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Master of Malt Blog

5 tips for pairing whisky with food

Whisky has long been overlooked as a food beverage, but Ghillie Başan is on a mission to change that with her latest cookbook, Spirit & Spice. Here, the Cordon Bleu-trained…

Whisky has long been overlooked as a food beverage, but Ghillie Başan is on a mission to change that with her latest cookbook, Spirit & Spice. Here, the Cordon Bleu-trained chef shares five tips for pairing Scottish single malts and blends with your favourite meals…

Typically, when you encounter whisky with food it’s either within a dish – added to a sauce, for instance, or in a pudding – or as part of a distillery tasting, which “tends to be a very easy style of pairing,” Ghillie Başan observes. “People go, ‘there are nutty flavours in there, so we’ll put a walnut out’ – it isn’t really about the depth of flavour and how you can enhance it so that the food and whisky are working together”.

There’s also the M factor. Marketing. Historically, whisky was positioned as an after-dinner drink, she adds, and for a very long time a drink solely for men. “It’s quite a recent thing, this idea of whisky being a drink of conviviality, a drink to enjoy your meal or put into cocktails, a drink for both men and women and a drink to market to young people.”

Ghillie Başan

Ghillie Başan!

Still, the concept of drinking a dram with food remains a little bit ‘out there’ for whisky purists. So what makes the spirit a worthy mealtime pairing? As well as its flavour pairing potential, whisky is exceptionally robust – which means its a great match for dishes from North and West Africa, the Middle East, India, South-east Asia and the Caribbean, where spice is used in abundance.

“Think about when you have a glass of red wine,” says Başan, “it fills your mouth with a kind of full-bodiedness and fruitiness that looking for. But the minute you have spicy food with that, it’s killed, and you’re left with something that ends up a bit more watery in your mouth, all of that full-bodiedness is gone, all of the fruit flavours have gone, because it’s a much more fragile product, it hasn’t had the same type of treatment that whisky’s had.”

In Spirit & Spice (Kitchen Press, £25), Başan unites exotic flavours from around the world with liquid from her own backyard in the Highlands of Scotland. The end goal is to prepare a dish that “does something very similar in your mouth to the whisky, so the two of them are enhancing one another and you end up with this incredible experience within your mouth,” Başan explains. “You’ve got all these flavours either contrasting or complementing one another – it’s a little journey you go on.”

gravadlax

Gravadlax + whisky = delicious

5 tips for pairing whisky with food
  1. Get to know your dram

You can’t match the dish without a flavour reference, so pour yourself a finger and get acquainted. The first step is to nose and taste to identify the key aromas, tastes and textures in the glass. Jot your musings down on paper so you can reference them later – the more detailed, the better.

  1. Consider the key whisky regions

You don’t have to start from scratch each time, suggests Başan – use regional similarities to your advantage. “One could say that there is in Speyside whiskies a general sense of fruitiness and toasted notes, perhaps burnt sugar and honey in some of these whiskies depending on the distillery and maturation,” she says. “You can compare that to something like Islay whiskies, which again are all different but often have a smokiness and saltiness running through – so there are a few things that you can generalise about.”

  1. Highlight background flavours

Don’t just plum for the obvious flavours. Sure, you might think about pairing an Islay dram with something smoked – aubergine, perhaps, or halibut – but by highlighting background flavours you could elevate both the dish and the dram. For example a smoky whisky might also have a hint of pineapple in it, Başan points out. You could combine that with the smoky element of the dish, or take the ingredient in a different direction entirely. The bottom line? Use whisky’s more subtle notes to complement and contrast.

  1. Experiment with cooking techniques

Smoking, curing, pickling, infusing, caramelising, conserving, smoking, barbequing, marinating and fermenting are just some of the ways you can take a specific ingredients and transform the flavour into something unique. Don’t be shy about playing with spices, too, whether roasting, grinding or creating a paste.

  1. Don’t forget texture

You always appreciate food more if it has texture, Başan explains. Take the humble smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. “Made with ordinary bread, it’s all soft and ends up cloying in your mouth, so you don’t get a real sense of appreciation,” she says. Add texture – switch the bread for toasted thin focaccia, or add a few slices of cucumber to give it a crunch – and you’ll enjoy it far more. The same applies to your dram. Is the whisky creamy or silky? Or is it perhaps watery or chewy? Bear that in mind when designing your dish.

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Roe & Co kicks off Irish whiskey production

Exciting news out of Ireland – Diageo’s €25 million Roe & Co whiskey distillery has started production in Dublin! Located inside the former Guinness Power Station at St James Gate,…

Exciting news out of Ireland – Diageo’s €25 million Roe & Co whiskey distillery has started production in Dublin!

Located inside the former Guinness Power Station at St James Gate, Roe & Co houses three copper stills, which will run both double and triple distillation.

Up until now, the Roe & Co blend has been developed by master blender Caroline Martin, who used fruity malt whiskey blended with grain, matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks.

The new site will produce 14,000 litres of malt spirit each run, up to an annual maximum capacity of 500,000 litres each year. In all, the distillery will provide direct employment for 18 people.

On opening, Roe & Coe becomes Ireland’s 27th operational whiskey distillery – at the start of the decade there were just four.

The building housing the distillery was renovated to offer an industrial feel. The vibe is reflected through all kinds of design elements, from the staff uniforms, to a contemporary tiki illustration on the barware, based on the original pear tree which stood in the grounds since the 17th century.

Roe & Co

Roe & Co opens to visitors next week

Roe & Co will open to visitors later this month, with guests treated to an immersive, 75-minute experience spanning Irish whiskey history, the old power station building, and of course, the operational distillery, which can be viewed from an elevated glass walkway.

Visitors can explore whiskey blending in Room 106, while in the Flavours Workshop they can experience sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami flavours to work out their preferred cocktail profile. Meanwhile, the Power House Bar will offer seasonal signature serves based on Roe & Co and Irish wildflowers, made with home-grown ingredients. Tours cost €25 per guest, including a whiskey taster, flavours workshop and complimentary cocktail.

The launch of the distillery has been led by an all-female team, including Gráinne Wafer, Roe & Co global brand director; Caroline Martin, Diageo’s master blender; Lora Hemy, Roe & Co’s head distiller; Fiona Sheridan, Roe & Co’s assistant distiller; Tanya Clarke, general manager Diageo Reserve and Incubation Brands; Hayley Millner, marketing manager, Roe & Co Irish Whiskey; and Shannon Green, project engineer.

“Our master blender, Caroline Martin began the journey of reimagining Irish whiskey, but we didn’t stop the reinvention there,” said Wafer.

“Today we are launching a state-of-the-art distillery and experience like no other, led by our extremely talented distiller, Lora Hemy. This boutique experience, which will have a maximum of 16 guests per tour, will ensure visitors can get up close and personal with our remarkable distillery and whiskey, focusing on the five pillars of flavour.”

Inside Ireland’s 27th whiskey distillery

Speaking at a lunch to officially open the distillery, Diageo CEO, Ivan Menezes, added: “I am proud to be standing here today in one of the most iconic buildings of the Dublin skyline, which has been reimagined and regenerated into this world-class distillery and experience for Roe & Co.

“I am proud that we are here because of Diageo’s most valuable assets, its employees. We encourage them to be the best they can, to achieve great things, to be inclusive and diverse. We have focused on gender and today you see the progress we’ve made, because we are here now in this Roe & Co Irish whiskey distillery and experience because of the amazing team of talented women. You should be so proud, Gráinne, Lora, Fiona, Caroline, Tanya, Shannon and Hayley.”

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#BagThisBottle – Win a bottle of Teeling 24 Year Old – Vintage Reserve Collection!

Win a free bottle of the Teeling 24 Year Old – the World’s Best Single Malt – on Twitter! Good news, folks! Our ever-popular, ever-wonderful #BagThisBottle Twitter competition has returned,…

Win a free bottle of the Teeling 24 Year Old – the World’s Best Single Malt – on Twitter!

Good news, folks! Our ever-popular, ever-wonderful #BagThisBottle Twitter competition has returned, and boy did we miss it. With just a few simple clicks and scrolls, a 70cl bottle of the wonderful Teeling 24 Year Old Irish whiskey, part of the Vintage Reserve Collection, could be yours. That’s right, the very same whiskey that was named the World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2019!

It literally couldn’t be easier, here’s all you have to do:

1) Follow the Master of Malt Twitter account.

2) Follow the Teeling Whiskey twitter account.

3) Retweet our Competition Tweet by midday on Friday 14 June.

And that’s it! Isn’t technology great? Almost as great as a certain Irish whiskey…

#BagThisBottle Teeling

It could be yours!

We’ve done all we can now, so spread your (virtual) wings and take to Twitter if you don’t want to miss out.

Good luck, all!

MoM Teeling #BagThisBottle 2019 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 11 June to 14 June 2019. 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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Minor celebrity boozes

While we appreciate the George Clooneys and David Beckhams of this industry – and we do, honest – it’s only right to champion less famous celebs, shall we say, who are…

While we appreciate the George Clooneys and David Beckhamof this industry – and we do, honest – it’s only right to champion less famous celebs, shall we say, who are hustling hard on their own booze projects. Here, we present the alcohol brands of ten celebrities you’re more likely to find cutting a supermarket ribbon than walking the red carpet…

Celebrities come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone is meant to be the most visible, the most talked-about, the highest-earning and the most powerful, there simply isn’t enough space. For every exclusive Ryan Reynolds press junket, we need an X Factor finalist to turn on Christmas lights in Stoke on Trent. C’est la vie.

Looking across TV hosts, soap actors, former pop stars and more, we’ve picked ten lesser-known celebrity faces who are dabbling – or have dabbled – in distilling, winemaking and brewing.

Neat Gin

It’s only Ian Beale!

Neat Gin

Who made it? Adam Woodyatt.

Remind us who he is again? You’ll know him better as Ian Beale from BBC soap opera EastEnders.

What’s the goss? The EastEnders legend launched Neat Gin with wife Beverley back in 2017. The London Dry-style sipper was inspired by a 15th-century recipe which listed botanicals but, crucially, no quantities. Eleven ingredients were refined to just eight, and Neat was born. He’s come a long way since Phil Mitchell flushed his head down the loo.

Graham Norton’s Own Pink Gin

Who made it? Graham Norton, unsurprisingly.

Remind us who he is again? An Irish television and radio presenter, comedian, actor, author, commentator, and the face of comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show.

What’s the goss? Norton has a wine label made by New Zealand producer Invivo, with whom he first teamed up with back in 2014. One Sauvignon Blanc, one rosé, one Shiraz and a Prosecco later, the TV host turned his hand to gin through a partnership with Ireland’s West Cork Distillers.

MMMhops

Mmmhops, you see what they did there?

Mmmhops

Who made it? Hanson.

Remind us who they are again? An American pop band best known for their hit single, Mmmbop. Geddit?

What’s the goss? Since brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson launched craft beer brand Hanson Brothers Beer back in 2013, they’ve created four flavourful brews – Mmmhops, Festive Ale, Redland Amber Ale and Tulsa Tea – plus a further two in collaboration with other breweries. The company’s strapline? Music + beer = awesome. Eh, we can’t argue with that.

Sven The Wine Collection

Who made it? Sven-Göran Eriksson.

Remind us who he is again? The Swedish football manager and former player who took England to the World Cup back in 2006.

What’s the goss? Back in 2014, Göran Eriksson unveiled Sven The Wine Collection, made by Italy’s Casa Girelli with indigenous grape varieties. His white bottling is a blend of Grillo and Fiano grapes, while the red in the collection features Nero d’Avola and Frappato. He released the collection across Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland – whether any bottles remain, we don’t know.

Tres Papalote Mezcal

Tres Papalote Mezcal

Tres Papalote Mezcal

Who made it? Cheech Marin.

Remind us who he is again? An American stand-up comedian and actor, best known as part of the comedy act Cheech & Chong.

What’s the goss? Marin is a partner and brand ambassador for Tres Papalote Mezcal, a three-strong range made from Wild Cupreata agave grown on the mountaintops of Guerrero, Mexico. If you’re wondering what he thinks about the smoky spirit, Marin is quoted as saying that mezcal is “like Tequila but with tattoos and piercings”. He’s not wrong.

Ver2 Vodka

Who made it? Shane Lynch.

Remind us who he is again? An Irish singer-songwriter, best known for his time in Boyzone. Apparently, he’s a professional drift driver now.

What’s the goss? Lynch joined forces with caffeine and guarana-infused vodka brand Ver2, which was marketed as ‘Great Britain’s first energy vodka’ – make of that what you will – before industry watchdogs the Portman Group threw the book at them. The brand’s Twitter feed seems to exist solely to retweet questionable political opinions these days, so we’re guessing Ver2 is no more.

 

Ringmaster General Shiraz 2010

Sweet dreams are made of these

Ringmaster General Shiraz 2010

Who made it? Dave Stewart

No seriously, who? He was one half of British pop duo Eurythmics (the other half being Annie Lennox)

What’s the goss? Stewart teamed up with McLaren Vale estate Mollydooker to launch Ringmaster General Shiraz 2010, named after his 2012 album release. The bottling is said to be a version of the Aussie winemakers’ Carnival of Love Shiraz 2010, which is barrel-fermented and matured in 100% new American oak. Suggested food pairing? Kangaroo, obviously.

Angel Alkaline Gin

Who made it? Steven Gerrard.

Remind us who he is again? Liverpool’s former central midfielder and now manager of Scottish Premiership club Rangers.

What’s the goss? The Gers gaffer is reportedly set to add a range of flavoured gins to his alkaline water brand, Angel Alkaline. Described as “a premium contemporary English gin lovingly handcrafted with our natural alkaline water and bottled in England”, the range is pipped to span watermelon, lemon, blueberry and lime flavours. The news only broke in May 2019, so watch this space.

This stout weighs in at 13%

Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout

Who made it? Wil Wheaton.

No seriously, who? The American actor best known for portraying Wesley Crusher on TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

What’s the goss? Working with Stone Brewery co-founder Greg Koch and Fark.com creator Drew Curtis, Wil (only one ‘l’ for some reason) Wheaton created a speciality imperial stout made using pecans, wheat, flaked rye and bourbon barrels. A new edition of the 13% ABV bottling is released every year, complete with awesome illustrated label.

Garden Shed Gin

Rugby gin

Garden Shed Gin

Who made it? Ryan Grant,

No seriously, who? A retired British and Irish Lions rugby player.

What’s the goss? The former Scotland international rugby union player swapped rugby balls for botanicals, launching The Garden Shed Drinks Company back in 2017 in partnership with wife Maxine and fellow rugby player Ruaridh Jackson. As well as the London Dry-style Garden Shed Gin bottling, the Glasgow-based team also makes Côte-Rôtie gin, which is aged in a French wine barrel.

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Whisky and honours

Today Ian Buxton toasts Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker who has just received an OBE and looks into the occasionally murky world of whisky and honours. As you may…

Today Ian Buxton toasts Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker who has just received an OBE and looks into the occasionally murky world of whisky and honours.

As you may have read recently, Dr Jim Beveridge, master blender for Johnnie Walker has been appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the latest Queen’s Honours list.  It couldn’t happen to a nicer or more modest chap – and he joins an exclusive group of whisky notables. In 2016 David Stewart, the long-serving malt Master at the Balvenie, was awarded the MBE while his opposite number at Glen Grant, Dennis Malcolm received an OBE – one rung up the awards ladder.  More recently, Nigel Mills, co-founder and chairman of The Lakes Distillery was appointed a CBE (a couple of steps up the awards hierarchy) while, at the same time, David Gosnell of Bushmills received the OBE.

Dr Jim Beveridge

Dr Jim himself!

So I expect by now you’re wondering, what are these awards, who else in whisky has received one and, most interesting of all, how are they decided?  There is no particular mystery about the British awards system. The aim is to recognise people who have made achievements in public life, or committed themselves to serving and helping Britain: “they’ll usually have made life better for other people or be outstanding at what they do.” as it says on the www.gov.uk/honoursThere’s nothing obscure about that and, other than the staunch republicans among us, we can probably agree that it is appropriate to recognise exceptional achievement or national service.  But who decides and how do they know who is worthy?

Though these are the Queen’s Awards, it’s not actually Her Majesty who decides. Specialist committees, comprising senior civil servants along with people who are independent of government, recommend awards to a main committee who then forward them to the Prime Minister’s office and then to the Queen. If you know someone particularly deserving, you can nominate them on the website. 

This system was introduced by John Major as Prime Minister but previously the basis for an award was, at best, opaque and, at worst, corrupt. There may have been some skulduggery surrounding the so-called ‘Whisky Barons’ of the 1920s ennobled by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, most notably the creation of Lord Woolavington (formerly James Buchanan). It is said that he paid handsomely for his peerage – allegedly, the sum of £50,000, or about £2m today – but signed the cheque with his new title and dated it for one day after the announcement was due, to ensure that the wily Lloyd George would honour the new honour!  But rest assured Messrs Beveridge, Stewart and Malcolm haven’t written any dodgy cheques! Their awards are strictly on merit.

Jim Beveridge

Dr Jim in action

Though there have been some involved with whisky production who have received gongs, like Ronald Martin from United Distillers (1931-2005, awarded OBE in 1991) or Professor Geoffrey Palmer from Heriot Watt University who received an OBE in 2003, the most senior awards, including knighthoods tend to come from the commercial side of the business.  Examples include Sir Anthony Tennant (1930 – 2011), knighted in 1992 for his work at IDV and at Guinness following the ignominious departure of Ernest Saunders, and Sir George Bull, knighted 1998, having been one of the principal architects of the then-largest merger in UK corporate history with the union of Grand Metropolitan with Guinness to create Diageo. A more recent business knight is Sir Ian Good, chairman of the Edrington Group from 1994 to 2013.  He was knighted in 2008. Interestingly, his predecessor John Macphail (1923-2004) received the lesser award of CBE, despite his obituary describing him as “one of the most inspirational and influential figures in the Scotch whisky industry”.

So here’s to all the distinguished individuals mentioned here, and all the others that I should have saluted but have omitted. Let’s raise a glass to their contribution to whisky, along with the hope that the new generation of distinguished whisky women will shortly have their special place in history.  

Who will be the first women in whisky to be honoured?  I leave it to you to speculate…..

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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The Nightcap: 7 June

As we recover from another outstanding Fèis Ìle, the influx of booze news flowed in as usual – it’s The Nightcap! It’s Friday again, and, like always, we’ve got a…

As we recover from another outstanding Fèis Ìle, the influx of booze news flowed in as usual – it’s The Nightcap!

It’s Friday again, and, like always, we’ve got a fresh batch of news stories from the world of booze ready for you to drink up as we enter summer. That’s right, it’s summer already and, of course, it’s raining. But we won’t let that dampen our spirits, it’s the weekend for goodness sake! And we’re going to start this weekend the same way we always do. With another smashing edition of The Nightcap!

On the blog this week Jake regaled us with tales from Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain and Jura as Fèis Ìle 2019 concluded, while our June 2019 dram club also launched. Adam then found some fab treats to spoil the old man with on Father’s Day, Jess explored the world of fermented tea drinks with her New Arrival of the Week and Nate Brown played a game of booze-branding buzzword bingo in his guest column. Annie explained why the right glassware matters before casting her eye over 10 bottlings created with a chef’s sensibilities, while Henry met with the queen of rum, Joy Spence, enjoyed a Talisker video masterclass and picked The Toasted Nut Boulevardier as his Cocktail of the Week.

Now, to the news!

The Nightcap

Interesting times for Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond sold to Asian investment firm in $500m deal

Big Scotch whisky news! The Loch Lomond Group will be sold to Hillhouse Capital Management, an investment firm with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. The distillery is unique in Scotland in producing its own single malt and single grain whiskies; it also produces the Glen Scotia whisky, Glen’s vodka and Ben Lomond gin. The distillery, which had been in the hands of the Bulloch family since 1834, was acquired in 2014 by UK-based Exponent Private Equity who very successfully concentrated on the export market. Overseas sales went up from 10% to 70% of business. The new owners are now looking to capitalise on this especially in the Asian market. Wei Cao, partner at Hillhouse Capital, said: “We are so excited to help Loch Lomond realise the potential of its outstanding brands in huge new consumer markets, such as Asia.” The deal is still to be finalised but is said by Scottish Field to be worth somewhere in the region of $500m. The current distillery’s management headed up by Colin Matthews will stay in place and will keep a minority stake in the business. Matthews commented: “Over the past five years we are proud to have transformed the Loch Lomond Group into a premium international spirits business with a strong focus on innovation and a portfolio of award-winning brands.” We look forward to seeing what comes next from one of Scotland’s most idiosyncratic distilleries.

The Nightcap

The US allowing these little guys is great news for small European distillers

America may allow 70cl bottles – huge news for small European distillers

Good news from America! You don’t often hear that one. The TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau), the people who regulate alcohol among other things, are proposing to change the rules on bottle sizes for spirits. In a move that smacks of good old-fashioned common sense, the release says, “TTB is proposing to eliminate all but minimum and maximum standards of fill for distilled spirits containers in order to provide industry members greater flexibility in production and sourcing of containers, and provide consumers broader purchasing options.” At the moment full-size spirit bottles have to be 75cl as opposed to 70cl in the European Union, so producers have to produce two separate bottlings. No problem, of course, for Diageo but prohibitively expensive for smaller producers. If this proposal goes through, and that’s a big if, then it could potentially open up the American market to some boutique spirits. If the EU would reciprocate to allow 75cl spirit bottles, or maybe just agree on a common standard, what a wonderful world it could be.

The Nightcap

No fancy packaging here

Glenlivet 1946 goes under the hammer in Chiswick

In these days of hand-blown decanters, boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl and specially-commissioned books, it’s nice to be reminded of a simpler time when whisky just came in a bottle with a plain label on. Take the Glenlivet 1946 that’s going under the hammer at Chiswick Auctions wine and spirits sale on 11 June. It was distilled when rationing was still going on after the war, only a tiny amount was allowed to be made for the export market. Most would have been sold as soon as possible but some were kept in cask and bottled by Gordon & MacPhail of Elgin in the 1980s, so this is a roughly 40-year-old whisky. It’s been sourced by the new wine and spirits team at Chiswick Auctions Sam Hellyer, Chris Burr and Christopher Cooper. Look at that admittedly not terribly good label and compare it with the recent 50 Year Old Winchester Collection release from The Glenlivet. The latter will set you back $25,000 whereas this 1946 is only expected to sell for £800-1000. You don’t get a fancy box, but you do get a slice of history and at that price, someone might even drink it.

The Nightcap

A delightfully pink taste of history

Drink the original Pink Gin this World Gin Day with Angostura Bitters

Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock, you’ve probably noticed a little trend called pink gin. However, in reality, these sweet and fruity tipples are a far cry from the very first pink gin to pass our lips, which was created courtesy of Angostura bitters. As the story goes, back in 1824, Dr J.G.B Siegert created Angostura bitters as a kind of healing elixir for soldiers fighting in Venezuela. At the time, it was safer to drink alcohol on ships, as stagnant water was a rather perilous affair. Would you believe it, it took a whole 24 years for someone to mix these bitters with gin! It was in the year 1848 when a Royal Navy surgeon added the bitters to try and help with seasickness. Luckily, this happy accident of mixology also coincided with the rise of cocktail culture in the 1850s. The sailors returned from sea, and brought with them Pinkers, as they now affectionately called this pink gin. Health concerns went out the window and people simply loved the taste of it. Seeing as it’s World Gin Day this weekend, why not have a taste of history and make your own Pinkers? Tastes even better if you can find a ship to drink it on, though it’s not essential.

The Nightcap

Caskshare allows whisky lovers to reserve ‘shares’ of whisky casks from their favourite distilleries

Craft Whisky Club launches Caskshare

It goes without saying that anything which makes whisky more accessible is most definitely a Good Thing. So, great news for whisky geeks this week, as Craft Whisky Club (part of Edinburgh based whisky-technology company Uisge Tech Ltd) announced the launch of Caskshare. In a nutshell, Caskshare allows whisky lovers to reserve ‘shares’ of whisky casks from their favourite distilleries, and once matured the single cask bottlings will be sent directly to the lucky recipient – or as Caskshare calls them, ‘shareholders’. This is a brilliant new initiative, described as Crowdfunding for whisky casks, which will hopefully allow consumers to explore and buy a whole host of cask variations without breaking the bank. The first casks to feature on the platform are from the Raasay Distillery, and you can choose to age either your peated or unpeated spirit in ex-bourbon, Chinquapin (a type of oak native to North America) virgin oak, or Bordeaux red wine casks. Such choice! The first bottling will be ready in 2022, after its required three years of ageing. “Caskshare offers whisky fans a way to get closer to their favourite distilleries and wood types”, says co-founder David Nicol. “What’s more, you don’t need to part with the vast sums of money required to purchase a full cask.” It’s said that a few new distilleries are set to join Caskshare in the next few months, and these won’t just be limited to Scotland, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Nightcap

A record-breaking rum!

Wray & Nephew President’s Reserve breaks rum auction record fetching £31,500

A very rare Wray & Nephew rum has set a new world record for an individual bottle of rum sold at auction after it fetched £31,500 (just under $40,000). “We had high hopes for this stunning bottle but with so little sales history to reference it was difficult to predict how it might perform,” said Iain McClune, director at Whisky Auctioneer. “I think it is fair to say that it has exceeded expectations, however, the price achieved is more than deserving considering the historical significance and incredible rarity of this rum”. J. Wray & Nephew President’s Reserve rum, the fourth of 12 bottles created, went on sale in Whisky Auctioneer’s inaugural Rum Auction last month. The rum, which contains liquid from 1906, honours US president Ronald Reagan and his first and only visit to Jamaica in April 1982. The label bears the late president’s seal, and it is believed that two bottles were presented to Reagan with further bottles given to dignitaries and industry professionals in attendance during the visit. This particular bottle is thought to be the only known example to have come into the secondary market, with another bottle previously selling for £1,213 (US$1,542) at a Bonhams auction in New York in 2013. A representative from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum said: “The first family received this wonderful gift commemorating their trip to Jamaica in April 1982. The bottle that we have is #1 and bears the Great Seal of the United States. The current locations of the remaining bottles are not known.” More than 50 bids from across the world were made for the historic bottling, with the winning bid coming from Italy. It’s sickening, isn’t it? There’s a person out there who gets to drink rare rum and live in Italy. Life isn’t fair. Anyway, we digress. . . The President’s Reserve was one of more than 600 rums sold in the auction and wasn’t the only big hitter. A pair of casks from the closed Caroni distillery in Trinidad fetched £25,000 (US$31,793) each.

The Nightcap

It’s hard to say what was better, the cocktails or the view!

London in the Sky with Cocchi

We headed down – or should we say up – to North Greenwich to London in the Sky for a spritz masterclass with Team Cocchi. London in the Sky is, in essence, a great big table on a crane which rises 100 feet into the air, giving you truly some stellar views of the Big Smoke while you sip. For those of you who think that may sound slightly hellish, fear not, as you’re securely strapped into a seat which looks a little like one you would find in a racing car – super safe. Once we had risen above the O2 Arena, we made (and tasted) four cocktails. First up was the Cocchi Rosa Spritz, made with Cocchi Rosa, tonic, fresh strawberries and basil, full of bittersweet pink berry notes. Next, a Cocchi Rosa Negroni, a take on the classic made with Cocchi Rosa, Pink Pepper Gin and Campari. Then, we moved (metaphorically) into the evening with the Vermouth di Torino Spritz, combining Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, rosemary and olive tonic water and a fresh sprig of rosemary. This was less fruity, and brought more of a spicy note, hence why it was more of an evening drink. Finally, a classic Negroni graced the floating table, made with Sipsmith gin, Campari and, of course, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. If a spritz in the sky sounds good to you, then you’ll be thrilled to hear that Cocchi Spritzes are permanently on the menu for all of London in the Sky’s flights. However, the best part is, that with each cocktail only containing three ingredients, these are simple drinks to make, whether you’re 100 feet in the air over Canary Wharf, or just relaxing in your garden.

The Nightcap

A week of Negronis? We’re in

Campari unveils #N100, a week devoted to the Negroni

This year it’s the hundredth anniversary of that fateful day when a barman in Florence accidentally poured gin into Count Camillo Negroni’s Americano (a mixture of Campari and vermouth) instead of soda water, and created a classic. Or so the story goes (we’ll be looking into the drink’s history very soon). As you can imagine we’re quite excited, but not as excited as Campari: the Milanese company is launching #N100, over a week of events around Britain to celebrate the Count and his creation. It begins at the Vinyl Factory in London on 20 June and continues into Negroni Week beginning 22 June with events in Edinburgh, Manchester and London. To spice things up a little, the venues won’t just be offering the standard Negroni. At Hoot the Redeemer in Edinburgh, for example, you’ll be able to try the tastefully-named Skagliato made with Campari, Irn Bru and Buckfast! Sounds fierce. It looks like June is going to be sweet this year, and really really bitter.

The Nightcap

Gold has just opened on Portobello Road and we’re all very excited to see how they do

Notting Hill bar Gold opens in a blaze of talent

A swanky new bar and restaurant that goes by the name of Gold opened on Portobello Road this week. The new venture has drawn quite the host of talent, with head chef Theo Hill of The River Café, and front of house team Alex Ghalleb of Pizza East and Arez Akgundogdu of Soho House. The drinks don’t look bad either: Gold’s unique cocktail menu has been put together by Weapons and Toys, aka. Matt Whiley and Rich Woods, the fellas behind Hackney’s Scout. It’s already off to a flying (and talented) start. So, what to expect? Raw bohemian decor, with exposed brickwork, lots of indoor trees and the like, colourful seasonal sharing plates inspired by local produce and uncomplicated, delicious cocktails. All the cocktails look delicious, but we’re pretty sure we’d be hard pressed to choose between the Market Stall Spritz, comprised of raspberry-infused Hennessey brandy, crème de cacao, sweet tomato shrub, rosé and soda, or the Baklava Fizz, combining Don Julio Tequila, fig shrub, London honey, almond milk and soda. Gold will span over four floors, and will even boast a garden room with a retractable roof, perfect as we began our descent into summer. With such a great team in place, we can’t wait to see what other seasons will bring.

The Nightcap

Yep. That’s a shoe. With a cocktail inside

And finally. . . . a cocktail served in a shoe

Cocktail silly season has arrived in London early this year as the Ace Hotel announces a new cocktail menu at the Lobby Bar. The two that caught our eye were the Bangers and Daq’s, a Daiquiri with a salami (yes real salami, not some sort of dried fruit fangled to look like salami) and red wine twist, and the Drella’s Milk Punch, made from cornflake milk and vodka which sounds like the sort of thing Ozzy Osborne would have had for breakfast. However, these beverages are paragons of classical good taste in comparison with what the people from Filipino joint, Romulo Cafe in Kensington, are serving. It’s called the Imelda and it’s been designed in honour of former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, who was famed for having a lot of shoes when most of her people didn’t have a lot to eat. The cocktail contains Stolichnaya vodka, crème de framboise, crème de mure and strawberry puree, and served, naturally, in a shoe. It’s all done in the best possible taste!

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Five minutes with Joy Spence from Appleton Estate

We had the honour of an audience with the queen of rum, Joy Spence from Appleton Estate. We talked about Jamaican rum’s Geographical Indication, whether she might ever launch a…

We had the honour of an audience with the queen of rum, Joy Spence from Appleton Estate. We talked about Jamaican rum’s Geographical Indication, whether she might ever launch a single pot still spirit (please!), and why when she became master blender some people thought her parents owned the company.

Last month four of the most eminent names in global distilling were at Carlton House Terrace in London for Gruppo’s Campari’s Meet the Masters event. The big four were Eddie Russell of Wild Turkey Bourbon, Patrick Raguenaud of Grand Marnier, Dennis Malcolm of Glen Grant and Joy Spence from Appleton Estate in Jamaica.

The fab four, from left: Raguenaud, Russell, Spence and Malcolm

For rum lovers, Joy Spence needs no introduction, but we’re going to give her one anyway. Spence trained as a chemist and did her masters at Loughborough University in England. She joined J. Wray and Nephew, Appleton’s parent company, in 1981. She held a number of positions before becoming chief blender in 1997. The first woman ever to hold this position.

Appleton is one of the oldest names in rum. The first mention of the estate producing rum is from 1749. In 1916 it was acquired by the J. Wray and Nephew, who make Jamaica’s number one rum, and in 2012 both brands were bought by Campari. Appleton has been instrumental in taking rum upmarket with its excellent age statement range like the exceptional 25 year old Joy Anniversary Blend (bottled to honour Spence’s 20 years as master blender). 2018 was a big year for Appleton as it opened a £5.4m visitor centre called, naturally, The Joy Spence Experience, and Jamaican rum’s Geographical Indication was approved which means that it has protected status like Champagne or Stilton. To learn more, we spoke to the lady herself, Joy Spence:

Master of Malt: How important is the GI for Jamaican rum?

Joy Spence: I think the GI for Jamaican rum is extremely important because what is happening globally is that a lot of producers outside of Jamaica are purchasing Jamaica rum but diluting it but still declaring it as a hundred percent Jamaican rum. So we set up some key characteristics for Jamaica rum: first you must use limestone-filtered water in your fermentation, Jamaican limestone-filtered water to be precise! You must ferment and distill in Jamaica. If you’re going to have an age statement it must be the minimum age system, similar to the Scotch whisky system. And last but not least, no additives in Jamaica rum.

MoM: And do you think other countries will follow you? Because some countries have slightly less clear labelling systems?

JS: Yes. Actually Barbados is now working on a GI for Barbados rum and I think others will follow suit because they see the importance of having a geographical indicator and protecting your turf. Unfortunately it’s not an even playing field in the rum industry, because you have so many different regulations from different countries, so it’s not quite clear exactly what an overall definition for rum is and what is allowed and what is not allowed. This is why we have decided to clarify what Jamaica rum is all about so they know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase a bottle of Jamaica rum.

MoM: Does all the sugarcane used in your rum come from the estate?

JS: Yes we grow over 4,000 hectares of sugarcane at Appleton, so we’re one of the few producers that can claim the process from the cane to the cocktail, where we have total control of our process.

MoM: What about yeast?

JS: We have a special strain that was handed down from the inception of rum making at Appleton so we generate a strain every three months to keep it pure. We ferment for between 36 or 48 hours and at the end of that we have fermented molasses that has 7% alcohol in it.

MoM: And that’s quite a fast fermentation for Jamaica, is that right?

JS: You have two methods of fermenting in Jamaica but this particular method represent 90% of the production in Jamaica. And we don’t use dunder in the Appleton process, those are for high ester rums. We’re looking to make smooth, rich, complex, and fruity spirits.

Joy Spence

Spence brought Jamaica to London with her

MoM: And can you tell me a little about the distillation. What sort of stills do you use?

JS: We use a combination of both pot and column in all of our blends. The pot still however is the heart and soul of our blends and our copper pot stills are specially designed in Scotland for us and so they produce this distinctive orange peel top note, which is the hallmark of the Appleton Estate range.

MoM: I know you’ve done some single cask releases but would you ever do a single pot still release?

JS: Eventually. Right now because we have so much aged stock, I am releasing limited time offerings of blends but eventually we will look forward to a single mark. But not just yet because we have quite a few products in the pipeline coming out. We plan to launch one every year.

MoM: That’s really exciting! Do you think the future of rum is to go upmarket?

JS: Yes, I think the rum consumer is looking for more sophistication, and genuine stories, a lot of the rum producers really don’t have a lot to say about their story. Appleton has genuine provenance and a huge story behind it. Premium aged rum category is now the hot category and it is going to be the next whisky.

MoM: At the moment whisky is trying to be less serious, do you think there’s a danger with rum becoming more serious that it might lose some of its sense of fun?

JS: At Appleton Estate, we make a rum for any occasion. So, we make rums that are great for fun parties and rums that are for a more serious, sophisticated setting. What we do is to try to cover both ends of the spirits category.

MoM: Can you tell me a little bit about how you became the master blender at Appleton?

JS: I joined the company as a chief chemist in 1981 and then I started working with the previous master blender and then I became so fascinated with the art of blending; being able to use my sensory skills to create all these beautiful flavour profiles. And he recognised that I had great creativity. So he took me under his wings, tutored with him for 17 years and then when he retired, I was appointed the first female master blender in the spirits industry. It was a male-dominated industry no woman had ever been made master blender. And some persons were sceptical, people thought that my parents owned the company and that’s how I got the position! And not the fact that I really earned it through expertise. But eventually people understood that I’d worked for several years in the industry and became quite an expert.

Appleton Estate

Joy Spence with the 25 year old Joy Anniversary release

MoM: What do you think the biggest skill that a blender has to have?

JS: People think that the biggest skill that a blender should have is being able to taste but no! It’s your sensory skills. Because we can differentiate much more by nosing than by tasting. Because the taste buds really get shattered after about three or four drinks. And when you’re doing sensory analysis you can smell and differentiate for hours the different aromas. And so this is the most important part of being a blender in the rum industry. Sensory analysis is based on memory so you memorise each aroma and it stays right there. There’s a little lobe right at the front here where you store everything for sensory analysis. And so I can differentiate over 200 aromas right now.

MoM: Do you have a favourite? I know it’s difficult, like choosing your children, but at the end of a hard day which Appleton do you reach for?

JS: I think my favourite blend to date is the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend. It is really the hallmark of excellence.

MoM: Do you have a favourite rum cocktail?

JS: I like simple cocktails. And I find that a Daiquiri with Appleton Estate Reserve, using brown sugar with a few drops of Angostura bitters, is quite delicious, simple and easy to make.

MoM: And then finally, what’s new on the horizon?

JS: Well we just launched Appleton Estate 30 year old for this year. And we are going to be releasing a product before the end of the year at the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience that was specifically made for the Experience and so it won’t be sold anywhere else in the world, so you have to come to the Experience in Jamaica to actually purchase it.

We are so there!

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Save the bees, drink Calvados

Not only is Calvados one of France’s best-kept secrets, it’s also one of the most sustainable spirits in the world. We get the low-down on this unjustly neglected brandy as…

Not only is Calvados one of France’s best-kept secrets, it’s also one of the most sustainable spirits in the world. We get the low-down on this unjustly neglected brandy as Avallen Calvados co-founders Tim Etherington-Judge and Stephanie Jordon introduce their eco-friendly brand to the world.

“Calvados is an extremely dusty old-fashioned category,” Etherington-Judge admits. “There’s amazing liquid inside the bottles, but they’ve been marketed and designed by old French producers. I liken it to single malt Scotch in the early eighties, which was driven by connoisseurship of a few people in the know. If you didn’t, it was very unapproachable.”

For the uninitiated, Calvados is brandy made with French apples and pears. All Calvados has to come from Normandy, and much like Cognac, it is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations and has a very stringent set of production rules (which you’ll find on our Calvados list page, the link is above). For Avallen – an old Cornish word, FYI, meaning apple tree – the duo partnered with existing distillery Domaine du Coquerel, which sources apples from 300 different farmers located within a 20 to 30-kilometre radius to create the liquid.

From left: Tim Etherington-Judge; Pierre Martin Neuhaus, owner of Distillerie Coquerel; Stephanie Jordan

“The apples come in, they’re washed, they’re pressed and the juice is fermented, which takes around two to three months because it’s a wild fermentation that happens in the winter,” says Etherington-Judge. The liquid is aged in French oak barrels for two years and bottled at 40% ABV with no added sugar, caramel or boisé. Some of the pulp from the apples is used to make the paper for Avallen’s labels – which are printed with sustainable dyes – and the rest is loaded into a methane digester and turned into gas to run the distillery. The bottle, meanwhile, is one of the lightest on the market, reducing Avallen’s carbon footprint during shipping.

When Etherington-Judge and Jordon, who worked together at multinational drinks goliath Diageo, set out to build their own brand, they wanted the project to be as sustainable and as environmentally-friendly as possible. Calvados as a category promotes biodiversity and extremely local production, explains Etherington-Judge. “Cows roam the orchards in Normandy, the bees pollinate the flowers and the cows eat some of the early-ripening apples and fertilise the trees,” he continues. “There’s also a very low level of chemical use in Normandy and where we’re made, in La Moche, no pesticides are used at all. It’s very different to the monoculture [cultivated for] the grains for our whiskies and gins and the sugarcane fields for our rums.”

For every bottle sold, the duo will donate €0.50 of profit to organisations dedicated to restoring and protecting the declining bee population. They have also committed to planting 100,000 wildflowers across the next three years, and operate the business as a vegan company – you won’t find any eggs in an Avallen Sour. “One of the biggest causes of bee decline is industrial agriculture, particularly the farming of meat,” says Etherington-Judge. “How can we talk about saving the bees if we are not following through on it on every single decision we make?”. The duo are also dabbling with blockchain technology, uploading laboratory analyses, invoices for each charitable donation and, eventually, finer details about the orchards online in a bid to be “100% transparent and authentic”.

Save the bees!

Save the bees!

Traditionally, Calvados has been enjoyed as a digestif, but the team behind Avallen want to “completely break away from that model because it’s obviously not working for the category, and get back into cocktails” from the “simple and delicious” Avellen and Tonic to the old-school Delicious Sour, which dates back to 1891 and combines Calvados, peach brandy, lemon juice, simple syrup and a pasteurised egg white (or an alternative vegan foaming agent in Avallen’s case).

Whether served straight up, in a short sipper or as a component in a quaffable long drink, Avallen is set to bring some vibrancy and life into what is, at present, a dull and poorly-understood category. “At the end of the day, it tastes like cooked apples and vanilla custard,” muses Etherington-Judge. “Who won’t love that flavour?”

The bartender’s last word…

“Guests who have been on holiday to Normandy are generally the only people aware of Calvados,” says Tom Soden, co-founder of sustainable London cocktail bar Nine Lives, where Avallen made its UK debut. “It’s lost behind the more famous brandies of France. Perhaps this is due to no particular brand evolving – Calvados brands haven’t changed with the times.

“Typically Calvados has been used as a more accessible alternative to Cognac – both in terms of taste and price,” he continues. While stirred drinks and classic style Punches seem to be the favourites, the “round fruit flavours” in Calvados make it “a great entry level into more spirit-forward drinks”.

“Stronger Sours and lighter stirred drinks have been where we’ve found Calvados to excel,” he continues. “Perhaps the introduction of new dynamic brands like Avallen will break new ground and attract new customers.”

Avallen Calvados

Avallen Calvados

 

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Chefs with boozes

As the link between kitchen and bar strengthens and their approaches to ingredients and flavour further align, certain highly-acclaimed chefs have switched their aprons for lab coats to dabble in…

As the link between kitchen and bar strengthens and their approaches to ingredients and flavour further align, certain highly-acclaimed chefs have switched their aprons for lab coats to dabble in distilling and brewing. Looking across whisky, gin, beer and beyond, we’ve championed 10 bottlings created with a chef’s sensibilities…

I’ve heard it said that if you want to know what the next cocktail trend will be, you should look at techniques used 10 years ago in fine dining kitchens across the world. This might sound like an insult on paper, but it’s a testament to how rapidly the industry has progressed, and the immensely high standard it’s held up to. Today’s bartenders approach their creations like artists, crafting complex, thought-provoking drinks that could rival the finest Michelin-starred dish – or better yet, find a place on the table alongside it.

Developing a botanical combination for a spirit, or a mash for a beer involves inventing a recipe after all, so it’s unsurprising that celebrated distillers, blenders and brewers have explored collaborations with cooks. Some chefs have even made the leap from dish to distillery full-time. Take Copenhagen’s Empirical Spirits, founded in 2017 by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen – before turning their eyes to spirits, the duo headed up Noma, which won the title of world’s best restaurant a casual five times. No biggie.

Looking to the future, we can only foresee more collaboration between the worlds of food and drink. The 10 distilleries and breweries that follow flung open their doors to celebrated chefs and together, they cooked up some seriously special boozes…

Chefs

Salcombe Gin’s Voyager Series features an eclectic range of collaborations

Salcombe Distilling Company’s Voyager Series

The Devon-based producers of Salcombe Gin have partnered with not one but three culinary geniuses for its ongoing Voyager Series, a collection of limited edition bottlings developed in collaboration with a winemaker or chef. To date, Michael Caines (not to be confused with the star of Get Carter and Jaws: The Revenge), Mark Hix, and Monica Galetti have flexed their botanical brains to design a characterful gin unique to them.

Anspach & Hobday x Tom Sellers

Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers – the man behind London’s Restaurant Story – teamed up with Anspach & Hobday to create farmhouse-style ale Story Saison, which is infused with clementine preserves made in his very own restaurant kitchen. Incidentally, he’s worked with the craft brewery before on a smoked brown ale.

Chefs

L’Anima raised £108,900 for Food for Soul, a non-profit that works to counter food waste through social inclusion.

The Dalmore x Massimo Bottura

Earlier this year, single malt Scotch whisky The Dalmore joined forces with Massimo Bottura – Michelin-starred chef and owner of revered Modena-based eatery Osteria Francescana – to release The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years (l’anima means ‘soul’ in Italian, FYI). The liquid combines whiskies aged in small-batch bourbon barrels, Graham’s vintage Port pipes, and González Byass casks that formerly contained 40-year-old Pedro Ximénez Sherry. Phwoar.

Cornish Gin x Tom Brown

Produced at The Wrecking Coast Distillery, juniper-forward Cornerstone Rare Cornish Gin has been developed to complement the dishes at Tom Brown’s fish-centric Hackney Wick restaurant, Cornerstone. Flavour-wise, we’re talking “generous coriander notes, strong citrus influences” and an injection of hedgerow rosehip and rowan berries – a tip of the hat to the gin’s Cornish roots.

Chefs

Ducasse & Co. approached creating this vodka as a dish rather than as a liquid.

Grey Goose x Alain Ducasse

Grey Goose cellar-master Francois Thibault teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse to create a “gastronomic vodka” for the brand’s 20th anniversary – approaching the spirit as a dish rather than as a liquid. The result, Grey Goose Interpreted By Ducasse, is made by blending distillates of French wheat that have undergone light, medium and heavy toasting.

Hepple Gin x Valentine Warner

When TV chef and forager Valentine Warner partnered with Moorland Spirit Company to create Hepple Gin, he enlisted tried-and-tested culinary techniques to achieve the flavour he sought – including vacuum distillation and a CO2 extraction process. The final recipe contains three types of juniper, Amalfi lemon, liquorice, douglas fir and bog myrtle, among others.

Chefs

The sublime Oldstead Garden Spirits

Cooper King Distillery x The Black Swan

Last year, Yorkshire’s Cooper King Distillery created a series of bespoke distillates for nearby Michelin-starred restaurant The Black Swan using flowers and plants grown in the venue’s kitchen garden. Marigold, lemon verbena, fennel pollen and chicory root were picked, delivered to the distillery and vacuum-distilled on the same day to create four variants, known collectively as Oldstead Garden Spirits.

Sharp’s Brewery x Rick Stein

TV chef and restaurateur Rick Stein created Chalky’s Bite – made from Cornish fennel, Cornish malted barley and three different hops – at Cornwall’s Sharp’s Brewery, naming the bottling after his beloved Jack Russell Terrier. Unfortunately Chalky paid his dues at the great dog park in the sky before the bottling could hit the shelves, so the beer, designed to be paired with seafood, was released in tribute. Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eyes…

Chefs

Bonkers botanicals galore can be found in Slingsby bottlings!

Slingsby Gin x Michael O’Hare

You might be wondering where the all the madcap, slightly bonkers ingredients are. Thankfully, British chef Michael O’Hare – of Michelin-starred restaurant The Man Behind The Curtain – and Yorkshire-based Slingsby Gin have served up the goods with a savoury gin containing local botanicals, Exmoor caviar and even more bizarrely, plankton.

Hackney Brewery x Pip Lacey

Great British Menu 2017 winner Pip Lacey and long-time business partner Gordy McIntyre got together with the good folks at London’s Hackney Brewery to design a unique beer for the opening of their first eatery, Hicce, a wood-fired restaurant in King’s Cross. Smooth and light, Hicce by Hackney Session IPA is hopped like an IPA but lower in alcohol.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Toasted Nut Boulevardier

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan,…

This week we delve into the fascinating world of vermouth with a man who knows his artemisia absinthim from his artemisia pontica (they’re both types of wormwood), Jack Adair Bevan, and show you how to make a deliciously nutty bourbon and vermouth cocktail.

Jack Adair Bevan (what a great name BTW, it sounds like he should be played by a young Bruce Willis) hasn’t always been so keen on vermouth. In his new book, A Spirited Guide to Vermouth, he writes, “I shared most people’s perceptions of vermouth of ancient bottles that gathered dust in corners of drinks cabinets and kitchen cupboards with faded labels and bottle tops fused shut with crystallised sugar.” Yup, that’s my parents’ drinks cupboard. It was a Negroni drunk in Haus Bar (since closed) in Bristol that made him change his mind.

Bevan got the vermouth bug real bad: whereas you and I might just experiment with some different brands, Bevan went the whole hog and started making his own. In 2012 with the team at the restaurant where he worked, The Ethicurean just outside Bristol, he created a brand of vermouth called The Collector made with Italian wines and spirit distilled from Somerset cider apples. It became a cult hit among British bartenders.

Jack Adair Bevan

Jack Adair Bevan, looking nothing at all like a young Bruce Willis

When he left the restaurant, The Collector project finished, but Bevan’s vermouth fire is burning brighter than ever hence the book which has just been published. A Spirited Guide to Vermouth (Headline Home, £16.99) traces the long history of aromatised wine: the Romans were flavouring wines with bitter ingredients like wormwood (vermouth gets its name from the German word for wormwood, wermut). But vermouth really went global in the 19th century when it was commercialised in France and Italy by firms like Noilly Prat, Dolin, Cinzano and Martini. The book takes an in-depth look at production methods: in Martini the botanicals are steeped in neutral spirit before blending whereas at Noilly Prat they use wine.

Vermouth went into a decline in the 80s and 90s, but in the last six years things have picked up with increasing sales, small brands and new releases from the old guard. The vermouth world is now truly international. In the book, Bevan picks out some of his favourite labels; he even tells you how to make your own. His enthusiasm is so infectious that, you know what, I must just give it a try.  

“I regard making vermouth as an art form.” he writes, “It’s as close to cooking as the drinks world gets. It’s about a careful balancing of a huge array of contrasting herbs, roots and spices, wines and sweetness.” And indeed, there’s a great affinity between vermouth and food. I recall earlier this summer, near Barcelona, eating a dish of boquerones, anchovies in vinegar that would destroy a normal wine, but the Las Vermudas vermouth just sailed through, the sweetness and bitterness of the drink chiming with the acidity of the little fish.  

Best of all are the cocktail recipes; I can see A Spirited Guide to Vermouth becoming one of the most well-thumbed books in my collection alongside David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I am definitely going to try his version of the Gin and It, half gin, half vermouth, pre-mixed and served straight from the fridge into frozen sherry copitas with a little ice at the bottom.

Toasted Nut Boulevardier,

Toasted Nut Boulevardier, note very large ice cube

The cocktail I’ve chosen this week, however, requires a bit more preparation. To make a Toasted Nut Boulevardier, you need to steep your bourbon with nuts for four days. Bevan writes: “The flavour of toasted pecans and walnuts is rich, sweet and superb combined with bourbon. The flavour almost sits like another botanical or ingredient with the Martini Rubino.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Right, let’s get cracking.

35ml Toasted nut bourbon*
25ml Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino
15ml Campari

A strip of orange peel and a toasted pecan to garnish.

Combine the toasted nut bourbon, vermouth and Campari in a chilled ice-filled shaker, stir and strain into an Old Fashioned glass containing, ideally, one large cube of ice (if not just use four or so conventional ones). Twist the orange peel over the drink, drop in and rest the pecan on the giant ice cube.

* Toast 150g of pecans and 100g walnuts in a preheated 180°C oven for about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times to ensure even toasting. Allow to cool and then put them in a Kilner jar with 700ml of Heaven Hill bourbon. Leave to infuse for four days and then strain through a coffee filter into a sterilised bottle.  

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

Spirited Guide to Vermouth

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