Last week was quite a week.
Tuesday evening saw the MoM team in the opulent surroundings of the Dorchester hotel, having been nominated for not one, but two awards at the highly prestigious Drinks Retailing Awards – organised by Off Licence News. Spoiler alert: We won them both.
The categories for which we were nominated were Online Retailer of the Year, and Innovation of the Year.
The MoM team, with a notoriously ‘jolly’ fellow. Also pictured, Olly Smith.
We were absolutely delighted to have been nominated for the ‘Online Retailer of the Year’ award this year (for the first time), and needless to say were absolutely flabbergasted when it was announced that we had won, not least because this award isn’t just for ‘whisky’, or indeed ‘spirits’, this is for ‘drinks’. To put it in perspective, other nominees in the category included Tesco, and Majestic Wine.
The backdrop to the award presentation was a simple snapshot of our site – declared the most user-friendly, written in a unique and approachable style, and with a frankly insane range of spirits and indeed wines, as well as first-rate customer service.
Our flabbergast-ment was perhaps increased somewhat by the fact that some clever so-and-so had seen fit to leave a 3 litre bottle of Tequila on Justin’s table, but nevertheless…
Cradled like a liquor-rich newborn baby
After a reasonable amount of celebration, it was announced that we had also won the ‘Innovator of the Year’ category.
Whilst we were still somewhat reeling from the impact of being declared the Online Retailer of the Year, we were slightly more optimistic from the outset about our chances for the Innovation of the year category (whilst remaining humble and throughly grateful to the OLN team of course 🙂 ).
The backdrop from the award presentation had a few clues as to the reason for the award, but it occurred to me whilst we were collecting it that I’d not yet done a round-up of the innovations, and ‘stuff’ we’ve launched in the 12 or so months since my last one in December of 2011…
Innovation. Lots and Lots of Innovation.
So – Innovation then. What have we done to justify this title in the last 12 months?
Let’s start from the beginning (and I’ll helpfully link to the individual blog posts on each product as we get to them so you can read more if you wish):
First up, a product which has gained me at least 5 dead-arms from people I don’t even know, and caused misery to countless hundreds of thousands all across the globe.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, surely not one, but two videos will be enough to convince you that it’s a terrible idea, and steer well clear:
So. Having dealt with the horrid and unnecessary nastiness of all that, on to a much more palatable concoction – for the leap year in 2012, I created a brand spanking new cocktail – which we sold in 200ml samples under the new ‘experimental series’ range of Handmade Cocktails for one day only (28th Feb). We issued a challenge on the blog, entreating people to try and guess the ingredients in order to win the honour of naming the cocktail. The winner (who was pretty close) chose to call this delicious new creation, the ‘Left Bank’ cocktail:
Not content with his initial offering of the fantastic Bathtub Gin, Professor Cornelius Ampleforth turned out an offering of Cask Aged Gin in mid-2012 – finished for a shade over 3 months in ex-whisky casks measuring only 50 litres in size.
Continuing with the Gin theme, in late June, we unveiled perhaps the most ‘out-there’ concept ever seen in the world of gin – The Origin Series of Single Estate Gins. Originally concocted as a ‘what if’ idea during a meeting with the lovely folk at The Gin Blog, the idea was simple: Take Juniper berries from different locations all around the world, distil them, and give consumers the opportunity to experience the differences in terroir that are revealed when sampling gin created from just one botanical.
Next up was a product which doesn’t really need much explanation. Maple Syrup is tasty. So is Bourbon. The two mixed together are even tastier. Fin. Hence Maple Whiskey Liqueur.
During this brief hiatus, Professor Ampleforth had become restless. He’d also become hot, bothered, and fed up of Pimms. So he spent hours in the (mercifully air-conditioned) lab, creating his very own Summer Fruit Cup using a cold-distilled mixture of Strawberries, Mint, Orange and Cucmber (amongst other ingredients).
The Professor went on with his one-man cold-distilling mission, producing an absolute belter (quite literally – it’s the world’s strongest!) of a blanche absinthe – Cold-Distilled Absinthe. Despite its somewhat lofty ABV, this absinthe retains a smoothness and light-touch approachability that belies its ABV.
After all this summertime shennanigannary, it’s fair to say that we’d copped a bit of flak from the hardcore whisky community for, well, not doing anything particularly innovative in the field of whisky. Sure, we’d been releasing single casks like nobody’s business, but nothing particularly mould-breaking. Enter ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’.
Since its launch in September 2012, That Boutiquey Whisky Company has bottled no fewer than 25 single malts, single grains, and blended malt whiskies, each and every one of them with a hand-illustrated label depicting amusing scenes or in-jokes from the world of whisky.
It’s incredibly tough to pick favourites from this little lot, but you can find the full range by clicking on the image below:
Following on from whisky, came some new, experimental whiskey (and gin) cocktails – bottled in 20cl in order to allow people to ‘vote with their feet’ as to which of them was included in the 2013 line-up (it’s the Hanky Panky. Yum). These were packaged up as ‘Experimental Series’ cocktails from The Handmade Cocktail Company.
Now – for as long as I can remember, I’ve been asked the same question by all serious barmen: “Can you get hold of casks for us to mature stuff in?”. In late September, we answered this question by importing mini casks from America ourselves. Okay, so we didn’t ‘make’ these, but bringing stuff into the country counts as innovation, right? Maybe not.
Following the influx of casks, was a pretty obvious innovation, requiring only the addition of some New-Make Spirit. The ‘Mature Your Own’ Kit.
The month or so’s hiatus since his last release had made the Professor angry, and he took his revenge in the form of the punchy, heavily-botanicalled, and general awesome Bathtub Gin – Navy Strength.
Next up came a few more experimental cocktails, inspired by some tastings I’d done of some antique spirits and liqueurs (the power and finesse of the Vermouths especially). These antique versions of the Martinez, Manhattan, Negroni and Rob Roy promptly sold out, requiring second and third batches of the Negroni almost immediately. More of the other cocktails are on the way. Promise. Just give me a few weeks.
Not to be outdone by cocktails, Professor Ampleforth stepped up once again with Rumbullion! – Navy Strength. You’ll want to click on that previous link. It has exploding things in it. Nearly perished, so I did.
As I’m sure everyone will remember, the new Bond film launched in October 2012. They made him drink beer for PR purposes. This made us sad, so we bottled a Vesper Cocktail and sent him one. The success of this surprised us somewhat, so we’re actually going to be launching a 70cl version later this year*. For now though, you can still buy the old 20cl experimental version:
In late October, we finally got fed up of listening to everyone (well, Gal Granov, if I’m honest) banging on about the need for us to up the ABV on our 30, 40 and 50yo bottlings, so we did. And we’re happy we did. We also re-launched the packaging to be more up-to-date. You’re going to see all of our future releases in this packaging. We think it’s handsome.
In early November, we launched what has been described, by me, just now, as ‘The Best Thing’. The Whisky Advent Calendar, and The Ginvent Calendar. Very little explanation necessary here. Just remember to start a piggy-bank for the 2013 version now, as there are big things afoot 🙂
In early December, after almost a year and a half of planning – we finally launched the first of our collaborations with the Worship Street Whistling Shop – Cream Gin. This utterly madcap concoction uses cold-distilled cream as one of the botanicals in its preparation, and the resulting mouthfeel and vanilla-rich profile is a thing of wonder indeed. There are many more cocktail collaborations coming from the Whistling Shop, and others – watch this space!
Is there more? I’m sure there is. I’ve definitely forgotten about our Crystal Bitters, and many, many more products besides.
Has it been a busy year? Yes.
Have we got even more up our sleeve for 2013? Yes.
Are there a couple of genuinely ground-breaking whisky projects to launch in 2013? Yes.
Is that a picture of Justin wearing a sombrero behind the counter of a chicken and rib shop on the way back from the awards ceremony to Tunbridge Wells? Yes.
Look how happy the chicken man is!
Is my dress-shirt in any way serviceable after the aforementioned ribs? No.
Is Lucy about to do a forward flip? Who can say…
*that or I’ve done it solely to upset Adam off of Adam’s Bitters who hates Vespers with a passion. One or the other.