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Master of Malt Blog

Looking for a top Burns Night dram?

Don’t miss out on your celebrations just because of the lockdown. You can still pick yourself a bottle of delicious Scotch whisky and toast Scotland’s favourite son in style. The…

Don’t miss out on your celebrations just because of the lockdown. You can still pick yourself a bottle of delicious Scotch whisky and toast Scotland’s favourite son in style.

The 25 January is the birthday of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns and usually at this time people around the world mark it with an extravagant affair of food, music and malt. Burns Night this year, however, is taking place smack bang in the middle of a lockdown. So, we’re going to have to do things a little differently.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have a brilliant time of feasting and festivities. There’s going to be a raft of virtual celebrations we can get involved in and there’s nothing stopping you from donning a kilt, picking up some haggis and ensuring you’ve got some tasty Scotch whisky to enjoy. That’s why we’ve put together this list of some delightful expressions perfect for a long night of drinking, dancing and entertainment.

Slange Var!

The perfect Burns Night drams

A perfect Burns Night dram!

Robert Burns Single Malt 

Drinking any Scotch whisky on Burns Night is a fitting way to celebrate the man himself. But, picking yourself up a bottle that bears his name? Now we’re talking. The Robert Burns Single Malt was produced by the Isle of Arran Distillers, who are patrons of the ‘Robert Burns World Federation’. So you can be sure this beauty was made with true reverence for the Bard.

What does it taste like?

Pear juice, coconut, custard, vanilla, panna cotta, lime peel, apple strudel and cinnamon.

A perfect Burns Night dram!

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength (Batch 001) 

If you’ve tasted Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire, you’ll already know it’s brilliant. But the clever clogs behind this cracking Islay single malt have taken things up a notch. How? By bottling the whisky at a cask strength 57.5% ABV. This is a Burns Night dram for those who really love their complex and smoky Islay whiskies.

What does it taste like?

Strong sea breeze, roasted barley, grounded by flame raisins, red apples, earthy peat, sherried richness, strong coffee with a dash of milk, charred oak and a flash of spicy yet fruity red pepper flake.

A perfect Burns Night dram!

Talisker 10 Year Old 

There are few better bang-for-your-buck whiskies than this classic Island dram from the Isle of Skye. Talisker 10 Year Old is one of those expressions that has a place in the heart of all whisky fans. Its versatile profile means it’s great neat, in cocktails and when paired with food, making it ideal if you’d like to enjoy your Scotch in different ways on the night.

What does it taste like?

Smoke, sweet pear and apple peels, maritime salt, seaweed, peat, black pepper, brine and dry barley. 

A perfect Burns Night dram!

Darkness 8 Year Old

One for fans of sherry bombs. This 8-year-old single malt Scotch whisky was matured initially in ex-bourbon barrels before being moved into tiny, custom-made Oloroso sherry octave casks for at least three months. When you use smaller casks you increase the intensity of wood’s influence on your spirit. And when you have beautiful hand-coopered sherry casks, this leads to most excellent results.

What does it taste like?

Candied orange peels, chocolate peanuts, cooking spice warmth, dried cherry, Amaretti biscuits, subtly toasty hints, powerful raisin and prune, just a touch of earthy oak lingers.

A perfect Burns Night dram!

Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old 

There’s plenty of mystery about this dram. From its intriguing name (it’s an anagram, see if you can figure it out…) to the fact it’s sourced from an undisclosed distillery on Islay. But, one thing we know for sure is that it’s damn tasty. An approachable introduction to Scotland’s most distinctive collection of distilleries, Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old captures the true taste of Islay with its smoky, sweet and maritime profile.

What does it taste like?

Maritime peat, iodine, honey sweetness, paprika, salted caramel, old bookshelves, mint dark chocolate, espresso, new leather, honey, liquorice allsorts, bonfire smoke and toffee penny, with a pinch of salt.

Perfect for some Burns Night dramming!

Regions of Scotland Tasting Set 

There’s no better way to familiarise yourself with the wonderful world of Scotch whisky than this tasting set. The ultimate introduction to the famed whisky regions of Scotland, Islay, the Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside and Campbeltown, this creation from Drinks by the Dram contains five 30ml samples of deliciousness. Which means there’s sure to be something you love inside. Why have one Burns Night dram, when you can have five?

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New Arrival of the Week: Aberlour 14 Year Old Double Cask

This week we’re taking the edge off Blue Monday, apparently the saddest day of the year, with a rich tasty dram from Speyside part-matured in sherry casks. It’s the Aberlour…

This week we’re taking the edge off Blue Monday, apparently the saddest day of the year, with a rich tasty dram from Speyside part-matured in sherry casks. It’s the Aberlour 14 Year Old Double Cask!

Aberlour means “mouth of the chattering burn” in Gaelic. The town is situated near Craigellachie on the river Spey and it’s world famous for being the home of Walkers shortbread. But this isn’t the Master of Biscuit blog, it’s Master of Malt so we’re far more interested in the town’s whisky. Though we do love a bit of shortbread at 4pm with our tea. It’s just so buttery!

Aberlour Distillery

Aberlour Distillery looking lovely in the sunshine

Aberlour Distillery was founded in 1879 by local bigwig James Fleming using the soft water from St. Drostan’s Well. Fleming wasn’t just a businessman but also a local politician and philanthropist, and one of his most notable acts was to bequeath funds for a footbridge over the dangerous fast-moving river to replace the ferry service. The magnificent suspension footbridge was finished in 1902 and still stands to this day. But this isn’t the Master of Civil Engineering blog either so we will return to his distillery.

The original building was partly destroyed by fire in 1898 and rebuilt by top distillery architect Charles Doig of Elgin, who you may know from his work with Balblair, Pulteney, Speyburn and many others. Despite the 1960s and ‘70s extensions it’s still a lovely looking place, nestled by the river, especially on a sunny day, and well worth visiting when such things are allowed again.

Capacity was doubled in the 1970s and there are now six stainless steel washbacks, and four oil-fired pot stills with shell and tube condensers producing a medium weight spirit. Aberlour can produce about 3.9 millions litres of pure alcohol per year. It has been in the hands of Pernod Ricard since 1974. With this pedigree, you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s particularly popular in France. 

Aberlour’s most famous expression is probably the mighty cask strength a’ bunadh (meaning the origin in Gaelic.) It’s entirely matured in Oloroso sherry casks and Ian Buxton in his 101 Whiskies book says: “If you like traditional Macallan or Glenfarclas, then you’re going to love this.”

Aberlour 14YO

A bottle of Aberlour 14 Year Old next to babbling burn

Our New Arrival is something of a chip off the old block and has already picked up gongs including a double gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2020, and a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge 2020. It’s a 14 year whisky matured first in bourbon and then Oloroso sherry casks. It’s a big luxurious sweet-natured loveable sort of dram. Delicious and comforting sipped neat, it has a sweetness and smoothness that would lend itself to simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned or a particularly decadent Rob Roy. Though, look away malt whisky purists, the distillery’s marketing team suggests using it in a Bramble! Scandalous, but also delicious. 

Here’s how to make one:

50ml Aberlour 14 Year Old
25ml lemon juice
¾ tablespoon sugar syrup
¾ tablespoon Giffard Crème de Mure

Shake the Aberlour, lemon juice and sugar syrup in a shaker with ice. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Drizzle over the crème de mure and garnish with a bramble and a lemon slice. 

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Big aromatics on this one with cloves, cardamom and camphor, and then comes a wave of sweeter notes like toffee, milk chocolate and orange rind.  

Palate: Full texture, round and creamy, with sweet dark cherries, fudge, and mocha coffee with a refreshing minty breeze. 

Finish: Quite long with lingering honey and wood spice.

Aberlour 14 Year Old Double Cask is now available from Master of Malt.

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New London Light – zero ABV with distinction

Inspired by the historical distinction of London Dry gin, Salcombe Distillery Company intends to set a benchmark for flavour in the alcohol-free sphere with the release of New London Light, its…

Inspired by the historical distinction of London Dry gin, Salcombe Distillery Company intends to set a benchmark for flavour in the alcohol-free sphere with the release of New London Light, its first non-alcoholic spirit. We spoke to co-founder and director Howard Davies to find out more about the bottling, the first in a series for the distillery…

The London Dry style rose to prominence in the 19th century as the gold standard for gin production. At a time when such spirits were produced “in rather dubious fashions of very varied quality,” says Davies, the designation guaranteed that the bottling hadn’t been doctored post-distillation. “London Dry was introduced to put some kind of assurance to the consumer about the quality of the gin they were consuming,” he says. The style set a standard for production that continues to this day.

While today’s alcohol-free producers certainly aren’t poisoning their customers, the fledgling category faces its own consistency challenges. Davies and the team sought to bring the London Dry ethos to the alcohol-free sector with the launch of their first 0% ABV bottling, New London Light. “In these early days of non-alcoholic spirits, there’s a mix of quality of product out there,” says Davies. Against this backdrop, New London Light intends to be “the benchmark of taste and flavour in the non-alcoholic spirits sector.”

Angus Lugsdin and Howard Davies, founders of Salcombe

The name ‘New London Light’ doesn’t only refer to the historic gin style. It’s also a nod to the coastal location of the distillery, which lies on the south-east coast of England in the town of Salcombe, Devon. “There’s a couple of other little ties,” says Davies. “Our distillery is by the sea, one of the only distilleries in the world you can reach by boat, and so our product names are often inspired by lighthouses.” 

There’s Start Point gin, named for a lighthouse on the coast of Devon, and Rosé Sainte Marie gin, named for a lighthouse in the Mediterranean. New London Light is a lighthouse, too – located on America’s east coast, in Long Island Sound. Incredibly, it was once a beacon for the crews of 19th century Salcombe Fruiters. Built in Salcombe and neighbouring Kingsbridge, these speedy Schooner sailing vessels were designed to transport perishable fruits, herbs and spices sourced from across the globe – including America – back to England’s ports.

Developed by master distiller Jason Nickels, New London Light is made using a two-step process. The first sees Macedonian juniper berries, ginger and habanero capsicum distilled to create a base spirit. “This initial distillation uses alcohol, but at a weaker strength than we would normally do it,” says Davies. Using alcohol at this stage of the process allows the team to capture a fuller flavour profile from the botanicals. “Often when you do a plain water distillation, the flavours don’t come through as much,” he adds.

This base liquid is then blended with a further 15 botanical extracts, including orange, sage, cardamom, cascarilla bark and lemongrass. Some of these flavours are captured in concentrates and oils, while others are achieved through more technical methods, such as vacuum distillation. The team experimented with endless distilling methods before settling on this two-pronged approach. “It’s very much a horses for courses approach, in that there’ll be specific distillation methods and extract methods that are going to be a better fit for specific botanicals or botanical types,” says Davies.

Serving suggestion

Creating a genuinely tasty non-alcoholic spirit requires a new way of approaching flavour. Davies explained: “The original distillate whilst containing alcohol has proportionally a very concentrated botanical flavour load, and is intended to be very diluted. Therefore when blended with the other botanical extracts and water the alcohol strength is diluted significantly such that it’s final strength is below 0.5% ABV which qualifies as non-alcoholic”. Using multiple methods is where the future of the category lies, reckons Davies. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be one method that you can use across all of the botanical flavours and ingredients,” he says. “The best non-alcoholic spirits coming through are going to [use] a variety of different methods, depending on the type of botanical or flavour you’re trying to achieve in your final liquid.”

So, how should you drink New London Light? There are a whole host of cocktail suggestions on Salcombe Distilling Co’s website, along with signature serve New London Light and Light. “It’s essentially New London Light with a low-calorie tonic,” says Davies. “It’s garnished with a slice of orange – to compliment the citrus flavours coming through – and a sage leaf, which brings an amazing warm, herbal note. It really picks up that botanical within the spirit, so you get this lovely two-tone effect of the garnish on the nose and then again on the palate.”

Corks may be popping on bottles of New London Light this Dry January, but when it comes to distilling sans-booze, the team’s only just getting started. New London Light is the first bottling in what’s set to become a full non-alcoholic range, with two more booze-free variants planned for release before the end of the year. While the finer details remain well and truly under wraps, the focus for Davies and the wider Salcombe Distilling Co. team is centred on “innovation of taste and of process”.

“It’s about breaking new ground in terms of innovative flavour combinations and coming further away from traditional alcoholic drink flavours,” he says. “In the alcoholic sector, drinks are based on ingredients that you can ferment to create alcohol. We don’t have those constraints in the non-alcoholic sector, and so it’s a great opportunity to use less-familiar ingredients. It’s also about innovation in terms of the techniques that we use to extract the best possible flavour from these botanicals and plants.”

New London Light tasting note

Nose: Bursting with fresh lime zest and orange sherbet. A whiff of cardamom and violet, underpinned by a piney juniper note. 

Palate: Delightfully aromatic. Warming ginger and chilli make way for floral, woody notes with a hint of bitter orange and clove. 

Finish: Smooth and slightly drying. A tangy peachiness turns herbaceous, with fragrant lemongrass, fresh coriander and a hint of menthol. 

Salcombe New London Light is available from Master of Malt

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The Nightcap: 15 January

In this week’s edition of The Nightcap, we lament tariffs again, celebrate the arrival of some charming new booze and try to comprehend how delicious Bordeaux wine made it to…

In this week’s edition of The Nightcap, we lament tariffs again, celebrate the arrival of some charming new booze and try to comprehend how delicious Bordeaux wine made it to space and back without being drunk…  

Welcome everyone, we hope you’re keeping safe and warm during Lockdown III: Lockdowner and enjoying the outdoors when you can. We’re trying to stay chipper ourselves, although we were irked when we noticed in our dictionary that the definition of the word ‘nightcap’ was somewhat lacking. There were references to an alcoholic drink taken at the end of the day, a cloth cap worn with nightclothes and the final race or contest of a day’s sports. But what there wasn’t any word of was this perfectly suitable definition: a charming weekly round-up of all things boozy and newsy, best enjoyed with a dram in-hand. Clearly an oversight. Step-up your game Merriam-Webster. Anyway, here’s another edition of the Nightcap. Perhaps you could pop a jaunty little cloth cap on while you read it?

On the blog this week we announced some good news regarding shipping to Northern Ireland as well as two new competitions: one being our magnificent Burns Night poetry competition, back by popular demand, and the other offering you the chance to win a VIP trip to Benriach Distillery. Ian Buxton returned to cast an eye on a new generation of distillers who are creating whisky with all sorts of uncommon grains, while Adam also embraced the weird and wonderful by enjoying some tasty new baijiu. Elsewhere, we rounded up some of the most delicious low- and no-alcohol drinks on the market for Dry January, showed you how creating your own cocktail ingredients is easier than you might think and enjoyed the marvels of vermouth by welcoming a new expression that honours the father of mixology, Mr Jerry Thomas and using another impressive creation in our delightfully simple and sublime Cocktail of the Week

Now, on to The Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Karen Betts from the SWA was on hand to sum up the mood

US tariffs to remain on Scotch whisky

We reported last month that the UK would be dropping the tariffs on American whiskey now that it was out of the EU. We finished by anticpating that the Americans would reciprocate by dropping their 25% tariffs on Scotch but it seems that this won’t be happening in the foreseeable future. It was hoped that a deal could be pushed through in the last days of the Trump administration but it seems that the president has more pressing concerns. According to a story in The Times, the British team don’t hold out much hope that Katherine Tai, the incoming US trade representative, will be prioritising ending the tariffs. Karen Betts from the SWA commented:Tariffs remain on Scotch whisky: A missed opportunity to straighten out subsidies to aerospace and lift hugely damaging tariffs on Scotch Whisky. There’s certainly deep disappointment across the industry. Over £400m in losses and counting.” And there was us hoping that 2021 would begin on a positive note.

The Nightcap

The distillers signed the bottles. All nine of them!

Torabhaig to auction two rare whiskies for charity

There’s already plenty of excitement around the launch of Torabhaig’s first whisky, but that hasn’t stopped the brand from generating even more anticipation by announcing that it will auction two rare signed bottles of Torabhaig Single Malt ahead of its general release in February. The auction, which will start on the 31st January on Whisky Auction, includes a single cask bottle from the Torabhaig Family Reserve (future expressions from the Family Reserve will remain in a private collection and unavailable to purchase normally) as well as a bottle of the ‘Legacy Series 2017’ peated single malt, both of which have been signed by all nine Torabhaig distillers. All proceeds of the sale will go to the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the Dr MacKinnon Memorial Broadford Hospital. Given the upcoming launch is from the first whisky distillery to be built on Skye in 190 years and only the second legal whisky distillery ever to operate on the island (after Talisker), many of us whisky lovers are understandably very excited to get our hands on its inaugural whisky. Good thing we can reveal that the Legacy Series 2017 will be available from MoM Towers, but keep in mind that this is a limited single distillation vintage issue with just over 3,000 bottles available for distribution in the UK and 6,000 in the USA so demand is likely to outstrip supply.

The Nightcap

The hospitality industry has welcomed the government’s vote

UK government votes in favour of hospitality minister

Given the state of things right now we’re always delighted to welcome some good news in our industry and we got some this week after MPs voted in favour of creating a minister of hospitality in the UK. The notion was debated by the UK government after an online petition secured more than 200,000 signatures and following a 90-minute debate in Westminster on Monday 11 January, the vote gained the support it needed. While this doesn’t guarantee the role will be created, the hospitality industry has welcomed the government’s recognition of the sector’s importance, with issues like extending the VAT cut and the business rates holiday and often forgotten parts of the sector like nightclubs, wedding venues, conference centres and the industry’s critical supply chain receiving attention. This has raised hopes the debate will prompt senior leadership within the Conservative Party to seriously consider the proposal. “It was incredibly positive to hear so many MPs being vocal advocates of the hospitality sector. There was unanimous recognition of our importance economically and socially. It is striking that, in the end, the petition got more than 200,000 signatures,” Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive, said, in her second Nightcap appearance in as many weeks. “We all understand the importance of what we do and it is good to see the government recognise the importance of working closely with the sector to ensure that we are properly supported, not just during this crisis but more generally.”

The Nightcap

Over £36k for a great cause has been raised. Thanks to all who took part!

Our Macallan auction raises £36k for Hospitality Action 

We always knew that the Macallan Red collection, consisting of whiskies of up to 78 years old, would be seriously in demand with Master of Malt customers. That’s why when we received our allocation, we decided to sell them through a charity auction, as we do for all in-demand whiskies. Well, the whiskies went quickly, no surprise there, and we’re delighted to announce that we have raised £36,510.00 for Hospitality Action, which offers a crucial lifeline to people of all ages, working and retired, from the hospitality industry. Justin Petszaft, Atom Group CEO, commented: “It’s been a hard year for everyone, but particularly those in the hospitality sector, so we’ve been looking for ways to help them weather the storm until they can fully re-open in the summer. Macallan is always highly collectable, so we knew demand for this collection would be high, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to help raise some much needed funds for our friends in the on-trade. When we set this live none of us could have imagined how much it would raise: £36,000 is a huge amount of money and will make a real difference to so many people’s lives who desperately need our help right now. I’d like to thank both Macallan for providing such a fantastic set of bottles for us to auction, and our incredible customers for being so amazingly generous in their bids. As ever, you guys rock.”

The Nightcap

Orkney Distillery is one of many embracing its environmental responsibilities (image credit to Colin Keldie)

Distilleries go green with government initiative

The winners of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Green Distilleries Competition were announced on Friday 8th January 2021, with 17 distilleries receiving the first phase of £10 million government funding to go green, including Bruichladdich, The Orkney Distillery and Highland Park. The government initiative aims to find ways of decarbonising the distilling sector and the fund will assist distilleries in the search for lower-carbon alternatives to generate heat for processes such as malting and distilling. Bruichladdich revealed last week that more than £70,000 has been awarded to its project partner, Protium Green Solutions, in order to complete a feasibility study on incorporating innovative hydrogen combustion technology as part of ambitious plans to decarbonise its production process by 2025. Highland Park and The Orkney Distillery, in Kirkwall, are also set to take part in a £58,781 research project led by the Stromness-based European Marine Energy Centre (Emec), along with industrial decarbonisation experts from Edinburgh’s Napier University. The HySpirits 2 project in Kirkwall follows research completed last year by Emec at The Orkney Distillery, which investigated the feasibility of using a hydrogen-fuelled thermal fluid heating system there. “We understand that there is real potential for a  hydrogen‐based solution to decarbonise our industry,” says Allan Logan, production director of Bruichladdich. “We are thrilled to have the support of Protium, Deuterium and ITPEnergised to help us assess the feasibility of employing a green hydrogen fuel switching solution for our distillery – a move we hope benefits the broader industry”. It’s terrific to see that, despite everything that’s going on, there are those who are focused on planning for a better future.

The Nightcap

Smoky French Martinis, anyone?

Thomas Lowndes creates RTD cocktail range

The ready-to-drink (RTD) market is booming at the moment, which is understandable given you can’t turn to bartenders to provide delicious and convenient complex serves at the moment. In fact, RTDs are forecast to remain the fastest‐growing alcohol sector over the next five years, according to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. As the category widens and develops new products naturally follow and this week learned that Edrington-Beam Suntory UK has made a serious step into this market with the launch of the Thomas Lowndes 1826 range of RTD products. The Glasgow-based firm Thomas Lowndes has been part of EBS UK since 2015 and has named its new range after the year Mr Lowndes founded the business. It comprises four bottled cocktails: an Old Fashioned and a Mint Julep made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, a Cognac Espresso Martini that features Courvoisier and a Smoky French Martini made using Laphroaig whisky instead of vodka or gin, all of which are available from us (just give those links a click). “This exciting new range by 1826, associated with premium whiskies, Cognacs and bourbons gives us the perfect opportunity to showcase how easily bar-quality cocktails can be created in the home,” Moira Jacques, general manager of Thomas Lowndes, said. “We want to show customers that you can create premium, top-quality drinks in the comfort of your own home.”

The Nightcap

Beefeater’s new look will save 410 tonnes of plastic every year

Beefeater gin unveils sustainable bottle

Beefeater London Dry Gin has announced this week a plan to reduce the amount of plastic it uses by unveiling a more sustainable packaging design. The new bottle is made entirely from recyclable glass and is said to save the Pernod Ricard-owned brand 410 tonnes of plastic every year. The previous plastic cap has been replaced with an embossed, aluminium cap and the label has been changed from PVC to paper and the bottle, the shape of which you might have noticed was inspired by London bricks, was also designed with bartenders in mind as it makes pouring the gin easier. “Whilst our packaging has evolved our award-winning gin remains the same, with every drop distilled in the heart of London. The design of the bottle, from its shape to its label, paints a picture of what the liquid inside will taste like,” said Murielle Dessenis, global brand director of Beefeater. “The new design has performed well with bartenders and consumers alike, and we’re proud to have designed this new iteration of Beefeater’s iconic bottle with sustainability in mind, taking the brand on to the next step in its journey with a natural evolution for today’s gin enthusiasts.” The new design will be rolled out globally from this month and will cover the whole Beefeater range, with the exception of Beefeater 24.

The Nightcap

How you can resist cracking open a bottle of wine in space, we’ll never know.

And finally… Bordeaux wines return from space, undrunk!

If you were floating around on the International Space Station and there was a case of wine lying around, you’d crack open a bottle, wouldn’t you? Well, miraculously a case of Bordeaux that spent a year in space landed in the sea this week off the coast of Florida, completely intact. Not a drop had been drunk. The package also contained 160 canes each of Cabernet and Merlot. No, this wasn’t a psychological experiment in resisting temptation, it was part of a research project by a company called Space Cargo looking into the effects of extreme conditions on vines and wine to understand the stress they might endure from climate change. This isn’t the first time Bordeaux has been into space, a bottle of Chateau Lynch Bages 1975 went up on the space shuttle in 1985, and also came home intact because nobody had drunk it. Amazing willpower these astronauts.

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Ming River wants you to give Baijiu a chance

It might be the biggest selling spirit in the world, but baijiu has struggled to find a market outside of China. Ming River wants to change that. Baijiu has never…

It might be the biggest selling spirit in the world, but baijiu has struggled to find a market outside of China. Ming River wants to change that.

Baijiu has never needed a market outside China. The spirit is produced in close to 14,000 distilleries and accounts for one-third of the world’s total consumption of distilled spirits, with 11 billion litres sold in 2019, more than the total of whisky, vodka, gin, rum and Tequila combined. It’s doing perfectly well without the rest of the world.

And yet, companies like Diageo has invested in the spirit, a new generation of overseas producers are putting their own twist on the drink and brands are being created to bring baijiu to a new audience. There is a feeling that there’s untapped potential and, as drinking culture becomes more global and Chinese society becomes increasingly international, the demand for a versatile, complex and deeply cultural booze will be there once people understand it and acquire the taste. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

That’s where Ming River comes in. It’s an almost supergroup of a brand that’s brought together the know-how of some of the spirit’s greatest educators and the pedigree of Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào, China’s longest continuously operating distillery. It was created after Simon Dang, Matthias Heger, Bill Isler and Derek Sandhaus opened a baijiu bar in Beijing that proved doubters wrong, demonstrating the spirit could be appreciated in cocktails and that foreigners could be wooed with the right education and approach. This ability to introduce new audiences to baijiu led Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào to propose making a product with international appeal.

Ming River

Baijiu has been produced at Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào Distillery for a seriously long time

“We agreed to form a joint venture that became Ming River, which is really the first international baijiu brand created by one of China’s reputable distilleries,” Sandhaus explains. He literally wrote the book on baijiu. Twice. So he’s as good a person as any to demystify the category. “The word baijiu (pronounced ‘bye-Joe’) literally means ‘white spirits’ and is a category that encompasses all traditional Chinese grain spirits. It’s most commonly distilled from sorghum, but can also be made from rice, wheat, corn and millet,” Sandhaus explains. “China classifies it into four aroma categories, the full-bodied, spicy, fruity strong aroma baijiu (what Ming River is), the floral and sweet light aroma, sauce aroma, which has an umami, earthy profile and the clean and honeyed rice aroma”.

What distinguishes baijiu most from other spirits, however, is a production process of solid-state fermentation and distillation. At Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào, this begins with locally harvested red sorghum grain and water from protected wells. This mix is fermented in earthen pits sprinkled with naturally harvested yeast cultures called ‘qu’ (pronounced ‘chew’) which are native to Luzhou that impart a distinctive terroir. “Qu is big bricks made of wheat which are mashed with water and left in a controlled environment for months to absorb yeast and bacteria,” Sandhaus explains. “When you add to the grain, it breaks down the starches and converts those sugars into alcohol, adding a lot of natural flavours”.

It’s a similar process to the use of muck pits in Jamaican rum and it’s said that to create the best strong-aroma baijiu, you need a pit that’s at least 30 years old. Lúzhōu Lǎo Jiào has over 1,600  giant solera‐like fermentation pits that are at least 100 years old and some that date back to 1573, all drawing character from a microbiological ecosystem developed over centuries. “It creates a unique culture. At the top of the pit, you have a dry, low-alcohol mash and at the bottom, it’s increasingly more alcoholic and moist, which is of superior quality. This is where continuous mashing comes into play,” Sandhaus says. “You distil the top layer and keep the baijiu, then you take the lower mash, add fresh sorghum and distil it together in small batches. You then add more qu to this mix of fermented mash and freshly-steamed sorghum and put it back in the pits. It’s a process of fermenting and distilling over and over again until the spirits are ready to be aged for up to two years, before being blended to maximise complexity and balance the various flavours”.

Ming River

The earthen pits are sealed with mud and then nature takes it course

The unique way in which baijiu is made accounts for why it tastes radically different from the kind of spirits you might be used to, which is why Sandhaus believes the greatest challenge baijiu faces is one of educating consumers. “They aren’t accustomed to its profile so they think there is something ‘off’ about it or a mistake has been made, when in fact that is what the producers are trying to make. The comparison I would give is like if your introduction to Scotch whisky was someone maybe drinking an entire bottle of Laphroaig,” he says. “The products themselves are less challenging than people think they are, especially when presented in a cocktail. You have to introduce it to them in the right context”. 

Luckily this is an era in which people are embracing what were once deemed challenging flavours and Ming River’s profile of strong tropical fruits, floral elements and a rindy, farmyard funk note should appeal to fans of mezcal, cachaça and, in particular, high-ester Jamaican rum and Springbank whisky. For cocktails, those tropical notes naturally lend it to Tiki-style serves like Mai Tais, Piña Coladas and Daiquiris and food is also a great way to open the door to baijiu. “Chinese drinking culture is a communal activity that goes back to the very beginnings of its civilization and alcohol has always been part of the culinary tradition,” says Sandhaus. “Those strong flavours that are intended to balance out the flavours of the food, which in the Sichuan region where Ming River is from, tends to be bold and spicy, with lots of chilis, ginger and garlic”. 

I think Ming River has got the package right. The branding is clear and informative, the provenance, craft and history of the distillery is compelling and the baijiu itself is, well, really tasty. It’s encouraging to hear then, that the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. “There are still some people who try it and they say ‘this isn’t for me’ and that’s fine, but we’ve been a hit in both modern Asian restaurants and craft cocktail bars,” Sandhaus says. “Ming River has resonated with people from a cultural Chinese background looking for a way to connect with drinks that are part of their heritage and plenty of people in the West who are happy to drink a Chinese product when it’s presented to them the right way”.

Ming River

Ming River Sichuan Baijiu Tasting Note:

Nose: Big, estery notes of tropical fruit leads with pineapple cubes, guava and mango juice which fennel, liquorice and dried herbs complement. Throughout there are complex hints of Roquefort, clove, salted meat and farmyard funk which balance the sweeter notes of fizzy strawberry laces, banana milkshake and marshmallows.

Palate: Blackcurrant lozenge, star anise, pink pepper, green apple and charred pepper joins the array of tropical fruits (papaya and pineapple) that carry over from the nose.

Finish: Full of funk (damp earth mostly) with some salinity adding great contrast to the lingering fruity sweetness. 

Ming River

The Sichuan Daiquiri

Sichan Daiquiri

25ml of Ming River Sichuan Baijiu

25ml of dark rum

30ml of lime juice

20ml of simple syrup

2 bar spoons of Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

Shake and fine strain, then garnish with a mint sprig and lime wheel.

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Going against the grain

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the…

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the only cereals: what about oats, millet or sorghum? And what on earth is triticale? Ian Buxton investigates. 

What’s whisky made from? Easy: barley, corn, rye and wheat. Custom, practice and legislation have led to the global dominance of these four cereals, and with the many wonderful whiskies that are created from them, we don’t need to look any further.

Well, apparently, we do and a new generation of distillers are asking, ‘what about oats, millet or sorghum?’ Some go even further. Take, for example, Australia’s tiny Adelaide Hills distillery where founder and head distiller Sacha La Forgia explores local varieties such as wattleseed and weeping grass. With his Native Grains releases, he’s aiming to start a debate around diversity, sustainability and the preservation of indigenous species requiring fewer inputs to flourish in their native environment.

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

La Forgia is part of a global movement that seeks to challenge orthodoxy and offer enthusiast consumers new taste horizons. While in Scotland a limited number of barley varieties have come to dominate production, distillers such as Bruichladdich have looked to whisky’s history to revive the hard-to-grow heritage strain known as bere (see header pic).

Going further into the records, field-to-bottle distillers Ardbikie, located in the fertile farmlands of Scotland’s east coast, have determined that rye was used in making Scotch whisky well into the 19th century. Though enjoying a revival in the USA, Ardbikie’s Highland Rye can proudly claim to be unique in Scotland.

But with the craft distilling movement most fully developed in the USA, it’s here we turn for some more radical experiments.  A number of distillers have released heritage corn varieties, first brought to us by Balcones with their Baby Blue Corn Whisky, amongst them Jeptha Creed Distillery (Shelbyville, KY) with their Bloody Butcher and Charleston, SC High Wire Distilling’s Jimmy Red. For a distinctive take on heritage corn, though, look no further than Mexico’s Abasolo with their use of non-GMO cacahuazintle corn and the 4,000-year-old nixtamalization cooking process (see article here).

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The unique strain of corn that’s the basis for the flavour of Abasolo whisky

The Corsair Distillery in Nashville has pioneered a number of different grains, including quinoa from South America. For something even more off the wall from Corsair, known for its buccaneering approach, just try its Red absinthe: it’s not fairy juice! However, back to quinoa. It’s demanding to work with because of the small size of the grains and their bitter seed coating but almost because of the perversity of that challenge it attracted the attention of Australia’s Whippersnapper distillery who use a Western Australian variety for its earthy and peppery notes.

A vital food source across Africa, sorghum has also found its way into the repertoire of smaller distillers, possibly because of its appeal to the gluten intolerant. As well as High Wire Distilling, Sorghum whiskies include expressions from Still 360 in Saint Louis; Madison, WI’s Old Sugar Distillery and Jersey Artisan Distilling, NJ.

Virtually all of the distillers mentioned are small in scale and unlikely ever to break into the mass market.  But major players have flirted with the alternative grain option, most notably the limited run Jim Beam Harvest Bourbon collection released in 2014 and 2015. The whiskies included Whole Rolled Oat, Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice and Triticale (a rye/wheat cross also distilled by Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, WA). Oats, in particular, represented a radical approach for such a large distiller but the collection appears to have been a one-off, with any remaining supplies ironically now more sought after for investment than drinking.

But the drive to experiment cannot be denied and I anticipate unorthodox grains from craft distillers to trend in 2021 and beyond.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Palmetto

This week’s cocktail couldn’t be simpler, all you need is the finest rum you can get your hands on and some excellent sweet vermouth like the recently-landed Agora Rosso which…

This week’s cocktail couldn’t be simpler, all you need is the finest rum you can get your hands on and some excellent sweet vermouth like the recently-landed Agora Rosso which comes from Suffolk.

The Palmetto is part of a family of simple cocktails consisting of an aged spirit combined with vermouth and a dash of bitters stirred over ice, and served straight up. The best known in the family is the Manhattan but there’s also the Rob Roy, made with Scotch, the Harvard, made with Cognac, and the Emerald, made with Irish whiskey. Palmetto is a type of palm tree so no prizes for guessing which spirit goes into it. Just to be clear, it’s rum.

Harry Craddock’s recipe in The Savoy Cocktail Book calls for equal parts Italian vermouth with St. Croix rum and a dash of orange bitters. St. Croix was a brand made at the Cruzan Distillery in the US Virgin Islands. The distillery is now owned by Beam Suntory but the brand is no more so what to use in your Palmetto? Well, the world, or rather the Caribbean, is your oyster. High ester Jamaican rums like Plantation Xaymaca make punchy explosively fruity Palmettos, the sweet vermouth just about taming the Jamaican funk. Using something smooth and sophisticated from Latin America like the Eminente from Cuba makes the Palmetto a completely different animal, taking it into Harvard territory. If you want just a little funk, Merser & Co is hard to beat.

For the vermouth this week we’re using a new brand that landed at MoM late last year, Agora Rosso. It’s made by an Australian in Suffolk, Arthur Voulgaris. He began his career tending bar in Melbourne where he picked up a love of Negronis before moving to London to work in the wine trade. It was, appropriately enough, in Manhattan where he really caught the vermouth bug. He was working for English wine brand Digby in New York and, he told us in an interview last year: “I drank Manhattans like they were going out of fashion.”

Arthur Voulgaris enjoying a cocktail of an evening

He tried every vermouth he could get his hands on but wasn’t always that impressed with the quality. “I thought, ‘could this category be a bit better? Could there be more finesse and balance within vermouth?’ I find that some of them can be incredibly bitter, and to counteract that and balance it out, a lot of sugar is added,” he said.

When he returned to England to work for Gonzalez Byass, he set about trying to make his dream vermouth. He began experimenting at his place in Suffolk, and the result, after much tinkering, was Agora, which means marketplace in Greek – Voulgaris’ family are from the island of Kos. Most rosso vermouths get their colour from caramel but Voulgaris wanted it to come from grapes, Cabernet and Merlot sourced from the south of France. There’s no added sugar, caramel or glycerol, all the sweetness comes from grape must. The botanicals include wormwood, rose, vanilla, lavender, star anise and cassia bark, and he uses neutral grape alcohol. “I didn’t want anything synthetic. I didn’t want anything that was too confected, cloying, bitter or simply sweet,” he said. It comes in at 120 grams of sugar which is classed as semi-sweet for a vermouth. 

The finished product is made at DJ Wines in Monks Soham, Suffolk. For the next batch Voulgaris is going to use locally-grown Pinot Noir grapes. He’s also planning a bianco made with English Madeleine Angevin grapes and with, as he puts it, “sea coastal botanicals such as Maldon sea salt and samphire” plus “something a bit oriental like kaffir lime.” 

How does the rosso taste? Well it’s very grapey and fruity, with the profile not unlike a fortified wine from the south of France like Maury with floral, fruity and bitter botanicals coming through harmoniously. We tried a batch last year which was a little bitter but he’s upped the grape sugar levels, and the balance is now perfect.


The magnificent Palmetto

It’s extremely nice just served on the rocks with a slice of orange as they do in Spain. But it’s also ideal for a very vermouth-heavy cocktail like a Palmetto. I tried it with both a Jamaican and a Cuban rum with the Cuban probably nosing it as its elegance chimed better with the subtlety of Agora. The classic way to serve your Palmetto is straight up but this year I’ve taken to drinking mine on the rocks in a tumbler and enjoying how the flavours change as the ice melts. It’s the perfect instant cocktail.

Here’s how to make the classic version:

35ml Eminente 7 Year Old Reserva Cuban Rum
35ml Agora Rosso Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker or jug, stir for a minute and strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

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Burns Night poetry competition – win Islay single malts

It’s type to sharpen your pencils because our great Burns Night poetry competition is back by popular demand. You could win two delicious bottles of Islay single malt, plus a…

It’s type to sharpen your pencils because our great Burns Night poetry competition is back by popular demand. You could win two delicious bottles of Islay single malt, plus a Glencairn glass.

UPDATE: We’ve been inundated with entries and will announce the winner ASAP once each work of poetic genius has been subject to due consideration.

For the third year running we are calling on Master of Malt customers to flex their poetry muscles for a chance to win whisky. When we launched the competition back in 2019, we thought maybe we’d get 10 entries. Instead we got many times that and the quality was surprisingly high. Just take a look at the winning entries from 2019 and 2020.

This year Burns Night, Monday 25 January, is going to be a little different for all of us. But we can still eat haggis and neeps, drink some whisky and, most importantly, celebrate the words of the Bard himself, Robert Burns: “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Great stuff, we love a bit of Burns at Master of Malt. To help you on your way, we are giving away: a bottle each of Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Islay single malt and Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength Islay single malt from our friends at Atom Labs, plus a Glencairn tasting glass to sip them out of. 

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire

All you have to do is compose a poem about whisky. We had some Ossian-esque epics last year so we’re limiting entries to 25 lines. All poems must be in English or Scots. Apart from those rules, let your imagination run wild: you can write a haiku, a sonnet or maybe something experimental a la E.E. Cummings. Poems will be judged by the discerning team here at Master of Malt. There’s at least one second class English degree from a redbrick university among us, so we know what we’re doing. Before you set pen to paper, we’ll offer you a couple of tips: try to be amusing, if we have to read 50 poems, we are going to remember the ones that made us laugh; if you can’t make us laugh, make us cry; please don’t rhyme ‘whisky’ with ‘frisky’, it’s an automatic disqualification.

The 2021 MoM Burns Night poetry competition is open to entrants 18 years and over with postage to UK addresses only. Entries accepted from 12:00 GMT on 13 January to 23:59 GMT 21 January 2021. Full T&Cs are below, but to enter simply email us at [email protected], or comment on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or below with your poem by 21 January. The winner will be announced on Burns Night, 25 January.

Good luck and may the muse be with you. 

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How to make your own cocktail ingredients

Fancy creating a blackberry liqueur from the brambles in your garden? Or using rhubarb from your local market to make your own bitters? Creating your own cocktail components is easier…

Fancy creating a blackberry liqueur from the brambles in your garden? Or using rhubarb from your local market to make your own bitters? Creating your own cocktail components is easier than you might think – all you need is a handful of botanicals and a little know-how. Stock up your home bar with these DIY spirits projects…

There’s little more satisfying than seeing a DIY project to fruition, particularly when you can enjoy the fruits of your labour in liquid form. Whether creating your own shrubs, liqueurs, infused spirits or bitters, DIY-ing your tipples allows you to experiment with the local, seasonal produce on your doorstep, utilise leftover ingredients – such as herb stems – to reduce household waste, and customise your home cocktails according to your own tastes and preferences.

The tricky part is figuring out which flavours work well together, so start somewhere familiar: the kitchen. “It’s the same as pairing food when you are cooking,” says Xhulio Sina, owner of the Bar and Bottle Shop in London. “If you eat a bowl of fresh strawberries in the middle of the summer when they are juicy and full of flavour, you might pick some fresh mint from the garden and sprinkle it on top of the bowl to enjoy those wonderful flavours together. You can do the same thing with a shrub or liqueur –  just add that touch of mint when infusing to give the strawberry that extra flavour and freshness.”

If cooking doesn’t come naturally to you, all’s not lost. “Find out what other cultures use different ingredients for and what they typically pair them with,” suggests Gaz Walsh, head bartender at One Eight Six in Manchester. Or use your own experiences, he says, like an amazing meal you’ve had in a restaurant. And don’t shy away from good old-fashioned trial and error. “Sometimes it can come down to blind luck of pairing unusual flavours together,” adds Walsh. “That’s the fun in experimenting!”

Read on to discover how to make shrubs, infusions, bitters and liqueurs from scratch at home…


Got lots of brambles, why not turn them into a shrub?

How to make a shrub

What you’ll need: fruit, sugar, vinegar, glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, measuring jug, cheesecloth or coffee filte

Sometimes called a ‘drinking vinegar’, a shrub is a type of syrup made from equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar. You don’t have to use fruit, of course – cucumber and dill, tomato and chilli, or even parsnip and fennel all make tasty combinations. There are several different methods for making shrubs, but maceration is the most fun:

– Start by adding one part sugar and one part fruit to a glass jar (plus herbs and spices, if you’re using them). “After washing the fruit, chop it as fine as you can in order to get the maximum amount of flavour,” says Sina. If using berries, lightly crush them to increase the surface area. 

– Seal the jar and shake it vigorously to coat the fruit in sugar, then leave the mixture to macerate for around two days, stirring every 12 hours or so. When it’s ready, the fruit will be sitting in a rich syrup. 

– Strain the syrup into a measuring jug, pressing lightly to expel any extra juice. If there’s any sugar left in the jar, scrape it into the jug too. Then, add one part vinegar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a clean glass jar and store in the fridge. Leave for 72 hours before tasting. 

Top tip: Don’t just experiment with the fruit element – consider using different varieties of sugar and vinegar too. Instead of caster sugar, try demerara or brown sugar. For the vinegar, try apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. You could add fresh herbs like basil or thyme, spices like cardamom and turmeric, or even flowers like lavender and dried rose petals.

Full-flavoured rums like Dunderhead make a great base for spirit infusions

How to infuse spirits

What you’ll need: base spirit, glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, up to three fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, cheesecloth or coffee filter

You can infuse just about anything – rum and banana, mezcal and cucumber, bourbon and orange, vodka and hazelnut… Whatever you choose, you’re best keeping batches small, as there’s no flavour benefit to scaling up. Proportions vary depending on the ingredients, but as a rough guide: one part fresh fruits and veggies to one part spirit; one part fresh herbs and spices to two parts base spirit; one part dried herbs and spices to three parts base spirit. 

– First prepare your flavouring ingredients – roughly chop fruit and veggies, being sure to remove any tough skin, hard shells, rinds, pips and seeds. Add to the glass jar, pour in the spirit, seal the lid, and shake.

– Keep the bottle at room temperature, away from direct sunlight or extreme cold, and shake once a day until your infusion is complete.

– For fresh and ripe fruits, steep them for a maximum of “one to two weeks tops,” says Sina. “Harder fruits and fresh herbs three to four weeks. Spices and dried fruits, up to three months.” Taste it every other day so you know how it’s progressing.

– When you’re happy with the flavour, strain out the solids and filter the liquid through a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Store at room temperature for six months.

Top tip: “Think about surface area when it comes to preparing larger fruit and vegetables,” says Walsh. “For example, if you cut an apple in half, it would take much longer to get flavour compared to an apple you cut into 1cm cubes.”


Coffee cherries

How to make a liqueur

What you’ll need: base spirit, flavouring, sugar, glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, cheesecloth or coffee filter

To make a liqueur, you’ll need to choose a base alcohol, steep your chosen flavouring in it, filter out the solids, add sweetening and leave it to settle. The ingredient ratios and methodology will vary slightly depending on the ingredients you’re using – chocolate, nuts, coffee and fruit all require slightly different processes – but the basic principle is the same.

– The first step involves infusing your ingredient(s) into your base spirit as detailed above.

– Once you’re happy with the infusion and have filtered the solids out, the next step is to sweeten the alcohol. You can use table sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey – whatever your preference.

– Not sure how sweet to go? To start with, try adding 10% simple syrup. (Simple syrup is made by heating one part water with one part table sugar and stirring until dissolved). So if you have 1,000ml infused spirit, add 100ml of simple syrup. You can always add more.

– Give it a stir and leave it to rest for another week or so before drinking it. At this point, you may notice more sediment collecting at the bottom of the jar. You can filter it out further or leave it – be aware, leaving the sediment may intensify the flavours. 

Top tip: “Try experimenting with a small batch first, because you will not get it right the first time,” says Sina. “Experiment with half a litre before moving to five litres, for example.”

The Bar and Bottle Shop Catford, south London

The Bar and Bottle Shop in Catford, south London

How to make bitters

What you’ll need: base alcohol (such as neutral grain spirit), several small glass jars with a tight-fitting lid, botanicals, cheesecloth or coffee filter

You need bittering agents, aromatics and alcohol to make bitters. Bittering agents are roots and barks, like gentian root and quassia chips, while aromatics are often fresh herbs, spices, citrus peels, dried fruit, or other flavourful ingredients like coffee beans and toasted nuts. You can infuse all of the above together in one jar, but it’s best to make separate botanical infusions and blend them to taste.

– The first step involves infusing each ingredient type in the base spirit to make several tinctures. Keep citrus peels, spices, bittering agents, herbs and dried fruits grouped together to make a spice mix, bittering mix, citrus mix, etcetera.

– To do this, add a small amount of each ingredient – around one teaspoon – into a small jar with around 100ml alcohol and leave to rest for a week, shaking each jar every day.

– After a week, start tasting each jar by adding a few drops to some sparkling water. Once you’re happy with the flavour of the jar, strain the contents through a cheesecloth or coffee filter and set aside.

– Once all the botanicals have been steeped for a sufficient amount of time, you’re ready to blend. Use a medicine-type dropper to combine the flavours in a 10ml test bottle first if you wish. Sweeten as needed using the above technique. Once you’ve settled on the blend, strain again if necessary, and then bottle.

Top tip: The base spirit you choose depends on the type of cocktails you’ll use the bitters in. For lighter drinks, opt for vodka or neutral grain spirit. For more robust drinks, choose a barrel-aged spirit.

The shelf life of your precious DIY creation will vary depending on what’s in it, so watch out for signs of spoiling, such as unusual colours, flavours or aromas. “The use of fruit and vegetables limits how long something will last, but a regular tasting will let you know if it’s still usable,” says Walsh. “Try to avoid temperature changes – if you store it in a fridge, keep it in there constantly.”

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Top ten: Low- and zero-ABV drinks

Yes, it’s Dry January, for some, anyway. But whether you’re cutting out the booze completely or just fancy a change, here are the most delicious low- and no-alcohol spirit substitutes…

Yes, it’s Dry January, for some, anyway. But whether you’re cutting out the booze completely or just fancy a change, here are the most delicious low- and no-alcohol spirit substitutes rated by Master of Malt customers.

The low/ no ABV ‘spirit’ category is now firmly established. All it needs is a snappy name, we can’t go on calling them spirit substitutes or zero ABV gin-style drinks. Any suggestions on a postcard to MoM HQ, or you could comment below. Rather than pick our favourites as we normally do, this January we’ve picked the ones with the highest ratings on the Master of Malt website. So these are the drinks that our customers liked enough to leave a rating. There’s some five star products here…


1) Bax Botanics Sea Buckthorn

A non-alcoholic spirit from Yorkshire’s Bax Botanics. The main flavour is sea buckthorn and distilled alongside herbs and Seville orange. With absolutely no sugar added, the spirit boasts a complex and satisfyingly bittersweet fruity profile. 

How does it taste?

Highly aromatic, with rich savoury herbal notes and bittersweet fruit. Serve on ice and garnish with a ribbon of orange peel.


2) Everleaf Bittersweet Aperitif

Everleaf Bittersweet Aperitif is an apero, like Aperol or Campari, only with no alcohol. It’s made with a medley of 18 marvellous ingredients including gentian, iris, saffron, vanilla, vetiver, orange blossom and more. 

How does it taste?

Enjoyable herbal bitterness, with hints of anise, lemongrass, honey and caraway in support. Exceptional in a spritz with ice, tonic water and a fair whack of fresh orange. 


3) Æcorn Bitter

Æcorn is a range of non-alcoholic aperitifs created by the Seedlip team.  The bitter version is made from Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes flavoured with citrus fruits, bay leaf, oak and quassia.

How does it taste?

Bitter peels and juicy grapefruit, balanced by earthy herbs and a touch of pine resin. Try it in a Nogroni with Seedlip Spice (below) and Aecorn Aromatic.


4) William Fox Juniper Syrup

From Liverpool-based William Fox, this delightful syrup uses juniper, the base of all gins as it flavour, so it’s sure to be popular. Add to a variety of drinks for reassuring gin-like flavour. 

How does it taste?

Slightly bitter, warm and savoury, with a tangy citrus-y backdrop. Try mixed with pink grapefruit juice and soda water. 


5) Xachoh Blend No. 7

Here we have Xachoh’s (pronounced ‘Za-ko’) second non-alcoholic spirit, Blend No.7. It contains botanicals inspired by the Silk Road, including ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, crystal dark malt, star anise, saffron and sumac. 

How does it taste? 

Full of fragrant spicy notes, namely ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, accompanied by sweet malty notes. Mix with ginger ale and a good squeeze of lime. 


6) Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic American Malt

This is a bourbon substitute made by an Australian brand that makes a huge range of non-alcoholic drinks to use instead of rum, gin, amaretto etc. The brand is named after the Australian Lyrebird, which is renowned for being able to mimic the calls of other birds. 

How does it taste?

Smooth caramel and a hint of oak with a slightly spicy finish. Makes a great Old Fashioned substitute, see here for more recipes. 


7) Pentire Adrift

A uniquely maritime spirit, this is inspired by the North Cornish coastline and made from botanicals including rock samphire, sea fennel, sage, citrus and Cornish sea salt, either sustainably sourced or organically grown. 

How does it taste?

A hint of anise, salty and herbaceous notes intertwine, with a dash of lively citrus and mineral sea salt, with a warming finish. It’s great with tonic and a twist of lemon peel.


8) Three Spirit Social Elixir

After much experimentation, the Three Spirit team of botanical alchemists settled on 11 plant-based ingredients from around the world, including lion’s mane, cacao, damiana, and yerba mate. 

How does it taste?

Stewed fruit and banana aromas fade into rich notes of dark chocolate and coffee. Makes a great Espresso Martini, details here


9) Feragaia

Feragaia is a Scottish alcohol-free spirit marrying 14 botanicals including seaweed, bay leaf and chamomile. Before bottling, it’s then blended with Scottish water. Feragaia means ‘wild earth’, taken from Fera in Latin meaning ‘wild’, and ‘Gaia’ in Greek mythology translating to ‘earth’.

How does it taste?

A floral top note leads into earthier root flavours, with a balanced salty note and a warming, spiced finish. Try it with ginger ale and a sprig of mint to make what Feragaia calls a Winter Wanderer. 


10) Seedlip Spice 94 

We had to include the mighty Seedlip, the brand that started it all. Some people love it, it has five star ratings galore, and some people don’t, but there’s no denying its influence. This version is based around allspice, cardamom, grapefruit, lemon and oak.

How does it taste?

Warming (almost Christmas-y) notes of nutmeg and clove, with a balancing sweetness of fresh citrus. Serve over ice with tonic and a pink grapefruit twist.

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