fbpx
Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

The Nightcap: 26 June

The Nightcap is filled to the brim with all kinds of boozy news in a week that saw the UK government announce the return of pubs, bars and restaurants!  My…

The Nightcap is filled to the brim with all kinds of boozy news in a week that saw the UK government announce the return of pubs, bars and restaurants! 

My word, it was properly hot in Kent this week. The kind of heat that makes you think we need to rip up our infrastructure and immediately start installing air conditioning in all buildings, and making it law for gardens to have some kind of pool facility. Given that’s not likely to happen, we’re going to have to make do with what we have. We can always grab a suitably summery drink with plenty of ice, find some shade, and enjoy another delightful round-up of all things booze. Sounds lovely. 

On the MoM blog this week, Ian Buxton returned to tell a pretty remarkable story (it’s got whisky publicity stunts, Christo and Dewar’s World of Whisky. What else could you possibly want?), then Kristy made some delightfully simple Scotch cocktails with Stephen Martin from Whyte & Mackay. MoM Towers received some very special deliveries of whisky in the last few days, so naturally, we decided to write about them. The third Whiskymaker’s Reserve from the Lakes Distillery arrived, and Jess was on hand to talk us through the brand’s process; a delightful single cask release from John Crabbie & Co became our New Arrival of the Week; and Henry got the lowdown on what he described as being some of the most eagerly-anticipated expressions ever, Waterford’s Single Farm Origin whisky. If that wasn’t enough, Annie did an outstanding deep dive into the delights of yeast, the unsung hero of distillation, before compiling an easy guide to help you master blender cocktails. We then enjoyed the ultimate DIY cocktail as Adam talked to Alexander Gabriel to hear about how he made a craft gin way back in the 90s.

We’d also like to say thank you to all who entered last week’s virtual pub quiz, where so many of you were in sparkling form. There can only be one winner, though, and that accolade goes to Robbie Ingram, who now has a delightful £25 MoM gift voucher to put to good use! You can check out the answers to last Friday’s quiz below, and the final edition of MoM pub quiz will be on our blog from 5pm as always. That’s right. It’s the last one. Get entering! 

The Nightcap

We can’t wait to see this sweet sight again…

Pubs, bars and restaurants to open on 4th July

It’s the news this industry has been waiting for: the hospitality industry is back, baby! Well, sort of. The government has announced this week that the Covid-19 lockdown is set to be relaxed in England, and the 2-metre social distancing rule eased to the so-called ‘1 metre-plus’. This will allow a number of venues to reopen, including bars, pubs, and restaurants. But there are conditions, naturally. Places can open providing they follow safety guidelines, such as limiting table service indoors, minimising the contact between staff and customers, and keeping contact details of customers to help with contact tracing. People will be encouraged to use ‘mitigation’, such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face when within 2m of each other. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that all these steps were “reversible” should there be spikes in coronavirus cases, while in Scotland and Wales the 2m rule will remain in place for the moment. Speaking on the developments, Nightcap homie and chief executive of the WSTA Miles Beale said that the opening up of our pubs, bars and restaurants comes as a huge relief to the businesses, and that it’s right that the move comes with caution. “This welcome news does not mean that the hospitality sector and their suppliers are no longer in need of Government support,” he said. “Recovery from the loss of trade over the last few months will mean that some businesses will not be able to open immediately or fully and others will take years to get themselves back on an even keel.” If you are going to head to a bar, pub, and/or restaurant on the 4th of July or after, please be safe, and enjoy!

The Nightcap

The brilliant initiative will hopefully lessen the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry

Diageo launches £80m recovery fund for bars and pubs

In more good news for the hospitality sector, Diageo has announced a new global programme called Raising the Bar, which aims to help pubs and bars welcome customers back and recover following the Covid-19 pandemic. Through Raising the Bar, Diageo will provide £80 million ($100 million) to support the recovery of major hospitality centres such as New York, London, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Delhi and more. The two-year programme, which is available from July 2020, was designed following a global survey of bar owners to identify what they need to reopen after lockdown. Top priorities included hygiene measures, digital support and practical equipment to transform how their outlets will work. In the UK, for example, Diageo will provide initial funding for ‘hygiene kits’ with high-quality permanent sanitiser dispenser units, medical-grade hand sanitiser, and a range of personal protection equipment (such as masks and gloves). Other support includes help setting up online reservations and cashless systems, plus mobile bars and outdoor equipment. If bar owners want to register their interest, they can do so via www.diageobaracademy.com globally and www.mydiageo.com in the UK and Ireland. Regular updates on best-practice training and resources are provided, and you can participate in global surveys to share insights. Ivan Menezes, Diageo chief executive, said the company is also calling on governments around the world to provide long-term recovery packages. “These businesses play an essential role in bringing people together to socialise and celebrate – something that we have all missed so much during this terrible crisis – and sustain hundreds of millions of jobs, which provide a first foot on the employment ladder for young people.” Bravo, Diageo!

The Nightcap

Meet Katherine Condon, distiller at Midleton Distillery!

Midleton Distillery appoints Katherine Condon 

Following the news that Irish Distillers has swapped in Kevin O’Gorman for outgoing master distiller Brian Nation, the Pernod Ricard-owned company has revealed another new addition to the distillation team. We’d like to say a big MoM Towers hello (it’s basically a usual hello but we’re holding a dram and we’ve paused Withnail and I) to Katherine Condon, who is now a distiller at Midleton Distillery in Co. Cork! Condon joined Irish Distillers back in 2014 as part of the Graduate Distiller Programme, and has since worked as a distiller at the Midleton Micro Distillery, Irish Distillers’ hub for innovation and experimentation. She’s also served as a process technologist and production supervisor at the main distillery, where she has been involved in innovations such as the Method and Madness range. She also picked up The Worshipful Company of Distillers award in 2018, and another gong in 2019 for outstanding achievement from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Condon also holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Process and Chemical Engineering from University College Cork, and a Diploma in Distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. “I am honoured to be appointed as distiller,” she said. “This role represents a time-honoured craft, and it has been a privilege to learn about the art and science of distilling from icons of world whiskey like Brian Nation and Kevin O’Gorman.” She continued: “I look forward to using the wisdom and experience I have inherited to continue their legacy of quality while driving innovation as I continue my career in Midleton. I am incredibly excited about the future of Irish whiskey and the role I can play in it.” Gorman himself added: “Katherine has consistently demonstrated a passion and exceptional skill set for the art of distillation. Her inquisitive nature and constant pursuit of excellence has made her one of the rising stars of world distilling.” High praise indeed!

The Nightcap

Liana is described as ‘the world’s first interactive, at-home cocktail experience’

Liana Cocktail Company brings bartenders into your home 

Lockdown has been especially hard for the hospitality and retail but we’ve been so impressed by how businesses have adapted, there’s a tattoo parlour near me that turned into a fruit and veg shop, and is doing a roaring trade. Another feelgood story is that of drinks agency The Liana Collection. Director David Wood told us: “In mid-May, our entire revenue stream disappeared and the business we worked so hard to build over the last two and a half years was under real threat, to the point where I had a pretty emotional chat with the team informing them that I’d have to be letting people go on 1 July.” Instead, they rallied round and came up with a plan. The result is the Liana Cocktail Company, which launched last week. Wood describes it as “the world’s first interactive, at-home cocktail experience”. The way it works is this: the company will send you everything you need to make a delicious Manhattan, Negroni or something else, and then a bartender will show you how to make it perfectly at home through the magic of the internet, smartphones, satellites and stuff. So modern. Go here for more information. 

The Nightcap

Cheers to you, Colin!

We raise a dram to Colin Scott as he retires from Chivas Regal

We sipped on something of a bittersweet dram on Tuesday evening when we joined a celebration in honour of highly regarded Chivas Regal master blender, Colin Scott. He’s retiring from the blended Scotch brand after a whopping 47 years of service! Alongside other drinks writers and journalists, we chatted, heard stories from Scott’s career, and generally honoured the man who created Chivas Regal 18 Year Old. With that very expression in the tasting glasses, of course! Alex Robertson, head of heritage and education at Chivas Brothers, hosted the session (which took place via Zoom – in-person gatherings are still off), who not only drew attention to Scott’s blending achievements but his role as a pioneer of global brand advocacy, too. “Whenever you talk to blenders, behind it all, there’s a great passion,” Scott said, looking back over his career. On advice he would have given to a younger version of himself, he noted: “you can’t shortcut your road through blending”. He continued: “There’s a road to travel, and you have to get that encyclopaedic knowledge.” And we loved his take on casks management: “We’re the guardians of the past, present, and future.” And looking to the future, he leaves Chivas Regal in the wonderfully capable hands of Sandy Hyslop, already master blender at the likes of Ballantine’s and The Glenlivet.  We’ll for sure be raising a glass to both this weekend!

The Nightcap

James MacTaggart, Andy Bell, and the unique blended malt

Isle of Arran Distillers devise unique blended malt

Isle of Arran Distillers has revealed plans to create a blended malt in a pretty unique way. The plan is to fill casks with new make spirit from both of its distilleries, Lagg and Lochranza. ‘Project North & South’, as it’s been dubbed, is particularly interesting for two reasons. One, the independent Scotch whisky company is in the rare position of owning a Lowland and a Highland distillery both based on one island off the west coast of Scotland, Lochranza Distillery in the north and Lagg Distillery in the south. Two, these distilleries produce very distinct spirits and, while they share some island DNA, one of the spirits is heavily-peated and the other is unpeated. It’s a great way to get the stills up and firing again, as both distilleries underwent a period of closure starting in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  When the distilleries began production again on 11th May, the first runs of new spirit from each distillery were vatted together and filled into bourbon barrels, sherry hogsheads and sherry butts at Lochranza Distillery. “This is a first for Isle of Arran. We are aware of blended malts where the whisky from one distillery is married with that of another, or blended whiskies created by mixing grain with malt whisky, however, this is the first time that we know of malt whisky from two sister distilleries being blended at the spirit stage,” said director of operations and production for Lagg and Lochranza Distilleries, James MacTaggart. Isle of Arran sales manager, Andy Bell added: “I am proud to have played a part in creating this truly unique blend, and will follow with interest as these casks mature. The experimentation at the heart of this process speaks to the truly independent nature of our company.” We look forward to seeing the results!

The Nightcap

Is this the swankiest series of single malt whiskies we’ve ever seen? It might just be.

And finally… Fancy a sapphire with your whisky?

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Glenfarclas has wrapped up its mega-fancy Glenfarclas Pagoda Series with something the world never knew it needed – an intricate sapphire-encrusted decanter. (It’s also filled with 63-year-old single malt from the distillery, just in case you were wondering.) It rounds off the line-up which also includes a Ruby design released earlier this year with 62-year-old contents. What’s staggering is that to make this new limited-edition vessel, 11,000 sapphires were ordered. Only those that matched in size, and in dark blue made the cut, with 36 of them adorning the age statement in each bottle. There are two editions (one with solid silver accents, the other with gold plating). Could these be the glitziest decanters ever? “It has been an absolute joy to work on this project as it has given us the chance to incorporate valuable gemstones into our decanters for the first time,” said Scott Davidson, Glencairn’s new product development director. “Each and every decanter created is a truly unique work of art to honour the quality of the whisky inside.” The Sapphire editions start at £23,783 ex-VAT – a sizeable investment, even for all those sapphires.

The Nightcap

Pub Quiz Answers

1) Tokaji wine is produced in which country?

Answer: Hungary

2) Nightcap regular Miles Beale is the face of which British trade body?

Answer: WSTA

3) Which spirit is used as a base for the Bee’s Knees cocktail?

Answer: Gin

4) Bain’s Whisky is distilled in which country?

Answer: South Africa

5) Which New York bar was named the no.1 in the world by The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2019?

Answer: Dante

6) Arbikie Distillery’s carbon-negative gin was made from which vegetable?

Answer: Peas

7) Towser the cat killed nearly 30,000 mice over a 24-year period at which Scotch whisky distillery?

Answer: Glenturret

8) Katharine Hepburn and Princess Margaret shared a love of which Scotch whisky brand?

Answer: The Famous Grouse

9) Which early member of the Royal Society is credited with the invention of the strong glass wine bottle?

Answer: Kenelm Digby

10) From which island does Commandaria wine come from?

Answer: Cyprus

 

No Comments on The Nightcap: 26 June

Cocktail of the Week: the Bicicletta

Spritzes are two-a-penny these days, if you really want to be ahead of the cocktail peloton, then get yourself a Bicicletta. The Bicicletta is the ultimate DIY cocktail. Fancy ingredients,…

Spritzes are two-a-penny these days, if you really want to be ahead of the cocktail peloton, then get yourself a Bicicletta.

The Bicicletta is the ultimate DIY cocktail. Fancy ingredients, you won’t need them. Exact measurements, throw that jigger away and just pour. It’s a mixture of white wine, amaro and fizzy water. Apparently the name comes from how old Italian men would wobble home on their bicycles after a few. It’s essentially a slightly less spritzy Spritz as it’s made with still wine instead of Prosecco.

The big question is, ‘which bitter thing to use?’ Now, most people will be reaching for the Aperol, and if that’s what you like then ignore the Aperol critics (honestly why do people get so upset about Aperol? That’s a subject for another blog post). Or for those who like it a bit bitterer, then Campari is the obvious choice. I actually like a mixture of half Aperol and half Campari

There’s a whole world of amari to try but seeing as Spritzes, Biciclettas and aperitivos in general are typically Venetian, we’re going with Venice’s own Select Aperitivo. It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The drink was created in 1920 in the Castello district of the city at the Pilla distillery. Today, it’s made with over 30 botanicals including rhubarb and juniper berries. The flavour profile is fruitier than Campari with less bitterness but without being quite as sweet and orangey as Aperol. It’s custom made to do with all those little snacks that the Venetians do so well: green olives, cured anchovies, bruschetta, that sort of thing. 

Could this be any more Venetian?

Then you have to decide what wine to use. Decisions, decisions! Well, anything goes really but you shouldn’t use something too expensive or too rich; you don’t want a great big oaky chardonnay in the middle of this. But at the same time, Select isn’t going to cover up that bottle of wine that’s been sitting on the counter for a week. A Bicicletta calls for a fairly neutral (but not completely bland) white wine of the kind that Italy does so well like Pinot Grigio, a dry Orvieto, Grillo from Sicily etc. Rosé also works a treat, either pale pink Provence or something darker and fruitier from Spain. The final thing you could do is use a light red, Spanish Garnacha or Italian Barbera to create something like an instant Sangria. Sounds a bit mad, tastes absolutely delicious. 

It’s the perfect hot weather lazy day in the garden sort of drink. Just keep topping it up with soda water, Select, wine and ice, and it’ll last all day. Just be careful on your bike on the way home. 

Right, here’s the recipe, if you need one:

50ml Select Aperitivo
50ml white wine like this Pinot Grigio
30ml sparkling water

Fill a tumbler or wine with ice. Add the first two ingredients, give it a good stir, top up with soda, stir again and garnish with an orange wheel and a green olive if you have any.

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: the Bicicletta

Six super-simple Scotch cocktails!

Missing bars? Us too! While it’s not all that long to wait until some in England reopen, there’s still going to be ample in-garden drinking opportunities this summer. And we…

Missing bars? Us too! While it’s not all that long to wait until some in England reopen, there’s still going to be ample in-garden drinking opportunities this summer. And we reckon Scotch whisky-based cocktails are the way to impress, even from a social distance.

Full disclosure: cocktails seem slightly scary to us. Historically, we’re Scotch sippers rather than mixers. And getting all the kit, mixers and garnishes out can feel like a bit of… a faff. But no longer! Stephen Martin, global single malt whisky specialist from Whyte & Mackay joined us for an Instagram Live, and well and truly busted the myths that cocktails are a challenge. If we can manage to make six different serves, you can, too!

The drinks range from twists on the classics (Mules, Ice Teas, even an Espresso Martini), to original serves (the Jura 10 Sunset is especially mouth-watering). You can watch the how-to video right here, with the recipes in full below. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Master of Malt (@masterofmalt) on

Enjoy – and do share your snaps with us on social! We hang out @masterofmalt.

Cocktails with Shackleton:

Scotch cocktails

The Explorers Iced Tea

Explorers Iced Tea

25ml Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

12.5ml Triple Sec

20ml lemon juice

10ml sugar syrup

Pop it all in a shaker with loads of ice. Prep your tall glass with even more ice. Shake hard and strain into the glass, top with premium cola and garnish with a lemon wedge.

The Antarctic Mule

Antarctic Mule

50ml Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

25ml fresh lime juice

Build in a Mule mug or tall glass over loads of ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lemon wedge 

Jura cocktails

Jura 10 Sunset

25ml Isle of Jura 10 Year Old

25ml Aperol

Top up with premium tonic

Build over loads of ice in the biggest wine glass you can find. Garnish with a large orange wedge.

Scotch cocktails

The Island Coffee

The Island Coffee (Espresso Martini twist)

50ml Isle of Jura 12 Year Old

25ml Cointreau

25ml coffee liqueur

25ml chilled espresso

Pop it all in a shaker, and shake hard with ice. Double strain into a chilled Martini glass.

Cocktails with The Woodsman

Woodsman Highball Twist

Woodsman Highball Twist 

50ml The Woodsman

Soda

Fresh lime juice

Build in a tall glass and garnish with a lime wedge and generous mint spring

Scotch cocktails

Maple Syrup Old Fashioned

Maple Syrup Old Fashioned

50ml The Woodsman

1 dash maple syrup

1 dash bitters

Stir everything together with loads of ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist

No Comments on Six super-simple Scotch cocktails!

And that’s a wrap

There have been some amazing whisky publicity stunts over the years but none quite as audacious as the one Ian Buxton tried to pull off with the artist Christo. Here’s…

There have been some amazing whisky publicity stunts over the years but none quite as audacious as the one Ian Buxton tried to pull off with the artist Christo. Here’s the full story. . .

You may have noticed that the artist Christo died recently. He was 84. His wife and artistic collaborator Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 and thus Christo’s passing marks the end of a remarkable creative duo. They worked together but always under the name of Christo.

You will remember them of course as the guys who wrapped things. Starting in the 1950s with mundane household objects such as chairs and bicycles they graduated to wrapping trees, fences, bridges, monuments, buildings and, on occasion, islands. They wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris and even the Reichstag (below). 

Imagine getting one of these for Christmas!

They were colourful and sometimes controversial characters. Not everyone cared for their work; there were frequent objections to their planned installations and one lady even died when one of their Umbrellas (1991) was toppled in high winds and struck and killed her.

We didn’t seem to ‘get’ them here in the UK, though after Jeanne-Claude’s death, Christo was able to install his London Mastaba in Hyde Park in 2018. So what’s this got to do with whisky you may be wondering.  Well, if I had been a more persuasive advocate, they might have completed their first UK work in Scotland, nearly twenty years earlier. It’s an unusual story, strange but true.

Prior to this writing lark I worked almost exclusively in consultancy, building on my previous career in marketing. Together with my wife (note the parallel), we established a consultancy business in Edinburgh where we had a number of whisky clients. However, in early 1999 one major client appointed a new president of global brands. This is generally not good news for the incumbent agencies as, determined to make their mark, the newcomer looks to shake things up. Based in the USA, the lady concerned did not appear impressed with anything other than the most fashionable of trendy New York agencies. It was imperative that we come up with a suitably grandiose idea. And fast.

So I proposed that we ask Christo to wrap the client’s main distillery. To bait the hook, I suggested we pay them £1 million, cover all the costs, give them complete creative control and see what they came up with. But I had a cunning plan: to get the client their money back I also proposed a special Hommage à Christo limited edition of wrapped bottles of single malt. 1,000 bottles at £1,500 should do nicely, I reckoned.

How long would it take to wrap a distillery?

Well, the client loved it and I was instructed to go and see Christo immediately and make it happen. Through friends of friends we were put in touch and, in the summer of 1999, I found myself in New York visiting Christo and Jeanne-Claude at their combined store, workshop, gallery, studio and home in an old warehouse in the Meatpacking District (not in those days the most salubrious part of town).   

I was received with great courtesy and we toured the studio, looking at the concept studies for their current project, Over the River. Later abandoned due to local opposition, this envisaged suspending 5.9 miles of fabric panels along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida in south-central Colorado. They told me that they needed $5m to fund the project. My hopes rose – compared to a river, wrapping a distillery would be a breeze and surely a million quid would come in handy.

Some whisky was shared, and then some wine, and they agreed to look at the drawings I had brought. Scotland seemed to appeal; the drawings received close and apparently sympathetic attention and some practical issues were discussed. All seemed to be going well.

But then we hit a snag. Quite a big one, as it happens. Rather gravely and, I thought, a little sadly they explained that, on principle, they never ever accepted commissions. There were no exceptions; they were both completely clear that a commission would not be their artistic vision and thus fatally compromised. A little recklessly – both bottles had been well sampled by this stage – I assured them (quite without any authority) that my client would surely want to increase the fee. I mentioned figures, increasingly extravagant figures, but they were unmoved. So I returned, older, wiser and empty handed to my client to report my failure.

And, you’d assume, we lost their business.  Well, no.  Along with my Christo project I’d also proposed building a visitor centre and they loved that idea as well. So Aberfeldy distillery got Dewar’s World of Whisky – but, sadly, neither of us will ever feature in the history of art!

No Comments on And that’s a wrap

Let us know what you think of Bathtub Gin!

Let us know what you thought of Bathtub Gin, and we’ll give you the chance to win a personalised magnum bottle of the good stuff! Never mind a penny for…

Let us know what you thought of Bathtub Gin, and we’ll give you the chance to win a personalised magnum bottle of the good stuff!

Never mind a penny for your thoughts, how about a bottle of gin? We’d love to know your opinion of your recent purchase of Bathtub Gin, so we’ve gone and whipped up a super quick survey. Simply fill it out and hit submit, and you’ll be in with a chance of winning one of 10 personalised magnum bottles of Bathtub Gin, all wrapped up and looking as snazzy as ever! Lucky winner? We’ll be in touch, and you can let us know the name of your choice. It’ll make the perfect pressie (or self-gift…).

If you like the idea of nabbing a pair of exclusive glasses too, (thrown in carefully, of course), then just answer a few extra questions to be in with a chance of getting your hands on that too! For all the nitty gritty and full T&Cs, see below.

Take the survey here!

4 Comments on Let us know what you think of Bathtub Gin!

Easy guide to blender cocktails

Your kitchen blender is a lean, mean cocktail machine, and it’s time you started treating it as such. Quit churning out bland hummus and flavourless smoothies – below, you’ll find…

Your kitchen blender is a lean, mean cocktail machine, and it’s time you started treating it as such. Quit churning out bland hummus and flavourless smoothies – below, you’ll find eight blender cocktail recipes to make at home, plus bartender-approved tips and tricks to help you master those slushie-style serves…

The blender cocktail isn’t the technicolor toothache it once was. With artificial flavours swapped for fresh produce, lurid liqueurs replaced with natural syrups, and all from-concentrate juices ditched for freshly-squeezed, these (often) slushie-style drinks have been reimagined and premiumised by modern bartenders, with their sense of fun very much intact. 

“Nothing says ‘summer in a glass’ better than a frozen tipple,” says Sebastian Stefan, head bartender at London’s Jim and Tonic. “Rising alongside the craft cocktail movement, frozen drinks have merged into gastronomy. These fun concoctions have made their way not only onto cocktail bar menus but in fine-dining establishments as well as a multitude of boozy desserts and sorbets.” 

There’s some debate about the origin of the first blender cocktails – as there is about most aspects of booze history – depending on how you define them. However, it was the introduction of the Waring blender in 1937 that really brought mechanically blended drinks to the masses for the first time, with the Daiquiri and Piña Colada among the first to receive the frozen treatment.

By the time the seventies rolled around, Frozen Margaritas were iconic; even spawning the creation of the Margarita Machine, a purpose-designed blender, says Stefan. “It was around this time that merchants started adding bright colourings as a marketing strategy,” he says. This sparked a surge in “sugary, almost glow-in-the-dark drinks”, that eventually saw frozen cocktails fall out of favour.

This is not what you’re aiming for

Today, bartenders across the globe are looking beyond those founding frozen trio to create new blender drinks. As well as experimenting with blender versions of other classic serves (G&Ts, Negronis, Sazeracs), they’re also “playing about with less common spirits such as herb liqueurs, amaro and eaux de vie to create a new palate of flavour,” says Stefan. 

“There are no clear rules on what to mix and not, so this is where a bartender’s skill and knowledge can shine through,” he says. “Tiki drinks can easily be turned into a frozen, as the packed fruity flavour allows a lot of water dilution – but with the right adjustments you can twist any classic cocktail.”

Before you wipe down the blades and give the jug a rinse, read through the following five tips for making top-notch blender cocktails at home:

1. Start from scratch

Avoid pre-mixed products and choose fresh ingredients where possible. “Make your recipe from scratch instead of buying a ready-made option from the supermarket,” Stefan says. “This way you avoid using stabilisers, colouring, preservatives and it also allows you to calculate and control the amount of sugar that goes into your drink.” And try to only use fresh fruits, ideally in season, as they tend to have more flavour and aroma, he adds.

2. Be picky

Even though you’re blending it with other flavours, be sure to choose a high-quality base spirit. “This will give body and influence the character of your drink,” Stefan says. “Don’t think you can get away with cheaper options by masking the flavour.”

3. Lay the foundations

“Pre-chill your ingredients beforehand, as this will slow down water dilution in your glass,” Stefan says. You could also rinse your glasses and pop them in the freezer (or fill them with ice and leave them to stand) for a few minutes before you make your drink.

4. Don’t fear DIY

“Make your own sugar syrup,” Stefan says. “Most cocktails require a sweet element to balance out the acidity. If you want to avoid sugar altogether, you can use honey or agave nectar.” 

5. A word on ice

Most – but not all – blender cocktails are made with ice. Avoid using large cubes, and opt for crushed if you can, suggests David Indrak of The Cocktail Service. If you are using crushed ice, don’t blend for too long. “The final drink should be blended into a fine vortex of liquid folding over itself and not sloshing,” he says.

When it comes to ice quantity, as a rule of thumb, double the amount of the serve, he says. “For example, the Margarita contains 75ml of liquid in total, therefore you need 150g of ice.” But you should always add ice slowly.

Here, we’ve picked out eight blender cocktail recipes to take for a spin, from frozen classics to brand new serves:

Frozen Daiquiri

By David Indrak of The Cocktail Service

Ingredients:
50ml Mount Gay Eclipse gold rum
25ml lime juice
20ml simple syrup

Method: Blend all ingredients with 190g cubed ice. Serve in a coupe glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

The Pineapple Express

By David Indrak of The Cocktail Service

Ingredients:
50ml Jamaica Cove pineapple rum
25ml lime juice
40ml pineapple juice
10ml simple syrup

Method: Blend all ingredients with 250g crushed ice. Serve in coupe glass, garnish with pineapple leaf and pineapple wedge.

Frozen Braemble 

By Glasshouse Whisky

Ingredients:
40ml Glasshouse Whisky
10ml Braemble Liqueur (sic)
5ml honey
10ml lemon juice
100ml ginger beer

Method: Blend with 4 ice cubes. Garnish with star anise.

Cherry-Boozy Milkshake 

By Remy Savage, of Bar Nouveau and Le Syndicat, in association with Love Fresh Cherries

Ingredients:
30ml Ephemeral vodka
5 fresh cherries (pitted)
30ml milk
1 large scoop of vanilla ice cream 

Method: Blend all ingredients in a home blender for 30 seconds or until thick. Pour milkshake into a tall glass, and garnish with a cherry.

Strawberry & Watermelon Slushie

By Black Cow Vodka

Ingredients:
180ml Black Cow Vodka & English Strawberries
1 small watermelon
1 punnet of strawberries
Juice from 2 limes
Half a chilli (optional)

Method: Cut watermelon into cube sized pieces, taking care to remove the seeds. Remove the stems off the strawberries and cut in half. If adding chili, deseed it first. Add all ingredients to the blender with 1 cup of ice and blend. Garnish with 1 sprig of mint.

Tin Can Cocktail

By The Highland Liquor Company

Ingredients:
50ml Seven Crofts gin
1 tin of peaches
Tonic water

Method: Chill all the ingredients. Blitz half the can of peaches (with syrup) to form a puree. In a large wine glass, combine 25ml peach puree with gin. Top with tonic water and garnish with a mint sprig and orange slice.

Frosé 18

By Timeless Drinks Ventures

Ingredients:
1 bottle of Nine Elms No. 18
1 punnet of strawberries
2 teaspoons of sugar or sugar syrup (optional)

Method: Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Fill a shallow, wide pan with the liquid and place in the freezer for 1 hour. Break up the freezing liquid with a fork, and refreeze for another 20 minutes (up to 1 hour if necessary). Break up the contents again with a fork to achieve a slushy granita consistency, and spoon into a glass. Garnish with a fresh strawberry.

Frozen Cosmopolitan

By David Indrak of The Cocktail Service

Ingredients:
35ml Ephemeral vodka
15ml Cointreau triple sec
40ml cranberry juice
5ml simple syrup
5ml lime juice

Method: Blend all ingredients with 200g crushed ice. Serve in a coupe glass and garnish with expressed orange peel.

No Comments on Easy guide to blender cocktails

Citadelle: Cognac’s renegade gin

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a…

We cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Citadelle Gin, an expression created at a Cognac house, that predates the craft gin boom. Its founder Alexandre Gabriel explains why he created a gin in the first place, the 18th-century recipe he based it on and his patented brand of gin distillation.

Given that he runs his own Cognac, rum and gin brands, you might think it’s hard to pin down Alexandre Gabriel. But, in my experience, the restless innovator is always happy to make time to chat about booze. Before I ask a question, he informs me he’s just spent the morning planting juniper trees at the Bonbonnet Estate and that he hopes the juniper and lemon supply for Citadelle Gin will be totally self-sustainable within five years. He’s been planting juniper berries since September 2017, inspired by the fact that the south west of France was known for its juniper berries during medieval times. He then explains that as someone one grew up on a farm he’s attached to the idea of growing what he needs, organically, of course. He already grows his own grapes for his Cognac.

In the midst of this discussion, Gabriel moves onto the topic of expansion, explaining that his other hobby is architecture. “We are expanding the distillery at the old estate at Bonbonnet. We do everything ourselves. The stonemasons are the guys who fill the barrels at Maison Ferrand. We’re putting nine pot stills in, old Cognac stills that I found that date back to the 1950s and ’60s and we are refurbishing them as we speak. Right now we are using our Cognac stills off-season to distil Citadelle,” he explains. I still haven’t actually asked a question at this point. “We are going to be able to use an economical system for our cooling water. Instead of using an inverter to cool it down and waste energy, we’re going to use warmer water and install long pipes so that we reuse that water in our greenhouse to grow the lemons that we need for Citadelle. More juniper berries, more stills, more experiments”. 

We’re ten minutes in and I already know this is going to be a productive interview. But you don’t expect any less from Gabriel, as you’ll know if you’ve read our previous features on Pierre Ferrand and Plantation Rum. Today, however, the focus is on Citadelle Gin. In my opinion, it’s his most intriguing brand. Why? Because it’s a premium French gin brand that was released back in the ’90s. It’s hard to put into context now given gin’s boom in the last decade how crazy you would have sounded pitching this idea. Gabriel remembers the feeling well. “It was like a moon landing! There was nobody on the gin planet. In 1996 I thought the world was waiting for an artisanal delicious gin. It was not!”

Citadelle Gin

Drinks maverick Alexandre Gabriel and his locally-grown juniper berries

In the early days of Citadelle, Gabriel recalls a group of students proposing to do a business case on the brand. Naturally, Gabriel accepted, hoping their acumen would provide some insight. Their analysis? “There is no way this can work,” Gabriel says, laughing at his own expense. “This kept happening. I remember our importer in America looking at me like I must have gone mad. A French gin?! This decision was made purely out of passion and it was almost disastrous to our business. I have made many mistakes and I hope I am going to make less,” he says. “It looked like Citadelle wouldn’t work because it was out of time and it was financially painful. But, in the end, the two wrongs became a right. Now there is a new gin every week, right!?”

Citadelle Gin didn’t thrive so much as survive in the early days, slowly building a reputation and fan base for its fresh, clean and delightfully mixable profile. Gabriel is particularly grateful to the influence of Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame. “In about 1997/98 Adrià was on TV. He said that Gin and Tonic is a gastronomic act and a beautiful aperitif and that you should use a great gin. He whipped out a bottle of Citadelle. We were like ‘wow’. That made a difference,” Gabriel recalls. “This guy is the one that put the Spanish Gin and Tonic, which conquered the world, on the map. He really did, I was there and I saw it, and he never took credit for it but he really did. Then in the US, the New York Times wrote a beautiful piece in 1999 called something like ‘Citadelle storms the gate’. It was half a page and that was a big push for New York. Every bit counted for us”. 

But before the days of trying to convince customers to give French gin a try, Gabriel had a much bigger stumbling block. He had to convince the authorities to give French gin a try. The Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regulations stated that the brandy can only be distilled between November and March. After that stills must be locked up and put into hibernation for seven months. From the outside, that might seem perfect.  The region’s copper alembic stills and distillers have six months of the year free to distil something else and you don’t have to waste money creating a new distillery. But nothing’s ever that simple, as Gabriel found out quickly. Distilling gin in Cognac stills wasn’t simply frowned upon, it was outright banned. The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) had never received a request for this to change and probably never thought anybody would ask. But Gabriel is not one to follow conventional wisdom or pay much heed to what he believed were antiquated laws.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin was ahead of its time and its creation was plagued with roadblocks

What followed was a struggle in which Gabriel lobbied to make his gin, arguing that there was historical precedent for this act. Extensive research uncovered that historically gin was produced in pot stills over a naked flame, which is exactly how Cognac pot stills were designed. “I don’t know about you but when I am pissed at something I work even harder! France is a very bureaucratic country. I was told there’s no rule that allows me to do this, but I was much younger and rebellious in nature and I said there’s no rule that says I cannot”, he said. Eventually, “after five long years, I finally received the AOC approval to distil gin in Cognac in 1995!” 

Gabriel’s keen interest in history also led him to an 18th-century French distillery that inspired the Citadelle name and influenced the profile of the gin he would eventually make. “I tried to absorb everything I could about gin. I’ve always been attached to the idea of revitalising artisanal spirits that are a part of French heritage. We know the ancestor of gin was inspired by the Dutch, but at the time the Netherlands was a huge area that included parts of France and Belgium. I hired interns, I still do this a lot, to go through all the archives in the main cities. One day they discovered in a church an archive with a whole documented history of every parchment about the first official genever distillery in France,” Gabriel says. “I still have all the copies. It was established in the citadel of Dunkirk in 1775 on Louis XVI’s authorisation to smuggle gin to the UK. The distillers, Carpeau and Stival, used 12 copper pot stills to distil their gin and multiple botanicals like exotic spices alongside juniper berries. It was actually transported in barrels too. We uncovered some of their recipes. It was an inspiration and I thought the name was cool. Luckily it was not patented anymore!”

While some inspiration for Citadelle Gin came from this historical booze, Gabriel already had a style in mind: a classic profile that was fresh, thirst-quenching and most importantly juniper-forward. Good thing he’s growing so many of his own. “I wanted Citadelle to be fully integrated with many other elements that give it a rich mouth-feel and a great complexity. The apex of the triangle would be the juniper berries, the second element being citrus, lemon with a little bit of orange in our case and then the third element is the warm wind of exoticism, in our case nutmeg, that true gins should have,” says Gabriel. “We’re lucky because the Cognac stills have a very low swan neck which extracts a lot of the essential oils of the botanicals and it gives you a viscosity effect that balances the freshness of the product and the citrus-feel. I knew I would get that luscious effect from the distillation methods, it’s very slow, that’s the only downside to it”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Gin is created thanks to progressive infusion, a patented technique

Citadelle Gin is crafted using a unique technique called progressive infusion, which Gabriel describes as being a similar process to making tea, except you brew different elements at different times in the teapot. In the case of Citadelle Gin, the elements refer to the botanicals: French juniper berries, orris root, French violet root, Moroccan coriander, almonds, Spanish lemon peel, Mexican orange peel, angelica from North Germany, Indian cardamom, Indian nutmeg, cassia bark, Sri Lankan cinnamon, Mediterranean fennel, African grains of paradise, cubeb from Java, Chinese liquorice, cumin, French anise, and savory. “Each botanical is infused in neutral alcohol of French wheat for different lengths of proof and time, according to its aromatic function,” Gabriel explains. “While some require a strong degree of alcohol and a long infusion such as juniper berries, others infuse better in a weaker degree of alcohol, in a shorter time like star anise”. 

The infusion process lasts three to four days, during which the botanicals are added in successive steps while the degree of alcohol diminishes. “We lower the ABV with pure water, the same water that we use to bring down the ABV for Cognac, in which all the mineral elements have been eliminated through the reverse osmosis process. At the end, once the 19 botanicals have been infused, the ABV is about 30-35%. We set 20% of the infused spirit aside before sending it to the distillery and we infuse three extra botanicals, yuzu, cornflower and genepi from the Alps,” Gabriel says. “We then take the infused spirit to the distillery and we distil. Since the spirit has already been distilled at least three times, we only have to do one distillation. We do not keep the heads, we keep the heart and a large part of the seconds as well”. 

This atypical process of progressive infusion is actually a patented technique, something which Gabriel had never thought of doing until a figure within the government recommended it. “There’s a lot of pride in the French gastronomy and we were told our process should be recorded as a French method. Also, if we did it we could be involved in the French research and development programme,” he explains. “This afforded me the chance to hire a young guy from my village, Nicolas, who did a PhD thesis on the terroir of the Cognac. We’ve given this guy training and it’s been great to have him on my side since then. By the way, the patent is fully open, I’m not gathering any money from it. If you want to use it, it’s Patent No. 17 58092”.

Citadelle Gin

Citadelle Réserve was one of the first aged gins of the modern era

The process of creating gin clearly still excites Gabriel more than two decades later. The potential to explore an array of aromatics that were different from the ones I grew up with is very attractive. But also, look at the regulations on how Cognac is made. It’s 23 pages long. With gin, it’s more like a page or half a page, so the only real limit is your imagination which is very exciting when you come from the Cognac world. I am trained classically in Cognac so I am playing Bach, if you will, so when I make gin it’s like getting to play rock’n’roll or jazz instead. That freedom is wonderful,” Gabriel explains. “When we made Citadelle Réserve we aged it in acacia barrels, a style my grandfather taught me. But if I do that in Cognac… I’d be looking at five months! Yet, we know that classic Cognacs from the 1900s were aged in chestnut barrels thanks to English archives. It’s illegal now. Crazy right?”

He first released Citadelle Réserve back in 2008. Once again, this puts him ahead of the curve in the craft gin game, as there weren’t many aged gins around back then. But Gabriel is quick to clarify that it wasn’t his idea. Instead, it was inspired by another round of research into the history of gin. “I’m ashamed to say, it didn’t come to my mind until I was reading this old document from the archives about gin being shipped gin in barrels. It was really late at night and I immediately ran to our barrels and started pouring gin in a Cognac barrel,” he explains. “It was the first revival of the yellow gins that I know of. Some people followed suit, but it’s still very niche as a category”. 

Acacia wood was just a starting point for Gabriel’s cask experimentations. At Maison Ferrand, you’ll find barrels of wild cherry woods, chataignier (chestnut) and murier (mulberry), as well as French oak having contained Pineau de Charentes or Cognac. All have been used to make editions of Citadelle Réserve, and spirit from all these wood types have been blended in the egg. What egg? The huge wooden egg on site. No, seriously. It’s a patented wood receptacle in which aged Citadelle Gins are blended, making it the first and only gin in the world to use this method. “We call it ‘the ovum’. When I saw this egg I fell in love. It’s a slow and constant blending process designed to integrate the different wood essences,” Gabriel explains. “At 2.45 meters high and with the help of natural convection, the gin inside is in a state of perpetual motion, reducing oxygenation, and preserving the palette of aromas and evaporating volatile aromatic components”.

Citadelle Gin

All hail ‘the ovum’

Gabriel’s desire to explore and test the limits of gin led to the creation of the limited edition Extreme Collection. The first was Citadelle No Mistake Old Tom Gin, made with caramelised Caribbean brown sugar that was aged in the barrel with its cask-aged Citadelle Réserve. Wild Blossom followed, a gin inspired by his mother’s love of herbal infusions that was distilled wild cherry blossom petals and aged in cherrywood casks for five months. “They keep me sane. Take ‘Saisons of the Witch’, which I made by roasting my juniper berries and distilled it with the other botanicals to create a slightly smoky, roasted pepper gin. We sell it only on the estate and we made a few hundred bottles, but I love it,” Gabriel says. “Right now I can tease that we’ve got a new aged gin expression on the way and, also some breaking news, we have a gin maturing in 100-litre vats made from juniper berry tree. All this crazy stuff that I’m having fun with is all part of that new frontier of gin! Then 2021 will be the 25th anniversary of the launching of Citadelle, so the 25th anniversary will come with some surprises as well”. 

The freedom of distilling gin does have its drawbacks for Gabriel, who’s very passionate about gin being a juniper-forward spirit in profile. “I disagree with people just adding the flavour of fruit into a gin. I am older now, I have learned to be respectful. I know the flavoured and coloured gins are growing extremely well, but that’s a direction that I’m not interested in. To me, it is to gin what the marshmallow-flavoured vodka was to that category. We have to be careful as producers because it can dirty the name of gin,” Gabriel reasons. “I’m a purist that way. I have been cautious of exploring and pushing boundaries, even though I am usually considered the guy who is always pushing things. But an approach that is motivated by purely commercial goals is a problem. We are confusing people. We have to be careful that gin isn’t looked at as a different category. The real definition is that gin is a spirit with the dominant flavour of juniper berries”.

Despite his reservations about the flavoured category, Gabriel remains optimistic that gin has got a very exciting future. “Gin has been around for a long time and has gone through a renaissance, a revival that I would never have expected in 1996. But there is still a great interest in gin that’s not going away too quickly. I know England and Spain were the precursor and have been crazy about it for a while but the French are just getting started,” Gabriel says. “People are really excited about gin because of the possibilities that the producer, and therefore the drinker, can explore. That’s the beauty of gin”.

Citadelle Gin

So how to use Citadelle Gin? Gabriel has a few thoughts: “I love a G&T and with Citadelle it’s incredible, but my little sin is actually a Gin Reserve with just a glassful of dry Curaçao,” he says. “Not the blue stuff, we make an original curacao made with real orange. I also love a gin martini with a great vermouth like Dolin and of course I love a French 75”. My advice would be to explore and experiment. It’s what Alexandre Gabriel would do. 

Citadelle Gin Tasting Note:

Nose: Bright, piney juniper is at the forefront, with warm citrus from orange and coriander in support alongside some green cardamom and fresh flowers. In the backdrop, there are deeper, spicy notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and grains of paradise, which are joined by a slight nutty quality and the sticky sweetness of liquorice. 

Palate: The juniper is front and centre once more, but it’s joined by spice from cracked black pepper, the floral sweetness of Parma Violets and a savoury, woody quality. It’s a rich and full-bodied palate that features orange peel, cumin, star anise and cardamom throughout. 

Finish: Dry and a little peppery at first, the finish then develops with plenty of aromatic baking spices, fennel, more liquorice and a sweet hint of angelica.

Overall: A complex, intriguing and well-integrated gin that does a particularly good job of balancing floral and spicy notes.

Citadelle gin is available from Master of Malt.

No Comments on Citadelle: Cognac’s renegade gin

Yeast: the unsung hero of distillation

Until relatively recently, conversations around yeast tended to be entirely functional, centred on efficiency and yield. But a handful of distillers have taken an altogether more experimental approach, treating yeast…

Until relatively recently, conversations around yeast tended to be entirely functional, centred on efficiency and yield. But a handful of distillers have taken an altogether more experimental approach, treating yeast as a flavour tool in its own right. We speak to the distillers, researchers and industry experts unlocking the potential of this single-celled fungus…

Yeast is one of three essential ingredients used to make our favourite spirits. From a purely technical perspective, fermentation is the process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol; it turns wort to wash. But thanks to a vast array of funky little compounds created during this process – known as ‘secondary metabolites’ – fermentation has a far greater influence on the final flavour of the new make than spirits marketing will have you believe. 

Yeastie boy, Ryan Chetiyawardana

“Think about tasting a small-batch lager vs a commercial one, or a mass Pinot Grigio vs a wild-fermented one – the yeast produces the precursor flavours, which you’re simply concentrating when you distill them,” explains award-winning bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan), owner of Lyaness. “Not always for the best – there are many notes that are faults caused by ‘dirty’ fermentation and unwanted microbes – but it gives more variety, and more opportunity for a more diverse selection of aromas, textures and flavours.”

Having been “playing around with microbes for a decade now”, Chetiyawardana is familiar with the magic of yeast – even launching a range a whole range of ‘biologically aged cocktails’ including the Champagne Gin Fizz (made using Champagne yeast), one simply called ‘The Living Cocktail’ and a Manhattan that was “made using fermentation, akin to a port”. 

“The thing I always loved about working with microbes is the lack of control,” he says. “You can give a nudge, but you’re working with a living organism that does what it wants. The parameters that aid or hinder them can be controlled though, so you can make their life easy, you can stress them out – all lead to interesting results. Replicability, consistency and certainty removed yeast’s freedom historically, but with better science and understanding, we can hopefully balance these out and give us more diversity in the products we can create.”

Any attributes that might make a yeast strain particularly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for spirits production really depends on the style you want to create, Chetiyawardana says. “You might want a meaty, sulphury make for long ageing, or you might want a super fruity spirit to give brightness to your blend. I think it’s more about knowing what style you want to create, and realising that them little yeasty bugs can help you achieve that.”

Magical yeast turning sugar into booze

Some yeast strains have been handed down through generations – Maker’s Mark uses a 150-year-old heirloom strain; Jim Beam’s yeast dates back to the end of Prohibition – while others reflect the local terroir (the team at Herradura Tequila, for example, use 100% wild yeast to spontaneously ferment their agave mash). Some distilleries, like Japanese whisky-maker Nikka, cultivate their own strains from a wide variety of sources from yeast strain libraries to local breweries. A great many more simply buy distillers’ yeast from professional suppliers.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, these kinds of commercial yeasts are reliable, consistent, and optimised for the job. For New York Distilling Company, they’re an ideal stop-gap. “While we are taking the time to experiment with yeast strains that could, in the future, be proprietary, we use a commercial distillers yeast to ensure consistency in our production,” says co-founder Allen Katz. “As young distillers, with our oldest barrels now approaching eight years old, we’re constantly learning about our whiskey on a seasonal basis.

“Our specific varieties of rye – Pedersen Field Race Rye and an 18th century variety called Horton – tend to result in honeyed floral and stone fruit notes,” he continues. “As we contemplate specific yeast strains for the future, or even propagating a ‘Brooklyn rooftop yeast’, we will look to experiment with attributes that either compliment or enhance these natural and recurring characteristics, or that provide interesting contrasts. For now, our approach with regard to yeast has been to focus on yield.” 

Yeast beyond yield

Across the pond, a two-year research and development programme between Edinburgh’s Port of Leith Distillery and Heriot Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing & Distilling (ICBD) is drawing to a close. Together, they have experimented with a range of yeast varieties, “including Belgian brewing strains, German ale strains, lager strains and a number of wine strains to name a few”, says Victoria Muir-Taylor, distiller and head of whisky research at Port of Leith.

Victoria Muir-Taylor from the Port of Leith distillery loves having her photo taken while she is working

Despite the yeast strain being the only variable – fermentation, distilling and so on remain constant – during in-house sensory sessions, the panel has actually been able to identify characteristic differences between the new make. “With some, the new make spirit may have more fresh stone fruit notes, for example, whereas other strains are more on the dried fruit end of the spectrum,” she says.

Identifying the key characteristics of influence of each strain means it’s far easier for distillers to create their own bespoke blend. Sutherland-based Dornoch Distillery has used more than 30 different strains over the last three years, and experimented with countless more. Today, the team uses spent brewers’ yeast sourced from local breweries (a process that has a historical precedent).

“Sometimes we’d pitch in multiple yeast varieties together,” says co-founder Simon Thompson. “Or we’d blend new make made from three or four different yeast varieties to try and combine elements that we liked. Maybe one yeast variety was giving us really good fruity esters, and another really nice phenolics, so we would combine the two bills to try and blend those flavours.”

Adding yeast solution to wooden washbacks at the Dornoch distillery

On top of the individual yeast strains, other variables such as temperature, PH levels, oxygen and nutrient levels and bacteria all influence the flavour of the spirit. “Fermentation time is quite a big one as well, because the longer you leave it in the washback, the more room you’re giving for the influence of bacteria and wild yeast,” says Thompson. “We’ve got wooden washbacks that we leave open, and earlier this week we didn’t pitch any yeast for about 36 hours to allow a natural fermentation to start. The results flavour-wise were outstanding. I suspect the yield will be significantly decreased, but there were some really interesting things that happened. After the 36 hours the wash had soured, it smelt really sulphuric. And then 24 hours after the addition of the yeast, the sulphur had been cleaned up and transformed into some extreme tropical fruit.”

This is because most of the flavours that we perceive from a spirit (excluding any interactions with wood) are due to the formation of esters – a combination of ethanol and acid, Thompson says. “Your yeast will form esters in order to try and clean up its own environment. So the more acids and the more complexity of acids you have in your wort, the higher you can potentially drive your levels of ester formation.” 

As to whether these effects are detectable after a spirit has been barrel-aged – well, the answer may surprise you. “Fermentation creates the chemical complexity for further evolution within the cask,” Thompson explains. “Given the chemistry of the cask and the ethanol solution, you’ll have spontaneous ester formation over time as well as other compounds,” he says. “The more chemical complexity you can pack in at that front end, the more potential for evolution – and variation within that evolution – you have over time.”

While there’s much scope for experimentation, it comes at a price. “Whisky is already a very inefficient process, but it’s within the inefficiencies that the flavour lies,” says Thompson. “By any measurable metrics we’ll be the worst performing distillery in Scotland by a very large margin, because your cost of production skyrockets. But it’s a trade-off in exchange for infinitely greater variation on flavour.”

No Comments on Yeast: the unsung hero of distillation

New Arrival of the Week: Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed…

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed to reveal which island distillery it comes from. . . . 

John Crabbie was one of the great pioneers of blended whisky like John Walker and Arthur Bell. Crabbie, who lived from 1806 to 1891, owned a grocery and tea-blending business in Edinburgh, but moved into the whisky trade when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Cognac leading to demand for an alternative from English drinkers. He acquired casks and started bottling whiskys from more than 70 distilleries around Scotland. With his friend Andrew Usher, he began blending whisky to create a consistent product. This led to him purchasing a brewery in Leith where he set up his own distillery producing not just whisky but also gin and liqueurs including a famous ginger wine. Later the two of them, along with William Sanderson (of VAT 69 fame), would set up the mighty North British grain distillery.

The North British is still going strong but until very recently the Crabbie name was only known for ginger wine, all that whisky heritage was largely forgotten. In 2007, Halewood, the company behind Whitley Neill gin as well as the Aber Falls Distillery, City of London Distillery, Liverpool Gin Distillery, and the Bristol & Bath Rum Distillery, acquired Crabbie. Production of Crabbie’s ginger wine moved to Liverpool, shock horror! But Halewood has not neglected Crabbie’s Scottish roots. Far from it, in December 2018 the company opened Crabbie & Co, Edinburgh’s first single malt distillery in over 100 years. Whisky, of course, takes a long time, so Crabbie has been building a reputation with some award-winning single malts releases from mysterious distilleries. 

The latest release, however, Crabbie is proud to announce is from Tobermory, a popular distillery at Master of Malt and not only for its excellent whiskies. This particular one was distilled in 1994 and aged in an ex-sherry hogshead and then bottled without chill filtering or the addition of colour at 46.2% ABV. John Kennedy, head of sales for Scotland, commented: “Crabbie 1994 Island Single Malt is one of our most carefully planned releases to date. We’d had cask samples from distilleries all across Scotland and it was a difficult choice, but this sherry cask from Tobermory was absolutely stand out with its nose of sweet macerated dates, fruit cake, warming spice and its orange marmalade and rich dark chocolate finish. It will most certainly appeal to those who take their whisky seriously.”

We take our whisky very seriously here and were suitably impressed. Despite the all sherry cask ageing, it’s not what you’d think of as a ‘sherry bomb’. The nose is aromatic, minty even, followed by sweet toffee, coffee and dark chocolate notes. In the mouth, it’s fruity and fresh, with cedar, black pepper and muscovado sugar on the finish. All round, it’s an elegant drop. It’s also a very limited edition with only 247 bottles available for all of the UK market. We think it’s a great tribute to a giant of Scotch whisky who deserves to be much better known.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Brandy butter and fruitcake, with a hint of menthol sneaking through.

Palate: Soft on the palate, with sultana, chocolate mousse and malt loaf. A slow build of clove and caraway warmth.

Finish: Tiffin, chocolate peanuts and some fresh mango fruitiness.

Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994 is available now from Master of Malt.

No Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994

Whisky making at the Lakes Distillery with Dhavall Gandhi 

The Lakes Distillery doesn’t do things by halves, as we found out when we spent a couple of days up in Cumbria with whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi. We were even…

The Lakes Distillery doesn’t do things by halves, as we found out when we spent a couple of days up in Cumbria with whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi. We were even allowed into the inner sanctum of the whisky studio… 

Surrounded by whisky and a field of alpacas doesn’t seem like such a shabby spot for an office. At the Lakes Distillery, Dhavall Gandhi is lucky enough to call this space his whisky studio, where big decisions and tastings take place. Having spent a couple of days at the distillery with Gandhi and his team, we were lucky enough to sneak a peek into every step of the whisky making process.

whisky Lakes Distillery

The picturesque Lakes Distillery

Dhavall Gandhi, whisky maker 

First of all, leaving your job in corporate finance to go and work for a whisky distillery seems like a pretty rogue move, even if that distillery is Macallan. But then Gandhi decided to call it quits at Macallan when he got an offer to work at a small, unknown craft distillery in the Lake District. Gandhi also has experience in the brewing industry having worked at Heineken, which is what really sparked his interest in fermentation.

whisky lakes distillery

Dhavall Gandhi and some fabulous English whisky!

I imagine the move not just from a large, established distillery to a smaller one, but from the Scotch whisky industry to the much lesser-known English must be something of a culture shock. “The size is a big difference,” Gandhi agrees. “You’re working with millions of litres of alcohol a year down to 130,000 litres.” 

Even so, Gandhi took what he had learnt from a large distillery and applied it on a much smaller scale to the Lakes. The best thing about coming to a brand new, unknown distillery? “The freedom and opportunity to create a house style of Lakes single malt,” Gandhi tells me. That’s pretty priceless for somebody with a vision. 

Whisky making 

There is something unique about each stage of the whisky making process at the Lakes, from the fermentation to the oak to the blending. To start with, most distilleries would have a different person (or team) in charge of each of these stages, Gandhi oversees the entire process from start to finish giving him complete creative control. He calls this his “holistic approach to making whisky.” 

lakes distillery whisky

Whisky making in the process

So, what is Gandhi’s whisky making method? “I start at the very end,” he tells me. Gandhi envisions the style of whisky he wants to create, and then works backwards. What kind of casks will help him achieve this style? Then, what new make will suit these casks best, and be robust enough to handle the cask type? How will he achieve this new make through fermentation and yeast types? Each stage is meticulously planned, and ensure that Gandhi knows exactly what he is looking for.

Fermentation

After the mashing to obtain a clear, fruity wort, it’s time for fermentation. Three different styles of yeast are used, Scotch yeast, French yeast and heritage yeast, with each yeast strain giving top, base and middle notes. The wort goes through a lengthy 96 hour fermentation period. Why so long? It results in a lighter, creamier spirit. 

whisky Lakes Distillery

Time to get mashing

Gandhi talks a lot about his “three tier spirit architecture”, and architecture is a good way to describe what he is doing with the whisky, building it from the ground up from his blueprints. The three tiers refers to the three different yeast strains, with different yeasts used on different days in different combinations. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach here. 

Distillation

As well as a long fermentation, the spirit also goes through a slow distillation, allowing the spirit more contact with the still. Gandhi takes a very narrow cut to produce a fruity but robust new make of around 67% ABV. 

whisky Lakes Distillery

Meet Susan the still

The condensers are of particular interest to whisky geeks like us. The distillery boasts both copper and stainless steel condensers, allowing Gandhi to create two different new make spirits. We’ll call them type A and type B. Type A is the light to medium bodied spirit yielded from the copper condenser, while type B is heavier bodied, coming from the stainless steel condenser. Ding ding! This is yet another point in the process which allows Gandhi to tailor his spirit. We’ve lost count! 

Everything at the Lakes is allowed ample time including the slow reduction process at six litres of pure water a minute, where the spirit is diluted to around 58% ABV. It turns out that the spirit can go into a kind of shock if it’s diluted too quickly, so this helps keep it nice and mellow. 

Maturation

The Lakes is all about the sherry influence, which may not surprise you knowing Gandhi’s previous Macallan experience. So, why sherry? “Write the books you want to read,” Gandhi tells me. He isn’t out to create a sherry bomb, rather more of a refined, subtle sherry character. 

It would be easy to simplify the cask maturation into the types of sherry, with fino, oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. But the reality is much more complex than that. American whiskey, Port and red wine casks are also used, but sparingly, sherry casks are Gandhi’s forte. He is also experimenting with amontillado, palo cortado and manzanilla, though oloroso forms the backbone of the single malts.

whisky Lakes Distillery

There’s also the oak type to consider, with American, Spanish and French oak all used. This in itself isn’t unusual, but the fact that both sherried Spanish and American oak are used is (often, European oak is reserved for sherry, while American oak is reserved for American whiskey). Then there’s the size: butts are the most common (seeing as that’s what sherry is usually housed in), but hogsheads, barriques and barrels are all used as well. To generalise, American oak is more creamy and tropical, full of vanillins, while European oak is often responsible for those peppery, spicy notes, so the combination results in something wonderfully complex and rounded. 

Blending

This is where Gandhi’s passion truly lays. The whisky industry seems to have a problem with the word blend, and he wants to banish any inferior associations. Unless you’re sipping single cask expressions chances are you’ll be drinking a blend, even if it’s a single malt, seeing as different malts from the same distillery are blended together to create different expressions. But people rarely associate the word ‘blend’ with single malts.

whisky Lakes Distillery

A hard day’s work of tasting ahead

We enter the whisky studio, and it’s like a whisky lover’s dream come true, with sample upon sample prepared in the futuristic, glistening space. Gandhi noses and tastes 125 samples in front of us in minutes, quickly deciding on which can stay and which don’t make the cut. Sounds like a lot, right? He tells me that he can regularly nose and taste around 300 samples in a session!

Sitting on the fence isn’t something that Gandhi does, and snap decisions define this part of the whisky making process. Crafting a whisky can take anything from hours to months, he tells me, and gut feelings are crucial. 

Cask Influence 

Gandhi picks out random samples and dissects them for us. He pulls up a rather light sample, and at first guess I would have thought it was aged in a refill cask. He tells me that it’s actually drawn from an oloroso American oak butt. He pulls up a much darker bottling, what most people probably expect a sherried whisky to look like, and reveals that this is drawn from an oloroso Spanish oak hogshead. Simply saying knowing something was matured in an oloroso cask reveals little about it, and hammers home the notion that colour can often tell us very little.

whisky Lakes Distillery

50 shades of whisky…

What really stuck with me was Gandhi’s metaphor of whisky as a painting. The new make spirit acts as the canvas (hence why Gandhi wants it to be as clean as possible), while casks and flavours are the colours, and blending is the act of painting. Delving deeper into the metaphor, Gandhi notes that each cask is like a shade of colour. Just like you have lime, forest or emerald rather than just green, you don’t just have an oloroso cask. “For me, whisky making is all about creative expression,” says Gandhi. “A whisky, when you drink it, needs to stir emotion in you. If that happens, my job is done.”

New releases

When we visit, two exciting new whiskies are in the pipeline; Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.3 and The One Orange Wine Cask Finish. Well, reader, in the time it took to get these words down, the releases are now ready. 

whisky Lakes Distillery

The shiny new Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.3!

But we’re shining a spotlight on The Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.3. As the name of the series suggests, these releases are Gandhi’s chance to really show his artistic exploration of oak and blending. The trio of single malts in the series all have the same DNA, though each expression is unique in its own way with different nuances. For No.3, a combination of oloroso, cream and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks work alongside a small number of red wine casks.

Gandhi described Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1 as more “intense and bold” with more sherry character. Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.3 on the other hand, is a bit more “seductive”, with more of that incense and chocolate character thanks to the French and Spanish oak influence.

If all this talk of whisky has got you thirsty by now, then you should try Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.3 yourself. Now that you know the labour and love that goes into it, we’re sure it’ll taste just that much sweeter.

No Comments on Whisky making at the Lakes Distillery with Dhavall Gandhi 

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search