Need a break from practising your Burns Night speech? Tune into The Nightcap, your weekly source of bite-sized booze news!
We sell whisky here at Master of Malt. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. As such, it also should not be a surprise that we quite enjoy said spirit. A third thing that shouldn’t be a surprise is that Burns Night is happening this weekend – that one shouldn’t be a surprise because we’ve been nattering about it for a little while now, along with everyone else that has an affinity for whisky. If you’re in the same boat and heading to a Burns Night celebration, pack that brain full of booze news in case small talk situations arise between bursts of poetry and toasts.
On the blog this week we turned our attention to all things Burns Night, unsurprisingly, rounding-up some sensational Scotch to enjoy on the night, enjoying a Bobby Burns and reminiscing about the worst Burns Night celebrations ever, all while enjoying your poetic entries to our Burns Night competition… Thank you to all who entered, the competition is now closed and the winner will be announced on Monday!
Elsewhere, we launched a new #BagThisBundle competition, Adam heard Black Lines’ case for why you shouldn’t write off draft cocktails and Henry cast his eye on a baijiu producer that wants to land the spirit in the Western market and a bourbon from the Lone Star state. Annie, meanwhile, checked out the UK’s first sake brewery before going down under to learn about Australian wine and the Archie Rose Distillery.
So, what are you waiting for? There’s boozy news to enjoy!
Burns Night celebrations in full flow this week
With Burns Night tomorrow, there has been a raft of events this week in celebration, as you can imagine. But plenty are forgoing the tradition to mark the day in all kinds of wacky ways, such as The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), who are planning to hide 18 mini haggises around Glasgow city centre in celebration of their new Members’ Room opening on Bath Street in March 2020. The lucky folk who find them have a chance to win an annual membership to the Society, SMWS bottles or tasting glasses. DrinkUp London, meanwhile, is offering all kinds of deals for its Scotch Whisky Weekend, while still finding time to host BenRiach’s ‘painting by tasting notes’ workshop with landscape artist Ellis O’Connor and master blender Rachel Barrie, in which you can create your own artwork inspired by tasting notes. A night full of bingo shenanigans from Bobby’s Burns Bingo awaits those who go to New York bodega-inspired bar Liquorette, which is celebrating Burns Night with an American twist with Chivas global brand ambassador Rhys Wilson. He will be calling the numbers and handing out the prizes ranging from Chivas 12 and 18 year old bottles, home whisky blending kits, nights out at Liquorette and tickets to Chivas Blend experience. London’s oldest whisky specialist Milroy’s is doing its own more traditional Burns Night in Spitalfields tonight with complimentary drinks thanks to Crabbie Whisky alongside haggis, poetry and music. One event we know for sure was a success was Mac & Wild’s Burns Warm Up Party with Copper Dog last night, which featured live entertainment, masterclasses, London’s first whisky wall, Bone Marrow Whisky Luge experiences and all kinds of tasty Scottish street food. Oh, and Paul Young has been making signature Burns Night chocolate in collaboration with Glen Moray (we can vouch for its deliciousness), proving that chocolate belongs at every occasion. It’s great to see so many so keen to toast Scotland’s national bard. Slange var!
Silk Road Distillers is giving away free rum
This is not a drill. It’s not a scam. There are no pirates involved in this rum, folks. No, free samples of rum (excluding post and package) can truly be yours thanks to the marketing initiative of a startup rum brand in London. Silk Road Distillers is backing 2020 to be the year of rum (it’s not alone) and the spirit producers are so keen to show off their new creation that they are charging absolutely nothing (excluding post and package) for the pleasure. This isn’t any ordinary rum, no. The sample you’ll receive is full of white spiced rum. A white rum that was infused with six botanicals. It truly is a brave new world. “2020 is going to be all about rum, and we can’t wait to be a part of it”, says George Agate, founder of Silk Road Distillers, “We’re hoping to get loads of samples out for Try-January, and we know once someone tries it, it will be their go-to drink for the year”. Silk Road Distillers also wants you to ditch Rum and Coke for this one and instead try out a Rum and Tonic, which admittedly is an often overlooked serve. Each 50ml is only available until the end of the month, 31st January 2020 from here. Now get ordering!
‘Secret’ bar opens in Great Scotland Yard Hotel
When we turned up, rather late, it has to be said, for the launch of a new bar at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel, we were a little confused as there was nobody to be seen. Maybe, we’d got the wrong day. All became clear, however, when the bartender from the hotel’s other bar, 40 Elephants, pressed discreet button and, James Bond villain-style, a section of bookcase opened to reveal a secret bar. It’s called Sibín, as in an Irish drinking den (sometimes spelt shebeen). The drinks menu takes a turn for the unexpected too with old classics given a tune-up. The Rusty Nail is made with two types of Talisker and Drambuie is left to oxidise for two days to mellow. Bars manager Michal Mariarz adds a little PX to his Smokey Cokey, Lagavulin 16 year old and Coke. Most innovative of all was bartender Alex Williams’ concoction, the Clear Conscience. Based on that old classic the Grasshopper, it’s made with poitin, Branca Menta and all kinds of scientific stuff to make something that smells just like a Matchmaker mint. For the more classically-inclined there are unusual whiskies like a 2005 Caol Ila part-matured in Hermitage red wine casks. The hotel located just off Trafalgar Square and housed in the former HQ of the Metropolitan Police, opened last year and already feels like a classic venue.
Record number of ‘visitations’ at Buffalo Trace
Whiskey tourism in Kentucky is now a big thing: Buffalo Trace has just released figures that show that 294,996 people visited the distillery last year, 35% up on last year and a massive 466% up on 2010. The press release describes it as a “record-breaking visitation streak” which makes it sound like Kentucky has had an unusual number of divine interventions. All these visitors (divine or otherwise) have come during a $1.2 billion investment scheme. Yes, you read the right. 1.2 billion dollars. This includes a new visitor (or should that be visitation) centre, 22 foot (6.7 metres) cookers that required raising the roof of the mash house, four 92,000 gallon (420,000 litre) fermenters, a new cooling tower and six new warehouses which each hold 58,800 barrels. That’s a lot of bourbon. There’s even a special ‘hard hat’ tour so that you can see the work being done. “The growth we are seeing in all aspects of the distillery is really exciting,” Meredith Moody, director of homeplace development said. “We are eager to show all of our distilling upgrades to new and returning guests on our updated Hard Hat Tour. It’s a whole new experience, whether you are a first time visitor or have toured many times.” Oh, and talking of Buffalo Trace, it’s almost time for our annual parcel of Antique Collection rare bourbons from the distillery to arrive. Watch this space.
We taste St James Bar new Passport cocktail menu
It’s around about that point in January that we all start getting a bit of wanderlust around MoM Towers. It’s rainy, it’s cold, and suddenly I’m having to resist the urge to book a holiday somewhere. Our wanderlust dreams were answered when we heard about the new Passport menu at St James Bar, Sofitel St James, so we headed over to try it out. The idea is to take you on a journey, and the menu looks like an actual British passport (for now…) boasting 12 cocktails from 12 different countries. We started, appropriately with a 5 to 7, a beautifully balanced bitter aperitif straight from Italy made with Campari-infused coffee, presented in a cafetière. Where would you like to go next, bar manager Kostas Bardas asked us. America! The Maker’s Mark and sherry-based cocktail, 1st Step, comes in a smoking rocketship. How could we not?! Then, to Thailand, where we tried Megong, a blend of Mekhong Thai Spirit, rum and Earl Grey presented alongside a mini gong. Heaven Howler was a tribute to Iceland’s Prohibition period from 1915 to 1989, a unique marriage of Himbrimi Old Tom, Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength, homemade rhubarb and thyme liqueur, pale ale and beer soda. We certainly wouldn’t mind sipping this refreshing serve in a geothermal spring… Then, on recommendation from quite literally everyone behind the bar, we tried the Victory Martini, inspired by Winston Churchill. Well, we are in London after all. A sophisticated blend of Plymouth Gin, Cognac and a brilliant homemade pine honey and wine leaf cordial made this little number outrageously easy to drink. The brilliantly conceived and engaging Passport menu took us to all corners of the world, though all from the luxurious blue plush interior of the bar. Bon voyage!
British drinking more beer despite Dry January claims Wowcher
You may have noticed that it has become popular in the last few years to give up alcohol in January, a bit like a Lenten fast but without the Christianity. With all the noise in the media about Dry January, you might think that alcohol sales would be seriously affected but, according to figures just released by Wowcher, the discount voucher people, this is not the case. In fact, there has been a 71% increase in beer sales compared with January 2019. It has to be said, that this is based only on data from Wowcher’s website and app so could hardly be described as definitive. Nevertheless, it does seem to suggest that even with all the newspaper articles, TV segments, advertising and general media hubbub, Dry January is still very much a minority pursuit. Britons, never change.
Diageo rolls out the barrel for Scottish Rugby charity
Diageo has announced that it donated a cask of Scotch whisky to raise money for Doddie Weir’s My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to find a cure for MND. The rugby legend and inspirational Motor Neuron Disease campaigner Doddie Weir visited the brand’s new Scottish headquarters in Edinburgh on Monday 20 January to accept the donation. This is also marked the official opening of the offices and reaffirmed Diageo’s support for Scottish Rugby ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations, which will be the first to feature Johnnie Walker as Scottish Rugby’s official whisky partner. “Doddie Weir is an inspiration to people everywhere with the remarkable bravery of his campaign. It was a privilege to welcome him to our new offices and to share his incredible campaign with our people,” said Ewan Andrew, president of global supply & procurement at Diageo. “We have a powerful connection with rugby through our Guinness Title Partnership of the Six Nations Championship and our Johnnie Walker partnership with Scottish Rugby. What better way to celebrate these partnerships and to mark our move to our new office than by supporting Doddie and his campaign.” Doddie Weir added: “I am delighted to accept the donation of this cask of Glenkinchie single malt whisky for my foundation. The momentum behind the campaign keeps growing and it’s terrific to see companies like Diageo and brands like Johnnie Walker stepping up to show their support and to raise funds.” Diageo will now work with the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation team to select a cask of Glenkinchie single malt and to have it bottled for the charity. We wish all involved the best luck in fighting for this fantastic cause.
Big Drop Brewing Co. launches crowdfunding for major expansion
Launched in London in 2016, Big Drop Brewing Co. is shaking up the alcohol-free beer game as one of the very few totally dedicated alcohol-free brewers. In its portfolio, you’ll find stout, pale ale, IPA, lager and other brews, along with a range of gluten free and vegan beers too. For its brews, Big Drop uses a method which removes the need to extract alcohol after fermentation, which is often what affects the taste and mouthfeel of alcohol-free beer. It’s launching a crowdfunding campaign in February, and investors will become a part of the company as well as receiving a few perks alongside, from brand merch to a day with the master brewer. The perks get better depending on how much more you’re willing to invest, of course. The point of the crowdfund is to help it expand into markets outside the UK, as well as within its home country. “We knew there were a lot of people who felt exactly the same way as we did,” says co-founder Rob Fink. “We realised we could create not just the beer we wanted, but a community of like-minded people too. What if we could do for alcohol-free beer what the craft beer revolution had done for, well, beer?” Well, if you want to find out and want a piece of the action, then head over to the site!
Tap Takeovers at the Tate
Lovers of contemporary art, good beer and alliteration are in for a treat as the latest Tap Takeovers at the Tate have just been announced. These consist of an evening at the Tate Modern in London devoted to a particular brewery. The first event on 30 January features Manchester’s very own Cloudwater Brew Co. with its delicious range of beers including a mighty 8.5% ABV Double IPA. And don’t worry if you don’t like beer or alcohol, as the brewery produces a range of zero ABV sodas. Be warned, though, you can’t just turn up and have access to delicious brews, that would be too easy, you need to book in advance here. Tap Takeovers will be running monthly throughout the year with breweries such as Tiny Rebel, Verdant Brewing and Northern Monk Brew, so there’s sure to be something that tickles your fancy.
And finally. . . It’s getting Scot in here! Aldi makes Burns Night lasagne with haggis.
Burns Night is, of course, founded on tradition. And tradition is fun, you know what you’re going to get. But this year, Burns Night 2020 will be known as the year that Aldi, everyone’s favourite discount supermarket, really shook things up because it has given Scotland’s national dish, the haggis, an Italian twist with a recipe for haggis lasagne. Yes, really! Literally lasagne with haggis, it’s the greatest Scots-Italian mash-up since Peter Capaldi. Imagine serving that at a traditional Burns Night. If this kind of culture collision isn’t your thing, then you can just buy the haggis from Aldi and enjoy it in its pure form. But if we could time travel, the only place we’d be going is back to the late 1700s to ask Robert Burns himself what he thinks of this. Salute! No, wait. Slange var!