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Jim Murray and Glen Grant: A love affair

Creating world class Scotch means staying true to your roots, Jim Murray believes. It’s an approach that Glen Grant’s master distiller Dennis Malcolm knows a thing or two about. We…

Creating world class Scotch means staying true to your roots, Jim Murray believes. It’s an approach that Glen Grant’s master distiller Dennis Malcolm knows a thing or two about. We spoke to both in London to find out more.

Once again, Glen Grant 18 Year Old has been awarded the prize of Scotch Whisky of the Year in the 2019 edition of 2019 edition of Murray’s Whisky Bible. For the third year in a row, in fact.

It’s no small feat. Over 5,000 whiskies, a thousand of which were new entrants, were rated by Murray. In the end, only the 2017 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release of William Larue Weller ranked higher to scoop the coveted accolade of World Whisky of the Year. In an official statement, Murray declared: “Once more the stunning Glen Grant 18 Year Old single malt carried the banner for Scotland, displaying Speyside Whisky in its most sparkling light.”

Glen Grant

Jim Murray

Providing the world with a refined whisky is what Glen Grant has been all about since 1840, when brothers John and James Grant founded the site in Rothes in Speyside. Some will tell you the secret to its style is the innovative tall slender stills, others will point to the revolutionary purifiers that James ‘The Major’ Grant, son of founder James Grant, was one of the first to introduce to the Scotch whisky industry over a century ago.

Malcolm appreciates the influence of both, but is keen to underline the importance of approach, “it’s consistent quality from the whole process, from the production right through. I used to jokingly say to people, when you mill it and mash it and ferment it, it’s almost a generic process!” he explains, “the secret is in your stills and your casks, that’s your big influencers, but you’ve got to be consistent with everything you’re doing.”

It’s this steadiness that resonates with Murray. “Glen Grant is the best distillery in Scotland and it is the most consistent. What I can tell you, is that if you tasted Glen Grant from a 1952 distilling or whatever, there’s no difference to now. It’s one of the few distilleries where the DNA has not changed”, Murray told us, “I can’t think of any other distillery that is as true now as it was in the past. And it’s one of the reasons I love it so much, and that makes it virtually unique in Scotch.”

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Master distiller Dennis Malcolm

Nobody typifies the consistency at Glen Grant like the multi-award winning Malcolm. He was actually born in the grounds of Glen Grant in 1946 and has worked for the distillery in various capacities for over five decades. “My grandfather worked at Glen Grant and worked for the son of the founder, then my father worked there and then I left school at the age of 15 and went to be a cooper”, Malcolm recalls, “I wanted to create casks. That’s helped me along my career but I’ve always said ‘I know what casks are all about.’ Casks are like people, they all mature at different stages.”

It’s because of this background that he knows what Glen Grant whisky should be better than anybody. When I ask Malcolm how he knows when a spirit has that crucial Glen Grant profile, he says: “We look at it before we put it into the cask and what we want is a new, fine, fruity, estery Glen Grant new spirit. So the spirit at Glen Grant is monitored and passed fit for casking in the still house. That’s when we do it.”

Every part of the Glen Grant distillation process is about retaining a consistent quality. “We have a standardised system so it’s easy to operate. It’s broken into four pairs of stills, so one batch does a six hour process from mashing into distilling,” Malcolm explains, “when the spirit comes off, the first one pair, two pair, three pair, four pair, goes into separate receivers and it’s checked individually. I think attention to detail is the secret of consistent quality.”

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

The legendary Glen Grant stills

Murray concurs, revealing that when he trains blenders around the world it’s by following this approach. “So they can always make sure that they’ve got control. Because if you take your eye off it and you don’t have control that’s when suddenly something goes wrong,” he says, “now it’s this attention to detail that separates the great distilleries from the good distilleries and Glen Grant is just a great distillery, it just is.”

Talking to Malcolm and Murray, it’s clear how passionate they are that part of Glen Grant’s triumph is that it retained its identity and didn’t change simply to satisfy the market. “You’ve got to hold your ground. You have to be careful it doesn’t just become a fashion item for that one year. So what I try to do is protect the DNA of Glen Grant,” Malcolm says, “if the financial people want to save some money, they would say ‘use the casks four times there because you’re using a million pounds for bloomin’ casks every year!’ and that would put another million pounds on the bottom line. But I say: ‘hey, wait a minute, the only reason we’re here is because of our consistent quality so we need to keep that’.”

The Campari Group, who acquired Glen Grant whisky distillery in 2006 for €115m, were obviously wise enough to heed Malcolm’s advice. Under its ownership, the 12 Year Old and 18 Year Old whiskies were added to the core range in 2016, alongside The Major’s Reserve and the 10 Year Old. It’s notable to Murray that these were additions, and not replacements.

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Glen Grant Distillery

“There was another really brilliant Speyside whisky that used to be ten years of age and it doesn’t exist anymore now because the company that owns it decided that ten years was too young. Not because ten years was too young for the whisky, it was too young in marketing terms,” Murray says. “Because the main guys that they were fighting against were 12 year olds. So they obliterated this fantastic whisky and bought it out as a 12 year old which was brainless! Utterly brainless! They had just destroyed a great whisky.”

So, after all that work, how did it feel to be honoured with the title of Scotch Whisky of the Year? “Well, you can’t really print what I said when I heard it for a start!” Malcolm jokes, “I really liked it because I was going back in time with this one, back to our roots. I thought, ‘well maybe it hasn’t always got to be new decorations all the time’, you know you decorate a house in different colours every year?”.

But what makes Glen Grant 18 Year Old stand out among all other Scotch whiskies for Murray? Well, one reason, he explained, is that it’s so complex that it takes him longer to nose then any other whisky: “You just watch every nuance come through because there’s a half hour journey in every single glass. You never get it on one nose.” Murray told us that the tasting note in the Whisky Bible is actually the shortened version: “You think ‘this could go over two pages, this is ridiculous’, because it is that complex. That’s why it gets number two in the world.”

Glen Grant

In all its glory: The Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Murray is particularly impressed by this depth of character given it’s what he describes as a “purely naked whisky.” He explains that, “because it’s 100% bourbon cask. There’s no sherry or anything in there that can go over the top and hide something, it’s all there to be seen. Which makes it very special.” Malcolm agrees: “There’s no sherry there, there’s no colour correction there, it’s just natural single malt Glen Grant.”

It’s clear that Murray feels a very strong connection to the Glen Grant distillery and its whisky: “I’ve tasted Glen Grants from before the Second World War, I’ve tasted a lot of Glen Grant over many, many years. Everything about it is natural and it’s just utterly true to its roots, it is the true Speyside.” Glen Grant 18 Year Old is his go-to whisky when he’s at home. “If I’m travelling around and I’m knackered, I just curl up with a glass of this, over half an hour and suddenly I just feel human again, it’s just absolutely amazing.”

It’s fascinating watching Murray be so intensely passionate about a Scotch whisky, because he’s acutely aware of his and the bible’s reputation. “People say to me ‘oh Jim, you don’t like Scotch’ and I say ‘don’t I, really?! Have you ever seen what I’ve written about the 18 year old Glen Grant?’” he explains defiantly. “Scotland makes some of the best whisky in the world, because there’s things like Glen Grant 18 that can just absolutely seduce you.”

Having enjoyed a dram or two myself that night, I’m inclined to agree.

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Train your nose with The Balvenie’s Alwynne Gwilt

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on…

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on how to get the most out of your olfactory system.

It was a tasting at Milroy’s of Soho in 2011 that changed Alwynne Gwilt’s life forever. Originally from Canada, she was not a whisky drinker but that fateful evening she fell in love with the spirit, and, rather as Peter Parker became Spider Man thanks to a bite from a radioactive spider, Gwilt was transformed into. . . Miss Whisky! She set up her own website that same year and began to immerse herself (not literally, of course) in whisky full time. Since then, she has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, appeared on TV and radio, and won awards including International Whisky Ambassador of the Year at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, She now works as a brand ambassador for William Grant, representing The Balvenie.

Alwynne Gwilt

Alwynne Gwilt in the still room at The Balvenie

We caught up with Gwilt at The Wigmore, a bar in London, for a nasal tune-up. Her view is that we don’t make full use of our sense of smell because we are so visually-oriented. But we do actually have a fine nasal system from our hunting and gathering days which just needs to be used properly. “Humans have become generally quite lazy when it comes to the nose, but our noses would have been a thing. Before we were cooking meat and we were processing food, we would have been much more aware of the wider environment around us and using our nose to help keep us safe,” she said. “Now our eyesight has taken over but the ability of the nose to learn things and to understand aroma is just as great as it always has been.”

Smells helps us remember things, Gwilt explained. “Your aroma receptors are close to the amygdala and the hippocampus, which is where you start thinking about emotion and memory. So, more than sight, more than sound, when you smell an aroma and you categorise that in your head, you’re much more likely to remember that moment, that time, that place.” What a piece of work your nose is! Now here are some tips on how to use it better:

Free your mind, and your nose will follow

Even people who’ve been drinking whisky for years can be extremely reticent about trying to describe smells. Gwilt explained to me:  “I can stand up there as someone who’s been drinking whisky for years and go, ‘I get aromas of raisins and chocolate’, and someone might look at you like you’re absolutely nuts because they’re like, ‘well it just smells like whisky!’.” So, don’t be embarrassed; try to put what you smell into words, and remember there are no right or wrong answers. A great way to do this, according to Gwilt, is to try to become aware of the smells around you when you’re out walking.

Alwynne Gwilt Balvenie

Building her flavour vocabulary

Build your aroma vocabulary

“Aroma is based hugely around vocabulary, “ Gwilt told me. “Just like we learn language, your brain does the same thing when it’s learning different aromas. If I were to say to you ‘this smells like curry leaves’, for instance, and you’ve never smelled a fresh curry leaf, then that’s not in your vocabulary. So you have to experience an aroma before you can then process it, understand it and recognise it in another scenario.” A great way to build that flavour vocabulary when you’re smelling whisky is to pretend you are in a supermarket, she said. “Imagine you’re walking through the fruit aisle and you’re picking out your fruit, and then you’re walking through the veg aisle. And then in each section, as you smell the whisky you think to yourself, ‘visualise it’. Say, ‘is this an orange, is this an apple, is this a banana, is this a carrot?’. Start going through those things individually, and if you go ‘no, no, no, I smell something sweet’, then go to the baking aisle. Is it a baked good? Is it a pastry? Or is it a Haribo?’. A lot of people will say, ‘I get sweet, I get spicy, I get smoke’, and it’s about continuously breaking everything down.”

Smell with your mouth open

You will look a bit like a goldfish but this really helps. “When you first start smelling whiskies, keep your mouth open, because that helps to circulate things,” Gwilt explained. “If you keep your mouth open, it helps to circulate the air, stopping you from just getting the alcohol.” We smell in two ways, she continued: direct olfaction (right up your nose), and retronasal olfaction (the back of the nose through the mouth).  If your mouth isn’t open, you’re not getting the full effect.

Hold it in your mouth  

You’ve seen wine tasters do it: swilling it around their mouths and making weird sucking noises. Well, it all helps get the flavour out. “A huge amount of what you taste is actually aroma; it’s the nose doing its job. It is not your taste buds,” she continued. “So when you go to taste a whisky, always hold it on your palate for ten or 15 seconds. That gives enough time for your brain to register what’s happening and start to pick out some of those aromas.”

Alwynne Gwilt at the Balvenie

Gwilt with this year’s must have accessory, the malt shovel

And finally, just to prove how hard it is to put smells into words without practise, Gwilt gave me a little test. I had to smell three essences which commonly crop up in whisky vocabulary.

The first was anise, which I correctly identified immediately. The second was coffee, which I guessed as roasted nuts. And finally, Gwilt gave me something to smell which initially smelt of vanilla, at least to me, and then of lemons. Apparently it was actually blackcurrant leaf. D’oh! C-, must try harder.  

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Brendan McCarron tastes Ardbeg’s core expressions

Recently, we were fortunate enough to spend a few hours with one of the most entertaining men in whisky, Brendan McCarron. Now, we have produced four short films where McCarron…

Recently, we were fortunate enough to spend a few hours with one of the most entertaining men in whisky, Brendan McCarron. Now, we have produced four short films where McCarron gives a masterclass around each core expression. 

If you like your whiskies wild and smoky, then you’re probably an Ardbeg drinker. This Islay distillery inspires a fierce loyalty among whisky fans. So, when Brendan McCarron joined in 2014, he knew that he was taking on a big responsibility. Before Ardbeg, he has had an interesting career in whisky. A chemical engineering graduate, his first whisky job was with Diageo. He worked as distillery manager at Oban, before moving to Islay to run Caol Ila, Lagavulin and the Port Ellen Maltings.

Brendan McCarron Ardbeg

Brendan McCarron explaining whisky through hand gestures

Then he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse, an invitation to join the team at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie (which are both in the LVMH stable). McCarron’s official job title is head of maturing whisky stocks. He works alongside Dr Bill Lumsden (they described themselves at the recent launch for Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition as “like the two Ronnies, only not funny”) and is being groomed to succeed the good doctor when he retires.

We have produced a long interview with McCarron where he talks about the responsibility of working for a cult distillery like Ardbeg, his plans for the future and tells us which is his favourite expression, as well as a short Q&A. Below are four short films where McCarron gives us a mini masterclass on each of the four core whiskies in the Ardbeg range: 10 Year Old, An Oa, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan.

Slainte!

Ardbeg 10 Year Old –  The classic expression is aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 46% ABV.

Ardbeg An Oa –  Named after a peninsula on Islay, this is aged in a mixture of Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at 46.6% ABV.

Ardbeg Uigeadail – The name comes from the water source used by the distillery. It is aged in oloroso and ex-bourbon casks, roughly half and half, and bottled at 54.2% ABV.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Named after a fearsome whirlpool about 40 miles off the coast of the island, around 30% of this expression is aged in new French oak barriques and the rest in ex-bourbon casks, and it is bottled at 57.1% ABV.

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Introducing Muyu: Liqueurs, but not as you know them

Internationally-acclaimed bar stars Monica Berg, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale have launched Amazon-inspired Muyu, a range of modern liqueurs made with a forager’s philosophy and a perfumer’s approach. Here, Berg…

Internationally-acclaimed bar stars Monica Berg, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale have launched Amazon-inspired Muyu, a range of modern liqueurs made with a forager’s philosophy and a perfumer’s approach. Here, Berg explains how the trio sought to capture the essence of the rainforest – responsibly…

The story of Muyu – named for the word for ‘seed’ in Quechan languages – begins back in 2016, when Berg, Kratena and Caporale visited the Amazon to explore the potential of Amazonian produce in cocktails. In doing so, they realised not only how precious this part of the world is, but also how fragile, says Berg.

“We decided that we wanted to contribute to the preservation of the people, the biodiversity, and the area,” she explains, “but the worst thing you can do if you want to preserve something is take something away. We came home and thought about what we could do – and the only thing we really know how to do is make drinks.”

Muyu

The big three, from left, Kratena, Berg and Caporale

Together, the trio came up with a business plan, which they pitched to Dutch distiller De Kuyper Royal Distillers (the company dates back to 1695, making it one of the oldest family-owned distilleries in the world; irrelevant here but a good fact nonetheless).

“There were a few things that were very important for us,” says Berg. “Firstly, creative freedom, and secondly, that part of the profits would go to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to preserve the people, the area, and the biodiversity. [De Kuyper] said yes straight away, so it was the perfect match.”

Together with leading experts, the team sources aromatic substances from plants, flowers and fruits from Grasse, a French town known as the “perfume capital of the world”, and Schiedam, a Dutch city known for its historic distilleries – including De Kuyper.

The team combines production elements from both the perfume and cocktail world to create the Muyu range, which launched with three expressions: Jasmine Verte, made by Berg; Chinotto Nero, Caporale’s creation, and Vetiver Gris, from Kratena.

Each liquid begins a single note: the eponymous ingredient of each liqueur. Then, each adds secondary ingredients to build and blend their liquid. A number of different techniques – including steam distillation, maceration, tinctures, rotovap distillation, C02 extraction, and enfleurage – are used to extract the chosen flavours.

“Enfleurage is basically the fat-washing of the perfume world,” says Berg, as she talks us through her own bottling. “You take jasmine, steep it in fat and then remove the flowers. The fat is mixed with alcohol and distilled again. This way, you are able to extract only the fragile delicate notes of the flower.”

These extractions are the blended with alcohol, sugar, acids and water to create the final liquid. Muyu Jasmine Verte combines jasmine with neroli, yuzu, “patchouli to round it, a little bit of nettle leaf, and lastly iris”, which functions as the “backbone” of the liqueur.

Muyu

Muyu, booze inspired by the Amazon

Muyu Chinotto Nero pays homage to its namesake with a blend of cinchona, oak moss, curacao orange and cacao. “Anyone who grew up in Italy is quite familiar with chinotto as a soda, but those often have a lot of spices mixed into them,” says Berg, “Simone wanted to wanted to mimic the fruit”. One of its distinguishing features is added acidity, she explains. “A lot of citrus fruits have acidity, but a lot of citrus liqueurs don’t, which makes them very one-dimensional.”

Of all the liqueurs, Muyu Vetiver Gris has “probably the most perfume-y ingredients out of all of them,” says Berg, pointing to fashion brand Tom Ford, which has released some pretty heavy vetiver-based perfumes. Vetiver, typically “quite a heavy botanical in terms of aroma”, is matched with timur pepper, patchouli, petit grains and cedarwood. “The timor pepper has a lot of the same qualities, but it’s a little bit different – when you distil it, it gets all these bright top notes,” she adds.

The liqueurs are low in ABV (between 22% and 24%) as well as sugar, around “200 grams per litre, which is very low,” says Berg. “We feel that you can always add more alcohol and you can always add more sugar if you need. Our intention was always to give the bartender as much freedom as possible.”

Muyu is designed to be shared in highballs, mixed in cocktails and drunk on the rocks: simple, easy-to-follow serves. Muyu Jasmine Verte is paired with Champagne, Chinotto Nero with London Essence Company Tonic Water, and Vetiver Gris with Ting. Yes, Ting.

“The idea is, could your mother make this at home?,” explains Berg. “One liqueur and top it up with a mixer – yes, absolutely. My mother would never try anything more complex than that. She’d say no, I’ll have a glass of wine.”

Muyu

Great with Champagne, even better with Ting

 

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Five minutes with Jim Meehan, co-founder of Banks Rums

Empathy, urgency and grace are the three qualities that define an exceptional bartender, Jim Meehan believes. And as the owner of iconic New York cocktail bar Please Don’t Tell –…

Empathy, urgency and grace are the three qualities that define an exceptional bartender, Jim Meehan believes. And as the owner of iconic New York cocktail bar Please Don’t Tell – which this year opened its first international outpost in Hong Kong – and co-founder of Banks Rums, we’re inclined to take his word for it…

Over the last month or so Meehan has been hitting up European cities with his molasses hat on to present a series of bartender education workshops rather aptly named Please Do Tell. Having released his most recent cocktail tome last year – titled Meehan’s Bartender Manual – Meehan hosted bartenders in Berlin, Munich and Amsterdam at Fragrances, Les Fleurs du Mal and Roses respectively, sharing the brand’s story along with his bountiful bartending expertise together with European Banks ambassador Alison Bartrop.

The trip reaffirmed his affection for the bar communities of Germany and the Netherlands, “where I was welcomed like family,” says Meehan. “Amidst all the political turmoil these days, with news suggesting that the bonds between America and Europe are fraying, my experiences and interactions are quite the opposite. For this, I am grateful and optimistic about the future.”

At each venue, the bar manager – Peggy Ka at Fragrances, Henning Neufeld at Les Fleurs du Mal and Max Prins at Roses – prepared a selection of cocktails (one being a punch) with Banks 5 Island and Banks 7 Golden Blend, which were served during the sessions. I imagine there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing bartenders channel their creativity into a spirit you’ve built from the ground up.

Jim Meehan Banks Rum

Banks Rum with its creator, Jim Meehan

“Without, hopefully, sounding too sentimental or self-centred, it’s a huge thrill when people appreciate something you helped create,” says Meehan. “So whether you mix Banks into Charles Schumann’s Swimming Pool cocktail – which just turned 40 years old this year, but is new to me – or one of Peggy’s custom perfume-inspired cocktails, you’re going to have my interest and gratitude.”

In terms of his own personal evolution behind the bar, Meehan uses the same creative approach as influential bands such as Radiohead and the Beatles. “These bands and their sound changed and evolved dramatically from record to record as they changed personally and collectively,” he explains.

“I would say that I’ve changed and evolved through each bar and team I’ve worked with: I’ll always be a work in progress. Like other creatives, bartender’s craft is shaped by the people they surround themselves with, the environment, technology, art, music, fashion and other elements.”  

As well as the cultural, technical and historical aspects of drink-making, Meehan’s Bartender Manual also focuses on the practicalities of bartending. With the back-breaking labour and unsociable hours bartending demands, it’s hardly sustainable as a long-term career.

Jim Meehan

Empathy, urgency and grace, that’s Jim

“I tended bar full time for fifteen years, and found the physical and emotional fortitude required to perform the job at a high level grew exponentially in my late thirties, especially when my wife and I had our first child,” says Meehan. “We need to stop looking at people like Charles Schumann, Julio Cabrera or Murray Stenson as anything other than gifted outliers in our industry.

“With that said, in countries like Sweden, where the state takes care of health care, education, provides time off for parenting and recognises the need for vacation and reasonable numbers of hours in the work week, maybe more of us would stand a chance.”

So, how will bars 100 years from now look, feel, and operate compared to today? Meehan addresses this question the design chapter of his book. “The assets needed to operate a bar – tables, chairs, mirrors, a physical bar – haven’t changed much over the last century,” it reads. This should come as little surprise, as the primary function of a bar or restaurant – to sate thirst and hunger in a communal setting – hasn’t changed either.

What has changed, and continues to, is the way in which people interact in bars. Over time, the bar length has contracted to allow for more tables, booths, and stools, which allows guests to sit (whereas historically, bargoers preferred to stand). As the traditional elements the guests interface with evolve, the layout of workstations and machinery behind the bar must also be adapted to accommodate the food and drink fashions of the day.

When it comes to cocktails and their ingredients, “one could make a cogent argument that there’s no need to evolve,” Meehan says. “Every generation, a few new recipes become part of the canon, but I feel that each generation’s responsibility is to preserve tradition,” he continues. “Certainly improvements must be made – the Japanese term ‘kaizen’ comes to mind – but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a drink more perfect than a well-made Daiquiri.”

What’s on your bucket list for 2019, I ask, both professionally and personally? “Ten years into my journey with Banks, I’d like to see the brand continue to grow with punch leading the way in bars and at home as more cocktail lovers begin entertaining,” he says. “Personally, my bucket is already full with two young kids, a happy wife and our ten-year-old French bulldog Pearl still along for the ride.”

Jim Meehan

Jim Meehan, like the Beatles, only with drinks

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The Nightcap: 22 February

Greetings and welcome to Friday – you’re tuned in to your weekly round-up of all things booze news, The Nightcap! Yes folks, it’s Friday once again! Not only that, it’s…

Greetings and welcome to Friday – you’re tuned in to your weekly round-up of all things booze news, The Nightcap!

Yes folks, it’s Friday once again! Not only that, it’s also National Margarita Day, so if you’re not reading this edition of The Nightcap with a freshly-prepared Margarita, please feel free to prod anyone in arm’s reach and ask them kindly if they’d like to make you one. Or go make one for yourself and the aforementioned person in arm’s reach. Either way, ensure a tasty lime-and-Tequila-based beverage is in-hand before proceeding to read The Nightcap.

So, what’s been happening on the MoM blog this week? Henry taught us how to make a Margarita for our Cocktail of the Week, and hopped over to Ireland to check out the Dublin Liberties Distillery opening. Annie showed us the best time-saving treats for your home bar, and dug into the history of the Rat Pack and its connection to J&B Rare. Adam looked to the west and picked out some terrific Welsh drinks to celebrate St. David’s Day with. Oh, and we launched a gin. And won the Icons of Gin Online Retail of the Year award. As you do.

On with the remainder of the news!

Your love of Jim Beam meant it exceeded 10 million case sales!

Japanese gin and Jim Beam bolster Beam Suntory’s 2018 results

It was Beam Suntory’s turn to unveil those all-important 2018 numbers this week, and they make encouraging reading. Bourbon first, and Jim Beam continued its “strong momentum” to exceed 10 million case sales, while Makers Mark posted “double-digit” gains, passing the two million case-mark for the first time (that’s a lot of bourbon). Cognac brand Courvoisier and Canadian Club whisky contributed “high single-digit growth”, with Hornitos Tequila also performing well. But gin is well and truly in for Beam Suntory. Sipsmith’s growth was in double figures, while ROKU Japanese Craft Gin, which entered 31 new markets, “inspired strong sales”. Overall, Beam Suntory posted “mid-single-digit” sales gains. Cryptic, but clearly all’s well at the American-Japanese drinks group. Looking to future growth, Takeshi Niinami, Suntory Holdings Limited president and CEO, said in the financial results: “The key will be to continue providing high quality products like The Premium Malts and Jim Beam, and creating strong brands that are loved by consumers. In order to do this, we need to develop and grow premium products that have new value, which our rivals cannot offer.” Bring it on!

So this is what the future looks like…

Penderyn gets the green light for its second distillery!

Exciting distillery news alert, especially with St. David’s Day approaching – Welsh whisky producer Penderyn has got the go-ahead to open a second distillery! Planning permission for the new Swansea site was granted earlier this week, meaning work to transform the historic Hafod Morfa Copperworks site can get under way later this year. “Penderyn is delighted to bring a copper-based industry back to this area,” said Stephen Davies, Penderyn’s chief executive. “Once opened, we hope to see up to 100,000 visitors a year, and it will become one of the major attractions in the area. This all helps us promote our whiskies from Wales to the world.” The Lottery Heritage Foundation awarded £3.75 million to the project, which will comprise an exhibition area detailing the history of the copperworks, shop, tasting bar, conference suite and, of course, the distillery It’s all expected to open in 2022. Llongyfarchiadau, Team Penderyn!

A work of art – and that’s just the whisky!

Compass Box releases Leonardo da Vinci-inspired whisky

Just to remind us that blended whiskies can be seriously swanky comes a new release from the master of mixing, Compass Box. Called Tobias & the Angel, it’s named after a work by Verrocchio-Leonardo (meaning that it was painted at the school of Andrea del Verrocchio by Leonardo) hanging in the National Gallery in London depicting the biblical story of Tobias. The whisky is a blend of 24 year old Clynelish aged in American oak hogsheads and a peated Caol Ila of “considerably older age”, according to Compass Box. Founder John Glaser said: “For nearly 20 years, since we created our malt blend called Eleuthera in 2002, we have held a special reverence for the two distilleries used in Tobias and the Angel. That’s when I first discovered how perfectly these single malts complement each other. When we were recently offered extremely old and special parcels of whiskies from these two distilleries, I was compelled to put them together again.” He went on to say: “For this whisky, the name of the biblical story Tobias & the Angel just felt right; it seemed to reflect the personality of the two whiskies in this recipe. Searching through the many depictions of the story over the centuries, the Verrocchio-Leonardo painting had the beauty and the gravitas we wanted for this special creation.” Only 2,634 bottles will be produced and they will retail for around £450 ($500).

It’s time to party like your distillery manager used to work at a rum distillery in the 60s.

Ardbeg Day 2019: Time to get out your maracas

Well, have we got news for you. It turns out that the Islay-based Ardbeg distillery actually has some old connections to the Caribbean. Hamish Scott, Ardbeg’s distillery manager from 1964 to 1967, used to fill the same role at a rum distillery! Ardbeg Day has quite a reputation, with locals transforming everything from tractors to wheelbarrows into magnificent floats. Hence, on 1 June, during the famed Fèis Ìle Festival, Ardbeg Committee Members from around the world will gather in celebration of this year’s limited edition bottling, Ardbeg Drum. Dubbed a “peaty excuse for a party”, the single malt whisky has been matured in bourbon casks and finished in rum casks from the Americas, which should make for a rather interesting dram. It looks like this bottling will be as flamboyant as the celebrations surrounding it! The Committee release will go on sale from 5 March, though only a limited number of bottles will be released – let the festivities begin!

The GlenDronach 1993 Master Vintage, in all its glory.

The GlenDronach announces limited release 1993 Master Vintage

If you’ve ever enjoyed the pleasures of a Scotch whisky from Highland distillery GlenDronach (if you haven’t you need to correct this ASAP), then you’ll know that the brand specialises in bold, rich and predominantly sherried single malts. The distillery’s new release, The GlenDronach 1993 Master Vintage, is no exception. The liquid in some sherry casks filled in 1993 proved so exceptional that the distillery did the sensible thing and bottled some of it! The GlenDronach master blender, Dr Rachel Barrie, personally hand-selected the Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry casks used in this twenty-five-year-old expression, which was bottled at 48.2% ABV without chill-filtration or additional colouring. “With a quarter of a century slowly maturing in our renowned Andalucían casks, The GlenDronach Master Vintage 1993 Aged 25 Years has developed profound layers of depth and complexity, leading to an exceedingly long, voluptuous and memorable finish,” said Dr. Barrie. “Fans of The GlenDronach’s traditional Highland Single Malt can expect rich brandy-laced fruitcake on the nose, cocoa-dusted coffee and sultana brioche on the palate and lingering pecan toffee notes in the finish. I hope sherry cask connoisseurs around the world enjoy The GlenDronach 1993 Master Vintage, as an example of the finest sherry cask maturation.” Well, that sounds amazing. Is anyone else salivating a little?

Behold: Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon

Balcones readies new pot still bourbon

Hang on to your hats, American whiskey fans! Waco-based distillery Balcones has a new addition to its core range. Behold: Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon! Made using the brand’s Forsyth pot stills and aged for 24 months in new charred oak barrels, the mash bill features roasted blue corn, Texas wheat, Texas rye and malted barley. The result? An intriguing straight bourbon bottled at 92 proof (46% ABV). “Texas Pot Still Bourbon is about inclusivity,” said Jared Himstedt, head distiller at Balcones. “We wanted to create something that both long-time Balcones enthusiasts and people who are experiencing us for the first time can appreciate. By delivering flavour complexity within an approachable taste profile, we can introduce more people to the nuance of what we do.” Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon should be with us in the second half of 2019, but if you really can’t wait and fancy a trip to the US, you can get it from Texas, Florida and California now, priced at US$29.99.

The Dalmore and Massimo Bottura Present The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years.

Folks, we have Dalmore news! There’s a new expression on the block, and this one comes with some significant age. The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years was created by master distiller Richard Paterson and Massimo Bottura, owner of three-Michelin starred Osteria Francescana in Modena (voted the best restaurant in the world by the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in 2018). 49 years-matured. Michelin-star chef. Dalmore. This should be good. Dalmore L’Anima – meaning soul in Italian – was inspired by Bottura and Paterson’s shared love of creativity, innovation and flavour. The 41.5% ABV cask-strength, natural colour expression is a marriage of Dalmore expressions previously matured in freshly-emptied small batch bourbon barrels; Gonzalez Byass casks which previously held 40 year old Pedro Ximénez sherry; and Graham’s vintage Port pipes. How does it taste? Sunkissed raisins, bitter chocolate, old English marmalade; freshly brewed Java coffee, Demerara sugar, pecan pie and crème brûlée, according to the tasting notes. But the most pleasing aspect of this new expression? It will be auctioned at Sotheby’s later this year raising funds for Bottura’s non-profit Food For Soul, which tackles fight food waste through social inclusion. “Bottura’s approach to deconstructing and reinventing daring food pairings is very similar to the way I approach whisky making,” said Paterson. “The coming together of our passions allowed me to create a whisky that is bold, different, full of warmth and completely unforgettable – it is a true reflection of the love, blood and balsamic that unites us.” Delightful.

The House of Peroni is a fully immersive experience

Introducing The House of Peroni 2019

Peroni Nastro Azzurro has kicked off its House of Peroni 2019 activation! The multi-sensory immersive experience is set London’s Covent Garden and features eight different spaces, inspired by eight emerging fashion designers. For example, the Sicily space focuses on light that recreates the Sicilian sky, the Nature and Maximalism room is full of botanical scents and a wall of man-made flowers, and the Future and Sci Fi area transports visitors to a futuristic time through industrial city sounds. Then there is, of course, the bar! Visitors are invited to sip on a selection of Peroni-infused cocktails crafted by Manchester-based bartender Sam Taylor, who has been mentored by Peroni Nastro Azzurro’s master of mixology, Simone Caporale. Taylor was scouted from a nationwide search for the best bartending talent, so expect great things from his creations! Each tipple is inspired by each of the eight designers, plus there’s Peroni Libera 0.0%, an alcohol-free serve just as stylish as its boozy counterparts. Just goes to show the Italian beer brand can keep up with current low alcohol trends. 2019 marks the seventh outing for the House of Peroni concept, which runs until 9 March.

Congratulations Scott Gavin!

Scott Gavin appointed bar manager at The Bloomsbury Club Bar

The Bloomsbury Club Bar, London, has a new bar manager. It’s UK World Class finalist Scott Gavin! With over 10 years of international experience in high-end hotels, independent cocktail bars and immersive bar outfits, Gavin began his career in 2006 in sunny Malta at Twentytwo, the island’s most prestigious bar. He returned to the UK in 2012 to become head bartender at the award-winning Limewood Hotel in Hampshire, before spending two years as senior bartender at the sublime Scarfes Bar at the Rosewood London. His first managerial role was at industry haunt NOLA, where he helped relaunch the bar. He also frequently collaborates with Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge. That’s some career, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can bring to The Bloomsbury Club Bar. “I’m thrilled to be joining the team,” said Gavin. “The Bloomsbury Club Bar has been really innovative in the way it works with brands and other bars across the world. This position will be a new challenge for me and I’m excited to help continue raising the profile of the bar in London and worldwide.” Best of luck, Mr. Gavin!

Golden Barrel LeClarc Briant

Behold! The golden barrel!

And finally… For the wine lover who has everything, how about Champagne aged in 24-carat gold?

Winemakers love experimenting with fermentation vessels. Wines can be made in oak casks, concrete tanks, stainless steel vats, and even clay amphora, just like in Roman times. But now one Champagne producer has come up with the blingiest way to make wine yet: in a gold barrel. According to The Drinks Business, Champagne house Leclerc Briant will be releasing a wine fermented and aged in a stainless steel barrel lined with 24-carat gold some time in 2021. When asked what was the point of a gold-plated barrel, winemaker Hervé Jestin talked about “a resonance between solar energy and the wine”. He then went on to say that the gold would “increase the level of solar activity during the first fermentation” and “makes a connection with cosmic activity”. We’ll have what he’s having!

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Master of Malt triumphs (again!) at the Icons of Gin

Last night was the Gin Magazine Awards in London, which saw the Icons of Gin 2019 named. There were many trophies up for grabs, including the coveted World’s Best Gin…

Last night was the Gin Magazine Awards in London, which saw the Icons of Gin 2019 named. There were many trophies up for grabs, including the coveted World’s Best Gin slot (and, spoiler alert! One had our name on it!). We have the full story.

Last night, we arrived at the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC to its friends), a massive seven-acre site in the City of London, to be confronted with the biggest G&Ts I’d ever seen. We were clearly in the right place for the Gin Magazine Awards. The evening was divided into three sections: Icons of Gin (honouring brands, retailers, bars and people), World Gin Awards (looking at liquid quality), and finally the Hall of Fame (individuals who have made notable contributions to the world of gin). Paragraph Publishing, the company behind Whisky Magazine, launched Gin Magazine in 2017 and the accompanying awards last year.

World Gin Awards

The trophy! And in the background Laura Carl and Angus Lugsdin from Salcombe Gin

Regular readers will know that we love gin here at Master of Malt, so much so that we just launched our very own bottling. We were delighted therefore to win Online Retailer Award for the second year running! The judges were particularly impressed with the range, the simplicity of the website, and the quality of the tasting notes and the blog. There to collect the award were campaigns executive Laura Carl, managing director Justin Petszaft, campaigns manager Jake Mountain, Atom Nucleus MD Joel Kelly and features editor Henry Jeffreys (that’s me!).

Master of Malt

The winning team, from left: Mountain, Petszaft, Carl, Jeffreys and Kelly.

Also honoured in the Icons of Gin category were our friends over at That Boutique-y Gin Company: Steph DiCamillo won Gin Brand Ambassador of the Year, and the company won Brand Innovator of the Year.

There was then a short break where a couple belted out opera classics and a bit of Tom Jones at full volume. I think they were paid entertainers, but may have been waiting staff with an urge to entertain. When they had finished, it was time for the World Gin Awards section of the evening.

In this section, all the gins were blind-tasted by a panel of judges led by David T. Smith, someone who will be familiar to gin lovers. There were lots of categories, but the overall World’s Best Gin award (sponsored by Wade Ceramics, mustn’t forget to mention the sponsor) went to Dingle Gin from Ireland, which also picked up the London Dry Gin Trophy. Congratulations to the team at Dingle! Their gin really is superb and their whiskey ain’t bad, either.

Christopher Hayman

Christopher Hayman with a gin still called Marjorie

For the finale, two gin legends were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Jon Hillgren from Hernö Gin in Sweden, and Christopher Hayman from Hayman’s Gin in London. These were two extremely popular choices, especially Hayman who kept the faith with gin in Britain when it was unfashionable. Hayman said a few words about how things have changed since he joined the business: there were very few brands and spirits were still shipped in cask. He finished by concluding that “gin runs in his family’s veins”.

Congratulations to all the winners!

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The Dublin Liberties Distillery is open!

The Irish capital now has three working distilleries! We travelled to the opening of the newest, Dublin Liberties, to meet head distiller Darryl McNally and taste the new make spirit….

The Irish capital now has three working distilleries! We travelled to the opening of the newest, Dublin Liberties, to meet head distiller Darryl McNally and taste the new make spirit.

The Irish whiskey revival steams on. On Tuesday, Simon Coveney, Irish minister of foreign affairs and trade, officially opened the newest whiskey-maker on the block: the Dublin Liberties Distillery. “Irish whiskey is one of the fastest-growing spirits in global markets and one of the leading lights of our food and drink export industry,” he said. “I am delighted to turn on the Dublin Liberties Distillery stills today, as the first liquid gold flows into casks for expert maturation with the promise of a premium, uniquely Irish product.”

Master distiller Darryl McNally, added: “Making whiskey is my passion, my lifeblood, and to be doing it in the heart of Dublin’s historic distilling district is nothing short of a dream come true for me”. We were given a guided tour by McNally on the night of the launch party.

The distillery is so new that it smells like a car fresh off the production line. So far, the team has only used two of the three stills. According to McNally: “The quality of liquid is unbelievable after two distillations, but haven’t done a third yet.” He let us try some, and it was packed with sweet cereal notes and incredibly smooth, clearly full of potential. The three stills were built by Carl of Germany to McNally’s exacting specifications.

When it comes to the raw materials, “it’s all about quality and provenance”, McNally said. The distillery uses water from an underground spring found by boring 30 metres beneath the city, and the barley comes entirely from two maltsters in Ireland. The team runs two-tonne mashes – according to McNally, double what a craft producer would make (though a long way behind what he was used to at Bushmills where he worked from 1998 to 2015). The mash is given a 60-to-72-hour ferment using distillers yeast.

Darryl McNally Dublin Liberties

Darryl McNally and his ‘Disney’ casks

Not all will be triple-distilled. “I want to grow the category, to innovate, so will do some double-distilled and some peated expressions,” McNally continued. “One of the reasons I left Bushmills is they wouldn’t let me innovate,” he joked. Dublin Liberties currently has capacity to produce 700,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, which works out at about 2.1 million bottles of single malt. He will continue to buy in grain whiskey for blends.

One thing he won’t make is a single pot still expression. “I’m aiming for an old-style Irish whiskey, pre-1850 malt tax,” he told us. Other distilleries have already approached him and asked about whether Dublin Liberties will make some malt whisky for them. The current, confirmed plan? To produce malt whisky for Dublin Liberties brand but also The Dubliner and The Dead Rabbit, a collaboration with the renowned New York bar. All three are currently made with malt sourced from other Irish distilleries, “but I am not allowed to tell you which ones”, McNally said.

While visiting the distillery we also got to try some exciting new Dublin Liberties expressions, which Master of Malt will be receiving soon. McNally agreed when I suggested that some customers might expect a whiskey called ‘The Dubliner’ to be distilled in the city. But of course, we won’t see any Dublin-distilled whiskey for at least three years, perhaps longer (though enthusiasts will be able to buy casks in advance).

The distillery cost around 10 million to build. It’s owned 75% by Quintessential Brands, the company behind Thomas Dakin and Greenall’s Gin, and 25% by Eastern European drinks company, Stock Spirits. Dubliner and Dublin Liberties are currently sold in 30 markets, with sales totalling more than 37,000 cases in 2018. The brands’ biggest export markets are the US, Russia, Germany, Australia and Eastern Europe.

Dublin Liberties

The handsome Dublin Liberties stills

“Darryl is a constant source of ideas, and combined with his unrivalled distilling skill, there’s no limits for Irish whiskey,” said Shane Hoyne, chief marketing officer for Quintessential Brands. “It is also fantastic to be partnering with a company of Stock Spirits’ calibre. Their involvement will also provide an opportunity for the brands to expand further in to new regions such as Poland and the Czech Republic. Right now, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the team’s achievement in building this fantastic distillery but with much more to come from us this year.”

There are now 22 distilleries in Ireland in various states of readiness, with another 22 planned. “Some won’t survive; the route to market, that’s hard,” McNally remarked. Nevertheless, he is bullish about the category: “We need more distilleries, Irish whiskey is about to go off the Richter scale, and we will run out.”

The Dublin Liberties Distillery is geared up for tourism with a big bar, lots of branded merchandise, and windows into the stills so you can see the whiskey distilling. The team even has half-barrels attached to the walls which McNally described as “a bit of Disney”. The whiskey will actually be aged in County Wexford.

This part of the city looks set to become a mecca for whiskey fans from all over the world with Teeling right next door, Pearce Lyon nearby and, soon, Diageo’s Roe & Co revival.

It’s great to see Irish whiskey back in Dublin where it belongs.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Margarita

Have you all got 22 February marked off in your diaries? No? Well, it’s National Margarita Day and we have everything you need to know about this Tequila-based cocktail. As…

Have you all got 22 February marked off in your diaries? No? Well, it’s National Margarita Day and we have everything you need to know about this Tequila-based cocktail.

As I am sure you are aware, Friday 22 February is National Margarita Day.  Well, it’s National Margarita Day in America at least, and in Mexico every day is National Margarita Day, or so I like to think. But like Loyd Grossman, bourbon, and the word ‘dissed’, National Margarita Day has crossed the Atlantic*.

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How J&B Scotch charmed Hollywood’s Rat Pack

Created by London wine merchants Justerini & Brooks, J&B Rare Scotch whisky was the drink of choice for world-famous casino crooners The Rat Pack, travelling more than 5,000 miles to…

Created by London wine merchants Justerini & Brooks, J&B Rare Scotch whisky was the drink of choice for world-famous casino crooners The Rat Pack, travelling more than 5,000 miles to make it into their tumblers. Here, writer Damian Barr explains just how Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and company got their mitts on the liquid…

Before tux-clad entertainers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop took the Las Vegas casino scene by storm in the 1950s and ‘60s, the city was little more than “a patch in the Nevada Desert,” Barr explains, speaking at London bar Oriole during J&B’s Rat Pack Redistilled event.

“The Rat Pack turned it into what it is now – for better and for worse,” he continues. “They liked to gatecrash one another’s shows, and often if you were going to a show for one of the members it would say over the marquee, ‘Dean Martin, maybe Frank, maybe Sammy’, because they just never knew who was going to turn up.”

J&B and America, a special relationship

So, how did the high rollers of Hollywood wind up quaffing what was, in fact, a wine merchant’s whisky? It all started with the ‘J’ in J&B – an Italian master distiller, blender, and creator of what were then referred to as ‘foreign cordials’, Giacomo Justerini, when he arrived in London from Italy back in 1749.

“He didn’t have much money, but he had lots of charm and a recipe which he copied on the back of a notebook and brought from his uncle in Bologna,” says Barr. “He needed a business partner so he set about finding one, and found Dr Samuel Johnson.”

Justerini set up as a wine merchant with Johnson’s nephew, George, at 76 Haymarket – the business remains nearby today – until eventually George sold his share of the business to Albert Brooks, paving the way for the J&B recognisable today.

“By the early nineteenth century, a huge interest increased in the number of private members clubs and they all opened up around St James’s,” says Barr. “Great whisky barons like [creator of Old Vatted Glenlivet] Andrew Usher and Tommy Dewar noted the increased demand and decided to improve their recipes. Every other whisky maker on the block – including Justerini and Brooks – decided to up their game.”

Brooks approached Usher – the first person to commercially blend whisky – and tasked him with creating a smoother blend. Usher, together with his business partner James Anderson, developed J&B Club, the precursor to J&B Rare. The duo was so enamoured with it, they decided to buy the business from Justerini and Brooks.

The Duke of Windsor J&B

The Duke of Windsor enjoying a glass of J&B

Not long later, during world war one, Anderson’s son met a exceedingly charismatic young man called Eddie Tatham in the trenches. He joined the company immediately after the war ended, and soon became a director. With the advent of cinema, film actors became friends with Tatham, who was “very outgoing and well-dressed… a party boy”.

“Eddie was a charmer, he was the kind of man that you’d want to be on out with on a night that might take unexpected turns,” says Barr. “His tactic was to choose top restaurants, top bars, top hotels, what became known as the tip of the trade. He received a bonus not long after joining of £200, which equates to £12,000 in today’s money, and set sail for America.”

There he met blender Charlie Julian, who is responsible for creating Chivas Regal among other whiskies. Together, they begin the blending process for what would eventually become J&B Rare: a blend of at least 42 single malt and grain Speyside whiskies, including liquid from Knockando, Auchroisk, Strathmill and Glen Spey. After Prohibition was repealed, Tatham set about “importing the good stuff from Scotland for the thirsty of America”.

With the help of distributor Abe Rosenberg, Tatham decided to target the national markets; Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Palm Beach, New Orleans, Newport. “Of these, the biggest was Las Vegas; big gamblers, big singers, big comedians, all playing the casinos,” says Barr. Performers like the Rat Pack, who he became very good friends with.

“Abe Rosenberg had this trick – he would send half a gallon of J&B to the dressing room of a star who had a show on and say, ‘I enjoyed your show very much, have one on me’,” says Barr. “Even if he was in New York or Rome or Paris! Apparently he was trying to give away up to 1,000 cases of Scotch every single year.”

The most loyal of J&B’s Rat Pack admirers was Dean Martin, the ‘amiable drunk’ persona, which he honed at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. “Introduced with the words ‘…and now, direct from the bar’, he would bound on stage, taking a Scotch from somebody’s table on the way,” says Barr. “There was often a bar on stage, and he’d ‘top-up’ his glass before launching into the final rendition of That’s Amore. He used to tell his audiences, “I don’t drink any more… I don’t drink any less, either’.”

Entertaining as it was, Martin’s intoxication was a little more than a stage act. “His son Ricky said that while it was true [his] Dad drank, the drunky routine was an act,” explains Barr. “On stage, and later on his TV show, he did have a J&B Scotch and soda but it was almost always a weak one – and sometimes it was just an apple juice.”

Dean Martin J&B

Dean Martin, that’s actually apple juice in his glass. No, really!

 

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