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Master of Malt Blog

New Arrival of the Week: Fortunella Golden Orange liqueur

Just landed at MoM towers is a new liqueur that has got us singing an old Rihanna classic. It’s called Fortunella, ella, ella, eh, eh (see what we mean?) and…

Just landed at MoM towers is a new liqueur that has got us singing an old Rihanna classic. It’s called Fortunella, ella, ella, eh, eh (see what we mean?) and it’s made from the smallest member of the orange family, the kumquat.

Oranges have an illustrious pedigree when it comes to booze. There’s Grand Marnier, Cointreau, and errr, Bols Blue CuraçaoNow there’s a new kid on the block, Fortunella Golden Orange liqueur. Golden orange is another name for kumquat. Do you remember how these tiny little oranges blew our minds when they arrived in the 1990s? You’re meant to eat the whole thing skin and all! But actually kumquats on these shores are nothing new. According to the people behind Fortunella, a Mr Robert Fortune introduced the kumquat to London in 1846, and it is he who this new liqueur is named after.

Lukas Stafin

Lukas Stafin engaging in a spot of cocktail alchemy

This new kumquat liqueur is the brainchild of bartender Lukas Stafin, who in his 15 years behind the bar worked at such notable venues as Purl in Marylebone and the Lanesborough Hotel, and Dariusz Plazewski, founder and distiller from Bimber. This west-London-based distillery opened in 2015 and have quickly made a name for itself with its London dry gin, flavoured vodkas, and rum. And watch this space for a single malt whisky. We’re excited!

But back to Fortunella, ella, ella (we’ll stop now); it’s made entirely by hand from fresh, not dried as with most orange liqueurs, kumquats from China, India, South Africa and South America. It’s made in small batches using a table top still. The result is less sweet than most orange liqueurs and comes in at 36% ABV. “As a bartender, I am passionate about creating drinks from scratch and have always looked for original new drinks, which can really deliver on natural flavour and have genuine potential for regular usage,” Stafin said. “In Fortunella I have meticulously sourced the most aromatic fresh fruits and trialled many production techniques to retain their taste sensation and achieve an unusually low level of sweetness balanced by a dry finish; then tasted and refined it with bar colleagues whom I respect for their critical palate and hands-on bar expertise”.

Fortunella might be London made but it’s heart is very much in the east. After all, kumquats are native to south Asia. The earliest reference to these tiny oranges appears in 12th century Chinese literature. The packaging reflects this: that stubby 50cl bottle makes it look like a top Japanese whisky. The label is inspired by Chinese herbal remedies and features a golden orange tree with the words ‘golden orange’ written in Chinese lettering. And very stylish it looks too. We’ve had to wait for our delivery because the first batch of 300 bottles of was snapped up in its entirety for export to the Far East.

Fortunella

Fortunella, full of eastern promise

Stafin recommends drinking Fortunella with soda or tonic but as you’d expect it makes a cracking Margarita, has a great affinity with brandy, so works in a Sidecar, or you can use as the sweetening agent in an Old Fashioned. It’s an adaptable beast.

Welcome Fortunella! May fortune smile upon you.

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Whisky and honours

Today Ian Buxton toasts Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker who has just received an OBE and looks into the occasionally murky world of whisky and honours. As you may…

Today Ian Buxton toasts Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker who has just received an OBE and looks into the occasionally murky world of whisky and honours.

As you may have read recently, Dr Jim Beveridge, master blender for Johnnie Walker has been appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the latest Queen’s Honours list.  It couldn’t happen to a nicer or more modest chap – and he joins an exclusive group of whisky notables. In 2016 David Stewart, the long-serving malt Master at the Balvenie, was awarded the MBE while his opposite number at Glen Grant, Dennis Malcolm received an OBE – one rung up the awards ladder.  More recently, Nigel Mills, co-founder and chairman of The Lakes Distillery was appointed a CBE (a couple of steps up the awards hierarchy) while, at the same time, David Gosnell of Bushmills received the OBE.

Dr Jim Beveridge

Dr Jim himself!

So I expect by now you’re wondering, what are these awards, who else in whisky has received one and, most interesting of all, how are they decided?  There is no particular mystery about the British awards system. The aim is to recognise people who have made achievements in public life, or committed themselves to serving and helping Britain: “they’ll usually have made life better for other people or be outstanding at what they do.” as it says on the www.gov.uk/honoursThere’s nothing obscure about that and, other than the staunch republicans among us, we can probably agree that it is appropriate to recognise exceptional achievement or national service.  But who decides and how do they know who is worthy?

Though these are the Queen’s Awards, it’s not actually Her Majesty who decides. Specialist committees, comprising senior civil servants along with people who are independent of government, recommend awards to a main committee who then forward them to the Prime Minister’s office and then to the Queen. If you know someone particularly deserving, you can nominate them on the website. 

This system was introduced by John Major as Prime Minister but previously the basis for an award was, at best, opaque and, at worst, corrupt. There may have been some skulduggery surrounding the so-called ‘Whisky Barons’ of the 1920s ennobled by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, most notably the creation of Lord Woolavington (formerly James Buchanan). It is said that he paid handsomely for his peerage – allegedly, the sum of £50,000, or about £2m today – but signed the cheque with his new title and dated it for one day after the announcement was due, to ensure that the wily Lloyd George would honour the new honour!  But rest assured Messrs Beveridge, Stewart and Malcolm haven’t written any dodgy cheques! Their awards are strictly on merit.

Jim Beveridge

Dr Jim in action

Though there have been some involved with whisky production who have received gongs, like Ronald Martin from United Distillers (1931-2005, awarded OBE in 1991) or Professor Geoffrey Palmer from Heriot Watt University who received an OBE in 2003, the most senior awards, including knighthoods tend to come from the commercial side of the business.  Examples include Sir Anthony Tennant (1930 – 2011), knighted in 1992 for his work at IDV and at Guinness following the ignominious departure of Ernest Saunders, and Sir George Bull, knighted 1998, having been one of the principal architects of the then-largest merger in UK corporate history with the union of Grand Metropolitan with Guinness to create Diageo. A more recent business knight is Sir Ian Good, chairman of the Edrington Group from 1994 to 2013.  He was knighted in 2008. Interestingly, his predecessor John Macphail (1923-2004) received the lesser award of CBE, despite his obituary describing him as “one of the most inspirational and influential figures in the Scotch whisky industry”.

So here’s to all the distinguished individuals mentioned here, and all the others that I should have saluted but have omitted. Let’s raise a glass to their contribution to whisky, along with the hope that the new generation of distinguished whisky women will shortly have their special place in history.  

Who will be the first women in whisky to be honoured?  I leave it to you to speculate…..

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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The Nightcap: 7 June

As we recover from another outstanding Fèis Ìle, the influx of booze news flowed in as usual – it’s The Nightcap! It’s Friday again, and, like always, we’ve got a…

As we recover from another outstanding Fèis Ìle, the influx of booze news flowed in as usual – it’s The Nightcap!

It’s Friday again, and, like always, we’ve got a fresh batch of news stories from the world of booze ready for you to drink up as we enter summer. That’s right, it’s summer already and, of course, it’s raining. But we won’t let that dampen our spirits, it’s the weekend for goodness sake! And we’re going to start this weekend the same way we always do. With another smashing edition of The Nightcap!

On the blog this week Jake regaled us with tales from Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain and Jura as Fèis Ìle 2019 concluded, while our June 2019 dram club also launched. Adam then found some fab treats to spoil the old man with on Father’s Day, Jess explored the world of fermented tea drinks with her New Arrival of the Week and Nate Brown played a game of booze-branding buzzword bingo in his guest column. Annie explained why the right glassware matters before casting her eye over 10 bottlings created with a chef’s sensibilities, while Henry met with the queen of rum, Joy Spence, enjoyed a Talisker video masterclass and picked The Toasted Nut Boulevardier as his Cocktail of the Week.

Now, to the news!

The Nightcap

Interesting times for Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond sold to Asian investment firm in $500m deal

Big Scotch whisky news! The Loch Lomond Group will be sold to Hillhouse Capital Management, an investment firm with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. The distillery is unique in Scotland in producing its own single malt and single grain whiskies; it also produces the Glen Scotia whisky, Glen’s vodka and Ben Lomond gin. The distillery, which had been in the hands of the Bulloch family since 1834, was acquired in 2014 by UK-based Exponent Private Equity who very successfully concentrated on the export market. Overseas sales went up from 10% to 70% of business. The new owners are now looking to capitalise on this especially in the Asian market. Wei Cao, partner at Hillhouse Capital, said: “We are so excited to help Loch Lomond realise the potential of its outstanding brands in huge new consumer markets, such as Asia.” The deal is still to be finalised but is said by Scottish Field to be worth somewhere in the region of $500m. The current distillery’s management headed up by Colin Matthews will stay in place and will keep a minority stake in the business. Matthews commented: “Over the past five years we are proud to have transformed the Loch Lomond Group into a premium international spirits business with a strong focus on innovation and a portfolio of award-winning brands.” We look forward to seeing what comes next from one of Scotland’s most idiosyncratic distilleries.

The Nightcap

The US allowing these little guys is great news for small European distillers

America may allow 70cl bottles – huge news for small European distillers

Good news from America! You don’t often hear that one. The TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau), the people who regulate alcohol among other things, are proposing to change the rules on bottle sizes for spirits. In a move that smacks of good old-fashioned common sense, the release says, “TTB is proposing to eliminate all but minimum and maximum standards of fill for distilled spirits containers in order to provide industry members greater flexibility in production and sourcing of containers, and provide consumers broader purchasing options.” At the moment full-size spirit bottles have to be 75cl as opposed to 70cl in the European Union, so producers have to produce two separate bottlings. No problem, of course, for Diageo but prohibitively expensive for smaller producers. If this proposal goes through, and that’s a big if, then it could potentially open up the American market to some boutique spirits. If the EU would reciprocate to allow 75cl spirit bottles, or maybe just agree on a common standard, what a wonderful world it could be.

The Nightcap

No fancy packaging here

Glenlivet 1946 goes under the hammer in Chiswick

In these days of hand-blown decanters, boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl and specially-commissioned books, it’s nice to be reminded of a simpler time when whisky just came in a bottle with a plain label on. Take the Glenlivet 1946 that’s going under the hammer at Chiswick Auctions wine and spirits sale on 11 June. It was distilled when rationing was still going on after the war, only a tiny amount was allowed to be made for the export market. Most would have been sold as soon as possible but some were kept in cask and bottled by Gordon & MacPhail of Elgin in the 1980s, so this is a roughly 40-year-old whisky. It’s been sourced by the new wine and spirits team at Chiswick Auctions Sam Hellyer, Chris Burr and Christopher Cooper. Look at that admittedly not terribly good label and compare it with the recent 50 Year Old Winchester Collection release from The Glenlivet. The latter will set you back $25,000 whereas this 1946 is only expected to sell for £800-1000. You don’t get a fancy box, but you do get a slice of history and at that price, someone might even drink it.

The Nightcap

A delightfully pink taste of history

Drink the original Pink Gin this World Gin Day with Angostura Bitters

Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock, you’ve probably noticed a little trend called pink gin. However, in reality, these sweet and fruity tipples are a far cry from the very first pink gin to pass our lips, which was created courtesy of Angostura bitters. As the story goes, back in 1824, Dr J.G.B Siegert created Angostura bitters as a kind of healing elixir for soldiers fighting in Venezuela. At the time, it was safer to drink alcohol on ships, as stagnant water was a rather perilous affair. Would you believe it, it took a whole 24 years for someone to mix these bitters with gin! It was in the year 1848 when a Royal Navy surgeon added the bitters to try and help with seasickness. Luckily, this happy accident of mixology also coincided with the rise of cocktail culture in the 1850s. The sailors returned from sea, and brought with them Pinkers, as they now affectionately called this pink gin. Health concerns went out the window and people simply loved the taste of it. Seeing as it’s World Gin Day this weekend, why not have a taste of history and make your own Pinkers? Tastes even better if you can find a ship to drink it on, though it’s not essential.

The Nightcap

Caskshare allows whisky lovers to reserve ‘shares’ of whisky casks from their favourite distilleries

Craft Whisky Club launches Caskshare

It goes without saying that anything which makes whisky more accessible is most definitely a Good Thing. So, great news for whisky geeks this week, as Craft Whisky Club (part of Edinburgh based whisky-technology company Uisge Tech Ltd) announced the launch of Caskshare. In a nutshell, Caskshare allows whisky lovers to reserve ‘shares’ of whisky casks from their favourite distilleries, and once matured the single cask bottlings will be sent directly to the lucky recipient – or as Caskshare calls them, ‘shareholders’. This is a brilliant new initiative, described as Crowdfunding for whisky casks, which will hopefully allow consumers to explore and buy a whole host of cask variations without breaking the bank. The first casks to feature on the platform are from the Raasay Distillery, and you can choose to age either your peated or unpeated spirit in ex-bourbon, Chinquapin (a type of oak native to North America) virgin oak, or Bordeaux red wine casks. Such choice! The first bottling will be ready in 2022, after its required three years of ageing. “Caskshare offers whisky fans a way to get closer to their favourite distilleries and wood types”, says co-founder David Nicol. “What’s more, you don’t need to part with the vast sums of money required to purchase a full cask.” It’s said that a few new distilleries are set to join Caskshare in the next few months, and these won’t just be limited to Scotland, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Nightcap

A record-breaking rum!

Wray & Nephew President’s Reserve breaks rum auction record fetching £31,500

A very rare Wray & Nephew rum has set a new world record for an individual bottle of rum sold at auction after it fetched £31,500 (just under $40,000). “We had high hopes for this stunning bottle but with so little sales history to reference it was difficult to predict how it might perform,” said Iain McClune, director at Whisky Auctioneer. “I think it is fair to say that it has exceeded expectations, however, the price achieved is more than deserving considering the historical significance and incredible rarity of this rum”. J. Wray & Nephew President’s Reserve rum, the fourth of 12 bottles created, went on sale in Whisky Auctioneer’s inaugural Rum Auction last month. The rum, which contains liquid from 1906, honours US president Ronald Reagan and his first and only visit to Jamaica in April 1982. The label bears the late president’s seal, and it is believed that two bottles were presented to Reagan with further bottles given to dignitaries and industry professionals in attendance during the visit. This particular bottle is thought to be the only known example to have come into the secondary market, with another bottle previously selling for £1,213 (US$1,542) at a Bonhams auction in New York in 2013. A representative from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum said: “The first family received this wonderful gift commemorating their trip to Jamaica in April 1982. The bottle that we have is #1 and bears the Great Seal of the United States. The current locations of the remaining bottles are not known.” More than 50 bids from across the world were made for the historic bottling, with the winning bid coming from Italy. It’s sickening, isn’t it? There’s a person out there who gets to drink rare rum and live in Italy. Life isn’t fair. Anyway, we digress. . . The President’s Reserve was one of more than 600 rums sold in the auction and wasn’t the only big hitter. A pair of casks from the closed Caroni distillery in Trinidad fetched £25,000 (US$31,793) each.

The Nightcap

It’s hard to say what was better, the cocktails or the view!

London in the Sky with Cocchi

We headed down – or should we say up – to North Greenwich to London in the Sky for a spritz masterclass with Team Cocchi. London in the Sky is, in essence, a great big table on a crane which rises 100 feet into the air, giving you truly some stellar views of the Big Smoke while you sip. For those of you who think that may sound slightly hellish, fear not, as you’re securely strapped into a seat which looks a little like one you would find in a racing car – super safe. Once we had risen above the O2 Arena, we made (and tasted) four cocktails. First up was the Cocchi Rosa Spritz, made with Cocchi Rosa, tonic, fresh strawberries and basil, full of bittersweet pink berry notes. Next, a Cocchi Rosa Negroni, a take on the classic made with Cocchi Rosa, Pink Pepper Gin and Campari. Then, we moved (metaphorically) into the evening with the Vermouth di Torino Spritz, combining Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, rosemary and olive tonic water and a fresh sprig of rosemary. This was less fruity, and brought more of a spicy note, hence why it was more of an evening drink. Finally, a classic Negroni graced the floating table, made with Sipsmith gin, Campari and, of course, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. If a spritz in the sky sounds good to you, then you’ll be thrilled to hear that Cocchi Spritzes are permanently on the menu for all of London in the Sky’s flights. However, the best part is, that with each cocktail only containing three ingredients, these are simple drinks to make, whether you’re 100 feet in the air over Canary Wharf, or just relaxing in your garden.

The Nightcap

A week of Negronis? We’re in

Campari unveils #N100, a week devoted to the Negroni

This year it’s the hundredth anniversary of that fateful day when a barman in Florence accidentally poured gin into Count Camillo Negroni’s Americano (a mixture of Campari and vermouth) instead of soda water, and created a classic. Or so the story goes (we’ll be looking into the drink’s history very soon). As you can imagine we’re quite excited, but not as excited as Campari: the Milanese company is launching #N100, over a week of events around Britain to celebrate the Count and his creation. It begins at the Vinyl Factory in London on 20 June and continues into Negroni Week beginning 22 June with events in Edinburgh, Manchester and London. To spice things up a little, the venues won’t just be offering the standard Negroni. At Hoot the Redeemer in Edinburgh, for example, you’ll be able to try the tastefully-named Skagliato made with Campari, Irn Bru and Buckfast! Sounds fierce. It looks like June is going to be sweet this year, and really really bitter.

The Nightcap

Gold has just opened on Portobello Road and we’re all very excited to see how they do

Notting Hill bar Gold opens in a blaze of talent

A swanky new bar and restaurant that goes by the name of Gold opened on Portobello Road this week. The new venture has drawn quite the host of talent, with head chef Theo Hill of The River Café, and front of house team Alex Ghalleb of Pizza East and Arez Akgundogdu of Soho House. The drinks don’t look bad either: Gold’s unique cocktail menu has been put together by Weapons and Toys, aka. Matt Whiley and Rich Woods, the fellas behind Hackney’s Scout. It’s already off to a flying (and talented) start. So, what to expect? Raw bohemian decor, with exposed brickwork, lots of indoor trees and the like, colourful seasonal sharing plates inspired by local produce and uncomplicated, delicious cocktails. All the cocktails look delicious, but we’re pretty sure we’d be hard pressed to choose between the Market Stall Spritz, comprised of raspberry-infused Hennessey brandy, crème de cacao, sweet tomato shrub, rosé and soda, or the Baklava Fizz, combining Don Julio Tequila, fig shrub, London honey, almond milk and soda. Gold will span over four floors, and will even boast a garden room with a retractable roof, perfect as we began our descent into summer. With such a great team in place, we can’t wait to see what other seasons will bring.

The Nightcap

Yep. That’s a shoe. With a cocktail inside

And finally. . . . a cocktail served in a shoe

Cocktail silly season has arrived in London early this year as the Ace Hotel announces a new cocktail menu at the Lobby Bar. The two that caught our eye were the Bangers and Daq’s, a Daiquiri with a salami (yes real salami, not some sort of dried fruit fangled to look like salami) and red wine twist, and the Drella’s Milk Punch, made from cornflake milk and vodka which sounds like the sort of thing Ozzy Osborne would have had for breakfast. However, these beverages are paragons of classical good taste in comparison with what the people from Filipino joint, Romulo Cafe in Kensington, are serving. It’s called the Imelda and it’s been designed in honour of former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, who was famed for having a lot of shoes when most of her people didn’t have a lot to eat. The cocktail contains Stolichnaya vodka, crème de framboise, crème de mure and strawberry puree, and served, naturally, in a shoe. It’s all done in the best possible taste!

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Five minutes with Joy Spence from Appleton Estate

We had the honour of an audience with the queen of rum, Joy Spence from Appleton Estate. We talked about Jamaican rum’s Geographical Indication, whether she might ever launch a…

We had the honour of an audience with the queen of rum, Joy Spence from Appleton Estate. We talked about Jamaican rum’s Geographical Indication, whether she might ever launch a single pot still spirit (please!), and why when she became master blender some people thought her parents owned the company.

Last month four of the most eminent names in global distilling were at Carlton House Terrace in London for Gruppo’s Campari’s Meet the Masters event. The big four were Eddie Russell of Wild Turkey Bourbon, Patrick Raguenaud of Grand Marnier, Dennis Malcolm of Glen Grant and Joy Spence from Appleton Estate in Jamaica.

The fab four, from left: Raguenaud, Russell, Spence and Malcolm

For rum lovers, Joy Spence needs no introduction, but we’re going to give her one anyway. Spence trained as a chemist and did her masters at Loughborough University in England. She joined J. Wray and Nephew, Appleton’s parent company, in 1981. She held a number of positions before becoming chief blender in 1997. The first woman ever to hold this position.

Appleton is one of the oldest names in rum. The first mention of the estate producing rum is from 1749. In 1916 it was acquired by the J. Wray and Nephew, who make Jamaica’s number one rum, and in 2012 both brands were bought by Campari. Appleton has been instrumental in taking rum upmarket with its excellent age statement range like the exceptional 25 year old Joy Anniversary Blend (bottled to honour Spence’s 20 years as master blender). 2018 was a big year for Appleton as it opened a £5.4m visitor centre called, naturally, The Joy Spence Experience, and Jamaican rum’s Geographical Indication was approved which means that it has protected status like Champagne or Stilton. To learn more, we spoke to the lady herself, Joy Spence:

Master of Malt: How important is the GI for Jamaican rum?

Joy Spence: I think the GI for Jamaican rum is extremely important because what is happening globally is that a lot of producers outside of Jamaica are purchasing Jamaica rum but diluting it but still declaring it as a hundred percent Jamaican rum. So we set up some key characteristics for Jamaica rum: first you must use limestone-filtered water in your fermentation, Jamaican limestone-filtered water to be precise! You must ferment and distill in Jamaica. If you’re going to have an age statement it must be the minimum age system, similar to the Scotch whisky system. And last but not least, no additives in Jamaica rum.

MoM: And do you think other countries will follow you? Because some countries have slightly less clear labelling systems?

JS: Yes. Actually Barbados is now working on a GI for Barbados rum and I think others will follow suit because they see the importance of having a geographical indicator and protecting your turf. Unfortunately it’s not an even playing field in the rum industry, because you have so many different regulations from different countries, so it’s not quite clear exactly what an overall definition for rum is and what is allowed and what is not allowed. This is why we have decided to clarify what Jamaica rum is all about so they know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase a bottle of Jamaica rum.

MoM: Does all the sugarcane used in your rum come from the estate?

JS: Yes we grow over 4,000 hectares of sugarcane at Appleton, so we’re one of the few producers that can claim the process from the cane to the cocktail, where we have total control of our process.

MoM: What about yeast?

JS: We have a special strain that was handed down from the inception of rum making at Appleton so we generate a strain every three months to keep it pure. We ferment for between 36 or 48 hours and at the end of that we have fermented molasses that has 7% alcohol in it.

MoM: And that’s quite a fast fermentation for Jamaica, is that right?

JS: You have two methods of fermenting in Jamaica but this particular method represent 90% of the production in Jamaica. And we don’t use dunder in the Appleton process, those are for high ester rums. We’re looking to make smooth, rich, complex, and fruity spirits.

Joy Spence

Spence brought Jamaica to London with her

MoM: And can you tell me a little about the distillation. What sort of stills do you use?

JS: We use a combination of both pot and column in all of our blends. The pot still however is the heart and soul of our blends and our copper pot stills are specially designed in Scotland for us and so they produce this distinctive orange peel top note, which is the hallmark of the Appleton Estate range.

MoM: I know you’ve done some single cask releases but would you ever do a single pot still release?

JS: Eventually. Right now because we have so much aged stock, I am releasing limited time offerings of blends but eventually we will look forward to a single mark. But not just yet because we have quite a few products in the pipeline coming out. We plan to launch one every year.

MoM: That’s really exciting! Do you think the future of rum is to go upmarket?

JS: Yes, I think the rum consumer is looking for more sophistication, and genuine stories, a lot of the rum producers really don’t have a lot to say about their story. Appleton has genuine provenance and a huge story behind it. Premium aged rum category is now the hot category and it is going to be the next whisky.

MoM: At the moment whisky is trying to be less serious, do you think there’s a danger with rum becoming more serious that it might lose some of its sense of fun?

JS: At Appleton Estate, we make a rum for any occasion. So, we make rums that are great for fun parties and rums that are for a more serious, sophisticated setting. What we do is to try to cover both ends of the spirits category.

MoM: Can you tell me a little bit about how you became the master blender at Appleton?

JS: I joined the company as a chief chemist in 1981 and then I started working with the previous master blender and then I became so fascinated with the art of blending; being able to use my sensory skills to create all these beautiful flavour profiles. And he recognised that I had great creativity. So he took me under his wings, tutored with him for 17 years and then when he retired, I was appointed the first female master blender in the spirits industry. It was a male-dominated industry no woman had ever been made master blender. And some persons were sceptical, people thought that my parents owned the company and that’s how I got the position! And not the fact that I really earned it through expertise. But eventually people understood that I’d worked for several years in the industry and became quite an expert.

Appleton Estate

Joy Spence with the 25 year old Joy Anniversary release

MoM: What do you think the biggest skill that a blender has to have?

JS: People think that the biggest skill that a blender should have is being able to taste but no! It’s your sensory skills. Because we can differentiate much more by nosing than by tasting. Because the taste buds really get shattered after about three or four drinks. And when you’re doing sensory analysis you can smell and differentiate for hours the different aromas. And so this is the most important part of being a blender in the rum industry. Sensory analysis is based on memory so you memorise each aroma and it stays right there. There’s a little lobe right at the front here where you store everything for sensory analysis. And so I can differentiate over 200 aromas right now.

MoM: Do you have a favourite? I know it’s difficult, like choosing your children, but at the end of a hard day which Appleton do you reach for?

JS: I think my favourite blend to date is the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend. It is really the hallmark of excellence.

MoM: Do you have a favourite rum cocktail?

JS: I like simple cocktails. And I find that a Daiquiri with Appleton Estate Reserve, using brown sugar with a few drops of Angostura bitters, is quite delicious, simple and easy to make.

MoM: And then finally, what’s new on the horizon?

JS: Well we just launched Appleton Estate 30 year old for this year. And we are going to be releasing a product before the end of the year at the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience that was specifically made for the Experience and so it won’t be sold anywhere else in the world, so you have to come to the Experience in Jamaica to actually purchase it.

We are so there!

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Save the bees, drink Calvados

Not only is Calvados one of France’s best-kept secrets, it’s also one of the most sustainable spirits in the world. We get the low-down on this unjustly neglected brandy as…

Not only is Calvados one of France’s best-kept secrets, it’s also one of the most sustainable spirits in the world. We get the low-down on this unjustly neglected brandy as Avallen Calvados co-founders Tim Etherington-Judge and Stephanie Jordon introduce their eco-friendly brand to the world.

“Calvados is an extremely dusty old-fashioned category,” Etherington-Judge admits. “There’s amazing liquid inside the bottles, but they’ve been marketed and designed by old French producers. I liken it to single malt Scotch in the early eighties, which was driven by connoisseurship of a few people in the know. If you didn’t, it was very unapproachable.”

For the uninitiated, Calvados is brandy made with French apples and pears. All Calvados has to come from Normandy, and much like Cognac, it is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations and has a very stringent set of production rules (which you’ll find on our Calvados list page, the link is above). For Avallen – an old Cornish word, FYI, meaning apple tree – the duo partnered with existing distillery Domaine du Coquerel, which sources apples from 300 different farmers located within a 20 to 30-kilometre radius to create the liquid.

From left: Tim Etherington-Judge; Pierre Martin Neuhaus, owner of Distillerie Coquerel; Stephanie Jordan

“The apples come in, they’re washed, they’re pressed and the juice is fermented, which takes around two to three months because it’s a wild fermentation that happens in the winter,” says Etherington-Judge. The liquid is aged in French oak barrels for two years and bottled at 40% ABV with no added sugar, caramel or boisé. Some of the pulp from the apples is used to make the paper for Avallen’s labels – which are printed with sustainable dyes – and the rest is loaded into a methane digester and turned into gas to run the distillery. The bottle, meanwhile, is one of the lightest on the market, reducing Avallen’s carbon footprint during shipping.

When Etherington-Judge and Jordon, who worked together at multinational drinks goliath Diageo, set out to build their own brand, they wanted the project to be as sustainable and as environmentally-friendly as possible. Calvados as a category promotes biodiversity and extremely local production, explains Etherington-Judge. “Cows roam the orchards in Normandy, the bees pollinate the flowers and the cows eat some of the early-ripening apples and fertilise the trees,” he continues. “There’s also a very low level of chemical use in Normandy and where we’re made, in La Moche, no pesticides are used at all. It’s very different to the monoculture [cultivated for] the grains for our whiskies and gins and the sugarcane fields for our rums.”

For every bottle sold, the duo will donate €0.50 of profit to organisations dedicated to restoring and protecting the declining bee population. They have also committed to planting 100,000 wildflowers across the next three years, and operate the business as a vegan company – you won’t find any eggs in an Avallen Sour. “One of the biggest causes of bee decline is industrial agriculture, particularly the farming of meat,” says Etherington-Judge. “How can we talk about saving the bees if we are not following through on it on every single decision we make?”. The duo are also dabbling with blockchain technology, uploading laboratory analyses, invoices for each charitable donation and, eventually, finer details about the orchards online in a bid to be “100% transparent and authentic”.

Save the bees!

Save the bees!

Traditionally, Calvados has been enjoyed as a digestif, but the team behind Avallen want to “completely break away from that model because it’s obviously not working for the category, and get back into cocktails” from the “simple and delicious” Avellen and Tonic to the old-school Delicious Sour, which dates back to 1891 and combines Calvados, peach brandy, lemon juice, simple syrup and a pasteurised egg white (or an alternative vegan foaming agent in Avallen’s case).

Whether served straight up, in a short sipper or as a component in a quaffable long drink, Avallen is set to bring some vibrancy and life into what is, at present, a dull and poorly-understood category. “At the end of the day, it tastes like cooked apples and vanilla custard,” muses Etherington-Judge. “Who won’t love that flavour?”

The bartender’s last word…

“Guests who have been on holiday to Normandy are generally the only people aware of Calvados,” says Tom Soden, co-founder of sustainable London cocktail bar Nine Lives, where Avallen made its UK debut. “It’s lost behind the more famous brandies of France. Perhaps this is due to no particular brand evolving – Calvados brands haven’t changed with the times.

“Typically Calvados has been used as a more accessible alternative to Cognac – both in terms of taste and price,” he continues. While stirred drinks and classic style Punches seem to be the favourites, the “round fruit flavours” in Calvados make it “a great entry level into more spirit-forward drinks”.

“Stronger Sours and lighter stirred drinks have been where we’ve found Calvados to excel,” he continues. “Perhaps the introduction of new dynamic brands like Avallen will break new ground and attract new customers.”

Avallen Calvados

Avallen Calvados

 

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Chefs with boozes

As the link between kitchen and bar strengthens and their approaches to ingredients and flavour further align, certain highly-acclaimed chefs have switched their aprons for lab coats to dabble in…

As the link between kitchen and bar strengthens and their approaches to ingredients and flavour further align, certain highly-acclaimed chefs have switched their aprons for lab coats to dabble in distilling and brewing. Looking across whisky, gin, beer and beyond, we’ve championed 10 bottlings created with a chef’s sensibilities…

I’ve heard it said that if you want to know what the next cocktail trend will be, you should look at techniques used 10 years ago in fine dining kitchens across the world. This might sound like an insult on paper, but it’s a testament to how rapidly the industry has progressed, and the immensely high standard it’s held up to. Today’s bartenders approach their creations like artists, crafting complex, thought-provoking drinks that could rival the finest Michelin-starred dish – or better yet, find a place on the table alongside it.

Developing a botanical combination for a spirit, or a mash for a beer involves inventing a recipe after all, so it’s unsurprising that celebrated distillers, blenders and brewers have explored collaborations with cooks. Some chefs have even made the leap from dish to distillery full-time. Take Copenhagen’s Empirical Spirits, founded in 2017 by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen – before turning their eyes to spirits, the duo headed up Noma, which won the title of world’s best restaurant a casual five times. No biggie.

Looking to the future, we can only foresee more collaboration between the worlds of food and drink. The 10 distilleries and breweries that follow flung open their doors to celebrated chefs and together, they cooked up some seriously special boozes…

Chefs

Salcombe Gin’s Voyager Series features an eclectic range of collaborations

Salcombe Distilling Company’s Voyager Series

The Devon-based producers of Salcombe Gin have partnered with not one but three culinary geniuses for its ongoing Voyager Series, a collection of limited edition bottlings developed in collaboration with a winemaker or chef. To date, Michael Caines (not to be confused with the star of Get Carter and Jaws: The Revenge), Mark Hix, and Monica Galetti have flexed their botanical brains to design a characterful gin unique to them.

Anspach & Hobday x Tom Sellers

Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers – the man behind London’s Restaurant Story – teamed up with Anspach & Hobday to create farmhouse-style ale Story Saison, which is infused with clementine preserves made in his very own restaurant kitchen. Incidentally, he’s worked with the craft brewery before on a smoked brown ale.

Chefs

L’Anima raised £108,900 for Food for Soul, a non-profit that works to counter food waste through social inclusion.

The Dalmore x Massimo Bottura

Earlier this year, single malt Scotch whisky The Dalmore joined forces with Massimo Bottura – Michelin-starred chef and owner of revered Modena-based eatery Osteria Francescana – to release The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years (l’anima means ‘soul’ in Italian, FYI). The liquid combines whiskies aged in small-batch bourbon barrels, Graham’s vintage Port pipes, and González Byass casks that formerly contained 40-year-old Pedro Ximénez Sherry. Phwoar.

Cornish Gin x Tom Brown

Produced at The Wrecking Coast Distillery, juniper-forward Cornerstone Rare Cornish Gin has been developed to complement the dishes at Tom Brown’s fish-centric Hackney Wick restaurant, Cornerstone. Flavour-wise, we’re talking “generous coriander notes, strong citrus influences” and an injection of hedgerow rosehip and rowan berries – a tip of the hat to the gin’s Cornish roots.

Chefs

Ducasse & Co. approached creating this vodka as a dish rather than as a liquid.

Grey Goose x Alain Ducasse

Grey Goose cellar-master Francois Thibault teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse to create a “gastronomic vodka” for the brand’s 20th anniversary – approaching the spirit as a dish rather than as a liquid. The result, Grey Goose Interpreted By Ducasse, is made by blending distillates of French wheat that have undergone light, medium and heavy toasting.

Hepple Gin x Valentine Warner

When TV chef and forager Valentine Warner partnered with Moorland Spirit Company to create Hepple Gin, he enlisted tried-and-tested culinary techniques to achieve the flavour he sought – including vacuum distillation and a CO2 extraction process. The final recipe contains three types of juniper, Amalfi lemon, liquorice, douglas fir and bog myrtle, among others.

Chefs

The sublime Oldstead Garden Spirits

Cooper King Distillery x The Black Swan

Last year, Yorkshire’s Cooper King Distillery created a series of bespoke distillates for nearby Michelin-starred restaurant The Black Swan using flowers and plants grown in the venue’s kitchen garden. Marigold, lemon verbena, fennel pollen and chicory root were picked, delivered to the distillery and vacuum-distilled on the same day to create four variants, known collectively as Oldstead Garden Spirits.

Sharp’s Brewery x Rick Stein

TV chef and restaurateur Rick Stein created Chalky’s Bite – made from Cornish fennel, Cornish malted barley and three different hops – at Cornwall’s Sharp’s Brewery, naming the bottling after his beloved Jack Russell Terrier. Unfortunately Chalky paid his dues at the great dog park in the sky before the bottling could hit the shelves, so the beer, designed to be paired with seafood, was released in tribute. Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eyes…

Chefs

Bonkers botanicals galore can be found in Slingsby bottlings!

Slingsby Gin x Michael O’Hare

You might be wondering where the all the madcap, slightly bonkers ingredients are. Thankfully, British chef Michael O’Hare – of Michelin-starred restaurant The Man Behind The Curtain – and Yorkshire-based Slingsby Gin have served up the goods with a savoury gin containing local botanicals, Exmoor caviar and even more bizarrely, plankton.

Hackney Brewery x Pip Lacey

Great British Menu 2017 winner Pip Lacey and long-time business partner Gordy McIntyre got together with the good folks at London’s Hackney Brewery to design a unique beer for the opening of their first eatery, Hicce, a wood-fired restaurant in King’s Cross. Smooth and light, Hicce by Hackney Session IPA is hopped like an IPA but lower in alcohol.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Toasted Nut Boulevardier

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan,…

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan, and show you how to make a deliciously nutty bourbon and vermouth cocktail.

Jack Adair Bevan (what a great name BTW, it sounds like he should be played by a young Bruce Willis) hasn’t always been so keen on vermouth. In his new book, A Spirited Guide to Vermouth, he writes, “I shared most people’s perceptions of vermouth of ancient bottles that gathered dust in corners of drinks cabinets and kitchen cupboards with faded labels and bottle tops fused shut with crystallised sugar.” Yup, that’s my parents’ drinks cupboard. It was a Negroni drunk in Haus Bar (since closed) in Bristol that made him change his mind.

Bevan got the vermouth bug real bad: whereas you and I might just experiment with some different brands, Bevan went the whole hog and started making his own. In 2012 with the team at the restaurant where he worked, The Ethicurean just outside Bristol, he created a brand of vermouth called The Collector made with Italian wines and spirit distilled from Somerset cider apples. It became a cult hit among British bartenders.

Jack Adair Bevan

Jack Adair Bevan, looking nothing at all like a young Bruce Willis

When he left the restaurant, The Collector project finished, but Bevan’s vermouth fire is burning brighter than ever hence the book which has just been published. A Spirited Guide to Vermouth (Headline Home, £16.99) traces the long history of aromatised wine: the Romans were flavouring wines with bitter ingredients like wormwood (vermouth gets its name from the German word for wormwood, wermut). But vermouth really went global in the 19th century when it was commercialised in France and Italy by firms like Noilly Prat, Dolin, Cinzano and Martini. The book takes an in-depth look at production methods: in Martini the botanicals are steeped in neutral spirit before blending whereas at Noilly Prat they use wine.

Vermouth went into a decline in the 80s and 90s, but in the last six years things have picked up with increasing sales, small brands and new releases from the old guard. The vermouth world is now truly international. In the book, Bevan picks out some of his favourite labels; he even tells you how to make your own. His enthusiasm is so infectious that, you know what, I must just give it a try.  

“I regard making vermouth as an art form.” he writes, “It’s as close to cooking as the drinks world gets. It’s about a careful balancing of a huge array of contrasting herbs, roots and spices, wines and sweetness.” And indeed, there’s a great affinity between vermouth and food. I recall earlier this summer, near Barcelona, eating a dish of boquerones, anchovies in vinegar that would destroy a normal wine, but the Las Vermudas vermouth just sailed through, the sweetness and bitterness of the drink chiming with the acidity of the little fish.  

Best of all are the cocktail recipes; I can see A Spirited Guide to Vermouth becoming one of the most well-thumbed books in my collection alongside David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I am definitely going to try his version of the Gin and It, half gin, half vermouth, pre-mixed and served straight from the fridge into frozen sherry copitas with a little ice at the bottom.

Toasted Nut Boulevardier,

Toasted Nut Boulevardier, note very large ice cube

The cocktail I’ve chosen this week, however, requires a bit more preparation. To make a Toasted Nut Boulevardier, you need to steep your bourbon with nuts for four days. Bevan writes: “The flavour of toasted pecans and walnuts is rich, sweet and superb combined with bourbon. The flavour almost sits like another botanical or ingredient with the Martini Rubino.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Right, let’s get cracking.

35ml Toasted nut bourbon*
25ml Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino
15ml Campari

A strip of orange peel and a toasted pecan to garnish.

Combine the toasted nut bourbon, vermouth and Campari in a chilled ice-filled shaker, stir and strain into an Old Fashioned glass containing, ideally, one large cube of ice (if not just use four or so conventional ones). Twist the orange peel over the drink, drop in and rest the pecan on the giant ice cube.

* Toast 150g of pecans and 100g walnuts in a preheated 180°C oven for about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times to ensure even toasting. Allow to cool and then put them in a Kilner jar with 700ml of Heaven Hill bourbon. Leave to infuse for four days and then strain through a coffee filter into a sterilised bottle.  

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

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Should Macallan raise prices to deter speculators?

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks at The Macallan Archival Series on which speculators are making a killing and ask whether the company is doing its duty to shareholders…

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks at The Macallan Archival Series on which speculators are making a killing and ask whether the company is doing its duty to shareholders by pricing the releases too low.

A free holiday with every bottle! 2,000 vacations must be won!

Chose from a week for two in Orlando (yours from just £413 per person) or, for under two grand you and a friend could jet off to Turkey and enjoy a fortnight’s all-inclusive stay in the Club Adakoy Marmaris. According to the Thomas Cook website it’s “designed for a new generation of travellers who want fun, lively holidays in hotels that have great design, casual but great quality dining, and a bar to match; surrounded by like-minded people and accompanied by the perfect soundtrack”. Sounds amazing.

And this fabulously generous offer comes courtesy of The Macallan Archival Series. Not familiar with this range? Well, it’s a somewhat self-congratulatory set of releases, which commemorate “the legendary Macallan advertising campaigns of the 1970s, 80s and 90s that took The Macallan name to a wider audience for the first time”.

There are four so far but a remarkable 24 are promised to complete the full set. Essentially, what you get is a slim but admittedly handsome hardback book containing old Macallan adverts; a USB stick (more ads) and a bottle of NAS Macallan, all packaged in a large presentation tin tricked up to look like a book. Almost any other brand (assuming it could bear to look back at its old ads) would produce a suitably lavish coffee-table volume but, being Macallan, they just had to be different.

The Macallan Archival Series

The Macallan The Archival Series – Folio 4

The Archival Series was first launched in 2015 and, according to the ever-reliable Andy Simpson of RareWhisky101, it was sold back then as being “for collectors”. At least, that’s what he says he was told. Each edition is limited to 2,000 bottles and you got one either by turning up at the distillery shop at just the right moment or being lucky in their email ballot. If you ‘won’ you had the right to buy a bottle.

And, at £195 plus shipping for the first three bottles (the fourth release is £250), the punters plunged right in. Those 2,000 bottles were gone before you could recite the sacred Six Pillars. And, big surprise, just as fast, lots of them were immediately flipped on the various whisky auction sites that now service the collector and investor market.

Though at first prices were slow to rise, the market soon cottoned on. If you lucked into a bottle and timed it right, there were big profits to be made – on just one site, for example, more than 650 bottles have been offered, with Folio 1 reaching £2,100 (all prices shown as hammer prices, i.e. before auction commission and charges); Folio 2 a slightly disappointing £1,300 (rather a lot of bottles offered all at once) but Folio 3 bouncing back to a handsome £1,900. That’s a cool £1,705 clear profit – far, far more than Macallan are making. Lanzarote here I come!

The Macallan Archival Series

Folio 3 fetched fees of £1,900 at auction.

Early sales of the current release, Folio 4, seem well set to smash the £1,000 mark – quite enough for a decent short break somewhere agreeable and, at risk of labouring the point, a considerable multiple on the distiller’s profit. Without, let’s not forget, the tedious bother of distilling, ageing and bottling the whisky; producing the book and tin; promoting the whole endeavour; dealing with lucky punters and disappointed fans and the sheer bother of packing and shipping bottles all around the world.

Now, back in 2012, when Diageo had woken up to much the same thing happening with its Port Ellen and Brora Special Releases, they simply hiked the price to something considerably closer to what the market was telling them the whisky was worth. If anyone was going to profit from their work, they reasoned, better it was them than some spivvy speculators. Cue predictable outrage on social media but Diageo stuck to its guns and doubtless, their shareholders were happy.

Now, this is where this gets interesting. What, we might inquire, do Macallan think they are doing? After all, there are 8,000 Archival bottles out there already and if very conservatively, we allow an average after-market bump of just £500 per bottle, that’s a secondary profit of at least £4 million that they seem content to hand over to whisky’s Arthur Daley types.

The Macallan Archival Series

The Macallan made its name through clever ad campaigns, something The Archival Series celebrates.

Macallan is part of the Edrington Group which, ultimately, is owned by a charitable body The Robertson Trust. This owes its existence to the remarkable foresight and altruism of the three last direct family owners, the Misses Robertson who, in 1961, transferred all their shares to a newly-established charitable trust in order that their family legacy would continue and ownership remain in Scotland. Today, The Robertson Trust aims to improve the quality of life and realise the potential of Scotland’s people and communities with a particular focus on health, social and educational inequalities. It’s important work and, with annual disbursements of more than £16 million, The Robertson Trust is Scotland’s largest independent funder.

I pause at this point to offer a self-congratulatory, virtue-signalling disclosure: I got a ballot bottle of Folio 3 which is now in the possession of an impecunious family member, to do with what he will. Charity, in this case, begins at home.

But I can’t ignore the fact that with another £4 million The Robertson Trust could increase their great and noble efforts by a quarter. I’ve emailed Macallan and requested their thoughts on the matter – if they reply, I’ll add to this post.

However, for the moment, ask yourself: would you pay more for an Archival bottle? Should you? Or where, I wonder, do you think the profit should go?

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

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Fantastic Father’s Day Gifts

Father’s Day is coming; you need a gift. But there’s no need to panic. We’ve got all kinds of fantastic booze-based presents right here! On 16 June we have a…

Father’s Day is coming; you need a gift. But there’s no need to panic. We’ve got all kinds of fantastic booze-based presents right here!

On 16 June we have a welcome opportunity to show our dads how much we appreciate them. Father’s Day is when we say thanks and give a little bit of love to the father figures in our life. But man can they be hard to buy for.

That’s why we’re here to make it easier. From tasting sets to gift vouchers, our snazzy Father’s Day gift ideas page complete with our shiny new gift finder – we’ve got it all. It’s so simple you’ll be wondering why you ever thought you’d need to leave the house. You should never want to leave the house. Inside is warm and has Netflix.

We’ve also rounded-up a spectacular range of drinks in one handy little blog post just to give you an idea of the kind of treats you can buy for your old man. It beats socks, right?

Happy Father’s Day, all!

The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 2019

Yer da loves whisky, right? But which whisky? What style does he like? Do they have a preference of distillery? What if you get it wrong? These are all questions that can go through the mind of someone trying to buy their dad whisky. But in the The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 2019 (an exclusive made for us by our good friends Drinks by the Dram), none of this matters. That’s because each set contains five different 30ml drams of terrific whisky from world-class producers, so there’s bound to be something he loves inside.

What’s inside?:

The contents of the The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 2019 includes: Tamdhu 10 Year Old, Lagavulin 8 Year Old, 1792 Small Batch, Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky and Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old.

The Father’s Day Gin Tasting Set 2019

Drinks by the Dram have created, just for us, the perfect Father’s Day gift for any gin lover. This tasting set features five different 30ml drams of delicious gin from a range of superb producers, exactly the kind of thing you’d want if you were looking to find a new favourite juniper-based libation…

What’s inside?:

The contents of the The Father’s Day Gin Tasting Set 2019 includes: Hernö Gin, Salcombe Gin – Start Point, Elephant Gin – Elephant Strength, Japanese Gin and Rhubarb Triangle Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company).

Glengoyne 12 Year Old

An especially approachable bottling for newcomers and a welcome dram for experienced whisky drinkers alike, Glengoyne 12 Year Old is a wonderfully-made whisky with a clean, fresh profile and plenty of depth of flavour. You just can’t go wrong with this one.

What does it taste like?:

Toffee apples, a little acacia honey, nectarine in syrup and spice, over-ripe grapes, coconut milk, oak spice and coffee supported by toasted barley and chocolate ice-cream in the background. Yum!

Peaky Blinder Spiced Dry Gin

One for the Tommy Shelby fans out there. For those not in the know, the Peaky Blinders were a street gang from the late 19th/early 20th Century that became the basis for a very popular TV show. This spicy gin is no gimmick, however, as its medals at both the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the International Spirits Challenge in 2018 demonstrate.

What does it taste like?:

Ginger and black pepper make for a spicy opening, though well balanced by ample helpings of ripe orange, oaky cassia, oily juniper, and hints of eucalyptus and coffee bean.

Rumbullion!

If rich, full-bodied rums are what you’re looking for this Father’s Day, then look no further than the proudly maritime Rumbullion! Part of the fantastic Abelforth’s range, this spiced rum was created using a blend of high proof Caribbean rum, creamy Madagascan vanilla, zesty orange peel, a handful of cassia and cloves and just a hint of cardamom.

What does it taste like?:

Intense, sweet vanilla, flamed orange zest, cardamom, old-fashioned cola, Manuka honey, molasses, candy floss, toffee apples, crème brûlée and a fabulous mix of thick cut bitter orange marmalade and tingling, zinging spices from cloves and cinnamon.

Forest Gin

A family-made small-batch gin, Forest Gin is a real labour of love. Karl and Lindsay Bond made it using their own copper condenser with local spring water as well as a blend of classic gin botanicals (think organic juniper berries and coriander seeds) and bundles of foraged botanicals (wild bilberries, gorse flowers, raspberries and local moss) from Macclesfield Forest which were processed using a pestle and mortar. That’s dedication.

What does it taste like?:

Plenty of earthy forest floor notes, sweet berries, moss, rooty liquorice and spice from cassia and cinnamon.

WhistlePig 12 Year Old Oloroso Cask – Old World (Master of Malt)

Why not make your father feel really special this year by getting him a gift he can’t find anywhere else, like this Master of Malt exclusive bottling of 12-year-old rye whiskey from WhistlePig! Finished exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks and released as part of the Old World series, this is a sublime sherried rye whiskey.

What does it taste like?:

Bucketfuls of dried fruit, with sweet caramel and vanilla, new leather, wonderful rich sherry notes and a pinch of tobacco alongside prominent warming spicy notes and orange oil.

Manchester Gin

Emblazoned with the bee from Manchester’s coat of arms and featuring the dandelion and burdock root, Manchester Gin is a delightful celebration of the North. It was created with 12 botanicals in total, including juniper, ground almond, coriander, angelica and citrus peels, all of which were distilled in Wendy (a copper pot still, just to be clear) by couple Jen Wiggins and Seb Heeley (who aren’t copper pot stills, just to be even clearer). A string of awards has followed since its release, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s tasted it.

What does it taste like?:

Earthy and creamy with a pleasant sweetness and balancing juniper and citrus.

Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal Gift Pack with x2 Glasses

If you want to really spoil the father in your life this year, then why not get him a delightful gift pack? This particular edition features a beautiful pair of glasses perfect for enjoying a 70cl bottle of Rémy Martin’s stunning 1738 Accord Royal, a Cognac created to celebrate Louis XV’s decision to grant a young Rémy Martin the right to plant new vines on his land (banned in France at the time) with the Accord Royal in, yes, you’ve guessed it, 1738.

What does it taste like?:

Ripe fruit and vanilla with a slightly herbal vinous note and pronounced, but not overpowering, oak finish.

Fortaleza Añejo

A family occasion should be celebrated with a good bottle of booze created using generations of knowledge passed down through a rich family history. That’s exactly what Guillermo Sauza had on his side when he launched Fortaleza in 2005, bringing back the traditions of previous generations at the family distillery to make expressions like this delicious añejo, which was aged for 18 months in American oak casks.

What does it taste like?:

A beautiful combination of agave and butterscotch, sultanas and mixed peels. Oily, complex, outstanding.

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Booze branding buzzword bingo

Today the choice of what we drink has never been greater, from gins made with unusual botanicals to whisky from far-out places like, err, Norfolk. Why then, asks bartender Nate…

Today the choice of what we drink has never been greater, from gins made with unusual botanicals to whisky from far-out places like, err, Norfolk. Why then, asks bartender Nate Brown, is marketing often so formulaic? 

Making a product is only half the bottle (sic). Often, the real work starts when it comes to selling it. Thus, distillation complete, in steps the branding team (funding permitting), fresh with their focus group pie charts, jealous competitor analysis and creepy demographic detailing. It’s their job to create a connection with potential consumers amid a myriad of new releases. They try to put flavour and lifestyle into words. Sadly, they often employ a limited lexicon to appeal to as many people as possible. Rather than risk offence or isolating a portion of their audience, they use a homogeneous factory line of copy cats and safe bets.

‘Retail is detail’

So, here’s a fun game: read the back label from an anonymous spirits bottle and try and guess what it is. Chances are you’ll be met with a bingo scorecard of buzzwords. In order to help you through the word soup, I’ve provided this handy guide:

Artisan: This product has been made by someone with zero qualifications but it makes them feel better about themselves after a career in finance

Craft: Like graft, only without the attention to detail and the love. Craft means made. We know it’s made. It’s in our hand. Don’t celebrate craft, celebrate graft.

Foraged: We weren’t planning on using these botanicals but they’re free.

Founded by: Somebody whose fabricated story tentatively embodies what we want our product to be. We think that by having a face on the label you’ll find us more likeable. The founder is not real. Unless it’s your mate.

Fruity: A deliciously lazy catch all. It could be passion fruit, it could be tomato, or it could be that lovely pear top note you get from poorly-distilled spirits.

Handcrafted: Just like hand-cut chips, which are chips cut by machine with an on button pressed by a real life human. Handcrafted, when you think about it, is a little bit seedy and creepy.

Innovative: We came up with this idea almost all by ourselves. Almost. Besides, someone was already doing what we planned to do.

Smooth: Lacking bite, or possibly flavour. Or maybe structure. Or the finish. Or we’ve added sugar to compensate for its horridness. Or we have literally nothing else to say about this spirit.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, hand-crafting a cocktail

Bonus points awarded for:

Water source: We have a reverse osmosis machine to demineralise and reduce our water to pure H2O (so does literally everyone else but we’ll just ignore that).

X years experience: We’re going to pretend that practice makes perfect, and that all the years we’ve served in this industry have somehow been building to this point.

These buzzwords suggest a dumbing down of our industry, but actually the opposite is true. We as customers are becoming more and more aware of the liquid in the glass, the words on the label should follow suit.

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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