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Master of Malt Blog

What do gin botanicals do?

From boosting flavours to keeping aromas in the liquid, botanicals have many jobs. And beyond the traditional line-up, the world of gin botanicals can get pretty weird, finds Lucy Britner….

From boosting flavours to keeping aromas in the liquid, botanicals have many jobs. And beyond the traditional line-up, the world of gin botanicals can get pretty weird, finds Lucy Britner.

‘Botanicals’: once upon a time the word was associated with fancy gardens and stuff from the Body Shop, but the gin craze has brought botanicals to everyone’s lips. Even vodka and rum have got in on the botanical boom in recent years. But what do they do in gin besides add their own flavours? Which ones are the most important? And what do distillers consider when adding new ones?

First let’s get juniper out of the way – we know by now that the berries from this evergreen conifer are essential to gin. And the rules stipulate that a gin must be predominantly juniper.

So, what else have we got?

Sacred Cardamom Gin

Sacred’s delicious Cardamom Gin

Calling coriander seeds

“There is only one botanical that comes close to the amount of juniper required in a recipe and that’s coriander,” says Tom Nichol, master distiller at Harrogate Tipple and former Tanqueray maker, with over 40 years of experience making gin. “I personally use coriander from areas around Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania – you get the gist. Spanish and Moroccan coriander is about twice the size but half the flavour.”

At Highgate’s Sacred Spirits, co-founder Hilary Whitney says her coriander seeds come from India, bringing “a beautiful lemony dry spice found in many gins”. And Hendrick’s master distiller Lesley Gracie also mentions coriander’s citrus character, saying it can be used to “dial up” citrus notes.

Indeed, Nichol describes coriander and juniper as a “perfect marriage”.

“But as with any marriage, you need a mediator to fix and help them stay together,” he says. “And that is angelica root, which really does bind them together.”

Angelica and orris roots

These are our fixers. Angelica – sometimes known as Holy Ghost or wild celery, is cultivated for its sweet-smelling edible stems and roots. While orris is the name for iris germanica and iris pallida roots – and it takes about three or four years to grow a mature iris root.

“Orris root and angelica root act almost like Velcro, to keep the aroma in the liquid,” Gracie explains. “For this reason, you’ll also find them being used in the perfume industry.”

Orris is famously associated with Chanel No. 5 – a perfume that was launched back in 1921.

As well as its function as a stabiliser, Sacred’s Whitney notes that orris also has a floral character, while she says angelica “adds body and creaminess”.

Lesley Gracie at Hendrick's HQ

Lesley Gracie at Hendrick’s HQ

Citrus appeal

Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, yuzus, bergamots… the list goes on. Of course, the origin and type of your chosen citrus plays a part in the flavour profile. And Nichol says citrus can be a tricky customer in the distillation process.

“Some botanicals can change dramatically and can be difficult to maintain consistency, such as citrus fruits – especially limes,” he says. “A slight change in the recipe volumes of these more difficult additions to your gin can balance this out.”

For Gracie, dried botanicals are the order of the day, and she says this helps to guarantee that she will get the same amounts of essential oils and flavour compounds from the botanicals every time.

“Whereas if you pick them from the plant, you’re looking at 90% of the fresh material is water, so you lose 90% of the weight of your botanicals before you start,” she says.

But in Highgate, fresh citrus is on the chopping board, largely because of the type of distillation used to make Sacred Gin.

“We use fresh citrus in our products as we prefer a true citrus flavour rather than a dry preserved version of it,” explains Whitney. “Think of the difference between fresh versus dried apricots or a fresh Bramley apple and dried apple rings. Vacuum distillation is particularly suitable for this because, as distillation occurs at a very low temperature it retains the freshness of the citrus extremely successfully – a good example of this is the difference between fresh-cut citrus and marmalade.”

Lesley Gracie in Venezuela, Hendrick's Gin

Lesley Gracie in sniffing out new botanicals in Venezuela

Bonkers gin botanicals

Away from the famous four of juniper, coriander, orris and/or angelic root and citrus, distillers have been putting just about anything in their gins. And a burgeoning gin market means they will go to great lengths to find something new and interesting.

Gracie, for example, travelled to Venezuela back in 2013 with an “Indiana Jones character” to sample fruits and plants that might be good for a gin. “We stayed with a tribe that had only been non-nomadic for about three generations. They looked at us as though we were completely mad! Anyway, some of the plants that were growing there, I had never seen before. So, we were looking at different fruits and plants, rubbing them, smelling them. Some were amazing and some were horrific.”

Wild pig’s piss Hendrick’s anyone?

This is the point where Gracie tells us about the Hendrick’s limited edition that (thankfully) never was. “There was one plant the tribe called ‘wild pig’s piss’. Our global brand ambassador came scurrying in saying ‘we’ve got to use this – imagine the label: Hendrick’s with wild pig’s piss’!”

After rubbing the plant in her hand, Gracie says she had a pretty good understanding of where the name came from. Pig’s piss aside, the master distiller did find scorpion tail – a plant with a flower that curls over like a scorpion tail. “I pulled some leaves and flowers off that, and it had the green, the floral and the spice element that we build into Hendrick’s.”

She says maintaining the botanical profile of the brand was important – no matter how whacky the new addition. “I did an extract and most of the elements were still there, which is quite unusual. I did a distillation with my baby still – in the jungle, in the hut where we ate and slept – which was quite amusing. Those three elements were still in the distillate.”

And so, Gracie made nine litres of the distillate and shipped it back to the UK to make a small batch of Hendrick’s with Scorpion Tail to release at special events for friends of the brand.

The trip ended up being an inspiration for the relatively new Hendrick’s distillery and its two innovation green houses. One is set to the Mediterranean climate and the other to a tropical climate. Gracie can experiment with different botanicals so that she can source them on a commercial scale, if they turn out to be any good.

I bet she’s not growing any wild pig’s piss, though.

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The Nightcap: 9 July

It’s Friday, work is over (or nearly), which means it’s time for another round-up of all the news from the world of booze. We’ve got sustainable cocktails, sustainable Bentleys, and…

It’s Friday, work is over (or nearly), which means it’s time for another round-up of all the news from the world of booze. We’ve got sustainable cocktails, sustainable Bentleys, and a row over Russian Champagne. They’re all in the Nightcap: 9 July edition!

Apparently there’s some sort of sporting jamboree going on this weekend. Something about football coming home?? So we imagine that many of our readers will be glued to the telly on Sunday night. Luckily, there’s still time to order a selection of tasty beverages to heighten your viewing pleasure. For those with no interest in the Euros, there’s always Wimbledon, the Tour de France, and cricket. Or if you don’t like sport, you could go for a walk, read a book, learn a foreign language, or just pour yourself a drink and settle in with another edition of the Nightcap.

On the blog this week

It was another rocking week on the Master of Malt blog. First off, we got very excited about the arrival of a new exclusive whisky from the Lakes Distillery called Miramar. And so did you, seemingly, as it all sold out in under an hour. Whoosh! Then Lucy Britner looked at what you can do with white Port beyond adding tonic water. Ian Buxton gleefully looked at great whisky marketing disasters like the ill-fated launch of Bailey’s whiskey and Cardhu Pure Malt. Meanwhile, Millie Milliken screamed ‘spring break!’ and showed us to make the Sex on the Beach cocktail. We enjoyed a candid chat with Stephen Davies from Penderyn about Jim Swan, Jim Murray, and how everyone laughed when he wanted to make whisky in Wales. They’re not laughing now. And finally, because getting abroad is far from easy at the moment, we rounded up the 10 best drinks to transport you to faraway lands. 

Meanwhile over on Clubhouse

If you’re a fan of Tequila and mezcal, then head over to the Clubhouse app on your portable telephone device at 3pm today, Friday 9 July. Kristy Sherry, Alejandro Aispuro, Richard Legg, and Michael Ballantyne will be discussing whether 2021 is going to be the year of agave. What do you think? Yes? No? A little bit?

Now, it’s on with the Nightcap: 13 July edition!

The Macallan X Bentley Motors - Image 4[13]

Macallan and Bentley team up for some reason which will become clear at some point, probably

Macallan announces “sustainable” partnership with Bentley

First Bowmore teamed up with Aston Martin, and now there’s more whisky/ automotive synergy as this week Macallan announced a new collaboration with Bentley. Because cars and booze go so well together. It’s all a bit vague at the moment but according to the press bumf, the two companies share more than rich histories and even richer customers. Both are, apparently, big on sustainability and are going to help each other become carbon neutral. MD at Macallan Igor Boyadjian explained: “A key focus of the partnership will be our commitment to a more sustainable future. The breath-taking natural landscape at The Macallan Estate provides the perfect platform for us to embark together on this exciting and extraordinary journey.” Bentley’s chairman and chief executive Adrian Hallmark added: “Transforming Bentley into the world’s most sustainable luxury car company is an exciting journey, and I’m delighted to be working with The Macallan with one common goal – to both lead our fields as we work towards a more sustainable future.” We’ll let you know when there are more specifics but from this week’s press release, it’s clear that neither brand is short of wind power. 

Taittinger Cork

The famous Taittinger cork

Taittinger cork sold as NFT for 69 Bitcoin SV, or £6,200 in old money

If you thought the worlds of Taittinger and Bitcoin wouldn’t collide, then you clearly weren’t at the CoinGeek conference in Zurich a few weeks ago. A bottle of the Champagne was popped by Kurt Wuckert Jr, CoinGeek’s chief bitcoin historian (a real job title, we’ll have you know) at the closing of the conference live on CoinGeek TV – rather handily, it was caught on film. The NFT (non-fungible token) version of this cork (which is basically just a photo, as far as we can tell) then sold for 69 Bitcoin SV. Oh, you don’t know what that means in legal tender? Thank goodness, neither did we – it equals around $8,500. That’s also known as around £6,200, which is how we measure things over here at MoM Towers. Yes, that’s a lot of money for a digital file of a photo of a cork, but the net proceeds are being donated to PROPEL, a charity which helps support children’s education. That’s all rather heartwarming, except now the new owner of ‘The Cork’ (as it’s now known) is trying to resell it here for 2,180 Bitcoin SV. We’ll leave you to work out the inflation on that… Alternatively, if you don’t have big money to blow, you could just treat yourself to a bottle of the good stuff right here!

north-point-distillery-banner

You could win a cask of rum from North Point Distillery in Scotland

Win a whole cask of rum with CaskShare

It’s World Rum Day on 10 July. It’s also Piña Colada day and Teddy Bear Picnic Day. Why not combine the three by making Piña Coladas for your teddies and serving them on a blanket al fresco? And soon, if you take part in Caskshare’s new competition, you could have plenty of rum to share with all your bears. The online spirits marketplace has teamed up with Scotland’s North Point Distillery to offer a whole cask of rum for one lucky customer. All you need is purchase a share of rum (prices start from £40) between 7-31 July, and then bang on about it on social media (full details here). You’ll be entered into a draw to win a one year old firkin of rum containing about 72 bottles worth £2,400. Think how many Piña Coladas you could make with that. And if you’ve got any left over, it’s National Mojito Day on 11 July. So much to celebrate!

The Beaufort Bar (Bar) Lewis Wilkinson.jpg RS

Swanky

The Savoy launches eco-friendly Co-Naissance cocktail

Drinks are often shouting about which far-flung corners of the world their ingredients are from, but the newest cocktail from The Savoy does the opposite. The Co-Naissance cocktail, developed by senior mixologist Cristian Silenzi, is all about local flavours and ingredients, and we were lucky enough to give it a taste at the Beaufort Bar (above). A combination of Portobello Road Gin, and locally-foraged elderflower from Little Venice and fig leaves from Embankment Gardens, is topped off with re-carbonated Champagne that would otherwise have gone down the drain. These local ingredients don’t just show off London’s flora – the cocktail eliminates packaging and waste, and removes single use glass, thus eliminating more than 1.8kg of C02 emissions per cocktail through both waste reduction and reforestation. The Savoy is also planting one native tree in the endangered Kalimantan rainforests of Borneo for each Co-Naissance cocktail served. Needless to say there’s no garnish, though the sublime glassware hardly needs it. As you’d expect from The Savoy, the cocktail itself is a delight, and much more herbaceous than we expected it to be, carried on waves of light florals. If you find yourself on the Strand and fancy doing some good while enjoying a delicious drink, you know where to head.

BBR-SPIRITS-SUMMER_Label_BBR-Small-Batch-Linkwood-2.jpg RS

Snazzy

Berry Bros. & Rudd unveils its first ever bespoke spirits bottle 

London-based Berry Bros. & Rudd, Britain’s oldest family-owned wine and spirits merchant, has launched its summer 2021 spirit range, revealing its first ever bespoke bottle in its 323 years! Designed by Stranger & Stranger, the new bottle will be used across the entire range moving forward. Indeed, some new bottles have already landed at Master of Malt. So, what’s new? The shop windows at its home in No.3 St. James’s Street are the inspiration for the label design – easy enough to recognise if you’ve been lucky enough to visit the charming shop. What’s more, each label boasts different levels of detail as customers move through (well, up) the price range. Lizzy Rudd, Berry Bros & Rudd chairperson commented “I’m delighted that after over 300 years, we are opening another new chapter for our prestigious spirits range. The new packaging and advertising draws upon and respects our heritage, whilst celebrating who we are and what we stand for today.” A snazzy new campaign full of lifestyle films and images accompany the launch as the brand looks towards world domination expanding its appeal in the China, Germany, USA, and UK markets.

The Churchill Arms, Notting Hill

Churchill Arms in Notting Hill, hopefully there will be some free nibbles on 18 September

Inaugural National Hospitality Day to run on 18 September 

Here’s a good idea to help Britain’s pubs, bars and, restaurants which have been having a hell of time recently: A National Hospitality Day. Rather like Record Store Day but with more booze. It’s taking place on 18 September and those taking part will put on special events, menus, entertainment and even free nibbles. Free nibbles? We are there. Hospitality Action is the force behind this new initiative. Chief executive of the charity, Mark Lewis explained: “On one amazing day, we’re going to spark the mother of all parties – and all to help the businesses that have been thrown to their knees by Covid-19, and the people who work in them.” Go to the National Hospitality Day website for more information. By supporting, you’ll not only be helping your local, but also raising money for four charities: The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, The Licensed Trade Charity, and The Springboard Charity. Let’s hope some of Britain’s brewers get behind this worthwhile initiative and, most importantly, it gets people back down their local. Though remember, a pub isn’t just for National Hospitality Day, it’s for life, so make sure you keep going back, even when there aren’t any free nibbles. 

sovetskoje-shampanskoje-polusladkoje-soviet-champagne-semi-sweet

Proper Russian Champagne, none of that French muck

And finally… Real Champagne comes from Russia 

You might think Champagne (the wine) comes only from Champagne (the place in France) but the Russians have other ideas. A new law passed by Vladamir Putin’s government says only Russian producers can label their products ‘shampanskoye’ (worth reading this explainer on the background to the story). Makers of the original French stuff can keep the word ‘Champagne’ on the front label but on the back can only call their product ‘sparkling wine.’ As you can imagine, the French are not happy with protests from French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie and, at one point Moët Hennessy, announced it was suspending exports to Russia. However, someone high up in the company, probably, pointed out how lucrative the Russian market is because the (French) Champagne giant changed its mind and announced: “The Moët Hennessy Champagne houses have always respected the law in place wherever they operate and will restart deliveries.” Money talks, that’s one thing they can agree on in Moscow and Paris. 

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Five minutes… with Stephen Davies CEO of Penderyn

As Welsh whisky pioneers Penderyn opens its second distillery in Llandudno, we talk to founder Stephen Davies CEO of Penderyn about inventing a category, last year’s Jim Murray row, and…

As Welsh whisky pioneers Penderyn opens its second distillery in Llandudno, we talk to founder Stephen Davies CEO of Penderyn about inventing a category, last year’s Jim Murray row, and why Wales is the New Zealand of the Northern Hemisphere.

It can sometimes be a frustrating business interviewing people in the drinks industry. Everyone today is so media trained. We’re looking for interesting stories, but brands want you to write the PR line. It’s not just the big boys, often smaller distillers have this corporate attitude too.

Well, there was none of this with Stephen Davies CEO of Penderyn, the pioneers of Welsh whisky. He’s a man who speaks his mind which makes him great company even down-the-line via Zoom.

The occasion was the opening of a £5 million new Penderyn distillery in North Wales, housed in an old Board School in Llandudno, and there’s another on the way in Swansea next year. Combine that with the high profile launch of Aber Falls’ first single malt earlier this year plus Dà Mhìle, Coles, and the Welsh Wind, and you have a thriving the Welsh whisky scene.

Stephen Davies

Stephen Davies next to a pot still at Penderyn’s original distillery in the Brecon Beacons

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus

Things were very different in 2000, when Stephen Davies was looking to start a distillery producing whisky in Wales. There hadn’t been such a thing since nineteenth apart from one rogue operation in the Brecon Beacons that was repackaging Scotch as Welsh whisky before running afoul of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). Which destroyed the credibility of anyone trying to make Welsh whisky, according to Davies.

People thought the idea of a Welsh whisky was a real nonsense!” Davies said. He continued: “in 2004 and 2005 [when Penderyn was releasing its first whiskies], it was one of the worst ideas you know you could think of!” But through sheer determination or bloody mindedness, Davies managed to get his idea off the ground.

But it wasn’t just Welsh whisky that seemed like a pipe dream. 20 years ago is a lifetime in whisky. This is pre-English whisky, pre-Taiwanese whisky and Australian whisky was just a rumour from Tasmania. And among the major powers, Japanese whisky was still only really appreciated in Japan, there were only three distilleries in Ireland, and high quality aged bourbon and rye could be picked up in America for a song. For many, quality whisky meant Scotch.

Early days

Penderyn was founded in 2000, and straightaway the team was determined to do things a little differently. They use something called a Faraday still which is like a cross between a pot and a column still. It works in batches, like a pot, but comes off at a high ABV, between 88-92%, to produce a light fruity new make. 

One of the investors, Nigel Short, insisted on doing “due diligence on the spirit”, as Davies explained: “the feedback he had had on the Penderyn spirit from a senior figure in the Scotch whisky industry was ‘this is a really fantastic spirit, this is really, really good but the idea of Welsh whisky is a bit rubbish!’”

Jim Swan

Jim Swan was instrumental in setting up the Penderyn style

The Jim Swan legacy

But this perception began to change thanks to Jim Swan who came on board as master blender in 2002. Swan developed the Penderyn style based on this fruity new make combined with bourbon barrels, mostly from Buffalo Trace, and a Madeira cask finish. Plus, Davies said: “He instilled in our people an attention to detail that you actually see in all the Jim Swan distilleries.”

“The other thing he did to build credibility,” Davies Continued, “I travelled the world with Jim between 2005 and 2012. Right up until his death [in 2017] he was a non-exec director of Penderyn so he was with us all the way. Jim would be very happy to put a Penderyn branded shirt on and talk to people about the product.”

Having Swan onboard meant that people began taking Penderyn seriously. Davies has very fond memories of working with Swan: “We would be in Chicago and it would be midnight and I’d say ‘right are we going to bed?’ and he’d say ‘no there’s a jazz club down the road, let’s go and have a few beers’. And then he’d be telling you all stuff about the industry, you’d be learning. So it was a wonderful apprenticeship, you know, not just for me but for, I think a number of people in our team.” It was Swan who recruited the current distilling team of Laura Davies, Aista Jukneviciute, and Bethan Morgans. 

The other Jim

There is another Jim who helped put Penderyn on the map, whose name isn’t as revered as Swan, Jim Murray. Unlike others in the industry, Davies does not try to play down Murray’s connection to the distillery. “Jim wrote very very positively, he’s always done about Penderyn, and those things absolutely helped us to get attention,” he said.

Davies was uncomfortable about how the Penderyn staff were brought into last year’s row when a journalist, Becky Paskin, accused Murray of sexism. “She’s never spoken to me or any of my distilling team but decided to take offence on our behalf,” he said. 

According to Davies, Murray even called up to check that he hadn’t offended any of the all-female distilling team and they assured him that he hadn’t. Davies added: “He’s the only whisky journalist who has come to Penderyn year after year, tasted the product, got to know it, and could speak with authority on it.” 

Penderyn Llandudno

Inside Penderyn Llandudno, the Faraday still is on the right

New whiskies and new distilleries

Since the early days fighting for credibility, the distillery has come a long way. In 2013, on Swan’s advice they installed a couple of pot stills in addition to another Faraday still. This produces small quantities of heavy new make which is used in some bottlings. “We could do with them being a bit fuller bodied,” Davies said. They don’t do this for all whiskies and Davies wanted to keep which ones contain pot still a “trade secret”. But he would tell me that the award-winning (double gold in San Francisco, no less) Penderyn Peated contains about 10-15% pot still.

Penderyn Peated gets its smoky flavour from Islay whisky casks but, at the new £5 million distillery at Llandudno, the team will be making a peated new make. They didn’t know how this would work in a Faraday still so they had a peated wash made for them at the English Whisky Company in Norfolk and ran some trials which proved successful. “With the Faraday still we’re learning all the time,” he said.

We won’t get to taste the results for around five years. “In 2003 there was a fair old pressure to get it out fairly early. I don’t think we’re going to be under that kind of pressure with Llandudno because we’ve got a lot of product on the market,” Davies explained.

Next year Penderyn will be opening a third distillery in Swansea in the former Hafod Morfa copperworks. In addition to the old site, “we’re building a three-storey visitor centre by the side of it. And there’s also the old copper rolling mill building which we’re going to put the barrels in.” 

At the moment the plan is to put one Faraday still in, but Davies has other ideas. “I think we’re going to increase that production capacity as well, which I have not told anybody else yet! So this is fairly new, but we’re looking to scale-up production there from what we originally had planned to do.”

Selling Wales

Both the two new sites will be geared up to receive a substantial number of visitors. The current distillery gets around 40,000 tourists a year but, Davies said: “I think we’ll get a lot more visitors in Llandudno and in Swansea just because the communication links are a lot better.”

Davies is keen for Welsh whisky to get a GI (geographical indication) now that there are other producers with whisky to sell. There’s a great variation in the kinds of stills used so he sees it at the moment as a guarantee of origin rather than a particular style. “You want it to be fermented, distilled, matured, and bottled in Wales, all of the things that I think you’d expect to see in the GI. But I think the challenge then is finding the uniqueness.”

Davies is also involved with marketing Wales in general which is not without its difficulties. “People have not heard of Wales, in the way that they’ve heard of Scotland or Ireland,” Davies said: “unless the country plays rugby.”  He tells a story about a man at a whisky show who kept on referring to Penderyn as ‘Scotch’ and then asked “Wales, that’s an island off Scotland?’” 

So there’s a long way to go.The idea is to market Wales as the New Zealand of the Northern Hemisphere because of the similarity between the two nations with their rugby, sheep, and nascent whisky industries. “We’ve got at least as many sheep as they’ve got in New Zealand!” he joked.

Penderyn Llandudno

Penderyn Llandudno is ready to receive visitors – look at that polished parquet!

Celebrating 21 years of Welsh Whisky

Closer to home, Davies is involved with a campaign called Hiraeth Live. He explained: “‘hiraeth’ is a lovely Welsh word, which means ‘a longing for home’, almost like you want to come home, it’s like a homesickness, but you long for a homeland that may not be there anymore. It’s kind of a belonging feeling.” The campaign raises money for Hafal, a Welsh mental illness charity, and Llamau, which works with the homeless in Wales.

Next month, there will be a special Hiraeth ‘Icons of Wales’ bottling with the proceeds going to charity. Unusually, this will largely be made up from seven-year-old pot still, “which we’ve never done before,” Davies said, blended with some lighter whisky from the Faraday stills. 

But that’s not all. This September Penderyn will be celebrating its 21st birthday in the time-honoured way, by releasing a special whisky. It will be a single cask whisky, one of the first distilled at the distillery, so will be around 20 years old. 

What better way to celebrate a distillery that has been proudly flying the flag for Welsh whisky for 21 years, even when everyone thought they were mad.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Sex on the Beach

This week Millie Milliken dons her visor and heads to 1980s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out the origins of the Sex on the Beach [adult content warning] ‘Spring break’,…

This week Millie Milliken dons her visor and heads to 1980s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out the origins of the Sex on the Beach [adult content warning]

‘Spring break’, a cultural phenomenon that started in the 1930s might be unknown to us Brits but it’s a bikini and budgie-smuggler-clad right of passage for most young Americans partying their way into adulthood. Every March, thousands of college students descend on the Sunshine State’s many beaches to partake in the holiday’s festivities: sun, shots and insalubrious antics are had by all.

It feels only natural then that the Sex on the Beach cocktail, rumour has it, was invented during one such sun-drenched and saucy spring break. Traditionally made up of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry juice, the drink – usually served to look like a sunset – is typically presented in a hurricane glass and topped with a wedge of pineapple or a slice of orange, a glacier cherry and a jaunty cocktail umbrella.

These days you’re most likely to see it featured on large, laminated menus alongside Piña Coladas (a personal favourite) and Long Island Iced Teas (again, not complaining). So, who invented the ’80s classic you wouldn’t want to order in front of your parents?

“I’ll have a Sex on the Beach” lol

Under pressure

The story goes that in 1987, a company called National Distribution launched a new product – peach schnapps. As a way of selling their new liquid, they launched a competition in Fort Lauderdale during the famous party season, asking bartenders to create a cocktail using it. One bartender was Ted Pizio of Confetti Bar. He mixed the schnapps with vodka, grenadine and orange juice and the partygoers loved it. When Pizio was asked to name his cocktail, his mind went straight to what he believed the Spring Breakers came away to Florida to do… and so, Sex on the Beach was born.

While this is the most accepted story, eagle-eyed cocktail nerds have disputed this being the drink’s origin story, noting its appearance in the American Bartenders School Guide to Drinks (published in 1982). In this version of events, it’s believed that the Sex on the Beach was actually created when a bartender combined a Fuzzy Naval (peach schnapps and orange juice) and a Cape Codder (vodka and cranberry).

Don’t you want me?

Whoever invented in, Sex on the Beach quickly achieved global fame, helped by T-Spoon’s 1997 song of the same name, the Sex on Beach. But it has not been immune to modernisation. Perhaps the most notable version is the Woo Woo, basically everything except the orange juice and a lime wedge garnish instead of pineapple or orange.

The most obvious change over the years has been the transition from grenadine to cranberry juice, while some recipes also call for the addition of pineapple juice for a slightly more tropical taste. A dash of raspberry liqueur is also a popular riff – think Chambord, Tiptree (of jam fame) or St George.

Then it’s the look. Some bartenders choose to mix the ingredient together punch-style before serving (as opposed to layering a combination of cranberry and vodka over the top of orange juice and peach schnapps). Glassware too has changed, from a Hurricane to a Highball, and more simple, low-key garnishes have come into favour.

Sex on the Beach Cocktail

Sex on the Beach, classic layered style in a Hurricane glass

Walk this way

It’s so easy to make this underrated serve at home and it’s just as easy to pump it full of quality. When it comes to the vodka, adding something salty like Mermaid Salt Vodka may help to balance the sweetness of this cocktail and satisfy 2021 drinkers. Ciroc Black Raspberry or Pineapple could be a hybrid option if you’re eschewing raspberry liqueur or pineapple juice. While Misty Isle Vodka is the sort of clean and crisp liquid able to bring this cocktail up in premium.

And then there’s the schnapps. You can’t go wrong with a trusty Archer’s Peach Schnapps but something like Freihof’s 1885 Marille Apricot will elevate your Sex on the Beach. Needless to say, make sure your juice is as fresh as possible. When it comes to the garnish, I’m in favour of a cocktail umbrella and a slice of pineapple for a touch of kitsch, although pineapple leaves in favour of the brolly make for a more sophisticated flourish. At the end of the day, this cocktail is meant to be a bit of fun – make sure you have plenty of it, if you catch my drift.

How to make a Sex on the Beach

50ml Master of Malt vodka
25ml peach schnapps
2 oranges, juiced
50ml cranberry juice

Mix the vodka, peach schnapps and orange juice together and pour into a hurricane glass over ice. Pour over the cranberry juice and garnish as you please. Stir before drinking.

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Ten bottles to transport you

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the…

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the magic of booze. From dry sherry to pungent cachaça, here are ten bottles to transport you to faraway lands. 

Nobody wants to go on holiday at the moment because it means that you might have to spend two weeks in quarantine stuck in a Travelodge at Gatwick airport. A bit like Alan Partridge, but less funny.

But it’s not all bad. There’s so much to see and do in Britain, from the mountains of Scotland to the sandy beaches of Kent. The summer holidays should be boom time for the country’s hospitality industry, which let’s face it, could do with the business. Next week, we’ll be looking at some of this country’s top boozy destinations.

And don’t forget that you can always take a holiday in a glass. Sip a Negroni in the sunshine, close your eyes and you could be in Rome. A glass of chilled sherry and some high quality ham, and you could be in a bar in Jerez. Who needs aeroplane travel when you’ve got next day delivery? 

Here are ten bottles to transport you to your favourite country

The Nightcap

Portugal: Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port

There’s no better place to watch the sun go down over Porto than on the terrace of the Yeatman Hotel, especially with a White Port & Tonic in your hands. This week on the blog, Lucy Britner looked at all the great things you can do with white Port, but you can’t beat an old classic. With its rich fruity and nutty taste, Taylor’s Chip Dry goes brilliantly with tonic, just make sure you use plenty of ice and add a sprig of rosemary and a slice of orange.

Tio Pepe Fino En Rama

Spain: Tio Pepe Sherry En Rama

Every year Gonzalez Byass releases a small quantity of Tio Pepe En Rama. This is dry Fino sherry pretty much as it tastes straight out of the barrel in Jerez, bottled with minimal filtering. It’s always a treat but this year’s release is absolute dynamite. It walks a bold line between big flavours of apples and hazelnuts, and the elegance that you’d expect from Tio Pepe. Just add some olives and cheese, and you’re in Andalucia. 

These delightful cocktails will transport you to your favourite holiday destination

Italy: Select Aperitivo

Aperol and Campari might be better known, but you can’t beat a drop of Select Aperitivo when you want some Italian magic. Select is the choice of Venetians, it’s been made in the city since the 1920s. The flavour profile is bitter and grown-up but a bit more delicate than Campari. We love drinking it in a Bicicletta – a mixture of ice, white wine and fizzy water. It’s the perfect lazing in the sun kind of drink.

Mijenta Tequila

Mexico: Mijenta Tequila Blanca

Well, we had to put a Tequila in there somewhere, we’re agave mad here at Master of Malt. We were particularly taken with this recently-launched brand. It’s made by Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero, and it’s a tasty drop laden with flavours of green olives, cinnamon spice and a delicious creamy texture. It does good, too, with some of the proceeds going to various charities in Mexico. Try it in a Blood Orange Margarita

Ricard Pastis

France: Ricard Pastis

Now this one is likely to be controversial because some people hate, really hate, the taste of aniseed. But for those who don’t, nothing is more evocative of the south of France than Ricard Pastis. Drink it slowly with ice and a jug of water on the side, and before you know it you’ll be contemplating buying a beret and one of those blue jackets that old French farmers wear, and whiling away the evening playing boule and discussing politics.  

Plantation XO

Barbados: Plantation XO rum

This has proved itself a favourite among Master of Malt customers over the years. It’s a well-aged Barbados rum from spirits master Alexandre Gabriel. It spends its first few years in ex-bourbon barrels in the Caribbean before being shipped to France for secondary maturation in Cognac casks. It’s then sweetened before bottling to make a mixing rum par excellence. We love it in a Mai Tai.

caipirinha Ableha Cachaca

Brazil: Abelha Cachaça

Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha, calls for cachaça, which is made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses to produce a pungent, grassy spirit that’s a bit like a rhum agricole. Much of the production is industrial but there are some smaller high quality producers like Abelha using organic sugar cane for something with a bit more character. 

Woodford Reserve Bourbon

America: Woodford Reserve bourbon

If you’re into cocktails, then you need at least one bottle of American whiskey in your drinks cabinet to make Manhattans, Old Fashioneds et al. Woodford Reserve is a great all-rounder. Unlike most bourbons it’s distilled in a pot rather than a column still. It also contains a high percentage of rye, 18%, with 72% corn and 10% malted barley, giving it a spicy, smooth and dry taste.

Inverroche Cocktail

South Africa: Inverroche Classic Gin

Many drinks claim to be a certain country in a bottle but Inveroche is literally South Africa in a bottle. It’s made by mother and son duo Lorna and Rohan Scott who use native South African plants called fynbos as botanicals to give you a gin that is infused with the taste of the Cape. This is the classic version, a dry gin, that makes a killer Martini, or a delicious Bramble.

Ming River

China: Ming River Sichuan Baijiu

If you really want to experience a different culture in a glass, there’s no better spirit than baijiu. It is one of the world’s most distinctive spirits, from the raw materials, sorghum, rice, millet and others, and production techniques involving fermentation over weeks and complex distillation methods. Some types can be a bit much for European taste buds, but Ming River produces a baijiu that is accessible and cocktail friendly.

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Great whisky marketing fiascos

Do you remember Bailey’s whiskey, or J&B -6°C? Don’t ring a bell? Well, they weren’t around for long but Ian Buxton remembers these and other product launches that failed to…

Do you remember Bailey’s whiskey, or J&B -6°C? Don’t ring a bell? Well, they weren’t around for long but Ian Buxton remembers these and other product launches that failed to take off. Here are some great whisky marketing fiascos from the recent past.

“Success”, or so the saying goes, “has many parents, but failure is a real bastard.” While God may love a trier, bold attempts to market new approaches to whisky are not always crowned with success. I’ve been looking at some of the more notable campaigns that have crashed and burned, frequently taking a previously glittering career with them. But, if your track record includes one of these disasters, you can relax because I name only brands, not the individuals behind the story.

But it does raise the question that while failed products, aborted launches and other inglorious failures are rapidly written out of a brand’s history, wouldn’t it be advisable for the industry to retain at least a corporate memory of catastrophe, if only to prevent making the same mistake twice? I offer these recollections then, not with a sense of schadenfreude but in a helpful spirit with the hope that these words might prevent some hapless marketer from repeating an embarrassing and expensive blunder.

Black & White Extra Light

How could it have failed with ads like this?

The lighter shade of pale

Since the 1960s, the whisky industry has looked on the rise of vodka and white rums (chiefly Bacardi) with increasing concern. This was particularly the case in the USA where the success of lighter styles of whisky such as Cutty Sark and J&B Rare led DCL (forerunner to today’s Diageo) to the conclusion that its brand Black & White, then a major force in that market, would benefit from the launch of a paler version. Enter Black & White Extra Light, launched in 1963 to almost total incomprehension and confusion, especially amongst bar staff, vitally-important in the US trade. 

It was speedily withdrawn but the damage had been done. All was not lost for DCL, however. While Black & White faded into relative obscurity, Johnnie Walker stepped up to take its place. A virtual walkover, you might say.

However, the belief that whisky’s colour and pronounced flavour deters some drinkers lingers on. There may be an echo of those fears in the launch of Haig Club but, whatever the views of committed whisky enthusiasts on that product, at least it has not suffered the ignominious fate of J&B’s -6°C. It was launched in 2006 and withdrawn in under a year. The curious name was, in fact, a commendably clear description of the product which had been chill-filtered to strip out virtually all the colour (and much of the flavour) in an explicit attempt to attract vodka drinkers.

The clarity of the description certainly matched the clarity of the liquid itself which was extremely pale. In contrast to the faces of the sales and marketing team, doubtless blushing deepest red at the whisky’s pallid reception. Or perhaps they were ashen-faced in sympathy; history does not record.

The proof of the pudding

J&B -6°C lasted less than a year. However, that’s nearly a year longer than the February 2013 lifecycle of Maker’s Mark 84 Proof. Attributing the change to very high levels of demand the brand announced that the strength of this much-loved bourbon was being reduced from 90 Proof. Now, a cut of just 3% ABV may not seem hugely significant and the company went to great lengths to explain that their own extensive testing had been unable to detect the difference and to outline the reasoning behind the change.

However, their commendable transparency was rewarded with a storm of outrage on social media and many forceful emails to Rob Samuels, the unfortunate COO (chief operating officer). Conventional media reported the story with some glee, feeding the barrage of commentary and the story became self-sustaining. Within a fortnight Maker’s Mark reversed their decision and resumed shipping supplies at the previous, higher strength, Samuels issuing an abject mea culpa, writing “You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.” No lasting harm appears to have been done.

But two weeks is almost an eternity compared to the still-born whiskey from Bailey’s. Yes, back in March 1998, the ever-popular Irish Cream liqueur ran a Dublin test market with their own ‘Bailey’s The Whiskey’ – finished in casks previously filled with the cream liqueur. Expectations for the product ran high and, to be fair, this came from the new product development team at IDV/Grand Metropolitan who had an impressive track record of success in developing new brands and line extensions.

However, corporate change and whisky’s politics soon overtook the fledgling spirit. December 1997 had seen the creation of Diageo (in the process absorbing Grand Metropolitan) who soon took over the project. With Irish whiskey then a small and largely moribund category, Bailey’s Irish was promptly killed over fears of a tiresome dispute with the Scotch Whisky Association and EU regulations. As a matter of fact, Bailey’s The Whiskey would have been legal but in the turmoil surrounding Diageo’s birth it appeared an unnecessary diversion of corporate effort.

Bailey's Whiskey.

Bailey’s Whiskey, here today, gone later today

The Cardhu debacle

It was not long, however, before Diageo found itself in another whisky dispute – and one accompanied by great bitterness. This was the ill-fated 2003 launch of Cardhu Pure Malt, an attempt to market a blended malt with a bottle and packaging closely modelled on the original Cardhu single malt, changing just one key word. Enter PR man Jack Irvine, a grizzled veteran of Scotland’s red top tabloids, armed with – allegedly – a blank cheque book from William Grant & Sons, and a brief to humble the industry giant. This he accomplished with some élan, as other industry players piled on to force Diageo into a humiliating climbdown.

Behind the scenes feelings and tensions ran very high, even at one stage threatening the future of the SWA who had approved the Cardhu packaging changes. One long-term result was new regulations for Scotch Whisky, eventually promulgated in November 2009. 

There are many more tales of corporate calamities such as these. Sadly, space does not permit discussion of Dewar’s hapless Highlander Honey, the star-crossed Loch Dhu Black Whisky or the flawed attempt to reposition Mortlach as a super-premium luxury whisky in half-litre bottles. The market soon gave its verdict on those but, in the ultimate irony, most of these doomed drams are now highly sought-after by collectors and sell for multiples of the original launch prices. Let’s hope the executives responsible tucked a few bottles away to soften the blow!

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White Port: life beyond tonic

There’s no denying that a White Port and Tonic is a solid drink. It’s refreshing, relatively low in alcohol, and makes a great aperitif or summer sipper. But what else…

There’s no denying that a White Port and Tonic is a solid drink. It’s refreshing, relatively low in alcohol, and makes a great aperitif or summer sipper. But what else can you do with white Port?, asks Lucy Britner.

Once the preserve of Douro Valley locals, white Port has enjoyed spreading its wings over the past few years. The thing is, pretty much every time you hear anything about it, the talk is of White Port and Tonic. And if gin fever has seen you overdose on tonic, this is the Port (feature) for you.

To explore how else we can enjoy this wonderful creation, let’s get going with some background.

Quinta do Gricha credit Misti Traya

The view from Quinta do Gricha (credit Misti Traya)

Grape expectations

White Port is, unsurprisingly, made from white grapes grown in Portugal’s Douro Valley. There are many grapes that it can be made from, with Viosinho, Gouveio, Malvasia and Rabigato among the line-up.

The drink has been around for nearly 90 years; the first white Port was introduced in 1934, by Taylor’s. Since then, loads of other brands have followed. While most white Ports are released young, a few see long cask ageing, giving them nutty, complex characteristics – notes certainly worth exploring in mixed drinks or as accompaniments to food.

Churchill’s, for example, barrel ages its white Port for an average of ten years to create a fuller, complex style with a rich golden-orange colour. The grapes are crushed with stalks in granite ‘lagares’ (presses) and undergo a light maceration by foot treading followed by fermentation on the skins. This, along with the barrel ageing, adds to the complexity of flavours.

Cocktail hour

Zoe Graham, sales & marketing director at Churchill’s says: “Dry white Port is an approachable style that has great potential to appeal to younger drinkers, drawing on fond associations with summers in Portugal. It’s a versatile wine that can be served chilled, on its own as an aperitif, or as a premium modifier in cocktails.”

The Churchill’s team suggests trying the Port in a Gricha Mule (Quinta da Gricha is the company’s winery and vineyard in the Douro valley). The cocktail was invented at the 1982 bar at Churchill’s Lodge in Villa Nova de Gaia. Here’s how you make it:

Gricha Mule with Churchill's Port

Gricha Mule

60ml Churchill’s Dry White Port
60ml ginger beer (not ale)
Two lime wedges
Three slices of cucumber
Sprig of mint

Muddle the lime wedges, cucumber and mint in a cocktail shaker. Add the Port and ginger beer, fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Pour the entire contents into a Highball glass, top with soda and garnish with a cucumber wheel.

Taylor’s, too, has a great bank of cocktails for its Chip Dry white Port brand. David Guimaraens, head winemaker at Taylor’s, describes the expression as a versatile aperitif Port, complex and nutty, with intense but delicate flavours.

When it comes to mixing Chip Dry, apple and citrus – especially lemon – flavours get lots of mentions and MoM’s favourite is a take on a Sour, called the Canary.

Taylor's Chip Dry, Canary cocktails

Taylor’s Chip Dry, Canary cocktail

Canary

50ml Taylor’s Chip Dry
30ml fresh lemon juice
15ml honey
3 egg whites
5 mint leaves

Dry shake all ingredients, then shake again with ice. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with lavender.

Food for thought

Beyond cocktails, white Port is an excellent partner for many different foods – and you should always start with a bowl of salted almonds or olives with a chilled glass of white Port to whet your appetite, while you decide what else to eat. We recently explored some options with Quinta do Noval’s Noval Extra Dry White – a Port with a certain amount of body and richness, with an almond nuttiness on the nose, and fresh fruit on the palate.

The Port is a blend of wines with an average age of two years – 90% aged in old wooden vats and 10% in stainless steel. Carlos Agrellos, technical director at Quinta do Noval describes it as a “citrine colour with an intense and fruity bouquet”, with a “good alcohol, sugar and acidity balance”. All important stuff when you’re considering what to eat.

MoM recommends starting with something like a light terrine or paté (nothing too strong) to balance the acidity and alcohol, as well as bring out those fruit flavours. The creamy texture will also complement almond or vanilla notes on the finish. If meat’s not your bag, a hard sheep’s cheese is also a hit, especially when it has a good dose of salinity.

The almond and vanilla finish also inspires dessert matches, and dishes such as almond tarts, crème brûlée or even a trifle made with white port, rather than sherry, are on our menu.

Noval Port & Tonic

The classic Port & Tonic is pretty tasty too

Just the tonic

There’s loads you can do with white Port, besides serve it with tonic. But if tonic really is your jam, you might be interested to know that you don’t even have to mix your own white Port and tonic anymore. Earlier this year, Taylor’s released Taylor’s Chip Dry & Tonic, the first ready-to-drink white Port and tonic in a can. The launch was closely followed by Cockburn’s Fine White Port, tonic water, lemon & fresh mint – all in a can.

As far as pairings go, we recommend a bag of ready-salted crisps and a picnic blanket.

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New Arrival of the Week: The Lakes Miramar

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar! We’ve…

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar!

We’ve long been fans of The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria here at Master of Malt. We’ve visited, made films, eaten at the great on-site restaurant and, most of all, enjoyed the excellent whisky coming out of this most gorgeously-situated English distillery.

Despite being founded as recently as 2011, the distillery has some solid whisky heritage. Co-founder Paul Currie was involved with setting up the Isle of Arran Distillery. Then in 2016, The Lakes announced a big signing, Dhavall Gandhi, who swapped the might and majesty of Macallan, for a small operation that had yet to release its own whisky.

whisky lakes distillery

Dhavall Gandhi doing that thing with his glass that whisky pros do

For the love of sherry casks

Gandhi brought a love and knowledge of sherry casks on the journey down south. They have since become a key part of the distillery’s style. But he also gets to let his hair down a bit experimenting with different ageing regimes under the Whiskeymaker’s Edition banner. 

So, when we were offered an exclusive English whisky just for Master of Malt, we jumped at the chance. This limited edition single malt is part-matured in Port casks and called ‘Miramar’, meaning ‘seaview’. It sounds much more glamorous in Portuguese conjuring up images of Lisbon rather than a bungalow in Birchington-on-Sea.

But before we take a look at Miramar, it’s worth going into The Lakes production process because it’s a bit unusual. Gandhi starts with the basic building blocks of Scotch whisky, and then makes them really complicated. 

Broccoli and marshmallows

It all starts with the yeast. He uses three types: a traditional Scotch yeast, a French yeast, and a heritage yeast. As Gandhi puts it: “each yeast behaves like a child faced with a plate of broccoli and marshmallows. Given the choice, it will gorge on the sugariest treats first, until they, and it, are spent. That is why we activate each strain of yeast independently, on different days of the week, to ensure the most aggressive yeast doesn’t eat all of the ‘marshmallows’, leaving only the ‘broccoli’ for the weakest. We want each of the yeasts to interact with all of the fermentable sugars, to give the best possible character and flavour.”

So each fermentation with each yeast takes place separately producing three different washes. Each yeast brings something different to the party, the heritage yeast in particular creating waxy notes. Each fermentation takes 96 hours, double the time of most Scotch whiskies. Unusually, the washes go through malolactic fermentation where the sharp malic acid is turned into creamy lactic acid.

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Keeping it complicated

Things get even more complicated on the distillation side because Gandhi creates two different new make spirits from each wash. One lot goes through a copper condenser and, as we all know, more copper contact equals a lighter spirit. The other goes through a stainless steel condenser which means more heavier compounds are kept. The spirit comes off the stills at around 67% ABV and it’s diluted down to 58% ABV. The three different yeast strains are blended before going into casks, with the different weights of new makes aged apart.

As you might have guessed by now, Gandhi has a bewildering choice of casks to choose from. As an ex-Macallan man, you know that he’s going to be pretty keen on sherry. Not just Oloroso but Fino, Cream, and PX, from American and European oak. He uses both 500-litre butts and 250-litre hogsheads. They are the basis of The Lakes’ style. He told us ahead of the distillery’s first single malt releases: “If you like sherry bombs you are going to like the initial releases of Lakes Distillery!” 

Around 80-90% of the casks used are ex-sherry. But it’s not all about the sherry. There are bourbon casks, naturally. Gandhi can also play around with Moscatel, red wine casks, Port, and even orange wine casks – that’s a special kind of wine made from oranges popular in Southern Spain.

The Lakes Miramar Highball (1)

Makes a cracking Highball

The Lakes Miramar

It’s those Port pipes, however, that are the inspiration for this week’s New Arrival. The whisky is part-matured in these giant 600-litre casks. It’s blended with bourbon-matured whisky so you get vanilla, coconut, and tropical fruit that you get from ex-bourbon casks, with red fruit and plums you get from maturation in a Port pipe.

Miramar is bottled at a punchy 54% ABV with no chill-filtering. It’s a delightful fun drop, happy sipped neat, as most of us do with single malt, but also a great mixer. That high ABV makes it a cocktail whisky par excellence. We love it in a simple Highball but The Lakes has come up with some more elaborate cocktails such as the Spritz recipe below. There’s also a suitably romantic label (below), designed by an artist called Tom Clohosy Cole, inspired by Lisbon. It’s almost as good a summer holiday in Portugal. 

Miramar Spritz

45ml of The Lakes Miramar whisky
10ml of Taylor’s Chip Dry white port
10ml of Aperol
100ml of green tea kombucha.

Fill a Highball glass with ice, add the first four ingredients, stir and top with kombucha. Garnish with a sprig of thyme and dried apricot.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Dried cherry, brandy snaps, fresh peaches, a waft of sea air and a touch of buttery malt.

Palate: Salted caramel tart, red plums, softly toasted barley, cinnamon, orange oil, still subtly coastal.

Finish: Lingering hints honey and stewed fruits last on the finish.

Only 600 individually-numbered bottles of The Lakes Miramar have been filled. They are available exclusively from Master of Malt, one bottle per customer. It is now sold out

The Lakes Miramar label

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The Nightcap: 2 July

UFOs, gold beer cans, and a bourbon heist – they are all in our weekly round-up of the news from the world of booze. It’s the Nightcap: 2 July edition!…

UFOs, gold beer cans, and a bourbon heist – they are all in our weekly round-up of the news from the world of booze. It’s the Nightcap: 2 July edition!

What is going on with the weather? Sorry, we should be more specific, what is going on with the British weather? Readers in Burkina Faso or Wirra Wirra will probably have their own takes on the local weather. Earlier this week at MoM Towers at a secret location just off the A26 in Tonbridge, we had our slippers on and were seriously considering building a fire out of old pallets. Luckily we’ve got plenty of booze so when we get the shivers, we get the Chivas, if you know what we mean. And then today, the sun’s out and we’re lounging around in muscle vests sipping Tio Pepe. Anyway, whether it’s hot, cold or indifferent where you are, pour yourself a weather-appropriate drink, put your feet up and enjoy our weekly round-up of booze news. It’s the Nightcap: 2 July edition! 

On the blog this week

We had a fun-packed blog this week: Lucy Britner looked at big booze companies hoovering up smaller brands for pots of cash; talking of cash, Ian Buxton cast a sceptical eye over some extremely old whisky releases; while Millie Milliken went completely bananas. Our New Arrival was a new rum brand, Saint Benevolence, making a difference to the people of Haiti, while Henry claimed to have invented our Cocktail of the Week, the Blood Orange Margarita. But that’s not all – Jess visited Quaglino’s, we got in the spirit of the 4th of July with some delicious American whiskies, and even launched a competition that could see you head to Islay as a guest of Kilchoman. Pretty fun-packed, eh?

Meanwhile over on the Clubhouse App this week we’re talking all things low-and-no alcohol while enjoying the usual Nightcap goodness with guests Kristy Sherry, Camille Vidal, and Claire Warner. Be sure to join us if you’re on the app.

Now on with the Nightcap!

Glenglassaugh releases 50 year old “coastal treasure”

Look, it’s by the coast. It’s coastal treasure!

Glenglassaugh releases 50-year-old “coastal treasure” 

Well, it seems to be the season for very old Scotch whisky. Hot on the heels of Dufftown’s 54-year-old release and Gordon & MacPhail 80 year old Glenlivet, comes a venerable bottling from Glenglassaugh. It’s a 50-year-old from this fascinating little distillery that was silent from 1986 to 2008. The whisky comes from a single Pedro Ximénez sherry cask and only 264 bottles have been filled at 40.1% ABV. Looks like they caught that cask in the nick of time, if they’d left it another couple of years, it would no longer be legally classed as whisky. The PR company is really going for the maritime angle with this one describing it as a “coastal treasure” with lots of stuff about North Sea air and even a reference to Dr Rachel Barrie learning to surf near the distillery as a child. There’s a video about it here. The master blender herself commented on the flavour: “Offering a deep and seductive sweetness, the 50 Year Old’s flavour profile ranges from caramelised pear to soft exotic cherries; almond and refined oak beautifully intertwine to present a symphony of tropical notes on a gentle ocean breeze with rolling waves of flavour, which intensify and evolve with each sip.” But don’t take her word for it, the judges at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition were impressed too, awarding it a double gold. And our whisky sage Ian Buxton, who was involved with the distillery’s revival, thinks that these old Glenglassaughs are usually superb (full story to come.) All this for £5,500, or roughly six times cheaper than the 54 year old Singleton of Dufftown. Bargain!

Foursquare Shibboleth

Foursquare Shibboleth – not likely to hang about

Foursquare’s latest limited release rum, Shibboleth, is here! 

We always get a bit hot and bothered by a new Exceptional Cask Selection from Foursquare. The Barbados distillery’s core range is pretty tasty, but when the team pulls all the stops out, the effect is sensational. And MoM customers clearly agree because these often bafflingly-named (‘Empery’?, ‘Détente??’) rums don’t hang about. In fact, by the time you read this, the latest may well be gone. It’s called Shibboleth, and for once the name makes a bit of sense. You’ll certainly recognise that someone is in your tribe if they profess a love of Foursquare rum. It’s a 16-year-old blend of column and pot still spirits, aged in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 56% ABV with none of that filtering, colouring or sweetening. Just pure Barbados goodness. And blimey it is good. We were sent a little sample by Foursquare’s Peter Holland, and we spent a good ten minutes just smelling it. The aroma is heady with toffee, buttered popcorn, and banana bread with cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and refreshing menthol notes. Taking a sip, it carries it’s alcohol beautifully, exploding in the mouth with black pepper, tropical fruit, fudge and chocolate. The finish is extremely long. Shibboleth goes live today, but as we said, it may already be gone. It’s gone

Pappy van Winkle bourbon

Pappy van Winkle bourbon – tempted?

Bourbon crime documentary ‘Heist’ coming to Netflix soon

There’s a new whiskey documentary coming. Don’t worry, it’s not called The Golden Mist or something, featuring Jim McEwan and Dave Broom wandering around Islay. This is a whiskey film with an ‘e’, and melds two of America’s greatest exports, bourbon and organised crime. It’s part of a new true crime series starting 14 July on Netflix called Heist. Two programmes will be devoted to the theft of some seriously expensive Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon. Dubbed ‘Pappygate’ by the US press, it took place in 2013 when Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, a Buffalo Trace employee, stole rare whiskeys valued at $26,000 from the distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. It took until 2015 before he was finally apprehended by Sheriff Pat Melton. Cutsinger was sentenced to 15 years, though only served 90 days. The story is further complicated by Cutsinger claiming in this article that although he had stolen barrels of bourbon from the distillery, he did not steal the rare bottles of Pappy Van Winkle. The documentary includes interviews with both Cutsinger and Melton. Director Nick Drew commented: “We all worked together and said, ‘let’s make this a roller coaster ride. Let’s make every beat of it live and sing and match the other stories.’ It was a fun challenge… We leaned into a sort of Coen Brothers, slightly absurd vibe….” It sounds like it’s going to be unmissable for fans of bourbon and crime capers.

Beavertown UFO

Keep watching the sky

Beavertown Brewery teams up with UFO expert for World UFO Day ‘Ask Me Anything’

We don’t know about you, but World UFO Day (2 July) has been in our diaries for months – and it’s finally here! Thought beer would have no place during World UFO Day? Think again, folks. With its zany, out-of-this-world illustrations (Gamma Ray American Pale Ale being a prime example), Beavertown Brewery clearly has an affinity with outer space, too. Today at 4pm, you can catch Nick Dwyer, Beavertown’s creative director and illustrator, and self-confessed space-obsessive, chatting to UFO expert (also known as a ufologist – we want that job title!) Nick Pope on Instagram Live (@BeavertownBeer). The event was appropriately named ‘Nick on Nick, Ask Me Anything’. You don’t have to be called Nick to join, but a zest for beer and the extraterrestrial would probably be handy. Pope isn’t just any ol’ ufologist – he was the former head of UFO investigation at the Ministry of Defence, no less. So gather your thoughts, grab a can of your favourite Beavertown beer, and get ready to question everything you thought you knew. The truth is out there.

St James Bar London

Spot the unicorn cordial

St James Bar launches ‘Imagination’ cocktail menu 

When we last visited St James Bar at Sofitel St James in January 2020, life was very different. We tried the (then new) Passport cocktail menu, which was created unironically, back when our passports hadn’t been gathering dust for nearly 18 months. Anyway, that’s enough dwelling on the past – now it’s out with the old and in with the new for the zazzy London bar, because later this month it’s launching a brand new cocktail menu: Imagination. The talented team used molecular techniques and sustainable processes to create this one, looking to challenge our senses and drive into our olfactory bulb with these new drinks. Inspiration has been drawn from impressionism, dragons, Iron Man comics, and even Elton John lyrics, while big words like spherication, carbonation, and foaming are all processes being used. But we’re not scientists, we’re cocktail lovers, so let’s get to the good stuff. We’re rather intrigued by the serve named ‘Van Gogh’, a combination of Tanqueray No.Ten, yuzu butter, Italicus, white Port, effervescence, husk ash, and something called unicorn cordial. In keeping with the times, sustainability is also a big consideration for the bar, which is using lemon husks in multiple ways and even producing its own honey from hives located at the top of the hotel. We’ll see you there on 29 July to find out how these unicorns are making their own cordial… 

Ardbeg 8 Committee release.png RS

Join the Committee and you can join the discussion

Join the Ardbeg Committee to taste latest 8-year-old sherry cask release

Sound the smoky whisky klaxon! There’s a new Ardbeg on the loose this week. It’s an eight-year-old bottling dubbed ‘For Discussion.’ Master distiller Dr Bill Lumsden explained: “I like to think of it as the ‘alternative universe’ version of Ardbeg Ten Years Old. An aged ex-sherry whisky is new territory for us, so naturally, we want some thoughts! We’re sharing this with the Committee’s experienced palates to help us find that smoky sweet spot. With notes of bold peat smoke, creosote, charcoal and salted caramel, it’s more than guaranteed to provoke discussion among those privileged enough to taste it.” It’s bottled at 50.8% ABV, costs £57 and is only available to members of the Committee – a global organisation of Ardbeg nuts. So if you love Ardbeg, and you’re not a member, what are you thinking? It’s free to join. Distillery manager Colin Gordon will host a live tasting for members on 30 July 2021. He urged: “We look forward to hearing their thoughts on our latest expression.  And, to anybody not already part of the family, we invite you to join the Ardbeg Committee… and join in the conversation!” 

Beavertown Gold Can

Probably not worth £15,000

And finally… all that glitters is not gold for Brewdog

Spare a thought for the PR department at Brewdog who have been working overtime recently. First there was the letter from disgruntled former employees and the resultant media frenzy. Now, just when they were beginning to stop twitching every time the phone rings, another story hits the news. The brewer had hidden 10 special cans in cases of beer for lucky customers. Each can was said to be worth £15,000 and came with £10,000 worth of Brewdog shares. Pretty tasty, eh? The problem is that someone at Brewdog said on social media that the cans were “solid gold” but when one winner, Adam Dean from Shrewsbury, took his to a jeweller to be valued, it turned out the can was actual gold-plated brass and only worth £500. Though the brewer has apologised to one unhappy winner, Mark Craig, it is still claiming that though the can isn’t solid gold, it is still worth £15,000 adding that the value: “somewhat detached from the cost of materials”. Looks like it’s going to be another week of late nights for the Brewdog comms team. 

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Classic Bars – Quaglino’s

We’re back in the swing of indoor drinking again so it’s time for the return of our Classic Bars series. Today, we’re looking at Quaglino’s in Mayfair, haunt of royalty…

We’re back in the swing of indoor drinking again so it’s time for the return of our Classic Bars series. Today, we’re looking at Quaglino’s in Mayfair, haunt of royalty of all sorts. 

When we kickstarted our Classic Bars series back in September 2020, the future looked bright – until a month later, when our beloved watering holes were closed once more, that is. So when the opportunity came up to not only go to a bar (inside, no less), but to visit the one and only Quaglino’s, we jumped at the chance.

Quaglino’s comes with a lot of expectation. Famous clientele has previously included not just pop royalty such as Sir Elton John, George Michael, and Kanye West, but actual royalty – yes, the royal family. In fact, in 1956 it became the first public restaurant to be visited by a reigning monarch, when the Queen and Prince Philip paid a visit.

It’s not just a top-notch cocktail bar, but a restaurant, too, founded in 1929 by Giovanni Quaglino (a talented restaurateur from Italy, in case you hadn’t guessed) – though the motivation to open the bar was actually born out of spite. 

Quaglino's Cocktail Bar

The view from the grand, famed Quag’s staircase

A bittersweet history

Quaglino followed his colleague and friend Giovanni (clearly a popular name at the time for Italians) Sovrani from The Savoy to work at Sovrani’s own newly-opened restaurant. Things turned sour, however, when Sovrani started getting a bit too close to his friend’s wife. As stated the Quaglino’s website recalls: “Quaglino returned the favour by moving on and taking charge of the restaurant at the St James’s Palace Hotel, just around the corner in Bury Street, and competing for Sovrani’s customers.” 

Long story short, Quaglino won this feud through talent, charisma, and delicious cocktails. From the 1930s up until it was sold in the 1960s, it was where you’d find London’s high society drinking and dancing the night away. It was affectionately known as “Quag’s”, a nickname that prevails to this day (though we wonder how often you’d have to visit for that to become necessary…). Vogue magazine wrote in 1936: “To have a famous maître d’hôtel greet you respectfully by your surname, to greet him in turn familiarly is a strong tonic for your ego”. 

Quaglino stepped back from his restaurant after World War II, and in the 1960s it was sold – this didn’t bode well for the bar and restaurant, as it eventually closed in 1977. In 1993, it was bought by the late, great Sir Terence Conran and reopened after 16 years of silence, “aiming to revive the spirit of the original”. The relaunch gave it a new lease of life, decked out with temptingly stealable, trophy-like ash trays, and even ‘cigarette girls’ (though the indoor smoking ban of 2007 put an end to that). 

The Duke's Strength Cocktail Quaglino's

The Duke’s Strength cocktail, in honour of the late Prince Philip

A new cocktail menu: ‘The Glamour Is Back’

The bar really leans into its history, still boasting its famed winding staircase, with art deco splashes throughout the venue. Its new cocktail menu is inspired by the elegance of those glory years by offering classic cocktails (though in updated form), appropriately titled ‘The Glamour Is Back’ – and what a treat it is. Alongside the official menu, there’s another new serve titled ‘The Duke’s Strength’, crafted to honour the life of Prince Philip. The blend of Plymouth Gin Navy Strength washed with Greek olive oil, Belsazar dry vermouth, clarified tomato consommé, and pickled cherry tomato all nod to the Prince’s Royal Navy past, Greek heritage, and favourite cocktails (Bloody Mary and dry Martini). The creation itself is indeed like a cross between the two – a Bloody Martini, if you will – and balances that ripe tomato sweetness with the more savoury nuances brilliantly.

White Truffle Negroni Quaglino's Cocktail Bar

Behold, the White Truffle Negroni

Twists on classic cocktails can often be gimmicky, and it’s far too easy to make a twist that’s worse than the original – they’re classic for a reason, right? But Quaglino’s managed to pull off these variations through sheer deliciousness, because each twist made sense. Not a gimmick in sight. 

Some favourites of ours on the new menu were the White Truffle Negroni, which brings together Tanqueray No. Ten, Luxardo Bitter, and Cocchi Americano-washed truffle oil, and the Cuban Fashioned, a rum-based take on the serve with Havana Club 7-washed peanut butter, banana oleo skin, and Angostura bitters. These two couldn’t be more different; the former, a subtly savoury, earthy twist on the usually citrusy cocktail, while the latter was all about that peanut butter richness and tropical vibrancy. 

Bramblerry Quaglino's Cocktail Bar

Bramb(L)erry, a firm favourite of ours

But the one that truly blew our socks off was Bramb(L)erry – Olmeca Blanco Tequila, Vida mezcal, three-berry shrub, and Tio Pepe dry sherry made for a smoky, jammy, and super refreshing take on the classic gin-based cocktail. We were also lucky enough to catch some live music from Juke Joints later in the evening, with the blues band playing brassy versions of all our favourite songs, from Oasis to The Piña Colada Song.

Live music, exceptional service, and classic cocktails with elegant twists – we’re so glad Quaglino’s wasn’t lost to history. 

 

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