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Master of Malt Blog

Cocktail of the Week: The Caipirinha

This week we’re whipping up the Caipirinha, a Brazilian classic. This light, refreshing drink emerged in São Paulo in the early 19th century and has been a national treasure ever…

This week we’re whipping up the Caipirinha, a Brazilian classic. This light, refreshing drink emerged in São Paulo in the early 19th century and has been a national treasure ever since. Morgana Toro, bartender at London’s Artesian, shows us how to combine the holy trinity of cachaça, sugar, and lime…

There’s much debate about the origins of Brazil’s national drink. One theory claims the Caipirinha was invented by farmers in the countryside region of Piracicaba, which was the epicentre of cachaça production at the time. Elsewhere, it’s believed the drink was a medicinal tincture used to treat the Spanish flu, initially containing garlic and honey in place of sugar and ice. Another theory suggests scurvy-riddled sailors invented it when they docked at the Port of Santos, mixing citrus with cachaça in the absence of readily-available rum. 

One thing’s for certain: to be called a Caipirinha today, it has to be made with lime, sugar, cachaça and ice, says Morgana. “You could use lemon if you like, but then it’s not traditional. You can use brown sugar, unrefined sugar, any type of sugar,” she says. “And the cachaça can be silver or aged. Usually in Brazil we make it with ice that isn’t cubed or crushed; it’s something in-between. It’s like a crushed cube of ice, but not like the crushed that we know here.” Faced with the limited options in the supermarket, Morgana suggests using cubed ice, because fully crushed will dilute the drink too fast. 

Morgana Toro with three cocktails, none of which is a Caipirinha

Once you’ve got these simple ingredients prepared, you’re ready to start making the drink. First, cut a lime into wedges and add to a tumbler or rocks glass with sugar. Muddle until the sugar – and it has to be powder sugar, not sugar syrup, says Morgana – is dissolved in the lime juice. Then top the rest of the glass with ice and add around 50ml cachaça. “Then you stir slightly but not like you’re stirring a built drink,” she says. “It’s more like, you put the spoon inside and do a little movement to mix it from the bottom. It’s not supposed to be completely mixed together.”

We’re using Abelha Cachaça, made from 100% organic sugarcane grown in the protected national park of Chapada Diamantina in Bahia, Northern Brazil. Crafted by master distiller Marcos Vaccaro – an expert in organic agriculture – Abelha Silver is rested for six months in stainless steel tanks, while the Gold bottling is aged for three years in casks made from an ash wood native to Brazil called garapeira. We know Vaccaro is devoted to the cause, because he takes care to reused and recycle the by-products of every distillation of Abelha elsewhere on the farm, even running his car on the stuff. Plus, he lives in a treehouse.

The traditional Caipirinha – made with lime – isn’t the only version of the drink. “In Brazil, we say that we are very creative people,” says Morgana. “We make everything in a thousand different flavours.” A common twist on the cocktail is the Caipifruta, which consists of cachaça, crushed fresh fruits, and ice. “You can do strawberry, lime and passionfruit… You just change the fruit,” she continues. “I’ve tried a mango and pink peppercorn one before. That’s super good.”

Now that looks more like a Caipirinha

Whether you choose to keep things traditional or switch up the recipe, you’ll need little in the way of equipment. “Making a Caipirinha at home is really easy because you don’t need any equipment,” says Morgana. “You can muddle with anything, even a rolling pin. There’s no shaker. You just need a spoon, it can be a teaspoon. As long as you have good cachaça and good limes – and you muddle until the sugar has dissolved – that’s all you need.”

50ml Abelha Cachaça
1 tbsp sugar
1 lime, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into quarters or eighths.

In a double rocks glass, combine the lime segments with the sugar and use a muddler to gently crush and squeeze the limes. Add the cachaça and stir well. Add crushed ice and stir. Serve immediately with a slice of lime to garnish.

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Top ten: Gins under £30

Want to treat yourself to some juniper-based deliciousness without shelling out your savings? That’s exactly why we’ve rounded up our ten favourite gins that won’t put a dent in your…

Want to treat yourself to some juniper-based deliciousness without shelling out your savings? That’s exactly why we’ve rounded up our ten favourite gins that won’t put a dent in your bank account, because they’re all under £30! 

The world of gin is an ever-growing category, and if you end up feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of juniper-based opportunities there are to try, we don’t blame you. If you’re feeling snazzy sometimes you might fancy a gin distilled with ants or some rare African botanicals, but let’s be honest – most of the time you just want a tasty G&T that doesn’t break the bank. 

We’ve gathered up our top 10 affordable bottlings that don’t skip out on flavour, so here’s hoping you’ll find a new favourite too! If you thought affordable means boring, think again… 

Favourite gins

Moonshot Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company) 

Deets: Though most of the botanicals within That Boutique-y Gin Company’s Moonshot Gin are pretty classic, the fact that each and every one of them have been sent to space certainly isn’t! Among the likes of juniper, citrus peels, chamomile and cardamom, the Boutique-y folks even included actual moon rock from a lunar meteorite. As you do, eh? The result is a fairly traditional flavour profile with a stellar (!) back story.

What does it taste like? Lemon sherbet and peel, followed by spicy ginger, bitter citrus and peppery juniper. 

Favourite gins

LoneWolf Cactus & Lime Gin 

Deets: BrewDog (yes, the beer people!) has made quite the splash with its spirits line, which is no surprise seeing as it’s releasing expressions like this LoneWolf Cactus & Lime Gin. Alongside a base of the original LoneWolf Gin you’ll find makrut lime and Queen of the Night, a fragrant cactus flower that gets its name because it only appears after dark. Talk about unusual botanicals! One for a dose of tropical, zesty deliciousness.

What does it taste like? Zingy lime citrus and sweeter lychee, with watermelon and piney juniper in support.

 Favourite gins

Kyrö Gin

Deets: A wonderful gin all the way from Finland’s Kyrö, known for its love of rye. Naturally, this gin is distilled from rye too, along with meadowsweet, citrus, cumin and juniper. A spicy, leafy and herbal expression which even won the IWSC Gin & Tonic Trophy! Get the tonic out, folks. 

What does it taste like? Floral violet, juniper and spicy rye, with hints of almond, citrus and mint. 

Favourite gins

Roku Gin

Deets: Suntory took its inspiration from Japan’s four seasons for its very first gin, Roku Gin! Six Japanese botanicals give us a whistle-stop tour of the four seasons, with sakura leaf and sakura flower evoking springtime, summery sencha tea and gyokuro tea, sansho pepper for autumn and yuzu peel for winter. If you forget all that, fear not – the botanicals are engraved on the beautiful bottle to remind you! 

What does it taste like? Peppery undertones build alongside fresh florals, tangy citrus and fruity sweetness, backed up by earthier notes. 

Favourite gins

Flavoursmiths Pink Grapefruit Gin

Deets: A blushing gin from the aptly-named Flavoursmiths, harnessing the zesty power of pink grapefruit! Unlike many pink gins, this is far from sickly sweet. There’s a good dose of juniper in here too, so it’ll do well to put a zesty twist on classic gin cocktails – though you can’t go wrong with a simple G&T along with a generous wedge of the eponymous citrus.

What does it taste like? A big burst of vibrant grapefruit, supported by piney juniper and subtle woody, peppery spices. 

Favourite gins

Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin

Deets: Though this Seaweed Gin hails from the Welsh Dà Mhìle Distillery, the gin itself has been infused with seaweed from the Newquay coast for three weeks – cue a subtle green hue and a glorious coastal character! It’s not all about the savoury notes, with citrus, menthol and spice bringing balance. If you’ve ever thought about pairing gin with food, crack out the seafood for this one (or even oysters if you’re feeling super adventurous).

What does it taste like? A dash of sea salt alongside fresh mint and lemon peel, with refreshing juniper and distinctive eucalyptus. 

Favourite gins

McQueen Smokey Chilli Gin

Deets: This unique Smokey Chilli Gin is part of the McQueen range, with Chipotle and smoked chilli at its core. What else goes with those two spicy botanicals? Oh yeah, lime, and that’s in there too! We could see this making some sort of intriguing gin-based twist on a Margarita…

What does it taste like? A wisp of smoke leads into zesty lime, with chilli heat building throughout alongside woody juniper.

 Favourite gins

Jaffa Cake Gin

Deets: We bet you haven’t seen anything like Jaffa Cake Gin before, distilled with real, no-foolin’ Jaffa cakes, along with cocoa, oranges and fresh orange peel! This is full strength, so it’s not sickly sweet and is distinctly a gin, with juniper coming through among the unmistakable… Biscuit? Cake? Let’s not get into that. Trust us when we say it makes the best Negroni you’ve ever tasted.

What does it taste like? Unmistakable Jaffa cakes, with hallmark rich chocolate and zesty orange, all backed up by a good piney juniper tang. 

Favourite gins

Boë Passion Gin

Deets: Passion fruit is a pretty distinctive flavour, and this Passion Gin from Scotland’s Boë has bottled up all of that tangy, tropical goodness. Fresh passion fruit is the star here alongside orange and all of your classic herbaceous gin botanicals. Plus, the colour ought to make for some fantastic eye-catching cocktails! 

What does it taste like? Puckering passion fruit and sweeter orange, with herby juniper and a dash of menthol. 

Favourite gins

Hayman’s Sloe Gin

Deets: Perfect as we descend into the cooler months, Hayman’s Sloe Gin is a rather traditional tipple. It’s made with wild-foraged English sloe berries, which are steeped in the distillery’s own London dry gin for three to four months before it’s blended with natural sugar. The result is a deliciously mixable, bittersweet and fruity gin!

What does it taste like? Reminiscent of Bakewell tart, with ground almond, sour cherry and ripe plum, all backed up by juniper.

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Your guide to the emerging New World whisky category

Where once whisky was solely the product of Scotland, Ireland and the US, today more than 30 countries produce the amber nectar. Free from the ties of tradition, New World…

Where once whisky was solely the product of Scotland, Ireland and the US, today more than 30 countries produce the amber nectar. Free from the ties of tradition, New World distillers are treading new ground with customised yeasts, heirloom grains, and alternative oak species to boldly take whisky where it’s never been before. With insight from industry accelerator Distill Ventures, we take a fresh look at the global category…

From Australia’s wine cask-matured whiskies to Scandinavia’s wholegrain rye bottlings, our tasting glasses have gone global in recent years. In turn, our cupboards are fuller, too; the whisky category grew by 7% to 440 million nine-litre cases in 2018, according to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis Global Database (one case is typically 12 x 750ml bottles, FYI. So, more than five billion bottles). While the projected forecast – 581m cases by 2023 – is likely to be rattled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, whisky’s meteoric rise is only set to continue, with New World producers ‘setting the stage for a new defining era’, as The New World of New World Whisky, a whitepaper by Distill Ventures (Diageo’s venture capital arm), described it.

To be clear, the New World category doesn’t just encompass distillers in regions not typically associated with whisky production – such as Bolivia, South Africa and Russia – but also unconventional whisky made in established whisky-making countries. The report defines New World Whisky as: 1. A whisky not produced in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the US or Japan OR 2. A whisky made in a style not traditionally associated with the country that it is made in – for example, American single malt or Scottish rye. With flavour development the ultimate goal, producers are ‘manipulating raw materials and processes in ways that reflect their own locality and cultural identity’, it states – and that’s true whether they’re in Scotland or South Korea.

For one, whisky-makers are looking beyond yield to create a wider spectrum of flavour through their grain selection. “This is part of a trend of distillers wanting complete traceability of their ingredients and working with farmers,” says Frank Lampen, Distill Ventures’ CEO. “If your grain is being grown next door, you don’t want to send it hundreds of miles away to be malted – so we’re seeing more distilleries like Stauning [in Denmark] taking control of the whole process and doing 100% of their own malting” (see photo in the header.)

Stauning whisky

The nine founders of Stauning distillery in Denmark

There’s a focus on diversity – exploring local, heirloom, and non-traditional grains – and the concept of terroir. “Diversity is about going beyond single varietals of grain to harvest fields that contain multiple varietals, as pioneered by [England’s] Oxford Artisan Distillery with their Oxford Rye,” Lampen says. “Terroir is about seeing how the same varietal grown in different places produces different results, and preserving those differences in flavour through distillation, as Waterford Distillery [in Ireland] is doing.”

New World producers also tend to be big on brewing techniques; customising their own yeasts or cultivating wild strains, and often roasting and smoking their malts with locally-sourced plants, wood or peat. They’re passionate about the ‘beer’ they produce, says Lampen, and utilise longer fermentations and different yeasts “to create something that is delicious and full of flavour before it goes into the still”. American single malt producer Westward Distillery is a great example of this, he adds.

In terms of maturation, producers are looking beyond French and American oak to explore alternative oak species and woods – including acacia, mizunara, chinquapin, and garryana – as well as collaborating with local beer, wine and spirits producers in cask exchange programmes, and toying with new maturation techniques. “Casks which might previously have been used for a short ‘finish’ are being used for the full maturation of the whisky,” says Lampen, “such as the red wine barrels used by Starward [in Australia] to house their spirit from the moment it comes off the still to the moment it’s bottled.”

Starward Nova

David Vitale from Starward in Melbourne

However, as the whitepaper aptly points out, with greater choice can come greater confusion – New World Whisky can quickly go from exciting to overwhelming. “The strength of the category – and what makes it so exciting – is the diversity and range of what’s on offer,” says Lampen. “But this is also a challenge, as it can make it hard for whisky drinkers to navigate and find things they’re going to love, unless they’re prepared to do lots of research themselves.”

That’s where we come in, of course. Below, we’ve picked out 10 New World Whiskies that we think you’ll love. Not only are these distillers bringing something new to the category, but better yet, they’re really only just getting started on the long road to whisky greatness. Behold!

Mackmyra Grönt Te

A Swedish single malt from Mackmyra Distillery finished in casks seasoned with Oloroso sherry and green tea leaves (!!) sourced from Japanese tea specialists Yuko Ono Sthlm.

Yushan Blended Malt

A Taiwanese blended malt from Nantou Distillery matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks (and named after the highest mountain in Taiwan).

The ONE Orange Wine Cask Finished

An English blended whisky from The Lakes Distillery that sees its single malt combined with single grain and malt whiskies from Scotland and finished in first-fill American oak casks seasoned with orange wine.

Amrut Madeira Cask Finish

An Indian single malt whisky from Amrut Distillery – the first of its kind to be finished in Madeira wine casks from the Portuguese island.

Langatun Old Deer Classic Cask Proof

A Swiss single malt from Langatun Distillery, matured in an unusual pairing of sherry casks and Chardonnay casks before being bottled as cask strength.

The Cardrona Just Hatched – Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish

A Kiwi single malt from Cardrona Distillery, aged in ex-bourbon barrels before a finishing period in Oloroso sherry casks and, again, bottled at cask strength.

Teeling Stout Cask Finish

An Irish single malt from Teeling Distillery, aged in former stout casks that first aged its own Teeling Small Batch (caskception!) in collaboration with Galway Bay Brewery.

Sonoma Distilling Co. Cherrywood Bourbon

A US bourbon from Sonoma Distilling Company made from corn and rye from California and Canada and Cherrywood smoked barley from Wyoming.

Starward Solera

An Australian single malt from Starward Distillery, made entirely from Australian barley and matured in re-coopered Apera (Australian fortified wine) barrels.

Millstone 100 Rye Whisky

A Dutch rye whisky from Zuidam Distillers, made from 100% rye with 100% small pot still distillation and matured for 100 months in 100% new American oak barrels.

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Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love!

From an Islay single malt whisky to Jaffa Cake Rum, here’s a selection of staff favourites chosen by the team here at Master of Malt. We think there’s something here…

From an Islay single malt whisky to Jaffa Cake Rum, here’s a selection of staff favourites chosen by the team here at Master of Malt. We think there’s something here for everyone. As long as you want booze, that is.   

Here at MoM Towers, we’ve spent plenty of time tasting, sampling and mixing our way through some of the world’s finest drinks over the years so that we can pass on our knowledge and share our passion with you lovely people. Naturally, we develop favourites and so we thought it would be fun to round-up some staff standouts and recommend them to you, from beautiful blended whisky to innovative rum and more.

Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love

Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old – The Character of Islay Whisky Company with Enamel Mug

We’re always going to love a delightful, versatile and award-winning (Islay Single Malt 12 Years and Under at the World Whiskies Awards 2020, don’t you know) single malt from Islay but the fact that this beauty comes with a charming enamel mug perfect for enjoying a Hot Toddy in just makes it all the better. Oh, and if you need a recipe, Tammy Jackson (of @forcocktailsake fame) makes a particularly good one, which you can see her doing here.

What does it taste like?

Maritime peat, iodine, honey sweetness, paprika, salted caramel, old bookshelves, mint dark chocolate, espresso, new leather, soy sauce, liquorice allsorts, bonfire smoke and toffee penny, with a pinch of salt.

Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love

Kyrö x Ki No Bi Gin

Kyrö Distillery has launched a neat little series where it teams up with other brands to create something tasty, which is an idea we’re very much in favour of! For the first of its Kyrö x Friends releases the Finnish spirit-makers partnered with Kyoto Distillery over in Japan to celebrate 100 years of diplomacy between Japan and Finland, and created a gin that combines the best of each distillery’s local botanicals in one trans-continental treat.

What does it taste like?

A touch of berry fruit and red florals, with distinctive yuzu citrus and oily, piney juniper, leading into peppery spice and a smidge of savoury seaweed.

Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love

Jaffa Cake Rum

Combining two wonderful things doesn’t always work (my hamster never accepted that damn tiny sombrero) but this combination of Jaffa Cakes and rum is an absolute winner that we can’t help but talk about. It’s made with actual Jaffa Cakes, folks, which are blended alongside oranges, fresh orange peel and cocoa powder with Caribbean rum to create this expression, which makes for a mean Daiquiri or Rum Old Fashioned.

What does it taste like?

Rich hot chocolate, zesty orange, subtle ginger heat, vanilla pod earthiness, subtly grassy rum, cakey sweetness and a tangy hint of tropical fruit.

Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love

Aberlour 10 Year Old

There’s always going to room for vibrant, fruity and rewarding drams in our drinks cabinet, which is why it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a bottle like Aberlour 10 Year Old on-hand. Plus it represents outstanding bang for your buck. What’s not to love?

What does it taste like?

Sherried raisins, toffee, spicy rich fruitcake, foam bananas, honey, sweet spices and a pleasant nuttiness.

Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love

Eleventh Hour Gin

The Derbyshire Distillery made this dry gin by combining botanicals including juniper, angelica, cassia, ginger, coriander, orris, lemon, sour cherry and poppy seeds. The last ingredient is something of a symbolic choice, as £3 of each bottle of Eleventh Hour that’s sold will aid The Royal British Legion to make a difference. Tasty gin is one thing, but when you know that every bottle you purchase will support who served in the armed forces past and present, it’s really something.

What does it taste like?

Softly fruity, with cherry and lemon standing out amongst the angelica, spicy juniper and anise notes.

Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

A favourite of critics, an absolute bargain, a versatile option and an all-round tasty blend, there’s no secret as to why we enjoy Chivas Regal 12 Year Old. The world-famous Scotch blend was first made in the early 20th century by Chivas Brothers and continues to charm us to this day.

What does it taste like?

A creamy, aromatic melange of vanilla custard, hints of aniseed, lemon curd, butter toffee, dried banana chips, barley malt, ground walnut, caramel and cereal sweetness.

Fantastic staff favourites we think you’ll love

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked 

A deep, dark and rich twist on the delightful Woodford Reserve, Double Oaked is made using the same process as its classic sister expression but is then further matured in barrels which have been heavily toasted and lightly charred. Why do we like this one so much? Two words: Old. Fashioneds.

What does it taste like?

Lots of sweet oaken character, as well as rich fruit, vanilla and caramel notes.

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New Arrival of the Week: Black & Gold 11 Year Old Bourbon

Today’s we’re shining our giant New Arrival spotlight on a mysterious long-aged bourbon from Tennessee. We can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but we can tell you that…

Today’s we’re shining our giant New Arrival spotlight on a mysterious long-aged bourbon from Tennessee. We can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but we can tell you that it is delicious. 

It’s not often you see a bourbon with an age statement on the bottle. In fact, to be classed as bourbon in the US, the spirit just has to be made from 51% corn and spend some time in charred new oak casks (there are some other rules but that’s pretty much the basis). But the regulations don’t say how long. So your old timey bourbon could have just spent months ageing rather than years. It’s a bit different with whiskey imported into Europe which due to EU regulations has to be aged for a minimum of three years. To further complicate matters, it’s a bit of grey area whether products sold as bourbon minus the word whiskey have to follow these rules.

All this preamble is to say that your American whiskey is very unlikely to be much much more than three years old. Now that’s not really a problem because whiskeys made from rye and corn do tend to develop delicious flavours at a younger age especially when you factor in the amount of flavour that charred new oak imparts. Combine this with the hot and humid climate you get in the heart of American whiskey country, Kentucky and Tennessee, which leads to much quicker ageing than in the cold of Scotland; the evaporation is quicker but the ABV remains higher.

Age statements are rare. In fact, you have to be quite careful because in hot climates the whiskey might become over mature and woody if left too long. Many distilleries in America have special pockets within their warehouses which are cooler so the whiskey matures more slowly. Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. We can’t say much about its origins apart from that fact that it comes from Tennessee, which narrows it down somewhat. It might even come from one of the distilleries mentioned in this article. Even though whiskey from this state isn’t usually sold as bourbon, much of it is legally entitled to be.

Black & Gold, a bourbon worth taking your time over

The casks that go into Black & Gold were tasted by top whiskey sniffer Sam Simmons aka Dr Whisky; he told us: “I flew to Tennessee to select these casks in the warehouse. The phrase ‘hand selected’ is so often used and so rarely true, but in this case it actually happened.” He also revealed that the mashbill is heavy on the corn: 84-8-8 (corn-rye-barley). It spent 10 years slumbering in the heat of Appalachia before taking a slow boat across the Atlantic and finished its ageing in rainy old Britain. The result is something richer, more complex, more savoury than you usually get in a bourbon but it hasn’t dried out at all. You’re starting to get cigars there like an old Speyside malt but here’s still plenty of maple syrup, vanilla and apple pie that will appeal to bourbon lovers. It’s bottled at a nice punchy 45% ABV.

It’s very much not a speed rail bourbon for sloshing into cocktails but, though it’s probably best enjoyed neat, it certainly wouldn’t turn its nose up at a carefully made Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Then sit back and savour all those years of ageing. 

Here’s the full tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Dense vanilla, toasted brown sugar atop apple pie, gingersnaps and cinnamon sticks.

Palate: Caramelised nuts, cask char leading to earthy cigar box and vanilla pod, with a touch of maple syrup hiding in there too.

Finish: Lasting oak and forest floor richness, well-balanced by toffee and chocolate sweetness.

Overall: Everything you could want from a bourbon and more, this expression is simply astonishing.

Black & Gold 11 Year Old Bourbon is available from Master of Malt.

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Master of Malt tastes… Benromach 21 Year Old

When we heard that Benromach had released a 21-year-old expression, we were intrigued to see how the brand’s distinctive brand of whisky matured over the years. So, we had a…

When we heard that Benromach had released a 21-year-old expression, we were intrigued to see how the brand’s distinctive brand of whisky matured over the years. So, we had a taste. And we liked.

Back in May 2018, I had the good fortune of visiting two Speyside distilleries on the same day. One was the giant Glenfiddich, a sprawling campus of creation and enterprise which makes the world’s best-selling single malt whisky and more. The other was Benromach Distillery

The contrast was stark. Benromach is a small-scale, manual distillery. Every process is carried out and monitored by a small staff and its production capacity is 380,000 litres of whisky per year (Glenfiddich makes 13,000,000 litres in that time). The humble approach and rustic charm is no accident, however. After purchasing the site back in 1993, Gordon & MacPhail’s goal was to create traditional handcrafted single malt influenced by the kind of whisky that would have been produced in Speyside in Scotch’s 19th century heyday.

Since the distillery restarted production, we have used traditional production methods, and each stage of the process is designed to give a spirit character that is traditional, lightly peated and handcrafted,” says Keith Cruickshank, Benromach’s distillery manager. “Our small team of distillers has long relied entirely on their expertise and senses to make the finest handmade whisky and that’s something that hasn’t changed since the distillery reopened 22 years ago.

Benromach 21 Year Old

The small, charming Benromach makes a distinctive style of whisky

The distillery had passed through a number of hands after it was first established in Forres, Scotland in 1898, sadly closing in 1983 before it was revived by Gordon & MacPhail. By 1998 production had restarted using locally-grown Scottish barley which is malted with a little peat smoke, recalling the Speyside tradition of topping up fires with cuts of peat when coal ran low. The barley is ground into grist in a 120 year-old four-roller Boby Mill over a 90 minute period, before it’s mixed with water drawn from the nearby Chapelton Spring in the Romach Hills, the same source used by Benromach since it first opened.

The aim is to create a medium-bodied spirit suitable for variable lengths of maturation, which explains the long fermentation process, which lasts between three and five days in larch washbacks that Cruickshank says creates a rich, complex, fruity new make. The brand also takes the unusual step of using two types of yeast: brewer’s and distiller’s yeast. “We feel it creates a more complete fermentation – this all contributes to the development of more complex flavours”.

Distillation takes place in a 7,500-litre short and squat wash still and a 5,500-litre spirit still. Cruickshank explains that the former has an almost horizontal lyne arm to create more copper contact with the alcohol, which lends to the desired medium-heavy spirit character and that the latter has a reflux ball which pushes back down the very heavy vapours, allowing lighter vapours to travel up the still. Once the spirit is distilled, it’s hand-filled into first-fill casks exclusively and rolled into traditional dunnage style warehouses, which provide “consistent temperatures and the ideal conditions for maturing single malt whisky,” according to Cruickshank.

Benromach 21 Year Old

First-fill casks are used exclusively at Benromach

This process has enabled Benromach to establish an impressive core range in a short space of time. For my money, the 10 Year Old is one of the finest bottlings available at its price point and the brand has demonstrated an ability to experiment and innovate, with limited-edition cask strength expressions, organic bottlings and intriguing wood finishes. Its latest release is what has taken our focus today, however. Benromach 21 Year Old is the oldest permanent addition to its core range. It was matured in first-fill sherry and bourbon and bottled at 43% ABV, ready to be launched just as the distillery announced a redesign, inspired by the hand-painted sign that used to adorn the roof above the kiln, along with the distinctive red doors around the distillery and the red brick chimney.

Its release caught my eye because the dram should provide a window into how ‘new’ Benromach matures over a long period of time. Is the distillery character preserved? What effect does the commitment to first-fill casks have? For Cruickshank, the 21 year old represents a progression of the brand’s signature style. “It perfectly embodies the decades of hard work, pride and passion that have gone into recreating that lost character of Speyside whiskies from the 1950s and 1960s. As an older whisky which is still grounded in our commitment to using only the finest first-fill bourbon and sherry casks, it provides a unique take on the classic Benromach style.”

It’s a take I thoroughly enjoyed. Since the late nineties, Benromach has demonstrated the story of revival can be understated, patient and methodical, and the 21 Year Old is just rewards. It’s a dram of variety and vibrancy. The melding of sherry and bourbon casks is measured and graceful, pairing plenty of distillery character with a subtle and understated maturity. It’s got tremendous clarity and style. Take your time and savour this one.

You can purchase Benromach 21 Year Old here and the full tasting note is below.

Benromach 21 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Deep Oloroso sherry comes through, with stewed plums, raspberry jam and juicy sultanas initially followed by hints of Pinot Noir, orange peel and dried apricots. Vanilla, toasted brown sugar, milk chocolate and aromatic ginger spice appear underneath with sweet peat warmth throughout. 

Palate: Notes of stewed orchard fruit, chocolate-covered raisins and Seville orange marmalade are followed by hints of set honey, praline, red berries and gingerbread. In the backdrop, there’s cracked black pepper, tangy oak and smoke from a smouldering bonfire. 

Finish: Sherry tones lead the finish, with a hint of buttery toffee apples, oak spice and fruitcake.

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The Nightcap: 6 November

The first Nightcap of the second lockdown has arrived just in time to provide some much-needed cheer and levity. It’s packed full of boozy goodness so enjoy! As we all…

The first Nightcap of the second lockdown has arrived just in time to provide some much-needed cheer and levity. It’s packed full of boozy goodness so enjoy!

As we all brace for Lockdown 2 (or 2 Lockdown 2 Furious), the team at MoM Towers has been searching for silver linings. Maybe we’ll have some more time to try to understand the electoral college system and even more time to watch old James Bond films after we’ve inevitably given up. We’ll also be able to do some important research, like finding out what the implications of Sam’s snack grid are (someone grab some dark rum and popcorn for the Bond marathon, while I think of it) and why we haven’t done more coverage of distillery pets. Of course, with Black Friday, Christmas and who knows what else on the way we probably won’t have any more free time, but we can guarantee that there will always be a fresh, warm Nightcap ready every Friday evening, just how you like it. That’s a pretty good silver lining, at least.

Things might have ground to a halt around us but the MoM blog was as busy as ever this week as we launched another #BagThisBundle competition, this time with the wonderful folks at Cointreau. Then, as it’s #SherrryWeek, Annie looked at the vibrant vermouth scene in Jerez and the rest of Spain, before learning about the story behind a gin created to raise money for a historic endeavour and how Nikka is spoiling us by launching not one, but two new Japanese whiskies. Henry then shook up a special seasonal cocktail for Bonfire Night and created a shopping list of the essentials bottles you need to make your home bar the envy of your friends. As for Adam, he had a pretty whisky-soaked week, finding out what makes Scandi spirit-makers Stauning so stellar and tasting a 60-year-old single cask whisky from Glenfarclas Distillery. 

Johnnie Walker film coming soon

First, there was the whisky, then there was a book, and now we’ve just got the news that there’s going to be a Johnnie Walker documentary. Slated to appear on the 12 November we don’t know terribly much about it, only to say that it’s the story of the world’s most famous whisky brand. Called ‘The Man Who Walked Around the World’, it features contributions from Cappadonna from the Wu-Tang Clan, advertising guru John Hegarty, and noted booze enthusiast Alice Lascelles. It’s been directed by award-winning filmmaker Anthony Wonke for independent production company Something Originals and Partizan films. Check out the jazzy trailer above. When we know more, we’ll let you know. 

The Nightcap

We can now officially say this is an artist’s representation of The Cairn

Gordon & MacPhail unveils The Cairn 

Do you remember that distillery that Gordon & MacPhail was building in Cairngorms National Park? Well, the family-owned whisky specialist has given it a name: The Cairn. Which makes sense. Must have been a short meeting. The brand has said it was chosen to honour the stunning surroundings of the park (it really is glorious) and that it wanted a brand that would be easy to communicate globally, which presumably rules out any hard-to-pronounce Scottish Gaelic and prevents them from stepping on the toes of its other distillery, Benromach. “We wanted the new brand to complement, not compete. It’s eye-catching and contemporary and the approach to developing it put the consumer at the centre of our thinking,” said Ian Chapman, The Cairn brands director. “It is the same approach we have taken to designing The Cairn Distillery itself. The modern building takes advantage of the outstanding views across the River Spey to the Cairngorms and has been designed with the customer at the centre of the experience.” An icon has been developed to symbolise the brand; the fragmented shape representing the coming together of many pieces to form a cairn. Scheduled to open in spring 2022, The Cairn Distillery will include a visitor experience, tasting rooms, retail space and coffee shop.

The Nightcap

It was bottled at 95% ABV, folks. 95%. You read that right.

Anno Distillers launches world’s strongest gin

Our Kent-based neighbours Anno Distillers informed us of some pretty astounding news this week, it has created what is believed to be the world’s strongest gin. Anno Extreme was bottled at a frankly alarming 95% ABV Gin, smashing the previous record of 82.5% ABV and made in Sweden. Naturally, the gin is available in smaller bottles, just 20cl, and even comes in a presentation box with a 25ml scientific measuring beaker, perfect for accurate measurements with the suggested serves. There’s the Light G&T, a 5ml measure of Extreme poured over ice and served with premium tonic and a slice of grapefruit which is said to deliver “full flavour G&T with 75% less alcohol” (so a Hayman’s Small Gin kind of deal) and the Strong G&T, a 25ml measure of gin poured over ice and topped up with at least 120ml of premium tonic (the equivalent of an ordinary double measure, Anno says), garnished with a sprig of bruised thyme. “We wanted to make a gin which packs more punch and flavour drop-for-drop than any other spirit in the world,” says Dr Andy Reason, co-founder of Anno Distillers. “As scientists we really wanted to push the limits of possibility and create the spirit of alchemy, turning something ordinary into something extraordinary.” 

The Nightcap

Of course Sam Neill makes booze, he’s so awesome.

Sam Neill meets Samuel Gelston’s whiskey

Samuel Gelston’s has announced the launch of its latest expression and it’s honestly one of the coolest collaborations ever. You see, Johnny Neill, who runs the brand, teamed up with his cousin who owns a vineyard in New Zealand called Two Paddocks and matured the single pot still Irish whiskey in Pinot Noir casks. Who is that cousin, you ask? Sam Neill. The Sam Neill. The actual star of Jurassic Park, Peaky Blinders and more. Amazing. Anyway, back to the liquid, it was triple distilled and matured for 19 months in ex-bourbon casks, before spending a further 21 months maturing in the French oak casks and is said to have notes of strawberry, nutmeg, tropical fruit, blackcurrant and more. “The Neill family have been making quality spirits for generations. My great, great grandfather Harry Neill set up the successful McCallum Neill & Co in Australia in 1851, and Percival, one of his younger brothers set up Messrs Neill & Co in 1882 – Percival was Sam’s great grandfather,” said Johnny. “Sam and I have continued this legacy in our respective sides of the world. For the first time in 150 years, we’re bringing together the expertise from both sides of the family  – the result being an incredibly exciting sweet, honeyed and very inviting single pot still whiskey”.

The Nightcap

The World’s Best Bar has been announced, just as we can’t visit!

Connaught in London named World’s Best Bar

In a bit of cruel timing as much of Europe goes back into lockdown, the World’s Top 50 bars have been revealed just as we can’t visit them. Oh well! Sitting astride the world is the Connaught Bar in London. Mark Sansom, content editor for The World’s 50 Best Bars, commented: “Hats off to Connaught Bar, undoubtedly one of the finest cocktail bars of our time. The institution has earned a place on the list every year since 2010 and it has gradually grown in stature to become the world-beating bar it is today. Ago Perrone and his team are dedicated to excellence and look at every element of the guest experience to choreograph a faultless service.” Runners up were last year’s winner Dante in New York followed by the Clumsies in Athens. It’s been a great year for London with three in the top ten: Tayēr + Elementary were at number five and newcomer Kwant at number six. All in all the list features bars from 23 countries: the Best Bar in Asia award went to Atlas, Singapore; the Best Bar in Australasia is Sammy in Sydney; Zuma, Dubai picked up Best Bar in the Middle East and Africa, while Florería Atlántico, Buenos Aires, is The Best Bar in South America. Elisa Gregori from main sponsors Perrier added: “The pandemic has heavily impacted the entire hospitality industry and the situation remains shaped by uncertainty, yet the industry is adapting quickly and we believe it will return stronger after these difficult times.” Congratulations to everyone who made the list and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to visit some of them in the not too distant future.

 

The Nightcap

Dr Bill says Glenmorangie Malaga Cask Finish is an “indulgently sweet and rich” dram

New small-batch Glenmorangie is on the way

We can never hear the words ‘Glenmorangie’s launches new whisky’ too much so we were obviously delighted to learn that a small batch edition was on the way (keep an eye out for it). The 12-year-old bottling was finished in Malaga wine casks, which aren’t the most common sight in Scotch whisky. Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie director of whisky creation, sourced the rare handful of first-fill Malaga ‘dulce’ casks (which once contained wines at the sweeter end of Malaga’s range), then filled them with an eight-year-old whisky initially aged in bourbon casks. After four years of finishing, Dr Bill chose the best of these casks in July 2020 to be bottled for the Distillery’s Barrel Select Release. “The honeyed aromas and fruity, chocolatey tastes of Glenmorangie Malaga Cask Finish take me straight to the sun-kissed south of Spain, where Malaga’s famed fortified wines are made,” said Dr Bill. “By finishing our soft, creamy whisky in Malaga ‘dulce’ casks, we’ve created an indulgently sweet and rich small-batch single malt. Our Barrel Select Release is a delicious treat for whisky lovers old and new.” You can see for yourself if Dr Bill is on the money, as Glenmorangie Malaga Cask Finish will be available soon from Master of Malt. 

The Nightcap

The industry needs support like this from those who have the resources to provide it

Diageo relaunches Learning for Life

This is a critical time for the hospitality industry with COVID-19 restrictions set to have a continued impact on the sector, so now would be the moment for some big players to step up. Diageo has set its sights on doing just that this week by relaunching Learning for Life, an award-winning bartender and hospitality training programme that aims to assist the sector to meet the demands of dealing with COVID-19. Learning for Life has been designed to help to develop and engage the industry’s hard-pressed staff, including those on furlough, by providing key training, alleviating isolation, improving practices and updating ways of working during these challenging times. The £1m-per-year programme will work alongside Diageo’s Raising the Bar programme, which pumps £30 million into the UK hospitality trade to create a safer infrastructure, for example through the introduction of hand sanitiser units or personal protective equipment for staff. “People and businesses in the hospitality industry across the UK are fighting for their future and we stand alongside them in that fight,” said Nicola Reid, Diageo Learning for Life Manager. “That’s why we’ve refocussed our Learning for Life programme so it offers the best training opportunities possible to support bar staff and businesses with skills that will help them weather the current storm”.

The Nightcap

Ten expressions from The Glenlivet form the bulk of the range

Chivas Brothers unveils 2020 Distillery Reserve Collection

Chivas Brothers latest single malt collection is on the way! There are 48 new single cask expressions ranging from four to 29-years-old that were sourced from 13 of Pernod Ricard’s distilleries, including The Glenlivet, Strathisla, Aberlour and Scapa. The full Distillery Reserve Collection is now available for purchase from visitor centres of the aforementioned distilleries (visit here for full information on opening times and restrictions to operations) but, due to the current travel restrictions, for the first time, a smaller selection of bottlings will also be available from The Glenlivet website. “Our distilleries are the beating heart of Chivas Brothers and the Distillery Reserve Collection celebrates the heritage, innovation and style that make each one unique. This one-of-a-kind collection has been hand-selected to showcase the breadth of character and bold flavours single malt distilleries can achieve,” says Miriam Eceolaza, marketing director, single malts at Chivas Brothers. “I’m thrilled to be able to invite whisky lovers to join us in celebrating the stories of Speyside and delve even deeper into the vast world of single malt whiskies.”

The nation’s favourite on-screen boozers revealed

Liberty Games has done some vital research this week and conducted a survey to find out the nation’s favourite on-screen boozer, as well as analysing the price of a pint, the location and the IMDb score of each pub. The games retailer can reveal that The Nag’s Head from Only Fools and Horses is the nation’s favourite on-screen boozer in the UK. with 17.2% of Brits saying they would love to have a drink there, although it does tie with Harry Potter’s The Leaky Cauldron for having the most expensive pint, costing £5. Typical London prices. The cheapest pint can be found in the pub from Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’, the Archer Hotel, at just £3.20. Liberty Games also found London has the most on-screen pubs, but that Yorkshire has the majority of the nation’s favourite on-screen pubs. It is God’s own county, after all. The Woolpack from Emmerdale and the Leaky Cauldron are the second and third favourite fictional pubs with 13.4% and 12.6% of respondents agreeing they are the pub they would most like to have a drink in. The Crab & Lobster from Doc Martin, Heartbeat’s The Ainsfield Arms, The Drovers Arms from All Creatures Great and Small, Life on Mars’ The Railway Arms, The Boatman from Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Slaughtered Lamb from An American Werewolf in London also made the top ten. Which fictional pub would you like to visit? Let us know in the comments.

The Nightcap

If any of our family are reading this, then yes we want one of these

And finally… Bacardi combines a bar with a turntable

According to Bacardi, a fifth of British people will be hosting a virtual cocktail party this Christmas while 60% will be celebrating with friends and family over Zoom. And in the best marketing tradition of revealing a problem and then solving it, Bacardi has the antidote to all this enforced staying at home. Designed by “famed furniture designer” Hugh Miller (surely, you’ve heard of him?), it’s called the Mixing Console, and it’s a freestanding bar with a walnut top and an actual turntable and speakers built-in. And not just any turntable but an “attractive and well-engineered” Fluance RT80. Not my words but the words of What HiFi magazine. So you can mix your drinks while spinning your records. Just be careful you don’t get the two confused or it could get messy. Also, this magnificence doesn’t come cheap, £1700. But Bacardi’s research also stated that: “treating yourself, family and friends more are top 2021 New Year’s resolutions”, so come on family, treat me!

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An introduction to Spanish vermouth

In Spain, vermouth is a cultural institution, meant to be sipped and savoured during la hora del vermut – ‘the vermouth hour’ – with a few cubes of ice, a slice…

In Spain, vermouth is a cultural institution, meant to be sipped and savoured during la hora del vermut – ‘the vermouth hour’ – with a few cubes of ice, a slice of orange and an olive. The category may be steeped in tradition, but it’s ripe with innovation, as MoM discovered…

Spain’s love affair with vermouth first began in the early 19th century. Aromatised wine first found its way into the country from Italy during this period, and it wasn’t long before a number of factories began local production in Catalonia – starting with vermouth-maker Augustus Perucchi, who established his company in 1870, says Federico Sánchez-Pece Salmeron, director of communications for sherry producer Lustau .

The region quickly became the epicentre of Spanish vermouth production, specifically the small town of Reus, which boasted some 30 different producers by the time the 20th century rolled around. “Following pioneer Perucchi, small local producers multiplied throughout the territory due to the increasing demand for this drink,” says Sánchez-Pece Salmeron. “The original Italian recipe was adapted by Spanish producers, who used local wines, spices and production methods to elaborate their vermouths.” In terms of grape varietals, this often meant Albariño and Macabeo.

The labels on Gonzalez Byass vermouths are replicas of 19th century originals

The second-oldest vermouth-producing region of Spain might surprise you: Jerez. Martin Skelton of González Byass – a historic sherry bodega located in the heart of the city – says the company’s archives “show vermouths on the inventory between 1896 and 1926,” with records showing bottling “at the bodega from 1909” onwards. Vermouths from Jerez are essentially aromatised sherries, usually made from Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez, and aged in a solera system. “Mature Fino or Oloroso sherry, with their savoury, spicy and nutty notes, makes a fantastic product for the making of vermouth as the infusion of spices helps to accentuate the natural characteristics of the sherry,” says Skelton, whose firm produces a range of vermouth today, La Copa, based on 19th century family recipes.

Jerez aside, the majority of production is still based in Reus. “It’s the home of Spanish vermouth,” says Marta Vaquer Llop, third generation of the Casa Mariol winery, based in the Terra Alta region of Catalonia. But that doesn’t mean all Spanish vermouth tastes similar – far from it. “There are hundreds of brands of vermouth, and each has its own style, wherever it comes from,” she says. “One winery can produce different vermouths with very different profiles.” While there’s a huge array of styles to choose from – dry, semi-sweet, sweet, white, rosé – the most prevalent is sweet red vermouth, a.k.a vermút rojo. Many producers also create reserva bottlings, which typically means the vermouth has been left to rest in old oak barrels (though there are no regulations that specify this). One thing Spanish producers have settled on, however, is when – and how – their vermouth should be drunk.

There’s no better way to wake up your appetite than a glass of vermouth and some salty snacks

“People in Spain drink vermouth before eating to ‘wake up’ the appetite and prepare the stomach for lunch,” explains Alex Virgili, co-founder of El Bandarra, which has just launched new aperitif Al Fresco. “Most vermut bars in Spain – called vermuterias – pair it with small, free tapas, which might be olives, bread and cheese or anchovies,” he continues. “Vermouth in Spain is always served in a glass with ice, a slice of orange and one olive. I recommend asking for two olives.” You’ll also likely be offered a dash of sifón – club soda – which can open up the aromatics, like adding water to a whisky. But you don’t have to drink them the Spanish way, according to Skelton from González Byass, “they are equally delicious with tonic or as a perfect Negroni ingredient.”

Virgili and twin brother Albert produce El Bandarra at their family-owned winery, the 19th-century Casa Berger in Barcelona. Despite the provenance, the production process is anything but stuffy. “El Bandarra is blend of Xarel·lo and Macabeo, our indigenous white grapes, macerated with 50 herb extracts such as wormwood, clove, cinnamon and bitter orange,” says Virgili. “After fortifying the wine, it’s given a touch of caramel while we play disco-funky-rumba music at the winery.”

If disco-funky-rumba music sounds like a far cry from the Catalonian vermouth producers of old, that’s because the category is undergoing a 21st century revamp. It’s just one of the ways Spanish producers are repurposing their products for a modern drinker. “Renewing old formulas, adapting them to the current taste, making them less medicinal, softer and more balanced,” says Vaquer Llop, when I ask how producers are innovating. “And of course, reinventing the image of vermouth – making it a fresh, young and trendy product”. 

A splash of spritz wakes up your vermouth

Vaquer Llop has first-hand knowledge of the burgeoning vermouth revival in Spain – her late brother, Miquel Angel Vaquer, played a leading role in the vermouth revival, having opened one of Barcelona’s very first Vermuterias and, more recently, co-authored Teoría y Práctica del Vermu (The Theory and Practice of Vermouth). The category is a constant state of evolution, she says, with emerging trends that include “vermouths made with red wine, vermouths made with cider or mistela instead of wine, or with gin touches – non-traditional botanicals, such as violet, jasmine or peppers.” Most recently, organic and biodynamic bottlings have found their way into production.

For the most part, however, few producers stray too far from tradition. The vermouth resurgence “recovers the tradition of a centenary product, but improved, both in its preparation and in its image,” observes Maarten Van Dam, area director at Osborne, an historic bodega that makes vermouth from its sherry. “In general, we find a more careful, gourmet and gastronomic vermouth. In the premium segment, which is significantly the one that grows the most and where new launches and innovations of Spanish vermouth are produced, it is innovating with grape varietals, packaging, and labels.”

Whatever you opt for a traditional bottling or fancy something off-the-wall, in Spain, the tastiest vermouths typically come de grifo – from the tap – rather than a bottle. And as Virgili attests, they’re best enjoyed on a sun-kissed terrace. “For us, the best Spanish innovation is the terrace – the hustle and bustle with friends and the good vibes,” he says. “Vermouth has become a popular drink because it’s delicious, it’s easy to drink and it’s made to be shared in a happy mood. This is our philosophy of what this is all about. Vermouth is an attitude!”

A wide range of Spanish vermouth is available from Master of Malt

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The story behind Northwest Passage Expedition Gin

A team of ocean explorers is hoping to become the first to row the Northwest Passage – the treacherous Arctic route that links the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. To…

A team of ocean explorers is hoping to become the first to row the Northwest Passage – the treacherous Arctic route that links the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. To raise money for the historic endeavour, known as the world’s Last Great First, they’ve created a one-of-a-kind gin in collaboration with Orkney Distillery. We spoke to crew member Jack Hopkins to find out more about the record-breaking voyage…

The European history of the Northwest Passage began in the 15th century; the goal was to find a direct route to China that bypassed the Silk Road. For hundreds of years, western explorers braved the ice-bound passage to find a trade route to Asia, eventually abandoning the endeavour when the brutal conditions made it impossible to continue. “It reads like a who’s who of famous explorers,” says Hopkins, “you had Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Martin Frobisher, Sir Francis Drake, Captain Cook…”,

By the 1800s, he says, “the value of a trade link through the Northwest Passage to China is no longer really there, because sufficiently fast and reliable travel had been established,” and the challenging route instead became “a symbol of prestige”. Victorian explorers across the globe set out to chart the passage, most famously Sir John Franklin, whose voyage ended with icebound ships, pneumonia, and cannibalism. 

As Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company began mapping out the surrounding areas, people started to question whether the route even existed at all. Then, in the 1860s, Orcadian explorer Dr John Rae identified a sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific hiking overland. The Northwest Passage was finally traversed in the following century by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who navigated from Greenland to Alaska over the course of three years between 1903 and 1906.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!

“There was a fundamental shift in the culture of exploration,” explains Hopkins. “Prior to the 1900s, indigenous people were treated in an adversarial manner – as though they couldn’t provide any value to sophisticated Europeans.” Roald Amundsen’s expedition was successful because he learned Arctic survival skills from the local Netsilik Inuits. “He incorporated their approaches, and learned to hunt, for example, in the Inuit way,” says Hopkins. 

Fast-forward more than 100 years, and records are set to be broken once more. A team of 15 rowers will attempt to navigate the 2300m Arctic route by human power alone, embarking from Baffin Island – the most northerly point of the expedition – and rowing in continuous shifts (three hours on, two hours off) for around two months in perpetual half-light. It’s incredibly tough going by anyone’s standards.

“You get off shift, allow a 15-minute period to have some grub, have a drink and wash yourself with wet wipes,” says Hopkins. “You go and have a nap for an hour and a half, which is the minimum amount of time necessary for a REM sleep cycle, and wake up with 15 minutes left to go – you might go to the toilet or brush your teeth. And then you get on the oars and row for two hours. 

“After you’ve finished rowing, you’re on ice watch for an hour,” Hopkins continues. “You stand near the bow of the boat and make sure we don’t run into any ice, because there’s going to be a lot of it.”  After you’ve done the ice watch, you’re free to go and sleep again. It’s a gruelling schedule, he says, made all the more challenging by the bitter cold, hostile wildlife – hungry polar bears, for one – and psychological demands. “It’s unrelenting, there’s no days off.”

Will they look quite so friendly after three months together in a rowing boat?

You might wonder why anyone would choose to embark upon such a trip. The reasons are as varied as the people that are doing it, says Hopkins. “Some people are motivated by the tradition of exploration – for example, we have a couple of people on the crew whose ancestors were explorers.” [Crew member] David Fletts’ ancestor was with John Rae when the Northwest Passage was geographically discovered, while the father of fellow shipmate Mark Agnew mapped out Greenland and South America.  

For Hopkins, the expedition offers the opportunity to make a statement about the changing environment in the Arctic. The only reason this once impassable route has become marginally possible during July through September is due to retreating levels of sea ice. “This is the expedition that we shouldn’t be able to do,” he says. “And consequently, if we are able to get a row boat through the Northwest Passage, then it’s hopefully evidence to everyone that something has gone terribly wrong.”

As part of the endeavour, the team will collect data for climate scientists at the Big Blue Ocean Cleanup and New York University along the way – using salinity measurements and microplastic readings to gauge the water quality, and hydroponic listening devices to examine how the wildlife distributions are changing. “We’re going to be interviewing the local communities to try and find out how they’re dealing with the changing environment,” says Hopkins.

Now, with little more than a year until they set sail, the crew has launched Northwest Passage Expedition Gin to fund the expedition, with every penny of profit going towards provisioning the boats and covering the logistics. They partnered with The Orkney Distillery to create the historic bottling and pay tribute to the explorers that came before – specifically local man John Rae, the Hudson’s Bay Company member who discovered the route.

Profits from gin sales go towards this epic journey

“Around 80 percent of the people who became a member of the Hudson’s Bay Company and did all the early exploration work came from Orkney,” says Hopkins. “The ships would travel north from London, stopping in Kirkwall or Stromness to pick up supplies before heading over the Atlantic. And so because of this, there’s a really strong connection between Orcadian history, northern Canada, and the Northwest Passage.”

To link the three together, the gin combines botanicals found on the shores of Canada’s Hudson Bay with those found on the shores of Orkney, including sugar kelp – which brings a mild maritime saltiness to the liquid – angelica archangelica, ramanas rose and burnet rose, plus lemon peel and calamondin. It’s also made from water sourced from the very same spring that supplied the ships of the early explorers.

“It was closed 100 years ago, when the Hudson’s Bay Company stopped sending ships over the Atlantic, but we had it reopened” says Hopkins. “The water in the gin is from the same source that provided water for the ships of luminaries like Captain Cook and Sir John Franklin. Not only are we trying to establish provenance with the history of the Northwest Passage, we’re also trying to write the next chapter of it. Every bottle harks back to the past and propitiates the future.”

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Cocktail of the Week: The Rum Bonfire

This week we’re shaking up a special seasonal cocktail using Burning Barn, a smoked rum inspired by a tale of triumph of adversity. It’s just the thing to sip round…

This week we’re shaking up a special seasonal cocktail using Burning Barn, a smoked rum inspired by a tale of triumph of adversity. It’s just the thing to sip round a blazing fire as the winter nights draw in.

You know the phrase ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’? I’ve never quite understood why it’s a metaphor for turning a bad thing around, surely lemons are a good thing, no? Especially if someone is giving them away. The story behind this week’s cocktail makes more sense: when your father-in-law’s barn burns down, start a rum business. 

This is just what happened to a barn belonging to Katherine Jenner’s husband’s father. His barn, the home of the family fruit  business, burnt down in 2015 and rather than just take the hint and retire, he rebuilt everything from scratch. As Jenner puts it: “If he can rebuild a business in his 60s we can start a business in our late 20s.” Her background is in wine, with a stint working with Lidl on its Wine Cellar range. Jenner saw how craft beer and gin had taken off but was disappointed by the range of rums especially flavoured ones available. So she thought she could do better herself. This was the germ of the idea for Burning Barn.

Katherine Jenner looking very on-brand

It’s something of a message for our times. Jenner said: “We hope to inspire people with a message of hope in the face of adversity. Everyone has their own burning barn or pandemic to deal with. Take action, go outside, follow your dreams, and not let that get you down.”

Everything begins with a high quality rum from the Diamond Distillery in Guyana aged three years in ex-bourbon casks. “We quickly decided we wanted to use dark rum that had been aged which would have been very expensive to do in the UK,” she said. There is a plan at some point to start distilling themselves but, because of you-know-what, plans are on hold at the moment. “We’d love to make a white rum. That would be pretty cool for the on-trade,” Jenner told us, “bartenders are really engaged with rum. We’ll have to see what works and what doesn’t.” 

The Burning Barn range consists of three bottlings: a rum liqueur infused with honey from the family’s own hives; a spiced rum infused with coconut, ginger and chilli with no additives or artificial flavours; and finally a smoked one. The last one is made very very carefully. “We don’t want another burning barn”, Jenner joked. “We have a smoker, separate from rum itself so by the time smoke reaches the rum, it’s cool.” The rum sits in an old apple juice tank with an oak lid, and the smoke comes from burning applewood. Nothing else is added, no need when you have such high quality rum, so you get a very clean smoky taste where you can really taste the apple. “We don’t alter sweetness at all from when it comes, we don’t add any sugar or anything,” Jenner said. 

Behold, the Rum Bonfire!

The smoked rum is subtle, with sweet apple smoked notes, which compliment the high quality Guyana base. In short, it’s great in really simple cocktails so those flavours don’t get lost. The one we’re making this week is called the Rum Bonfire and it blends smoked rum with Burning Barns’ spiced expression with bitters and a little golden syrup (though you could use simple sugar or honey.) It’s served on crushed ice which is great fun but it also works well served with ice cubes for slow fireside shipping. 

Right, let’s get shaking!

25ml Burning Barn Spiced Rum
25ml Burning Barn Smoked Rum
1/2 teaspoon golden syrup
Dash of nut bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters 

Dry shake all the ingredients and pour over crushed ice in a Martini glass. Garnish with toasted marshmallows for the full Bonfire Night experience. 

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