It’s a celeb-packed Nightcap: 12 February edition featuring Ryan Reynolds (twice), David Beckham, Diddy and even the European Brand Director of Casamigos. No, really. The European Brand Director. Talk about A-list.
It’s always a pleasure to welcome the weekend. And what a weekend this is. There’s so much on! Valentine’s Day, which is apparently still a thing, is on Sunday. While today is Chinese New Year (shout out to all you rad Metal Oxes). If you’re in the UK, however, this week has been all about Storm Darcy (cold, beautiful, makes things difficult for people around them. The name actually makes a lot of sense). The freezing temperatures have brought heavy snowfall and the usual British response: State disbelief there’s snow. Say how beautiful it looks. Moan that it didn’t happen in December. Enjoy Christmas card scenes. Moan about the disruption. Get a second wind and take photos. Moan it’s not going away. Finally, moan again when it is gone. It’s comforting how familiar this pattern is. As assured as every new edition of The Nightcap landing at 4pm on Friday. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
This week on the MoM blog we launched a new competition with 1826 cocktails, so if getting bar-quality serves sent straight to your door for free sounds like something you’re interested in, be sure to enter before the deadline on Sunday night. We kept the batched cocktail vibe going by welcoming the Myatt’s Fields range to our site before enjoying a Rusty Nail and then some of the best value new world drams you can get your hands on for bargain prices. There was time to also show off our swanky masterclass videos of the 2020 Diageo Special Releases, hear from Millie about the brands putting real flavour into vodka and do some learnin’ with Lucy on how to pair whisky with cheese.
Brett Ferencz, aka Scotch Trooper, dies
We start this week’s Nightcap with some really sad news: Brett Ferencz, known by many whisky lovers as Scotch Trooper, passed away on 11 February following a battle with cancer. He brought joy to so many by bringing together two of his passions: whisky and Star Wars. The worlds collided in the most enchanting of ways, and his posts depicting bottles, cocktail kit, casks and more were always accompanied by a Star Wars character and a warm, often witty note. One of the most remarkable things about Brett – although none of MoM HQ’s editorial team met him offline – was how his love for whisky shone in a way that always welcomed new drinkers into the fold. Of course, you can’t measure a person by their follower count, but the community he built is significant in size and passion, both for Scotch and each other. It’s a sad day for many. His family posted on Instagram: “I didn’t lose my battle with cancer. At best it was a tie. I took the Death Star down with me.” We’ll be raising a dram to Brett and his family this weekend.
Ryan Reynolds launches Wrexham AFC Aviation Gin
Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have celebrated their takeover of Wrexham AFC by launching a limited-edition Aviation Gin. In a move that has slightly baffled but mostly delighted football fans, the Deadpool actor and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia co-creator have taken 100% control of Wrexham AFC Limited from the Wrexham Supporters Trust. To mark the occasion, one of Reynolds’ other businesses, Aviation Gin, has launched 6,000 bottles with a new design for fans to order from the official Wrexham AFC webshop. “Rob and I are ecstatic to have won the approval of the Wrexham fans and the League and this bottle is for them,” Reynolds said. “It’s a small first step on what will hopefully be a legendary underdog story.” It raises the question: which A-lister will invest in the local football club of a post-industrial North Wales town next? Maybe Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson will buy Gresford Athletic and establish a new major football rivalry…
… and donates $1m with Diddy, Becks and Diageo
Not content with making just one headline this week, Reynolds also appeared in a video with Sean “Diddy” Combs, and David Beckham, the co-owners of DeLeón Tequila, and Haig Club respectively, to show their support to the bartending community, which has been majorly affected by COVID-19. The comedic clip shows the trio making drinks featuring their products and ingredients from Tampa Bay, Florida, and Kansas City, Missouri (in honour of the Super Bowl) which inevitably turns out to be undrinkable and disgusting. So they instead announce that Diageo, the company which produces all three of these brands, will donate $1 million between Drinks Trust UK, the Bartender’s Benevolent Fund and Another Round, Another Rally.
Covid-19 fails to halt UK’s distillery boom
Remarkable and uplifting news came from HMRC figures, of all places, this week. The data showed that a record number of distilleries were registered in the UK in 2020. The stats, as reported by The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, are really something. The number of distilleries grew by over 100 in 12 months for the first time. There’s more than 300 in England (311) for the first time. And the total number registered in 2020 grew to over 560, up from over 440 in 2019. All this occurred despite the many restrictions and implications of the pandemic, including the shutdown of the hospitality sector. However, it should be noted that 2020 was still a phenomenally hard year for many of the UK’s distillers, the majority of whom are small, independently-owned businesses. That’s why the WSTA is urging the government to back distillers. “With such a difficult 2020 behind us and a daunting challenge to recover in 2021, our distillers need the support of the chancellor at the upcoming budget. A freeze at the last budget certainly helped distillers to invest and grow, but we need the chancellor to go further this time, with both a duty cut and an extension of the VAT reduction in hospitality venues, until at least March 2022 – and including alcoholic drinks,” says chief executive of the WSTA and Nightcap legend Miles Beale. “Distillers across the UK will play a vital role in 2021 and beyond as hospitality begins to open up again, and by showing his support for distillers at the Budget the Chancellor can also promote the hospitality industry as it rebounds from Covid-19 restrictions.”
Elixir Distillers’ Islay distillery gets green light
We’re one step closer to seeing another new distillery on Islay. Elixir Distillers has revealed this week that the Argyll & Bute council planning committee has granted planning permission to them to go ahead with its project. The brand, which first announced its intentions in 2018, should break ground in 2021 and will reveal the name of the distillery soon. What we know for now is that it will be located in the southeast of Islay next to the town of Port Ellen, not far from Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg. The distillery will produce 1 million litres of alcohol a year and will use floor maltings to process just over half of the barley needed. Which is neat. You don’t see much of that anymore. There will also be on-site housing for distillery workers, a visitor’s centre and a multipurpose educational facility, with further initiatives to support the local community and an apprentice programme for aspiring distillers to be pursued further down the line. “We’ve worked closely with the Argyll & Bute planning committee to create plans for a distillery that fits into the landscape and supports the community,” said Sukhinder Singh, who co-founded Elixir Distillers with his brother Rajbir (where else do we know these guys from?). “We want to create whiskies that inspire both the people of Islay and Islay whisky fans world-wide, enhancing the already glowing reputation of Islay whiskies, while also becoming an integral part of the community.” Once it and the previously closed Port Ellen (which is undergoing reconstruction) open, Islay will have 11 working distilleries. Sounds like things are getting pretty cramped. There’s plenty of room in Tonbridge if anyone wants to build a distillery next to us…
Glenrothes auctions last of 50-Year-Old with Royal Warrant jeweller
It’s not quite as fancy as the Irish whiskey Faberge craziness we reported on last week. Nevertheless, a Glenrothes that’s going under the hammer at Bonhams on 19 February sounds pretty tasty. It’s the 50th and last bottle of the distillery 50-year-old single malt. Naturally, it’s not going to be housed in any old bottle. Oh no. Royal Warrant jeweller Hamilton & Inches has created a one-off decanter with a 22-carat gold label. And it’s not just any gold as Victoria Houghton from Hamilton & Inches explained: “The decanter will feature the first gold from the Cononish gold mine with Hamilton & Inches being the only fine jeweller to have access to this Scottish treasure.” Exclusive. Kerr Arthur, director of The Glenrothes brand, added: “This collaboration with Hamilton & Inches unites the exceptional craft and commitment of a Master Whisky Maker and Goldsmith to ensure that our last decanter to be released, ‘The 50th of 50’ will be very special and offer whisky lovers from around the world the opportunity to acquire a unique combination: single malt Scotch whisky and single mine Scottish gold.” Best of all, proceeds generated from the sale will go to a charity chosen by the winning bidder. The auction begins at 13:00 GMT on 19 February. Last year a bottle of Glenrothes 50 Year Old sold for £30,000 through Bonhams in Hong Kong. Time to get saving.
Chapel Down quits beer and cider
Our Kent neighbours Chapel Down has become the country’s biggest and best-known wine producer while also making delicious gin, vodka, beer and cider too. Sadly, the brand has been forced into parting ways with its beer and cider arm Curious Drinks after a strategic review found it had suffered greatly during the pandemic and lockdown. Chapel Down made the difficult decision of putting Curious Drinks into administration, which has allowed the private equity firm Risk Capital Partners RCP to acquire it. RCP will establish a new company to run the business and take on its assets, including the new 2,900hl brewery in Ashford and its on-site restaurant. Chapel Down will receive no payment for the business but will be cleared of its net debt in Curious Drinks. The good news is that there will be no job losses as a result of the deal and that Chapel Down’s wine and spirits division achieved 38% volume growth last year despite the hospitality sector shutdowns. “We see a significant opportunity and a very bright future for Chapel Down,” Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down Group commented. “We certainly won’t be abandoning the hospitality business – we love it – and will support its return vigorously with our wines and spirits”.
Port market looking strong as Taylor’s releases its third vintage in a row
We were fortunate to be given a little taste of the 2018 vintage of vintage Ports from the Fladgate stable. This is the unprecedented third year in a row that the company behind Taylor’s, Fonseca and Croft, has declared a vintage. CEO Adrian Bridge described it as somewhere in style between the fragrant 2016s and the sturdier 2017s. He added that the decision to declare was “all about the quality of the vintage” rather than about commercial considerations. Because of Covid, however, they delayed the release to this year, despite clamouring from the American market. The wines were on top form: Croft Quitna da Roeda was exotic and fragrant; Fonseca Guimaraens was spicy and packed with dark fruit; while the Taylor’s was weighty and structured, and promises great things for the future. Meanwhile, the Symington Group, Taylor’s great rivals, announced a strong performance in 2020 with sales up 37.3% in the last quarter compared with 2019. Johnny Symington commented: “With pubs, bars and restaurants closed for much of the year and people confined to their homes, 2020 was devastating for our on-trade customers. We were fortunate, however, that demand for port soared in the rest of the UK wine trade. We were extremely proud of our importers, Fells, who decided in September 2020 to return all of the furlough money provided to them by the UK government in response to better than expected trading.” Taylor’s too reported a strong performance. It seems when times are tough, people turn to Port.
Challenging times as Pernod Ricard posts 2020 results
Well, we knew it was going to be tough, and Pernod Ricard’s second half of 2020 results that were announced this morning in a press conference showed how difficult it’s been. The shocker is Beefeater down 20% on the previous year. This is due to the disappearance of the on-trade in the all-important Spanish market. Other big brands struggling are Ballantine’s, down 12%, Chivas Regal, down 12% and Royal Salute, down 28%. Overall sales decreased by 3.9% with profits down by 2.4%. Much of this decline is because of the lack of travel retail sales. Despite the malt tariffs on US imports, Glenlivet was in growth by 2%. There are more grounds for optimism as the UK off-trade is up by 31% with online sales increasing by 138%. Overall UK sales up by 13% with Jameson, Malfy Gin, and Absolut looking particularly strong. Furthermore, CEO of Chivas Brothers Jean-Christophe Coutures said that there had been no incidence of Covid in distilleries. He commented: “I am proud of what we achieved. 100% of staff and salaries have been kept,” and the company has even been recruiting. It also seems that the earlier rift with the Scottish government has been healed. He said that the industry had suffered doubly from loss of export business and closure of visitor centres. The priority was now ending the tariffs to the US on Scotch whisky and he looked forward to potential trade deals with New Zealand, Australia and, most exciting of all, India. David Haworth, CEO of Pernod Ricard UK spoke for everyone when he hoped for a massive boom to the on-trade when lockdowns are lifted and said: “we’ve all been missing the pub.”
And finally… Casamigos insists media use correct title for Princess Eugenie’s husband
It can be hard work meeting royalty knowing when to bow or courtesy, whether to call them ‘your highness’, or ‘your majesty, or ‘big Phil.’ Now there’s an added complication as Casamigos, George Clooney’s Tequila brand, is insisting that Jack Brooksbank, husband of HRH (we got that bit right) Princess Eugenie, be referred to by his proper title. The PR missive reported in the Daily Mail stated: “Due to the recent news surrounding the arrival of the Royal Baby from HRH Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, we wanted to drop you a note to ask if you are to mention any further details about Jack Brooksbank that you use his official title: European Brand Director of Casamigos Tequila.” Now the happy news about the birth of the royal baby has been overshadowed in the media by this bit of clumsy corporate overreach. Not for us though, we want to offer our congratulations to HRH Princess Eugenie and EBDCT Jack Brooksbank!