drinks industry happenings from the last seven days – it’s The Nightcap!

On the MoM blog this week Kristy recalled her trip to Texas distillery Balcones as our exclusive Balcones Barrel Pick landed at MoM Towers, Adam spoke to John Quinn about the journey to restore Tullamore D.E.W Distillery and Jess broke down why garnishes are so great with the help of some industry experts. Annie then shone our MoM-branded spotlight on Cornwall’s first distillery and then had some advice on how you can upgrade your BBQ beverages, while Henry asks what it takes for a Cognac to be singled out for the vintage treatment while enjoying a new Frapin expression, made one of the world’s most delicious cocktails the way it should be made and celebrated some of our favourite places in London to drink whisky.

For the very last time, we’d like to thank all of you who entered last week’s virtual pub quiz. It’s been a pleasure teasing you with all kinds of weird and wonderful boozy trivia and hopefully, you all had fun. Thomas Knockaert certainly enjoyed himself, as he has the distinction of being the final winner! You can check out the answers to the last quiz (*sob*) below.

The Nightcap

The rum formerly known as Plantation

Maison Ferrand rename Plantation Rum brand 

Plantation Rum announced this week that its brand name will change. While we don’t know what the new name will be yet, we do know that its production methods and the liquid inside the bottle will remain the same. It’s also clear that the move was prompted by the global protests for social justice and racial equality spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter movement. “As the dialogue on racial equality continues globally, we understand the hurtful connotation the word plantation can evoke to some people, especially in its association with much graver images and dark realities of the past,” says Alexandre Gabriel, Plantation Rum master blender. “We look to grow in our understanding of these difficult issues and while we don’t currently have all the details of what our brand name evolution will involve, we want to let everyone know that we are working to make fitting changes.” Global brand manager Stephanie Simbo added that the rum brand “wants to be on the side of actions and solutions”. This case is a reminder of rum’s complex history and the fact that it is inextricably linked to slavery. But this is so rarely acknowledged, which is why we think this is great news and a meaningful step in the right direction.

The Nightcap

The full Double Cask range. It’s a beautiful sight.

The Macallan adds to Double Cask range

The Macallan has bolstered its Double Cask range with two new aged expressions, the Double Cask 15 Years Old and Double Cask 18 Years Old. The former is said to impart aromas of dried fruit, toffee and vanilla, and delivers a warming finish with a creamy mouthfeel, while the latter is said to be filled with notes of dried fruits, ginger, toffee and a warm oak spice finish that’s balanced by sweet orange. Fans of the distillery will remember The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old was first introduced in 2016 as part of a series that celebrates the union of American and European oak sherry-seasoned casks. The Speyside distillery sources its European oak in northern Spain and the French Pyrenees, and American oak from Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky. Both types are transported to Spain, where they are made into casks, seasoned with sherry and then shipped to The Macallan Estate where they are filled. “Bringing together American and European oak sherry-seasoned casks to achieve the perfect balance of flavours is incredibly exciting for the whisky mastery team, and we are proud to offer two new expressions to this distinctive range for The Macallan Double Cask fans to explore,” says Kirsteen Campbell, master whisky maker of The Macallan. “Oak influence is the single greatest contributor to the quality, natural colour and distinctive aromas and flavours at the heart of The Macallan’s single malts.”

The Nightcap

Each expression is the ‘first and last of its kind’, according to Diageo.

Diageo launches Prima & Ultima and plans carbon-neutral distillery in Kentucky

Diageo has had a busy week! First up is its shiny new whisky alert, announcing the launch of a very luxurious set of single malts, named Prima & Ultima. The first and last. Because each is the ‘first and last of its kind’, according to the press release. See what they did there? There are eight cask strength whiskies in the series selected by none other than Dr Jim Beveridge OBE. “Each of the eight whiskies I’ve selected for Prima & Ultima tells a tale of heritage and craftsmanship and I’ve chosen them from distillers of great personal importance to me,” says Dr Beveridge. You’ll find whisky from Cragganmore, Lagavulin, Mortlach, Port Ellen, Clynelish, Caol Ila, Talisker, and The Singleton of Dufftown, and each bottling marks a significant period of whisky-making for its distillery, with each one accompanied by a limited edition book of personal stories from Dr Beveridge himself, along with a 20ml sample. If you have a spare £20,000 you can get your hands on the entire set, though you’ll have to register first (which opens on 22 July). There are only 238 sets though, so better be snappy! 

 

The other big news is physically much bigger, because Diageo has revealed its plans to construct Bulleit Bourbon brand’s new Kentucky whiskey distillery, and it’s going to be carbon neutral! It’ll run on 100% renewable electricity (even the on site vehicles), using electrode boilers and a combination of renewable energy sources. It’s costing a cool $130 million and is set to be up and running by 2021, with the capacity to produce just over 34 million litres each year. Get ready to say hello to one of the largest carbon-neutral distilleries in North America!

The Nightcap

Congratulations to you, Stephanie Macleod!

International Whisky Competition 2020 winners announced

The results are in. The 11th edition of the International Whisky Competition whiskies has concluded after drams from around the world were judged side by side at the event in Estes Park, Colorado from 10-14 June. The top recognition, Whisky of the Year, was awarded to John Dewar and Sons – Double Double 32 Year Old (Blended Scotch), which scored 96.4 points, the highest-scoring whisky of the competition. This meant Stephanie Macleod, the brand’s master blender, became the first woman to win this prize and it was also the second year running that Macleod has won the accolade of Master Blender Of The Year, after she made history in 2019 as the first woman to win the award. John Dewar and Sons also won the Golden Barrel Trophy. “At Dewar’s we aim to push the boundaries of what is expected from the whisky category and have a long-standing commitment to innovation, so we are delighted with our success in the 2020 competition and it is an honour to be named Master Blender of the Year,” says Macleod. “I accept this award on behalf of the whole team at Dewar’s who have shown relentless hard work and dedication to achieving the very best quality and taste for our beautifully crafted whisky, despite the challenges this year has held. It is incredibly rewarding indeed to see these efforts appreciated.” Other winners were Glenmorangie’s Dr Bill Lumsden who won Master Distiller of the Year, while Ardbeg won Distillery of the Year. You can check out the full list here.

The Nightcap

How Soho may look as it goes pedestrian-only in the evenings this summer.

Soho gets a pedestrian makeover

As Britain wakes up from its lockdown slumber, bars, pubs and restaurants have been working out how to reopen safety. Westminster Council has hit on a great way to help, pedestrianise Soho. So this summer from 5pm to 11pm, London’s original nightlife capital will be out of bounds to motor vehicles as part of the new Summer Street Festival. The pedestrian-only area covers Dean Street, Frith Street, Greek Street and Old Compton Street (map including street closure timings and details can be found here.) We spoke with Simo from Milroy’s yesterday about his plans for reopening which includes 16 tables outside the whisky shop on Greek Street. Other famous venues due to reopen include Cafe Boheme, Dean Street Townhouse, and Bar Italia. Many places are also offering incentives to visit such as one free drink with dinner bookings and discounts for NHS workers. The best thing is, that if this experiment is judged a success, then there’s potential for full or part pedestrianisation to become permanent. So no more diesel fumes in your al fresco cocktail.

The Nightcap

We can’t wait to have those delicious Irish coffees at the new venue…

Swift to open all-day venue in Shoreditch 

Swift, you are really spoiling us! Not only will the award-winning Old Compton Street institution be opening again on Saturday 4 July but the couple behind it, Mia Johansson and husband Bobby Hiddleston, have announced a new location to open at the end of the month. Located on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch, it will serve from 8am during the week and 11am on weekends, offering breakfast, coffee etc. alongside the sort of cocktails that made the original Swift such a destination (though not at 8am presumably.) The team issued a statement saying: “Whilst we’re all still in uncertain times and have a long road ahead of us on our way to recovery, we have faith in the British public’s love of coming together for great food and drink and are hopeful that London’s world-class cocktail scene will rebuild itself to come back stronger than ever. Sticking to our plan to open our second site is just the embodiment of our faith in this and we are so excited to start hosting guests again.” A bit of optimism, that’s what we like to hear. 

The Nightcap

Gordon & MacPhail has gone for the classic Teletubbies look with its new distillery

Gordon & MacPhail distillery gets the green light

Gordon and MacPhail (G&M) is edging ever closer to having a shiny new multi-million-pound distillery near Grantown. The whisky distiller and bottler has given the contractors, Morrison Construction, the green light to begin contruction at the site on the banks of the River Spey in Craggan in Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park. The facility will be the first new malt whisky distillery to be built in the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) area since its creation in 2003. The building was supposed to be already well underway by now, but because of Covid-19 crisis restrictions, the project had to be pushed back. The distillery, which G&M has said will become a “significant local employer,” will have the capacity to produce around 440,000 gallons of whisky a year. Forsyths of Rothes will supply and install the distilling equipment, while the visitor centre, tasting rooms, retail space and coffee shop are projected to attract 50,000 tourists annually. “These appointments are the next major milestone in delivering this long-term project for the company. We look forward to working with these established businesses who are both highly experienced in their own field,” says Ewen Mackintosh, managing director of Elgin-based G&M. “We’ve been really heartened by the warm welcome we have received locally. As a family-owned business located in the north of Scotland, we are very much rooted in our communities, and we are keen to develop strong relationships in Grantown and the surrounding area.”

The Nightcap

Why pour beer down the drain when you can feed it to cattle?

And finally. . . .  Wimbledon Brewery feeds cows with beer

Some of the most heartbreaking stories to come out of lockdown were about pubs having to pour beer that was going out of date down the drain. Oh, the humanity! When Wimbledon Brewery found itself with a lot of unsaleable beer destined for pubs, however, someone had a brainwave: why not feed it to cows? And not just any cows, the excess stock went to the beer-loving cattle at Trenchmore Wagyu Beef Farm in Sussex. The beer helps make Wagyu the tenderest and sweetest-tasting beef on the planet. In return, the brewery will receive its very own Wagyu burgers. This is not the only way the brewery has adapted. According to founder Mark Gordon, the company lost 90% of business when the hospitality industry closed but managed to survive by concentrating on “local home deliveries and increased sales to supermarkets and bottle shops. This went from a very low base to the equivalent of 80% of our pre-lockdown turnover.” He went on to say: “Soon after the lockdown was announced, we initially closed the brewery but quickly took the decision to reopen because beer can be very good for morale.” It certainly is, and that reminds us, it’s probably time for beer. Have a great weekend everyone!

The Nightcap

Pub Quiz Answers

1) In ‘Diary of a Nobody’, what brand of Champagne does Charles Pooter order from his local shop?

Answer: Jackson Freres

2) What’s the nearest single malt distillery to Edinburgh?

Answer: Holyrood

3) What’s the name of the famous copperworks at Rothes?

Answer: Forsyths

4) Who invented the spirit safe?

Answer: Septimus Fox

5) Which brand of whisky does Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco) smuggle into prison for her husband (Ray Liotta) in ‘Goodfellas’?

Answer: J&B

6) Which cocktail was supposedly named after Zelda Fitzgerald?

Answer: White Lady

7) In the Jeeves & Wooster stories, what is the “secret” ingredient of the former’s hangover remedy?

Answer: Worcestershire Sauce

8) Which gin does Amy Whitehouse mention in the song ‘You Know I’m No Good’?

Answer: Tanqueray

9) Bernard de Voto’s book ‘The Hour’ is a paean to which cocktail?

Answer: Martini

10) In which of Shakespeare’s history plays is one of the characters drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine?

Answer: Richard III

 

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Reviving a classic Irish whiskey distillery with Tullamore D.E.W.

For a long time Tullamore D.E.W. was a historic name without a distillery. Now the Irish whiskey brand is closing the gap on Jameson’s and enjoying life under William Grant’s…

For a long time Tullamore D.E.W. was a historic name without a distillery. Now the Irish whiskey brand is closing the gap on Jameson’s and enjoying life under William Grant’s stewardship.

The first thing you see when you enter the Tullamore D.E.W. distillery is a copper phoenix. It was adopted as the symbol of the town in 1785, a decade after Tullamore was seriously damaged when the crash of a hot air balloon resulted in a fire that burned down around 130 homes. It’s the emblem of the local sports clubs. There’s a bar in town called The Phoenix. Symbolically it’s the perfect image for the Irish whiskey brand to evoke, as it knows a thing or two about rising from the ashes.

The original Tullamore distillery was built in 1829 by the Malloy Brothers – Michael and Anthony Malloy. After passing through the family for a couple of generations, the business was left to Daniel Edmund Williams to run. “Williams joined the business in 1862 as a 14-year-old boy and by the time he was 25, in 1873, he was the general manager,” says John Quinn, the global ambassador for the brand. “Over the next two decades he proceeded to buy out the owners and began producing a whiskey that became famous and the famous ‘D.E.W. ‘was added, a play on Williams’ three initials and the word ‘dew’”. There’s an air of Willy Wonka about Williams. He added a bonded warehouse and bottling plant to the distillery, and transformed the town bringing modern amenities like electricity, telephones and cars, as well as opening over 20 pub-grocery shops. He even coinined the immortal slogan “Give Every Man his Dew”. “He was an iconic man, an iconic individual. It inspires us and it would inspire anybody,” explains Quinn.

Although the brand initially thrived, by the beginning of the 20th century it was barely surviving, a fate that affected most Irish whiskey distilleries due to a number of reasons. “The rebellion in Dublin that generated independence for Ireland also led to an economic war with Britain, which meant access to the likes of Canada, Australian, India and Britain was blocked. That coincided with the Prohibition in the US so the market was closed to Irish whiskey exports. Then, with the second world war, the American soldiers eventually based themselves in Britain and got a taste for Scotch,” explains Quinn. “Probably the most significant event, however, was the development of blended Scotch. The distillers of Ireland fought hard against its introduction and this inability to move with the times caused the Irish whisky industry to almost collapse. Combined with the financial difficulties that came with the new Irish state after independence a lot of the distilleries struggled, particularly as the overseas business had virtually gone completely. By the 1950s most of the distilleries in Ireland were closed”.

Tullamore D.E.W

John Quinn has been working with the brand since 1974, so he’s seen it all.

Tullamore Distillery held on until 1954 until it had to shut its doors. But the brand didn’t die off. It was sold to John Powers & Son in 1960 and six years later the Dublin distillers merged with two other Irish distilleries to form Irish Distillers. In the 1970s, Irish Distillers closed their existing distilleries and consolidated production at a new distillery built in Midleton, County Cork. In 1994, Irish Distillers sold the brand to the C&C Group before it was acquired by the owners of Glenfiddich et al, William Grant & Sons, for €300 million in 2010. At which point, Tullamore D.E.W. was still without its own distillery, with every expression released under the brand’s name being sourced from Bushmills and Midleton Distillery.

William Grant , however, had other ideas. It put plans into motion to build a new state-of-the-art distillery in Tullamore.”When William Grant took over we heard talk of building a distillery but I kind of refused to believe it because I’d heard it all before. People used to say ‘if we sell a quarter of a million cases, we’ll build a distillery’. We got to 600,000 cases, still no distillery. There was a commitment to build the brand but not to build the legacy!” says Quinn. “When William Grant took over I can remember the joy of talking to people who were also interested in whisky and history and legacy. A lot of people are getting into Irish whiskey trying to make money. With the Grant family, it’s in their blood and they genuinely are passionate about it. When you’re part of a company that lives and breathes whisky, it’s different”. 

Quinn actually first realised that William Grant was serious about the project while managing a ladies football team. “One of the players needed a lift to the game and said ‘I’m sorry I’m late but I had to finish a report I was writing’. She was a ground engineer writing a report for a whisky company and said it was looking at building a distillery. Immediately I knew who she was talking about,” Quinn recalls. “Lo-and-behold, a month or two later we got an announcement that the distillery was to be built in Tullamore. It was the greatest thrill of all time for me because I’m the longest-serving Tullamore D.E.W. person at that time in the business. I’m like a child in a toy shop when I go down there because having spent 40 something years in the business I’m now six years with our own distillery and it’s still a novelty that I can’t get over”.  

Tullamore D.E.W

The delightful new Tullamore Distillery.

After an initial €3 million investment upgrading the visitor centre (housed in the old distillery’s warehouse that closed in 1954), William Grant spent €35 million on a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Tullamore, which opened in 2014. Initially it had the capacity to produce up to 1.8 million litres of pot still and malt whiskey per annum using four pot stills, but provision was made for the installation of a further two pot stills in the distillery, which doubled this capacity to 3.64 million litres. Following an additional €25 million investment, a grain distillery with a gigantic three column still and bottling plant were added in 2017. That spend brought total monies invested over the past eight years to €100m. “We now employ over 90 people locally and we have great facilities now for innovation, for trialling, for working on different casks and finishings,” says Quinn. “We even brought over Tom, the original distiller from 1948-54 who had emigrated to New York City, as the guest of honour. He got the keys that were lent to us by the Williams family to reopen the distillery”. 

The installation of a grain distillery means that the distillery can now produce all three components (pot still, malt, and grain whiskey) of its Tullamore Dew blended whiskey on-site, which matures in six warehouses filled with close to 300,000 casks. It’s the only triple-distilled blend, grain to glass Irish distillery. “We’re very proud of that. It’s the key thing about our brand that we distil three kinds of whisky, malt, pot still and grain, and each of those is triple-distilled [the grain in the column still]. That gives us a whiskey that’s complex, approachable and unique. There isn’t a lot of whiskey made that way,” says Quinn. “Pot still is a very interesting component in that it gives a viscosity and oiliness to the texture of the whiskey. It’s an iconic style in Ireland so it’s important that we have it in our blend and we’ll hopefully release a pot still whiskey in the not too distant future, which will be exciting. A single pot still won’t have been made in Tullamore in a long time, it would have been 65 years.” 

Another blend is the Tullamore D.E.W. XO Caribbean Rum Cask Finish, which finishes its original blend of pot still, malt and grain Irish whiskeys in first fill Caribbean rum casks which previously held Demerara rum, while the brand also has a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old single malt in its portfolio, both of which were produced at Bushmills. At the visitors centre, you can also pick up the Tullamore D.E.W. Old Bonded Warehouse Release, which Quinn describes as “a variation of our original whisky with more pot still and sherry cask, it’s a big seller at our visitors centre because you can’t buy it anywhere else”. Excitingly, there’s more to come. “We’re in a process of innovation and we will be launching new expressions this year. They probably would have been launched sooner if it wasn’t for COVID-19, but we will have at least one, if not two expressions, coming certainly between now and next April. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more about them because there will be a big reveal and launch,” Quinn explains.

Tullamore D.E.W

The old warehouse was converted into the brand’s visitor centre

Tullamore D.E.W has the distinction of being the only distillery in Ireland that uses Irish winter wheat as its grain, which is considerably more expensive than say French corn, a more commonplace choice. “I remember when the grain distillery was being built and the project manager suggested it and I said I would love it to use Irish wheat rather than French corn if it’s possible! The thinking behind it at the time was that Girvan [grain distillery owned by William Grant] works with wheat and so our guys were happy to work with wheat from an engineering point-of-view, but for me, it was fantastic because it’s another part of our story which is interesting and different,” says Quinn. “Being environmentally conscious is still high on our agenda even with a pandemic going on. We have a distillery where the grain is all Irish and where the movement of your spirit from your distillery to the warehouses and from the warehouses into a bottling hall is just there beside you. It gives us an efficient carbon footprint statement. There’s no other distillery in Ireland that’s doing that. We’ve got three types of whiskies, all of them being matured on-site and all of them using Irish grain and all of them being matured and bottled in the same campus”. 

Part of this consideration to act responsibly and ensure provenance meant that William Grant also built a water pipe to receive the water from the Slieve Bloom Mountains as part of the construction of the distillery, which is 14 kilometres away. “The water coming from the mountains is probably softer but mostly we wanted to ensure that we had our own supply of water, rather than taking it out of the town supply or from underground even from wells below the distillery,” Quinn explains. The consideration for the local environment extended so far as to plant plants in the distillery grounds in order to facilitate a bee corridor and use a patented William Grant engineering department system called ‘thermal vapour recompression’. “Essentially it reuses the latent heat built up around the condensers to fire up the stills again so we don’t need nearly as much energy to run them, so it improves our efficiency by another 17% beyond what it would have been. I’m very proud of that part of our business. We’re just lucky that we’ve got this site big enough and the company had the vision to do everything on one site”. 

Tullamore D.E.W malt and pot still whiskey is distilled in handcrafted copper stills that were modelled on the original pre-1954 Tullamore stills, which are actually on display at the nearby Kilbeggan Distillery. “The engineers showed me the designs of the stills before and I thought ‘why is all this familiar to me?’ They told me they found the old designs and we’d gone to Forsyths in Scotland and asked them to make the stills’. That speaks to the importance of heritage and legacy and history in the business,” Quinn says. In keeping with the spirit of innovation, Tullamore D.E.W also brought back the art of coopering to its distillery for the first time in six decades. The brand’s cooperage currently employs one cooper who previously worked in Cognac and for William Grant in Scotland before he came to Tullamore. The plan is to hire an apprentice in the near future. “At first we didn’t think having our own cooper would be essential, but as time went on and the more casks that we put out, we realised we needed to have our cooper man on-site doing all this work’,” Quinn says. “It’s brilliant because it completes the whole picture”.

Tullamore D.E.W

The handcrafted copper stills were modelled on the original pre-1954 model

Tullamore D.E.W is certainly going to be putting those skills to good use as the brand has never shied away from experimenting with cask types, which the Tullamore D.E.W. Cider Cask Finish expression demonstrates. “The Scotch whisky people I talk to do have a degree of gentle jealousy that there’s flexibility in Irish whiskey to play with different casks that they don’t, or least until recently certainly didn’t have. We appreciate that we need to hold onto some of the traditions and not throw everything out, but that we don’t need to hamstring ourselves completely”, Quinn explains. “We’ve got great flexibility to do all sorts of cask finishing, which gives us an opportunity to offer expressions that might not otherwise have been available and therefore Irish Whiskey becomes really interesting. And we need to be interesting because we need people to be talking about it, you know?”

That conversation has been helped by the formation of the Irish Whisky Association in 2014, according to Quinn, who believes that the organisation gives those in the Irish whiskey industry a sense of common purpose and an understanding of the threat of not doing it right. “We’ve developed quality standards and technical and verification files with a view to geographical indication to help define what the category is. It brings us all together and gives everybody a chance to do well so the industry can continue to thrive and grow, employ more people and encourage a tourism industry that we haven’t had” Quinn explains. His ultimate aim is that it becomes sort of second nature to talk about ‘Irish’ when you talk about ‘whiskey’. “I remember a time when we had to remind people that there are other whiskies beyond Scotch and American. When convincing people that Irish whiskey has heritage, quality and flavour was a real challenge. You have to be careful that we don’t get complacent and what we definitely don’t want is the new smaller distilleries to fail and for us to find ourselves with closed distilleries again in Ireland. We want everybody to succeed and I can’t see any reason why anybody would want other than a thriving business”.

Cocktails have become a key part of this conversation and Tullamore D.E.W as a brand has embraced this culture, filling its website with recipes. This is something Quinn never thought he’d see in an article about whiskey and the fact that cocktails have become such a key part of the conversation is a pleasant surprise for him. “Did I ever think I would see myself talking about cocktails? No! But it’s great to hear bartenders responding to the different elements in the blend. I love that they can pick out the sweetness from the grain whiskey, the spice that’s coming from the pot still, the fruit that’s coming from the malt and then make something special with it. It’s this blend of thoughts, cultures and ideas that make us all interesting people and an interesting brand”. 

Tullamore D.E.W

Tullamore D.E.W is Ireland’s second-biggest whiskey brand and its future is bright

Interesting though they are, in the current climate it’s harder than ever to predict what the future holds for Tullamore D.E.W. and Irish whiskey. Prior to the pandemic, it was on course to sell a million and a half cases this year. “If you had asked me this in December my answer would be that I see a very bright future for Irish whiskey, particularly in places where we’re really small and relatively unknown. In Latin America or Asia for example, where there’s a very strong Scotch culture, we’re trying to help people understand that this is a really interesting category and country. Our business is dominated by Europe and North America, so these markets are an incredible opportunity for us as a category,” Quinn says. “There’s potential there and I hope we’ll have an industry where there are lots of Irish whiskey distilleries with different flavour profiles and everybody will have a place in and will be living from a vibrant industry platform that talks with confidence and nobody worries about mothballed distilleries. That’s what I’m hoping, that’s what I dream of and that’s what I envisage. For the last 15 years, we can say that that’s certainly been the trend line”.

The Tullamore D.E.W. range is available from Master of Malt.

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Five of London’s best whisky bars

With the capital’s venues tentatively opening up again on the 4 July, we thought it as good a time as any to celebrate some of our favourite places in London…

With the capital’s venues tentatively opening up again on the 4 July, we thought it as good a time as any to celebrate some of our favourite places in London to drink whisky.

It’s happening, it’s finally happening! Soon, when you want to have a drink with a friend it won’t mean dropped connections and unflattering camera angles on Zoom, or sitting two metres apart in your garden wondering whether using the loo would break government guidelines on social distancing. No, we’re talking about sitting at a table under a roof while someone brings you a drink, and then you pay for it. Sounds bananas, but it could catch on. So, we’ve rounded up five of our favourite places to drink whisky. Where we know, we’ve put when the venue will be opening again and whether booking is required. Please do contact the bar first though. Right, without further ado, here they are. Let us know about your favourites in the comments or on social media.

The Boisdale buzz

Boisdale, Belgravia

Almost every day, Boisdale owner, the magnificently-monickered Ranald Macdonald, is to be found enjoying lunch in the Belgravia branch. Always a good sign. This first Boisdale specialising in Macdonald’s three favourite things steak, cigars and whisky, opened in 1988, and has since been joined by three other venues, Mayfair, Bishopsgate and a mammoth venue at Canary Wharf. Macdonald also loves music and so there are regular jazz, soul and reggae gigs with some serious talent on offer like Courtney Pine or Horace Andy. The Mayfair branch has a special vinyl and cocktail bar in the basement whereas in Belgravia you can indulge your inner plutocrat on the cigar terrace where Glen Collins will suggest the perfect malt to go with your Montecristo. During lockdown, MacDonald has kept the wolf from the door issuing Boisdale War Bonds where one can buy fine whisky, wine, food and music in advance at a massive discount. The Belgravia branch will open from 8 July. 

You could spend a lot of time and money at Bull in a China Shop

Bull in a China Shop, Shoreditch

This amazing bar in London by Old Street roundabout is a booze wonderland especially for lovers of Japanese whisky. It was founded by brothers Simon and Stephen Chan who created the Drunken Monkey dim sum bar also in Shoreditch. Bull in a China Shop has been open since 2015, and offers an incredible range of Japanese whisky including some Karuizawa at £55 a glass and the biggest bottle of Nikka from the Barrel you have ever seen, plus whiskies from smaller producers like Mars. There’s plenty of Scotch too. Stephen Chan told me he had a soft spot for Tomatin, in particular. There’s Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean bar snacks to wash down with your single malt. 

Milroy’s has been a whisky destination since the ’60s

Milroy’s, Soho

Milroy’s is a Soho institution that was revived and revitalised when Martyn ‘Simo’ Simpson took over in 2014. There’s a cocktail bar in the basement and a whisky bar on the ground floor with over 1,000 bottles to try; they claim it’s the largest selection outside Scotland. Simo buys and bottles his own rare casks so there are things here that you can’t find anywhere else. During lockdown, the team kept busy by selling rare casks, offering Zoom tastings and selling bottled cocktails. “We will come out of this stronger than we went in,” he said.  He opened a three story Spitalfields outpost last year which contains a whisky-focused private members club. This will be selling drams to take away while the Soho branch will open up next week with seating at the whisky bar and 16 tables outside as part of Soho’s evening pedestrianisation transformation. He’s taking the opening slowly “we’ll be fully open in September, no one is going to rush back to central London yet.”

Homeboy, a little bit of Ireland in North London

Homeboy, Islington

The aim with Homeboy was to bring a bit of Dublin to Islington, according to founders Aaron Wall and Ciaran Smith. As you’d expect there’s a remarkably range of Irish whiskeys alongside some excellent cocktails along with simple food like toasties or, sure to bring back childhood memories, a crisp sandwich made with Tayto’s cheese and onion. One of London’s smallest bars, it will be reopening on 4 July; Wall told us: “we are just doing table service and blocking off every second table for distancing. We are happy to take walks too and also takeaway. Bookings have been really good for Saturday but really quiet for after that.” Wall has kept busy experimenting with Home Boy Irish Coffee Bitters (why has no one done this before?), which should be coming soon, bottled cocktails and “our own limited release top secret finished Irish Whiskey.” Sounds exciting. 

Unusual whiskeys at Sibin

Sibin, Westminster

We love a bit of theatre here at Master of Malt, and there’s theatre a-plenty at the secret Sibin bar at the recently-opened Great Scotland Yard Hotel. It was so secret that we struggled to find it until a helpful member of staff pressed a discreet button and, James Bond villain-style, a section of bookcase opened to reveal a secret bar. It’s called Sibín, as in an Irish drinking den (sometimes spelt shebeen). The drinks menu takes a turn for the unexpected too with old classics given a tune-up. The Rusty Nail is made with two types of Talisker, and Drambuie, and then left to oxidise for two days to mellow. Bars manager Michal Mariarz adds a little PX to his Smokey Cokey, Lagavulin 16 year old and Coke. For the more classically-inclined there are unusual whiskies like a 2005 Caol Ila part-matured in Hermitage red wine casks. Please note, opening date for Sibin is still TBC.

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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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Balcones: Where tradition meets innovation

As Master of Malt’s exclusive Balcones Barrel Pick lands, we look back at our 2019 trip to the Texas distillery, remarking at how much can change in a decade… If…

As Master of Malt’s exclusive Balcones Barrel Pick lands, we look back at our 2019 trip to the Texas distillery, remarking at how much can change in a decade…

If anything could capture the disorientation felt by a time traveller arriving in a new sphere, stepping inside the original Balcones distillery must come close. About an hour and a half south of Dallas, Texas, the brand’s Waco hometown takes its form from a mesh of residential streets and independent bars and restaurants, sliced neatly in two by the Brazos River, and dissected again by multi-lane highways. Pulling off the sun-baked carriageway, we entered the network, cutting back through industrial streets, dusty and decked with graffiti. It’s next to an underpass and across from some apparently abandoned garages that you discover the single-storey, brick-clad cream and white building. It is identifiable as a distillery only by the red Balcones logo stamped on a weathered side, reminiscent of a faded lipstick stain.

Balcones is a bit of an outlier when it comes to American whiskey. Built from an idea conceived in 2008, the brand blends ingenuity with time-honoured traditions. It started with a love for Scotch, coupled with a desire to develop taste experiences not found anywhere else. And remember, this all happened before the big distilling boom we’re seeing across the US now. 

Balcones

Balcones head distiller, Jared Himstedt, in his office

“I really adore and respect the tradition,” states head distiller, Jared Himstedt, an individual who is creative and considered in equal measure. He started his drinks career in beer, as a homebrewer and in the on-trade. “We were ready to make stuff,” he recalls. “Whiskey was what we loved. We tried the beer thing, and we were ready to move on and try our hand at this. It wasn’t really about surveying the landscape like, ‘Oh, this is a great time to get into whiskey.’”

He acknowledges some of those players held in high regard as US craft pioneers: St George Spirits, Anchor (now Hotaling), and Hudson. “There were just a few and they were tiny, and they were hard to find. But just knowing somebody was doing it, then your brain is like, ‘Oh, that’s an option’.”

Inside the old Balcones distillery

Step inside the cool, dark space of the old distillery, and you’re now in 2009, the year Balcones started distilling what would go on to become its whisky (note: the brand drops the ‘e’. Like for Scotch.). Once a welding store, the 2,500sq ft production site might be silent, but the cobweb-covered pot stills and hand-stirred mash tun show just how far Balcones has come – and speaks to the philosophy that remains at the heart of the brand today. We were there with Himstedt and distillery manager, Tommy Mote, who also hails from a beer background, and is as flavour-obsessed as his head distiller.

“For me, being a beer guy, single malt is the most obvious, just because of the barley connections,” Himstedt continues. “And with whisky, I think there’s kind of some romanticism. You feel a loyalty [to the first one you loved], it’s part of your personal story and history.”  

Balcones

Behind the scenes in the lab. It tastes as good as it looks

In many ways, once you’re out from under the Texan sun and in the tiny distillery, you could be in Scotland. It’s not just time-bending, but geography-splicing, too. The light carves its way through the dust, falling on still shapes that were for sure inspired by Scotch. Like much of the kit, they were made or adapted by the team. Barley was shipped across the Atlantic – although today more is Texas-grown as the brand explores more grain-to-glass production. Small-batch and craft, in the very essence of the word. 

“We started not really knowing as much about the processes as we should have, we weren’t trained,” Himstedt explains. “It was just very intentional, try something new, some sensory things. Then adjust and do a little research.” At that stage, almost everything was controlled – and indeed carried out – by hand. And the results spoke for themselves. Balcones Texas Single Malt started picking up medals at international spirits competitions in 2013.

Back in the car and it was time to get back into the grid and head to the other side of town. On the way, Mote points out bars, eateries and independent stores. It’s a colourful, bustling town, with people out and about enjoying its fayre, wares and scenery, ambling along the river and through the green spaces. For its harrowing past, Waco has emerged as a vibrant, creative place, with optimism bubbling up everywhere, from its striking Suspension Bridge, to Baylor University’s cavernous McLane Stadium. 

Balcones

Himstedt loves to experiment, and we love his creations!

Balcones: A bold distilling world

Turn the corner into the Balcones parking lot in Downtown Waco, and we are in a bold new whisky distilling world. A huge Balcones logo on the roof of the 1920s four-storey concrete, steel and brick warehouse blocks out the fierce sun, casting no doubt as to where you are. The former Texas Fireproof Storage Co. building was initially purchased by Balcones in 2011 to provide barrel storage – now, it’s a sleek, stylish and inspiring, bar, office and production space. It’s an impressive HQ, about 25 times the size of that original distillery tucked away next to the tired garages on the other side of town.

First impressions are made in the glossy bar, a lustrously industrial hub with copper and turquoise accents and sleek seating. There are cocktails and whisky flights on offer, but it’s as much a community space as a brand haven. Flyers announce future events, and you could imagine the vibe on a busy Friday evening. 

Some of the most impressive copper pot stills you’ll ever lay eyes on. We couldn’t get them all in shot!

We move through the distillery and find enormous 58-tonne hoppers, a traditional 24,600-litre mash tun for barley (and a cooker for other grains), and seven state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled 26,500-litre external fermenters. The scale is extraordinary, and in stark comparison to the rustic kit at the old site. 

The contrast is even more apparent in the vast distillation space, which houses some of the most impressive copper pot stills I’ve ever seen. The necks turn into slinky-like lyne arms, a visually dramatic way to max out reflux. The older still (both are made by Forsyths in Scotland) boasts around 75 metres of coil, while the newer one still has around 35 metres of turns. They tower above us, resplendent and majestic in their polished surrounds. 

The move must have been quite the undertaking. “Yeah, we were worried about it,” Himstedt admits, looking back to 2014 when work began to transform what was essentially a storage unit into what it is today, while taking care not to lose the history of the building. “Even the stills, moving to bigger stills and running stream instead of direct fire, learning how to run them.” He says it took a good “four to six months” to be happy with the distillate. “We like to make samples; we have a whole library from back [before], and we kept checking what was coming off compared to old ones.” Adjustments were made, and now he’s living the history.

Balcones

Balcones barrel samples are here, there and everywhere!

Beyond ‘Scotch’

As well as significantly increasing capacity, building a brand home, and creating a stunning space for visitors, the new Balcones distillery has allowed the team to up the experimentation stakes like never before. As well as the Scotch-inspired single malt, Balcones produces bourbons, other corn expressions, and ryes, smoky bottlings like Brimstone, and even a rum. Mote estimated that the team plays with as many as 18 different mashbill recipes across the range, and that’s before you even start tweaking with fermentation, or the influence of oak.

“I think all of these could be done differently,” Himstedt muses. “All we’ve been doing for the last 10 years is try to do other styles, and make them appealing. It’s believing that we could achieve that if we did something differently to how it’s normally done.”

We head up to his lab, and we’re surrounded 360-degrees by barrel samples, distillates, and all manner of other liquid experiments. Suddenly Himstedt’s desire just to try stuff makes perfect sense. He and the wider team are dedicated to exploring flavour, pushing boundaries, while simultaneously honouring the tradition that’s got the whisk(e)y industry to the place it is now.

After such a decade of such growth and achievement, what drives him to keep going? “It’s a really exciting thing when you see someone and the light goes on,” he says, talking about sharing the whisky love. “It’s getting people out of their shell, getting them discussing, encouraging them that there’s no wrong answer here.” He likens talking about whisky to food flavour memory. “People get more comfortable, less afraid.” And that’s one of the biggest differences he’s seen over his ten years with Balcones. “The education of the amount of information that people come to whisk(e)y with today versus a decade ago is drastically different.” People know what they like. And they like Balcones.

A taste of Texas

Fancy a taste of Texas? Here are three must-try Balcones expressions, balancing heritage and innovation.

Balcones

Balcones Texas Single Malt (cask 10011) – Master of Malt & British Bourbon Society, £89.95

We couldn’t go all the way to Texas and not pick out a cask to bottle as our very own! Technically we had some help from our pals at the British Bourbon Society, who chose from four samples. One of just 240 bottles, this single malt boasts notes of banana fritters and toffee apple on the nose, tobacco and black pepper on the palate, and a Mars Bar-esque finish. Delicious stuff (even if we do say so ourselves).

Balcones

Balcones Baby Blue Corn, £49.95

The first whisky distilled from blue corn! This is deliciously different compared to a traditional bourbon, and makes for an excellent addition to the drinks cabinet. It’s got toasty cereal on the nose, and has a dark caramel palate with a velvety thick mouthfeel. Luscious sweet spices come through on the finish. One to add to the American whiskey bucket list for sure. 

Balcones

Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof , £67.25

A delectable rye released to celebrate Balcones’s 10th anniversary! It’s a 100% rye mashbill – but don’t be fooled. There are loads of different varieties in here, from raw elbron and roasted varietals, to crystal and even chocolate types. The result is a sweet treat: think cinnamon and hot cocoa with added marshmallows, hints of tobacco and orange zest to lift it. Rye fans, get involved! 

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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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Tarquin’s: Cornwall’s gin pioneer

Tucked away in converted cow sheds by the rugged coast of Cornwall lies Southwestern Distillery, an independent spirits company established by classically-trained chef and self-taught distiller Tarquin Leadbetter back in…

Tucked away in converted cow sheds by the rugged coast of Cornwall lies Southwestern Distillery, an independent spirits company established by classically-trained chef and self-taught distiller Tarquin Leadbetter back in 2013. We shine a light on the distillery as his latest creation, a Caribbean spiced rum called Twin Fin, hits the shelves…

By the age of 25, Le Cordon Bleu alumni Tarquin Leadbetter had founded Cornwall’s first distillery in more than a century, developed his flagship Tarquin’s Cornish Gin, and created the UK’s first commercially-distilled pastis (named Cornish Pastis, of course). All in all, a pretty impressive spirits CV. What started out as a relatively modest aspiration – “go surfing in the morning and make gin in the afternoon,” Leadbetter says – has evolved incrementally into a vibrant small-batch distilling operation with four stills, three flagship spirits, and a 40-strong team. 

The growth has been both organic and sustainable. On a liquid level, the bottles are individually filled, corked, sealed, labelled, numbered and waxed by hand – thankfully not just by Leadbetter these days, who reckons he personally labelled around 50,000 bottles in those formative years – and the distillery has never had any investment other than the money he used to start the business, which was inherited from his grandparents. With no outlandish budgets to hire a consultant or “buy shiny German copper stills”, Leadbetter set up the distillery on a shoestring. He bought a 0.7 litre still off the internet, heating it on a cooker at home.

Tarquin Leadbetter with one of his little stills

“I went to the cash and carry to buy magnums of cheap vodka – which was my neutral grain spirit – and macerated lots of jars of single botanicals overnight,” he reflects. “Then I’d do these turbo batches, distilling 100 single botanicals on my cooker, which would take about half an hour to an hour each, labelling them up and blending them together. I’d add two botanicals, then three, then four, five, six, and went on this extraordinary journey of exploration.” 

The more distillates he experimented with, the clearer his vision became for his eponymous gin. “I realised that one person isn’t necessarily better at smelling or tasting than another,” Leadbetter continues. ”It’s just their vocabulary; being able to articulate the flavours that they come across. By distilling everything on its own, I was able to remember those flavours, which made it a lot easier to decide where to head in terms of final flavour. It also made me a lot better at tasting other gins and working out what I liked and disliked.”

While blending skills are certainly crucial, mastering the technical aspect of distilling is of equal importance, if not greater. After all, it’s little use describing how you’d like your gin to taste if you can’t actually create those flavours. Back then, “free knowledge was generally thin on the ground”, Leadbetter explains. “Primarily, it’s been three multinationals creating this stuff for the past 20, 30, 40 years – the market’s consolidated and all of their research is proprietary”. 

“The best resources for recipe ideas, cut points, temperatures; they were very much found on home-brewing sites or forums for craft distillers,” he continues. “There was this crazy journey of reading everything I could on the internet to cobble together enough knowledge, and then applying it through practice and then through trial and error to come up with the recipe.”

Arrrrrrr! Seadog Navy Gin

“On my journey distilling from botanicals, when it got to things like aniseed, liquorice or star anise, and they louched [went cloudy] when I diluted them down, it instantly clicked, I was like ‘oh my god, this is so familiar to pastis in France or the ouzos from Greece from holidays’ that it opened my eyes into making something else alongside gin, another botanical-flavoured spirit.” This was the genesis of Cornish Pastis.

With his gin recipe perfected and a pastis in the pastis in the works, Leadbetter acquired a 500sqft unit in north Cornwall and bought a 250-litre still to start distilling on a commercial scale. He approached gastro pubs, wine specialists, hotels and farm shops across the county, and sold the first batch on 30 July 2013 from the boot of his car. 

At the end of the first month, Southwestern secured its first export order, and by the end of the first year, Tarquin’s had won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC). Even so, his mum was still signing each bottle. “We have these hand-written batch character tasting notes, so my mum was writing those on the bottle, my sister was helping me stick the labels on, and for the first two years I was still hand-labelling and doing lots of the bottling myself,” Leadbetter says. “It took us about 18 months to make our very first employee.”

Today, Southwestern has four stills which are spread across five units at the same converted cow sheds. “Three are exactly the same type as I first started on, where we can do small batches and be really creative, and the other is a bigger custom-built Italian still made by a company called Green Engineering, which made the stills for Bombay Sapphire’s Laverstoke Mill,” Leadbetter says. 

“We’ve very much got that blend of old and new,” he continues. “We’ve still got these incredibly rustic stills sealed with bread dough*, and then on the other side of the distillery we’ve got this modern, high-tech still with its fancy flow metres that can spit out all these digital readings. All it’s really designed to do is give us information to help us mirror and copy what’s going on with the smaller stills, but on a larger scale. It’s been an interesting evolution.”

Twin Fin, a spiced blend of Jamaican and Dominican rum

A variety of limited edition gins have been added to the range over the years – including blackberry and Cornish honey, rhubarb and raspberry, strawberry and lime – and now, after two years of development, a spiced rum that goes by the name of Twin Fin is the latest spirit to expand the line-up. To make Twin Fin, a secret spice recipe is distilled in Southwestern’s copper pot stills and combined with two Caribbean rums. Then, the liquid is married with charred oak chips before bottling.

“It’s a blend of Jamaican pot still rum, which is lovely and banana-y, and Dominican Republic column still rum, which almost tastes a bit like coconut,” Leadbetter explains. “We wanted to spread our wings a little bit and use our knowledge and experience of distilling botanicals and create a rum, and the best way for us to start is by putting our own twist on a spiced creation. It’s got lots of citrus, lots of vanilla. We soak our oak chips in Pedro Ximénez sherry to add this almost Christmas cake fruit sweetness to the spirit.”

There’s no question that rum seems to finally be having its moment in the spotlight, and it appears to be led by the botanical success seen in gin. Could we see another spiced rum from Southwestern going forward? “In terms of further experimenting we might go down more of a fresh fruit approach as our gins have done, natural fruit flavours potentially, there’s space for some really fun tropical ingredients – or we might do some completely off-the-wall, wacky limited edition one-offs,” says Leadbetter.

“Traditionally rum has been quite an on-trade heavy spirit,” he continues. “Lots of people drink it in bars, but it’s never quite been the hero of the home cocktail bar, and there’s definitely more scope for that. Gin is the most popular spirit that people are buying to drink at home during lockdown, and I think rum could follow in its footsteps over the next few years – with the right products and some British experimentation also helping to drive the category.”

*A tried and tested technique whereby bread dough is used to seal the top of the still in place of a gasket. “It’s been around for probably 1,000 years, since they were using a very similar style of alembic still in north Africa,” Leadbetter says. “It’s super effective.”

Tarquin’s Gin is available from Master of Malt. Find the full range here

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