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Master of Malt Blog

Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Three, Caol Ila and Islay Ales

A double dose of fun and games on the Isle! On the third day of Fèis Ìle we joined the craic at Caol Ila before chilling out with a refreshing…

A double dose of fun and games on the Isle! On the third day of Fèis Ìle we joined the craic at Caol Ila before chilling out with a refreshing pint at the Islay Ales Open Day. Great stuff all round!

We always try to bring you an authentic view of Fèis Ìle here on the blog. So, in the interests of full disclosure, we did not have an early night and hit the hay after we hit ‘publish’ yesterday evening. Adventure awaited. We scoffed our dinner down and headed out to experience the Islay nightlife! Our Laura headed into the evening in Bowmore, while Kenny, Jake and I headed all the way out to Portnahaven for a Rhythm & Booze Project pub gig. Don’t think the fun stops once the distillery gates close! We had a dead nice time, a particular highlight being percussion extraordinaire Paul’s washboard solo, before the guest horn section took centre stage for a battle. Team MoM could not control their feet.

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Rocking out with the Rhythm & Booze Project

After a bougie few days at The Machrie (we know, swish) Monday, AKA Fèis Ìle Day Three, saw Team MoM up sticks for pastures new. Don’t worry, it was planned – there was no epic catastrophe; in fact, we entirely recommend Islay’s luxe golf hotel. But before we could check into our new Port Charlotte home, we had a whole load of fun and games to attend to and not one but two distillery days: up north for Caol Ila, and then back to Bridgend for the Islay Ales Open Day!

Our advance party (oh haaiii, Kenny and Laura) headed off early to get the car with all the film kit down and back up the winding road to Caol Ila before the shuttle buses started their worthy work ferrying Fèis-goers to and fro. The rest of us followed shortly afterwards, making use of the handy field car park at the top of the hill. That was where we encountered our first surprise of the day – car park drams! The distillery team had brekkie measures of Caol Ila 12 ready to go for the bus queue. Huzzah and hurrah! And double huzzah, because there were even closed measures for designated drivers (AKA the Des) like me. MEGA!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Car park drams!

Drams down, on the bus we went (intrigued by the journey down the hill? Check out the timelapse on our Instagram story. It’s worth it for that view. Caol Islay surely ranks highly in the distillery surroundings charts) and we arrived at the distillery in fine spirits, ready for the day ahead. After a brief mooch around, we decided to go in search of Pierrick Guillaume, Caol Ila distillery manager, our video victim interview subject for the day. We popped into the distillery office on our travels, discovering Georgie Crawford hard at work. Georgie is set to lead the team at the revived Port Ellen Distillery, an incredibly exciting new role. But there wasn’t much opportunity to gossip about that as someone else made her presence felt: adorable [unofficial] distillery cat, Sushi! She demanded lots of fuss and head scritches, before plonking herself down on non-cat person Georgie’s lap. We rate her sass highly.

Caol Ila Feis Ile

The gorgeous Sushi

After meeting and falling for Sushi, we found Pierrick! We also found a room with a glorious view – a little lounge space above the office (i.e. Sushi’s domain) overlooking the incredible Sound of Islay and on to the dramatically craggy Paps of Jura. The sun wasn’t quite shining, but the light was still bright enough to require all kinds of jolly japes from Kenny to get the shot. But persevere he did! We had a great chat with Pierrick, putting a whole bunch of your questions to him. And we got to taste the distillery bottling, a 58.4% ABV 22 year old which has spent time in sherry-treated freshly-charred American oak hogsheads. It costs £130 and there are just 3,000 bottles. What’s it like? Check it out the vid right here!

I cunningly got one of the team to enjoy my takeaway 12 Year Old Caol Ila from the car park so I could replace it with the festival release in my dram carrier – needless to say I am VERY excited to settle down properly with it later on once the Des duties are complete!

But that’s not all. Pierrick revealed (well, he first let the Sushi out of the bag on Instagram at the weekend) that there was a second Fèis Ìle bottling! Behold: a 180-bottle outturn, 55.3% ABV 28 year old, filled on 24 May by his own fair hand. Exciting stuff! Here’s a snap off of his Instagram (check out @pierrickatcaolila and give him a follow!). People had even been camping overnight to get their mitts on it.  

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Behold the secret festival bottling!

Post-interview we cracked out the drams and t-shirts, and had lovely chats with a whole bunch of you. Big shout outs to our Friends From Falkirk (not an official name) who shared some delectable Glen Keith with the team, and Connas off of The Whisky Lounge who found this old gem from somewhere!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

One of our new Friends from Falkirk with the mega-old MoM bottling!

The Caol Ila Open Day isn’t the largest of the week, but Fèis-goers are clearly a super-creative bunch. The drams were flowing, but instead of simply gathering up used cups, a group formed this incredible sculpture! Forget a sandcastle, I declare this a whisky citadel!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Would the real king of the castle please stand up?

Then there was the dancing. We all know it’s not a distillery day at Fèis Ile without music, and we were especially impressed by a group of women who cracked out their synchronised dance routines before lunch. Props to you all! If you made the whisky citadel or can lay claim to dancing, do make yourself known on social or in the comments below!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Dramming is on

Other highlights included a lively and loud coopering demo area (spoiler alert: it’s HARD), and, of course, the dram bar. Caol Ila was on point when it came to getting whisky to the good people! The cocktails were on too: we especially enjoyed the Banana Old Fashioned. Yum.

Bring on the Islay Ales!

After all that indulgence by the sea it was time to head back in land for a little bit of R&R. Which is what the Islay Ales Open Day feels like! Set in Islay Square, it’s a village fête-beer festival hybrid with music, pizza and crafts all spilling out in the space surrounding the brewery. We were welcomed by a very dapper pug, complete with bow tie. He definitely takes the title of dog of the day!

Across the square, we bumped into the team from Lussa Gin, a distillery on the neighbouring island of Jura. But never fear, whisky fans. Even among all the beer and gin, malt could be found. Just ask the Whisky Boys – we spotted Flatnöse and Bårelegs and Rona’s Cask among the super-relaxed mêlée. Winning!

Music makes the Islay Ales Open Day go round

Time for a quick stroll around the neighbouring Islay House Gardens (foxgloves, beekeeping, a garden kitchen and all-round enchantment behind a mysterious-looking wall) and we were away to check out our new abode! We’re now right by the waterfront in Port Charlotte. It’s feels most serene.

What’s on the agenda tomorrow? Laphroaig! See you there!

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Two, Bruichladdich

It’s party time on Islay! Fèis Ìle Day Two typically sees the entire island descend on Bruichladdich for a music-filled, dram-fuelled shindig. And 2019’s festival stayed true to form! “It’s…

It’s party time on Islay! Fèis Ìle Day Two typically sees the entire island descend on Bruichladdich for a music-filled, dram-fuelled shindig. And 2019’s festival stayed true to form!

“It’s always sunny on Bruichladdich Day.” It’s a saying often heard on Islay. And when we first set off this morning, windscreen wipers essential, it seemed this was going to be the anomalous year. We parked up early, all ready for Kenny, our filmmaker, to get set up, and the drizzle was ON (luckily for the hordes of festival release-seekers lining up down the street, there was no return to the deluge of Lagavulin Day).

First up: the Octomore Event Horizon masterclass with head distiller, Adam Hannett! We wandered up to Warehouse 12, located round the back of the distillery, and we were in for a right treat. We knew in advance that this year’s Fèis Ìle release was an Octomore, and, in fact, the whole day was largely Octomore-themed. What we didn’t know was that the distillery bottling was the oldest liquid ever released from the brand, and we certainly didn’t anticipate the other treats that were in store!

The masterclass drams. DELISH.

The Bruichladdich day masterclass has proved so popular that this year places were allocated via ballot. As you arrived, you were funnelled through a dark corridor filled with really rather ethereal sounds. Kind of fitting then that the audio setting the scene, a recording of the sounds actual stars make, was supplied by NASA (yes, off of the space agency)!

There were 250 other whisky geeks packed into the cathedral-like warehouse. Among us was none other than Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet, CEO of Bruichladdich’s parent company, Rémy Cointreau! No pressure on Hannett, then..! The tasting was also streamed around the world on the distillery’s social channels. Do check out the Bruichladdich YouTube page if you fancy getting the full shebang!

He introduced the six cask-strength, natural colour drams for the session (practically breakfast) but declined to say much about two of them. Interest was certainly piqued at this point! Dram one, according to Hannett, was “too young, too peaty, too strong” – it was a tongue-in-cheek statement designed to provoke a response. We tasted the five year old expression, peated to 107 parts per million (ppm) and bottled at 59.8% ABV. I think it’s safe to say he got his response – one that confirmed that whisky can be seriously tasty at any age, ABV or ppm count.

Bruichladdich Feis Ile

Adam doing his thing

Dram 2 was similar to dram one – except it had been left to mature for another eight years, making it 13 years old. It had spent time in both ex-bourbon and ex-sweet wine casks, and was rich and oily, yet simultaneously confectionery-led with a subdued smoke element. It was peated to 167ppm and bottled at 57.5% ABV, proving the point that what you do with the liquid post production has a huge impact on how easily perceived peat is. Dram 3 was peated to a whopping 309.1ppm – the peatiest Octomore, and indeed Scotch single malt, ever. Distilled in 2011 and matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks, the 60.7% ABV liquid was as complex as it was bewildering. Despite the hefty malt specification, the smoke was barely there on the nose; instead it was like a syrupy cinnamon bun. It did arrive on the palate, but it was much more relaxed than expected. Even the ABV contributed a textural prickle, rather than an all-out alcohol frazzle. What is this Octomore alchemy?!

The next dram was fully matured in virgin French heavily toasted oak for a smidge over three years – and again it proved confounding. Despite its youth, it was rich and rounded (the only thing to let slip its age was that rubbery bounce often found in younger spirits). And, despite the ppm measure only reaching a fraction of dram 3 at 88, it was a bit of a peat monster. “It challenges the convention” of three year old whisky, Hannett said. He is not wrong.

The final two drams were, for me, the absolute highlight. Dram 5 was the festival bottling! We collared Hannett himself for a chat about it afterwards – you can watch it all right here:

Then. Wow. What can be said about dram six?! “It’s a Black Art style of Octomore,” Hannett explained, meaning the cask type is kept largely under wraps. What he did disclose is that the youngest spirit was distilled in 2011, and, because of the range of casks its drawn from, the ppm measure is “impossible to calculate”. Here’s the fun bit: not only was it seriously delicious and really quite elegant (all coffee, toffee, vanilla notes, with apple pie, milk chocolate and cinnamon doughnuts, the 59.5% expression has a “backbone” from one of the only two Octomore casks filled in 2002. For that reason, it’s never going to be released. It’s magic though, and it was an honour to get to taste it.

Bruichladdich Feis Ile

Sunshine of Bruichladdich

Guess what? We emerged from the masterclass and the sun was shining! We descended to the main Bruichladdich yard with haste! The bands were on, there was all kinds of food (including both vegan and gluten-free options!) and, of course, the drams were flowing. Punters could go and check out the dram tent, with an array of complimentary options from across the Bruichladdich portfolio. Or, head up through the yard to the Botanist Cocktail Tent. The flower-filled space had garnish-your-own B*&T options and an enormous cocktail bar with whisky as well as gin serves (we highly recommend the Laddie Tea Time, made with Classic Laddie, lemon balm, Verveine tea, sorrel, and ginger. Yum). Opposite in the Malt Bar was almost the full Bruichladdich portfolio available to buy by the dram, plus an enormous range of Islay Ales – the perfect refresher after all that Octomore! (There was a whole host of local wares for sale in the Islay Arts & Crafts space, too. Ideal for gifts!) Speaking of gifts, we had our freebies for you lots too. We’re at every distillery open day this week giving away drams of our exclusive All Islay Blended Malt and matching t-shirts. Because everyone wants to co-ord with their drink. Come and find us to bag yours!

Cocktails! The Laddie Tea Time and a Bee the Botanist

It wouldn’t be Bruichladdich Open Day without a stellar music line up, and this year did not disappoint. Skerryvore kicked things off, before Trail West took to the stage. And then our Rhythm and Booze Project pals rounded things off once more! The whole yard was grooving. Add in the sunshine and that array of boozes, and there was nowhere else on the island to be! And as well as giving folks the best time, Bruichladdich also did its part for the local Port Charlotte primary school. A bunch of incredible bottles (and a clootie dumpling) were auctioned off to raise funds for the school, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and other brilliant causes. Great stuff, folks!

We were, of course, also on dog look-out once again. From a parade of very fancy poodles to the waggiest and fluffiest of mutts, and even an actual doge(!) the quality of hound was once again high. Bravo, whisky-loving poochie parents!

We even rounded off the day with a motoring feat**, Turns out, Kenny, our filmmaker, is not a one-trick pony. Not only can he shoot, cut, stitch together and the like, he’s also a car manoeuvring fiend. We all know parking is tight at distillery days, but he managed to wiggle the car out of the tiniest of spots. Well done, sir!

*The Botanist, obvs.

** No bollards were harmed in the making of this blog post.

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day One, Lagavulin

It’s the first official day of Fèis Ìle 2019, so we did the only appropriate thing: headed south to Lagavulin to kick off the celebrations in some significant style! After…

It’s the first official day of Fèis Ìle 2019, so we did the only appropriate thing: headed south to Lagavulin to kick off the celebrations in some significant style!

After a day of sunshine yesterday (Bruichladdich, Port Ellen and Islay House looked amazing in the brightness), Saturday dawned murky and drizzly, with midges lurking about ominously. Grey, low visibility… typically Islay, perhaps, and the rain is certainly needed. Distilleries across the island are struggling with production due to low water levels. We* embraced the ‘greater good’ mentality, loaded up the car in full waterproofs, and jetted off back to Lagavulin for the first official distillery day of Fèis Ìle 2019!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Whisky has arrived!

I say ‘back’ because after we hit ‘publish’ on Day 0’s post, we headed to the distillery for an absolute treat: a tasting of the full Game of Thrones single malt collection in the Malt Mill! Donald Colville, Ewan Gunn and newest ambassador recruit TJ talked the packed hall through the whole shebang, finishing on the House Lannister & Lagavulin 9 Year Old – I know whisky always tastes better where it was made, but this one truly was delectable! We rounded off the night with an array of Lagavulin-based cocktails; a dream way to round off Day Zero!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Make way for the SMWS Tour of Islay!

But back to today! We parked up, grabbed the camera kit from the car (more on that shortly!) and made our way over to Lagavulin. But we didn’t get far because behold! The Scotch Malt Whisky Society peloton came through, fresh from starting their Tour of Islay challenge from Ardbeg. Lagavulin was stop number two. Thankfully they seemed fresh-legged and full of energy – we sent them off on their (not yet) merry way with a stash of our All Islay drams!

Lagavulin Feis Ile

All you need is Rhythm and Booze!

After waving the SMWS team off, the Ardview Inn pipe band arrived! Processing round the distillery, they kept the hordes Lagaqueuelin-ing for the official Fèis Ìle bottling (a 19 year old – more on that shortly) entertained. We then headed down into the yard. It was only 10:30 but the crowds had already gathered! Team Lagavulin was more than prepared for the soggy weather and were armed with free ponchos, so people could party and dram in the rain without a care in the world. Good job too – the bands, including The Rhythm and Booze Project, had everyone up on their feet.

Feis Ile Lagavulin

TJ wowing the crowd

Well – it was partly the blues, and definitely partly the drams. Lagavulin super-generously had free pours of its core range on offer. Plus an incredibly exciting 10 year old expression, not set to launch in the UK for another six months! Keep your eyes peeled – it’s a good one.

Feis Ile Lagavulin

PONCHO! (And Jake)

Adjacent to the dram hall was the cocktail bar – there was a major focus on mixed drinks this year, and rightfully so. Lagavulin is a great dram for mixing (we’ll send you to TJ if you even mutter the world ‘sacrilege’!) and the results were delicious. Ali Reynolds (off of Diageo Reserve and World Class) and the team cooked up some classics old and new, including the Smokey Cokey Floaty (with Lagavulin 16, complete with ice cream and a cherry!) and the really rather refreshing Queen of Islay, made with the 2017 Jazz Festival edition, ginger, hibiscus and soda. Yum. It was genuinely exciting to see cocktails properly take front and centre at a whisky festival – which they truly were in the (free!) cocktail sessions throughout the day, hosted by TJ and the legendary Colin Dunn!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Our Laura with the Lagavulin Piña Colada and Queen of Islay!

It wasn’t all about the boozes, though – there was an epic selection of food available, including a number of delectable vegan options, much to our surprise and delight. Round of applause, Lagavulin! There were also free, reusable metal flasks given out along with loads of water stations, a welcome addition to various distillery open days in recent years. Responsible (sip, don’t gulp, folks!) and great for the environment (no plastic!).

We escaped from the melee to grab some time with Colin Gordon, Lagavulin’s distillery manager. You sent your questions for him on social, and we put a whole load to him! Keep your eyes peeled for the results. But also! He gave us a guided tasting through the 2019 Fèis Ìle bottling – a delectable 19-year-old expression. And we’ve got the footage with everything you need to know – and you can see it RIGHT HERE!

Aside from the brilliant crowd and the tip-top whisky, there was another major highlight. All the excellent doggos! Not put off by the rain, the hounds were out in force. A distillery really is an ace place to go if you want to make friends with a poochie!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Gorgeous poochies!

Bravo, Lagavulin, and thanks for an epic day. We’re off for a hearty dinner and to dream of drams. Next stop tomorrow: Bruichladdich Open Day!

 

*An apology. In our blog yesterday, I neglected to introduce you to the 2019 MoM Fèis Ìle dream team! We are a five-strong band of whisky enthusiasts and media geeks, with the mission to bring all the fun of the Fèis to social, the blog and through the medium of video. We have Kenny, our film-maker, Dan, our social media manager, Jake and Laura from our campaign team and me, Kristy, our editor. If you see us out and about on Islay, come and say hi (and bag some whisky swag!).

 

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Zero

Team MoM is safely installed on Islay! And what a first day it’s been. We’ve been all over the island checking out Bruichladdich, the Port Ellen Maltings and the Scotch…

Team MoM is safely installed on Islay! And what a first day it’s been. We’ve been all over the island checking out Bruichladdich, the Port Ellen Maltings and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at Islay House!

First things first: it feels mighty strange calling this blog Day 0 when actually it was mega action-packed and full of fun. But traditionally the first day of the Fèis has been Lagavulin so… maybe the whole shebang needs a bit of shaking up? But that’s a debate for another time. Preferably over a dram…

Right. So, Team MoM is on Islay! Our main home for the first part of the week is ever-so-fancy. Yes, yesterday we checked into The Machrie, and no joke – it is stunning. Gorgeous rooms, great service, lots of whisky. But! We did manage to lure ourselves away first thing in the morning because the lure of Bruichladdich was strong.

Filming up at Bruichladdich

Those of you with half an eye on the Islay calendar will well know today is NOT Bruichladdich day. But Christy McFarlane, malts communications manager, enticed us over early with promise of barley news. And it was cool. We had a good chinwag as we wandered up to the new croft, taking in the views across Loch Indaal and back towards Bowmore as we climbed. The views were spectacular and the barley trials exciting indeed. Watch this space – a video with all the deets is coming soon!

No real time for a stop though as we traversed back across the island to the Port Ellen Maltings (via the all-important Co-op in Bowmore for a vital sandwich stop). This was Mega Exciting (capital letters very much intended) for both me and Jake – we’d never visited the site before, and it is integral to the island’s whisky industry. The Diageo-owned facility malts barley for seven of the nine distilleries – not just its own, Caol Ila and Lagavulin. The team had put on their own almost-distillery day, complete with music, gazebos and all manner of malting facts. And, of course, there were tours.

Feis Ile

It’s Port Ellen!

Before we had a nose about, we went down to Port Ellen beach with the maltings’ site operations manager Sam Hale and Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global scotch whisky master. In front of the old Port Ellen distillery we put your questions to them both, covering production at the maltings and the revival of the distillery itself. Videos to follow! (If you’ve got questions for any of the Islay distillery teams, send them to us on social or pop them in the comments below!).

Feis Ile

Dogs of the day!

Then Hale showed us round the maltings and the scale was something else. Super impressive, indeed! From the eight 25-tonne steeps to the enormous drums, and the gigantic kilns, which take in 6 tons of peat per batch, it’s clear that the operation is something special. We popped into the control room (like a spaceship) and even out onto the roof overlooking the old Port Ellen distillery. It was like glorious, peat-scented magic.

Feis Ile

SMWS ‘s Highland Games at Islay House

Time for a quick ice-cream break, then it was up towards the other end of the island for another village fete-type set up: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Islay House takeover! There was bunting, drams galore, and a whisky-themed Highland Games, complete with axe-throwing and archery. We did not partake, but we did spot a trio of excellent dogs! We also caught up with the SMWS team, including the intrepid Richard who is taking on the recently-established Tour of Islay tomorrow. If you see a bunch of folks in SMWS cycling kits pedalling along, give them a wave or hoot – they’re aiming to cover all nine distilleries and 65-ish miles in one day!

That’s all too much energy for us. We’re off for tea. And a dram or three. Roll on Lagavulin Day tomorrow!

 

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The Nightcap: 24 May

Powers, plastic straws and pineapples – plus a few things that don’t begin with ‘P’. It’s all here in yet another edition of The Nightcap! Today is Friday, and many…

Powers, plastic straws and pineapples – plus a few things that don’t begin with ‘P’. It’s all here in yet another edition of The Nightcap!

Today is Friday, and many of us will be heading into the final Bank Holiday weekend for a few months. There’s one at a seemingly random time in August, but the smattering of three day weekends throughout April and May occur in such a cluster that we almost become used to it. We must not become complacent! We must approach this three day weekend with the same vim and vigour as we did previous ones! Oh, and also we should start it as we do other weekends (extended ones or otherwise), with The Nightcap! Obviously.

In a week in which we announced that we’re going to Fèis Ìle 2019, we also launched two new competitions, one to win the entire Game of Thrones whisky range and the other to win a VIP trip to Bombay Sapphire’s distillery. Nate Brown then extolled the virtues of sherry, Jess took a look at Diageo’s new Italian gin, Villa Ascenti and Annie explored where to imbibe in Bowie’s old haunt, Berlin and who the up-and-comers of alcohol-free are. Adam enjoyed the latest chapter in Balvenie’s story, then picked Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition to be his New Arrival of the Week, for obvious reasons, while Henry enjoyed Redbreast’s new expression, video masterclasses from Mortlach and Johnnie Walker and even manged to find time to make the Grand Sour his Cocktail of the Week. Phew…

Now, on with the news!

Nightcap

Our PR manager Mariella Salerno holds up our shiny new prize!

MoM named DB Awards Online Retailer of the Year!

It was celebration station on Tuesday afternoon at the DB Awards, hosted by the team over at trade magazine The Drinks Business. We were delighted to pick up the Online Retailer of the Year award! The ceremony took place as part of the London Wine Fair, so we got to join the jubilations early, enjoying some really rather marvellous tipples from across the world. They said loads of nice things about us, and we picked up a shiny trophy. Oh, and #WhiskySanta got a highly commended nod too, for his excellent work spreading festive spirit far and wide through the social realm. Cheers, Team DB – you made our week!

Nightcap

Look everyone, it’s Kent’s first single malt whisky!

Kent’s first single malt whisky is here

Kent is something of a booze hotspot with its hop gardens and breweries, orchards and cideries, vineyards and gin distilleries, and of course, it’s the home of a certain online retailer. Now the Garden of England has its first single malt. The whisky is a collaboration between Andy Reason and Norman Lewis of the Anno Distillery in Marden (who make a fine gin) and the Westerham Brewery. The mash was made with English barley and fermented with two strains of yeast comes from the brewery. It was then double distilled in a tiny 300-litre copper pot still named, appropriately enough, Patience. The spirit came off at 63.5% ABV into an ex-bourbon cask that previously held a Speyside single malt. After ageing, the resulting whisky was bottled at 40% ABV. Norman Lewis said of the partnership: “It’s been a wonderful experience working with Robert Wicks from Westerham Brewery. Our combined expertise has come together seamlessly and resulted in something which we’re extremely proud of. We hope those who are lucky enough to taste this limited-edition whisky enjoy savouring it as much as we enjoyed making it.” It’s such a limited edition that customers are being limited to three bottles (at £120 each) and it’s available directly from the distillery and Westerham Brewery. Hurry, while stocks last.

Nightcap

They might seem delightful, but they need to go.

England moves to ban plastic straws and stirrers

Great news, folks! The government this week confirmed it will ban plastic straws and stirrers in England (and plastic cotton buds, but less relevant to us) from April 2020. There are some sensible exemptions for those with medical needs or a disability (pubs and bars will still be able to give them out on request), but we can wave goodbye for good to unnecessary plastic in our drinks. The move follows a government consultation which found 80% back a ban on straws, and 90% on stirrers. About time, too. Apparently, we use 4.7 billion plastic straws and 316 million plastic stirrers each year in England alone! And yes, alternatives are available (we sipped through some fancy bamboo ones recently), but the government reckons a whopping 95% of straws are still plastic. Boo. Even more boo: it’s thought there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, and that every year one million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting trapped in plastic. This ban can’t come soon enough.

Nightcap

Introducing: Scarabus Islay Single Malt

Hunter Laing releases Scarabus Islay Single Malt at Fèis Ìle

Peat heads of the world, unite! A new release from Hunter Laing & Co. is always exciting news, especially when it’s an Islay single malt like Scarabus. Appropriately, the whisky is being released at this year’s Fèis Ìle. If you’re down that way then you’re in luck, because the very first drams will be poured (and tasted) throughout the festival at Hunter Laing’s newly-opened distillery on the island, Ardnahoe. Scarabus means ‘rocky place’ in Nordic, and the whisky is named after a mystical area of Islay, complete with equally mystical golden packaging. “We’re extremely proud of the Scarabus whisky and the Fèis Ìle Festival is the perfect place to release the first bottling”, said Stewart Laing, Managing Director. “We aimed to produce an expression that showcases a traditional Islay whisky style, and the unmistakable Islay smoke matches wonderfully with the rich, sweeter notes that linger on the finish.” If you’re not down Islay-way, fear not, as Scarabus will soon be available in the UK and beyond. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates.

Nightcap

Hit the books spirit nerds, we’ve got a new challenge up ahead!

WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits is live!

Great news, spirits geeks! There’s a new qualification in town, and it’s the toughest one yet. Developed in response to our collective (and global) thirst for all things spirits and subsequent desire to know all about them, the Level 3 Award builds on the Level 2 course (Team MoM highly recommends) but digs down into greater production detail while covering new spirits categories, like baijiu. It’s a much tougher assessment process, too, with a blind tasting exam as well as multiple choice and short-answer question paper. In all, candidates will need to put in at least 84 hours of graft. We’re excited! “The spirits industry has been crying out for a more advanced qualification in spirits,” said course developer Nick King. “Candidate numbers for WSET spirits qualifications (Levels 1 and 2) have grown significantly in the last 10 years (from 540 in 2009 to 6600 in 2019) and are now taught in 33 countries worldwide reflecting growing global demand. We are delighted to now be able to offer the industry a Level 3 Spirits qualification that develops candidates’ knowledge and understanding of the category in great depth and also builds their tasting skills, teaching them to identify the structural and aromatic elements that make up a spirit and to make a compelling quality assessment.” The first UK courses get under way in October!

Nightcap

All the delights of Powers Irish Whiskey with none of the effort? We’re in.

Powers Irish Whiskey’s first ever bottled cocktail

If stirring and, ugh, waiting aren’t for you, Powers Irish Whiskey has your back because the brand has just unveiled its first-ever pre-mixed cocktail, Powers Old Fashioned! Pow! The cocktail sees a combination of the classic Powers Gold Label, sugar syrup and bitter herbs flavouring. The recommended serve is, of course, over ice with a twist of orange peel – well, how else could you garnish an Old Fashioned? The bottle boasts a whole new look, with sleek modern packaging which you’d be hard-pressed to recognise as Powers. “A careful balance of the rich history of Powers with an eye on the future, we are confident that the refreshing ritual of ‘Ice, Pour, Twist’ will appeal to whiskey fans and the cocktail curious alike who are looking for simple and convenient ways to create new Irish whiskey experiences at home or in their local pub”, says Brendan Buckley at Irish Distillers. The cocktail will be launching in Ireland from the end of May, and if it finds success then hopefully we can expect to see it much further afield. Old Fashioneds all around!

Nightcap

Counting oysters by hand, that’s commitment to conservation

Glenmorangie & partners plan to return native oysters to Europe’s seas

Oyster-loving folk, gather round. In historic marine-related news, a landmark Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA) conference on reef restoration was held in Edinburgh this week. It was hosted by The Glenmorangie Company and its partners, including Heriot-Watt University, bringing together conservationists, administrators and oyster producers from across Europe to develop a ‘blueprint’ for native oyster reef restoration. Oysters were overfished to the point of extinction in the 1800s, and it turns out oyster reefs are among the most endangered marine habitats on Earth. The restoration is going to be done through the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (rather aptly abbreviated to DEEP), which was established in 2014 and has already returned 20,000 native oysters to the Dornoch Firth in the Scottish Highlands. The aim? To increase this population of 20,000 to four million (!) by 2025, and in turn the reef will become self-sustaining. “We are incredibly proud to be pioneering DEEP’s vital environmental work with our partners, not only protecting but enhancing Glenmorangie Distillery’s environment for future generations,” says Glenmorangie President and CEO Tom Moradpour. It looks like the world really is our oyster.

Nightcap

Happy Anniversary guys!

The Coral Room celebrates its first anniversary

We got our party shoes on this week and headed up to London to join The Coral Room’s first-anniversary bash! The sleekly cosy cocktail bar is part of The Bloomsbury Hotel, but very much comes with its own character, look and feel. And on Wednesday, that feel was celebration! There was cake, a confetti cannon, and even a sneak peek at the new cocktail menu, which includes such deliciousness as the May Day Spritz, made with Tanqueray, Italicus, orange blossom and honey bitters, and English sparkling wine; and the Drinking in Newquay, with Cîroc, Crème de menthe, Blue Curaçao and Belsazar Riesling Supreme. There was even a Rinomato Sorbet, too! Very festive. Do pop in raise a cocktail to the team – congrats to everyone at The Coral Room!

Licor 43 lays down cocktail and coffee challenge

There’s nothing more on-trend than putting coffee and cocktails together. So, it’s appropriate that Licor 43 has just announced the opening of the UK round of its Bartenders & Baristas Challenge 2019. Now in its third year, this competition lays down the gauntlet to both bartenders and baristas to create serves with coffee and Licor 43 (the details of how to enter are here). Winners will go to a grand final in Gran Canaria this autumn. UK brand manager Charlotte Oswald said: “There is a natural marriage of aromas and flavours between Licor 43 and coffee and we’ve been communicating this with our Carajillo 43 signature serve. We are often amazed at the creativity, knowledge and passion from contestants and this really went up a level with the introduction of the coffee element last year – bartenders who were very well-versed in all things spirits were finding a whole new world of cocktail creation. We can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!” Licor 43, a blend of spices and citrus fruits, is something of a cult drink in Spain. There’s now a special Liquor 43 Baristo made with coffee beans from the Canary Islands which the company has produced a film about (above). So, what are you waiting for bartenders and baristas, get experimenting!

Nightcap

Happy International Pineapple Day, folks!

And finally. . . shake your maracas cos it’s International Pineapple Day!

From the Piña Colada to Carmen Miranda, we all know that the pineapple is the most exotic of all the fruits. No wonder it has a special day devoted to it: 1 June is International Pineapple Day! To help things go with a swing, That Boutique-y Gin Company is putting on a Pineapple Gin Parlour pop-up at 15 Bateman Street, in Soho, London on 1-2 June. There will be masterclasses and food historian Tasha Marks on hand to explain the history of the king of fruit. In the 18th century pineapples were high-value status symbols: having a pineapple was the Regency equivalent of a Ferrari parked outside your house. The neighbours would say ‘oooh, get her, who does she think she is with that pineapple, Lord Byron?’ Thankfully, drinks at the pop-up will be rather more affordable. Simply say the code word ‘mule’ and your Pineapple Mule will cost you nothing at all. Isn’t the modern world brilliant?

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Win a VIP trip to Bombay Sapphire Distillery

WIN the trip of a lifetime to Bombay Sapphire’s home, the beautiful Laverstoke Mill Distillery Enjoy a hosted tour, cocktail-making class, two nights accommodation and more Everyone’s a winner – £5…

  • WIN the trip of a lifetime to Bombay Sapphire’s home, the beautiful Laverstoke Mill Distillery
  • Enjoy a hosted tour, cocktail-making class, two nights accommodation and more
  • Everyone’s a winner – £5 off Bombay English Estate

We love gin. You love gin. It’s not just the refreshing nature of a good G&T in the garden or the joy of a well-made gin-based cocktail that charms us. We want to learn the stories and witness first-hand how our favourite spirits are made. Hence the rising popularity of distillery tours. And there’s few as comprehensive as the one that the lovely folks at the Laverstoke Mill Distillery in Hampshire provide. The home of Bombay Sapphire is not only a delightfully picturesque scene of the English countryside, but it’s also a working distillery filled with all kinds of experiences that any gin geek would enjoy.

Good thing then that we’re offering you the chance to win a VIP trip to see it in person (with a plus-one)!

Bombay Sapphire

Laverstoke Mill, one of the most beautiful distilleries in the country

“What exactly do I win?!”

Lots of lovely things. The winner (and their plus-one) of this competition earn a VIP visit to Bombay Sapphire’s distillery where they’ll then enjoy a hosted tour called ‘A Taste of Bombay’. This curated experience includes a visit the Mill House for an introduction to the heritage and sustainability of Laverstoke Mill, where refreshments will be provided, before a walk along the River Test to take in some horticultural. A complimentary cocktail will also be provided at the Mill Bar, as well as the opportunity to make the ‘cocktail of the month’ with one of the brand’s specially trained hosts.

Oh, and the winner will also enjoy a tasting of Bombay Sapphire’s gin portfolio, explore the Gin Shop, and enjoy two nights’ accommodation with UK travel and lunch included. If you’re a gin fan, you’re probably already scrolling down to find out how you can win this wonderful competition. Which is handy, because that’s where the ‘How to Apply’ bit is.

Bombay Sapphire

The wonderful Botanical Dry Room and Dakin Still House

The ‘How to Apply’ bit

You will be automatically entered into the competition if you purchase a 70cl bottle from the distillery range. It’s that simple. Indulge yourself in any of the following, Bombay Sapphire, Bombay Sapphire East, Star Of Bombay London Dry Gin, Bombay Original London Dry Gin and Bombay English Estate from 22 May to 16 June 2019 and you’re in it to win it (For more details, see the competition terms below). There’s no limit to how many bottles you can buy, so get as many as you want.

It gets even better. Since we love you all so much we’ve also reduced the price of Bombay English Estate for the length of the competition, saving you a whole £5! The limited edition bottling was inspired by the landscape surrounding the brand’s home at Laverstoke Mill in the Hampshire countryside and made with an infusion of three new botanicals: Pennyroyal mint, rosehip and toasted hazelnut. With a bottle of this beauty, you’ll feel like a winner regardless of whether you win the prize or not.

Please note there are set dates the prize can be claimed, which are as follows:
– Thursday 18 July 2019 13:15
– Thursday 29 August 2019 13:15
– Thursday 12 September 2019 13:15
– Thursday 10 October 2019 13:15

Bombay Sapphire

There’s £5 off Bombay English Estate!

Good luck, all!

MoM Bombay 2019 Competition open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 22 May to 16 June 2019. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Travel only provided from a UK location. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. Prize must be claimed on specific dates and times. Entry also available with no purchase. See full T&Cs for details.

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Sherry – the bartender’s secret weapon

Sherry shouldn’t be sitting at the back of the cupboard gathering dust. From sweet PX to bone dry fino, sherry’s incredible variety makes it a great friend when mixing drinks,…

Sherry shouldn’t be sitting at the back of the cupboard gathering dust. From sweet PX to bone dry fino, sherry’s incredible variety makes it a great friend when mixing drinks, says bartender Nate Brown. And don’t turn your nose up at Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

I think it fair to say that Mummy Brown had a few of-the-moment tastes: she dressed me in red corduroys and a knitted green jumper, (which when matched with my hair made me look like a 3ft broken traffic light). She married my Dad when he had a mullet. She made a mean pasta salad: tinned sweetcorn, salad cream and all. Her favourite dessert was pavlova. And, most worryingly of all, her Sunday afternoon staple was a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

She made me pour it for her every week as she cooked the customary roast dinner. Naturally, it wasn’t long before I indulged in a sneaky taste. It was somehow both syrupy and sharp, bitter and sweet. It burned my throat despite it’s modest ABV. I hated it and could not for the life of me understand why she chose to drink it. Although, as this habit was partaken shortly after enduring a Church sermon, I assumed it was some sort of penance. The road to perdition it seemed, was drenched in Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, pouring vermouth, thinking about sherry

Fast forward two decades and what was my attitude then seems to be the general consumer attitude now. Mention the word ‘sherry’ to guests in a bar and you’ll likely garner little more than a smirk and a comment about diabetes.  Even the Spanish shun it.

How embarrassingly wrong we all are. Fools, the lot of us.

Is there a booze product out there with a worse, less deserved reputation? Not on your nelly. Even the worst regarded consumables have a serve that lifts them from the depths of disgrace. Tequila? Sure, mass market brands are pretty much widely regarded as nasty. But even cheap Tequila has the Margarita escape act. Absinthe? Still has the association with the Bohemians and mad artists. Sherry’s equivalent doesn’t extend further than lobbing it in a trifle. Ouch.

And yet, I’d argue there isn’t a category on the market better suited to current trends and tastes. Its low ABV backbone, crisp, unapologetic flavours, the variety of styles and expressions (Lustau alone has over 40), and the smaller, friendlier bottle sizes. Sherry is the complete package. You can keep your bitters, this is my bartender’s ketchup.

Take the rising low-ABV zeitgeist. Two years ago if you asked for a Bamboo cocktail you’d have the bartender sneaking off to google it. Today, it’s a staple on the menu of the pioneering Mint Gun Club and ordering one across town has become something of a bartender’s handshake. Simply mix one part dry vermouth with one part dry sherry. Serve stirred down, or over ice. Add orange bitters if you really must, but none in mine thanks. The base provided by the sherry gives license for the aromatics of the vermouth to sing. Prebottle the serve if you like and take it to the park. Just remember, the fresher the better.

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, makers of fine manzanilla

Remember Pedrino, those fino and tonic RTDs (ready to drinks)? Ahead of their time. Fresh fino and decent tonic is as good as any G&T I’ve ever had. But a word of advice: if the dry sherry in the bar fridge (or worse bar shelf) has been sat there for longer than a month and no longer excites the sides of your tongue, throw it away (or in a trifle?). It’s not expensive, anyway.

Not in the mood for a refreshing serve? Take a trip over to the other end of the dry sherry spectrum. Guests are moving further and further away from the dreaded sugary profiles whilst still loving the darker end of drinking. We are seeing low sugar versions of everything, none of which quite fills the void the sweetness has left behind in our cocktails. In steps oloroso with its ‘hold my beer’ attitude. The oxidative ageing has allowed sweet notes to perpetuate without any of the sugar remaining. Look at the descriptors used: walnut, caramel, cocoa nibs, rich orange, this is the equivalent of fat free chocolate cake that actually tastes delicious. How is this not a game changer?

Add a splash of oloroso to your stirred down and brown recipes. 15ml will give your Rum Old Fashioneds dryness and depth. 5ml in a Manhattan will clean up the otherwise cloying finish. Heck, even bung it in a Highball for savoury accents.  

As for PX, the raisiny plump and jolly cousin? It isn’t just for Christmas. Some of these can be over 40% residual sugar, making it pretty much a sugar syrup when used correctly (read sparingly). Stick it in a dash bottle and add a few drops to make a richer Whisky Mac, or Rob Roy. In fact put it in nearly everything richer, I don’t care, just don’t be embarrassed to love it.

Manhattan

I said sherry, not cherry! A drop of oloroso will take your Manhattan to the next level

But best of all is the Martini. Taken more as a style than a recipe, the oh-so-cool King of Cocktails can be opened up to an endless catalogue of variations. Which is appropriate given that gin is no longer a singular profile. Forget the wet or dry, olive or zest approach. Instead, try three parts dry gin to one part fino or manzanilla sherry. Keep the gin classic and green, like Plymouth. Try it before you garnish it. You’ll probably end up going without the fruit. The saline, umami sherry will cleanse your Martini adding more structure and bite than even a fresh vermouth ever could. This is how Martinis are meant to be.

And as for Harvey’s Bristol Cream? That lonely, dusty, ocean blue bottle in the back of the drinks cabinet? It is essentially a blend of all the types of sherry that a bodega produces. Think of it less of slop bucket and more of a team effort. Serve it over ice with an orange slice. Honestly, just try it. It’s bloody delicious. It’s still simultaneously bitter and sweet, syrupy and sharp. Only now it’s everything I could ask for. You’ll thank me for this.

This isn’t so much a revolution as a renaissance. Looks like, as with everything, Mummy Brown was right all along.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

 

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Johnnie Walker Blue Label masterclass with Colin Dunn

We filmed Diageo whisky ambassador Colin Dunn talking about how to get the most out of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Turns out, we’d been doing it wrong all these years….

We filmed Diageo whisky ambassador Colin Dunn talking about how to get the most out of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Turns out, we’d been doing it wrong all these years.

Johnnie Walker is the most famous name in Scotch whisky and Blue Label sits at the top of the range (give or take a few special editions). It’s perhaps the ultimate gift whisky: you know you’ve done a good job or your father-in-law approves when you receive a bottle. But as well as being a known currency throughout the world, it’s also a damn fine drop blended from some extremely rare and old malt and grain whiskies.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

That’s the stuff

It’s not an in-your-face whisky and as such can initially be a bit underwhelming to palates raised on the big bold flavours of heavily sherried or peated malts. So, to show us how to appreciate this fine elegant blend, we are lucky enough to have some time with Colin Dunn. Dunn originally worked in the wine trade before being snapped up by Bowmore to spread the word about single malt whisky. He also worked with other distilleries in the Suntory portfolio including  GlenGarioch, Yamazaki, and Hibiki. Then in 2008, he moved to Diageo where he represents the company’s 28 malt distilleries as well as Johnnie Walker.

Right, got your Blue Label ready? Take it away, Colin!

Here Colin Dunn introduces himself and tells us why he loves Scotch whisky so much.

And now the Johnnie Walker Blue Label masterclass. You’ll never drink whisky in the same way after watching this.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Grand Sour

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Raguenau

Patrick Raguenaud with the Grand Marnier range

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

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

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

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

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

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

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

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The new faces of alcohol-free

The alcohol-free category is evolving, shaped by growing interest in sustainability, natural, ethically-sourced ingredients, and a penchant for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. We take a look at the new wave…

The alcohol-free category is evolving, shaped by growing interest in sustainability, natural, ethically-sourced ingredients, and a penchant for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. We take a look at the new wave of booze-free botanical aperitifs…

“Sustainability is fascinating because it can mean so many things,” observes bar owner, bartender and conservation biologist Paul Mathew. “Two of our bars, The Hide and The Arbitrager, only serve things brewed, fermented or distilled in London – so the concept of sustainability there is about locally-sourced. Whether it’s reducing the amount of single-use plastics in the bar, switching to sustainable energy, using wonky fruit and veg, or upcycling citrus husks for a zero-waste approach to ingredients, it’s great that sustainability is such an integral part of the conversation we’re having in the industry now.”

Paul Mathew

The man himself, Mr Paul Matthew!

When Mathew embarked on the project that would eventually become responsibly-sourced aperitif Everleaf, he set out to create a non-alcoholic drink with body and texture, something he felt other booze-free brands were missing. “Whenever we talk about wine, beer, spirits and cocktails, we talk about mouthfeel and texture in the same way as the colour, aroma and flavour, so for me it was an important missing part,” he says. “I wanted to make something that has a beginning, middle and end – from light and aromatic through to bitter and long.”

A hot, creamy drink traditional to Turkey and the Middle East made with herbs and spices, and thickened with powdered orchid root drew Mathew’s attention. Salep was popular in London centuries ago, he says, but fell out of favour when tea and coffee became popular. “I dug up some test orchids from Dad’s garden – he’s a botanist – dehydrated and ground them, before mixing with herbs and spices until I got the texture and flavour I was looking for,” he says. “When I tried to scale it, I couldn’t find any sustainable sources for orchid tubers. With a little more research, I found the same thickening components in voodoo lily, so it seemed the perfect solution.”

He spent a year researching, sourcing, dehydrating, macerating and extracting various plants to perfect the final recipe, which contains vanilla from the north-east of Madagascar, saffron from Spain, cassia from south-east Asia, iris from Italy, vetiver from Haiti, angelica and liquorice from Europe, quassia from Central America, gum arabic from Senegal, Peruvian pepper from Peru, and voodoo lily from China, among others – 18 botanicals in total.

Everleaf, looking very classy

“There were a few ingredients I really wanted in there,” Mathew says. “My father wrote two of the definitive works on iris and crocus while I was growing up, so the smell of saffron and orris root are really emotive for me. I wanted vanilla for mid-palate sweetness and gentian for bitterness at the finish. Most of the other ingredients filled the gaps between the beginning-middle-end parts of the flavour profile, making it a journey across your palate rather than start-stop. The flavours should develop like they do in a good wine.”

To make Everleaf, Mathew heats voodoo lily and gum arabic, to make a textured base, to which he adds the botanicals. The resulting mix is rested before bottling. “Each of the botanical ingredients is made in the best way to obtain the natural characters I’m looking for from the plant,” he says. “The saffron is a maceration, for example, as is the vanilla. The orris is a tincture, the fennel seed a vacuum distillate, and vetiver an essential oil distillation – as it is made for perfumery.”

There’s no question that Mathew’s travels as a conservation biologist shaped his vision. Much of his work focused on “conservation through adding value” – making natural ecosystems work for people so that they want to look after them. “If you can find a high-value crop that makes a forest worth more in the long-term rather than as timber in the short term, people will want to look after it,” he explains. “Similar to Fairtrade principles, if you pay a higher price for vanilla grown under natural forest shade rather than under netting after the forest has been cleared, hopefully more will be protected.”

For Everleaf, sourcing is key. His vetiver, for example, hails from a Haitian project that protects communities and their livelihoods through reforestation, food security and empowering local women. “We’re trying to ensure that everything we get for Everleaf leaves a positive impact on the people and places it comes from,” Mathew explains. “We’re also working out how to offset the carbon produced in the supply chain so that we can be carbon positive – in a way that benefits biodiversity as well as emissions.”

Aecorn Bitter Spritz

Aecorn Bitter Spritz

A huge part of the sustainability focus echoing throughout the industry has been the burgeoning trend for locally-sourced ingredients – something newcomer Aecorn Aperitifs is channeling with its range of alcohol-free aperitifs made from English grapes. As the sister brand of alcohol-free spirit Seedlip, which was launched by Ben Branson back in 2015, the ethos behind Aecorn is to “work within the realms of what’s familiar”, says co-founder Clare Warner, “but create our own rules about what you can do with something non-alcoholic”.  

Inspired by the trend for low-abv drinking, aromatised wines and the rise of the aperitif, the duo set about creating a range of alcohol-free cocktail modifiers. When Bransen created Seedlip, he took inspiration from a 17th century manuscript called the Art of Distillation. “We went back into that book and found a recipe for acorn wine,” says Warner. “The recipe read exactly like an aromatised wine. It contained all the ingredients you would expect in a vermouth, plus acorns.”

Many traditional European aperitifs had a wine base, she adds. “Looking back at the 16th and 17th century we were consuming a lot of verjus in the UK, before we had citrus, and also when we had a lot of grapes”. Today, the supply is not quite so abundant – sourcing an English verjus was tricky to say the least, but eventually the duo found a producer who grows grapes specifically to make the acidic, complex juice, and foraged acorns from oak trees across the UK.

Aecorn range

The complete Aecorn range

Together, Warner and Bransen set about aromatising the verjus and acorns along with other herbs, roots and bitter botanicals to create the three-strong range: Dry, which embodies a dry vermouth; Aromatic, which resembles a sweet vermouth; and Bitter, in the style of a classic bitter aperitif.

While bartenders have been busy experimenting with Aecorn in weird and wonderful ways – the range features in both low- and no-alcohol drinks at London’s Lyaness – Warner recognises the desire to create complex, great-tasting drinks at home. “If you’re a bartender you’ve got all the tools at your disposal, if you’re a chef you’ve got the kitchen, but at home you’re limited in terms of what you can do,” she says. “We wanted to create a range of aperitif-style products that opens up the possibilities for [alcohol-free] classic cocktails but equally if you’re at home and just want to add ice and soda to create a spritz, then you can do that too.”

 

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