Which bar has the world’s biggest whisky selection? Where can you get free pints – or even pull your own? Can hamsters outdrink elephants? All these questions and more are answered here. It’s The Nightcap: 21 January edition!

It’s Friday afternoon, which means we’ve all made it through another week of January and are closer to brighter, warmer days. Although we do love being tucked up warm with a good dram and a fresh edition of The Nightcap on a winter’s evening. Good thing we’ve whipped up another one then, isn’t it? Let’s crack on.

This week on the blog we had a £20,000 50-year-old GlenDronach whisky, which frankly is exciting enough to have been the sole feature, but then we also got to see how Diageo is reviving Brora and picked out some top Scotch to enjoy on Burns Night. A gin from Lebanon called GinBey also arrived at our doors, as Lauren took a look at the inexorable rise of the non-alcoholic apéritif and Millie bemoaned the dying of the dive bar, before we whipped up a Bobby Burns especially for Burns Night.

Now, onwards to The Nightcap: 21 January edition!

The Nightcap: 21 January

The release celebrates a broken boiler and a fermentation that went on for three weeks!

Ardbeg limited release celebrates a fermentation that went wrong

We tend to think of single malt distilleries as well-oiled machines, turning out consistently excellent whisky. But sometimes things go wrong. Very wrong. One such time was in November 2007 when the boiler broke at Ardbeg and refused to get going. This could have spelled disaster for the washbacks which would have been too cool to do the normal ferment. Where most would have seen a crisis, Dr Bill Lumsden saw a crisitunity. He instructed the team to open the washbacks and expose them to the air. He explained: “I’ve always wanted to experiment with longer fermentations, so I think an unintentional boiler breakdown was the best thing that could have happened! For context, most Ardbeg is only fermented for 72 hours, making three weeks uncharted territory for us. The outcome is a dram that tastes like pure science fiction. Peat and smoke meld beautifully with fresh, floral flavours, while sharp, more malty notes give Ardbeg Fermutation a uniquely zingy profile.” It was aged in a mixture of first-fill and refill bourbon casks and bottled at 49.4% ABV. This very unusual 13-year-old Islay malt will set you back £150 and is only available to Ardbeg Committee members from 1 February. It’s likely to be a collector’s item of the future. 

The Nightcap: 21 January

We say goodbye to a great man, Anthony Barton

Legendary Bordeaux owner Anthony Barton dies 

Sad news from Bordeaux as the wine world lost one of its greats in the form of Anthony Barton who died on Wednesday at the age of 91. Barton was one of the last of a breed of Irishmen who used to dominate the Bordeaux wine trade up until the 1970s when the multinationals moved in. He was descended from Tom “French Tom” Barton from Enniskillen who came to Bordeaux in 1722, Despite being in Bordeaux ever since, the family retained its Anglo-Irish roots. Anthony was born in Ireland in 1930, educated in England, and at the age of 21 came to work with his uncle Ronald Barton at Chateau Langoa-Barton. When his uncle died, Anthony took over in 1983 and under his watch, the wines of Langoa-Barton and Leoville-Barton went from strength to strength to become some of the most highly-prized in Bordeaux. He had been ill for a number of years but we are pleased to hear that he was able to attend his granddaughter’s wedding recently. Following news of his death, tributes poured in from around the world, with people remembering his warmth, kindness, and generosity. The term ‘proper gentleman’ was used a lot. We would like to offer our condolences to his wife Eva, and daughter Lilian Barton-Sartorius, who is involved with the business. The Barton family legacy is safe in her hands. 

The Nightcap: 21 January

Brewdog in trouble again

Brewdog shipped not legally-approved beers to US

It just gets worse for the self-styled punks of the beer world. A BBC investigation has discovered that Brewdog shipped beer including Elvis Juice to the USA that contained ingredients that had not been legally approved. One former worker who spoke to the BBC stated: “The pressure was enormous. ‘Just make it happen’, that was the culture. It was clear to us this was coming from the top – from James [Watt].” There is evidence that Brewdog deliberately deceived the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in America by giving them false information on at least five occasions. It would have been the importer who would be liable had the TTB decided to take action. One importer Daniel Shelton commented: “We believed what we were told and we weren’t told what was actually going on. They [Brewdog] did lead somebody in my company to falsify documents. And, of course, I’m not happy about that; I don’t respect that, I don’t like it.” James Watt, Brewdog’s founder responded on Linkedin: “We made some mistakes with the paperwork on the first few shipments.” He continued, “all taxes were paid in full, but the paperwork was not always correct.” He also said that he has come clean to the TTB which has decided not to take action. All this and more will be in a forthcoming BBC Scotland investigative programme about the craft beer behemoth which will be broadcast on BBC One Scotland on Monday 24 January at 19:00, and available on the BBC website soon after. Sounds like required viewing.

The Nightcap: 21 January

The new record breakers?

World’s biggest whisky selection in Lanarkshire?

A Scots chef claims his bar has the world’s biggest whisky selection beating ‘record holders’ in the USA. Derek Mather has more than 3,000 different drams behind the bar at the Artisan Restaurant in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, and believes his collection topples that of a pub in California that holds the official Guinness Book of Records title. The Whiskey House in San Diego – run by Alex Minaev – says it has the most, with 2,467 on offer, and was awarded the prestigious title in January 2019. It will hold it until it is officially contested, but Mather is doing just that, saying “If 2,467 whiskies is the current world record then we know we’ve topped it. We have over 3,000 whiskies here”. Minaev, who claims he now has more than 4,000 different drams, responded in kind, however, saying “Well, you can claim you are the fastest runner at 100m but, until you register that record at the Olympics, it is no more than just a claim.” Sounds like fighting talk. So, who actually has the most whisky? We won’t know from the Guinness Book of Records unless Mather formally registers his selection. Seems like it’s pretty obvious what should happen next… dram off!

The Nightcap: 21 January

Just make sure you know how to pour your Guinness or you’ll end up on @shitlondonguinness

A 500-year-old pub on Airbnb lets you pull your own pints

If pulling your own pints in a 500-year-old pub with your mates sounds like the dream, then you’ll be delighted to learn about a new staycation opportunity in Lincolnshire. The White Hart Inn, located in Horncastle has been listed on Airbnb at £667 per night and sleeps 14 guests. Or a bargain £47 per person per night. There are six bedrooms (and a sofa bed), seven bathrooms, pool tables, plenty of room to host meals, and beautiful surrounding countryside to explore. But the main attraction is the fully functioning bar, where you can even hook up the beer of your choice if you order in advance. Unsurprisingly, customers are already leaving rave reviews for the venue on Airbnb. What’s not to love about enjoying your favourite pints on draught with your friends and family in a space that’s all your own. Unless, of course, you’re like us and are friends with a lot of bartenders. Then it might feel like a busman’s holiday…

The Nightcap: 21 January

Jezza’s getting the round in

Jeremy Clarkson offers fans free beer at his brewery

And if you don’t want to pull your own pints, then let Jeremy Clarkson do it for you. Well, not quite him personally, but the TV presenter is offering fans the chance to enjoy free beer at his new brewery. The Top Gear, Grand Tour, and Clarkson’s Farm star has revealed that the Cotswold Brewing Company in Gloucestershire, home to his Hawkstone Lager, is in the process of developing a new 4% ABV session lager and has sought input from beer lovers who are willing to participate in the recipe testing this week. Two free samples of the two session front-running recipes, as well as a free half pint of his Hawkstone 4.8% ABV lager, are on offer, both made using Clarkson’s own barley from Diddly Squat farm. Clarkson’s farm shop has had some bad news recently, having been forced to close and been refused planning permission for a restaurant, but the bar is still going strong. “The Hawkstone master brewers have been working tirelessly on the new session lager but we’ve reached a bit of a deadlock with these two recipes,” says Clarkson. “We’re calling on all beer lovers to come down to the brewery and help us decide which goes into production.” Some people might find Clarkson disagreeable, but you can’t argue with free beer.

The Nightcap: 21 January

If this goes right for Scotch the results will be huge

Scotch whisky on the table in trade talks with India

Trade talks between the UK and India are now underway, with Scotch whisky on the table as one product with huge potential gains. Scotch is only one product among many that Britain wants to export, but cracking the world’s biggest whisky market has plenty of obstacles. A bottle arriving in the port of Mumbai faces a colossal 150% import tariff, in part because domestic distillers have lobbied fiercely and successfully to limit Scottish imports. Yet it hasn’t stopped Indians from being enthusiastic drinkers of Scotch whisky. To further complicate matters, some Indian states don’t allow alcohol sales at all, except for those who know how to get around the rules. Scotch makes up only 2% of India’s market, yet the value of Scotch whisky sales to India has risen from below £60m in 2011 to more than £150m in 2019. Oxford Economics calculated that if import tariffs come down to around 25% it would lead to £1.2bn more exports within five years, potentially generating 1,300 jobs in the UK. And part of the pitch to the Indian government is that such trade liberalisation would only take Scotch from 2% to around 6% of the nation’s consumption while boosting Delhi’s government revenues by more than £3bn. That way, everyone wins. If only it was that simple. Still, if progress could be made, it would mean a great deal to Scotch whisky.

The Nightcap: 21 January

Congratulations, Angelo!

St James Bar appoints Angelo Sparvoli head bartender

St James Bar has a new head bartender: Angelo Sparvoli. Taking the reins at the establishment within the five-star Sofitel hotel, Sparvoli joins with an impressive résumé. The 28-year-old Italian- native began his foray into the industry in 2013, in the Le Marche region of central Italy. He worked several bars in Italy and Portugal before joining the prestigious American Bar at The Savoy in 2016. There he progressed from barback to bartender under the tutelage of bar manager Declan McGurk and head bartender Erik Lorincz, during which the bar garnered a multitude of awards including World’s Best Bar at the Spirited Awards in 2018 and in the World’s 50 Best in 2017. In January 2020, Sparvoli joined Lorincz at the award-winning Kwānt, but has now got his own space to show us what he’s got. “I am very excited to welcome Angelo at St James bar in Sofitel London St James,” says Kostas Bardas, bar manager at St James Bar. “His passion and vision for bartending, alongside his well-established experience in prestigious bars will elevate our five-star offering even more.”

The Nightcap: 21 January

These are hot property

No-and-low alcohol category value nears $10bn

It’s more than just Dry January, interest in no- and low-alcohol drinks is fast becoming a year-round trend. A new report from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis shows just how much the category has to celebrate, after examining 10 core markets: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the UK, and the US. Based on its findings, the IWSR forecasts that no- and low-alcohol volume will rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 8% between 2021 and 2025, outpacing alcohol volume growth by more than 0.7% CAGR over the four-year period. The market value of the no-and-low sector in 2021 in the 10 markets reached just under US$10 billion, up by 6% from US$7.8bn in 2018. The category now has a 3.5% volume share of the drinks sector. “While January has become a popular month for people to cut back or abstain from alcohol, interest in no- and low-alcohol drinks has increasingly become a year-round trend among consumers across the world,” says Emily Neill, chief operating officer of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. The question is, how does a new brand in the sector stand out as companies rush to make their mark? Neil says that the brands that will ultimately dominate in the no/low space are those that are “successful in navigating the barriers of taste, price, pack format, availability and overall consumer education.”

The Nightcap: 21 January

“Another round!”

And finally… Hamsters handle booze better than elephants

You have no idea how hard it is to get a hamster drunk”. Not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, but that quote from The Atlantic concerns a story I don’t think any of us could have possibly expected. Then again, 2022 has seemingly no interest in relenting from the chaotic energy that has engulfed life in recent years, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that humans spent time and money finding out that hamsters have a really high tolerance for strong alcohol. They score low on a special scale of falling over sideways no matter how much they consume and, when given the choice between water and alcohol, regularly go for the latter. In fact, Gwen Lupfer, a psychologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage, was even quoted as saying “you just put a bottle of unsweetened Everclear [a high strength brand of grain alcohol] on the cage and they love it.” PLEASE don’t test this theory at home, though. What’s craziest about this story is that it’s not technically news, hamsters’ ability to handle their drink has been known to scientists for some time. They have been observed hoarding fruit in the wild and consuming them as they ferment throughout winter. What isn’t clear is why nobody told us until now. Bonobos, chimpanzees, and bats can also apparently hold their drink, while bigger animals like cows, horses, and elephants struggle. We’re not sure whose feeding all these animals booze, but all we’re saying is that Attenborough has means, even if we’re not clear on motive.