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Master of Malt Blog

Industry pays tribute to Tequila pioneer Tomas Estes

We celebrate the life of Tequila pioneer Tomas Estes who died on Sunday 25 April. He was the man behind Pacifico Mexican restaurants, which did so much to introduce high-quality…

We celebrate the life of Tequila pioneer Tomas Estes who died on Sunday 25 April. He was the man behind Pacifico Mexican restaurants, which did so much to introduce high-quality Tequila to Europe, as well as the superb Ocho range of terroir-driven spirits.

Last night, we learned that the drinks industry had lost one of its great, Tomas Estes, from Ocho Tequila. The brand’s Facebook page said: “Dear Friends, it is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we share the news of our Founder Tomas Estes’s passing. He died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday 25th April, surrounded by family in Southern Oregon.” It’s fair to say that nobody has done more to introduce high-quality Tequila to Europe than Estes.

Despite his Spanish-sounding name, Estes’ family was of English and Welsh descent. But the area where he was born in 1945, East Los Angeles, has a strong Mexican community. He truly fell in love with the culture when he first visited Mexico. While at college in LA, he spent much of the time south of the border visiting bars and, according to this interview, getting into trouble. 

Cafe Pacifico in London

Cafe Pacifico in London

Pacifico

He had a varied career after graduating in 1967 as a teacher and wrestling coach. But his life changed when visited Amsterdam in 1970 and eventually opened a Mexican restaurant in the city in 1976 called Pacifico. 

This was at a time when Mexican food, drink, and culture was virtually unknown outside the Americas. He opened a London branch of Pacifico in Covent Garden, the first Mexican restaurant in Britain in 1982, which is still going. It proved a hit with celebrities, Queen (the band) and Hunter S. Thompson both photographed there. At one point there Estes had 17 restaurants in Holland, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Australia.

Tequila ambassador

All the time, Estes was visiting Mexico learning about Tequila and bringing that knowledge back to Europe. His bars sold a huge range of high-quality agave spirits at a time when Tequila was just seen as a party drink, if it was known at all. He wrote a book on the subject, The Tequila Ambassador, in 2012, and was honoured by the CNIT (Camara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera) who made him  official Tequila ambassador for the EU.

In 2008, he began his own drinks company Ocho Tequila with Carlos Camarena, an award-winning third-generation Tequilero. It pioneered vintage, terroir-driven Tequila which at first he only sold through his bars. But gradually, people recognised the quality and it’s now recognised as one of the world’s great spirit brands. 

Jesse and Tomas Estes

Tomas and Jesse Estes with Ocho Tequila

Industry pays tribute

Estes senior inspired everyone he met as the following tributes from around the industry attest:

Master of Malt buyer Guy Hodcroft said: “‘Great’ is not an epithet to be used lightly, but Tomas Estes was truly a great man. So wonderfully generous with his time, knowledge, and love. Myself and countless others across the world have been inspired by his deep passion for Mexico and Tequila. I’ve met some of the most important people in my life in the bars he created or owned, and I know just how sad many of them are today. Tequila may just have lost the best friend it ever had.”

Meanwhile, Dawn Davies at The Whisky Exchange described him as “a man who taught us all so much and who inspired us to learn and discover more about the world he was so passionate about.”

Financial Times drinks columnist Alice Lascelles said: “You taught me everything I know about Tequila and opened my eyes to Mexico. But way, way more than that, you were a joy to be around….. Or and you made bloody good Tequila too – the best.

Drinks writers Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley described him as: “A true force of nature: an educator, a writer, a pioneer; an innovator and above all else, a genuinely lovely guy. His contribution to the world of spirits will never be forgotten.”

Alessandro Palazzi from Duke’s Bar in London said: “Tomas was one of a kind, he will never be forgotten… I will celebrate his life with a strong Margarita.”

Stuart Ekins from Cask Liquid Marketing who distribute Ocho in Britain paid tribute: “Your passion for Mexico, for life, for travel, for people and their different cultures, and of course Tequila, brought people together across the world, who you captivated with your knowledge, your stories, your mischief, and your fun.”

#RememberingTomas

Estes was married twice and had four sons, one from the first marriage, and three from the second including Jesse who continues in the family business. We were fortunate enough to taste through the Ocho Tequila range with Jesse in 2019.

The brand is encouraging people to share their stories of Estes: “If you wish to commemorate Tomas’s life by posting your favorite photo(s) or stories of him, please use the hashtag #RememberingTomas so that we can see and share your memories.”

RIP Tomas Estes, we’ll raise a glass to you this evening.
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What the heck’s a swan neck?

Ever wondered why Sipsmith has a swan for its spokesbird? Or what the bit that bends at the top of a still is called? Well, wonder no more. Lucy Britner…

Ever wondered why Sipsmith has a swan for its spokesbird? Or what the bit that bends at the top of a still is called? Well, wonder no more. Lucy Britner explores the world of the swan neck and looks at how different iterations affect the flavour and character of spirits such as whisky and gin.

Stills are a bit like people. They come in all shapes and sizes, they all have their own character and some even sing (hello, Mortlach). A still’s swan neck – the bit at the top that curves to connect to the lyne arm – also has its own vibe and the angle of a swan neck can have an impact on the spirit in question.

Sipsmith swan

Sipsmith has a swan brand ambassador

Sipsmith’s swan

Swan necks are so important that intense focus on the first still’s swan neck design at Sipsmith caused the swan to creep (waddle? glide? swan?) into everyday conversations  – and it went on to influence the brand’s entire identity.

“I remember a sign inside the door of the tiny garage on Nasmyth Street where we started out: ‘Swanny says – did you remember your keys and wallet?’,” Sipsmith master distiller Jared Brown tells me. “The artist who sat in the distillery taking notes before creating our label and immortalising our swan had to see that sign and must have heard the word a few times.”

Not only is Brown a master distiller, he’s also a master at explaining the swan neck. Pour a G&T and take note.

Copper contact

“A classic copper pot still begins with the pot, which holds the liquid and is where it is gently heated to convert it to steam,” he starts. “The steam rises from the pot, then condenses on the sides of the helmet above the pot. This causes it to run back down the inside of the still against the highly-reactive copper repeatedly, with impurities leaving the spirit and bonding to the copper with each pass. Once steam reaches above the helmet it passes into the swan neck which leads to the condensing coil where it will be cooled and returned to a liquid state.”

A still’s swan neck dictates how easily the liquid passes from the pot and helmet to the condensing coil. Brown explains that stills with broader swan necks that slope steeply downward carry heavy, smoky, oily, peaty flavours. Meanwhile, stills with necks that slope upwards from taller helmets, and have narrowed diameters bring more refined notes, while causing the heaviest flavours to remain in the still.

Makes sense.

The Sipsmith master distiller says that while in whisky distilling, the shape of the swan neck dictates which flavours of the base fermentation of malted grain come over the still, in gin the swan neck dictates how the botanicals present themselves in the final liquid.

Stills at Sipsmith

Te still set-up at Sipsmith, note the elegant swan necks on the stills

New necks

Of course, the beauty of building your own distillery is that you get to choose everything.

New kid on the block White Peak Distillery in Derbyshire is launching its first whisky in autumn this year. The dram will join its Shining Cliff Gin, which is already available.

“One of the unique benefits of starting a whisky distillery is the opportunity to design bespoke equipment, including pot stills to achieve a desired style of spirit, and the connection this gives for the whisky-makers through design to spirit,” says White Peak co-founder Max Vaughan.

He describes the distillery’s spirit still as having an oversized pot (for the batch size) with a modest fill level, a tall and relatively thin neck and a gently upward sloping and long lye pipe, and finally a copper shell and tube condenser. Vaughan says the combination of these features encourages reflux/copper contact and the spirit to “work hard”, therefore helping to strip out some of the heavier compounds.

“We also run the still slowly which gives the still shape more influence and helps with hitting our desired cut points to produce a smooth and fruity, lightly-peated spirit,” he adds. 

The convoluted swan neck at Macduff distillery

The convoluted swan neck at Macduff distillery

Kinky 

Building a distillery from scratch isn’t a reality for everyone and on many occasions, especially when it comes to re-jigging older facilities, fitting in with the space can determine the set up of a swan neck.

Bacardi brand ambassador, Matthew Cordiner describes the Macduff distillery, which makes The Deveron, as a “bit of a Mad Hatter’s tea party”. Indeed, if a real swan had the neck from a Macduff still, it would either be able to see around corners or be in serious pain.

“Two wash stills have a right-angled kink in them [in the foreground above], which is pretty unusual, leading to the vertically mounted shell and tube condensers,” says Cordiner. “This was more about how to best fit them into the space than a flavour-led decision. But the fairly steep upwards sloping lyne arms will encourage more reflux and re-boiling action – meaning less lower volatility compounds will be able to make it through the first distillation run.”

The distillery also has a rather unusual spirit still set up – pretty small and narrow stills, giving lots of copper contact and very short lyne arms [in the background above], which are also angled upwards and have a right angled kink in them.

Don’t forget the condensers

“These would again encourage a bit more reflux, though any ‘lightness’ this might have brought is almost undone by having horizontally mounted shell and tube condensers,” Cordiner adds. “The horizontal condensers mean that less ‘weight’ is stripped from the spirit through copper contact. This creates almost a midpoint between a vertical shell and tube and an old fashioned worm tub, we do have a light/moderate sulphur character in the new make spirit because of this, too.”

Cordiner emphasises that it’s a combination of all of this, plus how the distillery makes its cuts, which creates the balance between fruitiness and cereal/nutty characters, as well as the signature ‘apple’ note The Deveron is known for.

Macduff stills

Macduff’s unusual spirit stills with swan neck and right angle lyne arm leading to horizontal condenser

It’s the way that you do it

“Still shape and configuration is really important but it is also down to how you run them,” he says. “If you take our Aultmore distillery for example, with its short stills and descending lyne arms, at a glance you would have thought they were producing a more robust style of whisky, but by the way in which they are run, we are able to create a light, grassy and biscuity style of whisky.”

And so, it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is the whole process combined that creates a spirit’s character – but there is no denying the swan neck plays an important part.

So important that the eagle-eyed Latinists among you will note the term ‘cygnus inter anates’ on the bottom of all Sipsmith bottles. A slogan created by Sipsmith co-founder Fairfax Hall, meaning ‘a swan among the ducks’.  

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New Arrival of the Week: Pol Roger Winston Churchill 2012

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

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

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

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, he really liked Pol Roger Champagne

Pol Roger’s biggest fan

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

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

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

2012 – an excellent vintage

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

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

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

Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 2012

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

A mild panic

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

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

Delicious now, even better if you can wait

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

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

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

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

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

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

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The winner of our River Rock whisky bundle is…

Gather round and listen up – it’s time to announce the winner of our River Rock #BagThisBundle competition!  As the embers burn out on this week’s #BagThisBundle competition, it’s time…

Gather round and listen up – it’s time to announce the winner of our River Rock #BagThisBundle competition! 

As the embers burn out on this week’s #BagThisBundle competition, it’s time for us to announce the winner! We teamed up with River Rock whisky for this scorcher – just to remind you what was up for grabs, the prize includes a bottle of River Rock whisky, one stove ranger kit, and a pair of insulated tumblers. Perfect for a whisky on the go, even if it’s a bit nippy out! 

Entry was super easy; a quick follow of us and River Rock on Instagram and tagging three friends who you’d share the prize with was all we required.

River Rock whisky

This bundle was up for grabs!

A very well done to…

Emily Hull from North Wales!

Congratulations Emily, we hope you and your friends are ready to cosy up beside your new stove, with a tumbler of River Rock! 

Wish you won? There’ll be plenty more chances –  do keep an eye out for more giveaways coming soon and don’t forget to enter!

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Win an incredible VIP trip to The Lakes Distillery!

Looking to make the most of your newfound freedom by taking a break and enjoying some delicious booze? Then we’ve got the perfect competition for you. A chance to win…

Looking to make the most of your newfound freedom by taking a break and enjoying some delicious booze? Then we’ve got the perfect competition for you. A chance to win a VIP trip to The Lakes Distillery!

Last Friday was St George’s Day which is a perfect excuse to marvel at the increasingly varied and wonderful world of English whisky. And with restrictions being gradually lifted but international travel still tricky, a fantastic holiday idea would be a tour of some of the country’s finest distilleries.

Few can boast quite as many things to do as The Lakes Distillery, which not only has a range of spirits (not just whisky) to taste but also benefits from being located within the Lakes District. Which is a pretty amazing place, if you’re not familiar with it. There are even alpacas roaming the distillery grounds. What’s not to like?

If you’re thinking this is sounding like a dream trip, then wait till you see what we’re offering here today in our latest competition. It’s a VIP trip to The Lakes Distillery with all the trimmings. Here’s what you can win in full:

VIP trip to The Lakes Distillery

Fancy a chance to visit one of the country’s most beautiful distilleries?

The Prize

The winner of this one will be truly spoiled. Picture a Roman noble lounging on a bed while being fed grapes. That’s how spoiled we’re talking. But this is so much better because grapes are being swapped for delicious English whisky.

In full, your prize includes:

  •  A VIP trip to the Lakes Distillery for one person (and their lucky +1), including UK travel and transport for the duration of the trip. 
  • One-night accommodation for two people including breakfast
  • Tour of the Lakes distillery including access to the whisky maker’s blending studio
  • Lunch for two in the on-site bistro which includes 3-course lunch and 1 drink; and
  • A whisky and chocolate tasting experience – with the Lakes finest single malt whiskies, paired with handmade luxury chocolates.
VIP trip to The Lakes Distillery

Just pick up a bottle of the new Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.4 and you’re in it to win it!

How to enter

And the best part of all this is, entry is incredibly easy. Simply slay a dragon just like the great Saint George would and… wait, are we not doing that format anymore? Oh, ok. Fine.

Well then, entry truly is easy. Because now all you have to do is buy a full-size bottle of The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.4 for a chance to win. That’s it. Just click the link, add to basket and boom! You’re in it to win it.

So, what are you waiting for? Get entering. Good luck everyone!

MoM The Lakes Distillery Competition 2021 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 12:00:01 BST on 26 April to 23:59:59 BST on 10 May 2021. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. Date and travel restrictions apply. Postal route available. See full T&Cs for details.

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The Nightcap: 23 April

On this week’s Nightcap there’s new Ardbeg and Talisker to drool over, the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’ and a man pouring a pint of lager over his head. Its…

On this week’s Nightcap there’s new Ardbeg and Talisker to drool over, the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’ and a man pouring a pint of lager over his head. Its all in The Nightcap: 23 April edition.

Happy St George’s Day, everyone! We hope you’re having something delicious and English to celebrate, whether it’s whisky, gin, rum, sparkling wine, or whatever takes your fancy. Personally, we’re very much enjoying The Oxford Artisan Distillery’s first rye whisky. Sadly, there’s very little of it about, so you’ll have to enter our latest lottery for a chance to buy a bottle. But you don’t have to slay any dragons to get involved. So that’s something. 

Elsewhere, the MoM blog was the place to be if you love Japanese booze as we uncovered the philosophy of Suntory and recommended seven of the finest Japanese whiskies available now. Australian whisky was also on our mind as we unveiled That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s new series of delightful expressions, as was the role of the Scotch Whisky Association and the news that Elixir Distillers snapped up Georgie Crawford in a surprise transfer from Diageo. The forgotten Prairie Oyster, Glen Scotia’s special Campbeltown Festival release, Canaïma’s cause-led gin and the simple but sublime Cuba Libre also caught our attention in a packed week.

But we’re not done yet. It’s The Nightcap: 23 April issue!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

The fearsome fire-breathing limited edition will be arriving at MoM Towers soon…

Fearsome fire-breathing Ardbeg Scorch unveiled for Feis Ile

Fèis Ìle might not be taking place IRL, but the distilleries are still doing plenty to keep the fans spending money. Sorry, happy. We’ve just heard the news that Ardbeg will be releasing a limited edition in time for Ardbeg day on 5 June. It’s called Ardbeg Scorch based on a dragon that apparently lives in Dunnage Warehouse no. 3. No this isn’t a St. George’s Day fool, the team really is releasing this whisky (though the dragon thing sounds unlikely, imagine the health and safety implications with all that flammable whisky.) It’s aged in heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks and bottled with no age statement at 46% ABV. Dr Bill Lumsden described it as “a fire-breathing beast of a dram!” The tasting note is quite something: “A long and heroic finale, with a subtle tarry aftertaste. A finish that will drag on, well into its happily ever after.” Blimey! Colin Gordon, Ardbeg’s new distillery manager, said: “This year will be my first Ardbeg Day ever: a baptism of fire! It’s a shame we Ardbeggians can’t enjoy it together in person, but the online event is shaping up to be tremendous fun. With a whole virtual world to explore, including fantasy inns, campfire tales, medieval feasts and live tastings, there’s plenty for people to be excited about this year.” Sounds fun! Ardbeg Scorch will be available from 27 May for £100 from your favourite online retailer. And it’s been a busy week for Dr Bill and team as they also unveiled X by Glenmorangie, a whisky that’s “made to mix.” Full feature on this mixable malt coming soon…

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

A remarkable liquid with a story that’s… well, it’s a story alright.

Talisker releases its oldest expression to date: 43 year old Xpedition Oak

In what might be the most convoluted bit of coopering ever, the latest release from Talisker called Xpedition Oak The Atlantic Challenge was finished in casks containing staves that sailed across the Atlantic. James Aiken took the unusual cargo on his yacht, the Oaken Yarn, for a 3,264 journey following the route of the rowers in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge from La Gomera in Spain to Antigua. The staves were then sent back to Scotland and made up into barrels which were used to finish a 43-year-old Talisker in. We’re not quite sure why. Still, 1805 bottles were filled at 49.7% ABV and should cost you around £3500. Bottle number one will be auctioned to raise money for conservation charity Parley for the Oceans. Brand ambassador Ewan Gunn commented: “This whisky is a sublime single malt that captures the pinnacle of the key aromas of Talisker – spice, sweetness, waxy and creamy, with a sense of the sea salt spray the morning after a storm. The four decades of maturation have given a full flavour, yet a softness to this bold dram resulting in a rounded and elegant experience.” We were given a little sample and can only agree with Gunn, that Talisker DNA just shines through even after 43 years with an incredible lingering creamy sweetness. What a treat, though what effect the Atlantic voyage has on the flavour is not obvious to us.

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Arnett is moving on to exciting new pastures

Former Jack Daniel’s master distiller to found $20m distillery

When Jeff Arnett left his role at the world’s biggest American whiskey brand back in September 2020, I think it was pretty clear to all of us that he was going to put his experience to good use. This week, the former master distiller of Jack Daniel’s revealed he’ll do just that at a new distillery being built in Tennessee. Following a US$20 million investment, Arnett’s Company Distilling project will open a 4,000 sq ft site with a tasting room and restaurant in Townsend, Tennessee in autumn 2021. It will be followed by the opening of a multi-functional ‘family-friendly’ facility in Springbrook Farm in Alcoa, Tennessee in 2022, which shows you how serious this plan is. The latter 20,000 sq ft site will eventually be home to the main distillery and manufacturing operations and will also include a tasting room, restaurant, brewery, and retail store with outdoor activities and entertainment hosted in 31 acres of space. There will be live music and games such as corn hole and pickleball (we have no idea what these but are guessing they are something Cletus from the Simpsons would play). Arnett is not the only significant figure in American whiskey at the centre of this project. It’s collaboration with Kris Tatum, former president of the Tennessee Distillers Guild; Heath Clark, founder of Tennessee-based H Clark Distillery; construction management professional Corey Clayton; and Clayton Homes CEO Kevin Clayton. Arnett is understandably excited about the project. He commented: “For years now, we’ve had this spirit in the back of our minds. It’s straight bourbon whiskey finished with maple wood to produce a sip like no other. It’s hard to believe it’s finally real. And it’s better than we ever imagined.” And there pickleball too!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

It was quite the return to the world of in-person events for us this week

Bowmore and The Savoy team up to open Solas

This week did something truly amazing. We went to a bar for an event. Frankly, we’d have bit your hand off for an evening at Moe’s Tavern but we got to enjoy some a little more sophisticated at The Savoy. The London landmark was celebrating the launch of Solas (which means light, joy and comfort in Scottish Gaelic), an pop-up outdoor dining space in the historic Savoy Court that takes advantage of this age of outdoor hospitality. It’s a collaboration with Bowmore, which helped put together quite the menu. There’s an array of sublime cocktails that we got to taste as well as a raw seafood bar (mmmmm, raw seafood bar) that serves oyster selections, lobster rolls, gravadlax and scallop ceviche. The venue is a feast for the eyes too, but as you might imagine, it was the cocktails that really sold it for us. Standouts include the Pursuit For Perfection, a light, refreshing and elegant combination of Haku Vodka, peach, rosebud cordial and Champagne and Timeless, a rich, deep and complex mix of Bowmore 15 Year Old, Chezakette Bianco, Averna, Angostura, aquavit and sugar. It’s a truly impressive experience, to be honest. It looks great, the cocktails were delicious and the food? Well, Gordon Ramsey was there and he seemed perfectly happy. Solas is now open seven days a week until 21 June 2021 and I’d imagine reserving ASAP would be a good idea. 

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

The distillery has always had sustainability at the core of its business

Flor de Caña Rum to plant one million trees by 2025

With it being Earth Day yesterday, many brands have put the PR machines into overdrive in order to shout about how environmentally friendly they are. There are a few that aren’t simply greenwashing however, like Flor de Caña. It’s a sustainably-produced rum distilled with 100% renewable energy that’s carbon neutral and Fair Trade certified. It also has its own reforestation program, which has led to the planting of nearly 750,000 trees since 2005. Now it’s ramping up those efforts by pledging to plant more than one million trees by 2025. By partnering with One Tree Planted, its global campaign aims to raise awareness on the importance of reforestation and inspire consumers, bartenders and the general public to donate through the One Tree Planted platform. This guarantees that one tree will be planted for every dollar received. In turn, Flor de Caña will then match all donations received in order to have a greater impact. The global campaign, titled ‘Together for a Greener Future’, will also see the launch of several events with retailers, bars, restaurants and on social media (#TogetherForAGreenerFuture) to engage eco-conscious consumers. “Trees are essential for biodiversity and a healthy climate, so it’s great to work with a brand so committed to making a positive impact for reforestation and sustainability overall,” said Diana Chaplin, canopy director at One Tree Planted. Keep up the good work, guys!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Congratulations Mark!

Mark McClintock is Diageo World Class GB Bartender of the Year

Congratulations to Mark McClintock who fought off stiff competition to be crowned last night as Diageo World Class GB Bartender of the Year. The test consisted of two challenges. The first dubbed ‘Alive with Freshness’ used Tanqueray No. Ten and was judged solely on flavour and balance. The second was more complicated and involved contestants designing a dream whisky bar along with two cocktails, one made with Talisker and one with Johnnie Walker Black Label. World Class ambassador Jo Last praised McClintock’s “impeccable skills and hospitality throughout both challenges”.The judging panel was led by Pippa Guys who commented: “Mark has demonstrated a consistently high quality of drinks, knowledge, and personality ever since he stepped into the World Class programme.” McClintock himself said: “I am genuinely shocked and so honoured to go on and represent GB on the global stage”. In addition to the glory of going to the final 4-8 July (virtually), McClintock wins a 12-month contract with Global Bartending, WSET Level 3 spirits course, a personalised Cocktail Kingdom kit, and photoshoot. We wish him the best of luck for the final.

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Loser has to sing The Champs – Tequila on karaoke.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Cazcabel’s ‘world’s first Tequila board game’

Last week we heard about Jose Cuervo’s plans to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, now Cazcabel has revealed how it will mark the event. The brand has launched the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’, La Lotería. A hand-illustrated version of the Mexican classic bingo-style game, the aim is to be the first to match all the pictures on the sheet, La Tabla, with those called out by the host from the deck of cards. Each La Lotería game, comes in a magnetic box complete with a deck of cards, eight reusable La Tabla sheets and pens, a rule sheet, and a Spanish translation guide. Cazcabel Tequila is also hosting a Mexican Fiesta two-hour virtual event filled with tequila cocktails and La Lotería at 6:30 pm on Thursday 6th May. It will be hosted by the brand’s global brand ambassador Nate Sorby, with tickets available via Design My Night for £25 per person. It also sounds great, but to be honest the idea of mixing up some Margaritas whilst playing a Tequila board game sounds hard to beat. You can pick one up from the brand’s website and grab your Cazcabel Tequila here

And finally… man celebrates end of lockdown by pouring a pint over his head

Here in England, we’ve unable to contain our excitement that the pubs are opening again so we can have a delicious pint of beer in the garden. But not as excited as one St Helens man who was so overcome with emotion at the thought of that first pint, that rather than drink it, he poured it over his head. 45-year-old Charlie Richards commented: “My mate was just doing a video showing everyone there really enjoying the day and it went onto me, and well I got a bit excited and ended up rubbing the beer on my face before pouring it over my head for a few laughs. I didn’t think too much of it really, but my mate posted it on Facebook and now it’s gone everywhere.” So this St. George’s Day, we raise a glass to a true Englishman. Cheers Charlie!

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Oxford Rye Whisky is here!

One of the most anticipated releases of the last few years is here. The first rye whisky from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, and we are pleased to say it’s every…

One of the most anticipated releases of the last few years is here. The first rye whisky from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, and we are pleased to say it’s every bit as good we hoped. We talk to master distiller Chico Rosa and tell you how you can get your hands on a bottle of Oxford Rye Whisky.

We’ve been big fans of the Oxford Artisan Distillery since it began distilling in 2017. We love its grain-to-glass ethos, it was certified organic in 2020, emphasis on heritage grains and, of course, the spirits coming out of there like the rye vodka and the rye gin.

But the distillery was really set up to make English whisky and in particular rye, and we’ve hardly been able to contain our impatience as the first batches mature. Now the wait is over, and we finally have some. Is it any good? Reader, it’s every bit as delicious as we hoped. See below for how you can get hold of a bottle.

Chico Rosa

Chico Rosa, not only a great distillery but a great name too

Introducing master distiller Chico Rosa

We were fortunate enough to get a little sample and some time with master distiller Chico Rosa. His family makes wine near Lisbon and he intended to follow in their footsteps but he fell in love with brewing while at college. From there, he did a masters in brewing and distilling at Heriot Watt in Scotland before joining the Oxford Artisan Distillery.

The inaugural rye release is made from a mashbill of 70% rye, 20% wheat and 10% malted barley. The cereals were harvested in 2017 from farms local to the distillery. The rye was co-planted with wheat which improves soil health, biodiversity and yield. 

As thick as porridge

Rosa told us he used an old mill from the 1930s which rolls rather than crushes the grains. Consequently, the resulting mash was so thick that, “we could stand an oar up in it.” It was fermented in Hungarian oak vats for a week: “not too hot or cold, or slow or fast” which builds up lots of fruity flavours, says Rosa. He added: “our mash gets lots of lactic bacteria for a super creamy profile.”

This porridge-like substance is then double-distilled in Nautilus, one of the beautiful copper stills built by the team at South Devon Railway and inspired by steam engines (see below). Rosa told us that “it caramelises around the steam coils in the still” producing flavours of “overbaked sourdough and smoky notes.” It was then aged in new American oak casks for just over three years. He said that they were planning to bottle in December but it wasn’t quite ready. This first batch is a blend of two casks and bottled at 46.3% ABV

Well it is ready now and how! The spiciness is incredible taking in cinnamon, cardamom and chilli. The oak doesn’t dominate and the texture is sweet, nutty and creamy. It’s one of the best ryes we’ve ever had and that includes some really fancy stuff from the home of rye, America. Yes, it’s really that good. We tried it alongside an unaged rye from the 2019 harvest and you can taste the DNA, the same big spices, aromatics and smooth, sweet texture.

Oxford Rye Whisky

It tastes as good as it looks

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Big spices initially cardamom and Sichuan pepper, then cinnamon and cloves with freshly baked bread and dark chocolate.

Palate: Black pepper, chillies and gingernut biscuits, with dark chocolate, toffee, and baking spices and an intense herbal character running through it. The texture is smooth and sweet.

Finish: It’s that aromatic cardamom notes that lingers, and lingers and lingers. That’s one long finish. 

So yes, definitely worth waiting for. We tried it neat but we think it’ll make a killer Manhattan.

Exciting plans for the future

There’s so many exciting things on the horizon: including a 51% corn whisky which Rosa describes as “so chewy, you can chew this liquid, I’ve never tried a bourbon like this.” They work with four local farms to source a variety of cereals including oats and spelt: “we want to express the field in a bottle.” There will be different cask ryes like manzanilla, moscatel, and vintage and tawny Ports. He’s also experimenting with triple distillation. The “steam punk” set-up allows for a lot of variety in the new makes produced. Oh, and there are some single malts maturing too. 

But back to the Oxford Rye.

TOAD_Nautilus 1-medium

The ‘steampunk’ set-up at the distillery. This still is called Nautilus

Yes, yes, but how can I get my hands on a bottle?

As we only have 48 bottles to sell, demand is going to outstrip supply so as we always do in these cases, we’re going to do a lottery for a chance to buy a bottle. Those who’ve seen our previous lotteries will know we do this because we want to be as fair as possible. As always, our sweary and handy post from 2016 will shed some more light on our policy.

As usual, the action will be taking place on the product page. The timeline is below. The bottle will feature the message “I hereby swear not to sell this bottle – but to drink it with my chums. May my taste-buds and olfactory bulb shrivel and die if I should break my word.” For those of you who are lucky enough to get hold of a bottle, we are aiming to send them out from 30 April.

Timeline

When you’re ready to enter, simply head here. Don’t comment on the blog, email us or badger the distillery on social media. It won’t help. Just go to the product page. The lottery runs from Friday 23 April 12:00 to Monday 26 April 13:00 BST.

Good luck!

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MoM tastes: TBWC Australian Series whiskies

Our friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have landed a stash that is sure to get whisky fans all excited. Eight casks from some of Australia’s finest whisky distilleries, coming…

Our friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have landed a stash that is sure to get whisky fans all excited. Eight casks from some of Australia’s finest whisky distilleries, coming soon to Master of Malt. So, here’s a little preview of TBWC Australian series whiskies.

There’s been much excitement about Australian whisky ever since Sullivans Cove won the best single malt trophy at the World Whiskies Awards in 2014. The only problem was, according to Dave Worthington from That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), “people were talking about it, but nobody could find it.” That’s both the problem and the appeal of Australian whisky. Starward aside, it’s made in tiny quantities and rarely makes its way to the UK. 

Australian whisky history

That is until now: TBWC is just about to list eight limited edition whiskies but before we dive in, Worthington gave me a bit of a history lesson. We highly recommend reading his blog post on the subject. In the 1930s, Australia had the fourth largest whisky industry in the world after Scotland, Ireland and Canada; America was still suffering under Prohibition. Australia certainly had all the ingredients with its British and Irish settlers, abundant wheat and barley, and strong wine industry to provide casks.

Distilleries included Melbourne’s giant Corio Distillery, once the largest in the southern hemisphere. But in the 1980s, quality declined, and imported brands took over. Worthington suspects that nefarious actions by large multinationals were partly to blame. Corio closed in 1986 and Australian whisky was dead. 

Lark Distillery Tasmania_Abbie 1 WEB

Lark Distillery in Tasmania, the godfathers of modern Australian whisky

The rebirth

Bill Lark, however, successfully lobbied to overturn a law forbidding the use of stills smaller than 1,000 gallons (4500 litres). In 1992, he set up Larks Distillery in Tasmania. Rather like Sipsmith for craft distilling in Britain, this opened the floodgates for other distillers including Sullivans Cove, and Hellyers Road in Tasmania; Bakery Hill Distillery in Victoria, and The Great Southern Distilling Company in Western Australia.

The result is one of the most creative whisky industries in the world helped by Australia’s relaxed whisky laws. Producers, often working to a tiny scale, are experimenting with cereals, beer malts, yeasts and, of course, the richness of Australian wine casks. Most distilleries are also working in a climate substantially hotter than Scotland which speeds up ageing considerably.

Cask sniffer extraordinaire

So, to check out this burgeoning scene, TBWC sent intrepid cask sniffer Felix Dear over to find some whiskies. Despite not having much stock a lot of them had heard of Boutique-y and according to Worthington “were well up for taking part”. For the Black Gate distillery, for example, TBWC has taken 4% of its entire annual production. 

These are all single cask whiskies bottled at high strength in 50cl bottles. Oh and the labels are full of in-jokes for the eagle-eyed. As they are such limited editions, I didn’t get to try them all but the ones I did, the first three listed below with full tasting notes, were fascinating.

Here’s what you can expect:

TBWC Black Gate single malt

Black Gate 3 Year Old Batch 1 

Run by husband and wife team Brian and Genise Hollingworth who established the distillery in New South Wales in 2009. They make just 3000 litres of whisky a year from two direct-fired stills of 300 and 630 litres. They describe themselves as a ‘hot climate distillery’ so things mature pretty quickly. 

Grain: single malt
Cask: ex-Apera (ie. Australian sherry-style wine)
ABV: 46%

Nose:  Lots of sweetness coming through on the nose, with burnt toffee, honey, and fruitcake. 

Palate: That lovely sweetness continues with salted caramel and dark chocolate, as well as aromatic spicy and floral notes, marzipan and black coffee.  

Finish: Thick, creamy, and nutty, with vanilla and spice lingering in the mouth.  

TMBW Fleurieu whisky

Fleurieu 3 Year Old Batch 1

FYI, it’s pronounced ‘fleur e oo’ not like the French wine. It’s named after a peninsula in the heart of South Australian’s wine country. According to founder and distillery Gareth Andrews: “The air is very humid, and we have a lower angel’s share than other Australian distilleries.” The stills are modelled on those at Caol Ila on Islay though much smaller.

Grain: single malt
Casks: ex-Apera
ABV: 49.5% 

Nose: There’s a cheese rind note followed by some smoked bacon with gamey meaty notes. It’s like ordering a platter in a wine bar. A drop of water brings out stone fruit and spicy ginger notes. 

Palate: Peppery and spicy, from the high alcohol, and then layers of sweetness, with honeycomb and caramel.

Finish: The spice persists with chilli and black pepper balanced by sweet chocolate and fudge. 

TBWC Shed distillery

Tin Shed distillery 3 Year Old Batch 1 

Another distillery located in South Australia’s wine country. It’s stills are electrically-heated, and short and fat which creates a heavy oily spirit. It was founded by Ian Schmidtt in 2013 and its whiskies are made using local barley as well as making use of the cask riches that can be found near Adelaide. Annual capacity is just 41,000 litres. 

Grain: single malt
Cask: tawny (Australian Port-styles wine) finished in Pinot Gris casks
ABV: 48%

Nose: This is all sweetness, it’s like putting your nose in a packet of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Mmmmm, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes! There’s also richer notes of maraschino cherries and dark chocolate.

Palate: There’s a little tannic grip and then creamy, toasty, nutty notes like an old oxidised Tawny Port followed by popcorn with cardamom and chilli spice. 

Finish: That sweetness lingers with nutty toasty notes. This is hugely distinctive.

We also have:

Belgrove Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Belgrove 4 Year Old Rye Batch 1

A tiny one man operation, the man in question is Peter Bignell, in Tasmania. The still is made from reclaimed copper from fallen power lines and the grain is malted in an old tumble dryer.

Grain: Rye
ABV: 49.8%
Cask: re-charred ex-Tasmanian whisky cask

Worthington writes: “You could be forgiven for thinking this was a Tequila/mezcal… I bloody love this oddity!

Killara Batch 1 TBWC Australian Whisky

Killara 2 Year Old Batch 1

Made by Kristy Booth-Lark, daughter of Bill Lark and previous head distiller at Lark. This was distilled in her garage before her proper distillery was built. You’ll notice the age, this is not technically a whisky by EU standards so isn’t labelled as such.

Grain: single malt
Cask: Australian tawny
ABV: 49%

Worthington writes: “Reminds me of a Panettone cake dough with lots of sultanas.”

Riverbourne Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Riverbourne  3 Year Old Batch 1

Founded by Martin Pym, this New South Wales distillery began distilling in 2016 after Pym was inspired by a trip to Tasmania.

Grain: Single malt
Cask: re-charred American & French oak
ABV: 50%

Worthington writes: “There’s a herbal note to this with hints of rosemary and raspberry leaves.”

Starward Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Starward 3 Year Old Batch 1

The big boys based in Melbourne, Starward needs no introduction to MoM customers. It was founded in 2013 and it’s now probably the best-distributed Australian whisky in the world. The team are masters at using Australian wine casks to build flavour. This is a great chance to try Starward at cask strength.

Grain: single malt
Casks: re-charred ex-red wine
ABV: 56%

Worthington writes: “Cherry syrup gives way to softer red fruits…. Sweet and fruity, with a spicy finish.”

Bakery Hill Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Bakery Hill 5 Year Old Batch 1

Bakery Hill is a father and son operation founded in 1999. This is a bit unusual as it uses Highland peated malt from Scotland.

Grain: single malt
Cask type: ex-bourbon
ABV: 50%

Worthington writes: “If I’d tasted this in a blind tasting I would have guessed a Ledaig, it has that herbal leathery peated Tobermory vibe to it.”

The collection is now leave, click on links above or go to our Australian whisky page for more information. 

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MoM Loves: Canaïma Small Batch Gin

It’s Earth Day 2021! Can we shock you? We’re big fans of the earth. This is why today we’re celebrating a drink that aims to make a difference. A delightful,…

It’s Earth Day 2021! Can we shock you? We’re big fans of the earth. This is why today we’re celebrating a drink that aims to make a difference. A delightful, exotic treat that aids the conservation of the Amazon rainforest: Canaïma Small Batch Gin.

Paid partnership

We’re not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s a fair amount of gins around at the moment.  Which means that producers are always looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. 

Some use an interesting and unique botanical selection. Or have a compelling brand story. Or create a strong look and use a cool name. Or even support an important cause. 

Or, you could be like Canaïma Small Batch Gin and tick all those boxes.

The brand is dedicated to protecting and preserving its environment and the local communities within it. Named after Canaïma National Park, 10% of the profit from each bottle of the gin goes towards the reforestation of the Amazon as well as preserving the culture and heritage of the indigenous people. 

And as part of this commitment to sustainability, Canaïma is marking this Earth Day by replanting over 1,000 trees in the Amazon rainforest. Furthermore, the gin makers are committing to replanting 2,500 trees by the end of 2021.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Hey, look. It’s the Canaïma Small Batch Gin. Note, traditional woven baskets and coasters 

The concept of using a spirit brand to aid conservation began with bartending legend, Simone Caporale. His trip to the Peruvian Amazon gave him a troubling insight into the destruction of the rainforest’s fragile ecology. 

Resolving to take action, he met the founder of Diplomático Rum for dinner and together they began to plan a new self-funded project that could support and sustain Amazonian communities. What they decided on was a Venezulan gin. A tasty solution we approve of. 

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

This beauty features a huge 19 nineteen different botanicals

An exotic tipple

Canaïma Small Batch Gin uses a whopping 19 different botanicals in its recipe. Of those, 10 are sustainably sourced Amazonian botanicals harvested by experienced indigenous people. This includes açaí berries (a purple fruit known for its regenerative qualities), uve de palma (red fruit harvested from a palm tree), copoazú (related to the cacao tree), túpiro (an orange fruit known for its pleasant taste), merey (a kidney-shaped fruit that produces just one cashew nut), seje (a palm fruit that has oily flesh and a very delicate, chocolate-like flavour) and semeruco (a fruit foraged from the Andean foothills where Canaïma’s distillery is based). 

Alongside these hand-picked native botanicals, a series of traditional gin ingredients are also used, including grapefruit, orange, passion fruit and juniper. Every botanical is individually treated, macerated and separately distilled in small batches in 500-litre copper pot stills. The distillates are then blended together by the Diplomático team to create the final gin.

It’s not just what’s in the bottle that’s progressive, but what’s on it too. The labels are made from previously recycled, fully biodegradable paper. The Tierra Viva Foundation also helped Canaïma to commission hundreds of traditional woven baskets and coasters used by the brand and its followers, each handcrafted by indigenous women.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Canaïma supports the production of traditional woven goods

The noble cause

Speaking of foundations, let’s talk about Canaïma’s sustainability mission. Not only does it provide over 250 jobs for indigenous Amazonian people at its distillery, but it also donates 10% of its sales to NGOs to the Saving the Amazon charity and the aforementioned Terra Viva. 

The former combines technology, mobile applications and the potential of indigenous communities to combat the destruction of the Amazon. Canaïma is part of the organisation’s reforestation programme, where each tree planted is photographed and georeferenced. The photo is uploaded to the website to create a virtual forest and give visual proof of replanting. Indigenous people take care of the trees for 36 months, after which time another picture is uploaded to the website to continue the traceability of the forest’s growth.

Fundación Tierra Viva, meanwhile, is a Venezuelan foundation that strives to improve the quality of life for indigenous tribes. Canaïma works in conjunction with the foundation to develop the brand’s marketing materials. Through the joint design and the purchase of handcrafted products, the band supports the creation of sustainable jobs throughout the region.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

The perfect serve for a delicious drink

Suggested serve: Amazonian G&G

While you’re no doubt admiring Canaïma’s social conscience, there is one question that will remain on your mind. How should I drink it?

Well, you can never go wrong with a good G&T. Caporale also put his bartending skills to good use by making a range of cocktails including the Amazonian G&G. It perfectly complements the gin’s passion fruit, orange and acai berry notes while also looking just gorgeous. A true spring refresher. Happy Earth Day, folks!

How to make an Amazonian G&G

40ml Canaïma Gin
150ml grapefruit soda
2 lime wedges

Assemble in a highball glass with cubed ice. Garnish with grapefruit zest or slice.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Cuba Libre

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

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

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

Cuba Libre Bacardi advert

Free Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

The invention of the Cuba Libre

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

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

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

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

Cuba Libre advert

Refreshers to lamb chops

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

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

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

First taste of ‘freedom’

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

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

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

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

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

Rum and Cola Cuba Libre

How to make a Cuba Libre

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

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

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