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Master of Malt Blog

The evolution of drinks advertising

It’s one of the most highly regulated forms of advertising in the world. So, how did alcohol adverts begin – and what do they look like now? Millie Milliken tracks…

It’s one of the most highly regulated forms of advertising in the world. So, how did alcohol adverts begin and what do they look like now? Millie Milliken tracks the evolution of the drinks advert

When Canadian Club became Don Draper’s drink of choice in Mad Men in 2007, the whiskey brand turned a 17-consecutive-year decline in sales into a 4.3% growth. Anyone who has seen the show will know that Draper and his fellow advertising execs drank both regularly and copiously – plenty of opportunities for a brand to get its name in front of the show’s many million viewers.

And it was, in fact, me stumbling across a double-page spread advert for Canadian Club in my July 1979 issue of an American Playboy (I bought it for the articles, promise) that got me thinking about the evolution of the drinks advert. In this particular ad, the marketing team has concocted a tale the somewhere in Chicago is a hidden case of the good stuff – and the reader has been given the clues to find it. Ingenious stuff.

Drinks adverts come in many forms. While the 20th century saw more traditional types of media magazines, newspapers, billboards and, in time, television act as conduits for drinks brands, now, you’re just as likely to see your tipple of choice in the hands of a celebrity or on an influencer’s Instagram reel. All effective, sometimes controversial and increasingly elaborate. So, where did it begin?

Grace Jones Wine Cooler

If Grace is selling, we’re buying

Hard copy sell

Despite having worked on the editorial teams of print magazines for the last decade, I struggle to recall a drinks ad in print that made an impression during that time. Looking back to the 20th century, however, and there are plenty that spring to mind (for good reasons, and for bad).

Taschen’s 20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads: 100 Years of Stimulating Ads is a who’s who of brands. Smirnoff’s strapline ‘Haven’t tried Smirnoff? Where in the world have you been?’ is accompanied by a female model dressed as an astronaut; Grace Jones is the face of Sun Cooler wine coolers (me neither); while Tanqueray’s ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ ad can be purchased as a poster for a mere $5.

I’d be lying if I didn’t find most of them utterly charming, none more so than the chintzy Babycham adverts (I still pick up a case on the occasional trip to Lidl) with its signature cartoon fawn and timelessly retro iconography. Incidentally, it was also one of the first drinks advertised directly to women.

But, as has been well documented, many have not dated well. In my Playboy issue alone, I can count at least four adverts that would not be allowed to run today. Metaxa’s ad includes the line ‘While more and more women are enjoying it, Metaxa is still considered a man’s drink’, while ads for Chivas Regal and Jameson are unambiguous that both should only be bought for ‘dad’. Google ‘burning bra Smirnoff’ and get your head around that one. I wonder which current adverts will look as ridiculous in 60 years time. Efforts have even been made by some brands to address such sexism: in 2019, Budweiser reimagined three of its 1950s and 60s ads for its #SeeHer campaign.

Babycham advert

They don’t make ’em like this anymore

On the air

It’s important to note that between the years of 1936 (radio), 1948 (television) and 1996, television adverts of spirits – not beer or wine – were banned by agreement of the industry in the USA. When Prohibition ended in 1933, spirits brands self-imposed the ban in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of a second one. Nearly 50 years later and Seagram Company broke the spell.

In his 1996 article for The New York Times, ‘Liquor Industry Ends its Ban in Broadcasting’, Stuart Elliot wrote: ‘The decision by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the liquor trade association also known as Discus, comes six months after the Seagram Company, the nation’s second-largest seller of distilled spirits, began defying the ban…. by running commercials for several brands in scattered markets around the country.’ Not long after, Seagram ran a Chivas Regal Scotch ad during a sports TV programme. Anti-alcohol groups were up in arms – even President Clinton urged Seagram to reconsider.

On this side of the pond, TV ads for alcohol were enjoying their time in the sun in the 1980s, most notably, beer adverts (Master of Malt has rounded up five of its favourites here). Guinness’ 1999 ‘Surfer’ advert, where a black and white film of men out-surfing horses (the horses aren’t surfing, of course) is particularly nostalgic for me as a 90s child, and its 1994 Anticipation advert appeared in print, TV and cinema – and won the advertising agency Arks numerous awards.

And they’ve only got better: Black Cow’s launch advert, made by award-winning agency The Romans recreated the 1989 Accrington Stanley milk advert (although it was later banned by the ASA for promoting excessive drinking); and Glenmorangie’s recent ‘It’s Kind of Delicious and Wonderful’ (produced by DDB Paris) both spring to mind. Hendrick’s Gin even launched its first-ever TV advert in November 2020.

 

The future of drinks advertising

So, what’s to come? Tik Tok may be ruling the social media kingdom in 2021, but there is one thing that is glaringly absent – drinks adverts. Why? Because most of its users can’t legally drink, and until the platform can prove that the majority of its users can, that is how it will stay. According to Dave Infante of VinePair in his article ‘Gazing into the Foggy Future of Alcohol Advertising on TikTok’, that won’t be changing any time soon – although it may do some day.

The team at Tik Tok also most likely took their stance after a fallout on Snapchat, where a misjudged alcohol ad was deemed to breach the rules related to advertising to children.

According to social media marketing company, Social Bakers, Instagram is in fact leading the way when it comes to drinks advertising – especially on Instagram Stories. It names Jameson Irish Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s and Bud Light as being the most successful.

Personally, a return to the print and TV adverts of yore (minus the prejudice) would be a welcome reprieve. I’ve never tried a wine cooler – but if anyone could persuade me, it would be Grace Jones.

Rules and regs

The rules behind UK alcohol TV ads you probably didn’t know (sourced from the ASA):

– Ever seen a group of drinkers buying rounds? Probably not – because references to, or suggestion of, buying repeat rounds of alcoholic drinks are not acceptable.

– Puppets, cartoons and even rhyming are to be avoided so as not to attract the attention of children who might be watching. Oh, and slang language associated with teens is frowned upon too. I stan that.

– Music used in alcohol adverts must not be that considered popular with young audiences. Saying that, if the music consequently becomes popular among young people, then it is allowed.

Showing people drinking in their workplace is prohibited, unless it is a celebratory drink when the working day has clearly finished. (But what about working from home?!)

– Even the pour of a drink has its rules: Champagne cork pop and overflow, fine. Soaking partygoers in Champagne, no. The pouring panache of a bartender should be OK, but an amateur, probably not. In my humble opinion, this should apply in real-life too.

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New Arrival of the Week: Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

Some tasty Tennessee Whiskey has landed at our door today so we thought you’d like to learn more about this intriguing newcomer. Here’s the lowdown on Daddy Rack. Most of…

Some tasty Tennessee Whiskey has landed at our door today so we thought you’d like to learn more about this intriguing newcomer. Here’s the lowdown on Daddy Rack.

Most of you will know two things about Tennessee Whiskey. One, it’s made in Tennessee with almost the same legal regulations as bourbon (at least 51% corn mash bill, must be aged in new, charred oak etc.) apart from the use of a method of additional filtration through maple charcoal known as the Lincoln County Process. And two, Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee Whiskey.

There are, of course, numerous other producers that make whiskey the Tennessee way.  George Dickel is the other giant alongside Jack, while Uncle Nearest is growing so fast we’ll be calling it Great Uncle Nearest soon. The latest brand to join the esteemed ranks is Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey. Founder J.Arthur Rackham was drawn to the category because he “loves the soul of the state” and “wanted to bottle a bit of that magic”. 

It’s the realisation of a lifelong ambition. Booze has always been a part of Rackham’s life. He was born above his father’s liquor store in Portobello Road, west London. In 1968 he got an apprenticeship with the Camus family in Cognac, which began a more than 50-year career in the international spirit merchant business. Rackham says that all this time in the industry underlines that there is nothing more important than understanding the DNA and the tradition of the spirit you’re working with. 

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

Daddy Rack is the latest brand to emerge from Tennessee

Making whiskey the Daddy Rack way

So we’re expecting to see that Daddy Rack was made without taking any shortcuts with ingredients, fermentation, distillation and barrel selection and ageing. First, we begin with a mash bill of corn (80%), rye (10%) and malted barley (10%). The grade one corn comes from local farmers within 50 miles of the distillery. We’re off to a good start. Rackham explains that Tennessee whiskey “conveys a sense of place” and that he wanted to amplify that by supporting the communities local to the distillery, “whose produce is amazing quality”.

He elaborates, “This all goes into creating a liquid that conveys quality and provenance in every sip. We sit in the middle of a corn belt, with high-grade corn grown locally, so it was an amazing chance to source locally.” The mash after fermentation is also sent to local cattle farmers for feed, meaning Daddy Rack is lowering its carbon footprint and supporting the local farm industry in one fell swoop.

Once the milling of the grains has taken place a 72-hour sour mash follows. Then a first distillation is in a copper column still, followed by a second pot ‘doubler’ still distillation. The spirit comes off the stills around 67.5% ABV, but before it’s placed into barrels there’s one more step. The Lincoln County Process. Daddy Rack does things a little differently by employing a light second round of maple charcoal filtration to “increase the smoothness”. 

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

Say hello to Daddy Rack himself!

Passion, provenance and philanthropy

We can’t reveal the distillery’s name. But there are some clues in the article. And very few options for what it could be… Rackham does say that he’s been fortunate enough to always be surrounded by real stalwarts in the industry and along the way met some incredible people. Luck has played a part. “I met the owners of the distillery and they were keen to work with me on a project to show what they could do with their impressive facility in Columbia with their team,” he said. “It has been a joy to work with them and find a like-minded production partner.” 

Rackham says he selects about 20 barrels to mature a batch of Daddy Rack. He only uses casks with a light char level (no. 3), to avoid stripping too much character from the spirit. Which makes sense. No point spending all that money on great corn only to kill it with fire. It means barrel selection from the rackhouse is very important. “We use an algorithm of picking barrels. Some from the top tier with higher evaporation and some from the mid and lower tier with low evaporation to balance the blend and preserve our inherent core flavours. It’s all about managing the harsher congeners from the sour mash fermentation to make a mellow, balanced and smooth Tennessee whiskey with genuine flavour”. Rackham explains. “Sure, it’s a bit more work, but it’s definitely worth it.”

To that end, Daddy Rack is bottled at 40% ABV with no colouring, caramel or additional flavours added. It’s clear there’s a tremendous amount of care and passion gone into this project. After all, Rackham gave the whiskey his name. Daddy Rack is what eldest daughter Grace calls him. He feels like it truly represents him, explaining that “it’s like we’d bottled a bit of my heart and soul”. His ambition is to be the number two Tennessee whiskey in the global market after Jack Daniel’s. And to help a new generation of whiskey imbibers appreciate Tennessee Whiskey. Rackham’s also working on a cask strength expression with a little more age, which we look forward to tasting.

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

Daddy Rack, looking swell in the sunshine.

The taste test

Before we get to the review, we would be remiss not to point out the brand’s fantastic support of CORE. The charity. with roots in Tennessee, receives 50 cents of every bottle of Daddy Rack sold to help support its mission of providing financial relief when a food and beverage employee with children faces a health crisis, injury, death or natural disaster. “With the year we’ve had it was more important than ever that we supported people in the hospitality industry who have faced so much uncertainty and struggle,” Rackham says. “It also has roots in Tennessee. So we felt a real synergy with it as a charity, and have nothing but admiration and respect for what it does. I am a Trustee of The Drinks Trust. CORE mirrors these values”.

As for how the whiskey tastes, overall I enjoyed Daddy Rack. It’s a touch thin on the palate at times and doesn’t quite carry all of its early promise into the finish. It could maybe do with being bottled at a slightly higher strength. But the nose has a lovely array of flavour and all of them are balanced well throughout. The sweetness never becomes saccharine, the spice is aromatic and there are some interesting depth and variety in places. Daddy Rack is a moreish, fun and versatile expression with a host of pleasant notes for a reasonable price point in this category. It’s a whiskey you can sip neat, but there’s also a number of cocktail recipes it works with.

My favourite is the Rackhouse Lemonade, which also happens to be Rackham’s. He made it with his friend Simon Difford and it should be no great surprise to anyone to learn that it’s absolutely smashing. I’ll be having one or two of those at the first BBQ I can go to this year. For now, we can still bring some of this liquid sunshine into our own homes. The full tasting note and cocktail recipe are below and you can purchase Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey now!

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey Tasting Note:

Nose: Vanilla pod earthiness, maple syrup and banana milkshake lead with red apples, fresh-cut grass, Kinder Bueno and toasted oak in support. In the backdrop, there’s melted salted butter, winter spice, cereal sweetness and peanut brittle.

Palate: Notes of candy floss, toffee popcorn, bruised apples and loose-leaf tobacco appear initially, with sultanas, manuka honey and vanilla cola in support. Barrel char, green tea, oily espresso beans and sour cherry brings some nice bittersweet depth. With brown sugar, custard and chocolate-covered raisins joining them underneath. There’s a measured prickle of spice throughout from cinnamon and black pepper.

Finish: Spearmint, orange peel and some lingering nutmeg, milk chocolate and caramel elements.

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey

How to make a Rackhouse Lemonade

45ml Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey
10ml Giffard Creme de Peche de Vigne 
15ml lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
90ml lemon-lime soda

Pour all ingredients into an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir and garnish with a slice or twist of lemon. 

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Chocolate and booze: the perfect combination for Easter

It’s nearly Easter! And while the Easter bunny is busy laying chocolate eggs (that’s right, isn’t it?), we’ve been trying out chocolate and booze pairings. And not just pairings, it…

It’s nearly Easter! And while the Easter bunny is busy laying chocolate eggs (that’s right, isn’t it?), we’ve been trying out chocolate and booze pairings. And not just pairings, it turns out you can put your booze in your chocolate – or your chocolate in your booze.

From cocktails to Port, whisky to gin, there is a chocolate for just about every type of drink. And a drink for every type of chocolate.

Lindt chocolatier

A Lindt chocolatier looking exactly as you would hope (PHOTOPRESS/Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spruengli AG)

Chocolate first

To get started, I caught up with the man who makes those famous Lindt bunnies, Lindt master chocolatier Stefan Bruderer. Or so I like to think. “An important point is the tasting order,” he says, “always have the chocolate first.”

Wise words for any chocolate lover but there’s also some science to it. The temperature in our mouths is usually around 36°C, which is the perfect temperature to melt chocolate. “If you have a cold drink, between 5-8°C, the temperature in your mouth will drop down for a moment. The result is that the chocolate will not melt as it should,” he says.

Opposites attract

Like any food and drink pairing (or episode of Married at First Sight), Bruderer reminds us that opposites attract. “This means I am looking at the drink for some flavours I can’t find in the chocolate and vice versa,” he says. “So that they somewhat complete each other.”

He offers an example: “If you have a white wine that is not too sweet but slightly sour, with some notes of fresh fruits like green apples, lime or grapefruit the perfect match could be Excellence Orange,” he explains, “because Excellence Orange has some sweetness, as it is ‘just’ a medium dark chocolate, and has notes of ripe orange. This means if you pair those two you will have the sour and fresh fruit notes from the white wine and the sweetness and the ripe fruit notes from the chocolate.”

In fact, the Lindt archives are stuffed full of great chocolate and drinks pairings and among my favourites is the Aperol Spritz also with Excellence Orange a marriage of sweet, smooth citrus with bold, bitter citrus. Or perhaps a Negroni with Lindt Excellence Sea Salt Dark Chocolate appeals? Bittersweet umami for the win.

Fonseca Bin 27 port with chocolate

When in doubt, reach for the Port

Any Port

I’m sure it comes as absolutely no surprise that port is a winner with chocolate.

Fonseca Bin 27 is a top tipple with truffles. So much so in fact, that it features as an ingredient in Vinte Vinte Port Wine Truffles. If you can’t get your hands on those, find yourself a good quality 70% cocoa truffle and let the experiment commence.

This ruby Port is bottled ready to drink and it brings bags of black fruit to the table, along with tobacco, a slightly herbaceous note, figs, raisins, chocolate and vanilla cream. The truffles round out the black fruit character, bringing more cream and chocolate to the party, until you end up with a black forest gateaux in your mouth. What’s not to like about that?

Whisky fix

If Port’s not your bag, there’s a new whisky from Dewar’s that will work a treat with this kind of truffle – Dewar’s 8 year old Portuguese Smooth. The whisky is finished in, you guessed it, ruby port casks. With dark and red fruit on the nose, the palate offers smooth milk chocolate with poached pear and blackberries. 

And for smoke fans, get yourself some Tony’s Chocolonely Dark Milk Pretzel Toffee and a bottle of Lagavulin. The dark chocolate and toffee squares up to the smoky notes, while the salt tang of the pretzel meets the slight salinity of the whisky.

What about white chocolate?

The folks at Hotel Chocolat have a strong suggestion for white chocolate, which again plays on that desire to balance out flavours.

“White chocolate is arguably the creamiest of the mainstream chocolate types and so it’s a good idea to pair it with a drink that balances out that sweet, cocoa-buttery charm,” their guide suggests. “We’d recommend pairing it with a chilled Provence rosé; the refreshing strawberry notes are pleasantly elevated by the creaminess of the white chocolate.”

If you haven’t quite got into rosé season, MoM recommends Whisky Works Glaswegian 29 Year Old. This richly creamy single grain Scotch whisky pairs excellently with the creaminess of a good white chocolate.

Cocktail Porter Espresso Martini

Cocktail Porter Espresso Martini served in an actual Lindt bunny!

Liquid lush

Can’t be bothered to pair chocolate and booze? Good news! There are several drinks for that, too. How about Jaffa Cake Gin, Rum or Vodka? And of course there is a Bourbon Bourbon for all you chocolate biscuit fans. The drink features Kentucky bourbon infused with genuine Bourbon biscuits, and blended with dark chocolate and vanilla to accentuate those familiar flavours. The producer, Master of Malt’s sister company Atom Labs, recommends trying it in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. Or, y’know, a glass.

If glasses aren’t ‘Easter’ enough and you want to be really decadent, you can bite the ears off a Lindt bunny and stick your Easter cocktail right inside. That’s what the folks at Cocktail Porter have done with an Espresso Martini: Ketel One Vodka, Cocktail Porter sugar syrup, Kuka cold brew coffee and Conker Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur shaken and poured right into the cavity.

Have your cocktail and eat it.

And for the gin lovers, the folks at Kintyre Gin have come up with the Easter Bunny Negroni:

35ml Kintyre Pink Gin
35ml Creme de Cacao
15ml Campari
15ml Sweet Vermouth
Dash of chocolate bitters

Serve in a chilled Martini glass, rimmed with grated chocolate.

Bet you could serve that in a Lindt bunny, too.

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The Nightcap: 26 March

50-year-old whisky from Highland Park, a new distillery on Whisky Galore island and David Beckham. It’s all on The Nightcap: 26 March edition. Get stuck in!  A whole week has…

50-year-old whisky from Highland Park, a new distillery on Whisky Galore island and David Beckham. It’s all on The Nightcap: 26 March edition. Get stuck in! 

A whole week has passed since we last filled our Nightcapping sack full of stories. Which means we get to do it all again this week. You might think that at some point not enough interesting things will happen in this lovely industry of ours and we won’t have anything to write about. But we’ve never had to find out. Because people keep doing cool, interesting or baffling things, like rebuilding a demolished pub brick by brick or putting whisky in mulberry wood casks. And we salute them for doing so. It means we’ve got another cracker of a Nightcap to enjoy this week. So, what are you waiting for? Read on!

If you like winning stuff by doing very little then the MoM blog was the place for you this week as we launched a bottle lottery for a shiny new Macallan whisky and a #BagThisBundle competition with Botanist Islay Dry Gin. If you enjoy smoky blends with plenty of history, fiery zero ABV drinks or bargain vodka you’ll also love this week’s work. There was also room on our blog for plenty of debate with Ian Buxton considering the potential of a whisky bust that could be coming soon and Henry asking if the G&T is a cocktail. Lucy, meanwhile, did some digging into the history of Hennessy Cognac as Adam’s attention was taken by Irish independent bottling and the Curious Bartender popped by to give us some top tips for making cocktails at home.

On The Nightcap: 26 March edition we take a look at the new 50-year-old whisky launched by Highland Park

The new dram certainly looks every bit as old and rare as it is

Highland Park launches 50-year-old whisky

Highland Park is flexing its considerable muscles this week by unveiling a new 50-Year-Old single malt. It’s just the third time a half-century whisky has been released in the distillery’s 223 year history, which should give you an idea of how significant this launch is. The 50 Year Old is the creation of a selection of nine refill casks laid down in 1968 that were married together in 2008 then re-racked into a handful of the finest first-fill sherry seasoned oak casks. Then, after a further 12 years of maturation, one of these limited casks was selected and married with a small quantity of the whisky from the 2016 release of 50 Year Old which in turn contained some whisky from the 2010 batch. Highland Park is describing this as a ‘solera’ as used in the sherry industry, which isn’t quite accurate, but certainly sounds colourful. Gordon Motion, Highland Park master whisky maker, described it as “spectacular”. He reveals the spirit has both the rich sherried flavours from its final first-fill cask maturation, as well as all the delicate fragrance and flavours driven by the original refill casks. The whisky comes in a hand-made walnut box courtesy of John Galvin and the design has all the hallmarks of the Norse heritage Highland Park likes to reference nowadays. Of course, all of this comes with a considerable price tag of £20,000, so it’s unlikely any of us will get to taste it. Still, there’s plenty of tasty Highland Park expressions to enjoy right here, which is a solid consolation. 

On The Nightcap: 26 March edition we take a first look at a new distillery on Whisky Galore island

Yes it looks like every other computer-generated distillery design

Whisky Galore island getting its own whisky distillery

The island where author Sir Compton Mackenzie set his classic novel Whisky Galore is about to welcome its first-ever whisky distillery. The team behind the Isle of Barra Gin brand plans to create a new purpose-built whisky and gin distillery and visitor centre on Barra, where the original movie was filmed. The £5m project will serve as the new home to the existing 300-litre Barra gin still, ‘Ada’ and have a plant for bottling and bonded warehousing, a small café/bar and a retail area, all while creating at least 30 new local jobs. Whisky veteran Alan Winchester (of Glenlivet fame) has been brought on board to put his 40+ years of experience to good use, guiding Isle of Barra Gin founders Michael and Katie Morrison and helping to establish a flavour profile. The plan is for the site to be powered by renewable energy and for it to be built with sustainable materials, while a green travel plan that will limit the number of visitors driving to the site is also in development. Once completed, the distillery will be capable of producing over 300,000 bottles of single malt per year, with the firm planning to use spirit matured in a mix of ex-bourbon barrels, Cabernet Sauvignon casks and Oloroso sherry casks. The founders say the idea is to create a spirit that represents its island home and also reveals that ever since the launch of Isle of Barra Distillers, they’ve consistently been asked if they produce whisky because of the instant connection people make with the much-loved film and the book. If all goes well they should break ground in the middle of next year. Though you’ll have to wait a good while before it’s whisky galore on Barra.

Method and Madness creates world’s first mulberry wood whiskey

One of the many interesting things about the Irish whiskey industry is that it allows producers to mature their spirit in casks other than oak. And that leads to all kinds of cool and curious creations. Like the latest Method and Madness expression. No strangers to experimental ageing, the brand is launching a new single pot still Irish whiskey finished in virgin white mulberry wood. It’s thought to be the first time anyone has used this wood type for maturing whisky. It’s sourced from Hungary, where its air-dried for two years at the Kádár sawmills in Tokaj before being transferred to a cooperage in Budapest. The Irish Distillers brand reveals the casks are just 50-litres which, combined with high porosity and medium toasting, imparts elevated flavours of wood spices and toffee sweetness. Before it was finished in the mulberry wood casks (for around three to eight months), the single pot still whiskey was matured in a combination of first-fill and re-fill American oak barrels. Finbarr Curran, Midleton’s wood planning and maturation team lead, says the innovation is the third world’s first in the Method and Madness range and that the brand’s commitment to wood experimentation and maturation has “taken us all over the world and led to the development of some of the most exquisite Irish whiskeys”. Adding: “It’s been a joyous journey of discovery and we look forward to continuing this exploration as we keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in Irish whiskey.” Oh, and while we’re talking about Irish Distillers, congratulations are in order for Brendan Buckley, the company’s international marketing director, who has been inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame to recognise his contribution to the growth of the Irish whiskey category on the global stage. Slainte, Brendan!

On The Nightcap: 26 March edition we hear about the wonderful tale of a pub revival

The Carlton Tavern before demolition

Demolished London pub rebuilt brick by brick

It sounds like something from the plot of a feel-good film. Developer bulldozes historic pub illegally, locals rally round and the council orders developer to rebuild the pub. And they actually do, brick-by-brick in an exact recreation of the pub’s glory days. But this is exactly what happened to the Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, west London. The pub closed in April 2015. Just before being granted Grade II listed status, the owner, a company with the perfectly sinister name of CTLX, demolished it having previously been denied permission to convert it into flats. Following a campaign by locals led by Polly Robertson, Westminster Council ordered the pub rebuilt, and against all expectations, it happened. Cleverly Robertson and Historic England took plaster casts of every tile because “we had a suspicion before the demolition that they would do something,” she said to the Guardian. Apparently, though, CLTX did a great job of rebuilding the pub which is now in the safe hands of Tom Rees and Ben Martin of Homegrown Pubs and will be opening soon. We just can’t wait for the film version starring Julie Walters, and Steve Coogan as one of the slippery property developers. 

On The Nightcap: 26 March edition we welcome the revived White Heather Scotch whisky brand

White Heather is back, everyone!

The GlenAllachie revives blended whisky brand White Heather

You may know the brand for its considerable range of tasty single malts often aged in intriguing cask types, but GlenAllachie now has its own blended Scotch. It’s called White Heather, you know, like that whisky brand which was discontinued in the 1980s. The rights to it were acquired by The GlenAllachie Distillers Company in 2017, along with the distillery itself and MacNair’s Lum Reek. The blend was concocted in the GlenAllachie Distillery lab by master distiller Billy Walker, whose recipe has a high single malt content, with whiskies coming from the Highlands, Islay and Speyside. Of course, some vintage GlenAllachie is in there too. The whiskies spent an initial 18 years maturing in a combination of first-fill American barrels, sherry butts and second-fill barrels and hogsheads, before an additional three years in a mix of Pedro Ximénez puncheons, Oloroso puncheons and Appalachian virgin oak casks. This means the youngest whisky in this blend is 21-years-old. This factor, as well as there just 2,000 bottles available worldwide and the fact that it’s bottled at 48% ABV with no added colouring or chill-filtration explains the £120 price tag. Walker, who celebrates 50 years in the whisky industry next year (and joining Brendan in the Hall of Fame), says White Heather is particularly close to his heart as it took him back to when he began his career at Hiram Walker, where learned the art of blending. “With White Heather, I poured everything I’ve learned on my whisky journey into crafting a truly memorable small batch aged blend that sits proudly alongside even the very best single malts”. You can see for yourself how he’s done, as White Heather will be available from MoM Towers soon…

On The Nightcap: 26 March edition we've got the lovely David Beckham and his new shiny new whisky.

Blend it like Beckham

Mediterranean Orange Haig Club coming soon

There’s a new Haig Club on the way! Don’t all rush at once. It’s fair to say that Haig Club since it was released in 2016 has taken a bit of a battering, as you can see from the ratings on the Master of Malt website. With its, if we’re being very polite, discrete flavour profile, it hasn’t caught the imagination of whisky fans. We reckon, however, that a new expression might be rather nice. It’s called Mediterranean Orange and according to the press bumf, it was “created in collaboration with brand partner, David Beckham.” Actual David Beckham himself commented: “Developing Haig Club Mediterranean Orange has been in the works for some time now and I’ve enjoyed helping select the final liquid. The orange perfectly complements the signature Scotch notes of Haig Club and it’s a great long drink for summer.” This new expression is not a whisky but a spirit drink flavoured with orange, sweetened and weighing in at 35% ABV which we think plays to Haig Club’s strengths, that discrete flavour profile. Violeta Andreeva, whisky marketing director, Diageo described it as an exciting step forwards for dark spirits,” (dark spirits, lol!) and continued: “We see this as a huge opportunity to recruit a new generation of drinkers as more and more consumers are choosing flavours and sweeter drinks.” We have to admit, in a long drink with lemonade or tonic water, it sounds delicious. Just don’t offer it to your mate with the Ardbeg tattoo.

On The Nightcap: 26 March edition we learn not to mess with the SWA

It does look quite Scotchy

SWA files lawsuit against Canadian whisky producer over ‘Caledonian’ name

Vancouver’s Caledonian Distillery makes much of its Scottish heritage. Well, there’s the name for example. And it was set up in 2016 by a team of Scots including founder Graeme Macaloney and former Diageo master distiller Mike Nicolson with the late Jim Swan as a consultant. Products include Scotch-style single malts as well as Irish-style pot still whiskies. Now, as reported in the Spirits Business, the SWA has weighed in: “We have objected to the company’s use of certain words and terms that are strongly associated with Scotland on their whisky products,” a spokesperson said. Those words being  ‘Caledonian’, ‘Macaloney’, ‘Island whisky’, ‘Glenloy’, and ‘Invermallie.’ The SWA claim that they violate Scotch whisky’s GI and has filed a lawsuit against Macaloney. The firm issued a statement: “We are proud to celebrate our heritage including the Scottish ancestry of our founder and the story of his family, and firmly believe we have the right to do so in a way that celebrates both that history and reputation as a leading Vancouver Island craft distillery.” It will be interesting to see whether the two sides can come to a compromise. The SWA lost a lawsuit in 2009 against another Canadian Distillery, Glen Breton. We’ll keep you updated. 

On The Nightcap: 26 March edition we feared we might win a competition you don't want to win...

Just remember all the good times before you go submitting us…

And finally… the search is on to find the worst tasting note 

Have you ever read a drink description that has left you amused, bemused or tearing your hair out with rage? Now, and not before time, satirical drinks website Fake Booze has launched a competition to find the worst tasting note. Whether it’s wine, beer, whisky or baijiu, according to Fake Booze, “if it’s crap it’s a contender.” The #thecrappies will feature a number of categories including ‘most pompous’, ‘crappiest food match suggestion’, and ‘most sexist.’ We have a top tip for that last category. You can enter with the #crapnotes hashtag on Twitter or send a DM to @fakebooze on Twitter/ fake.booze on Instagram. The winner will be announced at a star-studded ceremony in June, or maybe just on the Fake Booze website. It’s all highly amusing, but what if someone at Master of Malt wins? It won’t be so funny then.

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An exciting new Macallan whisky bottle lottery is here!

The Macallan Sir Peter Blake: An Estate, A Community and A Distillery has arrived at MoM Towers and we’ve ensured that you’ve got a fair shake at getting your hands…

The Macallan Sir Peter Blake: An Estate, A Community and A Distillery has arrived at MoM Towers and we’ve ensured that you’ve got a fair shake at getting your hands on a bottle.

The Macallan is a distillery that loves to release a swanky whisky. When the Speyside producer isn’t breaking records with expressions distilled decades ago, it’s launching new rare bottlings to get us all excited.

One of those recent releases, The Macallan Sir Peter Blake: An Estate, A Community and A Distillery, has found its way onto our site. You might recall hearing about this one in The Nightcap. You see, legendary artist Sir Peter Blake nipped up Speyside way to help create The Anecdotes of Ages Collection. The collaboration was his third with The Macallan in a relationship that has spanned almost four decades. So the whisky giants decided to honour Blake and commemorate his visit to The Macallan Estate with some booze.

The brand says An Estate, A Community, and A Distillery tells the story of some of the “colourful characters from The Macallan’s past and present”. It features a label digitally designed by Sir Peter himself. The Macallan lead whisky maker, Sarah Burgess, has a made dram that’s said to be rich in dried fruits and spices with hints of orange, clove, cracked black pepper and treacle.

The Macallan An Estate, A Community and A Distillery

Swanky new Macallan whisky is here!

It’s lottery time!

It all sounds rather lovely. But this is The Macallan. This means this super fancy bottle is highly desirable. And seeing as we only have 40 bottles available, we’ve decided that a bottle lottery is the best way to sell this spirit. 

Those of you who’ve seen any of our previous lotteries will know we do this because we want to be as fair as possible. As always, our sweary and handy post from 2016 will shed some more light on our policy.

We will approach this lottery the same as we have before. The action will be taking place on the product page. The timeline is below. The bottle will feature the message “I hereby swear not to sell this bottle – but to drink it with my chums. May my taste-buds and olfactory bulb shrivel and die if I should break my word.” For those of you who are lucky enough to win, dispatch will take place on the week beginning 19 April.

The Macallan An Estate, A Community and A Distillery

Head over to the product page and get entering!

An Estate, A Community and A Distillery lottery timeline:

When you’re ready to enter, simply head here. Let’s be 100% clear on this. If you want to get your hands on a bottle, you need to click on this link and go to the product page. Don’t comment on this blog. Don’t try and send us a smoke signal. And definitely do not email Sir Peter Blake. We’re pretty sure he gets his mail via raven anyway. 

Also to note, the clocks change in the UK this weekend. So the times are initially in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Then British summer time (BST) officially starts at 1 am on Sunday 28 March. When the clocks go forward an hour to 2 am. Clear? Just nod along. Nobody actually understands how time works. It’s basically made up. Like unicorns or the economy.

Bottle Lottery: Friday 26 March 12:00 – Tuesday 30 March 13:00

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W.D. O’Connell: leading Irish whiskey’s independent bottling revival

Independent bottlers are an important part of the whiskey industry. But in Ireland, they nearly died out because of a lack of distilleries. Now reviving this great tradition W.D. O’Connell…

Independent bottlers are an important part of the whiskey industry. But in Ireland, they nearly died out because of a lack of distilleries. Now reviving this great tradition W.D. O’Connell Whiskey Merchants with a range of distinctive single cask bottlings.

I’m sure most of you have enjoyed some independently-bottled whiskey in your time. The appeal is clear. Bottlers have the freedom to procure new make spirit and aged stock from various distilleries and apply personal preferences to maturation, finishes, bottling strength, as well as additional colouring and chill-filtration. Indies can showcase lesser-known or lost distilleries, or offer a different side of a producer. 

Independent bottling is most associated with Scotch whisky. But it was once common practice in Ireland during the era when it was the world’s leading whiskey nation. Before the 20th century, the majority of whiskey sold by distilleries was by the cask rather than the bottle. Famous brands like Redbreast and Green Spot et al were created by wine merchants, W.A. Gilbeys and Mitchell & Son respectively. 

The process died out in Ireland because the distilleries did. But now, stock from the likes of Bushmills, Cooley, Midleton and the Great Northern Distillery is increasingly being sold to third parties. Collaborative bottlings between bars, specialist retailers and premium hotels are becoming more commonplace. Then there are bonders, like J.J. Corry and brands like The Sexton or The Quiet Man which are made with bought-in booze. 

W.D. O’Connell

Say hello to Daithí O’Connell. No, we’re not related. It’s a common name.

W.D. O’Connell: The Irish independent bottler

But bottling someone else’s booze under a brand name can mean transparency is a casualty. So it’s refreshing to see the approach of W.D. O’Connell Whiskey Merchants. It’s a classic independent bottler with a range that includes the PX series, whiskies distilled in Cooley and matured in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks and the Sherry Series, which has kicked off with an expression distilled at Bushmills in December 2008 and aged exclusively in a second-fill European oak Oloroso sherry butt for 12 years. The Bill Phil range is O’Connell’s most notable release, however. The Great Northern Distillery in Dundalk triple distils the peaty single malts, which are bottled like every W.D. O’Connell expression: without chill-filtration, often at cask strength.

The name comes from the town of Mountcollins in West Limerick where his family is from. There were so many O’Connell families that nicknames were needed to avoid confusion. His family became known as the Bill Phils, after his great-grandfather William Philip O’Connell. The Bill Phil series is a tribute and a means to keep his own story alive as the village he grew up in is all but gone. It’s peated too, and Bill Phil was known for making a great sleán (a tool for footing turf), so he felt it was a good fit. 

He’s not trying to build a volume brand. He’s not relying on paddywhackery. He’s attempting to create something “a bit more special,” he says. “I’m looking for unique casks. I’m looking for something different. Our labels are straightforward. There’s every bit of information you need. Everything we do makes no sense to an accountant. It’s all about quality. There’s no smoke and mirrors with us”. 

W.D. O’Connell

W.D. O’Connell is one of a few independent bottlers in Irish whiskey

Humble beginnings 

O’Connell has spent his life in hospitality, starting off in hotels at 15 and travelling across the world filling various roles. His awakening into the potential of whiskey took place in a small local he ran with friends called Kila in Hong Kong. “That was a whole other scene. Top shelf cocktails. Premium quality spirit. People there had the spending power and wanted experiences. I would recommend different whiskeys, like Redbreast 12, and it was easy to convert them. Because the quality of the product is there, they just hadn’t been aware of it”. 

But O’Connell frustrations with Irish whiskey were also seeded in this era. He recalls noting how far behind the category was from where he thought it should be. His first solution was to open a distillery but the plan fell through. At the time, there wasn’t the option to be an independent bottler, because there wasn’t a variety of whiskey available. Then the landscape changed. As the Irish whiskey boom was taking place O’Connell realised that he needed to establish a brand now so that when all the new stock was available he would be in a pole position to take advantage. “There are 38 distilleries today. My ambition is to at least get a cask from all of them. While we’re still using stocks from limited distilleries now, it’s going to change”.

O’Connell says he avoided the term bonder initially because of the respect he has for it. “In Ireland it means something. There’s a lot of heritage and tradition there. It shouldn’t be thrown around loosely as a term”.  Instead, he chose the term independent bottler, noting how it reverberates around the world. The theory is it makes introducing Irish whiskey in markets where people only know Jameson or Tullamore D.E.W a little easier. O’Connell is also a huge fan of independent bottlers and recognises their importance. “We have a quote on our website from the late, great whisky writer Michael Jackson, who said that without Gordon & MacPhail, single malts as we know them would not exist today”.

W.D. O’Connell

Lovely, fresh peat would heat buildings like William Philip O’Connell’s workshop

Forging an independent path

The process is not without its hardships, however. The logistics are no picnic for somebody who’s running a one-man-show. “Once I spelt ‘palate’ as ‘pallet’, which nobody ever picked up on,” O’Connell laughs. “There are no employees. I have brand designers I’ve worked with from day one and an accountant, but they’re not in-house”. Friends pitching in and allies like Chris Hennessy, a bartender at the Dylan Whiskey Bar in Kilkenny, are proving invaluable to O’Connell, whose biggest challenge is the continuation of a product and continually sourcing casks. “Those are my sleepless nights!  Bill Phil is a peated single malt which is hard to get. But people want this product now. Are you going to be getting the same thing every time if you buy a batch three Bill Phil versus a batch ten Bill Phil? No. But you want to maintain a DNA across your batches”. 

The firm will soon have a dedicated brand home as O’Connell has signed a lease for a site in County Waterford, where he’s based. The plan is to set a bottling line and office, as well as a small maturation facility. The next phase will entail creating visitor experiences that will tell guests the history of whiskey and appeal to them on a sensory level, in particular, the sights and smells of the maturation room. “We don’t have shiny copper stills or we don’t have hundreds of years of heritage. But we have a story to tell and a fantastic location in a heritage building”, O’Connell says. 

O’Connell is also planning to branch out beyond Irish whiskey. O’Connell has already bought some Scotch and is tasting Lochindaal (from Bruichladdich) at the moment. He’s hopeful we’ll see a bottle of Scotch with W.D. O’Connell on it this year. There’s also the promise of Japanese whisky – actual Japanese whisky, he’s keen to stress – and O’Connell would also like to get his hands on some rum, more Cognac casks as well as English and American whiskey. “Why should I limit myself? I’m a spirit fan. I’d love to actually have a bourbon that we bottle on-site in our own headquarters. We might not be able to call it bourbon, but so what?” A cask share programme that lets you reserve a bottle from various cask types in advance of bottling was also launched recently.

W.D. O’Connell

It’s not just Irish whiskey, O’Connell has big plans for his brand

A bright future

Arguably most exciting, however, is O’Connell’s plan to create his own mash bills that distilleries will produce just for the W.D. O’Connell brand. Pot still, in particular, is an avenue he’s keen to explore. He’s working with a friend who’s going to plant barley for him. “I don’t want to just buy barley off somebody. I want it to be part of the experience, part of the brand story. Working with a few craft size distilleries in Ireland would be ideal. It could be with different mash bills in each distillery. Or the same mash bill in one cycle, but then we create new mash bills each year”. The first crop is being planted now with a spring barley variety.

O’Connell is also aiming to make the process equitable for the farmer. “I want a mutually beneficial relationship with the farmers. There’s no incentive in Ireland to grow barley. I want to run a business that gives back to the people who helped build it, whether they’re farmers, warehouse managers or whoever. We’re trying to build something sustainable with longevity that helps a community thrive,” he says. “I don’t want to be that person who’s lamenting the death of rural Ireland on one hand and then cashing in as soon as possible and moving the operation to someone else’s larger HQ. That won’t happen. Not on my watch, anyway”.

W.D. O’Connell is a brand built in the image of its founder. And he really cares about his craft. The early releases demonstrate the potential of a brand that prioritises authenticity and quality above all. As the revival of independent bottling in Ireland takes shape, it’s good to know the increasing stock of whiskey is in good hands. This is a story of a man carving unique space for himself driven by passion, not opportunity and how we can always add to the rich tapestry of whiskey.  Now that we’ve finally got some of the brand’s whiskey in stock – the 12 Year Old 2008 (cask 100007985) – Sherry Series and the second batch from W.D. O’Connell’s Bill Phil range – you can see what O’Connell is building for yourself. They’re seriously good drams. Check out the tasting notes below to get an idea of what to expect and head here to pick yourself up a bottle or two…

W.D. O’Connell

We’ve some W.D. O’Connell available now. Hurrah!

The W.D. O’ Connell whiskies arrive!

W.D. O’Connell 12 Year Old 2008 (cask 100007985) – Sherry Series

Nose: The nose is rich and resinous, with dried and dark fruits aplenty (stewed plums, blackcurrant compote and raisins). Toffee apples, waxy orange peel and dried mango slices add more fruity depth among notes of pain au chocolat, marzipan, light leather, menthol and gingerbread. Underneath there’s some nutty, woody elements as well as slabs of dark chocolate and a little clove.

Palate: It has a thick, yet supple mouthfeel and a moreish array of flavours including more sherry-soaked dried fruits, oily walnuts, marmalade and vanilla. Hints of anise, honey, tobacco, wasabi, mocha and mint join heaps of baking spice and plenty of tropical fruits.

Finish: Some of that oily nuttiness remains with drying ginger and oak spice as well some red apples, creamy custard and linseed.

Overall: Superb. There’s enough maturation to develop deep, complex notes but not too much to drown the distillate. There’s still some of that typical Bushmills tropical fruit notes present as well as an overt, but always pleasant, sherried influence. It’s special because Bushmills this sherried and cask strength aren’t readily available. That makes this is a fascinating presentation of a side of a legendary distillery we rarely see. And the integration and intensity of it are measured beautifully. 

W.D. O’ Connell Bill Phil – Batch 02 

Nose: Through wafts of ashy peat smoke there are hints of salty gammon, engine oil and charred pineapple. There’s plenty of orchard fruit in this – Granny Smith apples and pear drops – as well as lemon peel, teabags, Malted Milk biscuits and vanilla. Underneath there’s touches of red chilli heat, rosemary, dried grass and rock pools.

Palate: The palate is smoky and delicately sweet with a beautifully creamy texture. Charred oak, a little dark chocolate and more coastal salinity are at its core. The peatiness is sweeter and earthier in nature. The citrusy notes grow with smoked grapefruit and flamed orange peel, while more orchard fruits keep banana puree, white grape, Ginger Nuts, fresh herbs and hazelnut praline company. 

Finish: Cooked apple with a little cinnamon sprinkled on, as well as lemon, sea spray and just a hint of clove.

Overall: Hell yes. Bill Phil is so up my alley I could almost hear Top Cat’s band playing freestyle jazz. It’s peaty, salty and slick but never becomes one-note thanks to an abundance of fresh orchard fruit loveliness and a creamy delivery. It’s a fantastic example of a young, non-age statement whiskey. The fact that a peated whiskey was one of O’Connell’s first releases should also demonstrate he isn’t messing about. Few brands embrace this style. But the misnomer that all Irish whiskey is ‘smooth, triple-distilled and not peated’ is a recent one. Peat is part of the culture. It’s great to see such a sublime peated expression (from the Great Northern Distillery) demonstrating its potential in Irish whiskey. 

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How to make cocktails at home with the Curious Bartender

The Curious Bartender himself Tristan Stephenson has a new book out next month which is specifically designed for making cocktails at home. Here he reveals some of his top tips…

The Curious Bartender himself Tristan Stephenson has a new book out next month which is specifically designed for making cocktails at home. Here he reveals some of his top tips for making drinks like a pro, without leaving your house. Plus three delicious simple recipes.

“I enjoy having friends over for dinner, but must confess that I rarely make cocktails for my guests. It’s for the simple fact that I find mixing drinks at home a bit of a chore.” Not a very promising start to a cocktail book, you might think. But then The Curious Bartender Cocktails at Home is a book with a difference because it’s specifically designed with the domestic setting in mind.  

Tristan Stephenson in Black Rock bar

The Curious Bartender himself, Tristan Stephenson

Domestic vs professional

“A professional bar station and a domestic kitchen have very little in common with one another,” he writes, “asking a top bartender to make world-class drinks at home is no easier than expecting a Michelin star chef to produce a tasting menu from scratch in a domestic kitchen.” 

There’s no doubt Stephenson is a top bartender. He began his career tending bars in Cornwall, including being in the opening team for Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in Newquay. Following a stint as a brand ambassador for Diageo, he opened a series of bars in London. Today he has two venues: “we’ve got Black Rock, the whisky bar in London and the restaurant Surfside down here in Cornwall,” he told me when I spoke to him last week. But he’s best known as the prolific writer of the Curious Bartender books covering all aspects of drinks. This latest book is partly a greatest hits compilation and partly about Stephenson relearning how to make drinks out of a professional environment. 

“Most of them [drinks books] don’t tend to address the sort of fundamental issues of making cocktails in the kitchen. How to organise your space. What the basics are to have in your fridge and/or freezer. How much ice you’re going to need. What basic equipment you’re going to need. What equipment you can sub for that equipment if you don’t want to go out and buy brand new cocktail shakers and jiggers and all this sort of thing,” he said.

Because of lockdown Stephenson had to learn to be a home bartender, something he had never really done before. He even thinks that the amateur is at an advantage in some ways: “because as a home bartender you’re starting from square one, you have no expectations of how efficient you should be when you’re making cocktails,” he said.

Ice ice baby

Amazingly, when lockdown hit, Stephenson was making do with a broken half of a plastic ice tray! Which is crazy because the first thing that he stresses is the importance of ice when making cocktails. “You’re going to need about three times as much ice as you think you’re going to need!” he said, “everyone always underestimates ice quantities.”

You’ll be pleased to know that he now has a set of silicon trays bought from a well-known online retailer and then, he said: “whenever you’re accessing the freezer, dump that ice into the drawer and refill it. Make a habit out of it because you will go through ice at an alarming rate.” 

The Curious Bartender Cocktails at Home

Get organised

“Kitchens just aren’t really very well set up for making cocktails. I mean you don’t have an ice well, your ingredients that you use for cocktails tend to be scattered around all over the place rather than in a convenient area,” he said. So when cocktailing, Stephenson recommends getting all your equipment, bottles etc in one place. “I would recommend doing it with some sort of syrup and things at the ready. It’s worth making them in bulk and just keeping them in the fridge so that they’re good to go,” he added.

The right equipment

“Let’s set the record straight from the start: you don’t need lots of fancy equipment to make great drinks at home: Most of the drinks featured in this book can be produced with nothing more than a jigger, a cocktail shaker, a barspoon and a good supply of ice.” He even says that a cocktail shaker can be subbed with a plastic container or jam jar with a lid. Not what you’d expect a professional bartender to say. His advice is to keep it functional. 

As for glassware: “90% of cocktails can be served in one of three glasses: coupe, Highball and Old Fashioned (also known as rocks),” he said. He does, however, recommend having matching glasses “suitable for the number of people you’re making drinks for – which at the moment I doubt is more than two!”

Stephenson’s Secret weapon

Finally, I asked him whether he had a secret weapon in this bartender’s arsenal: “I’d probably have to say sherry. A splash of dry sherry, be that fino or oloroso or amontillado, pretty much improves any cocktail. It adds that sort of nuttiness, that oak characteristic, especially with dark spirits. I tend to have a bottle of sherry in the fridge anyway, well, actually that’s a lie, it tends to get drunk and then I don’t have one! But I always say I have one… I always want to have one, in the fridge”. 

Here are three delicious and simple cocktails from the book:

Salted Lime Rickey

Salted Lime Rickey

50ml Plymouth Gin
15ml fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
Chilled soda water

This drink needs to be cold – like, really cold. If possible use glasses from the freezer and make sure that your ice is dry. Fill a Highball glass with chunks of ice; add the gin, lime and salt, then give it a good stir with a barspoon. While still stirring, pour the soda water in, learning a small space at the top. Add more cubed ice, stir some more and finish with a wedge of lime.

Corn 'n' oil cocktail with Barbados rum

Corn ‘N’ Oil

50ml Plantation 5 year old Barbados rum
10ml fresh lime juice
10ml Taylor’s Velvet Falernum
A few dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shake everything except the bitters with cubed ice and strain into an ice filled tumbler. Top with the bitters garnish with a lime wedge.

Corpse Reviver

Corpse Reviver

30ml Hine Rare VSOP Cognac
30ml Roger Groult Reserve Calvados
30ml Martini Rosso Vermouth

A few dashes of your favourite cocktail bitters (entirely optional)

Stir all the ingredients together in a mixing beaker with cubed ice and strain into a chilled coupe. You can add a few dashes of bitters if you want to be cool and break the rules.

The Curious Bartender: Cocktails At Home by Tristan Stephenson, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£19.99) 13 April 2001. Photography by Addie Chinn © Ryland Peters & Small.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be…

Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be considered a cocktail. So, drink helmets safely strapped on, in we go!

Is the Gin and Tonic a cocktail? I put the big question to Twitter and the results were startling: 67% against and 33% for. If only all public votes could be so decisive. Bearing in mind that most of my followers are drinks nerds, does that mean that the G&T is officially not a cocktail?

Not a cocktail?

Let’s look at the arguments. Many people said that the G&T was a long drink and therefore not a cocktail. But does that mean that a Tequila Sunrise or a Highball isn’t a cocktail? 

It got a bit heated at times. Top American wine writer Miquel Hudin commented: “Two ingredients is a ‘combinado’  no matter what decoration or garnish you toss in those god awful bucket glasses.” But then a Martini usually only has two ingredients, sometimes only one if you’re particularly hardcore.

Drinks expert Julian Vallis even disagreed on the number of ingredients: “It’s a Gin Highball with 3 ingredients. Gin, quinine-infused sugar syrup and soda water. You can also call it a Kina Martini with Soda if you’d like to deconstruct it.” Which is true if you’re using something like Jeffrey’s tonic syrups

Others got quite technical, saying that Flips, Punches etc were also not cocktails. I feel that is getting too purist. Originally, a cocktail was a specific drink made from spirits, water, bitters and ice. But that ship sailed a long time ago, we’re quite happy to call new-fangled vermouth-laced concoctions like a Manhattan or a Martini cocktails.

As Richard Godwin, author of The Spirits put it:  “If the Mojito is a cocktail, which it is, then the G&T is surely a cocktail. (See also Paloma, Cuba Libre, Americano, etc). If you go by the ‘true’ definition of a cocktail, then Daiquiris, Mai Tais, Sidecars etc also aren’t cocktails. Which they clearly are.”

Gin and tonic

Very nice, but is it a cockail?

Just thrown together?

Another argument against is that while drinks like the Martini are prepared using shakers, jiggers etc. a G&T is simply thrown together. But then other cocktails are thrown together like a Paloma, Tequila and grapefruit soda, or a Gin and It, gin and sweet vermouth.

Also, you can make a G&T with as much care and attention as you might a Martini. In my youth, I used to laugh at my old grandfather who before handing us a drink would pedantically explain why he used so much ice but I now realise he was right. He always used miniature Schweppes bottles for maximum fizziness, freshly cut lemon and he measured the Beefeater. Getting a G&T from him was like visiting the Ritz. So different from my father’s with ice that had been sitting out all morning, warm gin and, worst of all, tonic water out of a 1.5 litre bottle.

In Victoria Moore’s superb How to Drink, she spends four pages outlining how to make the perfect G&T and that doesn’t include gin recommendations. “To make a good gin and tonic you do not just have to care about every ingredient, you have to be anguished about them,” she writes. “Ice cubes, the more the better.” I think she would have got on famously with my grandfather. 

So yes, you can throw a G&T together, you can throw a Martini together, but you can also make it with skill and generosity.

How to make the perfect Gin and Tonic

A G&T can be elevated with fancy garnishes like peppercorns, or be jazzed up with fruit bitters. I tend to stick with lemon (not out of the fridge, Moore warns) or orange, lime is overpowering, though a stick of rosemary adds a nice flavour and makes a handy swizzle stick. 

Those Spanish fishbowl glasses look great on Instagram but I’m with Hudin here. For me a heavy tumbler is best. It doesn’t hold as much, but you can always make yourself another one.

As for gin, it’s really a personal choice. Tonic water has a strong taste so I tend to go for gins with a) big juniper flavours b) plenty of alcohol. I have a bottle of Bathtub Gin on the side, so that’s what I’m using today but TanquerayHayman’s, Brighton and Beefeater are all excellent in a G&T.

Margo and Jerry from the Good LIfe

Famous G&T lovers Margo and Jerry from the Good Life

The tonic water question

When it comes to tonic water, we have the standard Fever Tree in the house, the Mediterranean version is great too, but don’t turn your nose up at Schweppes. A few years ago, Harper’s magazine did a blind tasting of tonic waters and standard Schweppes came out on top. Whatever you choose, the fizz is all important. It must come from a small can or bottle and, as Victoria Moore puts it: ““I scarcely need mention that the tonic must be chilled.” 

So there you have it. Conclusive proof that the G&T is indeed a cocktail. It could do with a proper name though. You could call it a Gintonica as they do in Spain. But I’m going with a Margo & Jerry, after the Leadbetters, the G&T swilling couple from The Good Life. Cin cin!

60cl Bathtub Gin
Fever Tree tonic water

Chill everything, except the garnish. Fill a tumbler with ice, add the gin and stir, top up with tonic, stir again and garnish with a piece of lemon or orange (and rosemary if you like).

You can buy a Bathtub and Fever Tree bundle here, or a Mediterranean version here

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#BagThisBundle – Win a bundle of Botanist Islay Dry Gin goodies!

Want to #Bag a #Bundle of #Botanist Gin? Then you’re in the right place. And if you enter this competition I’ll promise to never use hashtags like that again. Deal?…

Want to #Bag a #Bundle of #Botanist Gin? Then you’re in the right place. And if you enter this competition I’ll promise to never use hashtags like that again. Deal?

Recently we learned about the lovely Botanist Islay Dry Gin, a unique expression made in a whisky distillery using 22 foraged local botanicals. It occurred to us that all this talk would have you licking your lips with the prospect of tasting this London dry-style gin.  

So we thought you’d probably love a chance to get your hands on some of The Botanist Gin. Particularly if it means doing very little indeed. That’s right. It’s competition time. Let’s take a look at what’s up for grabs…

Win Botanist Gin

Here’s what you can win!

What’s in your bundle:

It’s another corker of a bundle. And you’ll be equally pleased to know that entering this competition is super easy to do. You just have to follow a couple of steps.

Win Botanist Gin

You can enter now!

How to get your hands on the bundle:

That’s it. As long as you do all that by midnight on Sunday 28 March you’re in it to win it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Actually, while I think of it, better make sure you have lemons in, just in case you do win. This gin makes a cracking Bees Knees.

MoM ‘Bag This Bundle’ Competition 2021 open to entrants 18 years and over in the UK only. Entries accepted from 12:00:01 GMT on 24 March to 23:59:59 GMT on 28 March 2021. 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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Top ten: Great value vodkas

Need some good vodka recommendations? Then you’re in the right place. We’ve got some great value vodkas from Russia, Poland, England and more to suit all needs. Vodka continues to…

Need some good vodka recommendations? Then you’re in the right place. We’ve got some great value vodkas from Russia, Poland, England and more to suit all needs.

Vodka continues to be an enormous seller. And why not? At its best, it’s a versatile, tasty (yes, really) spirit that has a long, interesting history. But, the problem with having a category so vast is that it can be difficult to navigate. There’s no shortage of options in the classic style and that’s before you get to the huge range of flavoured vodkas available (which we’ll cover another time).

This is where we come in. The following expressions are all exceptionally well made, taste great and cost less than £35. Because bargain vodka doesn’t have to be some horrible Smirnoff imitation. Not on our watch!

Our pick of great value vodkas

great value vodkas

Tovaritch! Russian Vodka 

Tovaritch! claims to be the world’s most awarded vodka. While we’re not in the business of verifying such things, we can see why plenty of judges were impressed with its profile. This Russian vodka is made using 100% organic grain from Volga which is distilled five times before the liquid is filtered twenty times through birch charcoal and silver. This creates a pure, subtle and crisp spirit. 

What it tastes like: Fresh and clean with some marshmallow and coconut sweetness and a bready note underneath.

What to do with it: Embrace the classics with a Moscow Mule.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Ramsbury Vodka

A seriously impressive demonstration that England is home to some top-notch vodkas. This vodka is distilled, blended and bottled in a beautiful Wiltshire countryside belonging to Ramsbury Estate. Each and every bottle can be traced back to the very field in which the wheat originated. It’s refined, full-bodied and brimming with flavour which means it will be smashing in a number of serves, but has enough going for it to be enjoyed on its own too.

What it tastes like: An elegant blend that’s silky, light and lusciously creamy. Lavish chocolate notes meld into fresh bursts of aniseed and a juicy citrus tang rounds it off.

What to do with it: Nothing at all. This is the kind of expression that will show you how flavourful vodka can be. Drink it neat.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Reyka Vodka 

Reyka made waves when it arrived on the scene thanks to its claim to be the world’s first ‘green’ vodka. The Icelandic brand distils wheat and barley using sustainable energy from geothermal heat. In fact, there’s really no end to the aspects that make its production process unique. This might explain why it’s currently averaging 5 stars across 85 customer reviews on our site. 

What it tastes like: An enjoyably full, rounded mouthfeel carries soft notes of vanilla, lemon and earthy pepper.

What to do with it: Whip up a killer Espresso Martini.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka

An innovative creation of West Dorset dairy farmers, Black Cow is made using whey, which is what is leftover from the milk after making cheese. It’s a fantastically sustainable use of the by-product and the result is that it creates a creamy, smooth and distinctive drink that we’re big fans of.

What it tastes like: Through clean mineral notes, there’s creamy white chocolate, floral vanilla, desiccated coconut and a little lemon mousse and white pepper spice. 

What to do with it: Take a page out of The Dude’s book and enjoy a White Russian.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Haku Vodka

This list has already demonstrated that great value vodkas don’t have to come from Russia and Poland and this beauty from Japan is further proof of that fact. This vodka is from the legendary Suntory, which is better known for making all kinds of delicious whisky. The same outstanding production standards were used to create Haku Vodka, which is distilled twice from hakumai (Japanese white rice) and filtered through bamboo charcoal. The word ‘haku’ actually means ‘white’ in Japanese. Which is a neat little fact you can impress your friends with.

What it tastes like: A complex grain undertone with lingering sweetness on the finish.

What to do with it: Japan is the spiritual home of the Highball cocktail and so it makes sense that this vodka works a treat in one. The Haku-Hi is simple, but effective. And fun to say.

great value vodkas

Ephemeral Vodka

Vodka-based cocktails usually call for a clean, pure spirit that can amplify the other ingredients and showcase their flavours. Ephemeral Vodka, which is made exclusively of grain, is a perfect example of that kind of spirit. Plus, it’s got a pretty rad label. Which is always a good talking point.

What it tastes like: Wonderfully bright and pure, with a creamy mouthfeel and subtly earthy hints of soft wheat.

What to do with it: Treat yourself to a Cosmopolitan. Seriously, don’t underestimate this drink.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Ketel One Vodka

If you’ve been making booze since 1691, it’s safe to assume you know what you’re doing. People don’t keep giving you business over three centuries unless you’re creating something pretty great. Which explains why the family-run Ketel One distillery continues to make tasty spirits to this day. Its vodka is proof of this and mixes brilliantly while possessing an array of really beautiful notes of citrus and honey that means you’ll happily sip it neat, too.

What it tastes like: Lemon zest, marmalade, toffee, acacia honey, cut herbs and little tingles of sweet spice.

What to do with it: The Dutch brand has an excellent Bloody Mary recipe that’s worth trying.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Au Vodka 

Au Vodka is a rising star in the vodka world. Something of a gold standard, if you will… Don’t let all the bling fool you. The brand only uses British-grown grain to make its vodka, which it distils five times and filters twice. First through charcoal and then in a high-pressure chamber containing gold. It’s something of a gold standard and, wait, I already made that joke, didn’t I?

What it tastes like: A refined mouth-feel, with touches of mint and barley on the finish.

What to do with it: Keep things simple with a delicious Vodka Martini. Just combine 60ml of Au Vodka and 15ml of dry vermouth to a mixing glass filled with cubed ice. Then stir until chilled and diluted before straining gently into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Wyborowa Vodka

An outrageously good value and ever-popular bottle, more people should know about the wonders of Wyborowa. The brand creates its signature spirit with a recipe inspired by 500 years of Polish vodka making. This means it exclusively uses winter varieties of rye grain because they have a high starch content. Whatever else it says to do in its closely guarded, traditional recipe is obviously working wonders, because this beauty just keeps impressing.

What it tastes like: Creamy, warming and slightly spicy with citrus, liquorice black pepper, buttered bread and cinnamon.

What to do with it: This makes a great Vodka Sour. Alternatively, add some freshly squeezed orange juice if you want to make a Screwdriver that will knock your socks off.

These are our picks of some truly great value vodkas

Master of Malt Vodka 

Whoops! How did this get in here? Yes, we make vodka too. The idea was to create something with a balanced profile perfect for cocktails and mixed drinks. And we like to think this blend of wheat and molasses spirits does just the trick. We wouldn’t have made it otherwise, to be honest. 

What it tastes like: Crisp, light and delicately fragrant with soft wheat, floral hints and a subtle build of pepper in the background.

What to do with it: Make any of the above. Experiment, find a favourite and enjoy!

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