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Master of Malt Blog

Trust the algorithm: The future of AI in booze

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt…

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt Scotch. Here, we take a look at the ground-breaking technology, and consider the ways in which algorithms could revolutionise the drinks industry in years to come…

Think back to a bottle of alcohol you bought without ever having tried it. What compelled you to pick that one, rather than another? Perhaps it was the look of the label, or the price. Maybe a friend recommended it, or you spotted it on this very blog. Or, if you’ve just road-tested Diageo’s new AI whisky selector, it might be because an algorithm told you to.

Named ‘What’s Your Whisky’, the selector uses FlavorPrint taste profiling technology to match your individual tastes to one of 18 featured single malts, explains Benjamin Lickfett, head of technology & innovation at Diageo. It asks eleven questions to understand your preferences – e.g. ‘how often do you eat bananas? How do you feel about chillies?’ – and then analyses your responses.

“To do this, we use an algorithmic machine learning analysis of 500 different flavour points based on data from the food science and expert sensory science sectors,” he continues. “Once individual flavour preferences have been mapped, the app uses AI to continuously learn what drives consumer preferences.”

Team Circumstance: Liam Hirt, Mark Scott and Danny Walker

Elsewhere, AI isn’t just matching you with your optimum booze pairing. It’s creating it. In November, Circumstance Distillery created the world’s first AI gin, called Monker’s Garkel, in collaboration with tech companies Rewrite Digital and Tiny Giant. They designed a ‘recurrent neural network’ named Ginette, explain Liam Hirt, Circumstance co-founder. 

“She was trained to compose gin recipes using an enormous data set of botanical and recipes,” Hirt says. “We chose her best two recipes for further traditional development at Circumstance Distillery. One recipe emerged as a favourite, although it was very close. Ginette also came up with the name for the gin. A separate neural network was used to create the label and the wording on the back of the bottle.”

Circumstance isn’t the only producer to harness the power of AI to make great-tasting spirits. In May last year, Swedish distillery Mackmyra teamed up with Microsoft and Fourkind to create a whisky informed by Mackmyra’s existing recipes, sales data and customer preferences. In January 2017, Virgin’s travel arm partnered with super-computer Watson to analyse the social media posts of 15 million holidaymakers, match them to 5,000-plus flavour descriptions and reviews, and create a one-off rum recipe at Barbados’ Foursquare Distillery.

Is there a danger our industry’s tastemakers could soon be overthrown by AI distillers? Not quite. “AI technology is in its infancy, and is not ready to take over from a skilled distiller like those at our distillery,” reckons Hirt. “Where I see AI making a difference in the near future is as a creative muse used during product development. At Circumstance Distillery we do a lot of product development and contract distillation for customers. AI in its current form can be a useful tool at the brainstorming stage to contribute ideas that might be quite different and take development in an unexpected and novel direction.”

Would you take a recommendation from one of these?

In what ways, then, could AI potentially revolutionise the industry as we know it today? For now, the answer lies in behind the scenes operations. French drinks company Pernod Ricard, which owns Jameson whiskey and Beefeater gin, has been “developing a series of successful pilots and then projects at scale for quite a large array of applications” for a few years now, explains global media and content hub leader Thibaut Portal.

This could be something as simple as identifying trending venues using data from Google Maps, Google Venues traffic, Trip Advisor and social media channels, he explains; information that helps the company map and structure its approach to the on-trade. Automated algorithms help the company optimise its social media campaigns, too – by defining and predicting best days and hours of the week to interact with consumers as well as personalising messages and communications. 

“We have applied AI mainly so far and at scale for our marketing and sales department activities, as data are massive and easy to collect,” says Portal. AI technology definitely enables us to react faster and prepare for more informed decisions, leveraging and computing data available internally or sourced externally in a flash. It provides solid analysis capabilities and unlocks new business opportunities: from product launch to market share increases.”

While it’s still early days for Diageo’s customer-facing whisky selector – which launched across nine European countries in six languages – Lickfett says the team is excited about the potential of this untapped tech. “Once we’ve received the initial results, we’ll be looking to optimise how we integrate the AI experience in bars, supermarkets, online and beyond,” he says. “As with any new technology application, it is key to put the consumer at the centre of the experience, ensuring real value is added and to avoid creating technology for technology’s sake.”

The stills at Circumstance in Bristol

He makes a point. With that in mind, are there any challenges the industry might need to overcome to integrate AI technology successfully? The most obvious one, Hirt says, is knowledge. “Circumstance Distillery is very tech-focused, with successful projects such as issuing ‘whisky tokens’ in the form of our own cryptocurrency,” he says. “Most small businesses in the drink sector are not as tech-focused as we are.”

It’s a sentiment backed by Portal. “AI technology has developed so fast with so many suppliers that confusion is already there,” he explains. “It requires expertise, knowledge and capacity to select the right project.” With a little knowledge, however, the sky’s the limit. “There are so many offers on the market, available and easy to access for all,” he says. “We are entering a democratisation phase, as well as a learning curve for all to build.”

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Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more……

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more…

I’m a fan of poitín. Maybe it’s the patriot in me. Maybe it’s the historian. It could just be that I love really good booze. It can be hard to find somebody as passionate about the spirit as I am. In Pádraic Ó Griallais, I’ve more than met my match.

Poitín has been distilled for over six generations by his family. The story began in 1848 with Micil Mac Chearra in Connemara, home to the largest Gaeltacht (a primarily Irish-speaking region) in the country. For over 170 years his ancestors have continued to make the spirit in the traditional manner using his secret recipe, predominantly illicitly. That was until 2015, when Ó Griallais gave up his teaching career to turn his legacy into a premium brand and bring back legal distillation to Galway after a century. 

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Ó Griallais at his charming distillery in the back of the Oslo Bar, which is also the home of Galway Bay Brewery, where we talked about illicit distillation, dispelling myths and creating a brand to prove poitín’s potential.

Ó Griallais was motivated to start Micil Distillery as he felt there was a terrible void in the poitín category for real authenticity. “There was plenty of ‘paddywackery‘, but I felt it was time to tell an authentic story,” says Ó Griallais. “I come from a family of poitín distillers. The methods have been handed down from generation to generation. My grandfather, Jimmi Chearra, taught me everything I know about the craft and heritage. I wanted to spread that knowledge and appreciation”.

The importance of family to Ó Griallais is underlined by the fact that the brand was named after Micil, while an old picture of Jimmi working on his craft was chosen as the brand’s logo, meaning he features on every bottle. “That was a pretty touching moment. He’s actually our honorary quality control, so he gets a bottle every week to give that final seal of approval. It’s great for myself and my brother that he trusts us to make it with absolute integrity” says Ó Griallais. “But more importantly, It really brought it home for him that this is the reality now: Micil’s recipe, Micil’s heritage and his own heritage is now on the open market and it’s being continued. The legacy has been brought into a totally different light”. 

It’s worth remembering the light that was cast on his family’s craft for many years was very different. Jimmi was fined as a younger man when he was caught in possession of malt. His story that he was only using it to brew beer was viewed rather dimly by the local police. If a poitín still, much like the one that sits in the middle of Micil Distillery, was found it would be confiscated and destroyed. Making poitín was a dangerous act of defiance for the people who distilled it, a hidden preservation of community and Irish identity. Ó Griallais talks about this troubled history passionately and knowledgeably, pausing to flash a quick mischievous grin before he tells me a story about that sums up that spirit of rebellion.

Micil Distillery

The old family still has a remarkable history

“Probably the most infamous poitín story happened about two miles away from where we lived. There was a confiscation of a still on local lands. The owners weren’t known by the local authorities or police but the still was brought to the police station to be destroyed. Nobody could have predicted what happened next,” says Ó Griallais. “That night the police station was broken into and the still was taken back by the original owners. The next morning the break-in was discovered and the search was on. Despite a big investigation, the still was never found and the culprits were never brought to ‘justice’ if you want to use that kind of terminology. We’re not believers of any kind of hearsay or old wives tales, but some people will say that the still exists today. Of course, nobody knows for sure.” Ó Griallais then says if I do happen to see it around, I should let him know before he allows himself once more wry smile and says, “But you know what? Sometimes it’s amazing what can be right underneath your nose”.

Things are much less controversial for Ó Griallais, who’s able to put to use the original 170-year-old family recipe in every bottle of Micil Poitín, using 100% Irish malted barley and a local Connemara botanical called bogbean. “We begin as you would imagine, by mashing our malts with hot water and then we’ll give it a rest period of approximately an hour. Then we take the sweet wort out of the mash and put that through a heat exchanger to chill it down to about 19 degrees centigrade. Later on, we add in our yeast, then the bogbean is added into the wash and we carefully observe the initial spirit to remove the heads and tails when necessary.” says Ó Griallais. “It’s amazing that we’re still able to use bogbean in our family poitín. It’s a local wild botanical that’s been used since the year 1324 by monks for medicinal purposes and it’s one of the things that really makes Micil’s poitín stand out versus many, if not all, the other poitíns that were being distilled around the same time”.

The words hand-crafted and small scale are tossed around a lot these days, but Micil Distillery is genuinely a modest enterprise overseen by Ó Griallais and his brother. Together, they distil approximately 60 bottles of poitín a day. The bottling, labelling and packaging all happen in-house. “My emphasis was always that we actually do things by hand throughout the process so we weren’t just a push-button operation. We didn’t want the craft to go out of the process and have it become too industrial,” says Ó Griallais. “That’s fine and I wouldn’t say it’s a case of one being better or worse, that’s just the way that we chose to do it. It’s romantic, I suppose, and very close to what would have been done throughout the generations”. 

Micil Distillery

Micil Distillery founder Pádraic Ó Griallais

For the Heritage Poitín the production changes as it brings into play one a raw material that is often considered Scottish in the world of booze: peat. “There’s no other fully Irish peated spirit on the market, so it’s something really unique, but it’s also something we’ve been doing for generations. It’s 80% barley and 20% oats and has the bogbean in there as well. For me it was such an exciting project because I wanted to show that we always made peated spirit as well as unpeated in Ireland,” says Ó Griallais. “We luckily found a farmer in County Meath that decided he was going to start peating his malt, so we actually gave him the turf that we harvest ourselves from Connemara. So it’s a real true expression of what poitín from Connemara would smell and taste like, which would be milder than your Islay whiskies”.

When it came to creating Micil Irish Gin, the process was different again because when you’re creating poitín, the emphasis is on the spirit more than the botanicals, whereas in gin this is reversed. But it was fundamental to Ó Griallais that the process retained the same sense of identity and provenance, which is why he was keen that his gin would showcase the botanicals, the flowers and the herbs available throughout Connemara. “I really wanted to express the West of Ireland and the Connemara botanicals in a different form to poitín, which is why I decided to go down the gin route. We wanted this gin to be what gin is all about: gin is all about juniper and gin is all about refreshment, but also creating something that has a real sense of terroir like our poitín, albeit in a different category,” Ó Griallais explains.

Fans of Irish whiskey will be delighted to hear that it is on the agenda for very soon for Ó Griallais and Micil Distillery. “Poitín is always going to be our founding category, so our whiskey will be modelled our poitín process. There will be innovation in terms of the type of whiskey that we do, from the use of grains to the styles. We’re not going to purely make single malt or your typical triple-distilled pot still style. There’s likely to be a variety,” Ó Griallais says. “We’re looking to move to a new location in the next year or two that will include more space to distil our whiskey. However, we are going to be making some whiskey before we move to our new location. We’re actually incredibly excited because we’ve got a new still for it, so we’re really looking forward to starting our journey with whiskey here in Galway”.

Micil Distillery

Micil Distillery is a small-scale, family-run operation

While Ó Griallais is comfortable engaging with different categories, poitín will always be at the heart of Micil Distillery. It’s not an easy sell, however. One of the reasons why it’s important for Ó Griallais to tell an authentic story of poitín distillation is because it’s such a misunderstood and maligned spirit. “I was brought up making it and recognising the difference between high quality versus mediocrity. Unfortunately, the latter has been the experience of a lot of people in Ireland which means often they have no real appreciation of any of the nuances in the category or what high quality means,” says Ó Griallais. “For me, poitín was all about high-quality ingredients and attention to detail in the process”.

A lot of Ó Griallais’ time is spent dispelling myths about poitín, such as the idea that the sole raw material used to create the spirit traditionally was potato. “In reality, for most of poitín-making’s history it has been a grain spirit and the predominant grain would have been barley. Other grains would have been used with the barley, of course, like oats, wheat and rye,” says Ó Griallais. “A lot of those grains would have been malted, a difference in the Irish whiskey tradition where there was a large use of unmalted grains to avoid taxes. But the potato is largely a myth and for whatever reason, its role has been really over-emphasised in the grand scheme of the category”. 

However, the most damaging and pervasive notion about poitín is a classic criticism that will be known to anybody in Ireland: poitín is a coarse spirit with a dangerously high alcoholic strength. “Poitín is like any other spirit, if it’s made poorly and without due care and attention you are going to get an inferior product,” says Ó Griallais. “It’s the same with historic gin, a lot of amateur or inexperienced people made it with a focus on just on making something alcoholic, there was no care for quality. We had a different take and a different story to tell. We always had this strong emphasis on pride in what we were doing”.

Micil Distillery

Poitín has a long and complex history and Ó Griallais believes in its potential to have a big future

It’s a shame because poitín is a genuinely fascinating and worthy category that’s undermined by misinformation and ignorance. But Ó Griallais is a patient man and is diligent in how he deconstructs each myth. “The practicality of what people say just doesn’t make sense. Poitín would rarely come off the still at 80 or 90% ABV and it’s really important to note that the distillers would also, of course, cut their spirit with pure water to bring it to bottling strength. Just like today, they wouldn’t bottle it at the strength it came off the still because they were aware of what people could actually consume,” Ó Griallais explains. “It’s all a big myth, but unfortunately the good stuff has kind of been forgotten about in all this noise, which is why we’re obviously dedicating our time and effort in telling the different story”. Ó Griallais role at Micil is as much being an ambassador and educator as it is being a distiller. As you can imagine, being a teacher in a previous life comes in handy.

This blend of tradition, provenance and identity that is at the core of authentic poitín makes Ó Griallais believe it has potential in the current market. He points to the success of Tequila, a spirit category that has previously suffered from its fair share of ignorance, in recent times as an example poitín could follow. “Tequila historically didn’t have the reputation that it does today. But people are now more educated about the category. They have a perception now that it is made with high-quality ingredients, with traditional processes and made lovingly and traditionally in a specific region,” says Ó Griallais. “Increasingly consumers are moving away from an association of the category as a cheap, rough, coarse party shot that’s just a way of drinking more alcohol. Tequila managed to turn this perception around by educating people, providing them with a great spirit and showing people how it can be mixed or consumed neat”. 

Ó Griallais’s ambition for Micil Distillery is that it will become the brand that helps the poitín category progress and find a consumer base. “Let’s give Patrón the credit it deserves, that brand, in particular, has lifted the reputation of the Tequila category. For us, we want to be the brand that helps the poitín category achieve this by having our focus on quality and authenticity,”  he says. “We want to show people the huge potential and the huge enjoyment that’s available with this spirit. The ambition going forward is we want to drive the poitín category on. We want to have a globally recognised brand. That’s the ambition; that Micil Distillery and our poitín would be considered and recognised up there as one of the greats”.

Micil Distillery

The Micil Distillery range

As you begin a new year there’s an urge to broaden your horizons and grow. Exploring the world of booze and finding a new go-to spirit is as good a way of doing that as any, in my book. Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance. Maybe you should. And that’s not the patriot in me, or the historian talking. That’s the love of really good booze.

Micil Irish Poitín Tasting Notes:

Nose: Incredibly fruity, with raspberry jam, Ribena and plenty of stone fruit. There’s a touch of peppery heat, wild herbs, honey and a hint of menthol.

Palate: Tinned peaches, blackcurrant and some delicate angelica notes, with a helping of peppermint and touches of peppercorn and red chilli warmth.

Finish: More stone fruit while the herbs also return.

Micil Irish Heritage Poitín Tasting Notes:

Nose: Earthy, aromatic peat is at the core with floral notes (violet mostly), red berries and garden herbs emerging through it.

Palate: Apricot, vanilla, blackberry and a little honey give the palate a sweet and juicy opening, which then develops with peat smoke and a hearty twist of black pepper. 

Finish: A little aniseed and mint linger.

Micil Irish Gin Tasting Notes:

Nose: Fresh and fragrant with bright juniper, creamy angelica, citrus peels and helpings of earthy herbs, green cardamom and aromatic spice from orris root and cumin powder. 

Palate: Hugely herbaceous and well-spiced, most of the notes return from the nose alongside hints of lemongrass and liquorice. Piney juniper pushes through these to make itself known sharply.

Finish: A little black fruit sweetness appears after a while, among liquorice, a little lime and the remnants of the well-balanced juniper, angelica and citrus peel core.

 

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Our top drinks trends for 2020!

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year….

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year. Read on for our top drinks trends for 2020!

It’s not just a new year – 2020 brings with it a box-fresh decade, too. But what will be drinking this year? We’ve had a good chinwag in the office, looked at sales trends from the last few years and kept our ears to the ground for word of the Next Big Thing in booze. 

Before we crack on with our top ten trends, a quick note on two topics. First up: sustainability in terms of both production and packaging. We reckon every single producer should have this on their radar by now. We’re working hard to make our own ops here are as lean and green as they can possibly be. It’s not a trend, just the right way to do things. We’ve not included this in our list as it’s a societal shift that’s here to stay. Similar with low- and no-alcohol products. 2019 saw the segment explode – but it’s not going anywhere. Brands that give us the option to drink less alcohol while keeping things delicious are a welcome and permanent part of the drinks industry.

So. What else does the year have in store? This is what we reckon we’ll be drinking for the next 12 months!

spiced rum drinks trends for 2020

Spiced rums will continue their dominance into 2020

Spiced and flavoured rums are just getting started

One of the runaway successes of 2019 has been spiced and flavoured rums. In fact, over the whole of 2019, 15 of our top 20 rum best sellers were spiced or flavoured. It’s a trend that accelerated over the course of the year, and while you’d expect an uptick in November and December (hello Christmas!), sales of the likes of Bombo, Cloven Hoof and Pirate’s Grog rums are in year-on-year growth for the start of January, too. One shift we think we’ll see? A move towards more ‘grown-up’ flavours and bottle designs. Spiced and flavoured rums don’t have to be all about the party; they can hold their own as respectable cocktail ingredients, too. 

world whisky drinks trends for 2020

No need for a passport – explore the world through whisky!

Genuinely world whisky

Move over, Scotland. Hang back, America. You too, Ireland and Japan. Yes, you make delicious whiskies. But 2020 looks set to be the year that world whisky meaningfully comes to the fore for more of us. Take Israel, for example. There are three distilleries already up and running (Milk & Honey, Golan Heights, Pelter), but there’s the Jerusalem Distillery, Legends Distillery and Eder’i Malthouse and Distillery all hot on their heels. Up in Finland, you’ve got Kyrö, Teerenpeli, The Helsinki Distilling Co, and Panimoravintola (and no doubt numerous others at the development stage). Australian whisky continues to gain momentum (Starward, Sullivans Cove, and Hellyers Road, anyone?), and we’re excited by what distillers are doing across New Zealand, Sweden and France, too. And there’s India, South Africa, England, Wales, The Netherlands… you get the picture. We’re also thrilled by the geographic diversity of whisky production and the different approaches and flavours inherent in that. We reckon loads of you will be, too. 

vodka drinks trends for 2020

Get set for a vodka revival

Viva vodka!

A slightly unexpected one, now. Did you know our vodka sales in 2019 soared by 30% year-on-year? It’s a bit of a surprise for us, too. Bottle sales ramped up gradually but noticeably over the course of the year, and it initially had us scratching our heads. After a pretty break time in the 2000s and 2010s, why is vodka falling back into favour? We looked at our top-sellers and noticed a couple of things. It’s generally not flavoured vodka that’s hitting the mark (a couple of notable exceptions: Thunder Toffee Vodka and Whitley Neill Blood Orange Vodka). Instead, it’s the classic, neutral, big names that seem to have appeal. But that’s not all. Smaller brands playing on their legitimate flavour differences derived from their raw materials are doing especially well. We think the likes of Black Cow Vodka (made from leftover whey from cheese-making), East London Liquor Company 100% Wheat Vodka and Konik’s Tail (made with three different grains: spelt, rye and wheat) will drive this trend forward into 2020.

hard seltzers drinks trends for 2020

Hard seltzers will be A Thing

Hard seltzers and sodas

Call them what you like (the seltzer vs. soda debate could go on), but this sparkling, low-ABV mix of flavoured water and booze isn’t going anywhere. Hard seltzers have been big news Stateside for some time now, and we reckon 2020 is the year they’ll make their presence really felt this side of the Pond. Why? Beer sales are down, people are embracing low- and no-, and we’re all rather partial to a train tinnie, which, if you think about what cocktails in a can actually are, we’re barely a swift step from a hard seltzer anyway. Last year saw the UK launch of Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water, and native names DRTY Hard Seltzer and Bodega Bay are already in the market. Plus, White Claw, the US hard seltzer hero, has already registered its trademark here, too. We’re ready

Beyond bourbon drinks trends for 2020

American single malts for the win!

Beyond bourbon

Hands up who loves American whiskey? Us too. And it’s hardly new. So why does it feature on our list of drinks trends for 2020? Bourbon has long been seen as a synonym for American whiskey, but when you think about its legal definition (in short, it’s made in the US; its mashbill recipe contains a minimum of 51% corn; it’s matured in new, charred oak) it becomes clear there’s a whole load more to American whiskey than perhaps we collectively understand. Step in rye. Come in, American single malt. Oh hello, wheat whiskeys. And of course, there’s a whole host of category-defying whiskeys coming out of the US that can’t be called bourbon. Rules are there to be broken, and when distillers shrug off the bourbon confines, deliciousness can spring forth, and we think 2020 is the year we’ll get to grips with these expressions. Want in now? Check out Balcones Texas Single Malt, Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, St. George Baller Single Malt, and WhistlePig 12 Year Old – Old World.

calvados drinks trends for 2020

Appley goodness right there

Calvados returns

If you’re unfamiliar with this historical French brandy, you are not alone. Calvados is made from apples and pears in Normandy, distilled in either traditional alembic or column stills, and is aged for at least two years. And it’s mighty tasty. We’re waking up to its mixing and sipping potential: last year our Calvados sales soared by an enormous 40% in 2019 over 2018. One of the key drivers was the launch of Avallen in June, a more modern expression that is all about sustainability and boosting biodiversity. Calvados Coquerel has undertaken a re-brand, bringing more energy to the category. And the likes of Berneroy and Château du Breuil are also seeing renewed momentum. 2020 is the time for Calvados to shine.

mezcal drinks trends for 2020

How mezcal gets its smoke

The advent of Mezcal

Tequila’s smoky cousin made its presence felt in 2019, when we saw sales climb by 31%. But what will 2020 have in store for Mezcal? Quite a lot, we think (especially when you consider its 2017-18 growth stood at just 5%). The biggest-selling brands are increasingly well-recognised (Del Maguey, Pensador and Montelobos are rapidly becoming familiar names), and customers in bars and in shops (on and offline) have a deeper understanding of the Mexican spirit. So, what’s next? More at-home mixing and sipping, and a deeper appreciation for all things Mezcal out and about. Bring. It. On.

scotch whisky casks drinks trends for 2020

Bit cold out there

Unconventional cask finishing in Scotch

In June 2019, the Scotch Whisky Association widened the list of permitted cask types in Scotch whisky production. In short, as long as what was previously held in that cask wasn’t made with stone fruits, and hasn’t had flavourings or sweetening added, you’re good to go. It wasn’t an unexpected decision, and loads of Scotch distillers already had experiments under way (Glen Moray Rhum Agricole Cask Finish Project, we’re looking at you). So what? In 2020 we reckon we’ll see loads more esoteric expressions, perhaps some agave finishes, and maybe even some Calvados casks. And probably some stuff we’ve not even thought of yet. Get set for a new wave of flavour in Scotch whisky. (At this point, we’d also like to add a nod to Irish distilleries, who have been playing with different casks for some time.)

aquavit drinks trends for 2020

Delicious dill

An age of aquavit 

Similar to Calvados, aquavit is a traditional category with strong local ties that flies way too low under the radar for our liking. We’re going to stick our necks out and say 2020 is going to be the year that starts to change. To kick off, last year our aquavit sales blossomed by 27%. More people are seeking out the dill- or caraway-flavoured Scandi spirit than ever. What’s also interesting is that some producers in international markets are looking to aquavit for inspiration and are crafting their own expressions, most notably Svöl Danish-Style Aquavit, from Brooklyn, and Psychopomp Aqvavit, hailing from Bristol, UK. This comes hot on the heels of the botanical spirits trend – tried all manner of gins and want something new? Eschew the juniper and look to aquavit instead. It’s a narrative that could well play out this year. 

liqueurs unicorns drinks trends for 2020

RIP, unicorns

Liqueurs ditch the unicorns

2019 was a bumper year for liqueurs, growing 31% to rank as our third-largest drinks category by bottle sales. It’s a notoriously diverse category, defined really only by sugar levels rather than style or flavour. Good job really, three of our top 10 most popular liqueur products are ‘unicorn’ flavoured, whatever that means. There has been a slight shift already though: for the last three months of the year, whisky, coffee, herbal and caramel varieties proved far more popular. Yes, it could be Christmas. But we reckon there’s an underlying trend of a return to more conventional liqueur flavours. Yes, they’re still going to be sweet (that’s kind of the point). But 2020 looks likely to be the year more traditional liqueur variants reclaim the realm from mythical beasts.

Over to you! What do you think will be the biggest drinks trends for 2020? Have we missed something out or got it wildly wrong? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and on social! 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Apple Dog

This week’s Cocktail of the Week is a fruity little number created by Andy Huntley, Copper Dog whisky’s newly-appointed GB brand ambassador. A singer, songwriter and bartender by trade, here…

This week’s Cocktail of the Week is a fruity little number created by Andy Huntley, Copper Dog whisky’s newly-appointed GB brand ambassador. A singer, songwriter and bartender by trade, here Huntley delves into the curious history behind the blended malt Scotch bottling – and reveals how he orchestrated the first ever DJ set at Stonehenge…

The link between taste and sound is a connection few understand better than singer, songwriter, bartender and now Copper Dog whisky ambassador Andy Huntley. Having recently joined the Diageo Reserve team in the UK with 18 years’ experience in the bar and music industry, it’s safe to say the South Wales native knows a thing or two about the perfect soundscape for a dram. 

We took five with Huntley to find out how he’ll apply his pitch-perfect knowledge to the blended Speyside malt brand – and scored a simple recipe to try at home. Siri, open Spotify…

MoM: Huge congratulations on the new role, Andy! You’ve almost 20 years’ experience in the bar and music industry – could you share a handful of your career highlights so far? 

Andy Huntley: I first fell in love with the world of hospitality when I began my career as a barback in Australia. Before joining Diageo, I worked with a number of brands within large drinks companies where I headed up the portfolio of premium and luxury brands creating bespoke events for the on-trade. I was also the whisky and music ambassador for single grain whisky 8O8 where I created a Whisky and Music training and advocacy platform for the UK on-trade – this is mainly what led me to bring both my passions together of whisky and music and inspire bartenders nationwide. As GB brand ambassador for Copper Dog whisky, I’m thrilled to continue telling this story and help to bring together these two industries, sharing my knowledge of both scenes. I’ve been lucky enough to share a stage and work with some amazing artists from Snow Patrol to Ellie Goulding and played for Prince William and Harry a couple of times. A highlight for me as a whisky and music ambassador was partnering with Paul Oakenfold and Carl Cox for the first ever DJ set at Stonehenge – we had a VIP coach from London with the likes of Hollywood A-lister Andy Serkis. I made some drinks for them on the way down then we had a party inside the stone circle with Paul and Carl going back-to-back. It was a really moving experience to be that close to the stones with two of the biggest names in dance music.

Andy Copper Dog

Andy Huntley from Copper Dog pours Copper Dog into a Copper Dog

MoM: Could you talk about any common ground between the two industries and how you’ll be exploring those further in your new role?

AH: Music is intrinsically linked to both a great night in or out. It heightens the senses and can make everything from an intimate conversation to a fun night out even more enjoyable. It adds another dimension. Shared love of music – and great whisky – is also a brilliant way to break down barriers and bring people together. My new role will see me harness all this and raise brand awareness for Copper Dog in quite a unique way by hosting tastings, playing live shows, working with record labels, creating music events and brand activations. Music is an essential atmospheric ingredient in any bar or restaurant. Over the last few years I’ve developed and implemented a music and atmospherics programme educating bartenders to create the perfect playlist for their bar. I’m excited to continue this journey with Copper Dog.

MoM: For those who are new to the brand, could you share a little bit of the backstory?

AH: Copper Dog was originally founded by bar and nightclub tycoon Piers Adam, and the inspiration behind the creation of the whisky comes from the Craigellachie Hotel located in the heart of Speyside. The once run-down hotel was purchased by Piers in 2014 and has now been restored back to its former glory. The Copper Dog name comes from an old device made from copper tubing with a penny soldered to one end and cork in the other, which was used by distillery workers to smuggle whisky home in the 19th century. It’s also the name of the bar at the Craigellachie Hotel. The simple, bold honesty of the Copper Dog brand is also mirrored on-pack in the unique whisky dipper and dog emblems, designed by famed British illustrator Hugo Guinness, to grace every bottle.

MoM: What makes Copper Dog different to other blended Scotch whiskies – in terms of the liquid but also the philosophy behind the brand?

AH: Copper Dog is a truly modern whisky – familiar, inclusive, friendly and relaxed. It’s Scottish hospitality in a glass, without the stuffy conventions or dress codes and is always amplified by a soundtrack of friendly conversation. Bottled at 40% ABV, the liquid is a unique blend of no fewer than eight single malt whiskies, slowly married together in old oak casks. It’s an easy, accessible Scotch, with ripe fruit aromas, and a delicate, spicy finish. Simple enough to be approachable but complex enough to thrive when mixed. Each bottle really is bursting with the true spirit of those Speyside rascals who inspired it. The mischief-makers and opportunists who agree it’s enjoyed best when shared. What also makes it unique of course is that it is blended by master blender Stuart Morrison. The whiskies included in Copper Dog have been aged in a mixture of refill American and European oak casks, first fill bourbon casks and rejuvenated casks, before being married in hogsheads.

Apple Dog

Everyone loves an Apple Dog

MoM: And finally, could you talk us through the concept behind the Apple Dog cocktail?

AH: An Apple Dog is simply a 40ml measure of Copper Dog with one freshly-juiced Granny Smith Apple, served over ice. This drink brings the fresh orchard fruit flavours of Copper Dog to life and the acidity of a Granny Smith really cuts through the drink to add a delicious sourness. It’s always been a personal goal of mine to introduce new drinkers to the wonders of whisky. It’s such an exciting and vast category but it can also be quite intimidating or seen to be complicated to those new to this world. It definitely doesn’t need to be that way and we believe that simplicity is key. Copper Dog is a perfect introduction to whisky and can be enjoyed served with a quality mixer. We want to suggest serves that everyone can make at home and it doesn’t get much simpler than an Apple Dog. I always start my whisky tastings and brand trainings with a welcome Apple Dog. It’s a great way for consumers or industry friends to try Copper Dog for the first time. I guarantee that not many gin drinkers first tried their favourite tipple neat, in a snifter glass and at room temperature. It would have been in a G&T or a cocktail. I take this same approach to whisky and have had nothing but love for Apple Dog by those who have tried it.

So without further ado, here it is, the Apple Dog!

45ml Copper Dog whisky 
1 Granny Smith apple or 70ml of good quality apple juice

Juice one Granny Smith apple (or save yourself the trouble and use bought apple juice) . Combine apple juice with Copper Dog whisky in a rocks glass. Add cubed ice and serve.

 

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What we learned at Armagnac Academy

We were lucky enough to be invited over to the fourth London Armagnac Academy, a yearly one day masterclass telling all about the somewhat-overlooked brandy. Here’s what we learned… We…

We were lucky enough to be invited over to the fourth London Armagnac Academy, a yearly one day masterclass telling all about the somewhat-overlooked brandy. Here’s what we learned…

We popped up to London for an entire day of deliciously educational Armagnac fun. Our hosts were Hannah Lanfear, founder of The Mixing Class and UK Armagnac educator, and Amanda Garnham, who has spent more than 16 years as press attachée and educator for the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (B.N.I.A.). Together, the dynamic duo taught us (nearly) everything there is to know, and, best of all, we tasted more than 40 Armagnacs. But there was a serious side too, at the end of the day there was a 100 question exam, with the highest scorer winning a trip to Armagnac itself as a reward. Talk about motivation! Spoiler, it wasn’t me…

Armagnac Academy

All of the wonderful Armagnacs we tasted during the day! We may have lost count.

Garnham, who lives in the region, jokily bestows upon herself the title of ‘the granny of Armagnac’, sets the scene of what Armagnac is like as a place before we delve into the details of the spirit. It is a region in Gascony, south-west France, filled with vineyards, castles and geese. Lots of geese. Which also means lots of foie gras. In Gascon, the average life expectancy is five years longer than that of the rest of France, despite all the decadent food and brandy. This phenomenon even has a name: the Gascon paradox. While recounting her travels over to the region, Lanfear nostalgically tells us that “Armagnac melts away the London mindset.” I have to admit, it does sound wonderfully romantic, and I already feel warmer in our little room in a fairly gloomy London.

The basics

Armagnac has had quite the time of it. There’s evidence of production as far back as the 14th century, though it was by the end of the 16th century that it became commonplace at local French markets. Back in the 17th and 18th century, Armagnac was originally exported through Bordeaux, with the aim to then blend it with water to rehydrate it after. We know, imagine that! Madness. Soon enough, the consumers realised that it was delicious without dilution, and the rest is history.

Armagnac Academy

A sunny shot of Armagnac. Spot the foie gras…

Armagnac is understandably often talked about in the same circles as Cognac, though culturally they couldn’t be more different. For one, the difference in the size of each region and, consequently, its market, is huge. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is by pointing out that, over the course of a year, Cognac loses more to the angel’s share than Armagnac produces in the entire year, which is around 6.6 million bottles.

Armagnac vineyards cover just 2,420 hectares, while Cognac has 75,000 hectares. Because it is much smaller, Armagnac isn’t commercial in the same way, and has no desire to compete with Cognac. Success of that level would lose what makes it unique. Garnham tells us that, though the word is banded around without meaning these days, “Armagnac has always been craft, but never really talked about it.” It stays small because of the size of the AOC, and even at its maximum production it couldn’t satisfy a market anywhere near the size of Cognac.

Armagnac Academy

A big ol’ bottle of Armagnac

Thanks to its smaller size, Armagnac has kept its biodiversity. There are ten main grape varieties that can be used to make it, whereas almost all Cognac is made from only one, Ugni Blanc. There are trees and shrubs surrounding the vineyards which encourage insects and bats, and other crops breaking up what would otherwise be a monoculture.

Distillation season

Garnham notes that, although the region is charming all year round, distillation is the most romantic time of year, called La Flamme de l’Armagnac. Producers will hold parties for entire villages (though sometimes that’s only 50 or so people), and traditionally children will light the alembic still. The still becomes the social hub of the community thanks to its warmth, and also because it must be tended to 24 hours a day. Although, only 48 houses in Armagnac own their own copper still, so to support the rest of the houses, there are five travelling distillers. Essentially, this is a large tractor with a copper still on the back of it, going from house to house over the course of distillation, which runs from harvest in October until 31 March, though generally distillation is completed by the end of January. You wouldn’t want to get stuck behind one of those on a single track road.

Armagnac Academy

Check it out, it’s a still on wheels!

Though some houses use double distillation as with Cognac, most Armagnac producers use the region’s traditional alembic. This is a simple continuous still, sometimes with as few as four plates, very different to the sort of high efficiency columns used to make grain whisky. They are often wood-fired and the spirit comes off at between 60 and 70% ABV so there are lots of congeners.

In Armagnac, the spirit is almost like a form of currency. Traditionally, Garnham tells us, a family will distil Armagnac each year and keep it in the cellar, much like money in a bank though with better rates of interest. Over time as it gets older it becomes more valuable, and say the family needs a new car, or has to prep for a wedding, they’ll dig out the Armagnac and sell it. Ditch your savings account and start investing in brandy, though if our lack of self-restraint with a contactless card is anything to go by, not drinking our savings would be even harder.

Armagnac Academy

Straight from the barrel to the glass

How do I drink it?

The mystery that surrounds Armagnac means that people aren’t quite sure how to drink it. Garnham notes that it doesn’t make much sense to add water or ice to your Armagnac, the reason being that the blend has been married and balanced to (hopefully) perfection before bottling, and water will undo that balancing act. Like with an older whisky, older Armagnacs are designed for sipping. However, younger Armagnacs are totally delicious with tonic and ice, or even alongside desserts. Armagnac-stewed prunes is a particularly tasty combo, and pair this with foie gras to live like a real Gascon local. Armagnac suffers from the same holdbacks as many aged spirits (looking at you, whisky), and mixing it shouldn’t be seen as a sin. Cocktails are a fun way to introduce people to the brandy.

Garnham leaves each of us a Gascon oak acorn on our table, so we can take a bit of Armagnac with us. Though, after a day of learning and tasting this delicious spirit, I’m pining to visit in person…

Pop over to the Armagnac Academy website for all the latest updates!

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Five minutes with. . . Claire Warner of Aecorn

Continuing our Dry January coverage, we talk to Claire Warner, co-founder of Aecorn, the non-alcoholic aperitif from the people who brought you Seedlip, about the burgeoning category, medieval recipes and…

Continuing our Dry January coverage, we talk to Claire Warner, co-founder of Aecorn, the non-alcoholic aperitif from the people who brought you Seedlip, about the burgeoning category, medieval recipes and her views on the competition. 

We met with Claire Warner at the newest outpost of Soho Italian deli, Lina Stores, in the former goods yard behind King’s Cross station in London which is now bursting with bars and restaurants. It’s an appropriate choice of venue because Aecorn, a non-alcoholic drink from the people behind Seedlip, is designed to be drunk with food. Londoner born and bred, Warner is an industry veteran having spent 15 years at LVMH working with Belvedere vodka. Aecorn comes in three varieties, Dry, Aromatic and Bitter. The latter two varieties work something like amaro or vermouth, being designed to be mixed; you can make a so-called NOgroni (see what they did there?) with equal parts Seedlip and the two Aecorns. Dry, however, is particularly good drunk neat and chilled as a wine alternative. It’s far more delicious than any non-alcoholic wine that I’ve tried having great acidity, texture and depth of flavour. Over a few glasses, Warner told us a bit more about it. 

NOgroni

Is that a Negroni? No, it’s a NOgroni

Master of Malt: Where did the idea for Aecorn come from?

Claire Warner: I was really frustrated by how little there was to drink with food specifically when you’re not drinking. And having seen how well Seedlip really articulated that problem, we felt that there was a natural opportunity for us to create something that really was more than non-alcoholic wine. I joined 18 months ago to realise this new brand that would work specifically with food. So we spent some time looking in some old books, and found two things that were interesting: one was the use of verjus in the Middle Ages in the UK when we had lots of grapes, and then also this recipe for acorn wine that we found that was being used as a digestif as it aids digestion. And putting the two things together and thinking actually there’s a real opportunity for us to create a range of products that are inspired by European aperitifs, grape-based with the addition of botanicals to work with food.

MoM: How long did it take to develop? 

CW: It took about a year. The whole process. And the liquid development part in particular, I think we take for granted how alcohol works when it comes to stability and extraction and things like flavour profile. We really began with first of all finding English verjus, which was very difficult because there’s not a lot of excess grapes in England. We had to really work hard to find a grower that actually only grows grapes for verjus, so we’ve been very, very lucky. And the verjus gives us a lot of the same sort of mouth feel, structure the sensation of wine, perhaps in the mouth. 

MoM: Can you explain what verjus is?

CW: Verjus means ‘green juice’ and it is essentially the juice of unripened grapes. We use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier that grow in Sussex. And we press them before they change colour, so that we get a lot of beautiful acidity and quite a lot of tannins as well. And we press just before veraison when the grapes are just starting to change colour, so we get some sweetness too. So we get a nice balance between acidity and sweetness. And then we add the botanicals to give us the sort of flavour that you would expect from something that would work with food. In the case of this, we’ve got lots of green herbaceous notes, a little bit of salinity as well, lots of astringency from black tea and the grapes that we use, so all in all it’s a really sort of dry and fresh, green, herbaceous drink that you could have with food. And then the Aromatic is much more, aromatic, and it’s got vanilla and kola nut and clove and cassia, so really rich and indulgent flavours that work at the end of the meal.

The Aecorn range

The Aecorn range

MoM: There are three varieties aren’t there?

CW: There’s three and the third is bitter, which is bitter, and behaves much more like the traditional Italian bitter liqueur, so lots of orange, grapefruit, gentian. And then what runs through all of them is the eponymous acorns, so we do use acorns for some of the bitterness and some of the tannins as well. And tannins are super important for something that doesn’t have alcohol, because it creates that sort of same structure in the mouth as you would expect from wine. 

MoM: It’s quite a new category, do you think there’s masses of untapped potential here?

CW: I think we’ve just scratched the surface with what’s possible. Unlike many new innovations in the spirits world, it is really driven by consumer demand. It’s the consumer that’s really wanting something grown up, sophisticated, complex that they can have in a bar environment or in a restaurant. 

MoM: Do you think it’s more of a drink for the on-trade?

CW: I don’t. The demand has been driven by the consumer in the off-trade and that’s certainly where Seedlip started its journey, with it being launched in Selfridges and we also were launched in Selfridges. But I think as more bars and the on-trade really recognise that there’s a demand for great non-alcoholic options, we’re seeing the on trade adopt Aecorn. Of course, Seedlip has been around for four years now, so it started out with Seedlip and now there’s a proliferation of non-alc options, the on-trade are absolutely getting on board with this as something the consumer is looking for. I think in the future we want to become almost ambivalent about the alcohol content and really focussing on flavour as the key driver for people who are interested in food. So foodies are a really great target for us, people who just love food, love flavour, love eating out, love entertaining and yes if there’s something for those people who are not drinking, Aecorn is the solution. 

MoM: Have you been pleased to see how many rivals you have these days? Do you think that’s all good for the category

CW: There are a lot. And of course back to your earlier question, is there opening up an opportunity? I think that’s evidenced by how many new brands are being launched, it feels like there’s sort of one a second. I think now because the consumer’s demanding of new experiences, then absolutely, there’s new competitors coming into the marketplace. I would say that there are some great options and there are some ‘less than great’ options, and unfortunately for a very new category, you know what’s important for us is that we maintain our quality credentials because as the pioneers of this category we have a responsibility to ensure that the consumer gets a great experience every time they come to Seedlip or Aecorn. So that for us is super important, the stability factor, the consistency factor to make sure the liquid tastes as great as the day when you opened it to the day when you finish the bottle.

It’s Claire Warner!

MoM: Tell me a bit about Diageo, because they now have a majority stake in the business. That must give you a lot of muscle behind you?

To quote Ben, ‘it really puts the wind in our sails’ and you know, to have the world’s largest spirits company believe in this category also underscores your earlier question about the opportunity I feel, so yes, absolutely, it’s wonderful to work with them.

MoM: The price is quite high, considering you don’t have duty or anything like that on it. Is that a deliberate positioning thing?

CW: It’s interesting that it’s a question that is asked frequently. For us, we start with a very expensive base in verjus that’s pretty rare I mean there’s only one verjus producer in the UK. So our cost of goods are elevated and we use incredibly high quality ingredients because there’s no hiding place in something that’s non-alcoholic. The quality hopefully should shine through in the delivery of the flavours and all the ingredients that we’re using. We also, in order to extract in the best way, alcohol is used for some of the ingredients earlier on in the process, so there is a cost involved in the alcohol we use further up the supply chain. So all in all, it contributes to the price point. It’s not as though we’re deliberately elevating the price in order to take all of the margin. It’s actually that the costs of making something delicious, complex, non-alcoholic and stable has a cost. 

MoM: What next for Aecorn?

CW: It’s really just to kind of continue building the brand in the right way, working with people like Lina Stores and all the other kind of great bars and restaurants that we have in the UK, continuing to really work with our grocery partners such as Ocado and Waitrose, to ensure that the consumer can access Aecorn anywhere in the UK. And then to work collaboratively with Seedlip, so the NOgroni is a really great example of that sort of cross-brand collaboration which has been super successful. 

 

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Check out our winter spirits sale!

From Boxing Day to Burns Night you’ll be able to save some serious dough on this sensational selection of spirits thanks to our winter sale… Everybody loves a good bargain…

From Boxing Day to Burns Night you’ll be able to save some serious dough on this sensational selection of spirits thanks to our winter sale…

Everybody loves a good bargain and January is filled with them. For those not doing Dry January (we salute you), you’re probably scouring the web looking for the best deals on delicious booze. Consider your search concluded. Just head on over to our winter spirit sale page and you’ll find rafts of delicious products available for stonking good prices. To get an idea of the kind of the delights that await you, we’ve highlighted some of the best deals in this neat little round-up.

Enjoy!

Boozy Advent Calendars

It’s no longer Advent or Christmas. Which is bad. But that means that Advent Calendars filled with delicious booze are available for low, low prices! Which is good. Due to their popularity, some have sold out. Which is bad. But there are still calendars available that contain whisky, from Japanese, Irish, American, That Boutique-y, Premium, as well as gin, rum, vodka and Tequila. Which is good. They don’t come with any frozen yoghurt. Which is bad. They do come with 24 individual 30ml drams for your pleasure. Which is good. You can move on now.

WhistlePig 12 Year Old Oloroso Cask – Old World (Master of Malt)

A Master of Malt exclusive bottling, this 12 year old rye whiskey from WhistlePig was finished exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks, and was released as part of the Old World series. It’s rich, spicy and extremely delicious and available with a serious discount. Tell me there’s a better way to kick off 2020 then with a whiskey this good.

What does it taste like?:

Bucketfuls of dried fruit, with sweet caramel, new leather, rich sherry, a pinch of tobacco and vanilla alongside prominent baking spice notes and orange oil.

Salt Marsh Gin Greensand Ridge (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

This is sure to be another year where we indulge in all kinds of tasty gins, so why not take the opportunity as 2020 starts to enjoy one of the more intriguing bottlings you’ll find at MoM Towers? Greensand Ridge created this beautiful gin featuring an array of unique botanicals for That Boutique-y Gin Company using the salt marshes of Whitstable as inspiration.

What does it taste like?:

There’s plenty of salt – and a little marsh. The juniper is floral, teeming with lavender, bay leaves, a mossy earthiness persists, warming cardamom, creamy angelica, orange blossom, black pepper, vibrant grapefruit peel and liquorice root.

Laphroaig Lore

Said to be the richest ever expression from the Islay distillery, Laphroaig Lore is one for fans of peated whisky to enjoy. Created by distillery manager John Campbell, Lore was matured in a combination of casks including first-fill sherry butts and quarter casks and is said to contain some of Laphroaig’s “most precious stock”. Which sounds beyond tempting, frankly.

What does it taste like?:

Rich and smoky with seaside minerals, vanilla, chestnuts, fudge, creamy clotted cream, malty sweetness, rich peat, spicy chilli, a hint of ash and bitter chocolate drops. 

Larios 12 Botanicals Premium Gin

Gin is massive in Spain. If you thought England was the only country in Europe that goes gaga for the good stuff, you’d be mistaken. So it’s no surprise that our friends in Spain make some seriously delicious bottlings, like Larios 12 Botanicals Premium Gin. As you might have guessed, it was created using 12 botanicals including wild juniper, nutmeg, angelica root, coriander, Mediterranean lemon, orange, tangerine, mandarin, clementine, grapefruit, lime and orange blossom, which were distilled five times.

What does it taste like?:

Tangy, aromatic and herbal, with huge citrus notes, fresh flowers, coriander, juniper, potpourri and cardamom.

Maker’s Mark 46

If the first new Maker’s Mark recipe for at least 50 years doesn’t get fans of American whiskey excited, then nothing will. Maker’s 46 is an alternative to the standard expression that was created for those that like spicier bourbon. The Kentucky distillers inserted seared French oak staves into the barrels (with the stave profile “number 46” – hence the name) to make the spice-forward profile.

What does it taste like?:

Toffee sweetness, sawdust from freshly cut wood, nutmeg, mulled wine spices, allspice, cinnamon, hot apple juice and a slight grassy note.

Novo Fogo 3 Year Old (That Boutique-y Cachaça Company) 

Cachaça is such a fantastic and sadly often overlooked spirit but this aged expression produced by Brazil’s Novo Fogo Distillery and bottled by That Boutique-y Cachaça Company should please connoisseurs and newcomers alike. What makes this beauty stand out is that it was matured in a combination of Amburana and American oak, whereas most cachaças are aged in purely the latter cask type. 

What does it taste like?:

Butterscotch, caramel, liquorice allsorts, cardamom, pine needles, dark jammy blackcurrant, fresh mango sweetness, floral honey, spice and intense woody notes.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Filey Bay Single Malt Whisky (Second Release)

This week we’re celebrating our first Monday back at work with a single malt whisky from Yorkshire that has just arrived at MoM towers. The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery began…

This week we’re celebrating our first Monday back at work with a single malt whisky from Yorkshire that has just arrived at MoM towers.

The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery began distilling back in 2016. We visited in 2017 and were very impressed by the quality of the set-up and the embryonic whiskies. So we’re very excited that its first single malt whisky is finally here. Well, actually it’s the second, the first release landed in November and sold out so quickly that we didn’t have time to write about it properly.

The distillery was founded by farmer and brewer Tom Mellor from Wold Top Brewery in North Yorkshire and business partner David Thompson, with a little help from the late Jim Swan. It’s a true farm to glass set-up with all the barley used coming from Mellor’s farm around Hunmanby, south of Scarborough. The barley goes to Bridlington for malting before going to Wold Top for mashing and fermentation. This sort of set-up, though not allowed under SWA rules, is common in the burgeoning English whisky category. I mean, if you own a brewery already, then why not do the brewing there?

Filey Bay

David Thompson (left)  and Tom Mellor next to their innovative still set-up

The still arrangement would also cause some head scratching at the SWA. There’s a 5,000 litre wash still with boil ball and a 3,500 lantern-shaped spirit, made by Forsyths of Rothes. So far so conventional, but at the pull of a lever, the spirit vapour can be sent through a four plate column for further distillation. The distillery can thus create two kinds of single malt, a heavier pot still spirit and a lighter column still distillate. David Thompson commented: “Our production allows us to create two different spirit styles, using a pot and column still configuration to create a flavour profile that is unlike any other malt whisky.”

This second single malt release is made from a combination of the two distillation methods aged in ex-bourbon barrels with a solitary sherry cask going in the mix. The warehouse inventory is 90% ex-bourbon but alongside a few sherry casks there’s some STR (shaved, toasted and recharred) wine barrels, this is a Jim Swan distillery after all, and also some casks that previously held vino de Naranja (wine made from oranges, an Andalusian speciality.)

Whisky director Joe Clark (who readers might recognise from the Whisky Lounge) commented on this second release: “It was great to spend the time in the warehouse and discover how well our spirit is maturing. It means we’ve been able to launch our second release a little earlier than planned, which was fortunate as our first release has sold quicker than expected! With Filey Bay Second Release, you’ll find that it’s a true evolution of our First Release. The ‘inputs’ are very similar, leading to a house style that is light and fruity – this is something that we’ve worked hard and purposefully to create. The difference comes from that extra maturation time. There’s a little more depth to this second release and for me that not only makes it a delicious whisky, but it’s also an incredibly exciting indicator as to what’s to come in the warehouse…” 

Foley Crop

You’ll have to hurry to get your hands on the second release

This second release is not only a little older and deeper in flavour than the first release but it’s also slightly cheaper. Hurrah! Just as with the first release, only 6,000 bottles have been filled at 46% ABV. It’s available to buy here. We’ll see how quickly it sells out. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Some orange peel, blueberry muffin and lemon meringue pie, with a side of barley sugar.

Palate: Citrus ice cream, cooked apple and honey, with vanilla cream, and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Finish: Floral honey, toasted nuts and cinnamon.

 

 

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How to use plant milk in cocktails

With bartender creativity at an all-time high, a bevy of plant-based ‘milks’ to play with, and Veganuary just around the corner, a question arises: how do you incorporate a dairy-free…

With bartender creativity at an all-time high, a bevy of plant-based ‘milks’ to play with, and Veganuary just around the corner, a question arises: how do you incorporate a dairy-free alternative, be it oat, almond, rice or otherwise, into a cocktail? Don’t have a cow, man – here, MoM unscrews the proverbial cap on alt-milk drinks…

Gone are the days when milk came only from mammals. Plant-based milks have become a coffee shop mainstay over the last decade, and now they’re finally beginning to edge their way onto cocktail menus. Spurred by demand from their customers, bartenders have started to draw a line under dairy and look to plant-based alternatives for their creamier serves. 

In some bars, the switch is spurred by physiological factors i.e. catering to intolerances and dietary preferences. For others, it’s driven by environmental concerns – dairy production doesn’t exactly fit into the sustainability narrative the bar world has so passionately adopted, plus it spoils quickly. Whether the motivation is practical or ethical, plant milks are here to stay.

“Using regular dairy products is challenging in the current climate because of intolerances, allergies or people just not wanting to include them in their diets,” confirms Peter Seabrook, bar manager at PS40 in Sydney, Australia. Doubling down on the points above, the team there don’t just use plant based milks in drinks – they even make their own.

Beyond appealing to a broader audience and saving the planet, two of the most compelling reasons to incorporate plant-based milks into a cocktail menu are texture and taste, Seabrook says. “There are so many applications you can do with plant-based milks based around soaking or infusions to get different combinations of flavour, as well as how much you want to dilute or fine them in terms of texture.”

PS40 Sydney

PS40 Syndey, swanky!

Does the rise of plant-milk spell the beginning of the end for traditional cocktails like the White Russian, Grasshopper, and Irish Coffee? No – quite the opposite, actually. It’s clear that plant-based milk has shaken off its reputation as being little more than insipid cream-coloured water, and these days the diversity in flavour – from brand to brand, let alone between raw ingredients – means the dairy-free market is bursting with potential.

Each variety, whether it’s nut-based, rice-based or something else entirely, tastes distinctly different, confirms JJ Goodman, founder and owner of London Cocktail Club. “A lot of these non-dairy alternatives have varying flavour profiles that can elevate and manipulate the characteristics you’d expect in classic cocktails,” he explains.

He points to a coconut drink alternative by London-based drinks company Rude Health. “It’s great in cocktails like the Piña Colada, as a substitute for milk and cream or even a, White Russian to add a different complexity to the drink,” Goodman says. Perhaps the rise of plant-based milks will pave the way for a milk cocktail revival? Personally, we’d love to see bartenders dig out forgotten recipes from the seventies and give them a plant-based makeover.Modern classics, too, stand to be elevated by the trend. Most recently, Goodman and his team made an Espresso Martini with coconut drink. “To be honest, it was more of an Espresso Martini Latte,” he elaborates, “but the addition of coconut worked well, we even swapped out vodka for medium dark rum. It went down very well as it was really light, silky almost, and the coffee was not too overpowering.”

So from the vast array of plant-based milks available, which works best when combined with alcohol? There’s no hard and fast rule, unfortunately – it really does depend entirely on the drink. The LCC team has experimented with several plant-based milk varieties at its Covent Garden Social Club outpost, including coconut, hazelnut, cashew nut, and brown rice, and found that each “brings its own characteristics,” Goodman says, “coconut milk has a nice light sweetness, while cashew milk has a rich roasted quality because cashews are roasted during production and have a touch of sea salt added.”

That is a French Coffee

Down under at PS40, meanwhile, the bar team is presently championing oat milk with the ‘Hoagie Nation’ cocktail, named after the unofficial Hall & Oates music festival in Philadelphia. “It contains oat milk, aquavit, Cynar and dry sherry with a few shavings of tonka bean,” Seabrook explains. “We then heat it up and stretch it, like a barista would with milk, to make it fluffy.” His all-time favourite dairy-free option? pandan milk, he says, “it’s green, fun and delicious”.

Ready to give plank milk-based cocktails a crack? We thought so. Below, you’ll find Goodman’s Irish Coffee recipe as referenced above. Instead of fresh cream and Irish whiskey, the drink is made with almond milk and Cognac. The ultimate winter warmer – enjoy!

 LCC French Coffee Social Club:

50ml Cognac
2 tsp Demerara sugar
2 tsp instant coffee
150ml hot water
60ml chilled Rude Health Almond Drink thickened with rice flour*

Add the Cognac, sugar, coffee and water to an Irish Coffee glass. If you don’t have one, a latte glass works too. Carefully layer the almond milk over the top and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

*Add 500ml almond drink, 100g rice flour and 10g caster sugar to a saucepan. Stir until it’s the texture of double cream. Keep refrigerated. 

 

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10 ways to drink less. . . with Fiona Beckett

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious,…

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious, Fiona Beckett’s new book, How to Drink without Drinking, is an invaluable guide to making this process fun.

With her column in the Guardian and her website, Matching Food & Wine, Fiona Beckett is one of the most trusted names in British drink writing. When Beckett recommends a bottle, you know it’s going to be one that she genuinely loves. Contrary to popular belief, drinks writers don’t spend all their time boozing. Beckett says: “Although I have to taste wine or other alcoholic drinks most days, like everyone else I benefit from a break from actually drinking them”. Her latest book, How to Drink without Drinking, is a guide with tips and recipes (we have one at the end) for how to make alcohol-free drinking fun. As she puts it: “It’s important to me that the days when I don’t drink are as pleasurable in terms of what I consume as those when I do.” The vital thing, according to Beckett, is to focus on the positives; she advises: “It’s important to see alcohol-free days as an opportunity, not a deprivation. There are, as you’ll rapidly discover, many advantages, including a better quality of sleep, improved concentration, weight loss, more spare cash and, due to the happy lack of hangovers, more productive hours in the day.” Sounds great. Here are her top ten ways to make cutting back on or cutting out the sauce a breeze. 

Fiona Beckett

Unlike most drink writers, Fiona Beckett does not need to be photographed with a drink in her hand

  1. Set a personal goal

You have to start somewhere, but make it realistic. Two alcohol-free days a week is doable for most of us, most likely after the weekend. Three is better still – preferably in a row.

  1. Don’t make up for it on the days you drink alcohol

On some of the days when you are drinking, you might want to reduce the amount you drink to one drink a day, sipped slowly and mindfully rather than gulped unthinkingly. If you’re trying to cut down, limit yourself to one (modest) glass with dinner or resolve not to drink when alone. Be aware and honest with yourself about what you’re drinking when you do drink. An app may help you keep on track.

  1. Tell your family and friends

Family should be on your side, but one of the biggest battles you’ll face is friends who keep pressing you to drink, maybe implying that you’ve become a party pooper if you don’t. Don’t be embarrassed to explain exactly why you’re cutting down – or out – making it clear that you’re serious. It may even involve changing your social circle. Find a non-drinking pal to go out with if the pressure’s getting to you.

  1. Don’t needlessly put yourself in the way of temptation

On days or periods you’re cutting down or cutting out, avoid your usual boozy haunts. Don’t make having a drink the main reason for going out – unless it’s a coffee. In fact, it may be worth taking the car, which gives you an easy excuse not to drink. If you’re embarking on a longer period of abstinence, clear out the booze from the cupboards and fridge, and steer clear of the wine aisle. Stock up with alcohol-free alternatives instead.

Make your own drink, like this blackberry shrub

  1. B.Y.O. (Bring your own)

If you’re visiting friends and are not sure if there will be something alcohol-free to drink, take it with you, particularly to a party. Alcohol-free beers, which look similar to the full-strength version, are an especially good bet as they won’t make you stand out from the crowd. If you’re away for the weekend, take a bottle of an alcohol-free spirit and some tonic to your hosts.

  1. Think about food 

You’re more likely to crave wine with food from wine-producing regions, especially Italy, France and Spain. So avoid the trattoria or tapas bar on your nights off in favour of your local Indian, Thai or Vietnamese. 

  1. Get into alcohol-free cocktails

It’s hard to find a substitute for wine, but alcohol-free cocktails can be mindblowingly good these days, with many top restaurants offering an impressive selection. I often start the evening with one, whether I’m drinking or no, and end up drinking it with food.

  1. M.Y.O. (Make your own)

There’s a real pleasure and satisfaction in making your own drinks. Like home-cooked food, they taste so much better than the shop-bought version and are cheaper, too, making the best of seasonal produce. Make them look as beautiful as they taste. 

  1. Find a non-alcoholc drink to get passionate about

Part of the appeal of wine, beer and whisky, is the knowledge you accumulate about them. But you can apply that type of geekery to other drinks, too. Get into tea, get into coffee, get into fermenting – all fascinating, absorbing worlds.

  1. Learn to love water

Probably your best friend on your sober days – or months – both on its own and as a chaser for any alcoholic drink you’re drinking. Don’t drink because you’re thirsty – drink for the taste. Serve water cool, fresh and flavoured, if you like, with fruit, cucumber or herbs. 

G&T or NG&T?

And now here’s a recipe. . . .  the NG&T!

The N stands for ‘not’. Serve it in a fancy glass with lots of ice and garnishes, and you’ll get much of the pleasure of the real thing. Beckett recommends making a juniper syrup in advance but you can buy it ready made.

75ml juniper syrup (recipe below or you can buy William Fox ready-made)
Tonic water to top up
2 slices of lemon and orange, and 2-3 juniper berries to garnish.

Fill the glass with ice and the garnishes, pour in the syrup, top up with tonic and gently stir. 

Juniper syrup:

400g granulated sugar
475ml water
15 juniper berries, lightly crushed
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lemon
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lime

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan. Gently heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to just below boiling point and simmer for ten minutes. Sieve when cool. It should last in the fridge for two weeks.

How to Drink When You’re Not Drinking by Fiona Beckett is published by Kyle Books, £15.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk

 

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