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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Armagnac

New Arrival of the Week: Château du Tariquet Armagnac

It’s double trouble this week as we’re shining the New Arrival spotlight on two great Armagnacs from Château du Tariquet, the single varietal cask strength 12 Year Old Pure Folle…

It’s double trouble this week as we’re shining the New Arrival spotlight on two great Armagnacs from Château du Tariquet, the single varietal cask strength 12 Year Old Pure Folle Blanche and the mighty Legendaire, made from three grape varieties. We think both will appeal in particular to single malt lovers. 

Château du Tariquet is one of the largest family-owned wine producers in south west France. If you’ve ever tried a bottle of Côtes de Gascogne, the region’s aromatic white wine, then it was more than likely made by Château du Tariquet. In fact, the family head, Yves Grassa, pioneered this style of wine in the 1980s by taking the aromatic grapes used in Armagnac production like Ugni Blanc or Colombard, and making a modern cold-fermented white wine out of them.

A virtue out of necessity

It was a bold move necessitated by a slump in Armagnac consumption in France, the main market. You can blame fashion, health or stricter drink driving laws, but whatever it was, the habit of taking a digestif at the end of a meal became rarer and rarer. 

Grassa’s move succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Tariquet now produces a range of wines using both Armagnac grapes as well as better known varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a vast operation. Behind the chateau, yes they do actually have a little chateau (see header), hidden by some artfully grown trees, are vast stainless steel tanks, twice the height of a three story house. I climbed to the top on a visit a few years ago and rather nervously enjoyed the magnificent views across the rolling hills of Gascony.

Tariquet Armagnac

This little still makes all of Tariquet’s Armagnac. Photo credit: Greg Buda

Still got it

But despite wine making up most of the business today, Armin Grassa, the firm’s technical director told me: “we are distillers first, winemakers second.” While wine making is high tech, the equipment the family uses to make its Armagnac is more rudimentary. The alembic, traditional continuous still used in the region, is a battered old thing that once used to travel around the region, distilling growers’ wines. Almost unbelievably, it’s fuelled by wood. I assumed it was mainly for show but Armin Grassa assured me there was no gleaming stainless steel column kept out of sight. 

Production might be ultra-traditional, but the firm’s marketing is more innovative. Rather than compete with the bling of Cognac, Tariquet produces a range of brandies that are aimed squarely at single malt lovers with age statements rather than terms like XO or VSOP, and very whisky-esque packaging. 

Single malt lovers pay attention 

In fact, everything about Armagnac should get single malt lovers excited: family firms, direct-fired stills that look like something out of Jules Verne, and no colouring. Many are also cask strength, something that is quite common in Armagnac, it’s just that until recently nobody thought of making a selling point out of it. That’s just how things are done.

The flavours are very whisky-like too. I’ve had peppery brandies that have something of the Islay about them, rich rancio-laden ones like old Macallan, and light fruity numbers that remind me of Lowland malts. 

I’ve picked two bottlings in particular that I think appeal to lovers of distinctive aged spirits. They are both fiery and spicy and show how different Armagnac is to Cognac. Traditionally, these would be sipped neat with no dilution but those big spicy flavours would be superb in simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned or a Harvard. However you drink them, these both offer a huge amount of flavour and character for the money. 


Château du Tariquet 12 Year Old Pure Folle Blanche

Folle Blanche was once a dominant variety in Cognac but after phylloxera devastated the regions’ vineyards, most were replanted with Ugni Blanc because it was less susceptible to diseases. It’s still common in Armagnac though. This is 100% Folle Blanche and bottled at 48.2% ABV to produce a rich pungent style of brandy. 

Tasting note

Spicy floral nose with cedar and wood polish. In the mouth, there’s big toffee flavours with nuts, liquorice and tobacco. Very long and pungent with a sweet finish. 


Château du Tariquet Le Légendaire

This is a blend of three grape varieties: Folle Blanche, Baco, and Ugni Blanc, roughly a third each. It’s described as Hors D’Age, which means a minimum of ten years old, but I think the minimum age here is actually 13. It’s bottled at 42% ABV and it’s an absolute spice bomb. 

Tasting note

Powerful nose, fiery spicy, tobacco and wood. Take a sip and there’s black pepper, chillies, fresh floral notes plus sweeter flavours like vanilla, toffee and some wood tannin. This would be cigar heaven. 

Click here to see the full range of brandies from Château du Tariquet. 

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Amanda Garnham: Lady Armagnac

With the news that Amanda Garnham is ‘stepping back’ from her role at the Armagnac Bureau, we talk to the woman who for the past 18 years has been the…

With the news that Amanda Garnham is ‘stepping back’ from her role at the Armagnac Bureau, we talk to the woman who for the past 18 years has been the face of the spirit for the English-speaking world and beyond.

In what sounds like the plot of a film, Amanda Garnham left England with four children between the ages of five months and seven years, two labradors and a husband, and moved to the Gers region in south west France. She had fallen in love with Gascony on a previous visit, so in 1997, speaking very little French, she upped sticks and moved.

They found a derelict farmhouse to renovate, but with her husband returning to England frequently to earn a living, the marriage quickly fell apart. Most people would have given up and returned home, not Garnham. She worked picking fruit, grapes, and maize, and doing some freelance journalism before spotting an opportunity with Armagnac.

Armanda Garnham Armagnac

Garnham in her element

Spirit guide

Her background in England was in PR and she noticed that “they have a fantastic product but nobody knows about it.” Initially, she submitted a proposal to Janneau, one of the biggest producers, which didn’t work out. A few years later in 2003, when she had built up her French sufficiently, she met with the late Jean Castarède, president of the BNIA, the trade body that represents the region and became press  attaché to the UK. “They took me on and had confidence in me,” she said.

In production terms, Armagnac is tiny, and there’s not a lot of money, so Garnham ended up doing a lot more than handling press. With her deep knowledge of the region and its produce, she was in demand globally to give masterclasses travelling to China, Australia, Hong Kong, and America, as well as regular visits to Britain. She ran Armagnac Academies, training bartenders and journalists in this most fascinating of spirits. Our own Jess Williamson attended one and loved it.

Leaving the BNIA

I spoke with Garnham earlier this month via Zoom. Naturally, she was surrounded by Armagnac samples for a spirits competition she was judging. She was full of excitement about having recently been inducted into the Worshipful Company of Distillers in London, one of only three honorary liverymen. Which means that as a freeman of the City of London, she can drive sheep across London Bridge, should she ever want to. She is also an Armagnac musketeer, the highest honour in the region.

But she was also sad to say that she will be leaving her current role at the BNIA after 18 years. She told us she was “boxed into a corner and didn’t agree with the way they were doing things. It had become very political. We’d grown apart in many ways.”

Amanda Garnham Armagnac Academy New York

Teaching an Armagnac Academy in New York

Falling in love with Armagnac

I first met Amanda in 2016 when I was a freelance journalist. We were introduced by MoM columnist Ian Buxton who suggested I might like a trip out to visit to learn about the spirit. I travelled with my wife and due to striking French taxi drivers, we had to get a train from the airport in Toulouse to Condom, the capital of the Armagnac region.

She picked us up from the station in a hire car, apparently her own car was much too rustic for guests. Nevertheless, she looked every inch the stylish English lady, dressed head-to-toe in tweed. Without time for coffee or a rest, we sped towards our first producer Janneau for a tasting. What followed was one of the most intense and enjoyable tasting trips I’d ever been on, visiting six or maybe more producers in two days, learning about and falling in love with the wonders of Armagnac. 

At each stop on the packed itinerary, the distiller or owner would come out, usually followed by many dogs, and greet Amanda with huge affection. She was clearly a lot more than just a PR lady for hire. Most of them spoke English but for those who didn’t Amanda would translate with immaculate but charmingly English-accented French. 

Peggy the pot-bellied pig

When not visiting and tasting, Garnham would regale me with stories about her children, her love life, or her Vietnamese pot-bellied pig Peggy. Now sadly deceased. And no, she didn’t eat her.

On my return to England, I wrote an article on Armagnac. But that is not where it ended. Every couple of months, Garnham would be in touch saying, ‘so-and-so publication wants an article, could you write it?’ It turned out to be a lucrative two days for me, and the BNIA also got their money’s worth.

It wasn’t just me, everyone she meets she turns into an Armagnac ambassador. “They become friends or like family”, she said. When the news came in that she was “stepping down”, as she puts it from the BNIA, over 250 people commented on Facebook with their support.

Armagnac Academy

You can see why people fall in love with the Armagnac region

A peerless ambassador

I emailed a few notable people in the drinks world for their views:

Spirits journalist Joel Harrison described her as: “a peerless ambassador for the world’s oldest spirit. The true embodiment of the spirit, Amanda has always been welcoming, warming and full of passion, qualities which will see her future bright, and her legacy long.” 

And drinks writer Jessica Mason said: “Amanda was one of the first people to remind me that Armagnac was quite cool. And I don’t mean cool in a fad-laden trend-setting way that so many drinks try to be. I mean cool in that timelessly creative, interesting and stylish way. The Armagnac category has thrived because of her. And I’ll wager there isn’t a drinks journalist who hasn’t been warmed by her character or intrigued by her intellect.”

Meanwhile, Evening Standard drinks writer Douglas Blyde captured the magic of the full Garnham experience: “A tour led by her would take in picturesque, ancient open air laundries, herds of restaurant dish-bound cattle, handsome abbeys and dilapidated chateaux as well as the warm distilleries in the otherwise bleakness of winter. She was also marvellously indiscreet in sharing details of the feuds between locals. Her descriptions of produce and producers were vivid and her generosity with her time and knowledge notable. She made the region come to life for outsiders.” 

So what next?

Garnham still has a business organising private tours of Gascony called Glamour and Gumboots so she’ll continue doing that. But she clearly wants to keep working with the spirit she loves so much. She told me that she may be representing certain grower producers, “to help put them on the map. There’s still lots to be discovered,” she said.

But also as the person who probably knows more about Armagnac and its producers than anyone else in the English-speaking world, someone should snap her up to find and bottle rare casks. The farmhouses of the Gers region are crammed with vintage casks being kept for a rainy day or the right person to persuade the farmer to sell. There’s treasure in them there hills, and Amanda Garnham knows where.

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Top ten: Brandies under £50

Today, we’re looking at the wide world of brandy, from innovative Cognacs, yes such things do exist, to English apple-based spirits. They’re all delicious neat or perfect if you’re looking…

Today, we’re looking at the wide world of brandy, from innovative Cognacs, yes such things do exist, to English apple-based spirits. They’re all delicious neat or perfect if you’re looking beyond gin, whisky and rum when making cocktails. So here are our favourite brandies under £50.

Before there was whisky and gin, there was brandy. Brandy was the original cocktail ingredient in drinks like the Sour and Old Fashioned. When Scotch whisky was thought too strong-tasting for southern palates, the English were knocking back vast quantities of brandy. The Royal Navy originally drank brandy, not rum. And yet despite its rich mixing heritage, brandy still has an after dinner image, drunk from enormous glasses by red-faced old men.

To introduce you to this exciting world, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite brandies under £50. Naturally we’ve included a few bottles from the big two, Cognac and Armagnac, but we’ve also included a couple of belters from South Africa and Armenia, and some apple-based wonders from Normandy and Somerset.

So, whether you’re making a Brandy & Soda, a Sidecar or just fancy something tasty to sip, you can’t go wrong with one of these bottles. 


Bache Gabrielsen American Oak

There are some young Turks shaking up the rather staid Cognac category. One such producer is Bache Gabrielsen, a company of Norwegian descent. For this unconventional offering, the team has used American oak cask layering the classic Cognac flavours with vanilla, coconut and toffee. Imagine if bourbon and Cognac had an affair, this would be the result. 

What does it taste like?

Creamy coconut, chocolate and vanilla, with toasted nuts and raisins. This would be brilliant in a Harvard, essentially a Manhattan made with brandy. 


Pierre Ferrand Ten Générations

Another maverick Cognac producer, it’s Master of Malt blog regular Alexandre Gabriel. He’s delved into the history books and discovered that it was once common to use wine barrels to age the spirit. The Sauternes casks give this a subtle honeyed sweetness. No wonder it’s proved such a hit with bartenders. 

What does it taste like?

Honey, shortbread and citrus fruits. If you use this, you will never have a better Brandy and Soda, especially with a dash of orange bitters. 


Seven Tails XO Brandy

It’s a French brandy so is it a Cognac or an Armagnac? Well, it’s both and neither. This brandy is aimed squarely at bartenders and blended for maximum flavour to pound ratio using brandies from Cognac and Armagnac, as well as French spirits from outside those illustrious regions. It’s one of the very best brandies under £50.

What does it taste like?

Toasted fruitcake, with walnut, black pepper, almond and a little chocolate. Use in place of rye in a Sazerac or put it into the booze soup that is the Vieux Carre.


Baron de Sigognac VS

While Cognac is made in vast quantities by multinationals, Armagnac is often made by farmers. Consequently, there aren’t really any big brands. In Britain, Baron de Sigognac is probably the best distributed. Luckily, it’s excellent across the board including rare vintages, a super 20 year old built for sipping and this VS which offers incredible richness for money. 

What does it taste like?

Big and spicy, with cooked apple fruit, crème brûlée notes, and a long finish. Makes a great Brandy Sour but it’s also good enough to appreciate on its own. 


Roger Groult Réserve Calvados

Calvados, apple brandy from Normandy, is one of France’s lesser known spirits and yet there’s a quiet revival going on in the region. Sales are climbing steadily and new producers are getting involved. If you want to see what the fuss is about, this three year old version from one of the region’s stalwarts is a great place to start. 

What does it taste like?

Pear drops and honey, with fresh green apples, mint and pine nuts. It’s got the character to work in a Diamondback, a mixture of rye, apple brandy and yellow Chartreuse. 


Somerset Cider Brandy VSOP

Somerset cider maker Julian Temperley (see header) revived the great English tradition of making apple brandy in the 1980s. He used traditional Calvados equipment, in this case a 70 year old continuous still called Josephine, but made with West Country cider apples and ages them in small oak casks to make something distinctly English. 

What does it taste like?

Delicate fresh fruity notes fade into a rich, nutty finish. This would be a great one to with the cheeseboard especially if you’ve got a nice piece of farmhouse cheddar.


Lepanto Solera Gran Reserva 

Brandy de Jerez is a bit of a misnomer as it’s usually made from Airen grapes grown outside the sherry region and then aged in Jerez. Lepanto in contrast is made by Gonzalez Byass from Palomino sherry grapes, fermented and then double-distilled within the city of Jerez before ageing in used sherry casks. It’s lighter and more fragrant, closer to a Cognac in style, but with a distinctive nuttiness.

What does it taste like?

Fruity and floral with flavours of apricot, chocolate and orange. Makes a great Old Fashioned especially if you use a PX sherry to sweeten it. 


Cardenal Mendoza Solera Gran Reserva

This is more of a typical Brandy de Jerez, and has something of a cult following. It’s made by top sherry producer Sanche Romate, distilled from Airen grapes and then aged in a solera for an average of 15 years. Before bottling, it’s sweetened with sherry and the result is something like a cross between a brandy and a sweet oloroso.

What does it taste like?

Rich and sweet with flavours of raisins, figs and brazil nuts. Wonderful with an espresso on the side or even made into an Espresso Martini in place of vodka. 


Ararat Akhtamar 10 Year Old

Armenian brandy was once so revered that the French made it an honorary Cognac. And it’s still known in Russia as konjak. It’s made using the classic Charentais double distillation techniques but using indigenous Armenian grapes and aged in East European oak. This ten year old is a great place to explore these wonderful spirits.

What does it taste like?

Chocolate, burnt orange and vanilla. Do as they do in Armenia and drink with chocolate and other sweets. 


Van Ryn’s 10 Year Old Vintage Brandy

South Africa has a long viticultural roots, back to the 17th century, and considering the Dutch pretty much invented brandy, the word comes from brandewijn, burnt wine, it won’t surprise you that the country is home to some fine examples. This is made from a Cognac grape, Colombard, with another French grape, Chenin Blanc.

What does it taste like?

Apples and cinnamon, creamy, smooth, long and layered. One of the very best non-French brandies. Try it in a Sidecar.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Harvard

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book…

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book called The Cocktail Dictionary

In January 2019, I started writing, with help from Adam and Annie, a weekly cocktail column for this blog. The first entry was the Brooklyn. Since then I was asked by Mitchell Beazley to do The Cocktail Dictionary, part of a series of booze books like The Whisky Dictionary, The Tequila Dictionary, you get the idea. And now it’s here! It’s an A-Z of drinks with entries on shaking, ice, equipment etc. Not only are the words top quality but it has witty illustrations by George Wyesol. 

Anyway, that’s enough shameless plugging. Let’s talk cocktails. This week we’re making the Harvard, part of a series of old time drinks named after Ivy League universities such as the Princeton, the Yale, and erm, the Brown. It’s rather like a Manhattan but made with Cognac instead of bourbon, and then diluted with a splash of soda. The Harvard may actually predate the Manhattan, however. Many cocktails were originally made with brandy. Cognac was king in the 19th century but its preeminence among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. British drinkers switched to blended Scotch whisky and American cocktail enthusiasts switched to bourbon or rye. So the Harvard is a little taste of what Americans were drinking in the 1880s.

Just one of the excellent illustrations by George Wyesol

As with all cocktails, there are lots of ways to make it. In some recipes, the Harvard is just a Manhattan but made with brandy instead of bourbon or rye, and very nice it is too made like that. According to David Embury in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), if you use orange bitters it’s a Harvard but if you use Angostura, it’s a Delmonico try asking for that one in your local bar. Other versions call for sugar syrup, lemon juice and even grenadine (!) which sounds much too sweet. Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1935) makes his with half brandy and half vermouth with a dash of sugar syrup and two dashes of Angostura. But earlier still, George J. Kappeler Modern American Drinks (1895) was adding a splash of soda which is how we’re going to do it today. It makes it more accessible than a Manhattan and the dilution brings out the fruit in the brandy. You could even, in the summer, up the soda quotient and serve it as a Highball-type thing. But the evenings are getting cold now, so we’re not going to do that.

Traditionally Cognac would have been used but I’m using Janneau VSOP Armagnac which is very fruity and with a wine-like tang. It’s a very superior brandy for the money. Instead of Italian vermouth, I’m using Gonzalez Byass La Copa from Spain. This is made with PX sherry so it’s really quite sweet. Too sweet, I find, to drink on its own but works beautifully in booze-heavy cocktails. You really don’t need any sugar syrup. After a bit of experimentation, I found that adding the soda in two stages kept some fizz without warming up the drink. Finally bitters, the recipe in the book doesn’t call for bitters, but it’s a nice addition. Angostura or orange, it’s up to you.

Are you a Harvard man?

Right, got your ingredients ready? Let’s Harvard! Oh, and here’s a final plug for the book: The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Z of cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99. Totally shameless.

60ml Janneau VSOP Armagnac
30ml Gonzalez-Byass La Copa vermouth
Two dashes of Angostura bitters (optional)
30ml soda water (ideally chilled)

Add the first three ingredients and half the soda, a splash, to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir for 30 seconds until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupette or Martini glass, add another splash of soda water and garnish with an orange twist.

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Top 5 drinks books (and a jigsaw)

Taking in cocktails, whisky, gin, Armagnac and every good spirit under the sun, here are our favourite drinks books by the best writers on earth. Plus bonus jigsaw. Fun for…

Taking in cocktails, whisky, gin, Armagnac and every good spirit under the sun, here are our favourite drinks books by the best writers on earth. Plus bonus jigsaw. Fun for all the family!

A good drink has transporting qualities. One sip of Lagavulin and your senses will tell you that you’re on the storm-battered coast of Islay, a chilled glass of Santorini wine is almost as good as a trip to the island itself, and shut your eyes while sipping a good strong Martini and you could be in New York City. The magic is even stronger if you add a good book into the mix which is why we’ve picked five of our favourite drink books in stock at Master of Malt. So, you can explore the world, drink in hand, while maintaining social distancing. If there are any that we have missed, do let us know in the comments or on social. Oh, and we’ve stuck a jigsaw in at the end because you can never have too many whisky-based games. 


The Home Bar Henry Jeffreys

If you can’t go out to the bar then why not bring the bar to you? That’s the premise of The Home Bar written by MoM’s very own features editor. It features tips on how to get the right look from an old fashioned pub bar to turning your room into a tiki wonderland, the basic kit you need, and cocktail recipes from the top bartenders. You might never need to leave the house again.


Whisky: The Manual Dave Broom

As experienced drinkers you probably think that you don’t need a whisky manual. It’s not a piece of flatpack furniture, just open the bottle and pour. Well, put your scepticism aside because this book from one of the country’s best loved and most majestically bearded whisky writers will take your appreciation of whisky to the next level. 


Distilled Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

The dynamic duo of Harrison and Ridley have written quite a few books but we like this one because it distills (pun fully intended) what the duo do best: insatiable curiosity about drinks, and an amusing style that belies a deep knowledge and understanding of the wide world of booze. Taking in whisky, Calvados, baijiu, Armagnac, gin and more, it’s all here. There’s even a tasting set to go alongside it.



Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020

Love him or loathe him, there’s no doubt that Murray has mastered the art of setting the whisky agenda. When Murray made a Japanese whisky, a Yamazaki sherry cask, his whisky of the year in 2014, it made the front page of the papers around the world. Most whisky writers would sell their grannies for that kind of clout. So find out who’s up and who’s down in Murray’s view in this year’s guide, just don’t take it all too seriously.


The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace Tristan Stephenson

If you’re serious about cocktails, then you need to read Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender. He’s been in the industry since his early twenties, won all kinds of awards and he’s a great writer. You almost want to dislike him. We stock a few of his books and they’re all brilliant but we’ve highlighted this one as we know how much our customers love gin.


And finally. . .  The Whiskies of Scotland Jigsaw Puzzle 

Here’s the perfect thing for when you can’t go outside, a whisky jigsaw! Produced by the cleverly-named Bamboozled, it’s a map of Scotland market with famous distilleries. It’s the brainchild of Rebecca Gibb, an actual Master of Wine (she knows a thing or two about whisky as well), so you should learn something while you puzzle. 


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New Arrival of the Week: Seven Tails XO Brandy

It’s common for whisky and rum to be blended across different regions, even different countries, but it’s practically unheard of when it comes to French brandy. Until now, that is,…

It’s common for whisky and rum to be blended across different regions, even different countries, but it’s practically unheard of when it comes to French brandy. Until now, that is, as a new brand called Seven Tails has just launched that is looking to shake up the category. We’re all ears.

Seven Tails XO came about because partners in booze Joel Fraser and Arnaud de Trabuc saw a gap in the market. There are cheap brandies like Three Barrels or E&J Gallo, and then there are VS Cognacs with very little in-between. Fraser, originally from Manchester, made a name for himself with bars in Singapore, Vasco and the Cufflink Club, while Frenchman Trabuc founded Banks Rum which he sold to Bacardi in 2015. 

Originally, Seven Tails was going to be a French country brandy but they couldn’t find anything that got them excited. “We had some good stuff but nothing exceptional”, Fraser said. That was until they had the brilliant idea to add aged Armagnac ( some 12 year old, some 20 year old and some vintage Armagnac from 1988 to be precise) to a young brandy. Suddenly they had something delicious on their hands and they thought, why not add some Cognac too? And lo, Seven Tails XO was born.

Seven Tails brandy

Seven Tails, the perfect mixer

As it contains brandy from three regions, it can’t be called Cognac or Armagnac. This first batch is bottled at 41.8% ABV and is made up of spirits aged between three and 30 years, all from south west France from three grape varieties, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche. Here are the ingredients:

– French brandy, aged 3 years
– Armagnac Ténarèze, no age statement
– Armagnac, aged 4 years
– Armagnac, aged 20 years
– Armagnac, aged 30 years
– Cognac, aged 8 years
– Cognac, aged 10 years

The backbone is the non-AC (appellation contrôlée) French brandy but, according to Fraser, there are “has to be a substantial amount of the older brandies or you won’t taste them.” The blend is then aged for 30 days in 220 litre Port casks. This is partly to pick up some colour and richness but also, Fraser said, “to be a point of difference from traditional French brandies. It shows that we are innovative by doing something that you can’t do in Cognac [though Alexandre Gabriel might disagree].” There are plans for a bourbon cask finish. 

The name, Seven Tails, is a nod to the seven component parts and to alchemy, “taking base materials to create something bigger than the sum of the parts”, as Fraser put it. The stylish packaging is a world away from the staid Cognac norm. “Don’t have the heritage, so we have to innovate. The brandy category is a bit old, we wanted to do something eye-catching,” Fraser said. Seven Tails XO has already been picked up by some of London’s top bars including the Savoy, Annabel’s, Soho House and the Ned. According to Fraser, the response has been great: “bartenders told me ‘we hadn’t thought about brandy for years, we just poured Hennessy VS.’” 

Seven Tails

Pretty label

Fraser sees it as a supremely adaptable liquid, not just useful in the obvious cocktails like a Sidecar or an Old Fashioned, but in a traditional gin or vodka drink like an Espresso Martini, Clover Club or even a Pornstar Martini. Apparently, at the London Cocktail Club they shake it up with pineapple juice and Aperol. To show off his brandy’s versatility, Fraser is organising a cocktail competition in conjunction with the Ned. The only rule is that entries have to be pink. We like the sound of that. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Toasted and slightly burnt fruitcake, with oily walnut, peppery oak, ground almond and a hint of savoury umami, with lingering Black Forest gateaux.

Seven Tails XO Brandy is available from Master of Malt.

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What we learned at Armagnac Academy

We were lucky enough to be invited over to the fourth London Armagnac Academy, a yearly one day masterclass telling all about the somewhat-overlooked brandy. Here’s what we learned… We…

We were lucky enough to be invited over to the fourth London Armagnac Academy, a yearly one day masterclass telling all about the somewhat-overlooked brandy. Here’s what we learned…

We popped up to London for an entire day of deliciously educational Armagnac fun. Our hosts were Hannah Lanfear, founder of The Mixing Class and UK Armagnac educator, and Amanda Garnham, who has spent more than 16 years as press attachée and educator for the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (B.N.I.A.). Together, the dynamic duo taught us (nearly) everything there is to know, and, best of all, we tasted more than 40 Armagnacs. But there was a serious side too, at the end of the day there was a 100 question exam, with the highest scorer winning a trip to Armagnac itself as a reward. Talk about motivation! Spoiler, it wasn’t me…

Armagnac Academy

All of the wonderful Armagnacs we tasted during the day! We may have lost count.

Garnham, who lives in the region, jokily bestows upon herself the title of ‘the granny of Armagnac’, sets the scene of what Armagnac is like as a place before we delve into the details of the spirit. It is a region in Gascony, south-west France, filled with vineyards, castles and geese. Lots of geese. Which also means lots of foie gras. In Gascon, the average life expectancy is five years longer than that of the rest of France, despite all the decadent food and brandy. This phenomenon even has a name: the Gascon paradox. While recounting her travels over to the region, Lanfear nostalgically tells us that “Armagnac melts away the London mindset.” I have to admit, it does sound wonderfully romantic, and I already feel warmer in our little room in a fairly gloomy London.

The basics

Armagnac has had quite the time of it. There’s evidence of production as far back as the 14th century, though it was by the end of the 16th century that it became commonplace at local French markets. Back in the 17th and 18th century, Armagnac was originally exported through Bordeaux, with the aim to then blend it with water to rehydrate it after. We know, imagine that! Madness. Soon enough, the consumers realised that it was delicious without dilution, and the rest is history.

Armagnac Academy

A sunny shot of Armagnac. Spot the foie gras…

Armagnac is understandably often talked about in the same circles as Cognac, though culturally they couldn’t be more different. For one, the difference in the size of each region and, consequently, its market, is huge. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is by pointing out that, over the course of a year, Cognac loses more to the angel’s share than Armagnac produces in the entire year, which is around 6.6 million bottles.

Armagnac vineyards cover just 2,420 hectares, while Cognac has 75,000 hectares. Because it is much smaller, Armagnac isn’t commercial in the same way, and has no desire to compete with Cognac. Success of that level would lose what makes it unique. Garnham tells us that, though the word is banded around without meaning these days, “Armagnac has always been craft, but never really talked about it.” It stays small because of the size of the AOC, and even at its maximum production it couldn’t satisfy a market anywhere near the size of Cognac.

Armagnac Academy

A big ol’ bottle of Armagnac

Thanks to its smaller size, Armagnac has kept its biodiversity. There are ten main grape varieties that can be used to make it, whereas almost all Cognac is made from only one, Ugni Blanc. There are trees and shrubs surrounding the vineyards which encourage insects and bats, and other crops breaking up what would otherwise be a monoculture.

Distillation season

Garnham notes that, although the region is charming all year round, distillation is the most romantic time of year, called La Flamme de l’Armagnac. Producers will hold parties for entire villages (though sometimes that’s only 50 or so people), and traditionally children will light the alembic still. The still becomes the social hub of the community thanks to its warmth, and also because it must be tended to 24 hours a day. Although, only 48 houses in Armagnac own their own copper still, so to support the rest of the houses, there are five travelling distillers. Essentially, this is a large tractor with a copper still on the back of it, going from house to house over the course of distillation, which runs from harvest in October until 31 March, though generally distillation is completed by the end of January. You wouldn’t want to get stuck behind one of those on a single track road.

Armagnac Academy

Check it out, it’s a still on wheels!

Though some houses use double distillation as with Cognac, most Armagnac producers use the region’s traditional alembic. This is a simple continuous still, sometimes with as few as four plates, very different to the sort of high efficiency columns used to make grain whisky. They are often wood-fired and the spirit comes off at between 60 and 70% ABV so there are lots of congeners.

In Armagnac, the spirit is almost like a form of currency. Traditionally, Garnham tells us, a family will distil Armagnac each year and keep it in the cellar, much like money in a bank though with better rates of interest. Over time as it gets older it becomes more valuable, and say the family needs a new car, or has to prep for a wedding, they’ll dig out the Armagnac and sell it. Ditch your savings account and start investing in brandy, though if our lack of self-restraint with a contactless card is anything to go by, not drinking our savings would be even harder.

Armagnac Academy

Straight from the barrel to the glass

How do I drink it?

The mystery that surrounds Armagnac means that people aren’t quite sure how to drink it. Garnham notes that it doesn’t make much sense to add water or ice to your Armagnac, the reason being that the blend has been married and balanced to (hopefully) perfection before bottling, and water will undo that balancing act. Like with an older whisky, older Armagnacs are designed for sipping. However, younger Armagnacs are totally delicious with tonic and ice, or even alongside desserts. Armagnac-stewed prunes is a particularly tasty combo, and pair this with foie gras to live like a real Gascon local. Armagnac suffers from the same holdbacks as many aged spirits (looking at you, whisky), and mixing it shouldn’t be seen as a sin. Cocktails are a fun way to introduce people to the brandy.

Garnham leaves each of us a Gascon oak acorn on our table, so we can take a bit of Armagnac with us. Though, after a day of learning and tasting this delicious spirit, I’m pining to visit in person…

Pop over to the Armagnac Academy website for all the latest updates!

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Did our 2019 drinks trends predictions come true?

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for…

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for all things booze came true…

One of our favourite January activities is to dust off the crystal ball (AND the fancy crystal tasting glasses) and have a bit of a think about what might make waves in drinks in the coming months. 2019’s trend musings were one of our most-read features on the site this year. But how accurate were they? 

Boom time for liqueurs

Our prediction that liqueurs were set for a bit of a boom certainly came to fruition. The number of bottles we sold soared by 30% year-on-year, and there were some interesting flavours going on. Three of our top 10 best-sellers try and replicate the essence of unicorn (if you know what unicorns are supposed to taste like, let us know. And we don’t mean in burger form…) while other popular variants were coffee, herbal, caramel and all kinds of other puddingy-type concoctions. Long live the liqueur!

Teeling aside, 2019 wasn’t the year when Ireland’s new distilleries took off

Irish whiskey

We predicted we would see a whole load of new expressions from Ireland’s shiniest distilleries hit the market and liquid came of age. Actually, this didn’t really happen – but we did see even more distilleries get the green light and/or start production. Could next year be the one where we start to taste the fruits of their labour?

Botanical spirits

Back in January we reckoned botanical spirits would be a ‘thing’ this year. And we think we were mostly right! One of the biggest launches to back this up was Ketel One’s Botanical series where the vodka was infused with natural botanicals, then re-distilled. Not a juniper berry in sight. Others started to play in this space, but really what we saw was the launch of even more gins with a questionable level of ‘predominant’ juniper. Perhaps it’s time for some actual legislation?

Category-defying ‘spirits’

Another prediction where we reckon we were sort-of right. Category-defying spirits are products that don’t neatly fit into the rules of one category – think a grain spirit made in Scotland but not from malted barley so it can’t be called a single malt, as one very simple example. But it literally could be anything. While we certainly saw new products from some fresh producers (Circumstantial Mixed Grain from Bristol’s Circumstance Distillery, we’re looking at you, and Affinity, Compass Box’s whisky/Calvados hybrid, too). But we weren’t overrun with these hard-to-define expressions. Another smaller trend set to bubble away in 2020, perhaps.

2019, however, was the year of low/zero products like Three Spirit

Alcohol-free imbibing

Here’s a trend where we were bang on the money. Low- and no-alcohol product sales soared by 89% year-on-year, and there were a whole host of new launches to delight those who for whatever reason are off the sauce (or looking to reduce their intake). At London Cocktail Week, revellers sipped on Nogronis alongside full-ABV serves, and Hayman’s made waves on social media and beyond with the launch of its Small Gin. Other launches that caught our eye? Nine Elms No. 18, Three Spirit, Whyte & Mackay Light (kind of another category-blurrer, too) and Atopia. There’s never been a more delicious time to eschew the booze.

Cognac and Armagnac

We were expecting a bit of a French resurgence this year, and while it wasn’t immediately perceptible, dig a bit deeper and we can see the big names all performed really well. As a whole, however, things weren’t quite as emphatic. Cognac bottle sales climbed 18% as a whole, while Armagnac saw 22% gains. The surprise French spirit to break through? Calvados! Sales soared by almost 40% year-on-year. Can newer players to the market, like Avallen, keep up the momentum? 2020 could be a stellar year for the lesser-known apple- and pear-based French spirit. 

Yeast conversations

After lots of chit chat in Scotch whisky about terroir and cask types, we thought the conversation would shift over the course of the year to the role yeast strains play in production. Apart from the launch of Glenmorangie’s Allta, we didn’t really see much of that. But what we did see in June was the Scotch Whisky Association relax its rules on permissible cask types in Scotch. This brought a new energy to how drinkers and makers think about maturation, and it’s a theme we could see continue on into 2020 as more esoteric finishes hit the market. 

Johnnie Walker highball collection

The Highball, still very much a drinks industry thing

Blended and blended malt Scotch

A tricky one to quantify, this. While we did see more conversation around good blended Scotches (and there was a LOT of lingo around the whisky Highball) we’re not sure it had any mega meaningful impact on what we’re buying. Perhaps it was a prediction too soon – but we do think Highballs rule. 

Could agave beat rum in the premiumisation stakes?

Here’s one where we can now say yes and no. How do you define premiumisation? Is it drinking less but better? Is it spending more on a product for better quality? In many ways, both rum and Tequila and mezcal all made great premiumisation strides this year. Then you factor in spiced and flavoured rums. While rum bottle sales literally skyrocketed (48%! It was emphatic!), so much of this came from spiced and flavoured rums. Now, this is no slight on the sub-category. Good expressions can be the absolute dream. But they tend to cost less per-bottle, and don’t represent meaningful premiumisation to most. In that regard, agave spirits win hands down, even if they represent a far smaller slice of the overall spirits pie. One to keep an eye on – it certainly looks like the race is on. 

Caution from the big players
Brexit, elections, trade tariffs… 2019 was a challenging year for the business types in booze. We predicted companies would operate with caution, and it’s a forecast that has come entirely true. Sizeable spirits acquisitions were few and far between (Diageo snapping up a ‘significant’ majority stake in Seedlip, Campari nabbing a trio of rhum agricole brands including Trois Rivières, and Hill House Capital taking over Loch Lomond were probably the biggest stories), and there weren’t really any huge new launches to shout about. With the exception of CBD-infused products, which while totally legal, still have a disruptive air about them, the drinks industry seemed to like it quiet in 2019. 

The verdict

We’d give ourselves a 6/10. In some areas, our trends forecast was completely spot-on. In other regards, some categories just weren’t quite ready yet. But we’re going to give it another go for 2020! Keep your eyes peeled for what we think could dominate all things booze in the coming months, live on the blog in the New Year. 

What did you think about 2019 in drinks? Were there any big surprises for you? Or did anything play out as planned. Perhaps we missed something entirely? Let us know in the comments below or on social

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Five minutes with… Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the…

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the gin boom will end.

Oh you know, those two funny bearded chaps off the telly. No, not the Hairy Bikers, we’re talking about the drinks people from Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. If you’re even slightly interested in booze, you will more than likely be familiar with Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison aka World’s Best Spirits. As well as Sunday Brunch, they give talks and masterclasses, contribute to magazines, websites and newspapers, write books and still have time to attend every spirits tasting in Britain. How do they do it? They must be the hardest working men in the drinks business. 

Their latest book, The World Atlas of Gin, (amazingly Ridley had the time to contribute to another book this year) is a magnificent and thorough guide to a drink that is now truly global in scope. It’s a part of the Mitchell Beazley World Atlas series, anyone familiar with these books will know how what gorgeous objects they are. Without further ado, let’s hear from the toothsome twosome themselves. 

World Atlas of Gin

Harrison & Ridley in action

Master of Malt: What did you do before you became drinks writers?

Harrison & Ridley: We both worked in the music business, as A&R Executives (discovering new talent, signing it and making records) which was an incredible job to do at the time. Neil worked for Warner Brothers and Joel was at Island Records. We both and some amazing artists on the roster at the time such as Muse and Amy Winehouse respectively. We got to see a lot of amazing new talent coming up, but also a lot of rubbish music too!

MoM: How did you become drinks writers?

H&R: We started a blog in 2007, which was one of the very first whisky-focused websites, to document all the drams we were enjoying at the time, and to take an irreverent look at what was at the time quite a serious ‘leather armchair’ product. From that we were asked to write for various magazines and newspapers, and in 2015 our debut book, Distilled was released. It won the Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Drinks Book of the Year and is now the biggest selling book on pan-spirits globally, being translated into 15 languages along the way. We have similar hopes for The World Atlas of Gin, our third book together.

MoM: How did you meet? Was it love at first sight?

H&R: Funny story. Joel was going on holiday to Islay to visit some distilleries. At the back of a gig we got talking about it and shared our love of whisky. We ended up missing the gig, after heading to the bar for a dram or two. . . and the band was the Kaiser Chiefs who went on to sell over a million records. We probably should have stayed for the gig…!

They can do serious too

MoM: Can you remember a certain drink, bottle or cocktail that started your drinks obsession?

H&R: I think it was different for both of us, but certainly the single malts from Islay were a major drive to our shared passion. We both loved them, but there was also a big mix of bottles across our shared collection, from rich Speyside, to light grain, to our beloved Islay malts.

MoM: How long did it take you to research The World Atlas of Gin?

H&R: We developed our writing from whisky into general spirits for our debut book Distilled, and this kicked off a love affair with a variety of spirits from Armagnac through to gin. However, whereas the word of Armagnac has stayed relatively stable, the world of gin has exploded, as a result it took about 18 months of research across all sections of the book, from the production, to the history, to the brands. And we only include brands who make their own product (no contract gins) so that was fun, sifting out those producers who actually make their own liquid.

MoM: How many countries did you visit for this book?

H&R: There are near 60 countries covered in the book and we have visited about 50 of them across our time writing about distilled drinks, much of which was for this book.

MoM: Did you notice certain regional or national styles?

H&R: Yes, the ’new world’ style of gin whereby, in countries such as the US, the base spirit can be slightly lower in abv, vs the EU. In the US it is 95% and in the EU 96%. The 1% doesn’t sound like much but it leaves in a lot of flavour and texture. Therefore, in the ’new world’ style gins, the base spirit is almost like an additional botanical and can add a huge amount of flavour influence.

MoM: What was the most unusual gin you tried?

H&R: I think the London-to-Lima is the most unusual and plays on the idea of a ’new world’ gin, bringing in base distilled from grapes, a la pisco and drawing on Peruvian expertise in that area.

The Nightcap

They love a Negroni, but then who doesn’t?

MoM: Do you have a go-to gin?

H&R: We love a number of different gins depending on the drink it is going in to. For a Negroni, a nice bold spicy style gin works well. For a Martini, something with a clean and crisp, citrus-led flavour. And for a G&T, we love something a little juniper heavy. If we had to choose one that does all well, it would likely be No. 3, a great all rounder.

MoM: Some people get very upset by pink and flavoured drinks. Where do you stand on this divisive issue? 

H&R: So long as there is a heart of juniper, we don’t mind them at all. They can act as a ‘gateway’ for people to get into the gin category and if helps people discover drinks like the Negroni and Gimlet, then brilliant. Warner’s Rhubarb Gin is a fine example of a properly-flavoured, well-made product in this field. It’s delicious.

MoM: What trends are we likely to see in gin (and indeed in other drinks) over the next two years?

H&R: We believe there will be no let up in the gin boom. In the UK we will see people drinking more and more local products, like they do with real ale. So long as gin brands focus on their local market, they’ll be fine. Not all will be world-dominating. Globally, gin will continue to grow as different consumers in different countries discover the gin and tonic (tonic in America, for example, has historically been awful but now with brands like Fever-Tree it is actually a quality product), made with a local gin, and of course amazing cocktails such as the Negroni, Gimlet, Gin Sour, Martini etc…!

MoM: What’s your favourite gin-based cocktail?

Harrison: Anything. But a Gimlet is one of my top drinks, and a more savoury-led Negroni made with a good vermouth and garnished with rosemary, 

Ridley: You can’t go wrong with a clean and crips Martini (such as the one at Dukes or the Connaught Hotel), with a citrus twist. Or indeed just the classic G&T with lots (and lots) of ice.

MoM: What have you got coming up next? Books? TV? World tour?

H&R: We have our regular slot on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch which comes around every 5-6 weeks or so, and we are working on the next book. That’s always the best part of writing any book… the liquid research… 

Behold, the World Atlas of Gin!



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The Nightcap: 23 August

In this every-changing world, few things are certain. One thing, however, you can rely on is that as long as there’s news about booze, there will always be the Nightcap!…

In this every-changing world, few things are certain. One thing, however, you can rely on is that as long as there’s news about booze, there will always be the Nightcap!

As another week comes to an end, it’s time to take off your workaday loose-fitting trousers and slip into your spandex weekend leggings. Don’t do this in the office in front of everyone or you might get a sternly-worded email from HR. Perhaps spandex legging like those worn by hair metal bands from the 1980s aren’t really your thing but it is important to mark the transition from work to play in some way. You could put on a pink stetson or adopt a comedy weekend accent. Actually, don’t do either of those things, just pour yourself a drink, we’ll have a Whisky Sour if you’re offering, sit back and read this week’s news from the world of booze.

On the blog this week we reported on the exciting news that Ardbeg has added a 19-year-old expression to its core range. It’s not a limited release. It’s new Ardbeg and it’s here to stay. We resisted the urge to go out all week and celebrate, however, and published more stories. Take Nate Brown, for example, who returned to ask why drinks have to be so hellish just because your at a festival, theatre or airport. Annie then provided a handy guide to decoding the seemingly endless marketing bumf that sadly is part and parcel of this industry of ours and got the low-down on some intriguing savoury liqueurs. Adam, meanwhile, rounded up a selection of booze for you all to enjoy this upcoming bank holiday before Henry made the delightful Le Rebelle Aperitif our New Arrival of the Week and then decided to mark the upcoming National Whiskey Sour Day over in America (Sunday 25 August) by making it our Cocktail of the Week. Not that we need an excuse to enjoy a good cocktail.

But there’s more going on in the world of drink than people drinking Whisky Sours in airports. There’s all kinds of boozy news to catch up on…

The Nightcap

The new shiny Kilchoman stills

Kilchoman doubles its production on Islay

Back in June, during the crazy days of Feis Ile, we spoke with Andrew Wills, founder of Kilchoman, about expansion plans. Well now they are official: the distillery has doubled its spirits production to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. A wall was knocked out in the existing production space to create, in Wills’ words, “a mirror image of the original stillhouse” with a new mash tun, two fermenters and two new stills. He went on to say: “Without an increase in capacity we would be heading towards a situation where all Kilchoman would be sold purely on allocation. With my three sons heavily involved in the business we want to continue building on the success of the last 15 years without the risk of running out of whisky.” Expansion plans, however, are not yet done as a new shop, cafe and visitor centre is due for completion within the next four months. Never a dull moment at Kilchoman!

The Nightcap

The first two expressions from the Signature Blends series

That Boutique-y Rum Company launches Signature Blends

That Boutique-y Rum Company (TBRC) is ready to change your rum cocktail game with a new series of Signature Blends. The company’s first selection of continuous rums (ie. not one off batches), which also make for delicious standalone sippers, were developed by TBRC’s ‘Rum-guy’, Pete Holland (of The Floating Rum Shack fame). The first expression is Signature Blend #1 – Bright-Grass, a predominantly unaged blend of funky rum from Jamaica and fresh, fruity rhum from Martinique, with a touch of 4 year-old Jamaican rum for added depth. As you can imagine from its name, the profile is bright and grassy and should make a killer Daiquiri. Signature Blend #2 – Elegant-Dried Fruits, meanwhile, was created with the intention of making Holland’s Mai Tai’s (Pete that is, not the Netherlands). Combining rich molasses-vibe Guyana rum with heavier, funkier rum from Jamaica and a small amount of high-ester rum, this is a bold and full-bodied blend. For both expressions, you can check out our own tasting notes to get an idea of what you’re in for (spoiler alert: they’re both delicious). As with the rest of the TBRC range, the labels for the Signature Collection have been developed by Microsoft Paint artist and Twitter legend Jim’ll Paint It. “When tasked with creating rums that would be predominantly used in cocktails, I, firstly, had to think of the style of drinks that I’d like to enjoy, then set about working a blend that stood up to my idea of what the cocktail would taste like,” Holland said. “I don’t like the idea of trying to balance many different rum styles, a situation that overly complicates things. I much prefer the simplicity of two distinct styles working harmoniously together. Each displaying their strengths and contributions to the cocktail.”

The Nightcap

Plumpton College has hit back at claims made in the Daily Mail

Wine business course not Mickey Mouse, says Plumpton College

Feathers were ruffled at Plumpton College in East Sussex when Chris McGovern from the Campaign for Real Education branded its £9,000 a year wine business foundation course a ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree in an article in the Daily Mail. Dr Gregory M Dunn, curriculum manager of the wine division, hit back: “Plumpton’s wine business course allows students the opportunity to work closely with industry on various projects and initiatives and access to many wineries and wine-related businesses. This improves the employability of the students. We believe the content of the course is relevant, current and intellectually challenging”. Paul Harley, programme manager for wine business at Plumpton, went on to outline how in-demand graduates of the course are in the wine trade: “Last year our employment rate upon graduation from the FdA in 2018 was 60% with only one graduate without a job by the autumn. For 2019 we have 100% employment.” Plumpton graduates are currently working at such prestigious businesses as Berry Bros & Rudd, LVMH and Liberty Wine Merchants with none, as far as we can ascertain, wearing Mickey Mouse or Elsa costumes at Disneyland Paris.

The Nightcap

The inaugural meeting of the London Armagnac Club is the 4th September

Armagnac Club lands in London

London’s jolliest-named restaurant, Monsieur le Duck near Farringdon, has just launched the London Armagnac Club. Events will take place at the bar above the restaurant, the Duck’s Nest, on the first Wednesday of the month and concentrate on different aspects of this fascinating but little-known spirit eg. cask ageing, grape varieties or brandies from a particular house. The inaugural event on Wednesday 4 September from 7pm to 9pm features Château de Laubade, one of the region’s top producers. Naturally, Gascon snacks, probably featuring lots of duck, will be served alongside but a vegetarian option will be available. There’s something you don’t get in Gascony. So whether you’re an Armagnac aficionado or just love dark spirits, then head to Monsieur le Duck. You won’t be disappointed.

The Nightcap

There’s a lot of money in the beautiful landscapes

Cognac exports continue to grow for the fifth consecutive year (but UK sales down)

Good news for fans of all things French and fiery as the National Interprofessional Bureau of Cognac (BNIC) has announced that Cognac exports have continued to grow for the fifth consecutive year in 2018-2019, reaching their highest level in volume and value. Favourable conditions and trade in the NAFTA Zone (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) and the Far East are noted as the major reasons: 97.7 million bottles were shipped during this period (+8.8% in volume and +17.6% in value) in the US alone and shipments to the Far East stabilising at 60.0 million bottles, representing 28% of shipments (a small decline of -1.5% by volume and increase of 1.8% by value). In total, there were 211.1 million bottles shipped in 2018-2019, with exports accounting for 98% of sales, to the tune of €3.4 billion. That’s a lot of Sidecars. Cognac isn’t resting on its laurels, though. To support this growth, an additional 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) of vineyards have been purchased over the course of three years, so thankfully there’s still more than enough to go around. However, shipments within Europe are down by -4.6% in volume and -6.4% in value, for a total of more than 39.4 million bottles and the United Kingdom is down by -6.0% and -6.7%, although it still leads the European Union market. Still, the lesson here is clear. We need to do our bit in the UK and buy more brandy. Now if only there was a good online retailer of booze around here that we could use…

The Nightcap

It’s a delicious celebration of all things Art Deco

Singapore’s Atlas unveils stunning Art Deco menu

Glorious cocktails alert! Singapore’s sumptuous watering hole Atlas has revealed its new menu Interbellum, and we’re in full drinks lust. Developed by head bartender Jesse Vida and his team, the menu celebrates all things Art Deco, taking elements from historical cocktails popular at the time, and Atlas’s Parkview Square home, which is mighty in-keeping with the theme. ‘Interbellum’ takes its name from the period between the two World Wars, a time of enormous change, and of course, the birth of the Art Deco movement. Split into five chapters, the menu plays a lot with gin and Champagne, showcasing all kinds of cocktails from the time. “Using fresh and house-made ingredients, each drink has been inspired by this most seductive of eras, while showcasing a blend of traditional European influences with an updated touch,” said Vida. “We look forward to welcoming guests to journey with us through the stories.” Serves include classics such as the French 75, as well as more modern twists such as the lower-ABV Art & Influence, and The Boy King, a Highball-style drink made with oloroso sherry, sweet vermouth and Aperol, which taps into all things “Tut-Mania” when Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. Beautiful all round.

The Nightcap

Only 6,000 bottles of Glenkinchie Tattoo were filled and you” have to go to Edinburgh to buy one

Glenkinchie releases special Edinburgh Military Tattoo single malt

No, it’s nothing to do with skin art, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual extravaganza of bagpipes, drums and marching performed by armed forces bands from around the world. It’s one of Edinburgh’s premier attractions so it’s a good fit with nearby Glenkinchie which is known as the capital’s very own single malt. Ramsay Borthwick, manager of Glenkinchie, filled us in on this new whisky: “This highly-prized release has been specially selected by our team at the distillery as a celebration of our heritage as ‘Edinburgh Malt’ and the unique partnership between two of the city’s greatest icons.” Glenkinchie Tattoo was matured in rejuvenated hogsheads and American oak barrels, and from the tastings notes of butterscotch, dried fruits and baking spices, sounds to us like a classic Glenkinchie. It’s bottled at 46% ABV and costs £65. A limited-edition of 6,000 bottles will be available only from the distillery, the Military Tattoo shop, or you can enjoy a dram or two while watching the Tattoo itself. So you’ll have to visit Edinburgh if you want to try it.

The Nightcap

No need to go in store, the Whisky Discovery experience comes to your doorstep

Waitrose launches at-home whisky tasting experience

UK supermarket Waitrose has attempted to follow up the success of its Gin O’clock initiative by introducing a two-hour Whisky Discovery experience to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. The guided masterclass will be led by a Waitrose whisky specialist who will invite guests to taste through five different whiskies neat: Maker’s Mark, The Chita, Highland Park 12, Jim Beam Double Oak and Laphroaig. The specialist host will then demonstrate how to make three cocktails, pair spirits with soft drinks, and give guests the chance to taste Jim Beam Double Oak with dark salted caramel chocolate and see how Laphroaig pairs with a range of cheeses. A complimentary Highball glass and a rocks glass is also yours to keep. The at-home whisky tasting experience, which was created by Waitrose Wine Tasting at Home, is available to book now and is priced at £400 (US$488) for a group of six to 10 people. “We’re thrilled to be bringing a truly memorable experience to people’s homes. Whisky is a drink that is often enjoyed with a fizzy accompaniment, with some finding the drink overpowering,” Andrew Riding, drinks experience manager at Waitrose Wine Tasting at Home. “This tasting shows just how versatile whisky can be by showing guests simple and delicious cocktails and delicious food pairings.” We always love to see people getting into whisky, so let us know if you’re thinking of signing up with your friends or family in the comments below.

The Nightcap

The Discount Suit Company’s El Pajaro cocktail, which we can confirm is most delicious

Ocho goes Subterranean for summer

Who doesn’t love a cocktail safari?! Exploring multiple settings, different approaches to drinks, all with one uniting theme… we’re sold. So when Ocho Tequila invited us down to Discount Suit Company in London’s Spitalfields to check out the first of five serves as part of its very own series, we were there in a flash. The Subterranean Summer Series brings together five of London’s best-loved underground bars in a collaboration to serve Ocho-based cocktails, all at the tasty price of just £5. The drinks and bars in question? Discount Suit Company’s El Pajaro (we thoroughly rate its Paloma-esque qualities), Bar Three’s Raspberry & Tequila, Hawksmoor Spitalfield’s Cherry Blossom Margarita, Ruby’s Bar & Lounge’s Corn ‘n’ Toil, and Nine Live’s #1 Jimador’s Remedy. Collect a stamp from all five bars and you get a bonus sixth cocktail at the bar of your choice entirely on Ocho! Plus you get to revel in the personality of five of London’s most characterful vibes. You’ve got until the end of the month to get involved – go, go, GO!

The Nightcap

The Dundee distillers pipped some tough competition to be awarded this opportunity

And finally . . . Dundee distiller to supply House of Commons gin

After all the hard work MPs do, sorting out Brexit and the like, they really deserve a nice glass of restorative gin. So we were pleased to discover that the contract to produce the official House of Commons Gin has gone to the award-winning Verdant Spirits of Dundee. Andrew Mackenzie, founder and managing director at Verdant, said: “We spent two years researching and finessing the perfect dry gin and we firmly believe in our product, but it still felt fantastic to win out in the taste test. To really show our commitment to the process, we didn’t want to simply add a logo or brand to the bottle, we wanted to create a truly co-branded product.” Apparently, it was a closely-fought contest to win the contract with five gins including Sipsmith in the running for this prestigious and, we imagine, lucrative listing. After all, politicians love their gin. . . allegedly.

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