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Master of Malt Blog

Are you Thirsty for a Terrific Tequila?

Tequila is fast becoming a favourite among spirits enthusiasts worldwide. Experience some of the best around with this sublime selection. Tequila and agave-based spirits are enjoying even more time in…

Tequila is fast becoming a favourite among spirits enthusiasts worldwide. Experience some of the best around with this sublime selection.

Tequila and agave-based spirits are enjoying even more time in the sun right now then, well, agave, quite frankly. Tequila as a category in particular has worked hard to shake off its hard-partying image of shots, slammers and lime and salt to emerge as one of the most fascinating distilled spirits available.

Part of Tequila’s appeal is how versatile and characterful a cocktail ingredient it is. With National Margarita Day on the horizon (22 Feb), now seems like the perfect time to shout about the fab Mexican agave-based spirit. We’ve picked out a few choice expressions for you to get your teeth into, each with its own sublime serve…

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The Top 10 minimalist cocktail bars

When it comes to back bars, bigger isn’t inherently better. Quite the opposite – it takes the most creative and discerning of bar teams to work cocktail magic with a…

When it comes to back bars, bigger isn’t inherently better. Quite the opposite – it takes the most creative and discerning of bar teams to work cocktail magic with a pared-down selection of spirits. We’ve picked 10 of the world’s best minimalist cocktail bars…

While bumper booze inventories continue to draw admiration from thirsty fans (ourselves included), other venues have taken the opposite road; slimming their selection down to little more than a shelf’s worth of hand-picked spirits.

For some bar owners, eschewing established brands for a curated rail of favourites is simply a matter of personal taste. For others, it supports their ethos of sustainability: locally-sourced at all costs. Some want to make a stand against pouring deals born from corporate interest. Or, occasionally, it’s a mix of all three.

Whatever the reason may be, stripped back bars certainly don’t make for lacklustre drinks – as the 10 bars that follow attest:

Punch Room at The London Edition, London

Minimalist credentials: Just one cocktail style here – punch

Seasonal speciality punches are the name of the game at London’s Punch Room. While you delve into the menu – which offers single-person punches as well as sharing drinks for up to eight people – you’ll sip a welcome drink punch reinvented daily by the bar team. Don’t miss their classic Milk Punch, a clarified drink that combines Hennessy fine de Cognac, Havana Club 3 Year Old, Somerset Cider Brandy, green tea, lemon juice, pineapple, spices syrup and, yes, milk.

 

Punch Room, London Edition

You can have anything you want at Punch Room, as long as it’s punch

 

Obispo, San Francisco

Minimalist credentials: Single spirit bar with a sense of place

Recently-opened San Fran hangout Obispo is a single spirit bar with a difference. Rather than clamouring to own one of every single bottle going, owner Thad Vogler has stocked his bar with a limited inventory of speciality rums, many from distilleries he has personally visited. The concept? To champion truly unique spirits that taste like the places they come from: no additives here, thanks. One highlight of Obispo’s cocktail menu has to be the Mojito, made according to a 1934 recipe from Havana-based bar El Floridita with stirred mint and raw sugar.

A Rake’s Bar, Washington, DC

Minimalist credentials: Exclusively hyper-local cocktails

While championing locally-sourced ingredients is increasingly commonplace in bars these days, few can claim to exclusively do so. A Rake’s Bar, however, is one of them. You won’t find Scotch or Tequila (or even citrus!) here – each drink celebrates local distillers and ingredients, from locally-produced Curaçao to verjus from nearby vineyards. Everything from its antique glassware to the physical cocktail menu is the product of local collaboration.

 

A Rakes Bar, Washington

A Rake’s Bar, a hyper-local bar for hyper-local people

 

Buck and Breck, Berlin

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, stripped back cocktail list

Located in Berlin’s Mitte district, Buck and Breck seats just 14 people at a time, around a communal black wooden table that doubles as the bar station – the only furniture in the entire space. But the stripped-back interior is far from the speakeasy’s only minimalist draw. Cocktails are listed by name and base ingredient (no brands, here, all spirits bottles are colour-coded) and accompanied by a considered Champagne offering.

Native, Singapore

Minimalist credentials: Asian flavour profiles only – with a focus on foraging

Founded by Vijay Mudaliar, formerly of award-winning Singapore cocktail bar Operation Dagger, Native is committed to using local and regional produce: think flavours like mango, turmeric, cinnamon, and tapioca, paired with spirits like Sri Lankan arrak and Thai rice gin. Try Antz, which combines Thai rum, aged sugarcane vinegar, coconut yoghurt, salt-baked tapioca, soursop, and, yes, real ants served in a frozen basil leaf.

 

Native Bar Singapore

Native in Singapore offers cocktails made with ants, yes real ants

 

Three Sheets, London

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, stripped-back cocktail list

Made from just a single shelf of spirits, Three Sheets’ cocktail menu reflects its name: three pages with three cocktails on each. Aperitif-style cocktails decorate the first column, and get progressively punchier as the menu unfolds. Bartending brothers Max and Noel Venning are the brains behind this welcoming neighbourhood venue, which is big on pre-batched and bottled ingredients. All the stuff you want from a cocktail bar, and none of the stuff you don’t. Head there during the day for a dynamite flat white.

 

Three Sheets Dalston

Three Sheets, Venning Bros’ bar in Dalston, East London

Bar Gen Yamamoto, Tokyo

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, just two menu options available

Tiny eight-seater Japanese bar Gen Yamamoto is a drinking den unlike any other in the world. There’s no cocktail list, just a tasting menu crafted to reflect ‘shiki’, which means Japanese seasonality. Your options are minimal: choose from either a four-drink or six-drink menu, and sit back as solo bartender Yamamoto takes your taste buds on a veritable flavour journey. FYI, the bar is carved out of a 500-year-old Mizunara tree.

Backdoor 43, Milan

Minimalist credentials: Small in size

Is Backdoor 43 the smallest bar in the world? At the grand total of four square foot in size, it’s certainly up there. There’s only space for four (plus one Guy Fawkes mask-wearing bartender) at the tiny bar, for which the menu changes on a monthly basis. If you can’t get a reservation, fret not – a small selection of classic cocktails can be ordered to-go via a small slot window to the street.

 

Backdoor 43, Milan

Backdoor 43, Milan, probably the smallest bar in the world

 

Above Board, Melbourne

Minimalist credentials: Exacting cocktail list with no off-menu orders

Owned by award-winning bartender Hayden Lambert, Above Board is the minimalist bar blueprint both in terms of drinks and design aesthetics. A sleek grey 12-seater island bar commands the softly-lit room; hand-picked spirits are decanted into crystal bottles and stored out of sight. The menu boasts 25 cocktails, split across signatures and twists on classics, with minimal garnishes. Glasses are thin and beautifully chilled, the ice is hand-stamped, and the hospitality is second to none.

Bisou, Paris

Minimalist credentials: There is no menu whatsoever

So minimalist is the vibe at seasonal Parisian hangout Bisou, they’ve done away with the menu altogether. Instead, you have a chat with the bartender about what you like – and, if you’re fussy, what you don’t – and he’ll whip up the craft cocktail of your dreams for a very reasonable €12 using 100% organic and locally-sourced ingredients. Sustainability is big here, with a focus on reducing waste; unused parts of fruits and vegetables are dehydrated and repurposed as garnishes.

 

Bisou, Paris

Bisou, Paris, so minimalist, it doesn’t even have a menu

 

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We join ADI for the Judging of Craft Spirits!

What’s it like to lead a panel at one of the world’s most renowned spirits competitions? Our editor Kristiane Sherry reports back from Tiburon, near San Francisco, after taking part…

What’s it like to lead a panel at one of the world’s most renowned spirits competitions? Our editor Kristiane Sherry reports back from Tiburon, near San Francisco, after taking part in the American Distilling Institute’s 2019 Judging of Craft Spirits.

The skies are always blue in Tiburon. At least it seems that way when the American Distilling Institute (ADI) crew is in town. The cluster of impeccable houses directly across the Bay from San Francisco is peppered with independent restaurants, bars and quirky stores, sandwiched between the water and the dramatic Northern California hills. It’s relaxed, the air is crisp and clean, and it exudes a laid-back elegance. In short, it’s the perfect place to taste spirits.

I was thrilled last June when I received an invitation to join ADI’s Judging of Craft Spirits. The annual event celebrates excellence in distilling, with entries open to those who produce less than 750,000 litres of pure alcohol a year (although in reality, most participants make waaaayyy less than that). Both American and international distillers take part, and the spirits span almost every category you can think of: whiskies, gins, rums, agave spirits, vodkas, liqueurs, brandies, plus ready-to-drink cocktails, fortified wines and more! The result? Hundreds upon hundreds of spirits to be assessed, an army of stewards, a team of organisers and administrators and judges galore. And I was more than happy to lend my palate.

San Francisco Bay

Tiburon. It’s pretty. That’s San Francisco over the Bay looking gorgeous

I arrived at The Lodge at Tiburon on the Sunday afternoon, set for a series of briefings. After the warmest of welcomes from Eric Zandona, ADI’s director of spirits information, and David T Smith, lead steward, we got to grips with a practice flight of vodkas, a palate-aligning exercise, if you like. Everything was poured in a back room, brought through by the amazing stewards and identified only by a code on a label on the stem of a glass. It was 100% blind and tip-top secret. And it immediately became apparent just how rewarding evaluating each sample with my fellow judges would be. Distillers, bar consultants, writers, bartenders and more, from across the US and beyond. The volume of collective expertise in the room was incredible. Roll on the three days of judging!

I can’t disclose exactly what we judged or what panels others were on, but I will say for the first two days I chaired panels with a vast variety of spirits. We tasted literally everything. It was challenging at times – some spirits properly split the panel; cue lively debate, much geekiness and an array of views – but each and every spirit was genuinely assessed on its own merits, before the group discussed each one, gained consensus and awarded medals (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Double Gold) accordingly. But this wasn’t just about assigning awards. Each entrant receives detailed written feedback, so every judge was required to write up their thoughts and provide comment, constructive criticism and encouragement. This wasn’t just about tasting – a significant amount of work went into this evaluation aspect. It’s easy enough to say that you do or don’t think a spirit is at a certain quality level – but you must also give the reason why. And delving into the ‘why’ with so many genuine experts made for a thoroughly rewarding experience!

There’s all sorts of spirits to be assessed

Day Three took on an entirely different flavour. First up, I joined a review panel; here, spirits which had some discrepancy in their scoring (David T Smith and crew use a handy algorithm to see if a panel of judges’ scores were especially variable) were re-tasted to ensure an absolute fair hearing, and other outliers were given a second bite of the cherry. This is where things got really interesting. The discussion got even geekier, and every aroma note, flavour, texture and feeling was unpicked, along with how it got there, and whether or not it should be. By the end my mind and palate were both exhausted – but happily so.

Then it was time for the grand panels! Every spirit awarded a Gold or Double Gold medal was re-tasted to find the best in category. And wow! This was A Treat (capitals intended). Imagine getting to taste the best of the best craft spirits in the world. Yes, it was still serious decision-making, but the smiles on my fellow judges’ faces as we worked our way through the flights said it all. These spirits were GORGEOUS (capitals really intended here). And it was a privilege to get to pick out the very finest.

So, what were the highlights? What were the key learnings? Well, the Judging of Craft Spirits results haven’t been announced yet, so consider these lips sealed. But there was a big difference between judging a competition solely focused on craft spirits compared to other panels I’ve sat on. Why? The level of experimentation was off the chart. So many producers were trying brave and exciting things – sure, the results weren’t always knock-it-out-the-park incredible, but many, many spirits were up there. And it was so exciting to spend time sussing out exactly what’s going on. Then, the overall quality level was a pleasing surprise. In other competitions there might only be one small ‘craft’ sub-category, but here there was wall-to-wall interest and intrigue right across the board. ‘Craft’ has never meant sub-standard or second best, but those myths are now being well and truly busted.

ADI judging whiskeys

Whiskeys!

Finally, the top highlight? Getting to meet and work with so many incredible people from right the way across the industry, from distillers and production consultants to bartenders, brand ambassadors, writers, journalists and more. Thanks to ADI for an ace few days, and cheers to my fellow judges, stewards and everyone involved for making it so brilliant!

Top tips for evaluating spirits

Fancy trying your hand (taste buds?) at judging? Give it a go at home with our super-quick guide!

• Start clean. It sounds super simple, but make sure your palate is clean (water is essential!), you’re not wearing fragrance and you’ve not used especially aromatic soap. ADI gave us fragrance-free soap for the week so the tasting room was as neutral as possible.

• Go slow. Take your time. If you’re assessing a spirit you’ll want to look at its appearance, nose, palate and finish. This can take a good while. Don’t rush, take your time and enjoy!

• Look back. Aromas and flavours in a spirit can be traced back to loads of production factors. Think about how your spirit was made. Raw materials? Processing techniques? Post-distillation finishing? Is what you see, nose or taste consistent with this? Consider these points to help you evaluate your spirit.

• Spit it out. Got loads of spirits to taste? Don’t be afraid to use a spittoon. And sip, don’t gulp (obviously). On a similar point, adding water to a spirit after you’ve first nosed and tasted can make a world of difference when you’re trying to pick out aromas and flavours.

• Write it down. Chances are, if you’re taking the time to fully examine what a product looks like, its aromas, flavours, texture and finish, you’ll want to keep a record of it. Have a notepad or laptop to hand so your hard work isn’t forgotten!

ADI judging

Note-taking = essential!

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The Nightcap: 8 February

Bee-saving beer, new Bladnoch, Brexit gubbins and more stories about things that don’t start with B. The Nightcap is here! Hmm… Something seems different around here… Why does everything feel…

Bee-saving beer, new Bladnoch, Brexit gubbins and more stories about things that don’t start with B. The Nightcap is here!

Hmm… Something seems different around here… Why does everything feel much sleeker and generally cooler? Has the MoM blog had a haircut? Maybe it’s wearing a new pair of shoes that really complements its digital eyes? Anyway, I’m sure someone will say something about that in due course – right this moment, The Nightcap is at the forefront of our minds!

Here’s a recap of what’s happened on the MoM blog this week. Annie investigated how Aussie distillers are using the work of Mother Nature to make whisky, then had a look at the buzz surround CBD cocktails. Henry’s Cocktail of the Week was the Brandy Sour – and when he wasn’t busy mixing up tasty drinks, he was talking to Rod Eslamieh about how to run a bar and recapping the night of Master of Malt winning Online Retailer of the Year at the Drinks Retailing Awards 2019. Adam added some brilliant beers to our “Must Try” list (which is already pretty long – thanks Adam), and Kristy explored the Craigellachie distillery in all its worm-tub awesomeness.

What an interesting week, and how attractively presented, don’t you think? Enough hints, if you haven’t noticed by now, you’ll never notice. It’s time for the Nightcap!

Finally, some good Brexit news

Good Brexit news! The US and UK agree divorce-proof booze terms

Forget the stalemate, ignore the sagas. We have good Brexit news! Some of our most beloved boozes were safeguarded last week after the US and UK agreed they would protect names and the definitions attached to them. The mutual agreement means that post-Brexit, Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey (which is made in both Northern Ireland and the Republic), Tennessee whiskey, and bourbon will all be recognised in bilateral trade. This might not sound like a big deal, but it can take years to secure protection for spirits, and the protections that do exist are largely arranged with the EU, rather than the UK. The Continuity Agreement, as it is known, has been welcomed across the industry and beyond. “Ensuring that our flagship spirits exports – bourbon and Tennessee whiskey – will continue to be protected provides our companies much-needed assurances as the UK negotiates its departure from the EU,” said Distilled Spirits Council president and CEO, Chris Swonger. Meanwhile, Scotch Whisky Association international director, Sarah Dickson, commented: “Scotch Whisky already enjoys legal protection in the US Federal Code, but this agreement mirrors the protection currently offered under the US-EU agreement and secures the continued recognition of all UK and US whiskies. This will give US consumers the confidence that after Brexit the Scotch whisky they enjoy is distilled and matured in Scotland in accordance with UK law.” Hurrah all round!

Andy Simpson and David Robertson from Rare Whisky 101

Whiskey auction market up by over 60% according to Rare Whisky 101

A report just published by Rare Whisky 101 shows that the value of Single Malt whisky sold at auction rose by a staggering 62.7% from 2017. The report is packed with fascinating stats (for whisky nerds anyway). Over 100,000 bottles of rare whisky were sold at UK auctions last year. The top end of the market looks particularly strong with the number of bottles going for £10,000 or more increasing from 91 in 2017 to 265 last year. Who can forget the record-breaking Macallan 1926 which sold for £1 million? Investing in whisky still looks like a good bet for the time being. The Apex 1000 Index (which tracks the values of rare whiskies) was up 30% this year, out-performing the FTSE, fine wine, crude oil and gold. Andy Simpson, director and co-founder of Rare Whisky 101, said: “The secondary market for rare whisky continues to outperform our expectations. With the average bottle price increasing by around 15% from the half-year stage to year-end…. Across the board, we’re seeing an increased number of valuable bottles selling for greater value than ever before resulting in phenomenal growth within the market for over £1,000 bottles.” Gazing into his whisky crystal ball, co-founder David Robertson said: “The UK auction market remains the biggest and most active market worldwide, and there’s nothing to suggest that will change. However, with the uncertainty of Brexit hanging over us, it is extremely difficult to second guess what will happen with cross border trade and access to bottles. From both a volume and value perspective, 2019 is very difficult to predict!”

Martell was a star performer for Pernod Ricard

Martell bolsters Pernod Ricard’s H1 sales

This week it was French drinks group Pernod Ricard’s chance to crunch the numbers. The company, which owns the likes of Jameson, Chivas Brothers (think: Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet, Ballantine’s), Martell, Beefeater and more, saw its sales climb 7.8% to €5.18 billion (about £4.53bn) for the six months to 31 December 2018. Its ‘Strategic International Brands’ (featuring Martell, Jameson, Scotch, gin and the Champers brands) contributed 10% gains, while Lillet, Monkey 47 and Altos were specifically named as giving the ‘Speciality Brands’ division an 11% boost. While the Americas region showed ‘robust’ growth, Asia-Rest of World soared by 16%. Pernod didn’t have it all its own way, with Europe ‘stable’ as Western Europe failed to shine. Looking ahead, chairman and CEO Alexandre Ricard said, “For full year FY19, in an environment that remains uncertain, we aim to continue dynamic and diversified growth across our regions and brands.”

Oz Clarke didn’t win, despite our prediction. Here he is with judge, Victoria Moore.

André Simon drink book winner announced

The great and good of the food and drink world (and your features editor Henry) turned out at the Goring Hotel in London for the annual André Simon food and drink writing awards. You may remember last year we tipped Oz Clarke to win in the drink category with Alex Maltman’s book on vineyard soils as dark horse. We got it hopelessly wrong. Drink Book of the Year went to The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay. Oh well, we can’t always be right. The most emotional moment of the evening was when Together: A Community Cookbook won the Special Commendation. This book was created by a group of London women affected by the Grenfell Tower fire and they turned out in force to collect it. Food Book of the Year went to Diana Henry’s How to Eat a Peach which was described tantalisingly by judge Meera Sodha as, “as good in bedroom as in the kitchen”. Blimey!

Fiery stuff from Douglas Laing

Douglas Laing releases collection inspired by fire, air, earth and water

Leading Scotch whisky specialist Douglas Laing & Co has announced a series of Old Particular single cask limited edition bottlings for 2019, inspired by the four elements of fire, air, earth and water. Each expression will be bottled at natural cask strength without colouring or chill-filtration. The series launches with the “fire” bottling which, very aptly, is a mocha-spiced Craigellachie 12 Years Old from a well-fired and characterful sherry butt. The specialist bottlings will each be packaged with designs that depict an intricate illustration of each of the four elements. Cara Laing, Douglas Laing’s director of whisky, who selected the whiskies, commented on the new collection: “Our cask selection and packaging design pays tribute to the natural elements that contribute so significantly to the production of Scotch whisky. From oak trees to charred casks, peat and of course water, this specialist single cask collection celebrates the role of the elements in the whisky-making cycle.” What an exciting release! So exciting, in fact, it sold out in a day. It probably deserves a few flame emojis, but we can’t do those so you’ll just have to imagine them yourselves.

Congratulations to Martin Siska

Martin Siska from Rosewood London

Martin Siska appointed as director of bars at Rosewood London

Rosewood London announced this week that Martin Siska has taken on the role as director of bars, effective 5 February! Originally from Slovakia, Siska first moved to London twelve years ago and ever since has worked across the luxury bar scene, including stints at Le Pont De La Tour, HUSH, and The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel. He spent four months working with the legendary Javier de las Muelas of Dry Martini in Barcelona in 2015, which led to him launching its first UK outpost, Dry Martini London. Siska, who we spoke to back in May 2018, was appointed bar manager at Scarfes Bar in September 2016. This has led to nominations for industry awards, including Tales of Cocktail’s Best 10 Hotel Bars in the World; Imbibe’s Drinks List of the Year; and Class Awards’s Best Cocktail Menu. Scarfes Bar is inspired by the atmosphere of a drawing room and features canvases by renowned artist and caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, most famous for his political cartoons that have been featured in newspapers from The Sunday Times through to The New Yorker.

Say hello to Bladnoch 17 Year Old!

New year, new Bladnoch Single Malt!

Lowland distillery Bladnoch has kicked off 2019 in style with a new single malt Scotch. Bladnoch 17 Year Old, which was bottled to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the distillery, was crafted using locally-sourced barley and pristine water from the River Bladnoch, the inspiration for the distillery’s name. The most recent release from the southernmost distillery in Scotland was originally filled into ex-bourbon barrels in 2001. It was then disgorged and re-filled into Californian ex-red wine casks over two operations in March 2016 and January 2017. A blend of two vattings, the expression was bottled at 46.7% ABV without chill-filtration. Bladnoch Distillery describes the new release as being “rich and composed on the nose, with dried fruit, coffee, cherries, toffee, vanilla and sweet oak; lively but smooth on the palate, with spicy oak, prunes, orange marmalade, cherries, with hints of liquorice and cinnamon and quite complex on the finish, with malty, dried fruits, shortbread and spicy lightly peppery oak”. Sounds delicious!

The Cosmopolitan marks the Chinese New Year in style!

The Cosmopolitan in Vegas unveils Year of the Pig cocktail (it’s suitable for vegetarians)

The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas is celebrating Chinese New Year the only way it knows how: decadent cocktails, delicious food and a lion dance! Celebrations to commemorate The Year of the Pig kick off on 7 February. Guests can indulge themselves with a 10 course (that’s right, 10!) ‘Emperor’s Feast’ for dinner. Of course, we’re more interested in the Year of the Pig Cocktail, created by chef mixologist Mariena Mercer. Capturing the traditional tastes of Chinese culture, the signature drink mixes a plethora of ingredients: Whistlepig rye, Umeshu plum sake, ceremonial-grade matcha tea, maraschino liqueur, lemongrass ginger syrup, lemon juice and egg white, all topped off with an edible pig garnish (which consists of paper made from potato and tapioca starches rather than a piece of pork). Alternatively, guests can celebrate with the Grass is Always Green cocktail, a concoction of Hong Kong Baijiu, Bombay Sapphire East, yuzu, orgeat, shishito and Szechuan pepper. Happy Year of the Pig to all those in Sin City!

Bee saving beer is a cause we can get behind.

Bumble Beer looks to crowdfund £50k to launch its bee saving bee-r!

Bumble Beer has created quite a buzz with the announcement of its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise £50,000 to kickstart its eco-beer. The aim is nothing less than to help save the bees! Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that our pollinating friends are very much in trouble, though the facts are still shocking: 97% of Britain’s wildflower habitats have been destroyed since the 1940s, and nearly 10% of Europe’s wild bee species are facing extinction. Bumble Beer to the rescue! The inaugural product is a vegan 5% premium Pilsner, brewed with organic ingredients grown completely without any harmful pesticides, the most direct risk to bees. You can register pre-launch interest here, with the campaign going fully live on 1st March. Sustainability is at the forefront of every production stage; even its beer crates contain around 30 wildflower seeds, while the brewery has also developed wildflower-seed-infused recycled paper coasters. We love to see packaging that does more good than harm, for a change! Hopefully these ingenious brewers will inspire more to follow in their footsteps. So, join founder Jason Winter on his “beer loving, bee-friendly revolution” – well, it would be rude not to! Who knew ethics would taste so good?

Behold, the Negroni Segreto!

Free Negronis!

Well, that certainly got your attention. To celebrate the launch of ‘Entering Red’, a new short in Campari’s Red Diaries film series, the company is giving away 1,000 Negronis. But these aren’t just any Negronis, oh no. They have been created by award-winning bartender Joe Schofield to celebrate the 100th birthday of this legendary cocktail. The special version is called a Negroni Segreto and it contains Campari (naturalmente), Bulldog Gin, Cinzano Rosso 1757 vermouth, rosewater and fresh raspberries. Sounds splendid! There are ten bars participating in London and Manchester. Each bar has 100 Negronis to give away. In order to claim your free drink, just watch the film and then say the phrase that the Ana de Armas character says when she enters the bar for the second time. The offer is open from Friday 8 February (that’s tonight!) until Sunday 10 February from 6pm (see here for full details.) Time to watch that film.

Raasay distillery Head distiller Iain Robertson

Head distiller Iain Robertson with a wee cask

And finally… Raasay Distillery launches baby whisky casks. Awwwwwww, cute.

Many distilleries, especially the newer ones trying to raise funds, allow customers to buy casks but they tend to be quite expensive. So, for the (comparatively) budget-conscious Scotch lover, the Raasay Distillery is something a little smaller. Distillery co-founder Alasdair Day said: “We wanted to make our first single malt more accessible in these new smaller casks. Depending on the angels’ share, after three years we expect to get around 40 bottles from the 30 litre casks, each offering a distinctly different character of Raasay whisky to our other bottlings.” A little cask costs £999, compared with £5000 for a 150 litre one (though you will have to pay VAT and duty on delivery). We were rather hoping that you’d be able to take your cask home after filling. Sadly, SWA rules don’t allow this, so it has to remain on Raasay while it matures. But you can visit it at the distillery, and maybe sing to it or just tell it your problems. Whisky casks are good listeners. Then, after bottling, you get to take your empty cask home with your bottles so you could then decant the whisky back into the cask and then you’d have your very own little cask to mature in your cellar, shed, or by your bed so you can say good night to it.

And on that sweet thought, it’s time to say goodbye, and have a great weekend!

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Come along and explore Craigellachie!

It’s a Speyside distillery with a cult following and an intriguing production story (yes, we mean those worm tub condensers). But what is Craigellachie actually like behind the scenes? We…

It’s a Speyside distillery with a cult following and an intriguing production story (yes, we mean those worm tub condensers). But what is Craigellachie actually like behind the scenes? We zipped along to spend a couple of hours exploring!

If you like weighty, meaty whiskies with a fragrant edge, you’ll already know all about Craigellachie. Situated in the Speyside town of the same name, the distillery, which is part of Bacardi’s Dewar’s portfolio, works hard to maintain its beefiness. When we stopped by for a quick visit, it was immediately apparent that every stage of production had been meticulously planned to max out those sulphur notes that give Craigellachie its signature style.

Craigellachie

The glorious stillhouse at Craigellachie

“We’re encouraging less copper contact than most distilleries for that meaty, robust character,” said Matthew Cordiner, Dewar’s brand ambassador, of the distillery that dates back to 1891. Today, this approach starts with the 100% Concerto barley (actually peated ever so slightly – not to give a smoke, but to make sure those big earthy notes are there from the very beginning). “Everything is about allowing those bigger notes to come through.”

There’s a 47,000-litre mash tun, which leads on to eight Siberian larch washbacks, where Craigellachie’s 56-hour fermentation runs take place. The resulting 8% ABV wash heads to one of the two 23,500-litre wash stills and the 28,000-litre spirit stills.

The Craigellachie washbacks. Fermentation is just one factor than influences the distillery’s robust character

Then it’s on to the famous Craigellachie worm tubs. To get to them, you have to head out on to the roof. Yes, really. Forget about condensers you’ve seen before: these worm tubs are ENORMOUS.

How do they work? Actually, really quite simply. The hot vapour from the stills is inside those huge ‘worm’ pipes. It’s cooled by the water in the surrounding giant tank. Back in the day, loads of distilleries would have used this process to condense spirit vapours, but with smaller, more efficient shell-and-tube styles now available, the worms have been largely weeded out for sleeker models.

Craigellachie worm tubs

Worm tubs!

Not so at Craigellachie – the worm tubs live on, and so does the distillery’s mega meaty character. But don’t let us tell you about them. In our video, Cordiner chats us through them in all their glory.

Craigellachie Bridge

Dramming by Craigellachie Bridge

After our whistle-stop tour (you can check the distillery out for yourself in more detail in our virtual reality video, top), we headed down to the famous Craigellachie Bridge to enjoy a dram. And it was a special dram – a 21 year old bottled specially for the town’s famous hotel. It might have been a cold, rainy day but that robust character kept us warm!

Thanks for having us, Craigellachie!

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Eight beers you have to try in 2019

Explore the endless possibilities found in the brilliant world of beer with this super selection. It boggles the mind why anyone would want to live in a state of booze-based…

Explore the endless possibilities found in the brilliant world of beer with this super selection.

It boggles the mind why anyone would want to live in a state of booze-based monogamy when choices have never been wider and more intriguing in all categories. There’s no excuse to squander the opportunity to taste and explore with so much great stuff just waiting to be appreciated.

Take beer, for example. It’s been produced, sold and enjoyed all over the world for generations and boasts an incredible range of varieties. There are bitters, blondes, APAs, IPAs, fruit beers, low-alcohol bottlings, lagers and pilsners, and porters and stouts among others, so there’s sure to be something for everyone. Variety is very much the spice (or should that be hop?) of life, after all.

So, make 2019 all about playing the field. We’ve listed a beer from each of the aforementioned categories so there’s no excuse not to broaden your beer-based horizons. It’s our round-up of eight beers you have to try in 2019!

Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta Earl Grey IPA Can

The Yeastie Boys’ award-winning new world IPA with an old-world influence, Gunnamatta Earl Grey, was inspired by the pale ales that travelled from England to the East Indies but also by all that precious tea that returned on those same ships. That’s why it features a healthy dose of Earl Grey Blue Flower. It was also influenced by the instrumental surf rock opening track of Paul Kelly’s 2004 album ‘Ways and Means’. There’s just so much going on here.

Style:

Indian Pale Ale (IPA).

What does it taste like?:

Jasmine, lots of bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, ice tea, herbal, late overripe tropical fruit and leafiness.

Troubadour Blonde

For some, Belgium is the greatest beer-brewing nation in the world. Many of its styles were copied and modified as part of the craft revolution, and the country is renowned for its vast array of traditional and modern beers. This from the excellent Troubadour range is a classic Belgian Blonde, a subtle, light, and dry style of beer that pairs really with spicy food, cheese and summer days.

Style:

Blonde.

What does it taste like?:

Well balanced, with citrus fruit at the fore (think grapefruit and lemon for this one) and grassy hops playing around in the background. Hearty yeast influence too.

Beavertown Gamma Ray American Pale Ale

London-based brewery Beavertown was founded by Logan Plant, the son of legendary Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, but the company has very much forged its own identity with innovative brews and its brightly-coloured, graphic novel-style label designs. This American pale ale was made with best pale, caragold and caramel malts as well as Columbus, Bravo, Amarillo, Citra and Calypso hops (dry-hopped for days). It’s a big, hoppy and fresh beer with a deliciously drinkable juicy, tropical character, and thankfully no radioactive side effects.

Style:

American Pale Ale (APA)

What does it taste like?:

Golden tropical notes, grapefruit, integrated malt and gorgeous hoppiness.

Moritz Can

Moritz is something of an iconic name in beer; the brewery’s first release was way back in 1856. After period of obscurity, the company resurfaced in 2004, thanks to the descendants of the Moritz family, who relaunched the brand to much success. This is its core release, a pale Pilsner made with mineral water from the Font d’Or, pale malts and Saaz hops. It’s a clean, crisp and delightfully malty beer from the brand behind Barcelona’s original beer.

Style:

Lager/Pilsner

What does it taste like?:

Refreshing lemon and crisp grains, with pepper hops coming alongside subtle bready hints.

Wild Beer Sleeping Lemons

You don’t have to travel to Belgium to get your hands on a decent fruit beer anymore. The fun and refreshing take on the classic pint is represented brilliantly here from The Wild Beer Co., who boast quite a range of vibrantly-flavoured beers. Lemons that were first preserved in salt were used here in a beer that packs a tart, acidic bite and pleasant salinity without compromising the character of its malt and hops.

Style:

Fruit beer

What does it taste like?:

Tart lemons, apple and hay before the introduction of the sea salt notes, with a hint of flint too.

Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter

In what is almost certainly the finest way to share Iceland’s amazing water with the world, this toasted porter from Einstök Ölgerð in Iceland was brewed with Icelandic roasted coffee, lager malt, Munich malt, chocolate malt, Bavarian hops and pure Icelandic water. The result is a robust, supple and very drinkable porter.

Style:

Porter

What does it taste like?:

Roasty and toasty with dark mocha and bitter treacle.

Adnams Broadside

Adnams Broadside was first brewed in 1972 to commemorate the battle of Sole Bay fought against the Dutch Republic in 1672 just off the Southwold coast, close to the brewery. There’s not just history to be enjoyed here, however, Broadside is a delightfully dark and rich bitter that was brewed with pale and chocolate malt and First Gold hops. Pair with good, hearty home-cooked food (think stews, pies etc.) to make the most of it.

Style:

Bitter

What does it taste like?:

Full-bodied and rich, notes of fruitcake, red berries, warming malt and dark caramel. A touch of almonds lingers on the finish.

BrewDog Nanny State

Low-alcohol tipples are becoming all the rage, so it’s worth seeing what all the fuss is about. This is Nanny State, BrewDog’s take on the category, weighing in at a mighty 0.5% ABV. However, a hearty helping of hops, including Centennial, Amarillo, Columbus, Cascade and Simcoe, as well as plenty of dry hops means this is still a flavoursome brew.

Style:

Low-Alcohol Beer.

What does it taste like?:

Yep, this is well-hopped indeed – loads of orange, grapefruit, mango and pine, with a little bit of biscuit-y malt shining through.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Brandy Sour

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history. When mixing drinks, most of…

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history.

When mixing drinks, most of us reach for gin, rum or whisky, and forget about Cognac and Armagnac. Which is a shame because not only can these two brandies be great cocktail ingredients but in many cases, they were the original ingredient. The Sazerac, for example, according to Eric Felten in How’s Your Drink, gets its name from “a brand of Cognac popular in New Orleans in the 19th century”.

Brandy was also massive on the other side of Atlantic. But its premience among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. By the 1890s, there was panic in the gentleman’s clubs of Britain as they were running out of brandy. Blended Scotch was specifically designed to fill this gap. Whisky merchants borrowed from Cognac the technique of blending heavier and lighter spirits to create a consistent product. In America, cocktail lovers moved over to rye and bourbon where they have remained ever since.

Armagnac vineyards

The beautiful vineyards of Armagnac (credit: BNIA)

Nowadays, however, brandy is back on the cocktail menu. Amanda Garnham from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) told me that bartenders love Armagnac because “of its multifaceted nature and depth of flavour”. But, she also warned that it was important not to lose that complexity when making your drink. So keep it simple. To educate the hospitality industry, the BNIA has just taken on Hannah Lanfear, recently crowned Educator of the Year at the Imbibe Personality of the Year Awards. I asked her for some recommendations.

“Armagnac offers the bartender incredible complexity and depth, with a structured flavour profile that gives a wealth of possibility for flavour combinations,” she said. “A classic sour makes for a perfect showcase for the picture painted by the distiller.”

So I decided to take her advice. A sour requires just three ingredients: something boozy, something sweet and something sour (obviously). It’s part of a family of cocktails based on these principles that includes the Daiquiri. This very simplicity, however, means that there is no room for error. You have to get the ratio of booze, sour and sugar exactly right. You also must take care when shaking not to dilute it too much.

It is a supremely adaptable drink. You could add an egg white to give it a gorgeous silky texture (in which case it will need to be shaken for longer), or finish it off with a couple of drops of Angostura bitters. Add triple sec or Grand Marnier, and you have a Sidecar (5 parts brandy, 2 lemon juice, 2 triple sec). Hell, you don’t even have to use brandy: you could use pisco, gin, rum, amaretto, bourbon, or Metaxa (a Greek brandy flavoured with Muscat grape juice) though you may have to play around with the ratios. But today, we’re using Armagnac.

So, which one to use? Garnham recommends not using anything too old or delicate. On the other hand, you do want something that can take centre stage, so don’t use something that you’d put on your Christmas pudding. The perfect choice is Baron de Sigognac VSOP. Not only is it an excellent affordable Armagnac, but I’d say it is one of the best-value spirits on the market. With its tropical fruit and crème brûlée character, it’s as smooth as David Niven’s smoking jacket.

Sold? Right, let’s get mixing!

Armagnac sour BINA

Armagnac sour (credit: BNIA)

50ml Baron de Sigognac VSOP
15ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
Glass: coupe or Nick & Nora
Garnish: lemon slice

Shake all the ingredients hard and quickly with lots of ice (you don’t want too much dilution). Double strain to remove any ice crystals into a coupe, and garnish with a slice of lemon (or you could use an orange twist or a maraschino cherry).

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Master of Malt wins at the 2019 Drinks Retailing Awards

Exciting news just in as Master of Malt adds another gong to its already groaning trophy cabinet (we do actually have a trophy cabinet). Forget the Oscars, Baftas or Cigar…

Exciting news just in as Master of Malt adds another gong to its already groaning trophy cabinet (we do actually have a trophy cabinet).

Forget the Oscars, Baftas or Cigar Smoker of the Year, they cannot compare with the sheer glamour of the Drinks Retailing Awards which took place last night at The Dorchester in London. The great and good of the business were out in their best bib and tucker to celebrate excellence in flogging booze.

According to Martin Green at Drinks Retailing News, the judges looked at “retailers’ strengths and weaknesses in the digital sphere” as well as using data from Nielsen and polling 2,000 consumers through YouGov. Green went on to say: “To be nominated for a Drinks Retailing Award is a tremendous achievement, and to win one is a stamp of the ultimate quality.”

It was a hard-fought contest, but we are delighted to tell you that Master of Malt won Online Retailer of the Year beating off some tough competition. This is the first time we have won this category since 2013 five years of hurt, never stopped us dreaming. Presenting the prize was Joe Fattorini off ITV’s ‘The Wine Show’ and representing MoM were Nick Murden and Jake Mountain.

They partied responsibly long into the night.

 

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10 new Master of Malt Single Cask Series whiskies!

We’ve got a whole new batch of Master of Malt Single Cask Series whiskies, people! 10 of them, to be specific. Are you very excited? You should be. Whisky fans,…

We’ve got a whole new batch of Master of Malt Single Cask Series whiskies, people! 10 of them, to be specific. Are you very excited? You should be.

Whisky fans, rejoice. We’ve done it again! You know the drill by now. We introduce a brand new selection of Master of Malt Single Cask Series whiskies, you enjoy the spoils of our labour. What a system.

As always, we’ve managed to get our hands on some truly sublime single malts from a host of fantastic distilleries, including: Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain, Mortlach, Craigellachie and more. The single cask expressions range from 8 to 37 years matured and every single edition is presented at cask strength, without any chill-filtration or added colourings. All you find in these MoM-tastic bottles is very, very tasty whisky.

Now go check out our brand new selection below and enjoy!

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What’s the buzz about CBD cocktails?

At the moment you’re more likely to find CBD oil in your morning latte than a late-night tipple, but make no mistake, cannabidiol-laced cocktails are coming to a bar menu…

At the moment you’re more likely to find CBD oil in your morning latte than a late-night tipple, but make no mistake, cannabidiol-laced cocktails are coming to a bar menu near you. Here’s everything you need to know about the emerging trend…

The marijuana plant has enjoyed something of a rebrand over the last decade, as both scientists and medical professionals begin to deconstruct and attest to its various benefits. And while debate over cannabis decriminalisation rages on, the CBD market is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing industries in the UK.

CBD is a type of cannabinoid, which are chemicals naturally found in marijuana plants. It doesn’t make you feel “high” – that’s caused by another cannabinoid known as THC – instead, early scientific research suggests the oil may offer a range of benefits, such as reducing pain and inflammation, easing anxiety and boosting heart health.

You might wonder what any of that has to do with drinks, but the burgeoning trend reflects a change in the industry’s attitude to cocktail hour over the last few years. Now more than ever, bartenders are prioritising responsible drinking, sustainability and quality over quantity, explains Joe Brayford, brand ambassador at City of London Distillery.

“CBD fits in perfectly with the idea of responsible drinking and is certainly one of many fresh tools in any bartender’s arsenal,” he says. Flavour-wise, it’s “earthy and a little vegetal, definite cannabis notes along with damp grass; think walking through a field on a damp morning. This can vary slightly depending on the oil base of the extract – water-soluble versions are also available, but they seem to have a milder flavour and thinner texture.”

Plant-based eatery Farmacy was the first venue to serve London a CBD-laced cocktail back in 2016. Called There’s Something About Mary, the drink combines vanilla vodka, CBD oil, homemade hemp and bay leaf syrup, mango puree and a dash of chilli sauce. “It’s a powerful antioxidant with many healing qualities, such as anti-inflammatory,” says founder Camilla Fayed. “It’s also said to boost brain function, and acts as a great mood-enhancer.”

CBD Marqueen Moon Far Radish

Marquee Moon CBD cocktail from The Fat Radish, NYC (recipe below)

Others soon followed in Famarcy’s footsteps. Hackney bar Behind This Wall brought together Drum & Black spiced rum, Akashi-Tai Honjozo Genshu sake, CBD-infused honey and ginger syrup, lime juice, Birds Weissbrand, Bittermens Burlesque Bitters and kenaf leaf for its Fo’ Sizzle Dizzle Swizzle – while gourmet kebab house Maison Bab introduced the Gin and Chronic (we see what you did there), which combines CBD oil, Bombay Sapphire and lemon.

Beyond its purported health benefits, the ingredient is a useful flavour and texture-enhancing tool. Brayford has mostly been experimenting with low-ABV serves – “the more alcohol in the drink, the less pronounced it seems to become,” he explains – with a particular focus on vermouth and sherry.

“Certain Amaro pair beautifully with it,” he attests, “as do fermented drinks – the funky vinegar-like qualities of kefir, tepache or kombucha work nicely with the vegetal notes. I’ve been trying to develop drinks with a strong focus on texture and mouthfeel – oil-washed spirits go great with it for a super silky drink.”

So, say you want to whip up a CBD-laced cocktail at home. What style of drink should you go for? Flavour-wise, Brayford recommends spirits “that lean toward an earthy or vegetal profile. Mezcals or Agricole rhums work great, but equally a crisp clean vodka or classic dry gin can create an interesting balance if done well,” he says.

Or you could channel your inner barista and go for a CBD-laced coffee cocktail. “Its effects in coffee-based drinks are pretty interesting,” Brayford continues; the industry is already adding it to lattes. “Blending CBD oil with coffee not only helps to mellow the adverse effects of caffeine but also provides a silky texture and mouthfeel.”

Green Monkey CBD

Green Monkey CBD-infused carbonated drink.

Coffee houses aren’t the only businesses to capitalise on the trend. UK-based brewery Green Times Brewing specialises in craft beers infused with Cannabis Sativa oil extract, while Green Monkey CBD is catering to soft drinks with the UK’s first CBD-infused carbonated drink. As far as the production element of the drinks industry is concerned, where’s the market headed?

“The sky’s the limit really,” says Serge Davies, Green Monkey’s CEO. “We already know that some big beer brewers are experimenting with CBD in their drinks, and other competitors are definitely popping up. There will definitely be a range of flavours and styles – perhaps even strengths – as the industry develops.”

And in our favourite bars? “Like any trend, people will catch on and want to put it in anything,” Brayford predicts. “I’m sure there will be a period of every menu having CBD thrown in somewhere for the novelty value. But I hope to see it go the way of other trends that lean toward more responsible drinking.”

He points to the launch of non-alcoholic botanical drink Three Spirit late last year, followed by low-ABV spirit Willow at the end of January. “People are excited about the idea of drinking quality drinks and experiencing some pleasurable effects but without crazy-high ABVs and a rough head the next day,” he adds. To that we say, cheers! Here’s one to try at home:

Marquee Moon:

60ml Seedlip Spice
20ml Red rooibos honey cordial*
1 barspoon D’Anjou pear vinegar
A few drops of CBD oil to your taste
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Honeycomb
Method: Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into glass, garnish with honeycomb and serve with an anecdote about Tom Verlaine.
*Red rooibos honey cordial: brew 4 cups strong red rooibos tea and combine with 4 cups honey

 

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