We’re 1/12 of the way through the year, and a much more complicated fraction of the way through the decade, and all this booze news keeps happening. How to keep track of it all? The Nightcap is here!

Booze news stops for no one. Just like time, or a microwave with that has a broken ‘STOP’ button. Which is dangerous, by the way. Microwaves really need that ‘STOP’ button, otherwise your beans could evaporate. Pretty sure that’s how microwaves work, they’re basically bean teleporters that make the beans get really hot until they are sent to another dimension. What was I talking about? Booze news, that’s what. It’s here. It’s happening. It’s The Nightcap.

On the blog this week we announced the winner of our Burns Night poetry competition, before Ian Buxton returned to ask if there’s an issue with greenwashing in the Scotch whisky industry. Annie then met the man making British baijiu and took a closer look at Tennessee whiskey, as Henry enjoyed the disco-based delights of our Cocktail of the Week and the company of the great wine disruptor Steve Daniel. Adam, meanwhile, suggested some exceptional expressions that would be worth a little indulgence, and Jess shone a spotlight on a fabulous rum from one of the oldest sugar estates in Jamaica as our New Arrival of the Week.

Now it’s time to get stuck into the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Suntory is already a shareholder in The Macallan.

Suntory buys 10% stake in Edrington

Edrington and Suntory Holdings have announced this week that the duo will be building on an already strong partnership that dates back to the early 1990s. Yep, the Japanese spirits giant put its money where its existing distribution bonds are, and purchased 10% of Edrington’s shares for an undisclosed amount. The agreement is set to provide an inflow of funds to Edrington’s principal shareholder, The Robertson Trust, which has donated over £263m to charitable causes in Scotland since 1961, and contribute to Edrington’s employee share scheme. Suntory has been an important distributor of Edrington brands in international markets including Japan, Germany, Canada and South Africa, and through joint ventures in the UK, Spain and Russia over the past four decades. “Edrington has a successful long-standing strategic partnership with Suntory. We share a similar ethos and the same passion for craftsmanship, innovation and quality in our brands,” Scott McCroskie, Edrington CEO, commented. “We look forward to cementing and building this deep relationship over the coming years.” Suntory Group’s portfolio includes Yamazaki, Hibiki, Jim Beam, Haku, Roku and more, while The Edrington’s includes the likes of The Macallan, Highland Park, The Glenrothes, The Famous Grouse, Brugal rum and Snow Leopard vodka. The brand also holds strategic partnerships with Tequila Partida and Wyoming Whiskey.

The Nightcap

The brand is very popular, no doubt due to the success of the BBC drama

Peaky Blinders Irish whiskey distillery on the cards 

Liverpool-based Halewood International has revealed it plans to develop a distillery to produce Peaky Blinder Irish whiskey. The brand, inspired by the murderous gang and subsequent BBC drama starring Cork actor Cillian Murphy in the lead role, is currently made by West Cork Distillers, based in Skibbereen, County Cork, which Halewood did have a stake in until the Irish company bought them out for €18 million. To add some extra complexity, Halewood bought the rights to the Peaky Blinder spirit brand, which also has a bourbon, London dry gin and spiced rum, when it purchased Sadler’s Brewery in Lye, near Birmingham in 2017. Sadler’s has now closed, and Halewood is said to be transferring some of its equipment to the site it’s eyeing up in Ireland, which would also make The Pogues Irish Whiskey, another Halewood brand. “Due to the very successful growth of Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Whiskey, we plan to accelerate a project to distill our own Irish whiskey,” Halewood said in a statement. Peaky Blinders Irish Whiskey, a blended Irish whiskey finished in sherry casks, is available at MoM Towers now, along with the rest of the range.

The Nightcap

The Spirit of Speyside festivals will return in 2020 for what will be its biggest celebration yet

The Spirit of Speyside announces its trio of festivals will return in 2020 

Since 1999, The Spirit of Speyside festival has celebrated Scotland’s largest whisky-making region, championing distilleries, communities, and the water of life. You’ll be delighted to know that it will return this year, along with the new Spirit of Speyside Gin Experience and Spirit of Speyside: Distilled. The flagship event, The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, will run from 29 April to 4 May in venues across the region. There will be over 700 ticketed whisky-themed activities, including behind-the-scenes distillery tours and food pairing masterclasses, in a packed six-day programme, which will be announced next month. Tickets for it will go on sale at noon on 12 February, so mark the date in your diaries! Following a successful launch last year, the Spirit of Speyside Gin Experience is back to shine a spotlight on local gin producers with new expressions, innovative cocktails and a variety of street food on offer. It will take place from 10-12 July, but the venue is still to be announced. But we do know that Spirit of Speyside: Distilled will be housed at Elgin Town Hall from 28-29 August. Expect to meet some of the region’s leading drinks producers as you get stuck into intimate masterclasses featuring all the great local produce. “Spirit of Speyside’s trio of drinks festivals will return this year in what will be our most significant celebrations yet, letting visitors experience first hand why Speyside is the global epicentre of distilling,” says Lauren Mustard, events coordinator at The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. “In addition to our flagship Whisky Festival, 2020 will also see the return of the Gin Experience and Distilled, a showcase of Speyside’s range of spirits. We look forward to welcoming visitors from across Scotland, as well as from across the globe, to enjoy the very best of Scotland in Speyside.”

Work will begin on the new distillery later this year

New distillery to open in the heart of Burns country

News just in: Dark Sky Spirits has been given planning permission by Dumfries and Galloway Council to build a new distillery at Moffat in Scotland’s Borders region! The company currently operates as whisky blender with brands such as The Moffat blended malt. This will change when the distillery opens in 2021. The plan is to produce around 60,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. The set-up will be pretty traditional with wooden washbacks and worm tub condensers. The aim is to create a classic Lowland-style spirit. The distillery build became more of a reality earlier this year when South of Scotland Economic Partnership (SOSEP) granted £320,000 for the project. Nick Bullard, founder and managing director, said: “Even though it’s small, this distillery will make a big difference to our town and our region. It will attract visitors, bring new jobs and boost retail and hospitality trade. It will broaden and deepen Moffat’s attractiveness to whisky lovers around the world.” Local MP David Mundell added: “I’m always pleased to see new businesses setting up and providing employment opportunities. As a resident of Moffat myself, I’ve watched the progress of Dark Sky Spirits and their plans with interest. The whisky industry is already important in my constituency, and to Scotland as a whole. I’m sure Dark Sky will prove an asset to the town, widening the visitor offering further.” Tourism will play a big part in the distillery’s future, especially with the Robert Burns connection; he was a frequent visitor to the town. Whisky tourism is big business; in 2018 two million people visited a Scotch whisky distillery, and Dark Sky Spirits is planning for around 9,000 visitors per year. We’ll be first in the queue. 

The Nightcap

The Clumsies will bring a taste of Greece to London with its pop up on this stunning rooftop

Madison x The Clumsies Residency

You may have heard of The Clumsies, seeing as it was ranked 6th in the World’s 50 Best Bar Awards 2019. However, you may not have been able to pop over and visit, seeing as its home is in a townhouse in Athens. Well, The Clumsies is now bringing a taste of Greece to London, with its pop up at the wonderful Madison rooftop! The residency will be running for a rather limited time, from 24 to 28 February, when you can expect a delicious Greek spin on the cocktail menu in the form of five limited-edition cocktails. Vasilis Kyritsis, co-creator of The Clumsies, will even be behind the bar for the week, showcasing his awesome creations. We’re very much looking forward to the Aegean Negroni, which will marry Tanqueray No.Ten, vermouth, Martini Bitter, fennel seeds and diktamus (an aromatic Greek plant), and The Conch, boasting a blend of Otto’s Athens Vermouth, mezcal, salicornia (a succulent) and lemon. Consider our interest piqued! “We’re so excited to be back In London to share some of our cocktails in collaboration with Madison,” says Vasilis Kyritsis from The Clumsies. So are we!

The Nightcap

Zhang Huan’s monumental work of art: Eaux-de-Vie

Hennessy marks Lunar New Year with artist collab

Booze brands striking up partnerships with artists is hardly new, but our eyes (and taste buds) were thoroughly pleased by one that crossed our path this week. Hennessy has teamed up with Chinese artist Zhang Huan, for a project which included the commissioning of a 16-foot ‘dreamscape’ that’s genuinely pretty stunning. The piece is called Eaux-de-vie, and is said to capture a sense of “joy and celebration”. Of course, the artwork has inspired a limited-edition Hennessy bottling, too.  “Making art is about using an object as a vehicle to express inner thoughts, or a spiritual side,” the artist explained. “Eaux-de-vie is intended as a natural, living expression.” Zhang Huan rose to prominence as an artist in 1990s New York. “Being abroad gave me a deeper understanding of my tradition, perhaps because I had to see myself from far away,” he said. “I believe that Chinese and Western cultures are meant to integrate with each other, which is why I sought to incorporate a sense of movement in this work. We never know where life may take us, but I do believe that everything that has gone before leads up to the present moment. That is what I want to celebrate in my creations.” A celebration it is!

The Nightcap

Tequila was a standout performer for Diageo

Diageo reveals half-year results, snaps up former Rémy CEO

It’s been a bit of a big businessy week in booze, with results coming in from Hennessy maker LVMH, and Johnnie Walker parent, Diageo. LVMH’s wine and spirits division celebrated a 6% leap in profits in 2019, and Diageo too was in a good mood, with sales for the first half of its 2020 financial year climbing 4.2%. So what were we drinking? Namely Tequila, which saw 31% growth (Don Julio, anyone?) and Canadian whisky, which posted 11% gains. The loser? Surprisingly, Scotch whisky, which was flat as a pancake, with sales of blended brand Johnnie Walker actually falling by 4%. Disappointing. In related Big Booze Business news, Diageo also announced it had snapped up Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet to join its board as a non-executive director from 1 January 2021. Name ring a bell? She was formerly CEO at Rémy Cointreau, which makes Rémy Martin Cognac, and also owns the Bruichladdich Distillery, among many others. An interesting move indeed…

The Nightcap

The IARD intends to add symbols or written age restrictions to the labels of its products

Spirits producers agree to age restrictions on labels

In a joint commitment to reduce underage drinking, twelve leading alcohol companies have pledged to include an age restriction symbol across its products. The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD), which was established in 2014 and includes the likes of Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Beam Suntory, Bacardi, Brown-Forman, William Grant & Sons, AB InBev, Molson Coors and Heineken, has committed to adding symbols or written age restrictions to the labels of its products, even alcohol-free ones, to send an “even clearer message that these products are not for minors”. The IARD had previously promised to deliver better safeguarding measures for online alcohol advertising after partnering with four social media platforms in 2018 and to implement safeguards for at least 95% of its online alcohol marketing by 2024. The group has also welcomed the advice of retailers, wholesalers, and distributors to help determine how best-practice initiatives for age verification can be implemented across the world. “Although underage drinking has fallen in many parts of the world, this trend is not universal. We want to accelerate progress and work with others to eliminate underage drinking in every community through a whole-of-society approach,” says Ulrich Adam, director-general of trade body Spirits Europe, which welcomed IARD’s pledge. “We call on other producers to join us. We call on retailers to work with us to do more to prevent minors from buying alcohol in stores and online. And we call on parents and other adults to support us by not buying alcohol for, or sharing alcohol with, children and minors, even if they do this with good intentions. Together, we must ensure everyone reinforces the message that underage drinking is socially unacceptable.”

The Nightcap

Nightcap legend Miles Beale was in unusually optimistic form this week

Leaving EU offers opportunities for drinks trade says WSTA

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If we leave the EU and Miles Beale from the WSTA doesn’t comment, did we really leave? Well, Miles Beale has just commented, which means we’re definitely leaving. Tonight, in fact. Regular Nightcap readers will know that Beale hasn’t exactly been positive about Brexit, but in a statement just released by the WSTA, he sounds oddly optimistic. According to the WSTA, with the right trade deal, leaving the EU will provide opportunities for the UK wine and spirit industry. These include putting zero tariffs on wine and spirits (putting an end to those pesky levies on American whiskey), and relaxing or dropping some EU rules and definitions, allowing distillers to innovate and giving customers more choice. Beale met recently with Steven Barclay, Secretary of State for exiting the EU (what a title), to discuss how the government can help the drinks trade. Beale commented: “It’s time to complete a trade deal with the EU – and move on. The wine and spirit industry must embrace a brave new world of trading. We need to focus on the opportunities and to steer government towards breaking down barriers on trade, while also reinforcing the UK’s position at the centre of international wine and spirit trading. We have started with some clear asks of government which, if practical steps are taken, we believe will keep the UK as the world’s number one spirit exporter, but could also see us take the top spot as the world’s largest wine importer by volume from Germany.” Unusually optimistic stuff from Beale. We’ll have what he’s having.

The Nightcap

It’s a novel, green and fabulous idea!

And finally… H&M uses ‘leather’ from wine waste

We all know wine has a valued place when it comes to problem-solving (chatting about the woes of the world with a trusted pal over a glass of something delicious fixes all ills). But now clothing retailer H&M has revealed it is using a novel, and very green, leather alternative, according to Vogue. And it’s made from wine by-products! Created in Milan, Vegea is a vegan, eco-friendly, leather-like material, essentially produced from pomace. And it’s already being used in chain-strap handbags and some shoes in H&Ms Conscious Collection. We like! “These collections are here to help enable the scale of these new innovations, and make them more commercial [to us and to other brands],” Pascal Brun, H&M’s sustainability manager, told Vogue. And it’s not just clothes. Turns out you can use the faux-leather in loads of other ways, too. Bentley recently announced it was using the solution in its fancy EXP 100 GT car. We’ll raise a glass to that!