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Master of Malt Blog

#BagThisBundle – Win a bundle from The Glasgow Distillery Company!

Check it out, it’s our first #BagThisBundle competition of 2020! Getting into the spirit of Burns Night, we teamed up with The Glasgow Distillery Company to bring you all kinds…

Check it out, it’s our first #BagThisBundle competition of 2020! Getting into the spirit of Burns Night, we teamed up with The Glasgow Distillery Company to bring you all kinds of delicious treats, all through the power of social media!

Now, these folks up in the largest city in Scotland have been up to some pretty cool business. It was named for one of Glasgow’s original distilleries, The Glasgow Distillery Company, which was founded in 1770 at Dundashill. Alas, it closed at the beginning of the 20th century, though in 2014 The Glasgow Distillery Company reopened, becoming the first single malt whisky distillery in Glasgow for over 100 years! 

So, what’s in this fabulous bundle? Well, we’re glad you asked, dear reader. There’s two bottles of smashing Glasgow single malt whisky, with a bottle of the 1770 Peated – Release No.1, as well as the 1770 Original 2019 Release. Then, for when you’re on the go, there’s a 1770 Hip Flask, as well as a handcrafted stave pen (actually made from 1770 Whisky staves!), a hand-blown glass whisky dropper, and for when you’re hosting, six tulip-shaped Glasgow 1770 Glencairn Whisky glasses.

#BagThisBundle Glasgow Distillery Company

You could win all these fabulous Glasgow Distillery Co. goodies!

We’re sure you’re raring to go, so here’s how you can enter! 

  1. Follow @masterofmalt Instagram account.
  2. Follow @glasgowdistillery Instagram account.
  3. Tag a friend you’d like to share the bundle with on our Competition post.
  4. Like the post!

Simple, isn’t it? Complete those steps by midnight on Thursday 23 January, and you’re in with a chance to win! 

MoM ‘Bag This Bundle’ Competition 2019 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 20 January to 23 January 2020. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. See full T&Cs for details.

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Five interesting facts about Archie Rose Distillery

When Archie Rose Distilling Company fired up its stills four years ago, it pledged to honour Australia’s rich spirit-making history and at the same time shape its future. We peered…

When Archie Rose Distilling Company fired up its stills four years ago, it pledged to honour Australia’s rich spirit-making history and at the same time shape its future. We peered behind the scenes at the innovative Rosebery site, Sydney’s first independent distillery since 1853. Here’s what we found… 

With master distiller Dave Withers at the helm, the team has gradually built an eclectic range of sustainably-produced whiskies, gins, vodkas and rums that showcase Australia’s native ingredients – and the country’s unique microclimate – in all their glory. 

Whether they’re crafting Chocolate Rye Malt Whisky (the only whisky of its kind in Australia),  melting huge blocks of ice in a wood-fired oven to create Smoked Gin, or combining Vegemite, freshly churned butter and Sonoma sourdough toast to make an unapologetically Aussie unaged spirit, seemingly nothing is off limits.

When we dropped by over Christmas, Withers kindly showed us around the Rosebery site, soon to become a dedicated research and development distillery as the team moves their main operations to nearby Botany. Trust us, if you think smoked ice is a stroke of genius, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Until then, here’s five reasons to keep Archie Rose on your radar…

It’s Dave Withers!

1. They make spirits with a sense of place

At Archie Rose, indigenous ingredients are key. Australia is one of the largest malting grade barley producers in the world, says Withers, with many varieties being unique to the country – as such, Archie Rose works with an array of NSW farmers to get hold of malts that demonstrate regional terroir, as well as ancient and heirloom varieties. 

It’s not just about barley, of course. A limited run of Virgin Cane Rhum – the first of two cane spirits that were released under the distillery’s experimental ‘Concepts’ label – saw the team distill freshly cut and pressed sugar cane from Condong, northern NSW as a nod to Australia’s distilling heritage. 

The same homegrown ethos applies to the team’s extensive botanical selection. Their Distiller’s Strength Gin, for example, combines sixteen individually distilled botanicals, including fresh pears from Orange in NSW, rose petals, elderflower, juniper and honey from local beehives.

Unsurprisingly, this approach is extended to the ageing process, too. The country’s history of winemaking grants the distillery access to a vast array of wine casks, including ex-Apera (essentially Australian sherry) within which they age their whiskies. 

Archie Rose

The unique still set-up at Archie Rose

2. Quality over quantity is paramount

The recipe for their single malt whisky is a prime example. While most single malts typically feature one or two malt mash bills, Archie Rose’s new make is made from six distinct malts: pale, amber, caramel, aromatic roasted, chocolate and peated.

“Each of these malts offer a distinct flavour, the combination of which provides complexity and a depth of character rarely seen,” Withers explains. “Many of these malts are incredibly inefficient, some offering up to ten times less alcohol per tonne that a traditional malt, but it is important for us to put the flavour of the final product ahead of yield and efficiency.”

The team is always looking at ways to maximise flavour, Withers adds. “Our whiskies are the result of countless trials and hours of research and development,” he says. “They are boldly different in flavour as well as in philosophy to the majority of more traditional Australian whiskies.”

3. They’re big on transparency

Want to find out exactly where the barley in your bottle came from, and the grain treatment? Perhaps you’d like to know the type of cask was used, or get technical about the distillation process? Archie Rose has made it super easy for spirits geeks (ourselves very much included) to dig into the fine details.

“We love to show you everything that went into the creation of your bottle,” says Withers. “That is why we started the ‘Spirits Data’ section of our website. In essence, it is a tool for whisky drinkers to learn more about the bottle in their hand. Drinkers can use their batch code to explore all of the details of their bottle all the way down to the variety and origin of the malt that went into their whisky.”

Archie Rose

These babies mature fast in Sydney’s humid climate

4. They work with Australia’s distinct weather

Safe to say, the climate in Sydney is pretty unique. Being situated on the coast, Archie Rose enjoys year-round high humidity and temperatures, Withers says. As such, the climate is an important ingredient in Archie Rose’s aged spirits.

“In Sydney, we have some fairly warm stretches of the year which means that the casks work hard,” he explains. “It also means that the liquid should not stay in cask for an extended period or it may be prone to becoming over-oaked. We have specifically sought to ensure that the new make spirit enters the cask with enormous amounts of flavour while still being clean and refined. It does not have, nor need, decades to develop flavour or remove impurities. As soon as it hits that oak, the environmental and regional clock is ticking.” 

5. A hands-on approach from the very beginning

When building the distillery, Archie Rose founder Will Edwards enlisted Peter Bailly – then Australia’s only still maker – to handcraft three copper pot stills, all steam heated by a gas-powered steam boiler. 

“Our equipment is not akin to what you would find in many of the well known distilleries of Scotland; it’s a hands-on process of producing,” explains Withers. “Our current still was made in Tasmania and refurbished in New South Wales. It now sports a chiller jacket which increases the copper contact and reflux, providing us with the ability to control and accentuate the unique flavour compounds we are looking for.” 

 

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The Nightcap: 17 January

In the Nightcap this week we’ve got reinvented bar tools, Dry January discounts and news of victors in the World’s Toughest Row.  We’re officially back into the swing of things….

In the Nightcap this week we’ve got reinvented bar tools, Dry January discounts and news of victors in the World’s Toughest Row. 

We’re officially back into the swing of things. Not simply in sense of The Nightcap, but just in general. Those first couple of weeks following that gift-giving occasion and that world-kept-spinning celebration can be somewhat rocky, but we are firmly back in the saddle, and the saddle is back on the horse, and the horse is back on track, and the track is… OK, actually, yeah, that sentence is over, but not because our ducks aren’t in a row, but really it just went on a bit long. Never-the-less, The Nightcap is ready!

On the blog this week announced the return of the Burns Night poetry competition, while also revealing the winner of our Starward competition. Elsewhere, Henry explored the effect of the iStill on distillation and enjoyed a distinctive beer for our New Arrival of the Week. Jess then talked to Reyka Vodka’s Fabiano Latham before Annie looked at how Australia’s wine industry is reacting to the recent bushfires and the new wave of no-and-low-alcohol drinks. Adam then learned the story behind the revival of James E. Pepper and rounded-up some of the finest new arrivals at MoM Towers, before enjoying a Cocktail of the Week that was both trendy and tropical.

The Nightcap

A very moody looking Monkey Shoulder ‘Trigger Jigger’

Monkey Shoulder gets jiggy with it with the ‘Trigger Jigger’

Monkey Shoulder has made a big claim this week by stating it has reinvented one of the most popular bar tools on the planet – the jigger. Coined ‘The Trigger Jigger’, the Scotch whisky brand has said it guarantees 100% accuracy per pour and will save every bartender an average 4 hours and 42 minutes per year. For those unfamiliar with the tool, the jigger is used to measure and pour spirits and you’ll be sure to find them in any good bar across the globe. However, Monkey Shoulder has commented that inferior jigger designs are inaccurate by as much as 20% because of the likelihood for spirits to spill whilst being measured. A statement that will have many a bartender nodding knowingly. Lab technicians at Monkey Shoulder have put this new tool to the test and the results show that while standard jiggers produce one pour per 0.86 seconds, the Trigger Jigger has recorded speeds of one pour per 0.789 seconds. The design is the brainchild of Monkey Shoulder global brand ambassador Joe Petch, who commented: “Some jiggers are just not good for business and can result in slower serving speeds. So inspired by a nickel- and silver-plated jigger from the late 1880s and through countless hours of research with bartenders around the world, I set about righting some wrongs.” He went onto explain that the key was to streamline the design to ensure maximum liquid velocity: “By engineering a piston valve mechanism, I’ve ensured an accurate cut start and stop flow rate. Pour in the liquid and apply some pressure on a trigger using a good old-fashioned finger. The spirit streams out at an optimum rate into the drinking vessel.” The launch of the Trigger Jigger follows previous Monkey Shoulder inventions such as the extendable ‘iSpoon’, cocktail mixer the Konga Shaker and The Claw ice tong. Bars such as The Artesian, Swift Bar, The Beaufort Bar and Callooh Callay have already started using The Trigger Jigger, and others who want to get in on the act can get their hands on the limited stock by getting in touch with either John Wayte (@BarMonkey_ ) or Jody Buchan (@JodySpiritual).

The Nightcap

Duvel Batch No. 4

Duvel launches Batch No. 4 aged in bourbon barrels 

Beer and whisk(e)y share many things, from the base materials, the fermentation process, and even that time those whiskies were put into an IPA cask. Well, now awesome Belgian beer Duvel Moortgat has released Batch No.4 which has been treated to a nine-month maturation in oak barrels which previously held delicious bourbon. And not just any bourbon either, but liquid from Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, George Dickel and Jack Daniels. The limited-edition brew was matured in more than three hundred barrels shipped over to Belgium, with 80,000 bottles released at a burly 11.5% ABV. “The Duvel brewers have not been sitting still in recent months, but our speciality beer has been doing just that,” says Hedwig Neven, brewmaster at Duvel Moortgat. “Lovers of beer, Duvel, and whiskey can once again enjoy Duvel Barrel Aged now that the barrels are opened after their long rest and the bottles have finally been filled!” With toasted flavours of toffee, vanilla and obvious bourbon influence, Batch No. 4 even stole a gold medal in the Brussels Beer Challenge. Said to be a great pairing with raw or smoked fish, sushi, grilled or smoked meat, cheeses, exotic fruit and chocolate, it’s hard to think of an occasion when it wouldn’t fit in!

The Nightcap

2020 looks like another big year for the family firm

Hayman Distillers launches spirit merchant arm, Symposium 

2019 was a big year for Hayman Distillers with the launch of its fiendishly clever Small Gin and Merser & Co. Double Barrel Rum, and 2020 looks every bit as exciting as the London distiller has announced a new venture: Symposium, an independent spirits merchant. Named, no doubt, after the top 90s punk band, Symposium. This arm will involve a variety of spirit brands in categories including gin, vodka, Scotch whisky, rum, Tequila and sambuca. The portfolio will be divided into three parts. At the top is the Heritage range compromising of in-house products, Hayman’s Gin, Small Gin and Merser & Co rum; then the Challenger range with products like Bush Rum, Firean Scotch Whisky, Red Griffin Vodka and Half Crown Gin; and finally the House range. There is also talk of bringing in some agency brands in the future but nothing has been confirmed yet. James Hayman explained: ‘Our mission at Symposium is to create and to sell the finest range of spirits available.” He went on to say: “Symposium will operate at every level of the market with our Challenger brands, in particular, offering an exciting alternative for those who are no longer content to settle for ‘big-name’ brands from large producers and who seek a quality, independent option with a partner they can rely on for the long-term.” It’s all go at Hayman’s.

The Nightcap

We’ll certainly raise a glass to this good news!

The great pub and bar bounce-back is on!

After fifteen years of decline, we have some good news if you like pubs and bars (that’ll be all of us, then…). According to Office for National Statistics paper Economies of ale: changes in the UK pubs and bars sector, 2001 to 2019, the number of such drinking establishments in the UK is on the up once more! (Thumbs up to whoever came up with the name.) Sure, it’s just a 0.4% increase, but at the end of 2019, there were 85 more across the country than in 2018. Taking in larger sites (11+ employees) and chains, the total increase stood at 815. Cheers to that! Some of the trends behind the headline stats: we’re increasingly becoming a nation of foodies, with pubs and bars employing more people on the eating than drinking side of things as we all spend more on eating out than drinking out. But despite that, turnover is at the highest level since the financial crisis. Long live the pub!

The Nightcap

The beautiful original Bar Douro near London Bridge

Bar Douro to open branch in the City

Do you work in the City of London? Do you love Portuguese wine and food? Well, we have good news because Bar Douro is opening a branch in Finsbury Avenue on 28 January. The original opened in 2016 by Max Graham from the family that owns Churchill Port. It quickly picked up rave reviews from critics including Marina O’ Loughlin in the Guardian who wrote: “I have to restrain myself from licking the plate”. The new restaurant will offer food and wines from all over the country. Spirit lovers won’t be short-changed with a selection of specially imported Portuguese spirits including gins and Maven Aguardente aged brandy. And don’t forget, the best White Port & Tonics this side of Oporto. Graham commented: “We have only just scratched the surface of Portugal’s rich culinary traditions and with our second, larger space we are excited to further explore the wealth of Portuguese cuisine”. There will be a soft launch from 28 January until 11 February. Email city@bardouro.co.uk for a reservation. You won’t be disappointed. 

The Nightcap

The team of four Brits made it into safe harbour after winning the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2019

Brits crowned champions in Talisker Atlantic Challenge

Remember when Talisker sent teams of intrepid sorts off across the Atlantic Ocean on the World’s Toughest RowWell… we have a victor! Or a team of four victors, to be precise. British team Fortitude IV was the first to make it from La Gomera in the Canary Island to Antigua in the Caribbean in an impressive time of 32 days 12 hours and 35 minutes! They braved 12-metre waves, a capsizing incident, broken oars, and “some of the scariest moments of [our] life”. Not for the faint-hearted, and especially impressive when you realise some teams expect to take eight more weeks to cross. Yikes. We raise our tasting glasses to Ollie Palmer (who also happens to work for Talisker parent company, Diageo), Tom Foley, Hugh Gillum and Max Breet, Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2019 champions! “Being on the ocean in quite an extreme context, strips back all the noise and makes you realise what is really important to you,” said Gillum. “You have a lot of time to think out there – with no distractions – and that inspires you in different ways. It was an amazing thing to have done – we set off thinking it was a once in a lifetime thing and we can certainly maintain that position. The sum of all the parts is incredible – from seeing the shooting stars, to the arrival here tonight, and the support from all of our family and friends. There are tough times that we perhaps would wish away slightly but standing here now [in Antigua] we just think that the sum of all those parts is incredible.” Time for a well-earned dram, we think. Talisker, of course… 

The Nightcap

The Suntory Group will donate $500,000 AUD in support of those impacted by the bushfires

Suntory pledges AUD$500k to Australia bushfire relief

The devastating bushfires in Australia have broken hearts around the world – but individuals and companies are stepping forward to offer support in all kinds of ways. The latest to join the relief effort is Suntory Group, which makes the likes of Jim Beam bourbon, Hibiki Japanese whisky and Courvoisier Cognac. It’s committed to donating AU$500,000 (about £264,000) to the Australian Red Cross, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and the New South Wales Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service. “We have all been deeply saddened by the spread of these immense fires, which have destroyed lives, towns, homes and wildlife,” said Andrea Parker, managing director at Beam Suntory Oceania. “We are committed to helping rebuild these communities along with the rest of the Suntory Group.” The pledge follows another AU$500k donation from Diageo-owned Bundaberg rum to the Australian Red Cross earlier this week. Want to know more about the bushfires and how you can help? Check out the blog right here for more.

The Nightcap

The new partnership is for those who manage a team behind the bar and want to boost wellbeing

Small Batch Learning and Healthy Hospo team up on wellbeing initiative

Bartenders, (or indeed, anyone who works in hospitality) listen up! Smart-learning company Small Batch Learning has partnered with Healthy Hospo, a non-profit wellness education provider, to offer bars, restaurants and hotels an online tool to promote mental and physical health. Level 1 content is totally free to access and will be inserted into existing Small Batch materials, while Level 2 plans are paid-for, with proceeds reinvested in Healthy Hospo. “A healthy mind, body and workplace should be a non-negotiable, and we’re proud to partner with Healthy Hospo to help address these topics,” says Duncan Campbell, COO of Small Batch Learning. “As we continue our mission to make hospitality training accessible and relevant, this partnership will shine a light on serious issues facing the industry that are often pushed aside or laughed off. We’re thrilled to support Healthy Hospo scale up and help further the impact of its crucial training.” Tim Etherington-Judge, Healthy Hospo founder, added: “From chronic rates of sleep deprivation and substance abuse, to sky-high issues with mental health, we are not a healthy industry – and we often suffer in silence. It’s time to change the conversation and stop putting our health, and that of our colleagues, at the bottom of the to-do list.” If you manage a team in hospitality, check out Small Batch Learning!

The Nightcap

The choice of headline sponsor at SXSW is an example of the rise of hard seltzer

White Claw lines up South by Southwest partnership

If you needed any more indicators that hard seltzers are going to be A Very Big Thing, here’s another for you. White Claw, the US’s best-seltzer brand, has just taken over ‘super sponsorship’ of South by Southwest (SXSW). The actual interesting bit? It’s binned off a beer brand to nab the top spot. All eyes will be on the music, film and tech event, which takes place in Austin, Texas, from 13-22 March, and to have a hard seltzer over a beer marks a shift indeed. “We’re thrilled to bring White Claw to life at SXSW,” said Phil Rosse, president, White Claw Seltzer Works. “This brand has been built through the great passion and celebration by our fans, connecting the brand to culture and sharing it through their social channels. We are excited to support SXSW, an event that has always been ground zero for innovation in culture and technology.” Roland Swenson, SXSW CEO and co-founder, added: “SXSW is excited to work with White Claw. As one of the fastest-growing brands, their sponsorship of SXSW reflects the independent and innovative spirit that SXSW is known for.” Bring on the seltzers!

The Nightcap

Alain Ducasse opposes Dry January, and we salute him

And finally… Alain Ducasse fights Dry January with discount fine wine

Are you getting a bit bored of Dry January? The pious friends who won’t go to the pub, your favourite drinks website brimming with articles about non-alcoholic drinks instead of whisky and the dreaded word ‘mocktail.’ Well, Alain Ducasse feels your pain. He told the Guardian this week: “I’ve noted that trend but I don’t want to see or hear of it, I am opposed to it.” And so, he has put his money where his mouth is and slashed the prices of some of his best bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy in an effort to get diners drinking again. So get down to your local Ducasse restaurant, like Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London, order something fancy, and sip away those January blues.

 

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The story behind the revival of James E. Pepper Whiskey

We explore the comeback of James E. Pepper with new owner Amir Peay, who talks about rebuilding a historic distillery from the ground-up, the legacy he loves and why his…

We explore the comeback of James E. Pepper with new owner Amir Peay, who talks about rebuilding a historic distillery from the ground-up, the legacy he loves and why his love of boxing led to his new role.

You’ve almost certainly heard of the name James E. Pepper if you’re a fan of American whiskey. But the reason why you’re able to purchase whiskey of that name today is thanks to Amir Peay, a former bartender whose passion for history and the good stuff led him to revive the brand and rebuild its distillery. 

The brand did not begin with James E. Pepper, however, but rather his grandfather Elijah. Back in 1780, when most were concerned with the American Revolutionary war, Elijah Pepper built his first distillery. By 1790 he’d built another distillery in Kentucky and in 1812  he built a distillery on a site that today belongs to Woodford Reserve. Elijah was a very successful man and created a popular brand that was secure enough to withstand the fallout from the Whiskey Rebellion.

After Elijah’s death in 1838, the distillery was left to his son, Oscar, who continued the family tradition, building a larger distillery on the same site  and making notable improvements to the sour mash process with Scottish chemist by the name of Dr. James C. Crow (you may be familiar with Old Crow Bourbon, which was his creation). Old Pepper bourbon became so popular it was the favourite brand of noted Americans, including Presidents Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison and Ulysses S. Grant, prompting Abraham Lincoln to once reply to critics of Grant, “By the way, gentlemen, can either of you tell me where General Grant procures his whiskey? Because, if I can find out, I will send every general in the field a barrel of it!” 

James Pepper

The man himself, James E. Pepper

In 1867, the distillery passed to James E. Pepper. “The Peppers ran their distillery for three family generations, well over a hundred years, and there were a lot of very notable achievements there, such as the perfecting of the sour mash process,” Peay explains. “James inherited what the oldest whiskey brand made in Kentucky at fifteen, a very young age, so the family brought in an old family friend and guardian and business partner to help guide young James. That guy’s name was Colonel E.H. Taylor you might have heard of him?”

Taylor advised James E. Pepper to expand the distillery and he lent him money to do so. When Pepper couldn’t pay the loan back Taylor seized the property and later sold it. Undeterred, Pepper raised capital and came back to Kentucky and built a new distillery in 1879. “That distillery at the time was the largest and most advanced distillery in the United States. He continued to produce old Pepper whiskey using his grandfather Eljah’s Revolution-era recipes. For that reason he called the brand Old 1776,” says Peay. “He was quite the promoter and James was able to take the brand to another level. The Old Fashioned cocktail, legend has it, was created in his honour at the Pendennis Club in Louisville and then he brought it to the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan in the 1890s and from there it was introduced to the world”. 

Pepper was a bit of a character. He travelled in a private rail car and was a huge name in the world of thoroughbred horse racing, even bringing his horses to England to beat the King’s horses in the Doncaster Cup. Unfortunately, he had no children so when he died in 1906 the Pepper line died with him. His wife sold the distillery to a group of investors who continued to run it and make Pepper whiskey. “The distillery actually was one of the few in Kentucky that was allowed to sell its whiskey for medicinal purposes through Prohibition. The brand stayed alive, but that old distillery burned down in a fire in 1933,” says Peay. “On the exact same footprint, we know this because we’ve got all the old site plans and architectural drawings, a new distillery was built in 1934 and whiskey was produced there under the same old recipes. It thrived all the way up to the 50s and 60s, but overproduction in the American whiskey industry and the popularity of vodka caused a lot of distilleries to shut down and the Pepper distillery was one of them”. 

James E. Pepper

The image that prompted the revival

By 1961 the distillery was abandoned. That’s how it remained until 2008. “Until I came along! I’m a big American history buff, I really loved whiskey and I was a bartender for a lot of years. When I learned about this amazing brand I just couldn’t believe it had been abandoned, like a piece of garbage that no one cared about. So I thought ‘How cool would it be to relaunch this great iconic old brand?’ And that’s what I did,” Peay explains. 

Despite his previous work in the bars, the wine business in California and his great love of whiskey, it was actually his job as a boxing journalist that led Peay to James E. Pepper. “I was looking at some photos of a very famous old boxing match with the first African American Heavyweight Champion of the World, Jack Johnson and this fight he was in July 4th 1910, ‘The Fight of the Century’, against opponent Jim Jeffries”, Peay explains. “In the middle of them both was a big banner that says: ‘James E. Pepper Whiskey – Born with the Republic’. I started looking into it. The more I discovered, the more intrigued I became. I uncovered so much about the history of the James E. Pepper, a lot of which we won’t have the time to go into now in detail. But it is on our website and in our museum at the distillery”. 

Peay’s initial plan to bring the James E. Pepper brand back was to contact every distillery in Kentucky and ask for assistance. “I sent them a PowerPoint about why I thought this was such an amazing brand. I managed to get some amazing meetings with some pretty interesting people such as CEOs of big companies and distilleries. This approach wasn’t easy, but Peay eventually saw results. “After ten years of working with other distillers, reinvesting; trying to be smart about my business and I’ve really built an independent, bootstrapping whiskey company. To this day I’m the sole owner,” says Peay. “I’ve acquired hundred-year-old bottles full of the original whiskey, perfectly preserved from before, during and after prohibition, as well as old letters, recipes, the exact grain bills, production methods from James E. Pepper’s era and the era after prohibition. We’re making the same historic mash bill and we dug the historic limestone around the property from two hundred feet below ground to get our pure limestone-filtered water, the same water source the Peppers used”. 

James E. Pepper

The James E. Pepper Distillery prior to restoration

After Peay was able to revive the James E. Pepper name, he brought back the 1776 brand. But the biggest obstacle was restoring the old distillery. It had fallen into a state of disrepair, changing hands a few times with different real estate developers but remaining derelict. It took years of lobbying and negotiation, but once again Peay was eventually successful. On May 4 2016, it was announced that the distillery was to be rebuilt with a museum on the remains of the historic distillery. The first barrel was filled on December 21st, 2017. “Since then we’ve been in full-scale production, making everything in-house in our full-scale distillery! We have our museum here, we give tours and we’re proudly doing it all right in the heart of what’s known as the Lexington Distillery district,” explains Peay. “We’re also very proud that we were able to get back the federal distillery permit for the distillery: DSP-KY-5 (Distilled Spirits Permit Kentucky, Number 5), the 5th license ever issued in the state of Kentucky when it was given to the original distillery. If you build a new distillery in Kentucky today your DSP number will be in the twenty thousands. For us to have number 5 speaks to the heritage of this brand and its place in Kentucky history. There’s just a few of us in the single-digit club”. 

The James E. Pepper distillery rebuild was soon joined by restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, bars and even one of the places where you can throw axes (rad) in the thriving ‘Distillery District’, a 25-acre entertainment district in downtown Lexington. “All these other great independent Lexington entrepreneurs built thriving businesses and it’s become one of the hottest neighbourhoods in the city, it’s actually caused a parking crisis!” says Peay. He might not be a native, but his pride for the local area speaks volumes about the manner in which he has approached the restoration of James E. Pepper.

The fact that the new stills are in the same location where the previous stills were and were even made by the same company speaks to that desire for historical authenticity. “Our solid copper still system was built by Vendome Copper, the Louisville company that builds all the stills for every Kentucky family-owned company. One of the cool things that I uncovered in my research was seventeen pages of detailed mechanical engineering drawings of the still system that was built at our distillery in 1934 by Vendome,” says Peay. “So I went to Vendome with those old drawings and that old manway cover from the old still, which was thrilling for them because their family was almost put out of business by prohibition and they didn’t even have one from that date. It was really exciting to work with them to rebuild the system inspired by the old one, although we did make some improvements. We ended up with a state of the art, advanced distillery and we’re very happy with the distillate coming off the stills”.

James Pepper

The Vendome copper stills

There is no warehouse facility at the distillery so the maximum storage capacity there is around 200 barrels, meaning the majority are shipped off-site for storage. The few that are kept on-site are essentially there so the team can taste the progress and the whiskey matures, although all secondary-finishing is done at the distillery. “There is no long term storage at the distillery, instead we work with a few different distillers who have large rickhouses out in wide-open spaces in the middle of a field somewhere. We are in an urban area,” says Peay. “People ask why we don’t build our own or use the old rickhouse, but imagine if I go to the city & state and I say I want to store thousands of barrels of whiskey in a densely packed, residential urban area next to all these businesses? It’s just too much of a hazard, so it’s not possible for us”.

The barrels are brought back to the distillery once the whiskey is matured as bottling occurs on-site, another important factor for Peay as he wanted to honour the fact that the Pepper distillery was the first in Kentucky to bottle its own whiskey (Old Forester were technically rectifiers not distillers). “It was actually illegal in Kentucky for distilleries to bottle their own whiskey in 1890. Rectifiers would bottle so if you were a distillery you had to sell by the barrel to somebody who would bottle off-site, but James E. Pepper hated that because there are a lot of counterfeiters and fraudulent people and no consumer protection laws,” Peay explains. “He sued the state of Kentucky to allow him to bottle at his distillery and got the law changed to allow him to do it and he was also an instrumental advocate for the Bottled Bond Act of 1897. He was one of these guardians of the purity and quality of American whiskey early on”.

While Peay may have been the man who brought the James E. Pepper brand back, he’s the first to admit he’s no whisky maker. That’s why he brought in Aaron Schorsch as master distiller. “You see a lot of people who build distilleries and last year they were an accountant and this year they’re a master distiller, that’s kind of a big leap, right? I know a lot about making whiskey, but Aaron knows how to turn an idea into a reality. He came to us with about almost twenty years experience, his first ten years were at the Lawrenceburg Distillery when it was owned by Seagrams and he also spent time at Jim Beam and Sam Adams,” says Peay. “Today you see a lot of distillers who are essentially marketing people. If you’re out on the road a hundred days a year or two hundred days a year always doing interviews, how are you actually running a distillery? Aaron really runs that distillery and is on-site. He’s super knowledgeable and he’s worked side-by-side with some very big names in the industry. He actually came on board before our distillery was operating and was there for the entire construction process. I’ve been really impressed with his knowledge and his expertise. He’s the real deal”.

James Pepper

The revived James E. Pepper Distillery today

Though the plan is very much for all James E. Pepper whiskey to be made on-site, initially that wasn’t possible, of course, so Peay sought help from elsewhere. “Our 1776 Rye, our best selling product, was made at the Lawrenceburg Distillery. I really like them as a partner because they’re an ex-Seagrams distillery, which was by far the best whiskey producer in the United States during a very dark era of American whiskey,” Peay explains. “They have high-quality distillate and a great team of people there. But most importantly, they made a rye whiskey that had 95% rye in the mash bill and 5% malted barley, a very unique mash bill at that time. But James E. Pepper used to make a pure rye whiskey, 100% rye, and I loved that. None of the big guys in Kentucky made that, pretty much everybody made a rye whiskey with corn in the mash bill. So I loved that connection”. 

The extent of Peay’s historical research and the abundance of surviving records means that he knows an awful lot about the kind of whiskies that James E. Pepper made, from the exact grain bills, to the type of stills and fermentation he used. “We wanted to maintain that flavour profile so when we distil 1776 at the distillery we’re making it exactly as Pepper did. We are also distilling the actual historic bourbon mash bill that was produced there when the distillery was shut down in 1961,” Peay explains. “The tradition and the heritage are very important to us and we want to honour that, but at the same time, we don’t want to be limited by it. I would say at least a third of what we do is innovative mash bills and oak cooperage that I developed along working with Aaron. We’ve established that we will always do a minimum of eighteen months air seasoning, for example. We have sherry casks, we have ale casks. We’re excited to share that stuff when it’s ready to be bottled with everybody and that will be at least another couple of years”.

It can be difficult to balance ambition and progression without compromising your ability to create innovative, interesting whiskey. Peay does feel that pressure to uphold the legacy and the heritage, but early signs for the revive James E. Pepper brand are promising. “We’ve won a lot of awards and got a lot of recognition. I feel pretty good about what we’re making. I know that we use high-quality grain. Our water’s great. Our fermentation and our chemistry are great. Our distillations are perfect. The new-make tastes good,” he says. “For us, the future is going to be all about continuing to be a producer of high quality and unique whiskies. To honour and respect the tradition and the heritage, but also to innovate. We love making whiskey and we want to share our passion for it. We’re not trying to take over the world; we are happy being a decent sized independent producer. We don’t need to make tens of millions of cases of whiskey, we’re fine doing it the way we do it, with a lot of attention paid to quality”. 

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How the iStill is revolutionising distillation

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the…

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the good doctor about automation, cask ageing and why most distillers are stuck in the past. 

We met Dr Edwin van Eijk, or Odin to his friends, at an event called Speakeasy organised by Spanish spirits distributor Vantguard. Presenting after the charismatic Carlos Magdalena aka the Plant Messiah (one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 most influential Londoners, dontcha know) can’t have been easy but the doc more than kept the audience of bartenders and industry types transfixed. While he spoke, a silent lab coat-clad assistant (who I was later specifically told that I was not allowed to ask questions of) beavered away in the background with an iStill. It was like the Pet Shop Boys of distillation.

Odin in action with a mini iStill.

The genesis for the iStill comes from visits to Hungary, Van Eijk’s wife is Hungarian, a country where amateur distillation is commonplace. Most of the fruit brandies he tried were pretty rough, according to van Eijk, “but one guy came up with a nice smooth drink, no hangover. How?” Van Eijk’s curiosity was aroused but he quickly became frustrated by the unscientific approach to distillation: “I soon discovered that most information was anecdotal,” he said. “My grand grandfather did this.” For van Eijk this was good enough, he just kept asking ‘why?’ 

So, he built his own still, and added thermometers and automation so it could run while he was doing his day job. He quickly realised he was on to something so he quit his job, sold his house and set up his own business in 2012 with the aim of, according to the website, “making modern, game changing distillation technology.” 

All iStills are made in a factory in the Netherlands. It’s now a big operation. Van Eijk claims to be the largest supplier of distillation equipment worldwide in terms of numbers sold. Such well-known operations as Dornoch in Scotland, Wrecking Coast in Cornwall, Blackwater in Ireland all use iStills. You can see from these maps how ubiquitous they have become in Ireland and Scotland.  Some distilleries have both a traditional and an iStill. There’s something for all budgets: an eight litre mini still that can be carried in a suitcase (see above) starts at €3000; whereas a 5000 litre one begins at €90,000. The company recommends customers take a four day training workshop. Odin is also very responsive in distillation forums for those who have further questions. “We are successful because we keep asking why. Innovation is only key to success. Try something different”, he said.

A map showing all the iStills in the world

Take automation, for example. When you visit distilleries, even new ones or especially new ones, you are often proudly told that everything is manual. There are no computers here. For van Eijk described this as “bad business covered up as romance.” He went on to say:  “We all love horses and carriages but I came here by aeroplane and taxi. It’s in the glass you beat your competition.” He compared distillers love of old equipment unfavourably with brewers: “Craft brewers are ahead of the curve,” he said. “Brewing is understood and researched. Not magic.” iStills are fully automated with a robot that takes the hearts, heads and tails, and an app that tells you where to cut depending on what you’re looking for in a spirit: “The most profound flavours come from back end tails,” he said, “Toothy rooty, nutty and earthy flavours.”

An iStill doesn’t look much like conventional still. It’s square for starters and made out of stainless steel. “Why are stills made from copper?” he asked me. “It removes sulphur caused during fermentation. Why not start with great beer or great wine without sulphur?” (Though, of course, you might want some sulphur in your spirit). iStill does, however, offer a copper ‘waffle’ to remove sulphur compounds caused by “substandard fermentations” as the website puts it. iStills are direct-fired either with electricity or gas and claim to be much more economical than a standard set up. The biggest surprise though, is that it’s possible to mash, ferment and distill all in the same vessel: “Why mash, ferment and distill in separate containers?” he said. “They all take place in a boiler and are about heating up and cooling down. My machines can do everything in one boiler.” He thinks part of the reason people go for the traditional set-up is so that suppliers can sell more equipment.  

We’re not in Rothes anymore

You won’t be surprised to hear that Van Eijk has strong views about the finished product too: “Why should whisky taste like peat or sherry?” he said. “I want it to taste like grain. People in the whisky business used to say that 50% of the flavour comes from cask, now they say it is 80%. New make spirit has deteriorated in terms of the grain and procedures used in order to create as much alcohol as possible. This is worldwide. The real reason people use sherry and Port casks is to cover up spirit that has a fruity flavour deficiency.” That’s fighting talk! He’s also critical of gin: “Most gins do not have a lot of back end,” he told me. With the app, you can, according to van Eijk “see where there is a gap in flavour profile and find something that fills it out.” 

“We love to bash the status quo,” he told me. This has angered some people. To answer some of his critics he took part in a challenge with a distiller in Chicago. “He had beautiful copper still costing $200k and my little still cost $10k”, he told me. To the horror of the distillery owner and (some of) the critics, Van Eijk’s little still not only distilled faster but his spirit tasted better in a blind test. That day he sold seven stills. 

While van Eijk was talking, the iStill was running watched over by his silent assistant. Then at the end we got to try the result, a rum distilled with mint and lime, like a gin. Made in around half an hour. And the results, well, there wasn’t a traditionally-distilled version for comparison but it tasted pretty damn good to me. I’m going to start saving up for a iStillof my own. I think I could squeeze one into my shed.

You can find out more about how the iStill works on its YouTube page. 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: Leche de Panthera

Adding some tropical vibrancy to banish those January blues, our Cocktail of the Week is a twist on the Piña Colada from a certain recently opened Brazilian-fusion restaurant and bar… …

Adding some tropical vibrancy to banish those January blues, our Cocktail of the Week is a twist on the Piña Colada from a certain recently opened Brazilian-fusion restaurant and bar… 

Everybody’s had a bad Piña Colada. A fluffy, fruity frozen serve with festive paper parasols always sounds appealing in the summer months, in that garden bar or by the pool on holiday. Until you get a drink that’s borderline radioactive with chemicals and artificial sweeteners coupled with an oppressive amount of ice that means you end up feeling like you’re imbibing a colourful watery syrup.

But for Edoardo Casarotto, head of bars at Amazónico, a Piña Colada-style drink on the menu was a must. “We are a South American restaurant and I wanted to make a twist on South American classic drinks. The Piña Colada is one of the most iconic,” he says. “I love the flavour of coconut and the pineapple, but I wanted to make it a little bit more elegant so less creamy and less heavy”.  Some of you may know of a classic drink made with milk in Spain called ‘Leche de Pantera’, (milk of the panther, which is such a kickass name), a popular cocktail in Spain since the seventies predominantly made with milk, white spirit (gin or rum commonly) and cinnamon. It also served as an inspiration to Casarotto, who explained that the key to making his drink was “To create a combination of two classic drinks and make it a little bit more elegant while still retaining the intense flavour”. This is not a faithful recreation, folks. We’re experimenting today.

Leche de Panthera

At the beautiful Amazónico in London, where they really do love all things pineapple

As we learned in our review of Amazónico, Casarotto’s style is to make sensational drinks with the simplest ingredients possible. At the base of his cocktail is a mix of vodka, sherry, Agricole rum, lime juice and white chocolate liqueur. The star turn is the homemade spiced pineapple syrup, which he created in order to achieve that lighter and approachable style. “We use fresh pineapple which we cook with spices like star anise, cloves, cinnamon as well as coconut water,” Casarotto explains. A dash of turmeric powder is added for aesthetic, as is the dyed green coconut powder that serves as a garnish. The result is a finished cocktail that looks like a real pineapple.

Especially in that glass. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more striking glass than the one Leche de Panthera is served in.  The bespoke glassware was made to order Hundred Percent Barman and even requires a special gun in order to clean it properly. Casarotto says it’s having the desired effect: people see the glass and they want the drink. “It’s doing very well, to be honest, it’s one of the best sellers. When they see the drink on the table or on the bar, they want to know what it is, they want me to describe the drink. It’s very ‘Instagramable’,” he explains, laughing. “A lot of people love to take pictures of this drink, but it’s good to know that they are also getting a great drink inside the great glass”. 

Leche de Panthera

The Leche de Panthera

The Leche de Panthera is absolutely delicious. The balance of sour and sweet flavours is spot on and it avoids all the pitfalls of a poorly-made Piña Colada. It’s refined, it’s fruity and it’s going to wow company even without the signature glass.

Right, without further ado, here is Leche de Panthera!

35ml Belvedere Vodka
15ml Trois Rivières Agricole Rum
5ml Manzanilla sherry
10ml White chocolate liqueur
15ml of spiced pineapple syrup (If you’re not comfortable cooking your own, then try this an alternative)
10ml lime juice

Stir all the ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice for a minute or so. Strain into a chilled bespoke, made-to-order glass and add a dash of turmeric powder. Then garnish with a dehydrated pineapple slice and a maraschino cherry, then sprinkle some coconut powder (dyed green, of course) on the glass leaves of your pineapple. Or, you could just use a Poco Grande glass, a regular pineapple wedge and rim the glass with your coconut powder. Whatever works for you. 

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The winner of our Starward competition is…

It’s about time we announced the winner of our competition to visit the spectacular Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! Drum roll at the ready… Sitting here in 2020, it may…

It’s about time we announced the winner of our competition to visit the spectacular Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! Drum roll at the ready…

Sitting here in 2020, it may feel like a lifetime ago, but think back to November 2019. Before that New Year’s thing occurred, and before that Christmas stuff took place, a different incredibly exciting situation happened – we announced that someone would win a trip of a lifetime to visit the Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! The prize included a seven night stay in Melbourne, a private tour and drinks at the distillery, a distillery bottling of their phenomenal Australian whisky, and £500 spending money. “A cool prize” would be an understatement. Crack out the thesaurus (or just Google “other words for rad” like we all do since no one owns a physical thesaurus anymore) and whack in a few other fun adjectives and you’ll be more on the right lines.

The Starward Distillery – where our winner will be headed!

To be in with a chance to win, all you had to do was snap up a bottle from Starward’s lip-smacking range and your name would be in the hat. Many names went into the aforementioned headgear, but only one name has been pulled out, and they are our winner. That name is…

Andy Woods!

Much applause and many congratulations to our winner, Andy! We very much hope you enjoy your trip! We’d also like to give a big thank you to everyone who took part as well!

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Five minutes with… Fabiano Latham from Reyka Vodka

We grabbed five minutes with Fabiano Latham, UK Brand Ambassador for Reyka Vodka, and learnt about the wild side of the ambassador lifestyle! The first time I met Fabiano Latham…

We grabbed five minutes with Fabiano Latham, UK Brand Ambassador for Reyka Vodka, and learnt about the wild side of the ambassador lifestyle!

The first time I met Fabiano Latham was at William Grant & Sons Brand Ambassador UK tour, ‘Unwrapped, The Other Side of Bartending’. What was set to be a (somewhat) regular day of fun-filled bartending talks turned into, thanks to Latham (and the wonderful Reyka team), an escapade across London, whizzing around in a speedboat on the Thames, all in the name of adventure. That seems like a pretty fitting introduction, but don’t take my word for it. We managed to grab a chat with the man himself to talk us through all things Reyka, glacier bars and puffins!

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Fabiano Latham enjoying a Reyka vodka on a glacier… as you do.

Master of Malt: Chat us through what makes Reyka Vodka so special?

Fabiano Latham: Well, first of all its super tasty which is always a plus. But it’s our Icelandic roots which make us stand out. Our production allows us to say that we’re truly made of Iceland and not just in Iceland. Geothermal energy powers our distillery, glacial water from a local spring brings Reyka Vodka down to 40% after being distilled in a unique Carter Head still, which has locally-found lava rocks sitting in botanical baskets which filter our spirit during distillation. It’s also said that the tiny village of Borgarnes where we’re made is full of mischievous mythological hidden folk…

MoM: Have you always been a vodka lover?

FL: Hailing from Amazonian roots, my spirit interests were always focused on things like pisco and cachaça but I interacted with Reyka throughout my bartending career and always had a soft spot for the brand. Also I puffin love Iceland having visited a friend there many moons ago.

MoM: And have you always been an outdoors lover?

FL: Yes! My mum always dragged me on holidays to the middle of nowhere in the British countryside – (and still does!) – from wandering in Suffolk, to hiking up mountains in Wales, to cycling to Paris and spending weeks in the Outer Hebrides. From a young age I’ve been frequently immersed in nature and developed a keen interest in wildlife, but I only started really appreciating it once thrust into the rigours of hospitality. I discovered its unique rejuvenating powers against the nocturnal lifestyle of bartending and now I can’t get enough.

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Running low on ice? You know what to do.

MoM: How did you come to be the brand ambassador for Reyka?

FL: I harnessed my innermost Icelandic fan girl dweeb and went hell for leather once the job became available! Having won the 24 hour Reyka cocktail competition a few years back and being lucky enough to visit Iceland twice, I felt like I had some good credentials to go at it like a heathen Viking beast. I didn’t always want to be an ambassador at all, it was always something that other people did and I never thought I’d get the job but I really identified with the whole Icelandic adventure thing!

MoM: You created a word, which is pretty awesome. Explain the idea of Adventurivity for us!

FL: Adventurivity = adventure + creativity. It’s a mashup. Just like a moody puffin might be a muffin or a cheeky elf might be a … chelf. Essentially it’s the word I’ve given to a mindset which is all about immersing oneself in nature and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in really fun ways like climbing mountains or cycling long distances or even just spending some time with yourself in the morning on a stroll through a park. The reason behind this is to help balance and rejuvenate the stresses of hospitality, but also to build confidence in order to help frame and smash personal ambitions and goals. We all know that spending time outdoors is beneficial but this concept goes into the scientific detail of our evolution in nature and how it can benefit us today. I believe that by giving it a little structure, we can increase the gains because we simply understand more.

Remember, enjoy your tipple after your adventuring.

MoM: How do you link drinking and adventuring? Some people might say they’re not a natural pairing!

FL: Aha such a valid question! The idea of Adventurivity is geared towards bartenders and it’s designed to be used as a tool for the trade to help balance out their hectic lifestyles. We never drink whilst on the adventures, it’s only ever after that we might share a Reyka cocktail and share our experiences of the day. We always state: never drink and adventure! Adventure within nature is also about building confidence and positivity – attributes which can help boost creativity which can be used to develop concepts and recipes and that’s the key link.

MoM: We’re sure there are a few, but what’s the most memorable spot you’ve ever enjoyed a drink?

FL: Tough one that! I guess the most memorable spot has to be the Glacier Bar in October 2019. The sun was high and the views across the glacier were incredible. The silence was unreal. Our guests were an hour away, barrelling over the other-worldly terrain in a super jeep and it was just the ideal time to rustle up a Reyka Martini. We found a small hole on the glacier that had filled up with water and frozen overnight so we cracked the top layer and used a small chunk of the ice to stir down a bone-dry Martini. Yum!

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Behold, the Glacier Bar!

MoM: How did the idea for the Glacier Bar come about?

FL: Far, far away (in an office) one day someone said…. What if we made a bar…. And put it… on a glacier. Luckily all of us who work on Reyka share the same feverish excitement when it comes to epic activations and so it was just a case of blasting through the bible of logistics that comes with such an undertaking. Our epic brand manager Caitlin spearheaded the expedition and pulled off a magnificent feat of organisation. Our audience shares a keen interest in adventure and the outdoors, yet don’t often manifest these wishes into actual adventurous experiences as it’s tough to break the daily grind, so the idea is that we wanted to give them an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity!

MoM: What’s your favourite Reyka serve?

FL: A Puffin Collins was one I used for my interview three years ago – Reyka, pink grapefruit, elderflower, fresh cherry tomato and soda. It takes inspiration from the geothermally grown tomatoes in Iceland but also my love for puffins… It’s a bit ridiculous really… from a multitude of puffin paraphernalia to a taxidermy puffin called SugarPuff McStuffin and even a puffin tattoo… (pattoo).

MoM: Can we expect anything new from Reyka in the (near) future?  

FL: Yes! We’ll be starting up a Reyka running club in London at the end of January. Something epic will happen again next year just like the glacier bar…. but not the glacier bar. I’ll be hosting numerous adventures around the UK, the biggest being the Reyka Expedition cocktail competition in June. Keep a-puffin-breast of what’s going on by following me @fabsting (shameless self-promo…. Not even sorry).

Thanks a-puffin, Fabs! 

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How the bushfires are affecting Australia’s wine

Fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, Australia’s deadly bushfires have destroyed 15.6 million acres of land, killing at least 27 people, leaving thousands homeless and devastating local…

Fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, Australia’s deadly bushfires have destroyed 15.6 million acres of land, killing at least 27 people, leaving thousands homeless and devastating local businesses – including some of the country’s cherished vineyards. In the face of adversity, the wine industry has rallied together to support those who have lost their livelihoods. Here’s how you can help, too… 

Ever since Australia’s fire season started uncategorically early – back in September 2019 – brave volunteer firefighters have grappled with the worsening blazes, the deadliest found along its eastern and southern coastal areas. On 9 January, around 130 fires were burning across New South Wales (NSW), with more than 50 uncontained, according to the BBC

Across South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, vineyards and wineries have suffered serious damage that will take years to recover from, according to Andreas Clark, CEO of Wine Australia – the government authority that promotes and regulates the industry – who warns it will be several weeks before the extent of the damage is revealed.

Fires at Pike & Joyce vineyards in Adelaide Hills

“In some areas where people have been evacuated it will be some time before it is safe to access vineyards,” Clark explains. “There is also the fact that assessment of the impact on vines is complex. It is easy to see when vines are burned but often it takes much longer to establish the damage caused by heat.”

Huge numbers of grape growers and wine producers up and down the country face an unpredictable 2020 vintage, as the full impact of the extreme heat and toxic smoke plumes remain unknown; bushfire smoke permeates the skin of ripening grapes, giving the resulting wine a less-than-pleasant taste. 

For others, the outlook is rather more bleak. In Adelaide Hills, the Cudlee Creek fire is thought to have destroyed up to a third of the region’s vines, affecting more than 60 growers and producers – an estimated loss of AUD$20 million worth of wine – and burning through equipment, barrels and buildings. Vines that have tended by families across generations are left scorched and reduced to ash.

James Tilbrook

James Tilbrook in happier times

“On Friday 20th December, the Cudlee Creek bushfire swept through our property destroying 21 years of hard work – the winery, all the wine stock, 90% of the vineyard, all of the farm, all of the sheds,” the owners of Adelaide Hills-based Tilbrook Estate wrote on their website. “Our insurance will cover the physical items, but it’s going to take months, if not years, to get there. We have lost our livelihood. We have no wine or grapes, so we have no income.” He has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to repair the damage. 

Devastating as such stories may be, they are, thankfully, in the minority. Just a fraction of Australia’s national vineyard land has fallen within the fire zones, says Clark, with most fires “in heavily forested areas or National Parks”. 

“While the toll on individuals cannot be underestimated and should not be downplayed, a review of fire maps suggests a maximum of around 1,500 hectares of vineyards fall within the fire affected regions to date,” he explains. “Even if all those vineyards were fire damaged – and they are not – it would only be about 1% of Australia’s total vineyard area.”

Where growers and producers have been severely impacted, the wine sector is coordinating short-term relief and longer-term planning with government bodies and local agencies, says Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Tony Battaglene. “Responses must include relief for those directly impacted – including those growers who might not be able to sell smoke-affected grapes,” he explains. “In the medium term we must look to strengthen regional tourism and bring people back to the regions.”

Bushfires in Queensland

In the longer term, grape shortages in fire-affected areas are expected to send prices skyrocketing. For now, however, growers and producers are focused on preserving and protecting the surviving vines and limit the impact of the ongoing fires wherever possible.

“Our message is that Australia is hurting from the fires, but we are open for business,” Battaglene adds. “We need donations to the relief funds, support for our emergency services, and consumers to buy our wine and visit our regions. It is important to note that the fire season is not over and our temporary relief may not last.”

Want to help Australia tackle its bushfire crisis? To donate directly, visit the Australian Red Cross, seek out regional fundraises, or simply buy a bottle of Aussie vino. Bars, restaurants and businesses across the globe are holding fundraising events, from wine flights to dedicated menus, so you can further support the cause with your palate, too. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Wild Beer Co. Murmur

Beer brewed with lobsters, wild yeasts and barrel ageing, all in a day’s work for the team at the Wild Beer Company in Somerset. We tried the latest release, Murmur,…

Beer brewed with lobsters, wild yeasts and barrel ageing, all in a day’s work for the team at the Wild Beer Company in Somerset. We tried the latest release, Murmur, a beer with a distinctly vinous taste.

Located next to an award-winning cheese producer, near Shepton Mallet, in the heart of cider country, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a more classic West Country site than the home of the Wild Beer Company. But there’s nothing cosy or comforting about the beers produced here. Whereas most British breweries are content to work within quite a narrow framework of beer styles such as IPAs, porters, best bitters, and for the really adventurous, lagers, the Wild Beer Company are a little bit, well, wild.

Wild Boys: Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis

The firm was set up in 2012 by an Englishman Andrew Cooper, who looks after the business side, and a Californian Brett Ellis, the brewer. They began brewing in the kitchen of neighbouring Westcombe Dairy producing 2400 litres of beer a week. Everything was bottled by hand. Since then they have expanded and along the way winning Best Drink Producer at the BBC Food and Farming Awards in 2017 among other honours. The company’s beers are now distributed internationally and it runs a bar: Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf in Bristol. 

And yet success doesn’t mean playing safe. The company produces a dizzying array of products including a beer that tastes of salted caramel and one made with a mixture of local and Norwegian berries. Perhaps the strangest beer they’ve made was called Of The Sea and it was flavoured with seaweed, cockles and lobsters. Yes, real lobsters. The shellfish were cooked with the malt during the mashing stage, then removed and eaten by the lucky brewery team while the beer was fermented. The results were odd but delicious. Like a beery seafood bisque. 

As well as unusual ingredients, the Wild Beer team are crazy about barrels and yeasts. The inside of the brewery looks like a winery or distillery, crammed with oak barrels and foudres (large oak containers). The cask ageing gives many of the Wild Beer products a wine-like tang. Then there’s yeast. Most breweries use one yeast for all their beers. In fact, modern brewing is based on isolating a particular yeast that consistently produces the flavours that the brewer is looking for. Wild Beer, on the other hand, uses a plethora of yeasts including wild ones found in the air. These offer more flavour, potentially, but also more risk. Especially when combined with old wood, a rogue yeast might turn the beer to vinegar. But it’s worth it when you try the quality of the products.

Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. It’s called Murmur, named perhaps after REM’s 1983 debut album (or so we like to think). It’s made using malted barley and wheat, fermented with a saison beer yeast and a yeast normally used to make white Burgundy to create a beer of 5% ABV. The flavours from fermentation are complimented with fruity vivid hop varieties, Ekuanot, Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau. The result is something distinctly tangy and fresh with sour citrus, fresh hay and savoury herbs. Ideally it should be drunk out of a wine glass rather than a pint mug alongside food. Best bitter, it ain’t.

 

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