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Talking to family-owned 6 O’clock Gin: 10 years on

One of the original pioneers of the UK gin boom, the family-owned 6 O’clock Gin is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. We chat to its founders about its history,…

One of the original pioneers of the UK gin boom, the family-owned 6 O’clock Gin is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. We chat to its founders about its history, how gin has exploded in this decade and how they plan on marking the big 10.

At 6pm the Kain family would retire from a long day of working on their Devon fruit farm with a refreshing glass of G&T. It’s a tradition started by Edward Kain, a merchant seaman and engineer who would take a daily dose of quinine product medication at the same time every evening. His grandson, also named Edward and his wife Penny continued the practice while they made artisanal liqueurs under the Bramley & Gage brand and Penny would often say “Oh! It’s 6 o’clock! I can have a Gin and Tonic.”

It’s the kind of family tradition we can all get behind, it’s social, quintessentially British and boozy. Lovely. It also seemed like the perfect name for a gin brand to Edward and Penny’s children and the founders of 6 O’clock Gin, Michael and Felicity Kain. “It’s a great name, it chimes with a lot of people. It’s an occasion to drink to. We could have picked a geographic name, which an awful lot of brands have done. But actually an occasion is more transferable and has more longevity,” says Michael Kain (superb name), who’s chatting to MoM about how the family is gearing up to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the successful gin brand with a series of new releases, promotions and events. 

A lot has changed in that decade. Outside of all the various armageddon-inducing events (Trump, COVID-19, Liverpool winning the league), in the drinks world, it’s very much been the era of gin. When Michael and Felicity first started crafting all kinds of juniper-based deliciousness, their distillery was one of just 23 in England. There are now 441 distilleries across the UK. They were there at the beginning of the gin boom and have seen the industry soar and change in front of their eyes. “We’ve always loved gin and as we started to work on our own expression Sipsmith launched in 2009. At that moment I knew we were onto something,” Kain admits. 

6 O'clock Gin

Say hello to the Kain family!

In many ways, the story of this brand is much older than a decade, however. 6 O’clock Gin is really an extension of the family-run artisan spirit company Bramley & Gage that Edward and Penny Kain founded in 1988. The duo were struggling to add value and make a profit on strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants and decided to diversify their 21-acre Devon fruit farm by making the surplus supply into liqueurs. “They were made with high quality 100% British fruit. It was proper artisan stuff, it all started with jugs and funnels on the kitchen table,” says Kain, who remembers picking fruit and filling bottles as a summer job when he was a student. “After seven or eight years the farm was sold and they carried on production in a small industrial unit nearby. By that stage, sloe gin was the biggest selling line they made, which Dad made through a maceration process. It’s very different from the distilled London dry that we make and love today”.

The business continued to grow organically through to 2007 when Edward and Penny decided they would sell up and fund their retirement. Michael and Felicity, however, decided that the business should remain in the family and took over the distillery and moved it to Bristol. “You’ll be pleased to know that my father Edward still does two days a week, he’ll never stop,” jokes Kain. By this point, the range had increased to 13 flavours. “Dad already had a gin recipe to his name, but he never believed it to be good enough to be sold in its own right, so we set out to make our own”. With all the family experience and local ingredients, you might assume this process was a simple one. Not quite. “There are lots of examples of fantastic distilleries where entrepreneurs brought together experts and make great products. We were definitely on the trial-and-error learning scale of experience,” admits Kain. 

Kain’s signature product and brand, 6 O’clock Gin, was launched in 2010. It took two and a half years to develop the recipe, which was helped along the way with the expertise of Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers. “He gave us a lot of confidence and told us which botanicals we could use to achieve the flavour profile we wanted. All of our liqueurs taste of their main ingredient so we wanted our gin to be the same and be juniper-led. He helped us get there,” says Kain. The final botanical line up consists of juniper, coriander, angelica, orris, winter savory (a favourite of Maxwell’s), elderflower and orange peel. The elderflower is sourced locally and Bramley & Gage also use it to create a liqueur. The gin is distilled in a custom made Arnold Holstein still, Kathleen, which has a double sphere condenser, adding an extra cycle to the process (thus more copper contact) and creating an extra smooth spirit in turn. “We charge our still with a neutral grain spirit, then we load the water and our botanicals thereafter,” Kain explains. “Once the juniper has soaked through we add heat and after a few hours, we have enough 80% ABV spirit. We that leave to rest before we take it down to 43% ABV with Tarka Springs water brought in from North Devon. It’s a fairly conventional process, but when you’ve got a product that works you don’t change it!” 

6 O'clock Gin

Edward fills 6 O’clock Gin’s custom-made Arnold Holstein still, Kathleen.

6 O’clock Gin wasn’t just one the first expressions to appear on the market as part of the ‘craft’ gin boom, but it was also made at one of the first solar-powered and energy-neutral gin distilleries in the country. The brand was also ahead of the curve with its green initiatives, thanks to its sustainable use of spent fruit, reusable bottles and compostable disposables. “We started on a farm and have always had that connection with nature. It’s important for us to be responsible citizens, we cannot keep burning carbon to create energy. It’s our obligation to move things on as fast as we’re able to, as every business is. Our solar panels and reusable bottle initiative are all important but in some ways, it’s just a part of being in a game,” Kain explains. “You know, every business should be like that. It shouldn’t be a point of difference, it should be the norm. Consumers should expect it. I’m always very cautious about celebrating that we’re all lovely and green because we can always be better”.

Kain’s drive for self-improvement is not surprising to hear given how many different products the brand has launched over the last decade. They tried their hand at tonic water but felt that wasn’t their strength, so instead focused on exploring flavour. “We’re not scared of a bit of innovation. Sometimes it’s painful because for all the successful innovations, you’ve got 20 failures. But if you look at a product like our 6 O’Clock 5 Year Old Sloe Gin, that’s the oldest aged gin product available. Although it’s never going to be a massive revenue game-changer for us, it’s an interesting and fun project,” says Kain. “Expressions like our Damson, Sloe, Jekka’s Bouquet Garni Edition and Brunel Edition give us a point of difference. The London dry is still our best seller and these other innovations help keep life fun and interesting for us. The huge variety and range of gin and means defining what exactly gin is getting harder and harder. But, although we all complained about the trading standards rules and the British standard and European standard rules on what is and isn’t gin; actually, the innovation that’s happened has helped to extend the category. The success of the fruit and flavoured extensions on gin is fascinating”.  

While Kain might have beaten the rush when he launched 6 O’Clock Gin 10 years ago, he says he had no inkling of the gin boom to come. “Maybe we made it look so easy that a lot of other people thought they could do this too. The most striking thing is that consumer demand is reflected in the supply of distilleries. There’s not been consumer fatigue like you might expect on the sheer scale of supply,” Kain says. He credits changing consumer attitudes as a big factor in ensuring this growth has been vast and consistent. “The spirits world has become really exciting. People don’t necessarily want to drink more, they want to drink smarter and enjoy the experience, whether that’s at home or in a cocktail bar. And there’s still more innovation to come”.

6 O'clock Gin

The 6 O’clock Gin range is full of flavour and variety

Kain believes that there is no gin bubble. He says the change in gin is here to stay. “We’re not going to go back to the ‘70s. Or even the ‘80s or the ‘90s. There’ll be a little bit of a shakeup if there is oversupply and consumers may get a bit too baffled by some of the gin options available to them. But they also go with familiar brands and familiar flavours. It’s got a strong future. I don’t think the ‘gin bubble’ will burst as others have said because I don’t think it is a bubble, it’s just gin-flation, it’s changed drinking habits,” Kain says. “Pubs used to have one or two gins, now they have ten. Some have 50 – 100 and I think those ones will go back down, there will be some change, but it’s a lovely tasting drink. Unlike wine or a whisky, in gin, we can control the parameters. For a whisky distillery or winery, they have to try their best with the terroir, the grapes, the weather, the ingredients, the ageing barrels; so they never fully know 100% what it will end up like. Whereas in gin we can engineer repeatable, nice flavours, and unique ones too”.

I asked Kain if there was anything he’d wished he’d known 10 years ago when he started off. “Everything. There’s loads of stuff I wish I’d known. The names of all the supermarket buyers, that would’ve been quite good. But I don’t have any regrets about any of the decisions I’ve made”. It’s not surprising. Ten years on, the company is thriving, selling its gin across the country and worldwide. And the Kains aren’t slowing down. 2020 sees two new products launched as part of the 10 year celebrations. The first is Romy’s Edition, a deliciously moreish mango, ginger and lime flavoured gin made in collaboration with celebrated British/Indian chef, Romy Gill MBE (it’s coming to MoM Towers soon). The recipe’s herbs and spices are distilled before being infused with the juice of the native Indian mango. “We wanted to create an Indian-type expression that wasn’t just cumin and cardamom and curry, something that captured some traditional Indian fruits and our own fruit experience,” says Kain. 

The other expansion to its range is a ready-to-drink series which features two new fruity flavours; Exotic Orange and Damson & Ginger, as well as a Light alternative to their classic London Dry Gin and Tonic. “In these tough COVID times, we wanted to find innovative solutions that actually help people. The RTDs are for those who haven’t got the bartender resource to make a decent cocktail, or a proper Gin and Tonic, in the way they want. We’ve got a solution for that. We’ve mixed it in the distillery, so just have to pour it over ice and you’ve got an amazing drink,” Kain explains. “That also applies to our light and low options. There’s been a lot of media noise on light and low beverages and consumer demand is there. We’ve haven’t been able to produce a zero alcohol product that to my palate tastes enough of gin. So our light and low Gin and Tonic in a can is still half a percent ABV, and that allows us to extract the right sort of flavours out of the juniper. If you put a shot of vodka in it, you’ve got a Gin and Tonic again!”

6 O'clock Gin

Developing the 6 O’clock Gin recipe took time, but it was worth the wait

Rounding off the tenth anniversary year celebrations is a plan to offer a free G&T from 6pm on Friday to 6pm on Sunday in participating pubs and bars in the South West throughout September. Kain says the details are still being ironed out, but the idea is that when the clock strikes six they can celebrate 10 years with consumers. If you’d like to do the same at home, we’ve done a few classic MoM tasting notes below and recommended some serves to boot so you can enjoy all things 6 O’clock Gin with ease. Amidst all the hectic planning and work, I hope the Kains remember to pour themselves gin at 6pm. It’s safe to say they’ve earned it. Cheers to 10 years of 6 O’clock Gin!

6 O’clock Gin Tasting Notes

6 O'clock Gin

6 O’clock Gin Tasting Note:

Nose: Vibrant, clean and classic in profile from the get-go, it’s a textbook London dry nose. The juniper leads, full-bodied and fresh with plenty of pine before elderflower adds this subtle, summery sweetness. The coriander and orange peel are unmistakable and work in tandem to deliver a crisp, warming and an aromatic dose of citrus throughout.

Palate: The palate is a continuation of the nose: juniper-forward and proud. The citrus and floral notes are beautifully balanced and the juniper is refined and bolstered by a full, almost chewy texture.  

Finish: The coriander seed’s heat comes through a touch heavy in a long and resinous finish.

Overall: 6 O’clock Gin is thoroughly delicious and it’s of no surprise to me that its character has proved such a big hit with gin drinkers who are looking for a classic London dry profile. What I enjoy most is how ridiculously mixable it is. I enjoyed my 6 O’clock G&T (brings out the citrus element beautifully), my 6 O’clock Negroni (ditto), my 6 O’clock Martini (highlights the floral characteristics), but above all, I think it makes a delightful Southside (both. Hallelujah). 

6 O'clock Gin

6 O’clock Gin Romy’s Edition – Mango, Ginger & Lime Tasting Note:

Nose: Zingy orange (marmalade-esque), ripe mango and a creamy lime element (key lime pie?) emerge first, then vanilla, toasted almond and a hint of woody juniper add depth. The ginger isn’t very spicy for me and its aromatic influence is subtle on the nose. 

Palate: A big hit of lime immediately rushes to the fore, which tropical fruit sweetness then supports. Baking spice adds a measured kick of spice and heat.

Finish: There’s a really pleasant, full-bodied and juicy mango note that lingers here along with a prickle of that ginger spice.

Overall:  I’m really struck by how delicately balanced the sweetness is. This isn’t sickly or liqueur-like. The spice is also quite reserved. I could go for a little more, but I think 6 O’clock Gin has done well to ensure it doesn’t overwhelm or disguise the other flavours.

6 O'clock Gin

The new RTD range from 6 O’clock Gin is varied and very tasty

6 O’clock Gin RTD Gin and Tonic Round-up: 

6 O’clock Gin London Dry Gin and Tonic: Gorgeous. Light, refined and easy drinking. You’d happily have a few cans of this at a picnic or BBQ. Should come into its own in this period of distance drinking.

6 O’clock Gin London Dry Gin and Tonic (Light): Lovely and hard to distinguish from the previous can. Same taste, same viscosity and similarly easy to imbibe. Smashing.

6 O’clock Gin London Dry Gin and Tonic (Light and Low): Slightly sweeter than the previous G&Ts to an extent that it probably loses me, but still mighty impressive given its profile. The health-conscious will love this. 

6 O’clock Gin Exotic Orange Gin and Tonic: I’m really impressed by how mellow this is. It balances sweetness, acidity and some citrus sharpness beautifully. Possibly the highlight of the range.

6 O’clock Gin Damson and Ginger Gin and Tonic: The aromatic note of ginger might be a little toning down, but its spice is beautifully tempered. Damson is such a great choice. It’s juicy, fruity and darkly delicious and never veers into the synthetic sweetness you often get from these drinks.


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Mythbusting: How important is water in spirits-making?

Whether it’s been filtered through ancient volcanic rock, siphoned from a mountain glacier, or collected from the tears of fertile mountain goats (hypothetically speaking), water is an essential ingredient in…

Whether it’s been filtered through ancient volcanic rock, siphoned from a mountain glacier, or collected from the tears of fertile mountain goats (hypothetically speaking), water is an essential ingredient in every spirit, typically making up more than half of your bottle of booze. The question is, does specially-sourced water actually make for a better quality spirit? MoM investigates…

That water makes up most of the liquid in your favourite spirit should come as little surprise. The amount is even stated on the bottle, albeit inadvertently. If the label on your gin bottle reads 42% ABV, then 58% is water. Even if your cask strength whisky comes in at 63.5% ABV, the remaining 36.5% is water – more than one third. Given that water is such a prominent and essential ingredient, it must be a relatively important aspect of the production process.

And it is, but not for the reason you might think. Water is “one of the most important parts of a distillery and the spirit quality,” acknowledges Brian Kinsman, malt master at Glenfiddich Distillery, which sources its water solely from the Robbie Dhu Spring. “We only have three ingredients – water, malted barley and yeast – and the water quality will influence flavour formation in fermentation, which is where much of the final distillery character is formed.”

Each water source has its own unique chemical makeup, depending on the geology of the local area. The levels of trace metals or ‘minerals’ like chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc can have a profound effect on the distilling process. “During fermentation, different trace metals will influence yeast metabolism, which directly impacts our yield and sensory profile of the wash,” Kinsman says.

High-mineral water – particularly calcium and magnesium – helps enzymes in the mash break starch down into simple sugars, explains Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks at ‎The Glenmorangie Company. “It makes the mashing more effective, and allows the fermentation to be more active,” he says. This kicks off “a whole lot of other chain reactions, so you produce more fruity, ester-style flavours during the fermentation period.”

water in spirits-making

Buffalo Trace’s location along the Kentucky River was chosen for its abundance of springs

For this reason, the different mineral make-up is important for each distillery to have their own characteristics, says Harlen Wheatley, master distiller at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. The site was chosen “due to its location along the Kentucky River and abundance of springs in the area,” he explains. “Typically in Kentucky, due to the limestone the water is iron-free and rich in nutrients such as magnesium and calcium.”

However, not everyone shares the same view when it comes to sourcing water. For some distilleries, the ethos is ‘the purer, the better’. “Our view is that the water used for the distillation part of the process should be as bland and as neutral as possible,” says Arturo Illán Illán, global brand manager for Martin Miller’s Gin. “This ensures that any impurity in the water does not impair the delicate process of distillation.” The team use Icelandic water sourced from deep aquifers beneath a dormant volcanic caldera, which Illán says is “as close to pure, naturally occurring H2o as it is possible to get”.

Either way, it’s important to point out that we’re talking about barely-detectable effects here. “You wouldn’t pick up a whisky and nose it and go, ‘Ah, now that’s a mineral-rich whisky right there, I can really smell the magnesium’,” McCarron says. “It’s nuanced. And this is where the marketing B.S. has come into water in whisky. In the 1970s, 1980s, you’d hear ‘it’s the water that makes the whisky’ – which is true, it’s massively important. But I think a lot of people started attributing lots of the flavour to water.”

Certain whisky myths persist around the use of water in whisky to this day. One of the biggest, he says, is that the reason Ardbeg Distillery makes such smoky whisky is because it has a peaty water source. “That’s just not true,” he says. “Another belter was about a certain distillery up in the Highlands, which used to say that the water – which it did – ran through a hill of heather into a Loch before it went into the distillery, and that’s why the whisky was so heathery in the bottle. Again, it’s a great sounding story, but a complete fabrication.”

water in spirits-making

Glenfiddich Distillery sources its water solely from the Robbie Dhu Spring.

It’s easy to see why certain hypotheses came to exist. “A lot of the flavours, a lot of the spirit character, a lot of the aromas that were contributing to the water were actually coming from fermentation,” he continues. “So it’s almost like it wasn’t untrue that the water was making that heather [note], it was helping, but we’ve come down a level or two of detail – we’ve more understanding of how fermentation works. These debunked myths, there’s a grain of truth in them, but it’s much more about ‘what does the water help the fermentation do?’. Definitely mineral-rich water has a huge effect. Extra-peaty water has no effect.”

It’s only recently that we’ve started to understand that not all water is the same, says Ronald Daalmans, environmental sustainability manager for Chivas Brothers. “It would be nice to think we’ve gone around and found lots of water supplies, decided which ones matched the product we wanted to make, and then chose the location,” he says. “But historically I don’t think that’s how any site has come about, it’s generally linked to the fact that there is a large supply available. We probably didn’t have the chemistry at that time. And it’s part of the legacy of why the product is the way it is… The location has a story to tell in terms of what’s under your feet and why the water is there, and that’s then reflected in the chemistry.”

The chemical make-up of water isn’t the only variable to affect the distilling process. Perhaps more important is the temperature. Not only does having lots of cold water help you condense your spirit – allowing lots of copper contact and preventing sulphury notes, McCarron says – but it’s crucial for the fermentation stage. The starting temperature is dictated by the weather, and when it’s too high (during a particularly hot summer, for example) it results in a drop in yield.

“June, July and August are a nightmare for distillers, it takes loads more work because there’s a double whammy,” McCarron says. “It’s hotter outside, which means your fermentations are going to heat up quicker, and also your cooling water is warmer than it usually is. If you speak to any man or woman in the industry who makes the stuff, they’re much more focussed on ‘what’s the temperature of the water in the summer’ than they are ‘what’s the exact mineral composition’.”

water in spirits-making

If you’re going to build a distillery from scratch, you need a good quality source of water.

So far, we’ve spoken about the water distilleries use during fermentation and distillation. In the case of dark spirits, the next stop for new make is the cask. “We often adjust the strength with water before that happens, and then again [after maturation] before it goes into the bottle,” explains Daalmans. “At both of those stages in the process we are very wary of changing the character in any way, so we use demineralised water. It has no minerals – nothing that’s going to alter the flavour, the mouthfeel, any of those factors.”

The water used at this stage absolutely has to be made neutral and homogeneous. “If you use any water that isn’t, it goes bang – there’s an explosion of reactions and you create these salts and hazes,” says McCarron. “It would start to shimmer, like in a film where somebody’s stuck in a desert and they’re crawling on their hands and knees, and off in the distance, you can see an oasis and a camel appears. It’s called haze because it looks like a heat haze.” You’d also get floc, which looks like “tiny little bits of cotton wool floating about in the whisky.”

The de-mineralisation process usually occurs at a de-mineralisation plant using a rather clever scientific process called reverse osmosis. But not always, as is the case with Martin Miller’s water, which is naturally stripped of its mineral content as it slowly filters through the volcanic rock, says Illán Illán. “The water is claimed by the Icelanders to be the purest in the world, having an average of only 8 to 30 parts per million of dissolved solids,” he says. “The purest non-Icelandic bottled waters, for example, contain upwards of 400ppm.”

Ultimately, how important is water in spirits-making? “Massively,” says McCarron. “It is massively important. If you’re going to build a distillery from scratch, you want to find a really good quality source of water. You want to have lots of it, and you want it to be quite cool because you’re going to use it to ferment, to condense your distillate and stuff like that. Having good quality drinking water, lots of it, and at a good temperature is key. If you don’t have that, don’t build a distillery.”

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Cocktail of the Week: The Grasshopper

Unapologetically sweet, refreshingly minty and positively viridescent, the Grasshopper is practically a dessert all on its own. Flavour-wise, it’s rather like liquifying an After Eight mint and drinking it –…

Unapologetically sweet, refreshingly minty and positively viridescent, the Grasshopper is practically a dessert all on its own. Flavour-wise, it’s rather like liquifying an After Eight mint and drinking it – but that’s precisely why it’s so delicious. Here, Robin Summer, general manager at London’s Coin Laundry, talks us through the serve…

Few drinks are as visually striking as the Grasshopper. It looks like a Flip wearing a Halloween outfit, but in a good way. The timeless combination of cool mint and velvety white chocolate have earned this after-dinner cocktail a place in the history books, thanks to a shouldn’t-work-but-it-does combination of crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and fresh cream.

The Grasshopper originates from New Orleans, specifically a bar in the French Quarter called Tujague’s – said to be America’s oldest stand-up bar*. It was invented in 1918 by then-owner Philip Guichet for a cocktail competition in New York City. The drink came in second place, ‘and has remained a winner at Tujague’s bar ever since’, according to the venue’s website.

The original recipe combined white and green crème de menthe, white and dark crème de cacao, heavy whipping cream and brandy. It was a massive hit, proving extremely popular during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the American South – and later across the globe – until eventually the Grasshopper and other similarly sweet, milky cocktails fell out of favour. 

Grasshopper cocktail

“Positively viridescent”

Long relegated to the bottom shelf of the back bar, crème liqueurs are now making their way into such cocktails once again, spurred on by a recent revival of seventies-style ‘disco’ drinks. The Grasshopper in particular has seen a resurgence for a number of reasons, says Robin Summer, general manager at London bar Coin Laundry.

“Primarily, it’s easy to riff on,” Summer explains. “All the ingredients can be changed or substituted and you can introduce a number of techniques and flavour combinations – as long as you serve it cold and it comes out green! I also think a lot of modern bartenders probably found old bottles of crème de menthe in their stock and needed approachable ways of using it.”

With so few ingredients required, and in such equal quantities, you can’t really go too far wrong where the recipe is concerned. However, with this serve, texture and temperature is everything. If you’ve never frozen your glassware before, the Grasshopper is a cocktail that’ll really benefit from it. 

“This drink is definitely all about the texture,” says Summer. “Smooth and creamy is equally important as the combination of mint and chocolate giving it a bitter-sweet, rich-fresh vibe. It also has to be cold and has to be green, and should be garnished with shaved chocolate or a mint leaf. Personally I enjoy a combination of Gabriel Boudier Creme de Cacao Blanc, Get 27 Mint Liqueur, and double cream.”

Coin Laundry, don’t bring your dirty undies cos it’s actually a bar. So confusing.

The Grasshopper is also easy to twist, and “lends itself to being fortified,” says Summer. “Add a splash of gin, Cognac or even a bitter or an amaro. Try it with a splash of Fernet Branca Menta.” You can also try coconut cream, he adds, by combining equal parts coconut water (or milk) and cream. Delicious.If you want to really go all-out on the ‘dessert’ aspect of the drink, swap the cream for ice cream and whizz the whole lot in a blender before serving; the traditional method of making a Grasshopper in Wisconsin. The drink has long been a supper club staple in the state – which is also said to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae FYI – so it’s safe to assume they know their stuff.

Whichever version takes your fancy, whipping up a Grasshopper at home is no trouble at all. “It’s really simple to make,” says Summer. “Start with equal parts in a shaker and serve in a Nick and Nora glass. It will definitely help use up the bottles you’ve never touched at the back of your drinks cabinet.” The pour sizes are ultimately your call, but if you’re after a little guidance, follow the recipe below:

25ml Gabriel Boudier crème de menthe
25ml Giffard white crème de cacao
25ml single cream

Combine crème de menthe, crème de cacao, cream, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Cover and shake until chilled and the outside of the cocktail shaker is cold. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with a mint spring and chocolate shavings.

*Bar at which you stand rather than a bar that has stand-up comedy nights.

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Master of Malt tastes… Glenmorangie Bond House No.1 Grand Vintage 1996

We’ve got a very fancy whisky on the tasting counter today. A Glenmorangie laid down in 1996 in special casks cut from oak trees growing in the Ozark mountains. Was…

We’ve got a very fancy whisky on the tasting counter today. A Glenmorangie laid down in 1996 in special casks cut from oak trees growing in the Ozark mountains. Was it worth the wait? Read on…

When people get into whisky, they often go for the big flavours. Which is why Islay has such a cult appeal, with peatheads in search of bigger and bigger hits of smoke, measuring out their obsession in PPM. For me, however, it was all about sherry. If it didn’t smell like old Cognac, then I wasn’t interested. I wanted heavy oily new make, fruit cake and tannins from European oak. It was rich Speysiders like Glenfarclas, Macallan and Mortlach that got me all hot and bothered. 

Which is why it took me a long time to come round to Glenmorangie. My sherried palate didn’t quite get the flavours, the sweet peachy fruit, the cream, the all-bourbon cask smoothness of the 10 year old Original. Initially it seemed a bit, well, vanilla. But slowly I came to appreciate what a superbly-made whisky it is: no rough edges, so creamy and fruity but with great depth of flavour. It’s not shouty or showy, it’s a grown-up dram.

The rest of the Glenmorangie range takes things in different directions adding Port or sherry, or, to my mind perfect marriage, Sauternes barrels. Then there’s the ‘and now for something completely different’ Signet – that’s a whisky with more than a touch of old Cognac about it. Now, however, there’s an expression that takes all the elements of the Original, and lifts them into something sublime.

It’s the sixth release from Bond House No. 1 Collection, a series of Glenmorangie’s most prized whiskies: a limited edition 23 year old bourbon-cask whisky. The barrels have an interesting story. Rather than just buying used casks from American whiskey producers, each tree was especially by the team at Glenmorangie. They come from the Ozark mountains in Missouri, the oak trees grow slower here producing a tighter grain to the wood. These first chosen trees were made into casks to precise specifications, seasoned with bourbon and filled with new make in 1996.

These casks are now made every year in small numbers; they are used to age the small batch Astar expression and form the heart of the 10 year old. The original casks were tasted every year by Dr Bill Lumsden until they were pronounced ready and bottled in 2019 at 43% ABV. He commented: “Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1996 wonderfully demonstrates how we can bring our most extraordinary dreams to life. The oldest whisky we have ever aged in our bespoke casks, its fresh, floral aromas and luxuriously creamy tastes are gloriously enhanced by age. A delicious step on from Glenmorangie Astar, this limited edition will be adored by whisky lovers old and new.”

We can’t argue with Dr Bill, we absolutely loved it. You can really taste the DNA running through from the 10 Year Old but it’s so much richer, more intense and complex. The apotheosis of the Glenmorangie style with the classic fruity, creamy flavours joined by more aromatic notes like tobacco. Not cheap but it is absolutely stunning.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Warm baking spices, cinnamon, custard, toffee, vanilla, so opulent. Custard tarts and a hint of espresso – it’s like a Portuguese breakfast here. 

Palate: Super creamy, very smooth, dark chocolate, coffee, and salted caramel with fresh peach and pear fruit, it’s like a super-charged Ten Year Old. But it’s not all sweet and smooth, there’s aromatic tobacco and menthol notes lurking in the background.  

Finish: It’s back to custard, long and lingering with vanilla, cinnamon and almond plus that faint aromatic herbal note.  

Glenmorangie Bond House No.1 Grand Vintage 1996 is now available from Master of Malt.

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Five minutes with… Elwyn Gladstone from Hotel Starlino

Today, we talk to the marketing guru behind such brands as Sailor Jerry rum, Hendrick’s and, most recently, Malfy Gin. His latest venture, Hotel Starlino, aims to bring Italian aperitivos…

Today, we talk to the marketing guru behind such brands as Sailor Jerry rum, Hendrick’s and, most recently, Malfy Gin. His latest venture, Hotel Starlino, aims to bring Italian aperitivos to a whole new audience. If anyone can do it, Gladstone can. 

You probably haven’t heard of Elwyn Gladstone but will have drunk something he has worked on. He’s not a distiller or a blender, instead he’s the person who supplied the marketing magic behind brands including Sailor Jerry, Hendrick’s gin and Kraken Rum. He worked in-house at global multinationals before forming his own company  Biggar & Leith which had a notable hit with Malfy Gin which launched in 2017. Last year, he sold the brand to Pernod Ricard. So you could say that Gladstone has the midas touch when it comes to drinks. We were particularly excited, therefore, to talk to him about his latest venture, a range of Italian aperitivos, including a bourbon-cask Vermouth Rosso, an Arancione and a grapefruit-scented Rosé, under the Hotel Starlino brand. All of them share the Gladstone ethos of delicious bright flavours, stylish packaging and an eye for an untapped corner of the market. 

Welcome, Mr Gladstone!

Elwyn Gladstone with Carlo Vergnano from Torino Distillati

Master of Malt: How did you get into the booze business?

Elwyn Gladstone: I worked in Edinburgh in the Oddbins there and they used to do really good single malt programmes and lots of champagne stuff. I got really interested in wine and spirits; I travelled a lot in France and with my dad and learned about wine. I decided after university I would go to UC Davis [wine school of the University of California] and I got a scholarship to go there. And I found it really, really interesting. I actually decided to move back to the UK  – my wife didn’t want to live in California, which perhaps was a mistake but anyway…  Then I went to work for Bulmers Cider, in Hereford, when it was family-owned.

MoM: How did you make the change to spirits?

EG: I went to work for William Grant & Sons in London. And that was the time that we started brands like Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. And my business partner now, is a guy called Mark Teasdale and he was really the one who started up all those brands. He did them in the US, I was based in the UK. It was really interesting: William Grant’s at the time was really a Scotch whisky company, they didn’t have anything that wasn’t Scotch. And they really didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t Scotch. So it was a really interesting challenge to both get brands like Hendrick’s Gin going. And what was most interesting about it was actually they worked, which is quite unusual with these new brands. 

MoM: Why did you decide to strike out on your own? 

EG: I went to work for Jose Cuervo, the Tequila company, in the US. And we did a lot of good brands there, like we created one called Kraken Rum. And then after a while I didn’t enjoy it anymore and started my own little company called Biggar & Leith and created a brand called Malfy Gin, from Italy, and grew it really, really well to become a big million bottle brand in a very short space of time and we sold it to Pernod Ricard. 

MoM: Can you just tell me a bit about the idea for Malfy because it was a very strongly-branded gin?

EG: We wanted to do something that was a little bit different to the traditional juniper-heavy gin, there’s so many of those that are really good, it didn’t seem like the world needed another one. We found this really interesting factoid that gin maybe came from Italy originally with monks adding juniper to alcohol, way, way back, on the Amalfi coast. Citrus fruits are really interesting flavour profiles and they fit with the whole gin thing. Strong juniper flavours are possibly the reason that gin was limited in terms of consumer acceptance. Brands like Hendrick’s did a much softer, easier-to-drink profile.  We just thought ‘people love Italian stuff’ and there were no Italian gins at the time. It has a great connection with cocktail culture, Italy and all that kind of thing. The packaging was bright and stood out and very good-looking. And it really caught people’s imagination, we created a brand that took you to the Amalfi Coast. What was interesting to me was it had such international acceptance, we got it into about 90 different countries, Japan and Russia and China and all sorts of places, and that whole Amalfi thing works all over the world. 

Hotel Starlino vermouth

MoM: How did Hotel Starlino come about?

EG: Another category that I think is really interesting is vermouth. Which is sort of the wine equivalent of gin. It’s wine that is infused or flavoured with various different botanicals and herbs. It’s lower in alcohol than gin. The people we work with, that made Malfy, are Torino Distillati, it’s an old distillery and bottler. And we became enormous friends with the family that owns it, the Vergnano Family, and all the people that work there. And they’ve been making vermouth for a long, long time. But people don’t really know what aperitivos and vermouths are. I don’t know whether people understand what Aperol is. But anyway, this nice family was making lots of interesting products, they just weren’t particularly well marketed or nicely presented. And so that’s our expertise: making interesting brands with really nice, easy-to-drink, good high quality liquids and making a story around them that hopefully will interest consumers and grow the category overall. 

MoM: So how do you think yours are different from other vermouths or aperitivos on the market?

EG: In the US most people drink red vermouth as a cocktail mixer with bourbon. And so we came up with the idea finishing the red product in bourbon barrels. And then in terms of the pink and the orange, we really wanted to make something very friendly. I think some might critique Aperol as being a little chemically, a little overdone perhaps, a bit mass-market. So we wanted to try and do something that was an easier flavour profile but still had that interesting bitter and sweet combination. It has pink grapefruit in it which is a very popular flavour at the moment and it’s something that grows a lot in Italy. We created an interesting brand story with nice modern-looking packaging but it also has traditional hues in it as well. I come back to this thing like we did with Malfy Gin, the world doesn’t need another very traditional bitter-style aperitivo. So again, we try and do stuff that has the heritage but is much more approachable, interesting-tasting and drinkable.

Beppe Ronco and Carlo Vergnano in the blending room

MoM: How long did it take you and who was it who worked on the recipes?

EG: We do everything with Torino Distillati. There’s a guy there called Beppe Ronco and a very nice man called Denis Muni. They have a lab and they have all various botanicals and they have lots of miniature stills and access to all different types of wine and stuff. It took maybe three or four months of experimenting with various different flavour profiles and different blends and mixes. And the feedback we’re getting at the moment is people seem to like them, they’re pretty well-accepted. 

MoM: We hear a lot about vermouths and aperitivos being the next big thing. What do you think about that?

EG: I think the drinks industry is guilty of saying everything is the next big thing: mezcal, Islay whisky and absinthe, that was a classic one that was going to be the next big thing! I think they [aperitivos] hit a lot of good spots which is that they are lower in alcohol compared to spirits, but they look like spirits. This is just me pontificating but people have bottles of Martini in their drinks cabinet, so they don’t think of those things as wine. They think of them more as a spirits-type product. They last once you open them for a while. And I was reading a very interesting article about Treasury Wine Estates and their belief is that these sort of hybrid wine products, of instance one they were talking about is red wine with coffee in it sounds bad, don’t judge! I do think there is something interesting in terms of categories blurring more and more. And I do think the aperitivo ‘moment’ in places like the UK and in France and in Germany is a real thing because consumers go on vacation, they go to Italy or they go somewhere and they really do have that great moment of a pre-dinner drink. A very refreshing drink. And that’s the other thing, I think it sounds a bit stupid but global warming, as things get hotter and hotter, I think people do want more and more refreshing drinks. And I think they fit into that very well because you can have a decent glass of it and not fall over. 

Bright vivid flavours and strong branding

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink them in cocktails or just very simple with tonic or soda?

EG: I think really simple. I think with soda is great. Tonic is delicious if it’s good tonic. And then the spritz with some prosecco or… we launched a range of sparkling Moscato, with the same branding, to give the consumer an idea of what to do with it. 

MoM: What else are you working on?

EG: We have a big number of different brands. We’ve got our cherries; we’ve got an amaro, that we’re going to bring out, that we think is also a really interesting category. It’s made with traditional amaro botanicals etc. but then we distill cherries around it, again, to give it a slightly brighter, easier to drink, less bitter flavour. We’ve got a very fun blended malt brand that we’re bringing out, all around Gladstone, my ancestor, who is receiving some not-so-good press recently! My great-great-grandfather was Gladstone and my mum and dad live in his old house. He was the one in 1860 who signed the Spirits Act which allowed blending of Scotch whiskies together. And his relatives had all been in the Scotch whisky trade as well, back in the 1780s and later. Then we have an interesting Tequila project that we’re working on, which is really fun and cool, called Butterfly Cannon. And some of them have some flavour in them, no one’s cracked flavoured Tequila really, and I think that’s an interesting opportunity to try and bring people into the category.

MoM: What are the rules on flavouring Tequila, can you still call it ‘Tequila’?

EG: There is no such thing as ‘flavoured Tequila’ but you can communicate on the packaging that it has Tequila in it. So that’s a fun one and Tequila is obviously very fancy at the moment. We have a few new brands coming out and we’ll kind of roll them out one-by-one and we’re trying to create a portfolio of interesting brands and do them in categories that are perhaps a little bit overlooked. I think to say it’s the next big thing is a bit pompous but overlooked things that are interesting but perhaps haven’t had the magic unlocked yet. 

The Hotel Starlino is available from Master of Malt. If you’re looking for some cocktail inspiration, go to the website.

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The joy of distillery pets

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and…

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and botanical snacks with the proud owners of several distillery pets

Once upon a time, distilleries would employ mousers fearless, often semi-feral cats with the job of keeping the mice out of the barley. These days, all kinds of creatures can be found sleeping by warm stills, entertaining visitors or patrolling the grounds. Some even have their own Instagram accounts. MoM found five distillers willing to share the stories of their four-legged or feathered friends.

Darcy from the Cambridge Distillery, England

You could say that Darcy is the brains behind the entire operation: it was walks with her owners, (Cambridge Distillery founders) William and Lucy Lowe, through Grantchester Meadows that sparked the idea for the business. “There wouldn’t be a Cambridge Distillery without Darcy,” explains Will. “We made the decision to start making gin whilst out on a walk with her and it was out on a walk that we discovered the amazing array of botanicals that surround us, which inspired us to create the world’s first truly seasonal gin. Everything went from there.”

Darcy the black lab even has her favourite botanicals, including nettles, apple and pear blossom, blackberries and blackcurrants. She can usually be found overseeing operations by following the sunny spots around the distillery and then cooling off with a swim in the river Cam, which flows behind the site. It really is a dog’s life. 

Chicken from FEW Spirits, Chicago, Illinois

Don’t be fooled by the name, chicken is a dog. Though he is also a bit of a chicken: “He is a very good boy but he hates the noise and smells at the distillery,” says FEW founder and Chicken’s human, Paul Hletko. “It’s a very scary place for him and he just wants to sit in my lap when he’s there.” Chicken enjoys hanging out with his brother, Elvis, and naturally the pair have their own Insta – @chicken_and_elvis (chicken is the foreground above, Elvis behind).

The big question is how did the family end up with a dog called Chicken? “I have three kids, two wanted a dog. One wanted a chicken. She’s still mad and thinks she got ripped off,” explains Hletko. Elvis’s name choice was a bit more conventional – he came home when Hlekto’s oldest child was in a big Elvis Presley phase. “My wife and I wanted Egbert (or Egg, for short) to answer the ‘chicken/egg which came first’ question forever, but we lost to the kids.

“Elvis is also a very good boy.” MoM wonders how often he leaves the building…

Ginny from Manifest Distilling, Jacksonville, Florida 

Ginny the cat walked into the distillery right off the street. “She hid in our ‘high-proof room’ for the first couple days before she realised that we were her friends,” says general manager Jim Webb. 

It wasn’t a great start for Manifest’s new feline friend – she needed a trip to the vet to get her jabs as well as get rid of what Webb describes as “FLEAS FROM HELLFIRE”. They also discovered she had a broken leg, right at the knee, that couldn’t be fixed. Luckily, it healed on its own and restored Ginny with the majesty and mischief of a good distillery cat: “She can climb and jump and set off the motion detector alarm at all hours of the evening and early morning,” says Webb.

In less unusual times, Ginny’s favourite job was to go on tours and meow to get all sorts of attention from new people. Now, though, tours are on hold so Webb and the team have a new full-time job, paying Ginny attention. “She likes finding confined places to nap and currently is in our front-of-house stock closet snuggled up in a case of plastic shot glasses (safely wrapped for their future shooter’s protection),” says Webb. 

Ginny’s also on the ‘gram: @manifesting_ginny

Otis from Badachro Distillery, Scotland

Otis, the long-haired Weimaraner, joined the Badachro menagerie just before lockdown. “We already have two Labradors, Ellis, our old lady (13) and Timo (10) who were only mildly amused – to be honest, we think Ellis wanted to give him back straight away, but Timo quite enjoys having a little brother to go out for walks with,” says Badachro co-founder Vanessa Quinn.

Izzy the cat “tolerates” Otis, while the chickens are having to take a temporary break from being free range and the ponies believe him to be crazy. “One of the highlights of Otis’s life at the distillery are the delivery drivers and the posties, always prepared with a dog biscuit. They are more than welcome and he will let us know when they come up the drive,” says Quinn.

As lockdown life eases, visitors have started to return to the distillery and many are keen to meet Otis, who has become a hit on the Badachro Insta (@badachrodistillery).

Otis is nearly six months old now and Quinn says he might be trained as a gun dog, though he hasn’t yet decided what he wants to be when he grows up.

Rowan from Lux Row Distillers, Bardstown, Kentucky

Most distilleries have cats or dogs. Rowan, however, is a peacock. In fact, Lux Row inherited a handful of peacocks from the property’s former owners, the Ballard family. When the distillery opened in 2018, the folk at Lux Row say there were about half a dozen birds. “Now we’ve got at least 17 four new babies this year.”

While most are tricky to tell apart, Rowan boasts the longest tail feathers and so the ambassadors named him after a prominent historical Bardstown figure, who also gives his name to the road on which the distillery is located. Handy. Rowan enjoys strutting his stuff for the visitors and allows himself to be photographed after all, every side is his best side.

“No other distillery on the Bourbon Trail (that we know of) has such unique animals,” the team at Lux says. Mr Ballard still comes to feed the peacocks two or three times a week, but every now and then they may snack on some spilled leftover grain.

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New Arrival of the Week: Yoichi Apple Brandy Cask

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka…

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan, and pays tribute to the early days of the company. To find out more, read on…

At Yoichi, the distillery workers  still use a technique that has long since disappeared in Scotland: coal-fired stills. They are very hard to manage, it’s a skilled job feeding the flames and a moment’s negligence can burn the still. Gas is much more controllable which is why it’s taken over in Scotch whisky. But the team at Yoichi think it’s worth it, producing rich roasty flavours in the new make.

The happy couple: Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan

The distillery was built in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru. It’s on the island of Hokkaido. Damp and cold, apparently it reminded him of Campbeltown where he had worked at Hazelburn and lived with his Scottish wife Rita. Though the winters are very cold, summers are hot so casks mature very differently to the more steady climate of Scotland. Hokkaido is also rich in fresh water and peat (though the onsite maltings are no longer used and Yoichi buys in most of  its malt from Scotland). At first the distillery had only one still which was used for both wash and spirit but it expanded in 1966 and now has six. A much more modern distillery at Miyagikyo, in the north eastern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, was set up in 1969. A wide variety of whiskies are made here in pot and continuous stills including a Coffey malt whisky, something that would not be allowed in Scotland. 

It’s not just the coal-fired stills, Yoichi is traditional in other ways. Ferments, usually with a brewers yeast, are long, up to five days and the distillery uses worm tub condensers. These combined with steeply-sloping lyne arms on the stills, resulting in less copper contact, create a heavy oily spirit. The classic Yoichi taste combines the heavy and smoky with a fruity lift. In common with most Japanese distilleries, a wide variety of spirits are made in the one distillery by playing with the wort (it’s usually clear but they do make occasional batches with cloudy), yeasts, peat, cut points etc. And that’s before you get onto the wide variety of oak at the blender’s command.

Our new arrival celebrates the 100th anniversary, on 8 January 1920, of the marriage between Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan which did more than join two people together but linked Japan and Scotland together in shared love of whisky. Originally he worked for Suntory on his return for Japan. When he set up on his own in 1934, his main business wasn’t just whisky. Hokkaido is famous for its apples and so he also made fruit juice. In fact the original name of  the company was Dai Nippon Kaju: the Great Japanese Juice Company, which was later abbreviated in the 1950s to Nikka.

So this new release also pays homage to the early days of Nikka by being part-aged in a cask that formerly held apple brandy. The primary ageing took place largely in new American oak plus some ex-sherry casks. Like all Yoichi releases, it’s a blend of different styles produced at this one distillery. It’s bottled at 47% and released with no age statement. It’s a fitting tribute to the marriage that founded Japanese whisky.

But that’s not all, in addition to this special Yoichi (click here to buy), Nikka has also released a special apple brandy cask single malt from Miyagikyo and, naturally, it’s also available (here) from Master of Malt. 

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Baked apples initially and then the peat comes in strongly with wood fires, Havana cigars and salty seaside notes. It’s rich and full-flavoured.

Palate: Deliciously fruity, apple pie and pears, with smoky lingering in the background, grassy and aromatic notes come in. The texture is oily and full.

Finish: Citrus fruits combine with dates and other dried fruits with spicy liquorice, vanilla, roasted nuts and toasted brioche. Long and harmonious.

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Johnnie Walker announces four 200th anniversary releases

It’s the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the world’s best-selling whisky brand. And Johnnie Walker is celebrating the best way possible, with the announcement of four new releases. Today,…

It’s the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the world’s best-selling whisky brand. And Johnnie Walker is celebrating the best way possible, with the announcement of four new releases.

Today, Diageo announced four new releases for Johnnie Walker. Three are all new blends and one is a redesigned limited edition release of Blue Label. It’s a double celebration as these bottles commemorate John Walker’s birthday, he was born on 25 July 1905, and 200 years since he first opened a grocer in Kilmarnock and began selling his own blend of Scotch whisky. The rest is history…

Here are the four releases:

Johnnie Walker Blue Label 200th Anniversary Limited Edition

A special edition of the classic premium blended Scotch whisky that pays homage to the brand’s global appeal with pictures of great cities and countries that are part of the Johnnie Walker story. 

RRP: around £135 for 70cl

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Legendary Eight

Whiskies for this special bottling come only from eight great distilleries that were all around when John Walker’s story began. These include rare spirits from long-closed ghost distilleries. 

RRP: £233 for 70cl

John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend

This release takes as its inspiration Old Highland Whisky, the blend that put John Walker & Sons on the world map in the 1860s. Only distilleries that were around at that time go into the Celebratory Blend and the packaging features the only existing image of that original Kilmarnock grocery store. 

RRP: £50 70cl.

John Walker & Sons Bicentenary Blend

John Walker’s shop was a general grocer’s shop, it didn’t just sell whisky, so would have picked with goods from all over the world. This blend is inspired by the rich and exotic flavours that Walker himself would have been surrounded with as he worked. It’s made with some seriously rare whiskies including some from ghost distilleries including Pittyvaich, Cambus and Port Ellen. 

RRP: £740 for 70cl.

Johnnie Walker master blender Jim Beveridge commented: “Each of these exclusive releases bring a fresh perspective to our 200th anniversary story and are the perfect way to celebrate this huge moment for Johnnie Walker. It feels very apt to be announcing them this week to coincide with John Walker’s birthday.” 

John Williams, Diageo global Scotch director, added: “Our 200th anniversary releases are inspired by the moment our founder, John Walker, first opened the door to his grocer’s store in Kilmarnock taking the first step on an incredible journey for Johnnie Walker. John’s spark, vision and entrepreneurial fire were the impetus to growing the John Walker name, our business and ultimately a new future for Scotch whisky. This year we’re celebrating the steps he first took steps that have inspired generations of our whisky makers and are at the heart of everything we do today and will do tomorrow.”

For more information go to the Johnie Walker websiteWhiskies should be arriving at Master of Malt in October. Watch this space for more information. 

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The Nightcap: 24 July

Well, another week bites the dust. It’s time to put your feet up, pour yourself a drink and immerse yourself in some fresh booze news. This week, Ardbeg brings you the…

Well, another week bites the dust. It’s time to put your feet up, pour yourself a drink and immerse yourself in some fresh booze news. This week, Ardbeg brings you the thrill of the grill, Glen Moray unveils some single cask expressions, and Jose Cuervo debuts an automatic Tequila button.

Greetings, weary traveller. You have stumbled upon an everlasting tome of knowledge, one that is reborn anew once a week, refreshed, revitalised, brimming with new information. This rejuvenating opus tells tales of people who use the elements to create deliciousness where the once was none. These descriptions sound like myths and legends, but they are in fact true reports. What could this regularly regenerating work be?! Well, weary traveller, it’s The Nightcap!

We kicked off the week with an irresistible competition to win some sustainable booze from our neighbours at Greensand Ridge Distillery. Henry highlighted a rare single grain bottling from the now-demolished Port Dundas in Glasgow, before shaking up some sherry and cassis with Alex Williams from the Great Scotland Yard Hotel for our Cocktail of the Week. On Tuesday, we welcomed a new writer to our blog, Lucy Britner, who looked at pre-mixed cocktails. Welcome Lucy! Annie had a busy week, she spoke to a company looking at distillation from a molecular point of view, and interviewed Ron Welsh master blender and strategic inventory manager for distilleries including Bowmore, Laphroaig and Auchentoshan. Finally, Adam got all excited about cocktail bundles, and who can blame him? That was the week, now on with the news!

Ardbeg and DJ BBQ team up for online grill sessions

This summer you can experience the thrill of the grill online as Ardbeg teams up with diffident TV cook DJ BBQ for the Ardbeg Smoke Sessions. DJ BBQ (aka Christian Stevenson) will be hosting a series of online classes showing whisky lovers how to up their grill game as well as making delicious smoky drinks using Ardbeg 10, An Oa and Wee Beastie. Joining him will be everyone’s favourite head of maturing whisky stocks, Brendan McCarron, aka DJ PPM. Mr BBQ commented: “My smoky barbeque recipes share so many characteristics with the flavours of Ardbeg whisky, and they complement each other perfectly. The laws of wood, heat and smoke are so important to barbecue and single malt alike, and once mastered, you’ll become a barbeque boss! The taste of braided beef fillet alongside an Ardbeg 10 Old Fashioned is just awesome, and a sip of hot Wee Beastie punch with a slow smoked pork shoulder is unrivalled!” The series launched on 21 July on Ardbeg’s social channels (you can watch the first episode here), and there will be a special Instagram Live event on Friday 24 July (tonight!) at 8pm BST. Furthermore, things will be happening in the real world too, as you can order DJ BBQ’s Maple and Bacon Old Fashioned via Mothership on the Drinks At Home platform. Looks smoking!

Lovely wine cask whiskies are just a phone call away

Glen Moray releases three wine cask whiskies

She’s been at it again. Dr Kirstie McCallum has clearly been having a whale of a time in the warehouses of Glen Moray since she joined the distillery as head of whisky creation in 2019. Earlier this year, it was a 2006 Madeira cask, and now there are three new single casks Distillery Editions available: a 2004 Chenin Blanc, a 2003 Chardonnay, and a 2004 Burgundy. All have been fully matured in wine casks and bottled at cask strength. The team at Master of Malt was given a wee taste, and not only did we love these distinctive whiskies, we were impressed with the very reasonable pricing, £85 a bottle. They would normally be available only from the distillery which reopened last week. But if you can’t make it, you might still be able to get your hands on a bottle. Just give them a ring. Visitor centre manager Iain Allan commented: “Buying a bottle of Glen Moray from our annual Distillery Edition is as much about the experience of a visit to the distillery as it is about buying a wonderful new whisky. For the many people who would normally make the trip and take away one of these special bottles, we wanted to find a way to make the range available but avoid making it just a basic transaction over email or the internet. Everyone working at the distillery enjoys nothing more than talking about whisky with fellow enthusiasts, answering questions and sharing behind the scenes stories of how Glen Moray is made.” So dial Glen Moray for a nice blether about whisky. 

Totally fabulous, darling

Harrods opens luxurious basement Baccarat Bar 

News just in: swanky basement bar has just opened in Harrods. Though wouldn’t it be more newsworthy if a dingy pub opened in the Knightsbridge department store instead, offering £2 a pint Wednesdays and wall-to-wall football? Anyway, Harrods went for the more obvious swanky option: the new venue has been created in partnership with Baccarat, the crystal glass maker. It’s called… The Baccarat Bar! With social distancing in place, there’s room for 23 guests only, so it’s pretty exclusive. The totally fabulous interior, a symphony in glass and marble, was created by Fabled Studio and is inspired by Baccarat’s creations. The menu, put together by bar manager Cameron Attfield, is no slouch either, with 16 signature drinks made using state of the art techniques. He commented: “We have approached the drinks in a unique manner, with the design of the bar and its playful yet exquisite elegance and form setting the tone of our menu, but then applying multiple flavour extraction techniques, including fermentation, vacuum distillation, ultrasonic homogenisation and carbonation to make it a reality.” Each drink comes in its own special glass. You can probably guess the manufacturer.

Al fresco drinking will be all the rage this summer

It’s going to be the summer of the garden party, says Bacardi

Top drinks company Bacardi commissioned a survey of Britain’s plans for summer drinking, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it involves being outside… a lot. Out of a survey group of 1,000, 39% said that they will be socialising outdoors more than last year. You’d think, though, that it would be more like 100%. Much of this al fresco frolicking will be taking place at home, with 71% planning on attending or hosting a garden party, and 44% preferring their own gardens to outdoor spaces at venues. So some way to go before Britain’s pub-going returns to normal. But 59% did say that an outdoor space would entice them back to a pub or restaurant with socially-distanced tables (57%), hand sanitiser at the bar (53%), and contactless payments (52%) all cited as important. And what will we be drinking this summer according to the survey? Happily for rum giant Bacardi, the answer seemed to be rum-based cocktails with the most popular being the Mojito and Piña Colada (both picked by 24%). Let’s hope the weather holds up.

Safe and snazzy: Boë Gin’s masks

Boë Gin gives away face masks as coverings become law in the UK

If you’re reading this in the UK you’ll know that as of today, it’s a legal requirement to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces, including shops, banks, and public transport hubs. There are a number of options, from the surgical to the homemade, if you’re one of the craftier among us. But if, like us, you’d rather someone else puts the leg work in, then look no further than Boë Gin! The Scottish producer is giving away snazzy reusable face coverings to bartenders and hospitality workers around the country. The purple masks feature a floral pattern inspired by the brand’s violet gin, and can be washed and reused. “We hope these face masks can help people look great and stay safe at the same time,” said Andrew Richardson, Boë director. “The stylish masks are designed to be worn regardless of the occasion – whether that’s a trip to the shops or working behind a bar making some of our delicious signature cocktails. As always, we encourage everyone to stay safe – even while they are enjoying themselves.” Taken by the masks? Head to the Boë site and to see how you can get your mitts on your own! 

Aberlour is one of four Chivas Brothers distilleries welcoming visitors back

The Glenlivet, Aberlour, Scapa and Strathisla get set to reopen

Wonderful news reaches us! And it will be especially welcome if you’re planning on a spot of Scotch whisky tourism this summer. Chivas Brothers has announced it will reopen four of its Scotch brand homes as lockdown eases in the UK! The Glenlivet, Aberlour and Scapa will throw open their (highly sanitised) doors on 29 July, with Strathisla allowing visitors back in from 7 August. Pre-booking online is essential, your temperature will be zapped on arrival, social distancing measures will be strictly enforced, and you should bring your own face mask (although there will be supplies on-hand if you forget yours. But face coverings are the new normal, people. Get with the times.). “After four challenging months, we’re delighted to be able to reopen the doors to our brand homes to give visitors the chance to safely enjoy our whiskies and the beautiful surroundings in Speyside and Orkney,” said Gordon Buist, Chivas Brothers production director. We have had substantial best-in-class Safe System of Work processes in place across all of our operational sites over the last few months, and we have been working closely with our local Speyside and Orkney communities to enable us to take significant steps in implementing these strict social distancing and sanitation measures in our visitor centres as well, ensuring we’re able to welcome visitors safely, protect our colleagues and neighbours, and support Scottish tourism. Whether a discerning drinker or discovering drams for the first time, the team and I look forward to welcoming visitors safely back to our homes to uncover more about our rich Scotch heritage.” We can’t wait to get back inside a distillery – just no sharing drams, obvs.

Avallen Calvados

Avallen’s on a £250k crowd-funding drive

Calvados brand Avallen kicks off Seedrs crowdfunding drive

Every so often, the chance to own a little bit of a booze brand comes along. If you’ve fancied yourself as the next Cameron Diaz or Post Malone but without the singing, we have news for you. As of this week, Calvados brand Avallen is looking for investors! The sustainability-focused brand launched in spring 2019 and it’s notched up more than 1,000 case sales since launch. The brand’s philosophy is all about creating planet-positive drinks that taste delicious – and now we can be part of it, too. Avallen’s founders are looking to raise £250,000 through crowdfunding platform Seedrs, with the funds put towards hiring sales and marketing directors, and securing carbon-neutral certification. Fancy splashing out? Head over to Seedrs and check it out!

Certainly presses our buttons

And finally… press a button for Jose Cuervo Tequila

The best thing about being rich is being able to press a button and get exactly what you want. Who hasn’t dreamed of being Mr Burns from The Simpsons who, at the touch of a button, can summon a team of top lawyers, a flight of winged monkeys, or drop his enemies down into a bottomless pit? No? Just us? Well, top Tequila brand Jose Cuervo is about to make someone’s button-based dreams come true, though sadly it doesn’t involve bottomless pits or winged monkeys. Just in time for National Tequila Day on Friday 24 July (as in, today!), the company is launching a competition to win a ‘Push for Tequila’ button. One lucky person will win a button and a year’s supply of Tequila (one bottle per month). Simply press the button, and a bottle of Tequila will be sent to you to enjoy with your friends (responsibly, natch). You can enter via Jose Cuervo’s UK Instagram @josecuervouk and Facebook pages. Good luck!

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Five minutes with… Ron Welsh from Beam Suntory

As master blender and strategic inventory manager for Beam Suntory – which owns Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan and others – Ron Welsh has a better idea than most about what you’ll…

As master blender and strategic inventory manager for Beam Suntory – which owns Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan and others – Ron Welsh has a better idea than most about what you’ll be drinking in five, 10, and even 20 years time. Here, we discover how he and his team bring the company’s Scotch whisky forecasts to fruition…

You mightn’t have thought about it before, but the whiskies you’ll enjoy over the coming years are more than likely maturing in cask somewhere already. And the whiskies you’ll sip over the next few decades? They’re being distilled right about now. The work that goes into assembling our favourite drams is an intricate operation that relies on complex whisky forecasting, a decade or more in advance. 

As master blender and strategic inventory manager, Welsh is responsible for more than 800,000 individual casks of all ages destined for Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch, Ardmore, McClelland’s and Teacher’s bottlings. Some casks will go into each brand’s flagship whiskies, while others will make up new expressions that are yet to be conceived. Here, Welsh shares insight into his unique role, lifting the lid on an aspect of whisky production we don’t often think about, but that is a fascinating and crucial one nevertheless. 

Ron Welsh in the tasting room

Master of Malt: Thanks for chatting with us, Ron! First things first, how did you start out in the whisky industry?

Ron Welsh: I’ve been in the industry for 27 and a half years, not long before I get to my 30th which looks set to fly by. It wasn’t an intentional start in the whisky industry, I’d previously had a role in steel making. I moved away from that voluntarily and was looking for a job in production and one of the jobs I applied for happened to be at Strathclyde grain distillery. I got the job and that was my start in whisky. I hadn’t really thought much about the final product – it was a couple of years before I realised what I was producing at the distillery was going to be in a bottle in a few years’ time! 

MoM: Could you share some insight into your role as master blender and strategic inventory manager?

RW: My main priorities are spirit quality, from new make to bottling, and inventory management: Do we have the right amount of stock in the right place to fulfil the forecasts that are coming in? [This means] planning all whisky movement. Moving new make from distilleries to filling stores, new make in cask from the filling stores to the warehouses. My team picks out all the casks for all our expressions that are going into a bottle when [the liquid] becomes mature, set to a recipe that I have laid down. They ensure that we get the casks out of the warehouses and through to the draining facility, so that we’ve got the whisky in vats and ready for bottling when they’re asked for. There’s a lot of stock moving around. We’ve got casks that are over 50 years old, so we’re looking back across 50 years of what we’ve laid down and matured. When we get a forecast, we look at what we’re going to use in the next 20 years, which is part of the inventory that’s already there. It also means looking at what we’re going to produce as new make spirit from each of the distilleries over the next five to 10 years, to give the business an idea of where we might need to expand, where we might need to invest in terms of warehousing. It’s also my role to put together what we require in terms of empty casks for filling, and what we need to purchase each year, and making sure we’ve got suppliers that meet our quality standards. 

MoM: Balancing inventory and planning production requirements for so many global Scotch brands simultaneously is a huge undertaking – how do you plan for the future?

RW: The sales forecast is put together by the commercial and marketing teams – they will dictate which markets we should be trying to invest in and how they see each individual expression growing over the next 10 to 20 years. They’ll send me a sales forecast for 20 years for all our expressions, so all the Laphroaigs – 10 Year Old, PX Cask, Triple Wood, etc. – all the Bowmores, all the Auchentoshans, all the Ardmores, all the Glen Garioch, the McClelland’s, and the Teacher’s, and from that I can then work out how many litres of alcohol we should’ve put in a cask at any given time. So, do we have enough 10 year old for this year’s Laphroaig 10 Year Old? And do we have enough 9 year old for next year’s 10 Year Old? And enough 8 year old for the 10 Year Old in two years’ time? And so on.

Wooden washbacks at Auchentoshan

MoM: What about expressions that haven’t been invented yet, how do you factor for those?

RW: We’re running quite a lot of new products these days and quite a lot of them are limited time offers (LTOs). If you do that every year, you know you’re going to consume some stock, so I put in a provision for LTOs and I’ll work closely with marketing to decide what we’re going to do over the next five to 10 years. We have a very good idea of what expressions we’re going to bring out over the next five years, and I’ve got a good idea of maybe from 5 to 10 years after that as well. What you tend to find is when you bring in a permanent new expression for a brand then you may well lose an expression that you already have, so you just need to ensure you’ve got the right stock to allow you to change from one to the other. 

MoM: There must be whisky coming through now which you helped lay down years ago. How does it feel to see fans of say, Laphroaig or Bowmore, rave about a release that you’ve seen progress from start to finish? 

RW: It’s really nice to see expressions that I have put a lot of work into over the years appreciated. For me, the biggest one would have to be Laphroaig Lore, which Jim Murray recognised as the best non-aged single malt in 2019. That was an eight-year development, just accentuating the peat smoke from Laphroaig to bring it up to another level. Really good. I’ve been in the industry long enough to see my work coming through in terms of inventory management from 10, 15 years ago. Did I do a good job at the time? Have I got the right stock ready to perform a forecast? I haven’t come across anything too bad at the moment!

MoM: Stylistically the new make from each distillery is very different, is there one in particular that feels especially exciting to experiment with?

RW: Well, they’re all really interesting to work with. You look at Laphroaig and you think, ‘oh, it’s such a powerful Islay, what could you do with a Laphroaig that would be exciting?’ but it can take some changes in maturation. Bowmore is just as exciting – it’s got a unique character which I haven’t often seen in terms of the way it changes over the years. It starts off with ripe orchard fruits and then as it gets older and older, that transforms into syrupy tropical fruits. It’s amazing when you’ve got a flight of Bowmore in front of you. Auchentoshan is triple distilled, it can take flavours on really quickly without getting totally lost. Because it’s a city distillery and a bit more edgy – an urban malt as we like to call it – you can do a bit more experimenting with slightly different casks. We’ve just brought out a Sauvignon Blanc-finished Auchentoshan which is lovely. Ardmore’s a really nice whisky as well – we’ve been making some changes at the distillery in terms of new make, and that’s starting to come through. And Glen Garioch – I’ve got a wee soft spot for Glen Garioch. It’s a very small brand and quite boutique. Great things are going to happen for that distillery. 

Whisky maturing at Bowmore

MoM: Do you think we are creating better and more complex malts and blends today than when you first started out?

RW: The industry has more control over how it makes whisky. It’s got better knowledge of how to make good whisky, and I think that those changes over the past 10 to 15 years where you’re controlling your mash, your fermentation, your distillation, are resulting in a more consistent product which is at the best quality that the raw materials can provide. That’s one side of it. The other side is that the type of barley that’s being used has changed over the decades to give a more agronomic yield, so you get more tonnes out of an acre of field, and better distillery yield, so you get more litres of alcohol per tonne you bring in. And that process has, in my opinion, changed the flavour profile of whiskies, and it’s changed it for everybody. Unless you’re still using some of the old varieties, like Golden Promise. So there’s making more consistent whisky that [is at the] best quality for the raw materials, but there’s also a change in the raw materials, which are probably not providing as much flavour as they were before – so it’s up to the distiller in making sure they produce the best flavour out of that malted barley.

MoM: And how about casks – has anything changed in that regard?

RW: The biggest change is probably in the sherry industry. Sherry sales have declined rapidly over the past 30 years, which means that the number of casks coming from sherry bodegas has declined. They’ve been replaced by seasoning houses, which make new casks and season them with whatever style of sherry you want, and for however long you want. That process has resulted in more consistent cask quality.

Bowmore looking all moody and windswept

MoM: So for distillers, it’s almost changed things for the better?

RW: In some instances, yes. When sherry producers put their casks into storage when they weren’t using them, they would often put sulphur candles inside and light them to ensure they didn’t get any fungus growing inside the casks. But those would be the casks that would then come across to Scotland to be filled with new make spirit, and that sulphury note would come through in the final product. Seasoning houses don’t use sulphur candles, so you don’t get that problem. Some of the casks over the past few years have been absolutely exceptional. But then again, if you had a good cask from a sherry bodega that hadn’t been sulphured, it would produce a really good whisky as well. 

MoM: When was the last time you were bowled over by something in the whisky industry?

RW: There’s a couple of different cask types we’ve purchased recently, I can’t divulge what they are, but they knocked my socks off in terms of the quality of spirit that they’re producing. I’m hoping to use some of those casks in a couple of products over the next 12 months. In terms of outside Beam Suntory, Brian Kinsman is producing some really nice single malts at Glenfiddich, the guys at Ardbeg produced a nice Pinot Noir-finish which is interesting. It’s good to look at what other people in the industry are doing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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