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Master of Malt Blog

New Arrival(s) of the Week: That Boutique-y Whisky Company X Balcones Distilling

This week, we’re tempting you with not one but three (soon to be four) extraordinary bottlings from Texas’ trailblazing Balcones Distilling, released in collaboration with our good friends at That…

This week, we’re tempting you with not one but three (soon to be four) extraordinary bottlings from Texas’ trailblazing Balcones Distilling, released in collaboration with our good friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. You’ll want to taste them to believe them, but until then, we’ve captured their essence in four words: upside-down cask maturation…

Hello, curious whisky drinker. We thought the words ‘upside-down cask maturation’ might just lure you in. Those clever folks at That Boutique-y Whisky Company are back at it again – and by ‘it’, we mean bottling the contents of compelling, rare, and/or downright bizarre casks from across the globe, this time from the Lone Star state: Texas. 

Now, the team behind Balcones Distilling aren’t shy about “testing the waters of what’s possible”, as head distiller Jared Himstedt so eloquently puts it. They’re the creators of the first Texan whisky since Prohibition, the pioneers of blue corn whisky, and the only distillers bold enough to create a smoky whisky by smoking the distillate, rather than the grain. If they can’t find a space for these barrels in their existing range, the contents must be – and we mean this as the highest possible compliment – extraordinarily weird.

Of the four Boutique-y releases, three are single malts made from Golden Promise malted barley from Scotland – aged for various timescales in Tequila, oloroso sherry, and Balcones’ own Brimstone casks – while the final spirit is made from blue corn and finished in Pedro Ximénez barrels. Each one spent more time in the finishing cask than it did in the original – hence ‘upside-down cask maturation’.

“We haven’t really released anything like these on our own,” says Winston Edwards, brand ambassador at Balcones Distilling. “We haven’t done a Tequila cask single malt at the distillery, we haven’t done a Brimstone cask at the distillery – we have done a sherry release, but not with our blue corn spirit. They’re unique to Boutique-y.”

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

 

Balcones 3 Year Old Batch 2 (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

Well, well, well, what have we here? A Tequila cask-aged Texan single malt whisky; bold and vegetal, with a glorious dried fruit sweetness. “I don’t know what distillery this Tequila cask came from,” says Himstedt. “[Cask] Brokers can be weird – sometimes they don’t want you to know because then you can just start calling the distilleries and bodegas on your own. 

The team has always used Tequila casks, right from the beginning, in the mix for Baby Blue Corn Whisky, he continues. “We’d buy all the Tequila casks that were about to break down and they would make them into smaller barrels for us – they’d get shaved and re-charred and all that. I wanted to see what big Tequila casks would do for Baby, and when we got our first truckload in, we probably had 14 or 15 different isolated spirits recipes, so we threw everything in one – just to see.”

After 12 months ageing in a virgin French oak barrel, the single malt was scooted across to the ex-Tequila barrel, where it remained for 37 months. “I don’t know what you call it when you reverse the process,” says Himstedt. “We didn’t ‘finish’ it – we started it in one barrel and then it really matured in another.”

Balcones 2 Year Old Batch 1 (That Boutique-y Malt Company)

The more astute among you might’ve noticed something unusual. That Boutique-y Malt Company? Eh? “We’re not allowed to call it whisky in the UK if it’s under three years old,” Dave Worthington, global brand ambassador at That Boutique-y Whisky Company explains. “This is just two years old, so we’ve put a little flag over the whisky logo and renamed it ‘That Boutique-y Malt Company’.” 

After 14 and a half months ageing in an ex-bourbon barrel, this single malt was switched to a Balcones Brimstone cask for a further 16 and a half months’ ageing. The name Brimstone refers to a corn whisky of the same name, which is smoked using scrub oak. “It’s actually not a different species of oak, but in Texas where it’s really dry the tree grows twisted, almost like a Bonsai version of what an oak tree would be,” Edwards explains. “It’s so dense, we’re talking about something that has spent 60 to 80 years just to grow four feet tall, so lot of the compounds and aromas are really concentrated.” Think: smoky bacon and campfire deliciousness.

Balcones 2 Year Old Batch 2 (That Boutique-y Malt Company) 

The third single malt – again, bottled as a malt spirit rather than a whisky – spent 11 months in ex-bourbon casks before maturing for a further 14 months in an oloroso sherry cask, with all the rich plum fruit and mouthwatering spicy treacle you’d expect. Fun fact: This will be the joint-third Balcones release that has spent time in a sherry cask – the other two being the distillery’s 10th anniversary single malt and a dark rum finished in a Pedro Ximénez cask. *Italian chefs kiss* 

We say joint third, because soon (quite how soon is still under wraps) there will be another spirit joining this experimental line-up: a 100% blue corn spirit finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. If your whistle has been thoroughly wetted, you’ll need to get a move on – a very limited number of bottles are available, priced at £69.95 per 500ml bottle. Hey, we told you they were extraordinary. 

 

 

 

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The Nightcap: 27 September

New Balvenie single malt, gin from a heart-throb, and headsets that predict your favourite cocktail – all this and more in the latest edition of The Nightcap! September has almost…

New Balvenie single malt, gin from a heart-throb, and headsets that predict your favourite cocktail – all this and more in the latest edition of The Nightcap!

September has almost concluded. Soon it will be October, which means Halloween. We all know what follows that. It’s all moving too fast, isn’t it? You need something to take your mind off things, something to relax you. Ten bite-sized pieces of boozy news, for example. All rounded up in one handy location. With a snazzy drink-inspired name. That should do it. You need The Nightcap, folks.

So, what’s occurred already this week at MoM Towers? Well, the blog welcomed the return of Nate Brown, who took a rather dim view of cocktail competitions, before Adam championed a delightfully sherried English single malt whisky for our New Arrival of the Week, as well as the good work done by the Gorilla Spirits Co. on World Gorilla Day (24 September). Elsewhere, Annie talked all things Irish whiskey at London’s smallest Irish pub and then looked at how the worlds of coffee and alcohol collide now more than ever ahead of World Coffee Day (1 October), while Henry’s Cocktail of the Week was a cold, fruity little number that features a unique Polish vodka.

But the world of booze has even more to offer. It’s The Nightcap!

The Nightcap

The sixth batch from the popular series will be available here soon…

The Balvenie Releases Batch 6 of Tun 1509 Series

The Balvenie’s mighty fab and highly collectable Tun 1509 series has returned with Batch 6, a non-chill filtered whisky that comprises liquid from sherry refill butts, ex-bourbon American oak barrels and DoubleWood refill sherry butts (which were used once to finish previous DoubleWood) before being filled with new make and aged. The latest addition to The Balvenie Tun 1509 continues malt master David Stewart MBE’s exploration of the Speyside distillery’s aged stocks. He brought together a total of 21 unique casks to marry in the Tun, where it was left for three months before being bottled at the distillery at 50.4% ABV. Every bottle of Tun 1509 Batch 6 will come complete with a breakdown chart showing in-depth detail of the whisky, with visual representations of the flavour profile of each of the 21 casks and the overall character of the resulting single malt. “The liquid presents a beautiful depth on the palate with a touch of maple syrup, candied orange and runny honey,” Stewart said. “It is delightfully rich on the nose with soft brown sugar, toffee, blossom honey and ginger oak spices, and presents a sweet and malty finish featuring swathes of oak vanilla alongside a spicy layer. Batch 6 is a truly remarkable liquid that showcases gorgeous character and rich depth produced during the marrying process. This expression is sure to have whisky enthusiasts excited, much like the last Tun 1509 series we released a year ago.” Batch 6 of Tun 1509 is available at MoM Towers right now, so hop to it!

The Nightcap

Congratulations, folks!

Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inducts new members and bestows lifetime achievement award

The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame has had a busy week. Not only did it induct six individuals into its hallowed ranks, but it also presented a certain icon with the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award. This year’s inductees are, in alphabetical order, Katrina Egbert, visitor centre marketing coordinator at Wild Turkey; Wesley Henderson, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Louisville Distilling Co.; Larry Kass, the former director of trade relations, Heaven Hill Distillery; Charles W. Medley, master distiller at the Medley Distilling Co.; and Peggy Noe Stevens, founder and president of Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates. Congratulations are in order for all those lovely folk, but a glass or two should also be raised in particular in the direction of the recipient of the lifetime achievement award, Even G. Kulsveen, the executive director of Willett Distillery. The award was attributed to his work resurrecting one of the state’s most historic distilleries and helping to return the family-owned brand to global prominence. “Even has demonstrated disciplined leadership, strategic decision-making and bold forward-thinking,” said Rick Robinson, chairman of the Kentucky Distillers Association’s board of directors. “He has built a family legacy that will last for generations to come, and we thank him for his significant contributions to Kentucky’s booming Bourbon industry”. In accepting the award, Kulsveen observed, “How many of us would have thought, 30 years ago, that we would be here today”, but daughter and Willett president Britt Kulsveen added that “We have always said that he is lifetimes ahead of his time with all of the innovative, genius creations he has imagined and brought to fruition. This award is a long time coming.” The induction ceremony was held on the grounds of My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, one of the state’s most revered historic sites and each inductee was presented with an engraved miniature copper still. Their names will also be added to the Hall of Fame display at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown.

The Nightcap

There’s plenty of options for those who want to celebrate World Sake Day

Celebrate World Sake Day

We know you’ve probably got a big red circle around the date in your calendars already, but here’s a reminder that it’s World Sake Day on Tuesday 1 October! Recent years have seen sake become increasingly popular, though if your knowledge isn’t quite up to scratch you can check out our blog. To celebrate the occasion, we decided to give you a little round-up of where to celebrate the day in style. If you’re in London, then Dinings SW3 over in Knightsbridge places sake right at the heart of its cocktail menu (which we went and tried out back in June). Take the Dinings SW3 Negroni for example, which switches things up with the addition of juniper and yuzu sake. If East London is more your scene, then there’s Nobu Shoreditch, with its landscaped terrace and Kampai happy hour from 4pm-6pm every day, which showcases the team’s favourite Japanese tipples and nibbles. Finally, if you happen to be near Manchester, the wonderful Peter Street Kitchen is hosting an exclusive World Sake Day masterclass on 5 October, so you can really get stuck in! Held in the Rikyū Bar, you’ll get a taste of hot, cold, sweet and sparkling sake, along with some tasty Japanese cocktails and canapes of course. Mind you, if you can’t make it to these spots, then we might know of a certain online retailer who could help you out with some lip-smacking sake right to your door…

The Nightcap

It’s quite the accolade for Matteo Monotone to receive

Matteo Montone wins World’s Best Young Sommelier

Being the best at something in the world is a pretty big deal. Having your best-ness be confirmed by a panel of judges is just next level. That’s what it’s like being in Matteo Montone’s shoes, Head Sommelier at Berners Tavern at The London EDITION hotel, who was crowned Best Young Sommelier in the World at the International Final of the Chaine Des Rotisseurs competition in Seoul! Of course, this achievement didn’t come out of nowhere. Having moved to London in 2013, Montone has had an impressive career in restaurants such as Aqua Shard, the Ritz London and Locanda Locatelli before he joined Berners Tavern. Then in March this year, Montone was also crowned Great British Young Sommelier of the Year. Now, just six months later and he’s achieved world domination! A huge congratulations from everyone at MoM Towers!

The Nightcap

More delicious English whisky is always a good thing…

East London Liquor Company launches three new whiskies

East London Liquor Company has proven once again why we love it so much with not one, but three new distinct whiskies! There’s the East London Single Malt, the first single malt from the English distillery, a double-pot distilled expression which was matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks from Sonoma and ex-bourbon casks from Kentucky for a minimum of three years. It said to have notes of milk chocolate, peanut butter, fresh hay, biscuits, bitter almond and a slightly vegetal finish of green tomatoes and light tar. It’s joined by another newcomer, ELx Sonoma, a blended whisky made in collaboration with owner and whiskey maker Adam Spiegel of the aforementioned California distillery, Sonoma. It features the delightful London Rye, the first-ever whisky release from the distillery, which was aged in a variety of casks, including ex-peated and ones that held its barrel-aged gins and finished in ex-Pedro Ximénez and oloroso casks. This was then married with Spiegel’s own unique blend of Sonoma bourbons. Expect notes of toffee, brandy-soaked cherries, almond butter, hay, clover, black peppercorn, dried apricots and honeysuckle. The final bottling of the three is the second release of London Rye, which was matured first for a year in virgin oak before it rested in ex-Sonoma and Kentucky bourbon casks for two years before spending six months in an ex-peated cask and then finished in ex-Pedro Ximénez. Toffee, sarsaparilla, dark chocolate, dried cherries, tahini, sea salt, leather, peat, bouillon, porridge and peanut butter notes are to be expected. “We’re unbelievably excited for not one, but three new whiskies to be hitting people’s glasses at the same time,” said Andy Mooney, whisky distiller at the East London Liquor Company. “Working with Adam Spiegel of Sonoma Distilling Company, I really appreciated his sentiment of ‘making whiskeys in a small way for a big world’. I like to say that, as a distillery, we’re incredibly lucky to be making whiskies that we want to drink ourselves, and then getting to share them with the rest of the world so people can find their own perfect dram.”

The Nightcap

Apparently there’s gin in this photo. We’re yet to spot it. Look at him, ffs.

David Gandy joins the juniper fray with Savile Row Gin

Just when you think you’d seen every gin launch imaginable, one comes along that genuinely catches your eye. Yes, of course, it was the liquid that… ahem. Yes. New gin. Last night, our Mariella headed up to London Town for the launch of Savile Row Gin! It’s made with 12 botanicals – including the signature kumquat – by Rob Dorsett (the chap behind the likes of Palmers 44 Gin and a host of others via the Langley Distillery). Oh yeah, and actual David Gandy (model, writer, driver and all-round beautiful human) was revealed as an investor in the brand – and its ambassador, too! He’s involved in the gin on a “day-to-day” basis, apparently. “I look to invest in British start-ups that I believe to be of superior quality with inspirational teams,” he said. “As a lover of gin, Savile Row Gin stood out from the crowd with its smoothness and flavour. I loved the fact it is a quintessentially British product, produced in the UK and curated on one of Britain’s most iconic streets, one that stands for craftsmanship and quality. I’m excited to be part of the team to help expand and grow the brand.” Founder Stewart Lee (not that one) seems chuffed: “David embodies the refined elegance and style of Savile Row and I am delighted to have his support, both as an ambassador and investor for the brand.” The best news? You can snap up Savile Row Gin right here!

The Nightcap

It may not be Guinness, but it’s still dark and beautiful.

Guinness launches limited-edition coffee 232 Brew

Inspired by a shared passion for rugby, the creators of the famous pints of the black stuff have teamed up with coffee company Tiki Tonga, which was founded by current Saracens captain and former British and Irish Lions player, Brad Barritt, to create a called ‘232 Brew’. The delicately balanced, full-bodied coffee should make those early morning kick-offs at the 2019 Rugby World Cup a little easier to handle (it’s held in Japan this year). The name comes from the fact that the coffee was roasted at 232°C, which is the same temperature as the barley used to brew Guinness, which is pretty neat. It should be made very clear, this not an alcoholic drink. Nothing is stopping you from making that coffee truly Irish, however. 232 Brew is said to have notes of fruit and nut chocolate leaving you with a rich mouthfeel and a long-lasting distinguished chocolate finish, and will also make a delightful Americano, cappuccino or flat white. The delicious blend will be available at selected venues across the country including Flat Iron Square (London), Oasthouse (Manchester) and Brigadiers (London). “The next six weeks are set to be some of the most exciting weeks of the year for fans of rugby, but we know that for many the early morning starts are far from ideal,” said Niall McKee, head of Guinness Europe. “That’s why we’ve partnered with Brad and the team at Tiki Tonga to create the ultimate coffee. We want to be there with rugby’s biggest fans for those early morning starts – bringing belief and team spirit.”

The Nightcap

Even adventurous spirits need to be enjoyed responsibly.

McQueen Gin gets told off by ASA

It wasn’t a great week for McQueen Gin’s parent company Trossachs Distillery. It was scolded by advertising watchdog the ASA for airing a TV ad that was declared “irresponsible”. The ad in question shows a group of three mates having a jolly good time in the Scottish Highlands, climbing mountains, swimming in lochs and taking in the view at the top of a rocky peak. The only trouble is that they celebrated the climb with a cheeky G&T – which very much implied that the return journey would be undertaken post-booze. Tricky, when you’re not allowed to suggest that physical activities are a good idea after alcohol (legal types would refer you to BCAP Code rule 19.13 (Alcohol)). “In this case, we considered the ad suggested that the activities would be undertaken after the consumption of alcohol and were therefore irresponsible,” an ASA statement reads. Best leave the gin back at the ranch and toast the day’s achievements after both legs of the journey are complete.

The Nightcap

Now that’s what we call autumn!

Dalloway Terrace Transforms for Autumn 2019 with Æcorn Aperitifs

The wonderful Dalloway Terrace (yes, that’s a Virginia Woolf reference) over at The Bloomsbury Hotel has gone through quite the seasonal transformation embracing all things autumn! To do this it’s rather appropriately teamed up with Æcorn Aperitifs. Expect oodles of golden leaves, brushed gold butterflies and a wonderful flower-filled terrace, to evoke the feeling of dining under a magnificent oak tree. Everyone’s dream. It’s not just the visuals that have been autumn-fied; the drinks menu has had a seasonal reboot, too. Expect wonderful aperitifs such as the Æcorn Elderflower Spritz, with Æcorn Dry, elderflower cordial and English sparkling wine. There’s also a unique Afternoon Tea menu inspired by Æcorn’s three alcohol-free aperitifs, and it’s totally autumn-inspired. I mean come on, there’s ‘Conkers on a String’, which isn’t really a conker, but chestnut and milk chocolate cream laced with Æcorn Aromatic. So seasonal! If the colder months are your thing, then Dalloway Terrace is definitely the spot for you.

The Nightcap

The future is here, and it’s boozy!

And finally… Spotify soundtracks cocktails while Diageo headsets predict your fave

Fifty-four of the world’s best bartenders and industry luminaries gathered this week for the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year Global Final 2019 in Glasgow’s West End, which was won by the amazing Bannie Kang from Singapore! But that’s not the only thing that caught the eye as the drinks giant has announced a couple of startling new initiatives. The first, a collaboration with Spotify, led to the creation of six data-driven playlists curated for signature cocktails. Using social data and keywords related to specific Diageo Reserve brand cocktails, the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service was able to identify key tracks and music that best encapsulated the mood and spirit of the cocktail. Rak Patel, head of UK sales at Spotify said: “Together with Diageo, we’re tapping into these insights to set the mood as they sip their favourite cocktails while creating a delightful and impactful connection with the brands they love.” Also on show was a headset linked to a sensory experiment that could be the answer for gin lovers unsure what to mix with their Tanqueray No. Ten. The Head vs Heart activation recommends personalised serves based on the results from the EEG sensors, essentially reading your mind to find the perfect cocktail. “Consumers are increasingly seeking out personalised and immersive experiences in our category,” Benjamin Lickfett, said Diageo’s head of futures, who has clearly never watched any films with AI or advanced mind-reading robots before. “Head vs Heart is just one example of an emerging technology enabling consumers to explore their own taste preferences and the flavours of our award-winning Tanqueray No. 10 as part of an engaging, sensory and surprising experience”. Stu Bale, director of London’s experimental creative bartending hub ‘Crucible’ also demonstrated the use of ‘weird machines’ like rotavaps, centrifuges, and ultrasonics to express different aspects of flavour and texture. World Class really sounds like a who’s who of ‘what the hell?!’ this year. You can visit www.theworldclassclub.com for more info.

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A lesson in blended whiskey at London’s smallest Irish pub

If there are two things Ireland is exceptional at, it’s whiskey and hospitality. And when it comes to combining the two, nowhere on earth does it better. We squeezed into…

If there are two things Ireland is exceptional at, it’s whiskey and hospitality. And when it comes to combining the two, nowhere on earth does it better. We squeezed into London’s smallest Irish pub, tucked away in Islington-based neighbourhood bar Homeboy, where co-owner Aaron Wall gave us a masterclass on the Emerald Isle’s greatest exports…

You really, really ought to see it for yourself. With seating for just eight, Hop House 13 on tap, and its very own miniature snug, London’s smallest Irish pub is every bit as magical as it sounds. You’ll find it nestled in the back of Homeboy in Islington, which opened its doors back in December 2018 with one overarching mission: to become the home of modern Irish hospitality in London.

But Dublin-born co-owner Wall – who the bar is named after; his passion for his home country earning him the nickname ‘homeboy’ – has another, more ambitious mission up his sleeve. And to achieve it, he’s taking a fresh approach to the category. An approach that involves whiskey highballs.

“We want to make Irish whiskey exciting and fun, and for me, that starts with the blended Irish whiskey category,” he says. “There’s so much diversity there, the sky really is the limit. Irish whiskey was once the top-selling spirit in the world, and if it’s shown in the right light, marketed right, and brought to people’s attention in the right way, then it can be again.”

Homeboy

Homeboys Ciarán Smith and Aaron Wall

Homeboy’s new Irish Whiskey masterclass series brings the two together: combining convivial hospitality together with Wall’s enthusiasm for and extensive knowledge about the wider Irish whiskey category. After a welcome Guinness in the main bar, we’re led to the pub for a preview of the blended masterclass, which begins – from a historical perspective – pre-temperance, accompanied with a welcome tot of Tullamore D.E.W.

“Me and my business partner opened the bar up with the change in our pocket, and we couldn’t have all the whiskey we wanted at first – we could only have the whiskey that we could afford,” explains Wall. Much of that, he says, was blended Irish whiskey. “Having that conversation was fantastic, it gave a great foundation for where Irish whiskey is now and how it can build, in particular where these flavour profiles sit when it comes to cocktails.

“There are a million and one gins out these days – we decided when we opened the bar that we’d stock six and we’ve got 17 at the moment – but when I sit down with [brand owners] and say ‘tell me about your product, tell me why it’s better [in a cocktail] than another gin’, a lot of people don’t really know where to go with that conversation.”

Homeboy

Homeboy, London’s smallest Irish pub

Wall, who has tended the bar for years at London stalwarts London Cocktail Club and Callooh Callay, decided to take that approach with his Irish whiskey offering – exploring how each flavours pair with other ingredients and cocktails. Tullamore D.E.W., he says, suits drinks that might usually contain a medium-aged rum. “Drinks that can handle robust flavours, even down to coconut and pineapple, Coca-Cola. It doesn’t overpower the drink, it doesn’t cut through everything else, but isn’t overshadowed by it either.”

This attention to detail is reflected across the entire menu. Even Irish cocktail classics have been given a carefully-considered reboot. “People think your Irish coffee is such a basic drink, and it is at its essence, but it can be messed up so easily,” says Wall. “If you use espresso or instant coffee, or really good craft coffee in a drip coffee machine, the whiskey just cuts through.” Instead, the team combines commercially roasted coffee with Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey – “because it’s a bit punchier” – and a Demerara syrup, “which has all these biscuity notes and gives a lot of richness and body”.

To inject the fruiter flavours found in coffee from craft roasters, the team created their own Irish coffee bitters “made with a neutral grain spirit from the Teeling Distillery,” says Wall, “loads of spices, cacao, star anise but also orange peel, lemon peel, to give it a little bit of brightness”. The cream on top, he says, is whipped in very minimal batches. “Irish coffee shouldn’t be about eating through the cream to get to the coffee – it should be sipped through, like you would a pint of Guinness, I suppose. Good Guinness is like good coffee.”

Homeboy

The bar is home to rebooted classic Irish cocktails

You won’t find many stirred-down drinks on the menu at Homeboy. “Whiskey doesn’t get too many of those light, crisp drinks,” says Wall, who points to a drink on the menu called Emerald Collins. “We use Slaine Irish Whiskey because that Sherry cask finish brings out that sweetness from the American virgin oak casks, a little bit of Cynar to give it a bit of earthiness, a little bit of St Germain for floralness, lemon, a touch of sugar, and then it’s topped with soda,” he explains. “It’s just a great-tasting highball – Irish whiskey can live in so many different spaces.”

As we ricocheted through the past, present and future of Irish whiskey, it soon becomes clear why Wall’s industry peers have nicknamed him “the Irish ambassador”. The man is Irish hospitality in human form. He knows more about Irish whiskey than we could ever hope to know. And, perhaps more importantly, he’s excellent at sharing his expertise. As we depart, we’re handed an envelope containing, among other things, two teabags. They’re Barry’s, an Irish brand, he explains.

“About a year and a half ago I was back in Dublin, and myself and my father went out for a few pints,” says Wall. “In Ireland, when you get back from a night out, it’s more likely the kettle goes on than a bottle of whisky comes out, so we stayed up and had a couple of cups of tea. It was amazing to have that time with my dad and I wanted to give that opportunity to our guests, so we always give two teabags with every bill, so when you get home you can have a cup of tea and talk about the night you had. For me that night was special, he gave me the encouragement to [open Homeboy] and ended up coming over and helping us build the bar, so it’s been a massive journey.”

Homeboy

A fab Irish whiskey masterclass awaits!

The next Irish whiskey masterclasses will take place at Homeboy on 15 and 16 October and 12 and 13 November. For more information, visit the website.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Mango Mule 

This week’s cocktail is a cold, fruity little number that highlights a very special Polish vodka made with old oak-aged fruit brandy.  Cast your mind back to the steamy days…

This week’s cocktail is a cold, fruity little number that highlights a very special Polish vodka made with old oak-aged fruit brandy. 

Cast your mind back to the steamy days of late July. Temperatures in London were in the mid-30s but it was the humidity that was taking its toll on our spirits. It felt like monsoon season in the tropics. Fortunately, we found the answer, ice-cold cocktails courtesy of new vodka brand Kavka. While the air got thicker and the sky darker, we just sipped and chatted on the terrace at Ognisko restaurant in South Kensington.

The Polish Hearth Club (Ognisko Polskie), a grand stucco townhouse in Exhibition Row, has served as a home from home for London’s Polish community since 1939. During the Second World War, it housed the Polish government in exile. Jan Woroniecki, who has run the venue’s bar and restaurant since 2012, remembers the club’s heyday in the 1960s when the wartime generation were still in their prime. Woroniecki himself is an Anglo-Pole, his father was in the Polish army during the War and took part in the D Day landing. Following the Soviet occupation of his country, he decided to remain in London and married an Englishwoman.

According to Woroniecki, the club began to decline as that generation aged and their children weren’t so interested in looking after the place. The building, which must be worth a fortune, was nearly sold to property developers in 2012. When Woroniecki took over the bar and restaurant, he modernised the menu and decor (though there are still plenty of paintings of fierce-looking Polish heroes), and now, he told me, “the restaurant is generating lots of income, it’s financially very stable.” The place was certainly heaving when we were there. 

Woroniecki originally worked as a photographer but moved into the restaurant business because, in his words, “it was just too much fun.”He’s the man behind Wodka (now closed) on Kensington High Street and Baltic (still thriving) in Borough. His latest venture is Kavka, a vodka brand which has just landed at Master of Malt. It came about following an investigation into how vodka was made in 19th century Poland. “Every distillery made a different spirit as a point of difference”, he told me, “I came across a method where you take rye and wheat spirit, and blend in small quantities of fruit spirits.” Jan Woroniecki discovered some 50 plus-year-old apple and plum pot still brandies in wooden barrels and adds a tiny amount, less than 1%, to column-distilled rye and wheat spirits. This then undergoes a very light filtration: “We can’t legally call ourselves a Polish vodka as we don’t know where fruit spirits came from,” he added. 

Kavka Mango Mule

Kavka Mango Mule, liquid air conditioning

The taste is smooth, spicy and sweet, with a subtle fruitiness. Kavka makes about the best vodka Martini I’ve ever tried but the cocktail that really refreshed on that hot night in July was the Mango Mule. Mule cocktails are usually based on the Moscow Mule and the common ingredient are vodka, ginger beer and, usually, lime juice. They are then usually served in a copper mug. This one is nothing like that but it is delicious and in the end, that’s all that matters. We’re not going to quibble about a man’s mule. The subtle fruitiness of the vodka going beautifully with the mango sorbet and lemon juice with a little bit of Campari providing bitterness. The tropical weather might be a distant memory, but one sip of the Mango Mule and you’ll be transported to sweltering South Ken. 

Right, let’s Mule!

50ml Kavka vodka
15ml Campari
5ml lemon juice
1 scoop of mango sorbet

Shake the ingredients hard in a shaker and then strain into an ice-filled Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with a piece of orange peel. 

 

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The relationship between booze and brews

A great cup of coffee is a beautiful thing, and it has far more in common with your favourite tipple than you might think. Ahead of World Coffee Day on…

A great cup of coffee is a beautiful thing, and it has far more in common with your favourite tipple than you might think. Ahead of World Coffee Day on 1 October, we look at the parallels between roaster, distiller, bartender and barista with some of London’s top coffee producers.

The worlds of coffee and alcohol collide now more than ever, as multinational coffee companies like Starbucks and Costa marry booze and beans in select stores. Meanwhile, the Espresso Martini has settled into bar menus as a modern classic cocktail. Whether it’s beans or booze, most of us are willing to shell out a little extra cash on quality liquid – in return for information about when, where, and how it was made. Transparency is key for coffee aficionados, who covet ‘single source’ or ‘single origin’ beans.

“When you come into our cafe and buy a drink or buy some beans, each coffee will state the country, the region and the specific farm it’s from,” explains Kane Statton, head roaster at Nude Coffee Roasters. “It’ll also have the farmers’ name, the altitude the coffee is grown at, the specific variety of arabica; there are three or four thousand varieties. It’s very, very detailed and very, very transparent.”

Various influences dictate the final flavour profile of a given coffee on its journey from farm to cup. “Broadly speaking, coffee is like wine,” explains Simon Humes, quality Control and production manager at Origin Coffee Roasters, “the variety of the plant, the terroir of where it is grown, how it is processed, and subsequently roasted all have an impact on the coffee’s flavour profile.”

coffee

Nude Coffee Roasters, one of London’s top coffee producers

Certain flavours are typically associated with certain regions, he continues, and botany has a role to play, too. Blackcurrant, for example, is commonly linked with Kenyan coffee; the Caturra varietal is associated with citrus flavours. “The combined impacts of geography and variety lead to a vast array of flavour notes, and is ever-expanding as industry leaders are continuously discovering or creating new profiles to explore.”

Once harvested, the coffee cherries (yes, cherries) are processed to reach the seeds within. There are several methods, each of which is pivotal to the final flavour of the cup. “A coffee that has been subjected to the ‘washed process’ – where water is used to dissolve the fruity layer surrounding the seeds – will have a lighter, more delicate, more acidic profile than a coffee that has been ‘naturally processed’ – where the coffee is essentially picked and left to dry in the sun,” explains Humes.

How the coffee is roasted – light, medium or dark – also affects the flavour. “As roastery, we roast everything pretty light, because we’re trying to showcase the natural terroir of the coffee,” explains Statton. “Whereas traditionally in Italy you might aim for a really robust, strong, sweet but bitter flavour, and that’s from roasting the coffee for a longer time and exposing it to higher temperatures.”

coffee

These little beauties are coffee cherries. Yes, you read that right.

Then, finally, there’s the skill of the barista. “There is a number of brew methods available in coffee shops today and each has their own tendencies,” says Humes. “A good barista will have the ability to manipulate each method for pleasing results, reacting the coffee’s inherent flavour profile which is an accumulation of the efforts at each step of the journey from farm to cafe.”

There are huge similarities in the ways bartenders approach cocktails and baristas approach beverages, not just on a day-to-day basis but also in terms of career aspirations. Global competitions provide a platform for the world’s best baristas to get technical across all aspects of coffee service, Humes says, from brewing to drink presentation and tasting. “The competition scene is more rigorous and professional than ever, with dedicated competitors investing many hours and a lot of money into their routines,” he says.

Take the following excerpt from a London coffee contest, which sounds almost entirely like a cocktail competition brief: ‘Judged by a panel of industry figureheads, the fast-paced knockout battle format of Coffee Masters saw 16 baristas showcase their skills head-to-head across a broad range of disciplines. With a prize of £5,000 on the bar and the prestigious title of Coffee Master, the stakes are high’. There are usually three main challenges, explains Statton: an espresso course, a milk course, and then a signature beverage made against the clock.

coffee

Innovation is occurring across the globe, something coffee shares with craft distilling

“They’re normally cooking on the stage, matching their espresso with certain ingredients too,” he continues. “So if it tastes like chocolate, caramel and blackcurrant you might see someone making a compote or a syrup with those ingredients.” Using technical kitchen kit, for example – a sous-vide – baristas conjure “the sort of theatre that you might see in a Heston Blumenthal restaurant,” he continues. “They’re partly inspired by cocktails, partly inspired by Michelin-starred chefs.”

As in craft distilling, innovation is commonplace among speciality coffee producers. Over the past two years, Origin has pioneered a ‘frozen natural process’ with Carlos Pola, a producer from El Salvador, “whereby the coffee cherries are frozen as they are removed from the trees,” Humes explains, an idea that stemmed from ice wine. Some are even barrel-ageing their beans in former wine casks – ageing is a divisive topic within the coffee industry. “Some businesses are investing in it as a prestige product, however, it is also true that the flavour notes produced by the ageing process are systematically regarded as negative in the grading of coffee,” he says.

Others are trialling unique fermentations, inspired in part by the wine industry, says Statton. “They might add brewer’s yeast or wine yeast or ferment the coffee using an anaerobic fermentation, or they might use carbonic maceration, which is a technique taken from Beaujolais wine in France,” he explains, which results in fruitier and more complex flavours. “Let’s say we’re in El Salvador, and our coffee usually tastes slightly chocolatey – with a carbonic maceration you can get flavours like blackcurrant, mango, and orange. People are really experimenting with processing and fermentation to try and affect the final flavour, or at least have more control over it.”

coffee

There’s more parallels between booze and brews than you might imagine

Next time you sip your morning pick-me-up, take a moment to consider the similarities it shares with your favourite dram – both are rich, complex liquids with myriad stories to tell.

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Talking ethical booze with Gorilla Spirits

Given that today (24th September, if you’re nowhere near a calendar) is World Gorilla Day, we thought it was ideal timing to chat with Andy Daniels, founder of Gorilla Spirits…

Given that today (24th September, if you’re nowhere near a calendar) is World Gorilla Day, we thought it was ideal timing to chat with Andy Daniels, founder of Gorilla Spirits Co. about creating an ethical business, founding a distillery, and why he was moved by the plight of the mountain gorilla.

For every bottle of gin, vodka, rum or liqueur you buy from the Gorilla Spirits Co., £1 goes to The Gorilla Organization. The business model is simple: you purchase delicious booze, and support a great cause at the same time. “Everyone’s a winner: the consumer gets a great product; our company benefits from the sale of that product and the gorillas benefit greatly by additional resources being put in that direction,” explains Gorilla Spirits Co. founder, Andy Daniels.

Daniels had spent the best part of 35 years in corporate life, but during that time he’d always been drawn to the wonderful world of food and drink. He brewed his own beer, became a hobbyist cider maker, and even distilled for many years before he started a spirits company. The motivation to create his own brand came back in 2008.

“I got wind of what the Sipsmith guys were about to do, who are an important part of every craft spirit story in the UK today, and it sparked the idea,” Daniels says. “I spent a couple of years learning about the industry and formulating plans to start the business. From early 2011, I set about a formal project to get the company going, and it wasn’t until December 2015 that we actually launched our first project. It took a long time. Not only did we design our first commercial gin, but we also designed, from the ground up, a small but industrial-class distillery.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Gorilla Spirits Co. founder Andy Daniels

With the Gorilla Spirits Co., Daniels was determined to demonstrate that placing corporate social responsibility at the heart of a business not only serves society and the world at large as well, but it’s also positively good for business. “Very close to my heart is a strong belief that businesses should be more than just about making money. Businesses need to recognise that you can’t continually focus entirely on profit while taking out of the world’s resources,” Daniels says. “Many major organisations today have corporate social responsibility agendas. But I don’t believe that many, if any, really put it at the core of their business. I don’t think that’s a sustainable business model.”

When Gorilla Spirits Co. was founded, mountain gorillas were facing extinction with only 880 in existence. For Daniels, it was obvious to him that the focus of his social responsibility should be their conservation. “What shocked us about that was not just the fact that there were 880 mountain gorillas in the world, but the fact that the people who look after them knew that it was 880. It wasn’t 881 or 882, it was 880. When you can count the numbers of an entire species to that level, then clearly we’re in trouble,” explains Daniels.

In order to do his bit for the cause, Daniels struck up a partnership with UK-based charity The Gorilla Organization, which works with communities at the forefront of gorilla conservation through innovative and award-winning projects in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo. “We had some conversations with them about what they were doing and were really impressed, particularly because, for such a tiny charity, they’re able to do some amazing work,” Daniels says. “We entered into a formal contract with them which obliges us to pay one pound from every bottle that we sell. There is no termination clause in the agreement, so regardless of whether I’m running the business or whether anyone else is running the business, it remains committed to making that donation.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Mountain gorilla numbers have thankfully increased in recent years

In November 2018 the IUCN announced that mountain gorillas have been moved from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’. “The most recent census of the mountain gorilla puts its numbers at 1,004,” says Daniels. “The governments of Rwanda and Uganda have recognised the value of conservation, particularly when it comes to their gorilla populations. It just goes to show that when you get governments, charities and businesses all focused on supporting something and making something happen, you truly can make things change.”

It’s a promising message, given that brands based around conservation efforts have become increasingly common, with the likes of Elephant Gin and Snow Leopard Vodka also fighting the good fight. “We are not exclusive in this; they’re doing some amazing things,” explains Daniels. “It’s quite incredible that there are a few brands like us in the spirits industry who take a similar approach and I know full well that it’s as good for their businesses as it is for ours. As I said, it’s not just about philanthropy; it’s positively beneficial to business.”

It was important for Daniels that this model of ethical practice didn’t just concern its central cause, but also extended to the local community, “I was delighted that we were recently awarded an international corporate social responsibility excellence award for the work that we do not just with gorilla conservation but also in the way that we engage with the community,” he says. “For example, at the distillery, we have an onsite shop that we don’t open for anything other than booked visitors. So if somebody turns up here, we send them to our village shop. We do that because we want to be part of the community and we want to encourage the local rural economy.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Mugwaneza, the 200-litre Gorilla Spirits Co. still

The spirit of social responsibility played a large part in the location of the Gorilla Spirits Co.’s distillery. It is found in Upton Grey, in the northeast corner of Hampshire where it borders with Surrey. As Daniels explains, “One of the areas of the national economy that’s suffering particularly badly is our rural economies. Setting up where we are, we do have the potential to add money to the local economy.” The distillery has a visitor centre which regularly houses tours, tastings and cocktail masterclasses, as well as a ten-station gin school, all of which have proved popular. The gin school holds particular appeal, and Daniels describes it as “the ultimate experience really for a gin lover”. Given that participants make enough of their own gin (from a choice of over 60 botanicals) to bottle most and have enough left over for a G&T, it’s not hard to see why.

The main attraction remains the 200-litre still, an entirely digitally-connected and software-driven beauty called ‘Mugwaneza’. “When you go around the country, many stills have got very quintessentially English names like ‘Constance’ and ‘Patience’. Because we’re a bit different and because of our links with gorillas and with Africa, our still is named ‘Mugwaneza’,” says Daniels. “Translated into English from the language used in Rwanda, it means ‘she who is content’. In my long experience of life, whenever ‘she’ is content – whoever ‘she’ might be – then the world is quite a happy place”. All of the gin school’s ten stills likewise have names drawn from the Rwandan language, so if you make a bottle of gin with Gorilla Spirits, your label has the name of the still that it was produced in.

The Gorilla Spirits Co. doesn’t just manufacture its own spirit product. It has a contract distilling business on the side, and is currently making four brands with another three or four lined up over the next few months. “That’s the side of the business that we’re actively growing. That has been fantastic actually; to work with some other start-up brands and be part of their growth,” says Daniels.

Gorilla Spirits Co.

The Gorilla Spirits Co. portfolio

The current Gorilla Spirits Co. range consists of three gins, one vodka, one liqueur and one spiced rum, but there’s more to look forward to. “We’ve always got some exciting things going on in the background. We are doing some ageing at the moment, so I think in the next few months or so we’ll see some interesting aged products,” says Daniels. “We’re also looking to expand our rum portfolio and we’ve done some whisky trials.”

We look forward to seeing what’s to come, but for now, there’s plenty to enjoy from Gorilla Spirits Co.!

The first product the Gorilla Spirits Co. released was Silverback Mountain Strength Gin, which was produced back in December 2015. It’s London Dry in style and was crafted from seven botanicals which Daniels splits into two groups. The first is filled with classic ingredients, juniper, coriander, angelica root and sweet orange, and then the three additionals are calamus root, acacia blossom and lemongrass. “We describe Silverback as being a ‘citrus-led’ gin. So three of the seven: you’ve got coriander which gives us that spicy citrus note; orange for a nice warm citrus note; and then lemongrass which accentuates the high notes,” says Daniels. “Giving it its full title ‘Silverback Mountain Strength Gin’ the ‘mountain strength’ is actually not connected with the ABV but it is another nod to the strength and power of the gorilla”.

The Old Tom Gin uses exactly the same ingredients as Silverback Mountain Strength Gin, but the number of botanicals that are put into the distillation are increased because Daniels wanted to capture the Old Tom style which much richer in flavour and it’s sweetened. “After distillation, we add a tiny bit of sugar to sweeten it. We make it largely because I think it’s bloody delicious! At the end of the day you have to please yourself before you please anyone else and it’s a style that I really like,” says Daniels.

Initially launched as a limited-edition product, Silverback Raspberry Gin has proved so popular demand it might become a regular. To create this flavoured gin, Daniels began with the regular Silverback Mountain Strength formula, reduced the ABV to bottle down to 38%, added Scottish raspberry juice and a tiny bit of sugar to balance the tartness of the raspberry. Why Scottish raspberries? “Because they are the best in the world. It’s as simple as that! So whatever we put into a product we try to ensure that it is the very best that we can buy. And Scottish raspberry, bar none, is the best raspberry in the world,” says Daniels. “It has a lovely vibrant colour that suggests that it’s going to be a very fruity, very sweet liquid. But people are always surprised that actually what you get is a really, really lovely gin with a little trace of fresh summer fruit coming through it.”

Blackback Mountain Strength is an entirely British wheat-derived vodka which features a pot still-finish to add depth and character. “It has a really lovely mouth-feel, a touch of spiciness about it and a little hint of sweetness. It’s absolutely perfect for something like a vodka tonic or you want it for a cocktail, says Daniels. “What’s interesting from a story point of view, is that you know that a silverback gorilla is the head honcho of the troop and the great protector. A blackback gorilla is a young adolescent male who may become a silverback in the course of time, although it’s not guaranteed. There’s a little bit of playfulness in our branding as gin is essentially flavoured vodka, so our Blackback could one day be a Silverback.

Maraba Coffee Liqueur was made from single varietal red bourbon Arabica coffee beans from small growers in Rwanda and takes its name from this coffee-growing district. In order for the process to be as sustainable and ethical as possible, Gorilla Spirits Co. exceeds Fair Trade pricing for the growers concerned. The beans are roasted and ground by a local coffee roaster called Moonroast before it is effectively cold-brewed with alcohol, “so we get these amazing buttery, chocolate notes in it, along with the higher floral notes and taste and aroma. Then, of course, we mix it up into a liqueur,” says Daniels. “So with Maraba, again, great for cocktails so things like the nation’s favourite right now, espresso martini, as well as white Russians and black Russians”.

The most recent addition to the range is Karisimbi Spiced Rum. In fact, it was only just released last week on September 19th, or as I’m sure you all know it as, International Talk Like A Pirate Day. The name was taken from the highest volcanic peak in the Varumba National Park, which is home to a troop of mountain gorillas. “It’s quite a complex blend of aged and unaged rums from a number of different rum distilleries. It’s really beautifully spiced with vanilla, blood oranges, ginger and cinnamon. I would pit it against any spiced rum on the market, I think it’s absolutely delicious,” says Daniels. “It is predominantly designed for mixing and goes particularly well with things like Fever Tree Smoky Ginger Ale or a good quality cola, ginger beer, that kind of thing. But the quality of the rum is so good that it really is a sipper as well.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Happy World Gorilla Day!

Don’t forget, for each bottle of gin, vodka, rum or liqueur you buy from the Gorilla Spirits Co., £1 goes to The Gorilla Organization, whose fantastic work you can check out by clicking the link. The Gorilla Spirits Co. has also just launched an app which is available on the Apple Store and Google Play Store, so if you want a directory of cocktails to play with, as well as more info on the distillery and its conversation work than it’s the place to go. Happy World Gorilla Day, folks!

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How to lose your own cocktail competition

Nate Brown returns this week to take issue with the often costly, crass and conceited world of cocktail competitions. Walking into a bar and trying to choose what to drink has…

Nate Brown returns this week to take issue with the often costly, crass and conceited world of cocktail competitions.

Walking into a bar and trying to choose what to drink has become a game of chance. Menus are caught between the esoteric and the boring. Back bar shelves are at the point of collapse with every new gin and third-party-sourced rum. The tyranny of choice is palpable.

Imagine, however, that you’re the producer trying to squeeze onto the shelf like a baby pigeon on a shit-covered statue, screaming “Pick me! Pick me!”. Because, once upon a time, you felt the romantic lure of getting your hands dirty, of stepping away from your cog-in-the-machine 9-to-5 desk job and into the soulful world of creation. You’ve bought a still, you’ve filled in your paperwork with HMRC and passed all the inspections. You’ve smelled a hundred different exotic botanicals and imagined awe-inspiring stories of where they came from (they came from a shipping container, mate). Eventually, you make your first batch. You’re so proud that you put your child’s drawing on the label. You have achieved the wholesome life you always dreamed of. Looking over at the pallet of boxed up bottles, it dawns on you. Now what?

How do you recoup some of the life savings and family-borrowed cash that you’ve ploughed into this little project? Suddenly, it all begins to feel a little self-indulgent, doesn’t it?

cocktail competition

An ingenious creation, or self-indulgent nonsense that doesn’t benefit the brand?

Fear not, intrepid soul. There are dozens and dozens of brand management agencies on hand. “Sell bottles?”, they’ll chortle, “We’ll do more than that, we’ll build your brand so large you won’t need to worry about selling bottles!”. OMG, you’ll think, I’m going to be the next Sipsmith.

And, sure enough, the agency will tell you that the key to success is to engage with bartenders. These guys and gals on the front line are the power. They are the trusted voices, with the power to recommend, the power to dismiss, they are the proletariat of booze. “Fabulous,” you’ll scream, “how do we get them on board?”

And lo, you’ll be begging, borrowing and stealing to magic up a marketing budget to no doubt run a cocktail competition that’ll engage every bartender in the land with the promise of a once-in-a-lifetime prize. You poor, poor sod.

Because there are various problems with this format. Not least, competitions by definition make more losers than winners. Not exactly the lasting impression you want your brand to make, is it?

cocktail competition

Look at all that wasted drink. Heartbreaking.

Secondly, the practicalities of organising and hosting a competent nationwide cocktail competition are fraught with difficulty. The hours spent in encouraging the lazy, I’ve-got-nothing-to-prove (read: ‘My ego can’t take the bashing) attitudes of a large number of bartenders are enormous. The groundwork requires the establishment of relationships, plenty of smoke being blown up certain sun-deprived areas, hundreds of unanswered emails and missed deadlines.

Bartenders don’t like to be hassled. This does not fit with their personas.

Thirdly, there’s finding a suitable venue. This is the true hallmark of the prestige of the operation. Get one of the most highly regarded venues to host and you’ll attract a higher quality of entrants, and also a hugely expensive bill for the space.

Plus, you’ll be throwing stock around left, right and centre to encourage experimentation. ‘You want to try a Szechuan pepper infusion? Here, use my gin. Then throw it away.’

cocktail competition

Nate Brown is sceptical of the benefits of cocktail competitions

Then, of course, is the judging. How bloody contentious. Who do you get? How much will they charge, if at all? And how, oh how, do you get them to judge impartially and kindly, without favouritism to their mates? Because I’m sorry to say, there are very, very few cocktail competitions ran without fixing: skewed to favour the glamorous bar, to reward sales volumes or the weight the name carries in the industry. There should be a scoring criterion rewarded for zeitgeist. Bars operate in a microcosm of local celebrity associations. It’s all nonsense. On more than one occasion I’ve been privy to the judges’ final deliberations, discrediting entrants based on the bar they work in, and crediting their mates, regardless of the quality of the drink or presentation. It’s a con, folks.

Then, of course, is the quality. In theory, a huge prize should attract a high level of drinks and presentations. But what happens when none of them are any good? It’s an Olympic scoring system. Even I’d win gold in the 100 meters if all the other competitors fell over.

In the end, the result of the cocktail competition might be a whole host of disgruntled, bitter bartenders, and a few select winners, who have zero influence on the products stocked in their bar, and even less ability to present your product in the best light. Money well spent? I think not.

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Win a VIP trip to Kingsbarns whisky distillery!

To celebrate the first commercial release earlier of a single malt from Kingsbarns in Fife, we’ve teamed up with the distillery to offer a chance to win a VIP trip…

To celebrate the first commercial release earlier of a single malt from Kingsbarns in Fife, we’ve teamed up with the distillery to offer a chance to win a VIP trip to Scotland. 

The area around the town of St. Andrews has been drawing tourists for years, attracted to the history, the beautiful scenery and a peculiarly popular game involving hitting a little white ball with a stick. Since 2014, there has been a new attraction, the Kingsbarns Distillery set in rolling Fife farmland and housed in a converted 18th century farmstead. Earlier this year, its whisky came of age and a small quantity was released under the apt name, Dream to Dram. The ancient Weymss family who own the distillery also bottle a range of malts from other distilleries as well as a delicious selection of gins under the Darnley’s Gin label.

Kingsbarns

The team at Kingsbarns, you could be meeting some of them soon

We visited back in January and were extremely impressed with both the just-released single malt and the distillery. Now we’re offering whisky lovers the chance to win a VIP tour. The prize includes travel for two up to Kingsbarns from within the UK, a distillery tour with the master distiller, two nights stay in a hotel in nearby historic St. Andrews including breakfast and dinner for two at the hotel, and lunch for two at the distillery. The lucky winner will also receive a yummy complimentary bottle of Dream to Dram whisky.

Sounds pretty tempting, doesn’t it? You probably want to know how you can enter this competition. Well, it’s not complicated. All you have to do is buy something from the Kingsbarns distillery range and you’re automatically entered. (For full details, see competition terms below).

MoM Kingsbarns Competition 2019 is open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 23 September to 7 October 2019. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. UK travel only. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. No purchase necessary. See full T&Cs for details. 

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New Arrival of the Week: The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1

Our New Arrival of the Week is the first in a series of releases, all of which are set to be heavily influenced by sherry casks. Meet The Lakes Whiskymaker’s…

Our New Arrival of the Week is the first in a series of releases, all of which are set to be heavily influenced by sherry casks. Meet The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1!

When we spoke with Dhavall Gandhi, whisky-maker-in-chief at The Lakes Distillery, back in May 2018, he explained that the distillery’s “main flagship is still a little way away but we are coming out with different styles, and these are much more intense in character and very, very sherry-orientated. So if you like sherry bombs you are going to like the initial releases of Lakes Distillery!”

Fast forward to September 2019, and the Cumbria-based distillery has launched the expression Gandhi teased us about: The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1. Unlike previous whiskies from the National Park’s first legal spirits producer, The ONE and Steel Bonnets, this is a single malt and it’s also the first whisky to form part of a range. The Whiskymaker’s Reserve is tipped to showcase the sherry-led house style defined by Gandhi, or the “artistic exploration of maturation, blending and flavour evolution”, as it was put in the press release.

Happily, the Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 does not fail to live up to the billing Gandhi gave it last year. It was matured in Pedro Ximénez sherry and red wine casks, comprising of American, Spanish and French oak, and to taste it has all the hallmarks of a sherry bomb (more on that later). Such distinctive styles of cask and the varying breeds of oak point to a distillery flexing its maturation muscles, as promised. The Lakes Distillery also made it known in the press materials that it has matured its spirits in PX, cream and fino sherry casks, from 500-litre butts to 205-litre hogsheads, and in our interview, Gandhi spoke of using orange wine casks from Andalusia, Spain and innovating with various types of bourbon casks too.

Lakes Whiskymaker's Reserve No.1

The distillery’s first single malt was made to showcase the sherry-led house style.

Gandhi’s decision to join The Lakes Distillery was partly for the opportunity to define the house style of a new distillery. The former Macallan-man (a role which presumably influenced his love for maturing whisky in sherry-casks) seems to be wasting no time in making his mark. A quote from Nigel Mills, co-founder of The Lakes Distillery, revealed the extent of his creative licence: “Unusually, Dhavall is actively involved at every stage of the process. From the choice of barley to the intricacy of bespoke cask production and selection, and knowing each cask intimately as it matures. It’s holistic whisky-making”.

The name ‘Whiskymaker’s Reserve’ appears to be quite apt, then. What we’re tasting here is not only a presentation of the character of the Lakes Distillery’s or its already impressive cask selection but something of a personal statement from the whisky maker. The question is, what does The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 say about Gandhi?

Firstly, his desire to experiment with various styles of casks suggests that he finds the fact that English whisky doesn’t have quite the historical precedent or legislative structure of Scotch to be liberating. “Creating a new whisky requires a framework of sorts, but there must be room within it to play, to follow gut feeling and instinct,” says Gandhi. “At The Lakes, we respect the conventions of Scotch whisky heritage but are open to a world of other influences, interpreting what we believe is right to make The Lakes Single Malt one of the finest whiskies in the world.”

Lakes Whiskymaker's Reserve No.1

The Lakes Distillery is one of the leading producers of English whisky.

The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 also demonstrates that Gandhi is a patient and methodical worker. This bottling wasn’t exactly rushed out of the door (we’ve been waiting over a year here Dhavall, mate). Furthermore, the combination of two distinctive cask types like this could have given Gandhi an expensive and complex self-inflicted problem. Nobody wants barrel upon barrel of unbalanced, unusable spirit. Bottling the expression without chill-filtration or any additional colouring at cask strength 60.6% ABV also gives him nowhere to hide.

For Gandhi, however, this very much seems to be the point. “We don’t believe in taking the easy option if there’s another way to add a new dimension of flavour – for the Lakes, that means not only creating flavour in the new make spirit but also opening up more flavour possibilities through the entire whisky-making process,” he says. This means we can expect more intriguing bottlings in the future, folks.

For now, we get to enjoy The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1. So, what do we make of it? Well, we like it and so will anyone else who loves a heavily-sherried whisky. It’s sweet, spicy, nutty and just a little bit funky. Both casks rush to centre stage on both the nose and palate, but both are impressively balanced and instead of competing with each other, the profile is actually quite complementary. Plus the distillery character manages to avoid being drowned in this cask-forward fun. The first batch is limited to 5,922 bottles, which is a shame, and the price tag might be a touch high for a no-age-statement bottling for some people’s taste, but overall it’s fair to we’re fans, and we’re very excited to see what’s next.

The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1:

Nose: Black wine gums, marmalade and resinous sherried funk initially, with winter spice and rich caramel. There’s nutty malted barley and sugared almonds underneath, as well as a hint of Crunchie chocolate bar.

Palate: A rich, yet refined palate leads with succulent blackcurrants, dried orange peel and vanilla fudge, with wine-stained oak, bitter herbs and a touch of flint in support.

Finish: Woody tannins sparkle into life among dried fruit, apples and dark chocolate.

Overall: Hugely satisfying, it’s a funky, fruity and undoubtedly sherry-tastic dram.

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The Nightcap: 20 September

Your order of bite-sized bits of booze news has been filled once again, courtesy of The Nightcap! This week we’ve got stories about beer from 1936, colourful Macallan whisky and…

Your order of bite-sized bits of booze news has been filled once again, courtesy of The Nightcap! This week we’ve got stories about beer from 1936, colourful Macallan whisky and the return of a drink-filled Amazon Prime TV series.

We’ve spent some time in the office this week talking about how Jeff Goldblum is pretty much the perfect person. To be honest, we spend a lot of weeks doing that. In a way, he’s quite like the booze industry. We enjoy what they produce, we’re excited to see what they come out with next and they both make us thirsty. Only one, however, can be the true focus of The Nightcap. Sorry, Jeff. But needs must.

So what’s been going on here on the MoM Blog? Well, we announced winner of our Salcombe Gin competition, so congratulations are in order. Elsewhere, Jess witnessed the journey of a whisky from tree to barrel to glass courtesy of Jura Seven Wood and Henry enjoyed some Rum Punch as this is International Punch Day (happy IPD, folks!). Annie, meanwhile, had an eco-themed week, first dispelling some eco myths and then looking at some the finest eco distilleries. Adam’s theme was more sherry-tastic as he rounded-up some delicious and delightful sherried whiskies and then made an amontillado sherry cask-finished Tomatin single malt Scotch whisky our New Arrival of the Week, before finding time to talk about the new Jameson Caskmates release.

Despite all of that boozy goodness, there’s still more news stories to cover. It’s The Nightcap!

The Macallan Edition No. 5 launches in collaboration with Pantone

Sound the ‘New Macallan‘ alert folks, because the Speyside distillery has just launched a bottling as a “homage to the diversity and complexity of natural colour.” It may sound more Pantene then Pantone, but the expression is supposed to champion the spectrum of natural colour you’ll find across the Macallan range and features a collaboration with the Pantone Color Institute. The company created the shade of purple you’ll see on the label especially for this particular release, which has been named The Macallan Edition Purple. The Macallan Edition No.5 was matured in American oak casks and is said to have notes of caramel, vanilla, lemon basil and fresh fruit combined with oak spices, but more importantly, it’s a colour the brand describes as “sunlit barley” (I’m thinking of having my spare room painted that). “We can find much common ground between whisky making and colour creation and with Edition No.5 we have been able to explore and celebrate these two art forms,” said Sarah Burgess, The Macallan whisky maker. “Whilst colour development starts with mixing basic colours with precision to achieve different shades, for whisky-making, it is the knowledge and understanding of a specific palette of colours from the cask which is the starting point. From here we can craft the desired character and specific colour of the final whisky”. Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, added: “As the rainbow’s most complex colour, purple naturally felt like the ideal shade to highlight the equally complex process involved in The Macallan’s whisky-making”.

The Nightcap

The remarkable historical beers

Britain’s earliest surviving canned beers go for £2,250 at auction

We’re used to old bottles of whisky selling for thousands of pounds but with beer less so. Which is why we were surprised when two old cans went for £2,250 at Chiswick Auctions in London yesterday. That’s a lot of bread for beer. But these weren’t just any cans. Oh no, these babies date back to 1936 and come from the Felinfoel Brewery in Llanelli which was the first brewery in Britain and the second in the world to produce a canned beer. Similar cans were shipped out to North Africa to keep General Montgomery’s army aka the Desert Rats refreshed. Handily at the time, the brewery also owned a tinplate works. The cans were lined with wax to stop the beer corroding the metal. It seems to have worked because both the contents of one can are entirely intact, whereas the second has suffered some evaporation. Not bad for 83-year-old beer cans. As for the taste of the beer, we are unlikely to find out whether they are drinkable as the cans were snapped up by the very company that brewed them (still in family hands after all these years) to go into its museum.

The Nightcap

Havana Club Tributo 2019, which we can confirm is very tasty

Havana Club brings Tributo 2019 to the UK

At The Churchill Bar & Terrace in Portman Square, London we were treated to live Cuban music, delicious cocktails, a sublime menu and, best of all, the 2019 edition of Havana Club Tributo this week. The fourth bottling in Havana Club’s Tributo range, which was first launched in February 2019 at the Habanos Festival in Havana, Cuba, was created by three generations of masters of Cuban rum (maestros del ron Cubano) including Don José Navarro, Asbel Morales and Salomé Aleman, the first and only female maestra del ron Cubano, who each selected a rare and extra-aged rum base which were first left to mature in the 1970s, 1990s and 2010s respectively. These were then blended together with a rum that was matured for more than 25 years in French oak barrels to form the 2019 edition of Tributo. “Once again, the Havana Club Tributo collection praises the richness and variety of styles that form the base of the authentic Cuban rum category,” said Morales. “Each rum in the Tributo range uniquely focuses on a different element of the production process, from our ancient rum bases to cask experimentation and the 2019 edition continues this story by honouring the craftsmanship of three of the maestros del ron Cubano.” Rich, refined and intense, Havana Club Tributo 2019 possesses notes of dark chocolate, dried fruit, baking spice, coffee, brown sugar and exotic fruit. It certainly earns our seal of approval and will be available at MoM Towers soon…

The Nightcap

A delightful cause, courtesy of a delightful beer!

Beer for good! Camden Town Brewery heads to London for UK’s first Can-for-Can Swap with The Felix Project

We’re all lucky enough to be able to enjoy delicious food and mouth-watering drinks on a regular basis, though it’s a harsh reality that that’s not true for everyone. That’s why we were super stoked to hear that Camden Town Brewery has launched a new autumnal seasonal beer, dubbed Harvest Hells Lager, in partnership with The Felix Project, a charity with a mission in raising awareness for food poverty in the UK. This is a problem which affects 8.4 million people nationally. Harvest Hells gets its autumnal notes from darker roasted speciality malts, making for a richer flavour while poetically turning its summery yellow hue to the reddish-brown of autumn leaves. Mmm, autumn leaves… But how does lager help food poverty, you ask? Well, from 24 September there’s going to be a Harvest Hells van gallivanting between London, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool with the UK’s first ‘Can-for-Can’ swap initiative! Bring a can of any tinned food and you’ll secure a can of Harvest Hells lager in return, while your tins will be donated to local food banks in each city. The when and whereabouts of the Harvest Hells Van can be found here. What’s more, Camden Town Brewery is donating 20p from every can of Harvest Hells Lager sold within the first month to The Felix Project. “Food poverty in the UK is a growing problem, with many people struggling to afford fresh and healthy food for themselves and their families,” Mark Curtin, CEO of The Felix Project, says. “We are delighted that Camden is not only helping to raise awareness of these crucial issues and the work we do at The Felix Project to tackle them, but also getting people involved in supporting the cause to help to reduce waste and eradicate food insecurity.” If there was ever a more appropriate time to do the can-can, it would have to be now.

The Nightcap

Distillation here will begin in 2021. We’d like all artist’s impressions to include dogs, on another note.

Ardgowan releases Coppersmith malt inspired by the Clyde’s shipbuilding heritage

This week Ardgowan announced the first in a series of limited-editions whiskies. The company has received planning permission for a new distillery to commence operation in 2021 but in the meantime will be selling blended whiskies created by Max McFarlane. CEO Martin McAdam described McFarlane, former whisky maker for Edrington looking after brands such as Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, Bunnahabhain, Tamdhu and Highland Park, as a “whisky legend.” The first release is called Coppersmith and it’s a blend of Speyside and Highland distilleries wholly matured in first-fill oloroso sherry casks. McFarlane, who is from Inverkip on the west coast, said: “Coppersmith is the first in the Clydebuilt series of whiskies which Ardgowan Distillery will release in the years ahead. Each bottle in the series will celebrate the pride shown by generations of workers on the Clyde, who together built some of the world’s most illustrious ships.” He went on to say: “I wanted to produce a top-drawer blended malt and I believe that is what we have achieved.” It will be available from the distillery for £49.99 and from a certain online retailer soon.

The Nightcap

The Three Drinkers return to Amazon Prime, and indeed to Scotland!

The Three Drinkers returns to Amazon Prime

The Three Drinkers are back, and this time it’s personal. We were pleased to learn this week that the irreverent boozy Amazon Prime show is back for another series. The Three Drinkers are, for those who don’t know, actress and wine buff Helena Nicklin, journalist and social media sensation Adrian Smith, and whisky writer and photographer Colin Hampden-White. The first series was called The Three Drinkers do Scotch whisky and for the second series they haven’t travelled very far, it’s called The Three Drinkers Return to Scotland. At this rate it’s going to be years before they even leave the British Isles. Anyway, we aren’t complaining as there’s a lot of good booze in Scotland; the dynamic trio will be visiting: Dalmore, Jura, Fettercairn, Glen Scotia, Glen Moray, Loch Lomond and Firkin Gin distilleries. “We’ve been blown away by how well the series has done in such a short time,” Nicklin commented. “We’re looking forward to playing up the fun side of our travels with more experimentation with food and drink, eerie ghost stories, ridiculous challenges and all the weird and wonderful tidbits people never knew about Scotland and whisky.” The new series will be available to view on your TV, tablet or one of those computer watches that are all the rage these days from early December.

The Nightcap

This is Tails, the downstairs, at what we presume is Harvey Dent’s favourite bar

West Hampstead’s Heads + Tails bar channels two sides of a coin

If you’ve ever flipped a coin to try and decide which bar you should venture to, then Heads + Tails may be just what you’ve been waiting for. The West Hampstead bar was created by London mixologists Will Partridge and Chris Dennis, with the idea of having two complimenting counterparts to the bar: Heads, the top floor, and Tails, the downstairs. Each bar has a different menu, and we started off upstairs in Heads where there are spritzes galore and lighter cocktails, surrounded by light blue decor, filament light bulbs and a marble bar. We went for the Corpse Reviver No. 175, which marries Fords Gin, Dolin Blanc, Italicus and Chocolate & Mace Flower Bitters. Now, we weren’t with any corpses, though if there’s one cocktail that could revive the dead, it may well be this one. Beautifully light and citrussy, with a subtle rich creamy back note from the bitters. Then, there was Smoke on the Water, which takes Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila, mezcal verde, lime and watermelon syrup. Again, wonderfully well balanced, with juicy fruit tempered perfectly by the rich smokiness and grassy notes of the agave spirits. Then, you head downstairs to Tails, covered in dark oak and moodily lit by candles. It’s literally darker down there, and so are the spirits. Here we tried Twist of Fate, comprised of Wild Turkey bourbon, ginger and cinnamon syrup topped off with orange blossom water. Richer without being heavy, you can feel and certainly taste the difference between the two floors. A unique idea and a wonderful spot, and if you can’t decide from the list of delicious drinks you could always… flip a coin.

The Nightcap

If it’s good enough for TripAdvisor, it’s good enough for us!

Rum experience comes to Manchester

The Manchester Rum Experience sounds like the most exciting experience to come to Manchester since the Jimi Hendrix Experience played at the Twisted Wheel in 1967. It’s the brainchild of Dave Rigby from the City of Manchester Distillery, the city’s premier attraction according to never-wrong website Tripadvisor. Tell us more Dave! “Our motivation with the new ‘Rum Experience’ was to pay homage to some of the influences which drove us to build the distillery at the outset. As a collective, we have been on an amazing journey over the last few years and as such, we wanted to share some of these incredible experiences, stories and some of the fun we’d had, through a range of new and diverse, interactive events at the distillery”, Rigby said. Tickets have now gone on sale for the experience which consists of a three-hour immersion in all things rum with Dave Marsland from the Manchester Rum Festival including history, cocktails and the opportunity to fill your own min barrel in ‘The Lab’. Best of all, the new experience is being supported by some of our favourite brands including Chairman’s Reserve, Bacardi, Don Q, Appleton Estate, Diplomatico, Pussers, Wray & Nephew, Doorly’s, Plantation and Gosling’s. Beat that Jimi!

The Nightcap

Munich comes to London, only without any of the tradition. Still lots of beer, though

Inclusive Oktoberfests arrive in London

Once upon a time, you knew what you were letting yourself in for if you decided to go to the Oktoberfest. There would be men in leather shorts, mile after mile of pork sausages, oceans of beer, oh and you’d have to go to Munich to experience the whole thing. Well not anymore because this autumn there are three London Oktoberfests happening at Doc X in Surrey Quays: a fancy one, a gay one and a spooky one for Hallow’en. Go to http://www.doktoberfest.co.uk for more information. These differ from the original Bavarian festival in other ways: you don’t have to drink beer as there will be Champagne and non-alcoholic drinks served, or indeed eat traditional German sausages as at all three events there will be halal, kosher and vegan options. You don’t even have to wear leather shorts but you must be tolerant of those who choose to.

The Nightcap

Asparagus this, Brussels sprouts that… you can’t beat a good ol’ G&T!

And finally… asparagus becomes latest wacky gin flavour

In what has essentially become our, ‘look at this weird gin’ slot, an asparagus-flavoured expression has added to the endless nonsense of novelty-flavoured gins. It’s one of the spirits on offer at the inaugural Malvern Gin Show which showcases “some of the finest spirits from the Three Counties region” and giving visitors the opportunity to sample a wide range of drinks from local and surrounding gin distilleries. A competition will even declare one distillery ‘the people’s champion’. The event, part of the Malvern Autumn Show, runs the weekend of September 28 and 29, and will include a brand new Gin Pod Theatre to host to gin-tastic talks and for visitors to get inspiration for recipe ideas. Some of the confirmed distilleries at the show include Hussingtree Gin (who are responsible for the asparagus gin), Brennan and Brown and Haven Distillery. “The Malvern Gin Show is a new addition and we’re all rather excited about it,” said Richard Heath, show executive responsible for the new classes “We have a rich selection of distilleries which are local to the Three Counties, and what better way to celebrate than to hold a series of classes, and of course give our visitors ample opportunity to do some tasting.” Run in association with Westons Cider Mill, the Malvern Autumn Show will host over 65,000 people at the two-day celebration right in the heart of the beautiful British countryside, and you can get your tickets now at malvernautumn.co.uk.

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