We’ve got a couple of weeks of news to catch up on for the first Nightcap of 2021, so this week is full to the brim of boozy happenings!
Well, we’re one week into 2021 and it wasn’t exactly the turnaround we might have hoped for. But, while you might be inclined to cancel your subscription to the new year after a pretty underwhelming 7-day free trial, we’re optimistic here at MoM Towers. Why? Well, if there’s one thing The Nightcap demonstrates is that each week is filled with something that will make you laugh or get you excited and 2020 proved that nothing can stop the influx of brilliant and bonkers boozy stories. So, assuming aliens don’t invade or a chunky asteroid doesn’t land in Speyside, we think there’s cause for optimism. And if you don’t believe, wait until you read this week’s And Finally…
On the MoM blog, we saw off the last of that wretched year by acknowledging some of the better aspects of it, including our most-read and personal favourite posts, before casting an eye towards 2021 and predicting what it might bring. The new year on the blog, meanwhile, kicked off with our ongoing auction for The Macallan’s incredible Red Collection, which will raise money for Hospitality Action and some delightful new arrivals, including an apple brandy that was aged in Japanese whisky casks and bourbon which is made from four grains. There’s also been plenty of cocktail coverage from Annie, who made the underappreciated Vieux Carré and the real star of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, The Gibson, championed the humble muddler and put together 10 classic cocktail recipes, presented with both boozy ingredients and non-alc alternative and Henry put together a list of splendidly affordable red wines. Elsewhere we found time to run the rule on Tomatin’s core range, look inside the English Spirit Distillery, find out how Irish mead is making its mark in the 21st century and why you should know all about Maidstone gin.
US to allow 700ml bottles for the first time
You’ll be pleased to know that 2020 ended with a rare bit of good news for the drinks industry as it was announced that the law regarding wine and distilled spirits containers in the US were amended to allow the importation of European 700ml bottles. The Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates alcoholic beverages at the federal level, published new regulations on 29 December 2020 which updated the so-called “standards of fill” for wine (355ml, 250ml and 200ml) and spirits (1.8L, 900ml, 720ml and 700ml), which means that brands will no longer have the burden of spending time and money making unique US size bottles, granting producers greater flexibility and consumers with more choice. Previously drinks makers were forced to produce 700ml bottlings for the European market and special 750ml bottlings to sell in the US, which led to many small independent producers opting to avoid the extra costs by not exporting their tasty goods to the US. While there’s still some work to be done (allowing for 3+ litre sizes for spirits to save on packaging, for example) it’s a welcome bit of economic and logistical relief after a torrid year for the industry. Now wouldn’t it be great if we could reciprocate by allowing 750ml in the UK which would help a lot of small US distillers?
Johnnie Walker offers glimpse inside Princes Street
If you’re a Nightcap regular you’ll have read all about Johnnie Walker’s exciting new whisky visitor experience in Princes Street, Edinburgh, which is set to open in the summer of 2021. But now, for the first time, the Scotch whisky giant has revealed a glimpse of the eagerly anticipated attraction to fans, which will feature rooftop bars, private dining areas, modern sensory tasting rooms, personalised tour and tasting experiences, and live performance areas. The interior of the building, a closely-guarded secret, is on show, as is The 1820 bar, a cocktail bar and outdoor terrace with views of the Edinburgh famous skyline, The Explorers’ Bothy, a whisky bar that will stock over 150 rare bottles and one-of-a-kind cask editions, and the Johnnie Walker Label Studio, a performance space that will host live events and performances. For more info, click here. The Johnnie Walker Princes Street visitor attraction is at the centre of Diageo’s £185m investment into the transformation of its Scotch whisky tourism, having already revamped Glenkinchie Distillery, while further investment into the remainder of Diageo’s 11 Scotch whisky brand homes as well as the revival of lost distilleries Port Ellen and Brora is also in the works. So there’s something to look forward to in 2021!
Water of Life film to launch among virtual festivities
The Water of Life, a new feature documentary that focuses on those at the heart of the Scotch whisky revolution that turned the industry of the 1980s into the titan it is today, is on the way. Which is exciting. Even more thrilling, however, is that the film won’t launch with an ordinary premiere, but instead a week-long Burns Night Celebration that you can take part in! Kicking off on the 22nd January and running through the 27th January, the virtual online program includes a screening of the film followed each night by a unique hour-long session featuring the stars of the film. There will also be an option to purchase tasting kits specifically curated to accompany the film and take viewers on a taste journey. “Our biggest challenge, as with any food or drink film, is you can’t taste the screen. When putting this event together it was important that we found a way to bring not just the story to the screen but to engage the audience in a way whisky does,” said director Greg Swartz. “Our Burns Night Celebration will bring all the senses together through watching the movie, pairing that with the tasting kits, and offering the opportunity to join the stars to hear them talk more about their passions.” For tickets, tasting kits and more info just click here and if you’d like to see a trailer for The Water of Life, featuring Bruichladdich legends Jim McEwan and Mark Reynier as well as Billy Walker, Dr Rachel Barrie, David Stewart, Kelsey McKechnie, Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison and more, then simply click on the video above!
Brewers offer their pubs as vaccination centres.
Like many things in the modern age, it began with a tweet. Keir Shiels, consultant paediatrician at the Great Ormond Street hospital in London, suggested on the 31 December: “Pubs could be turned into vaccination hubs. There’s space. There’s staff. There’s fridges. There’s refreshment facilities. There’s one in every village.” Since then things have snowballed with both Brewdog and Shepherd Neame pledging their help. Jonathan Neame CEO at Shepherd Neame commented: “We have offered up some of our pubs to act as vaccination hubs, in target areas, in the main they are well located, spacious and with large refrigeration capacity.” Nothing has happened yet though James Watt from Brewdog announced that he is in talks with the Government. Let’s hope something comes off this as it would really help speed up distribution of the vaccine especially if brewers could offer a pint to enjoy while you wait. We’d be first in the queue.
A bumper year for fortified wine
Port and sherry have been rocking this year. There was an article on the BBC website about the so-called ‘tapas effect’ as people unable to travel recreated their summer trips at home with a bottle of sherry. Meanwhile, we reported back in October that Taylor’s Port sales had grown despite, or maybe because of lockdown. Figures just released by the WSTA bear this out: the fortified wine category has seen an increase in sales of nearly 10% in 2020, a remarkable feat considering the impact lockdown has had on on-trade sales. Despite on-trade orders being down 42% (by volume), the category grew from £270 million in 2019 to £303 million last year. This increase was coupled with the category’s best quarter for five years, giving hope that despite such a tough year, Christmas traditions remained as strong as ever in 2020. Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “In such a difficult year, the news that we have been enjoying more Ports and sherries at home recently to arrest slow stagnation in the category is welcome… Santa loves his sherry, and in 2020 many consumers will also be rekindling their festive love affairs with fortifieds!” But as we always say, fortified wine is not just for Christmas and if you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve got some great wines right here.
WSTA reacts to Brexit deal
It’s a very special Nightcap this week as we have two stories featuring everyone’s favourite chief executive Mr Miles Beale from the WSTA. Beale has been one of the most vocal voices standing up for the drinks industry and warning of the perils of a no-deal Brexit, so he more than most was relieved that the EU and the British government managed to come to an agreement at the end of last year. Doesn’t it seem like a long time ago? Anyway, here’s what Beale had to say: “Today’s announcement will be a welcome relief to the UK’s wine and spirit sector. We look forward to seeing the detail and to its swift ratification. The threat of the introduction of wine tariffs and the uncertainty over the ability to move goods into and out of the EU were weighing heavy on the minds of businesses already reeling from the effect of Covid restrictions, while also having to prepare for the end of the transition period in a week’s time.” But it wasn’t all good, Beale added: “Businesses have been working hard to prepare for the introduction of new customs processes and systems, new labelling rules, new import certification rules for wine all of which will add to the cost of importing and exporting wine and spirits. And yet, astonishingly, those businesses are still waiting for the government to grip the reins and confirm some of the details to allow trade with Ireland and the rest of the EU to continue next year.” So plenty more work to be done, we haven’t heard the last of Miles Beale in 2021.
Richard Paterson and Kate Nicholls honoured by Queen
The New Year’s Honours list had plenty of interesting names as usual on it for 2021 (although nothing for Sam Smith yet. Give the people what they want, your majesty), including some drinks industry giants such as UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls and The Dalmore whisky blender Richard Paterson. Nicholls, who was appointed an OBE for service to the hospitality, was singled out for her tireless support of the beleaguered hospitality industry during the ongoing Covid crisis, while Paterson was also appointed an OBE for services to the Scotch whisky industry, including over a half a century at Whyte & Mackay. It caps quite a year for the legendary master blender, aka ‘The Nose’, who made the move to step back from some of his Whyte & Mackay duties and also lend his expertise to the exciting Wolfcraig Distillery project. Other members of the hospitality industry recognised included Michelin-starred chef Fergus Henderson and Richard Curtis, the landlord of the Portsmouth Arms in Basingstoke (not the director of Notting Hill and Love Actually) was made a Medallist of the Order of the British Empire (BEM) after raising over £52,500 for local charities by holding weekly virtual quizzes in his pub after it was closed in March. Given what a rough time this industry is having at the moment, it is at least nice to see these efforts being appreciated.
Michter’s master distiller Willie Pratt dies at 78
We were sad to hear this week about the death of an American whisky legend, Willie Pratt, master distiller at Michter’s. Born in Kentucky in 1942, he began his career with Brown-Forman where he worked in all aspects of the business before retiring at the age of 65. But in 2007 he was lured out of retirement and took up the role of head distiller at Michter’s where he became known as Dr No for his refusal to bottle any whiskey until he thought it was ready. Here he oversaw the design and building of Michter’s ultra-modern new Shively Distillery. In 2017 he was inducted into The Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. Michter’s president Joseph J. Magliocco commented: “To work with Willie and to have him as a friend was a tremendous gift. When the challenges seemed overwhelming, that’s when Willie’s leadership would shine through. He was a paradigm of strength and courage.” Distilling is now in the safe hands of Dan McKee who added: “Times like this make me realise how fortunate I was to be able to learn from one of the greats in the industry. I’m going to miss standing back in the distillery with Willie, talking about making whiskey and listening to his life stories.” Thank you Willie, we’re raising a tumbler of Michter’s Rye to you now.
And finally… Gin flavoured with car?
We’ve had some pretty strange gins on the Nightcap: gin infused with Brussel sprouts, gin made from peas, we even stock a gin that has been into space, but gin flavoured with car? Sounds like something from the fevered imagination of Jeremy Clarkson but Piston distillery in Worcester has come up with just such a spirit. It’s infused with leftovers from the production of Morgan cars in nearby Malvern. If you had images of bits of oily steel steeping in neutral grain alcohol then think again because Morgan produces gorgeous cars that in many ways haven’t changed much since the 1930s. Part of the car is made from wood, ash to be specific, and it’s these ash shavings that are used to flavour the gin (which is available from Morgan’s online shop for £45). Toby Blythe from the Morgan Motor Company explained: “Ash wood forms one of Morgan’s three core materials, alongside aluminium and leather, and as such is intrinsic to our coachbuilding identity. When we worked with the expert distillers at Piston Gin, we were curious to find out how this material could be infused with their acclaimed gins. The result, we believe, speaks for itself.” Grace Stringer, distillery manager at Piston Distillery, explained to us how the gin was made: ash is distilled with the company’s London dry gin with a little apple to sweeten it, and then some ash is added at the end for colour and mouthfeel. Apple and ash-infused gin, not so barmy after all.