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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: bars

Cocktail of the Week: The White Negroni

The Negroni has long been Italy’s go-to aperitif, but there’s more than one way to pour it, as we discover in this week’s Cocktail of the Week. The delicate White…

The Negroni has long been Italy’s go-to aperitif, but there’s more than one way to pour it, as we discover in this week’s Cocktail of the Week. The delicate White Negroni may be lighter in colour and flavour, but it’s every bit as stimulating as its rich, ruby red alter ego. Here’s how to make it…

Also known as the Negroni Bianco, this modern classic first came to life at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, France back in 2001, where legendary British bartender Wayne Collins was preparing for Plymouth Gin’s cocktail competition. For his entry, Collins chose to give the traditional Italian cocktail a distinctly local twist, subbing Campari for Suze – an earthy, bitter French aperitif made with gentian root – and the sweet vermouth for Lillet Blanc, a wine-based aperitif from the south of France. It won.

The White Negroni made its way to New York with then-Plymouth Gin ambassador Simon Ford, who introduced the drink to Pegu Club owner Audrey Saunders. There, it became a staple on the menu and a smash hit – despite logistical hurdles. “The cocktail got its big break in the US, even though Suze was not available in that market at the time,” says Andrei Talapanescu, head bartender at Pulitzer’s Bar in Amsterdam. “The demand for Suze in the US grew so much that in 2012, Pernod Ricard began to import the liqueur.”

Collins’ recipe “is a very interesting twist,” says Talapanescu. “Every level of the drink is saturated with flavour. The gin you choose to use remains a key player in this equation and can take the final product in any direction, since Suze and Lillet Blanc are soft players compared to Campari and sweet vermouth.” When making the drink according to Collins’ recipe, Talapanescu departs from the equal part ratios of the original Negroni recipe in favour of 45ml gin, 25ml Suze, and 30ml Lillet Blanc.

Of course, you don’t have to enter a cocktail competition to have fun with the combination of gin, bitter aperitif and wine-based aperitif. Nor do you have to stick with French liqueurs. “You can play with all sorts of ingredients,” says Mike Enright, owner of The Barber Shop in Sydney, “but for a good twist on a Negroni you always need one part gin – more citrus and floral for a White Negroni – one part bitter or modifier like Suze, St. Germain, limoncello or dry sherry, and one part white vermouth; ideally a bianco style over an extra-dry vermouth.”

White Negroni

The White Negroni is just as stimulating as its red cousin (photo courtesy of Regal Rogue)

This week, we’ve gone for a super-fresh version of the White Negroni, made with a citrus-forward gin – think Oxley, Salcombe Start Point or TBGC Green Citrus Gin – plus Suze and Regal Rose Lively White. “With a citrus gin you get more of the fresh notes over the dry juniper of a London Dry Gin,” says Enright. “With the Suze you get the lovely balance of a white bitter with a hint of freshness. Regal Rogue Lively White is all about the citrus and floral notes. It’s a clean style of vermouth that lets the gin and Suze shine.”

As with the classic version, the White Negroni is incredibly adaptable. “You can swap the garnish from lemon to grapefruit or even frozen green grapes if you want something more neutral,”  according to Enright. Alternatively, try experimenting with the core ingredients. 

“It can easily be turned into a White Negroni Sbagliato,” says Talapanescu – just sub the gin for Prosecco. “Even just a base change from gin to mezcal will create a totally different drink,” he says. However you choose to change up the format, try batching the drink in advance to save time. “It’s so easy – just buy the three bottles, mix them together in advance with enough water to ensure proper dilution and place it in your fridge or freezer,” says Talapanescu. “It can even be enjoyed in a mini format at the beginning of your meal too.” 

Flavour-wise, a White Negroni has all the best parts of the classic version, “but with a fresher approach for a different time of the day,” says Enright. This version is great as the first Negroni of the day, he continues, “with a more citrus-styled gin to match that of Suze, and the citrus notes in Regal Rogue Lively White.” The White Negroni is proof that rules were made to be broken. À votre santé, as the French say

30ml TBGC Green Citrus Gin
30ml Suze
30ml Regal Rogue Lively White

Build all ingredients in a tumbler over ice and stir. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist.

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Why I won’t be reopening my bar this December 

Today, Nate Brown returns to explain why, despite the easing of restrictions in London, it’s just too much of a gamble to open his Hackney Road bar and pizzeria, nebula….

Today, Nate Brown returns to explain why, despite the easing of restrictions in London, it’s just too much of a gamble to open his Hackney Road bar and pizzeria, nebula.

You often hear the phrase ‘you play the hand you’re dealt’. Well, I play poker, and anyone else that does will tell you that this is bullshit. You don’t play the cards, you play the table. It matters less whether you have an ace than what’s at stake. How much is the bet? How much have you got? How are the other people at the table behaving? Was she a little too quick throwing in her chips? Did he just smirk? In truth, gambling in this way actually comes down to the stake and the stack. How many more deals before I go bust? How many more deals before the guy across from me has no choice but to go all in?

I look at operating a venue in December in much the same way. Every day that I open the doors deals a new hand. In normal times, I know my stack. I know the rules of the game, and I know how to play. This doesn’t mean winning every time, it means winning enough times that you can afford to sit at the table and play again tomorrow. 

Nate Brown running a bar back in simpler times

Today, England exits lockdown and enters its tier system. London is in Tier 2. I am sat at the table. My stack is a place called nebula on Hackney Road in London. We have a glorious pizza oven in full view of the bar, and so there’s no doubt about it, we can open. [In Tier 2, alcohol can only be served with a ‘substantial’ meal.] Every guest that could visit could have a slice with each drink, and we’re obeying the laws of this new game. The brand is tight, the team is strong, the venue is large and has a vast outdoor seating area. If I were to design a COVID-friendly venue, it would look pretty much exactly like this. And so, I feel like I’ve been dealt a king and a queen, off-suit. 

But I’m not playing the cards. The minimum bet, the blind as we call it at the table, is enormous. The government has set this. In order to play, I must make this commitment. In real terms, that’s a commitment to taking staff off furlough and paying their wages. It’s placing a new order for a whole cellar of keg beer. It’s probably investing in renting some covering for the outdoors with heaters (snow is on the way). It’s turning on the beast of an oven, which guzzles so much gas it must be American. The oven runs hot, so it doesn’t care if it’s doing two pizzas a day or 200, it just runs. 

And I check my stack. I’ve already spent the vast majority of it paying the fee just to sit at the table. A venue of nebula’s size, no matter how you do it, is going to cost. My pile of chips is measly compared to some of the other players’. I’m not alone in this. No matter how much I look at my chips, they aren’t going to grow unless I bet. 

Yet we haven’t seen the flop yet. The shared three cards in the middle have yet to reveal themselves. What I mean is, we do not know the appetite of the London consumer in this festive season yet. Yes, in all likelihood they’ll flock to the nearest bars. But look at the job losses announced on the news. Look at the stories of impending economic doom. Will this cause some to stay home and save the pennies? Christmas is upon us, and already expensive, especially for those who have lived on 80% of their salaries all year. We could debate each side of this coin all day and night. In truth, we won’t know how busy nebula will or won’t be until we match the bet and see the flop.

Nebula on Hackney Road (photo credit: Milly Fletcher)

Plus, there are serious restrictions. No meeting of households indoors, rule of six outdoors, last orders at 10pm. This mixes up the ranking of hands. Even if could see everyone’s cards, I still wouldn’t know who is likely to win. Couple that with the fact that these rules could change in as little as two weeks, will definitely will change in a little over three, and beyond that is completely unknown. 

So, I ask myself, do I want to play? Seemingly, almost all the other players are hungry for the large stake on offer. They’ve been bleeding chips all game and now is their chance to win it all back. I don’t blame them. I can feel the pressure of those expecting me to call. Intuitively, it feels like I should play. This is what I’m sat at the table to do.

But I’m not going to. I’ll fold this hand, and I’ll save my chips to play again another day. The cards are good, the pot is large, but the stake is too high, my stack too low, and the rules aren’t what they used to be. I’ll hold onto my chips and afford myself the most future possibilities. In these strange times, I’ll wait for a pair before going all in. In the case of nebula this means keeping shut for a little while longer, riding the storm, and seeing what the cards the new year deals. 

Nate Brown is just launched an at-home drinks service called Easy Social Cocktail Co. Full story next week. 

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Our favourite cocktail delivery services

Our beloved hospitality industry is taking quite the hit during lockdown, and obviously we’re all gutted we can’t go and support them… Except wait, we can! Here are a few…

Our beloved hospitality industry is taking quite the hit during lockdown, and obviously we’re all gutted we can’t go and support them… Except wait, we can! Here are a few ways you can get your cocktail fix without even leaving your home. 

We know that nothing will quite beat the ambiance of our favourite watering hole, glancing over at the bar and seeing your drink being shaken (or stirred) by a bonafide professional. But, at the same time, enjoying a bar-quality cocktail in the comfort of your own home brings quite a bit of solace and downright enjoyment in times like these. If you can’t go to the bar, bring the bar to you! Plus, now you won’t have to queue or anything… 

cocktail delivery
Speakeasy At Home

It’s triple trouble with Speakeasy At Home, as three of the World’s 50 Best bars have joined forces for this one! You’ll find cocktails from Swift, Nightjar and Oriole all in one place, which is pretty awesome. Will you choose Swift’s famed Irish Coffee, Nightjar’s Barrel Aged Zombie or Oriole’s Jalisco Negroni? If you simply can’t pick which bar you feel like visiting (through the wonder of taste, of course), you can get yourself a box featuring one cocktail from each. Handy! Cocktails come in 220ml pouches and 500ml bottles, starting at £15 and delivering throughout the UK. 

cocktail delivery
Milroy’s The Proofing Room

The ever-wonderful Milroy’s treated us to a new Spitalfields-based site this year, and underneath you’ll find The Proofing Room, its basement cocktail bar. Now it’s bringing the cocktails to us, and they’re all inspired by the humble Highball. The six-serve menu treats us to a whole host of different variations on the classic cocktail, from bourbon, chestnut, peach and ginger to Tequila, coconut rum, chill, caraway and orange. What’s more, there’s delivery across the UK within 48 hours! So you won’t be thirsty for long. Each bottle costs between £12 to £14 and holds three servings. ‌ 

Easy Social Cocktail Co.

Bartender and Master of Malt contributor Nate Brown, had big plans for 2020 including a Highball Bar called Soda, a pizza and cocktail venue named Nebula and had an idea that at-home cocktails might be a thing. Well, for various reasons, not all of them Covid-related, Soda didn’t open, Nebula is open and doing takeaways, and a cocktails delivery service seems like a really good idea. So Brown has teamed up with Imie Augier, formerly of Fitz’s Bar and Shrub and Shutter, and Hebe Richardson of Drinks with Hebe fame (and also Brown’s wife), to launch the Easy Social Cocktail Co (photo credit above: Milly Fletcher). The menu includes classic cocktails in bottles or pouches as well as Hard Seltzers. We were given a little taste of some of the deliciousness on offer including a Cracking Christmas Cosmo and a Super Strawberry Negroni which might be the best Negroni we’ve ever tried (both £25 for 500ml). 

cocktail delivery
Coupette

Coupette (above) is bringing its delicious cocktails to the masses, because it’s delivering its drinks worldwide! Get your all-important Calvados fix or give the Parmigiano- and bourbon-inspired Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy a go. Heartbreakingly, Champagne Piña Coladas don’t do well in transit. Sad faces all around. Though we’re sure we’ll cope, because there are heaps of other options from its outstanding menu to choose from. If you dim the lights, get some music on and cook yourself some gratin dauphinoise, it’ll be like you never left the East London bar! Cocktails come in three sizes, 125ml, 250ml and 500ml, starting at £10. 

cocktail delivery
Hacha

Agave lovers, we didn’t forget about you! London’s Hacha is here to get us our fix, having bottled its famed Mirror Margarita. Each 700ml bottle holds four serves, and you’ll find Tequila or mezcal versions of the cocktail along with seasonal infusions like clementine and cinnamon, or even a mulled variant! The bar has even reworked the classics, with pre-bottled agave twists on Negronis and Martinis too. A top feature of the bar was its ever-changing spirit selection, complete with bespoke weird and wacky food pairings (mezcal and Monster Munch, anyone?). With Hacha’s agave tasting flights, you can recreate this at home! The flights are designed for two people, holding two serves of three different spirits, along with full tasting notes and even pairing suggestions. If you weren’t an agave aficionado already, you will be soon! Bottles start from £35, delivering all over the UK.

cocktail delivery
Liana Cocktail Co. 

Liana Cocktail Co. is the tasty result of a bad situation (which was lockdown, in case you hadn’t guessed). It goes one step further than just sending you a delicious cocktail, because each serve has one of those fancy QR codes. Say hello to the Interactive Cocktail Experience! From an Apple Old Fashioned to Margaritas, every cocktail has a corresponding video featuring a bartender talking you through how the drink was created. If you’re looking for something festive, on 1 December there’s a special event where founder David Wood himself will be there to talk you through the making of each cocktail, the spirit producers selected and how to get those perfect finishing touches. The cocktail box will give you access to this live event*, as well as donating £1 to The Drinks Trust, helping our friends in hospitality. Each box is £19.99 and holds three cocktails, with delivery across the UK mainland.

*Just make sure you order before 25 November to get your box in time!

cocktail delivery

Bring Your Bar Home

And last but not least, a very shiny new feat of technology from a fellow bar-lover – say hello to Bring Your Bar Home! As much as we hate to admit it, it’s basically a better version of what we’ve just done with this blog, because instead of rounding up a few favourites for you (brilliant though they are), you simply whack in your postcode (only works in the UK) and shows you a long ol’ list of bars which can deliver straight to your doorstep. Genius! Just the sort of thing we wish we’d come up with ourselves… 

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Shaken vs stirred: the science behind mixing a cocktail

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred…

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred versus shaken, we asked two bartenders to divulge the ‘rules’ behind each method, offer technique tips, and share four lip-smacking recipes to try at home…

Chances are, unless you’re a bartender – or James Bond – you’ve rarely given much thought to the technicalities of cocktail methodology. If the recipe instructs you to “shake”, you shake, and if it says “stir”, you stir, without ever really pausing to consider what the process brings to the drink, or why you’re doing one rather than the other. 

“Both shaking and stirring will ensure the individual ingredients are well-mixed, and so the overall cocktail has the right balance from start to finish,” says Patrick Pistolesi, founder of Drink Kong in Rome – one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and head of mixology at NIO Cocktails.

Opening a bar during the COVID-19 pandemic

The team from Swift in Shoreditch

Both processes also cool the cocktail, Pistolesi continues, although shaking gets the job done slightly quicker. “Shards of ice break off and melt faster as the surface area of the ice is increased,” he explains. “Aside from cooling, the other main purpose of either shaking or stirring with ice is to dilute the cocktail to deliver the perfect drink.”

If both approaches mix the ingredients, dilute the drink, and cool the liquid – albeit at different speeds – when does one method take precedence over the other? It’s all to do with the tiny air bubbles that form during the shaking process.  “Shaking aerates the cocktail, which changes both its texture and its taste,” says Pistolesi.

Those bubbles are the reason a stirred drink will be crystal-clear, while a shaken drink will be cloudy, or at least opaque. Therefore, drinks made with ‘clear’ ingredients, like neat spirits and liqueurs, are typically stirred, while those with already ‘cloudy’ ingredients – such as citrus, syrup, fresh juice, egg whites, cream or milk – ought to be shaken. 

One of the most important (and oft-forgotten) ingredients? Ice. “Put simply, high quality ice delivers a better-tasting cocktail,” says Pistolesi. “Experience with different types of ice is important, as the quality of the ice can also affect the time required to shake or stir.” Good ice (very good blog post on the subject) starts with quality filtered water. You don’t want your ice to melt too quickly or it will have too much dilution, so use it straight from the freezer and avoid that ready-made ice with holes in.

The shake

Perhaps unsurprisingly, you’re going to need a shaker. But which one? “The Boston shaker is the classic two-piece, one part usually stainless steel and the other glass,” says Pistolesi. “This is really great for a sour drink that needs a lot of froth, as the shaker is pretty large and can contain more liquid.”

Alternatively, you could opt for the classic three-piece or ‘continental’ shaker. “This holds a smaller amount of liquid than the Boston shaker, will cool faster and deliver the right amount of air in the drink,” he continues. “I use it mostly for three-ingredient cocktails, for example a White Lady or a Daiquiri.”

In terms of technique: add ice into the shaker first, don’t overfill the vessel with liquid, and opt for a longer, harder shake when using viscous ingredients or those that don’t mix easily, Pistolesi says. Remember, you don’t need to shake as long you would stir – “anywhere between 15 and 20 seconds should be about right,” he adds.

Whatever you do, don’t risk an overshake. “It could make your cocktail watery and gritty with ice shards,” explains Mia Johansson, managing partner of London’s Bar Swift – also one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and creator of cocktail delivery platform Speakeasy At Home.

“There is no way of perfectly timing it because it has to do with what is in your tin – and how much, more precisely,” she continues. “Make sure you fill your tin with plenty of ice and try to listen to the sound of the shake, when it goes from clunky to broken up it should be just perfect.” 

Ready to give it a crack? You’ll find two shaken classics from Johansson below:

Adnams Rye Malt Whisky Sour cocktail

A Whisky Sour made with Adnams Rye Malt and served on the rocks

Whiskey Sour 

3 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part lemon
1 part simple syrup or honey
1 egg white (or 25ml aquafaba)

Give it a good shake with plenty of ice in your tin. Serve straight up in a glass or over ice if you prefer. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry. For an extra touch, try adding a dash of Amaretto – 0.5 parts is enough.

French

The French 75!

French 75: 

3 parts Bathtub gin
1 part lemon
2 parts simple syrup
Sparkling wine to top

Shake in a tin with plenty ice, double strain into a coupe or flute and top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with cherry or lemon twist. For a twist, add 0.5 parts of elderflower cordial.

The stir

For this method, you can use your cocktail shaker or a stirring glass – either works fine. “Again, make sure you have plenty of ice, as you want to be able to control the dilution,” says Johansson. “The more ice you have, the more time you’ve got.” Give it “a good stir until you feel the ice has lost its edges and feels smoother,” she says, “usually around 20 to 30 seconds”. Pause and taste it to see if it is cold enough. Texture-wise, it should be “silky but still packed with flavour.”

Pistolesi, meanwhile, advocates for a longer stir. “You’d need to spend upwards of a minute and a half stirring a cocktail to achieve the same cooling and dilution as 15 to 20 seconds of shaking,” he says. In terms of method, “the simplest way is to dunk the spoon in and out of the drink – once the ice and ingredients have been added – while twirling the spoon.” Alternatively, you could use a Japanese method called the Kaykan stir. “The objective is to move the ice and the liquid as a single body and hence to avoid aerating the drink,” Pistolesi explains.

The perfect stir requires a little common sense, so keep an eye on the drink to make sure it doesn’t dilute too much. Get your stir on with the recipes below, again from Johansson:

The classic Boulevardier

Boulevardier

2 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth 

Stir over ice and serve on the rocks. Garnish with an orange peel. For an extra touch, add a dash of cherry brandy, no more than 0.5 parts.

Stinger made with H by Hine Cognac

Stinger

4 parts H by Hine Cognac
1 part Giffard crème de menthe 

Stir and serve straight up in a coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist. Perfect classic for a Christmas tipple. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Popcorn Old Fashioned

This week’s cocktail is the Popcorn Old Fashioned, a long-time favourite at Sexy Fish. The London hotspot has sold over 12,000 of them since it opened five years ago. Bar…

This week’s cocktail is the Popcorn Old Fashioned, a long-time favourite at Sexy Fish. The London hotspot has sold over 12,000 of them since it opened five years ago. Bar manager Jérôme Allaguillemette explains how to recreate the drink at home…

Tucked away on a corner of Berkeley Square lies Sexy Fish – no, you’re not hard of herring, that’s its real name – which toasted its fifth birthday with a book of its most beloved serves, titled Surrealism. Set in a split-level building that boasts seascape-inspired Damien Hirst art in the main restaurant and two of the world’s largest live coral reef tanks in the private dining space below, the opulent hotspot is known for its wildly inventive Asian-fusion food and drink offering.

If you’re into celeb spotting, it’s the plaice to be. The venue flung open its doors in October 2015 with a star-studded opening party – Rita Ora performed a medley of hits (dressed as a glittery gold mermaid, obv) while the likes of Kate Moss and Lindsay Lohan sipped cocktails and snacked on rainbow-coloured sushi platters. Ever since, a revolving door of big names has been spotted inside its glitzy lair, including Katy Perry, Hugh Jackson, Kendall Jenner and Joan Collins.

If you can tear your eyes from the venue’s theatrical artworks for long enough – among them a 13-foot mirrored crocodile (by architect Frank Gehry), a waterfall wall, and an illuminating shoal of fish hovering above the bar (also Gehry) – you’ll find the largest collection of Japanese whisky in the world. Sexy Fish even has its own single cask bottling, Sexy Fish Whisky, made at Chichibu Distillery in the central Saitama Prefecture. As well as having a huge selection of spirits within easy reach, the bar team also has a fully-stocked kitchen to draw from – and they make full use of this unique set-up, as Allaguillemette explains.

“Our kitchen fridges and pantry are our main inspiration,” he says. “Over the last five years we’ve used some interesting ingredients, including Wagyu fat, smoked salmon, bonito flakes, Shiitake mushrooms, codonopsis and Galangal. We use a lot of techniques borrowed from chefs: sous vide cooking, blending, centrifuging, and additional ‘scientific methods’ such as vacuum distillation, which allows us to extract very delicate and unusual flavours using laboratory equipment.”

Sexy dish, swanky bar

There are, indeed, plenty of unconventional flavour combinations on the menu. In the savoury, herbal serve Neonach – which is presented in a red coral glass – you’ll find salmon-infused Hendrick’s gin, basil, fennel and chilli oil. When designing a cocktail at Sexy Fish, bringing ingredients together is only half the story. After all, the owners didn’t spend (an estimated) £15 million on eye-catching art installations from the biggest names in architecture and art to serve your lavish cocktail in dull glassware.

“The visual aesthetic is the guest’s first contact with the drink, it needs to be appealing and to some extent sexy and intriguing,” says Allaguillemette. “We’re always looking to excite as many senses as possible when it comes to our serves, using textures, shapes, colours and scents. Some [vessels] are unique, bespoke pieces that we designed in collaboration with brands, such as our Neonach coral glass, which is 3D-printed.”

Unsurprisingly, putting each menu together requires plenty of work. The first menu followed Marco Polo across Asia; the second, called Haute Couture, took inspiration from the catwalk; the third, Whet, was designed to whet all appetites; and the most recent edition Travel was inspired by the team’s global bar tour. Each has typically taken around nine months, from the first meeting to the launch, says Allaguillemette, with all hands on deck. “The menu creation is most definitely a team effort, from the concept to the drinks and serve design,” he continues.

With each menu so vibrantly different to the last, how would he sum up the cocktail offering at Sexy Fish in three words, I ask? “Sexy, accessible, yet complex,” says Allaguillemette. That’s four – but then, surreal Sexy Fish is hardly known for following convention, so we’ll it slide.

Right that’s Sexy Fish, now let’s make a Popcorn Old Fashioned. It’s described by the bar like this: “An all-time favourite, this Old Fashioned is a cocktail that really pops. All the classic ingredients report for duty, alongside popcorn-infused Chita Whisky. Over the years, we’ve taken 110kg of popcorn to take this old favourite into new territory”.

50ml popcorn-infused Chita Whisky*
5ml sugar syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters 

Stir all ingredients over ice and strain onto a large chunk of ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

*To make the popcorn-infused Chita Whisky, mix 200ml whisky with 20g popcorn, leave in a freezer overnight, and strain through a coffee filter the following morning.

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Five minutes with… cocktail trailblazer Julie Reiner

A trailblazer in the modern American bar scene, Julie Reiner is credited with shaping New York City’s booming cocktail culture. She’s the brains behind some of the city’s finest watering…

A trailblazer in the modern American bar scene, Julie Reiner is credited with shaping New York City’s booming cocktail culture. She’s the brains behind some of the city’s finest watering holes – Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club and Leyenda, to name just three. We took five with Reiner to discuss mango Margaritas, longevity in the bar world, and making tonic water from scratch…

Julie Reiner has been changing the way New Yorkers drink since the late 1990s. The Hawaii native began her bartending career in San Francisco before making her way to the Big Apple in ‘98, where she founded Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan back in 2003. From there, Reiner opened Pegu Club in 2005 as a silent partner, before co-founding Clover Club in 2008 and Leyenda in 2015. All closed their doors having amassed prestigious awards during their time.

When she’s not opening hugely influential bars, Reiner can be found imparting her knowledge as a drinks author – The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks for Every Occasion is a home bar staple – and as a judge, mentor, or consultant (her business goes by Mixtress Consulting). Her work has influenced a generation of bartenders; Reiner is one of a handful of people to scoop the title of Best Bar Mentor at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards.

Most recently, Reiner released a line of craft canned cocktails, Social Hour, with legendary bartender and Clover Club co-owner Tom Macy. She’s worked closely with many big names over the years, including her mentor Dale DeGroff – known as the King of Cocktails, the bartender and author is widely credited with laying the foundations for the craft cocktail revival we’re enjoying today – plus Pegu Club founder Audrey Saunders, and the ‘Modern Mixologist’ Tony Abou Ganim. 

Julie Reiner in action behind the bar

From memorable serves and creative influences to canned drink development, Reiner answers our burning questions below – and shares a cocktail recipe to try out at home:

MoM: Thanks so much for your time, Julie! When and where did your love of hospitality begin? 

Reiner: I grew up on Oahu in Hawaii and as a kid my house was a revolving door of visitors. It was as if we were running an AirBnB for our extended family and friends. Hospitality was in my blood, I helped my mom pass hors d’ oeuvres and blend up mango Margaritas and loved it. We had a limousine van so that we could tour the island all together. It was a big part of my childhood and really solidified my future in the hospitality industry. 

MoM: What are your biggest creative influences in terms of shaping your bartending style? 

Reiner: Early on in my career, tropical flavours were my biggest influence as I had a lychee tree in my front yard and a mango tree in the back. I naturally gravitated towards those fruits and island flavours. I met Dale Degroff, Audrey Saunders and Tony Abou Ganim early on in my career and discussed cocktails and flavour pairings with all of them in the early stages of my career. They all had great influence on me and my bartending style, as did the chefs I worked with at various restaurants.  

MoM: To fast-forward to 2020 – how has the coronavirus pandemic changed your working life? 

Reiner: In terms of how it has affected business: we were originally scheduled to launch Social Hour in April, just in time for the spring/summer season… and then Covid hit. We lost some of our funding, and had to regroup before we could launch. We also had to shut down Clover Club and Leyenda, which was very stressful. 

And enjoying a well-earned drink

MoM: How did the development process for Social Hour compare to designing cocktails for a bar setting? 

Reiner: It was similar in some ways and very different in others. The biggest difference is we had to create ingredients like tonic water or ginger beer from scratch so we could adjust variables like sweetness, acidity, spiciness, etcetera. It was great to have that flexibility but it took a while to get it all right. The end goal was the same as it is in a bar, but the road we had to take to get there was different.

MoM: Could you share a story about a memorable drink you’ve made over the years?

Reiner: When we were preparing to open Clover Club, I created a cocktail called The Slope named after my neighborhood of Park Slope [see below]. It was meant to be our house Manhattan variation and became an instant classic at the bar. It is one of the only cocktails that has never left the menu. The Slope is a fan favorite with our regulars and has been featured on menus all over the world. It was even featured in a Brooklyn-themed cocktail box in France.  

MoM: What key qualities does it take to forge a career in the bar industry? And, how do you foster longevity and prevent burnout?

Reiner: It’s not an easy path to be sure. In my experience, which includes many highs and lows over the years, the most important thing is pick the right partners. Also, continue to innovate and look ahead, don’t rest on your laurels. Hire well. Give people the opportunity to grow… and keep your consumption in check!  

We asked Reiner to share a cocktail you could recreate at home – so below you’ll find the recipe for The Slope, a twist on the classic Manhattan. Enjoy!

The Slope

70ml Rittenhouse Straight Rye whiskey 100% proof
20ml Punt e Mes
5ml Giffard apricot liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Bitters 

Stir all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe.

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The Nightcap: 16 October

Video games, new whisky, the UK’s first Bloody Mary doughnut and more all await you in this week’s edition of The Nightcap. Get stuck in. Did you know that the…

Video games, new whisky, the UK’s first Bloody Mary doughnut and more all await you in this week’s edition of The Nightcap. Get stuck in.

Did you know that the Met Office has said that Saturday 3 October was the wettest day for UK-wide rainfall since records began in 1891? These aren’t the kinds of records we want to be setting. ‘Woman eats the most amount of hot dogs in a minute’ or ‘man sets the record for owning the highest number of cats’ is the type of story we want to read. Aside from the latest news from the world of booze, of course. We’re always excited to see what’s going on and, hopefully, you are too. Which is why you’re here. So, let’s get on with it. It’s The Nightcap!

On the MoM blog this week we were delighted to launch another incredible #BagThisBundle competition, this time with plenty of delightful Mermaid Gin expressions up for grabs. Adam revealed the news that The Macallan has launched one of the most astonishing ranges of whisky we’ve ever seen before continuing our Sober October coverage by profiling the category-defying Three Spirit Drinks before suggesting some delicious, hearty, comforting drinks for Autumn. Our Cocktail of the Week is a silky serve that needs some shakin’, The Silver Fizz, while our New Arrival is one of the world’s great brandies. Elsewhere, Annie spent five minutes in the company of wonderful Rich Woods from Scout London and Henry had a taste of a particularly intriguing Cuban rum.

The Nightcap

The name ‘Ao’, means blue and is a reference to the oceans that connect the distilleries together.

Beam Suntory announces “first-ever world blended whisky”

There might not be much travel going on at the moment but, as well as a chance to see something other than the inside of your home, holidaymakers will receive another treat in the future thanks to Beam Suntory’s latest innovation, the “first-ever world blended whisky”. ‘Ao’, a global travel retail exclusive, was made using whisky from five distilleries in Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the US. There’s no official word on which distilleries were used, but given the brand owns one Irish distillery, one Canadian distillery, and has an American and Japanese distillery in its name, you’ll only really be guessing which Scotch it’s opted for (Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and Ardmore are the contenders). Beam Suntory has revealed that fifth-generation Suntory chief blender, Shinji Fukuyo, selected each liquid based-on “Suntory’s globally-recognised Monozukuri craftsmanship” and that this innovative blended whisky “embodies the spirit of Suntory and is a tribute to the liquid’s long history”. Fukuyo added, “Ao is an exceptional whisky which, through the art of Suntory blending, allows you to enjoy the unique characteristics of all five major whisky-making regions.”  The distinctive climate, fermentation and distillation processes in each whisky-making region should lead to quite the profile. But then, we would know, given That Boutique-y Whisky Company has already created a World Whisky Blend. Not to brag or anything… 

The Nightcap

New Compass Box whisky is always a treat

Compass Box releases “experiment in oak and smoke”

Some people really know how to celebrate occasions. Take Compass Box, for example. The maverick Scotch whisky brand has marked its 20th anniversary year by announcing the release of  more intriguing new whisky. That’s how you do it, folks. Hot on the heels of  Hedonism Felicitas and Rogues’ Banquet, Peat Monster Arcana is described as the “result of a long-running experiment into the secrets and mysteries of oak and smoke”. Basically, a cask strength version of The Peat Monster was further matured in three French oak custom casks for more than two years and then blended with malt whiskies from the Talisker, Miltonduff and Ardbeg Distilleries. It was bottled at 46% ABV without any additional colouring or chill-filtration and there’s 8,328 bottles produced globally, so if you want one I’d suggest you act quickly. “We have been experimenting with French oak since the early days of our company,” says Compass Box founder and whisky maker John Glaser. “Peat Monster Arcana is the first Compass Box to feature smoky whiskies matured in French oak. We’re delighted to be able to build on this experiment in our 20th anniversary year and we hope dedicated fans of The Peat Monster discover a new side to this charismatic whisky.”  The new dram, which goes well with soda water or blue cheese, will be discussed during a virtual tasting hosted by Glaser, who will also talk about the past, present and future of his brand on Sunday 22 November at 20:00. You can sign up here. If you miss out, don’t worry, Peat Monster Arcana is on its way to MoM Towers…

The Nightcap

The Coastal Cask Collection were all distilled after the distillery was reborn in 2008

Glenglassaugh celebrates its rebirth with the Coastal Cask Collection

We love stories about distilleries brought back from the dead here at Master of Malt so we were delighted that Glenglassaugh is releasing some very special whiskies distilled after the Highland distillery was reborn in November 2008. Prior to this date, it had been out of action for 20 years and few thought they’d ever see it distilling again. But it was revived by Stuart Nickerson and a team including Ian Buxton, who wrote a very good book on the subject. The distillery is now safely in the Brown Forman stable. Anyway, back to those limited-edition releases, master blender Dr Rachel Barrie explained the idea behind them: “No matter what is happening in the world around us, each day the surf rolls in on Sandend Bay and the invigorating North Sea air passes through our coastal distillery and warehouses. That’s the beauty of Glenglassaugh’s coastal casks, each truly a distillation of nature’s elements, come wind, rain or shine. Over a decade since the spirit reawakened in 2008, Coastal Casks is the first global release of a selection of Glenglassaugh cask bottlings at 10 and 11 years old. Like the surf in Sandend Bay, each cask brings rolling waves of flavour that intensify and evolve in each and every sip. Nurtured by the coast, each Glenglassaugh Coastal Cask shares a unique and luscious sweetness. With tasting notes ranging from raspberry fruit jam to salted caramel; tropical fruit syrup to chocolate profiterole and clotted cream,  this collection is a celebration of Glenglassaugh’s coastal malt journey, which I hope you will savour to the full.” There are ten bottlings, each exclusive to a particular market. We’re hoping to get some of Cask 559, the UK release, in at Master of Malt soon, so watch the New Products page.

The Nightcap

Exciting times ahead at Echlinville Distillery!

Echlinville Distillery undergoes £9m expansion

Echlinville Distillery, the producer of Dunville whiskey and creator of Weavers Dry Gin and Echlinville Single Estate Irish Pot Still Gin, has announced this week that the distillery is set to be transformed thanks to a huge £9m expansion project. The plan, which Invest NI contributed £659k towards, is to increase the distillery’s production capacity and create a new visitor centre which will create 36 new jobs in operational and administrative roles. “Irish whiskey is recognised as the world’s fastest-growing spirits category, which is giving us a great foundation upon which to build our export business with the help of this funding from Invest NI,” Shane Braniff, the owner of Echlinville Distillery. “Every bottle that leaves our distillery features our address in Kircubbin and tells of our roots in the Ards Peninsula. Alongside increasing exports around the world, we also hope to raise awareness of what this part of Ireland has to offer and attract more visitors to the area with the development of a dedicated visitor centre.”

Kraken Rum launches Halloween game with Rockstar

If you need a way to make the most of Halloween from the comfort and safety of home then The Kraken Rum might just have the thing for you. The brand has announced it’s teaming up with legendary Rockstar Games director and writer, John Zurhellen (the creative force behind Grand Theft Auto IV, Manhunt 1 & 2 and Red Dead Redemption) to launch an online video game. Right now the working title is Screamfest 4 The Kraken’s Revenge and the game will see fans control an actual human being, via a smartphone or laptop, using on-screen game commands (‘forward’, ‘back’, ‘hide’, that sort of thing), trying to escape the Kraken’s nemesis, The Balthazoid (I have no idea what that is either, it sounds like a type of vermouth). The online game will run from Wednesday 28 October until Friday 30 October, with slots running from 5pm each day. Tickets will be available via The Kraken’s online hub The League Of Darkness from 9am on Monday 12 October. In exchange for tickets, fans will also receive The Kraken’s Survival Pack, including a game-guide, ingredients and just enough delicious rum to create an exclusive Halloween cocktail. “The brief for Kraken Screamfest was simple: come up with a concept more terrifying and warped than anything 2020 has to offer,” says Zurhellen. “So, I delved deep into our primal fears – being hunted, tight spaces, dark shadows, hate-filled creatures – and I’m pretty confident I’ll deliver one of the most terrifying experiences to be seen in UK homes this year”. 

The Nightcap

Simon Robinson (left) with Rhona Cullinane and Steve Spurrier

Classic Method campaign unveiled for English Sparkling Wine 

English and Welsh wine is booming at the moment with sales and vineyard area increasing every year. There’s now a proliferation of styles and grape varieties which though exciting can be confusing to the consumer. Riding to the rescue is industry organisation Wine GB which has come up with a term to differentiate sparkling wines that are bottled-fermented as in Champagne from sparkling wines that might be carbonated or made like Prosecco. From now on the words “Classic Method” and a snazzy hallmark will appear on bottles made in this way, and the plan is for all bottles in future to clearly label how they became fizzy.  Only wines with the Quality Sparkling Wine PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) will be eligible which have to be made with the classic Champagne grape varieties. Simon Robinson, chairman of Wine GB and owner of Hattingley Valley Wines, commented: “We have long recognised the need to positively differentiate and protect our flagship category – wines produced from the classic method. This is the hero style that has put Great Britain on the wine map and led us to more extraordinarily exciting developments in our industry. We now boast a broad range of diverse and high-quality wines in all styles. Our sparkling wines, however, remain at the forefront of our industry and are driving sales both here and overseas. This campaign has set us on the path to ensure that our classic method wines are more positively recognized among the finest wine regions of the world. This is the first such initiative from what is an extremely young trade body, Wine GB was only formed in 2017, and it will be interesting to see whether “Classic Method” means anything to customers. 

The Nightcap

Want to sip on some sustainably-shaken cocktails? Head over to Camden’s shiny new Crossroads!

Crossroads takes over Camden’s Ladies & Gentlemen site

What was the old Camden Ladies & Gentlemen site has been giving new life in the form of Crossroads, which sits beneath the pavement in an old Victorian WC right under the Camden Town bridge. It only opened back in August, and this week team MoM finally made it over! Run by husband and wife duo Bart and Monika Miedeksza, what’s special about it is that it’s fully committed to its zero waste principles. There’s no citrus on the menu as it’s notoriously wasteful – where many bars will go through around four cases of limes each week, Crossroads doesn’t even use 20 individual fruits (mostly for Daiquiris, Bart tells me). Spare Champagne? They’ll whip up a Champagne vinegar to add some delicious acidity to the gin-based, rickey-inspired Oregami cocktail! Bay cuttings from Bart’s own tree at home sit along the bar, along with other various potted plants and herbs, which then end up in my delightful Bay cocktail with white rum, vermouth and tonic. A smoky Calvados-based serve called Jack & Jill battles to steal the show with Pepper, multi-faceted spicy rye- and black pepper-based take on an Old Fashioned. We’re even presented with a small bowl of pickled veg to snack on, which would otherwise have gone to waste from the cocktail production. In the spirit of sustainability, flamboyant garnishes are nowhere to be found here: giant ice cubes and a singular leaf as a garnish (if any) paired with delicate glassware are quite enough. At its core though, Crossroads is just your friendly neighbourhood bar, so while the ingredients may sound complicated the bar itself is far from pretentious. Bart’s passion is infectious, though if you’re worried you may not be able to make it down soon, we also heard that there’s a collection of pre-bottled cocktails on the way…

The Nightcap

The world’s first Bloody Mary doughnut is finally here. What took you so long?

And finally… did somebody say Bloody Mary doughnut?

There are two guaranteed pick-me-ups when you’re feeling a bit peaky in the morning, a Bloody Mary and a box of doughnuts. So it seems crazy that nobody has thought to combine the two. Until now….yes, “gourmet” doughnut shop Longboys has teamed up with Bloody Drinks to create what they claim to be the world’s first Bloody Mary doughnut. Dubbed the Bloody Longboy, it’s made from dough flavoured with real Bloody Mary and then filled with, according to the press release: “Bloody Mary créme, confit tomato, lemon celery confiture and Bloody Mary gel. It’s then garnished with tomato and celery crisps and dusted with tomato sugar.” Sounds pretty tasty. Just in time for Halloween, you can buy one from Longboys in London, which also delivers, but we reckon it should be available on the NHS. 

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Five minutes with… Rich Woods from Scout London

From hand-picked kiwi plants to wasabi grown wild in wetlands, the team at Scout London harness the biodiversity of the British Isles with every cocktail menu. We caught up with…

From hand-picked kiwi plants to wasabi grown wild in wetlands, the team at Scout London harness the biodiversity of the British Isles with every cocktail menu. We caught up with head bartender (and co-owner) Rich Woods to talk foraged ingredients, conscientious spirits, and the reality of running a minimal-waste bar…

Since it was established in Shoreditch by Matt Whiley – the man behind London bars Peg + Patriot, Purl, and Worship St Whistling Shop – back in 2017, Scout has churned out hyper-delicious drinks that champion British produce and keep the bin men at bay. 

The venue moved to its Hackney home one year after opening, and in 2019, gained a co-owner in Rich Woods – the former cocktail wizard at Sushisamba and Duck & Waffle, and also Whiley’s long-time business partner (the duo run drinks consultancy company, Weapons & Toys).

With bottled cocktails and spirits in early development, and talks of a six-month pop up in central London on the horizon, 2020 has been no less busy for the team. Here, Woods brought us up to speed…

Best you can’t guess what Rich Woods does for a living

Master of Malt: London bars – with Scout at the helm – have been talking about sustainability for a few years now. How much progress has been made in terms of eco-friendliness?

Rich Woods: It’s definitely changed for the positive. There’s a few bars over the last five years who have championed a more conscientious approach to a bar’s operations, and through those key bars, a lot of mainstream bars are starting to open their eyes and realise how easy and simple it can be, whether it’s through splitting waste, reusing ingredients, being more sustainable in terms of approaching a drinks menu, taking things digital rather than wasting paper. But there’s a lot that can still be done. Take something as simple as a glass bottle; it’s one of the biggest waste elements in our industry. We go through hundreds of thousands of tonnes of glass waste every year. It’s one of the things I’m looking at now in Scout; trying to work with suppliers where we can either return our glass or receive stock in pouches rather than in glass bottles. I’m surprised at the amount of bars that aren’t looking at the bigger picture. They’re looking at how they can make cordials out of discarded lime zest, which is fantastic, but then going through tens of thousands of black beverage napkins every week, or still using plastic straws or glass bottles, or not separating their waste. It’s insane.

MoM: Your most recent menu, Ecösystems Vol.2, is split into three sections: Grasslands and Forests, Freshwater and Marine, and Towns and Cities. Could you talk about what you learned from developing it?

RW: One of the biggest ones for sure would be the amount of waste that we humans make. Towns and Cities champions a lot of upcycled ingredients, and the amount of businesses – even juice bars – that throw away, say, going-off fruit and veg… But working with other businesses and collecting some of their unwanted or unloved ingredients has been a delight, and we found some absolute gems of produce. For me, it was the most eye-opening section, and one that was very close to my heart, showing people how you could obtain additional flavour from ingredients or produce that we, as consumers, have been told are beyond their best and discard without consideration. Sourcing ingredients for Freshwater and Marine has been interesting, being not particularly close to the sea. But we were able to find British wasabi in Walthamstow wetlands, which is insane. I’m always surprised by the amount of ingredients we grow without realising. We’ve got a drink on the menu at the minute that uses British kiwi. Now, they don’t grow to the size of kiwis that we see in supermarkets –  they’re no bigger than the size of a grape. And the flavour certainly isn’t there in the fruit. But what most people don’t realise is that as a plant or a fruit tree grows, the flavour goes from the roots into the leaves and then finally into the fruit. When we don’t grow the fruit over here, the flavour is retained in the leaf, so we use kiwi leaves to get the kiwi flavour that we want. We’ve found lemon leaves, lime leaves, mandarin, clementine… And these aren’t fruits that we traditionally would use, because they’re not grown in the British Isles, but we’re able to obtain those flavours using the leaves. 

It’s a Back to School GNT

MoM: Which drink receives the most compliments from guests?

RW: Far and away, it has to be the Back to School GNT. If people see it go out on a tray to another table, they always ask what it is. It’s crystal clear, it’s weird and wacky, it has a tomato stem as a garnish, championing the zero-waste element. Visually it’s stunning, and it looks super fresh. It’s called Back to School because it has aromas and flavours that I associate with my childhood, when I used to go back to school after the summer break – the smell of the playing fields and fresh cut grass, my mum’s greenhouses in the garden and the smell of the tomato vines. We’ve taken discarded tomato vines and leaves and we distil them – so we distill the aroma of fresh tomatoes grown in a greenhouse, and then the aroma of fresh cut grass is rectified and distilled, and then these two elements are blended with Bombay Sapphire and then very simply lengthened with tonic. So it’s a G&T, but with a big difference.

MoM: There are some incredible-sounding ingredients on the menu, like pineapple weed and cotton lavender. What are they, and how do you make them drinkable?

RW: We infuse the leaves – lime leaf, mandarin, as I mentioned just now, clementine, which is just coming into season – we infuse them in spirit and then we distil. We rectify a neutral spirit and either make it into a vodka or, in some cases, we go a step further and we distill into a gin. Cotton lavender is a subspecies of the lavender family, more like a cousin, and it’s one of my all time favourite ingredients. The cotton name comes from the fact that it’s a very pale white-coloured leaf. It gives the most amazing flavour, nothing at all like your mum’s drawer in a bedroom – not that typical lavender flavour – it’s so subtle, absolutely delicious, and we infuse that into a vermouth. Pineapple weed is actually wild chamomile; it’s from the chamomile family but it has a very distinctive pineapple note to it, which enables us to use a flavour that wouldn’t ordinarily be associated with a bar that only champions British ingredients. We’re able to get a tropical pineapple flavour into a drink. Likewise with fig leaf, it has a distinctive coconut flavour. 

MoM: Scout has had a zero-waste philosophy since the very beginning. What does that mean in practice?

RW: As a business, Scout produces no more than household waste every week. As a commercial business to achieve residential waste is fantastic – we’re literally talking a bin bag, that’s it. Our coasters, for example, are made out of collected plastic carrier bags, which are melted down and then moulded into shape. They end up getting stolen a lot, people are like, ‘These are amazing!’. So I’m not quite sure that’s as eco-friendly as I’d have liked, because I end up going through so many [laughs]. One of the things that sets Scout apart from so many other bars – and I know we’re certainly not alone with this – is our hospitality. It’s super important to me that the guys in the team interact with guests and talk them through the process. For every person who comes into Scout who knows what they’re coming in for, there are five guests who have just come into a bar thinking they can have a Daiquiri or a Margarita or a G&T with a squeeze of lime, but we don’t use these citrus fruits, so we find ways of incorporating elements of sourness and saltiness into a drink where you would ordinarily use a lime or a lemon. We’re very open with the ingredients that we make, sometimes even as far as showing people some of the equipment we use, because we want people to understand that at least some of these ingredients can quite easily be made at home. A lot of people find it really insightful when we sit and talk to them about what we do and how we make things. 

Rich Woods in action

MoM: Spirits producers are also starting to focus on sustainable practices – are there any distillers that you feel are going above and beyond?

RW: We touched on Bombay Sapphire earlier, they’ve been championing sustainability for some time now with their biomass boiler at Laverstoke. Some producers are working towards reducing their glassware, or using a different form of packaging to reduce the weight of their shipments. There are brands that are producing bottles that bartenders can reuse as syrup bottles or juice boxes, by putting measurements as a scale on the outside of the glass. There are brands that are championing discarded waste by using otherwise discarded elements like banana skins and making their own spirits from them. What’s ironic is that for a lot of these brands – Bombay Sapphire being one of them – it’s something they’ve been doing for a long time, but it’s not something they’ve been shouting about until recently. And it’s credit to them, because it’s not PR for the sake of PR. It’s done in a conscientious way because brands want to be conscientious. It’s just human nature. It’s only when you’re fortunate enough to go and visit the distillery that you see this beautiful piece of land with the river Tess running through it, the biomass boilers and the beautiful greenhouses. And you realise it’s not only from an industry perspective that they’re doing great things, but from a consumer perspective, they’re doing wonders for the environment. I just wish there were more people doing it.

MoM: Cheers Rich! To round things off, what do you wish you knew when you started bartending that you know now?

Woods: One of the things I wished that I had when I was bartending was a mentor. You have all these online seminars and drinks shows now, it’s fantastic. There wasn’t anything like that when I was starting out. There were a few bars with great training programmes, but they were very much about ‘me, me, me’ and the arrogance of the bartender. Now, bartenders have taken a bit of a step back and it’s about teaching hospitality. For me, I want to pass on knowledge to other people to keep our industry moving forward. We did a seminar in Bar Convent Berlin two years ago where we released our online database, The Lab. It has all of our recipes, all of our preps, everything, and we gave everyone 48 hours complete no-holds-barred access, just to share what we do and give people ideas or inspiration. Until lockdown, we had quite a strong staging programme. We’d have one or two stages at a time working at the lab to understand the processes. And foraging walks, showing people where we go and what we do and what to look out for; the do’s and don’ts. It’s so important.

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Five minutes with… Mark Ward from Regal Rogue Vermouth

Back in 2011, Mark Ward created the uniquely Australian vermouth, Regal Rogue. Now, with investment from Intrepid Spirits, a new home in New South Wales and one single organic wine…

Back in 2011, Mark Ward created the uniquely Australian vermouth, Regal Rogue. Now, with investment from Intrepid Spirits, a new home in New South Wales and one single organic wine supplier, the brand is going from strength to strength. We caught up with Ward to learn more…

Mark Ward is currently living back in his home town of Brighton but for most of his working life he’s been in Australia. Here he worked with big companies including Diageo, Bacardi, and William Grant, helping to launch brands such as Hendrick’s, Sailor Jerry and Monkey Shoulder. 

In 2011, he launched Regal Rogue, a vermouth brand that made full use of Australia’s distinctive wines and native botanicals. With their bold distinct flavours, the four varieties, Wild Rosé, Bold Red, Daring Dry and Lively White, quickly proved a hit with bartenders, drinks writers and retailers, but maintaining consistency and growing the brand hasn’t been an easy ride. As Ward has just finalised a deal with Ireland’s Intrepid Spirits buying into the brand, we took some time to find out more:

Master of Malt: Had you always been a vermouth drinker? 

MW: No not at all! But Regal Rogue’s liquid is a hundred percent based on my palate. When I started to play around with doing my own brand, the first thing I found were the native Australian botanicals. Vic Cherikoff, who is considered to be one of the pioneers of these native Australian botanicals and herbs, showed me them in about 2004. I said: ‘Look, I think they’re a bit dusty, I’m not really sure about these, they’re not Schezuan pepper and they’re not kaffir lime’ or whatever I was playing around with at the time. After doing Hendrick’s, I went back to these herbs and spices and started putting them in vodka to make a really bad homemade gin. And having been around Hendrick’s for a few years, I thought that gin was getting a bit busy then, and that was 2007/2008. I know! And we could have been probably the first native Australian gin brand and who knows where it would be now. But anyway, I didn’t go there because I thought: ‘I don’t drink a lot of spirits’ and then there was this glut of wine and I thought: ‘Actually, I’m going to look up vermouth’.

The Regal Rogue range

MoM: What was the vermouth category like then?

MW: It was in decline, it was dusty, everyone thought you just put 10ml in the ice and flick it down the drain, because that’s how Martinis were made then. It wasn’t considered to be a drinking product. But the history of vermouth in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was that product, Cinzano and lemonade was a drink like a Gin & Tonic is now. I thought: ‘Surely, if we’ve got this beautiful wine, New World style, why not do an Australian vermouth?’ And it came together very quickly. We were the first Australian vermouth in the market for about 23 years when we launched. And now there are about 11 or 12 Australian brands. So it was a little bit of an opportunist in me, coupled with just luck! You can’t get a brand like Regal Rogue to where it’s got to without everybody pushing a category. 

MoM: You launched in 2011, At what point did you think ‘I can give up the day job’?

MW: It’s funny. We were so early in vermouth and I don’t think I even had that broad of a network to be able to just drop it into Facebook or LinkedIn. But people saw us on things like The Dieline and Pinterest, and the design has always been incredible. People were engaging with the look before they were realising what it was. I then went to Tales of the Cocktail and Imbibe in 2012 with bottles. Dawn Davies, the buyer at Selfridges then, came along to the stand at Imbibe and said: ‘We would be your first retailer, we love the idea of what you’re doing’ and I thought: ‘Actually, this is a bit more than just a passion project now!’ Then at the end of 2013, Distill Ventures [Diageo’s venture capital arm] said: ‘We’re really interested in what you’re doing’. By January 2014, I was full time. We launched into the UK and New Zealand that year. By 2015 we had the full range as you now know it. We changed the packaging a bit. Fast forward to 2017-18, we started looking at organic wine, organic herbs, and sustainable packaging.

MoM: How hard was it to get recyclable packaging?

MW: When we started the conversation in 2017, it was a challenge to get recycled stock, that wasn’t crazy expensive. But by the time we got to actually producing the labels in 2019, the world had changed very quickly around recycled stock, and there was so much more to offer. The companies that we now work with, everybody is on board with delivering something that gives a nod to sustainability in the environment. Even our glass, we were doing a bespoke bottle that took three years in development, probably me being pedantic around design! By the time we got to producing he even said: ‘We can actually deliver recycled glass for you’. They can’t guarantee with recycled glass that there isn’t the odd green or dark bottle in there. You try but he said: ‘Sometimes it just happens’ and I said: ‘I don’t mind.’ If there’s a weird little hint on one batch of bottles compared to the other, as long as it’s recycled and we know that we’re putting it back through the system, that ticks our box. So when we say ‘98/99% recycled’, it’s just that our caps come from a company that they do work really hard to ensure that they use recycled goods but they’re not 100% recycled.

Wine maker Justin Jarrett from See Saw among his vines in New South Wales

MM: How important are the base wines to the flavour because it’s quite unusual that yours are so wine-forward isn’t it?

MW: Very unusual. Vermouth started from being the ends of wines, instead of throwing them away, to mask that taste and profile of the ends of wines you loaded them up with 45-50 herbs, spices, barks, and then caramel to balance all of those barks and spices. By the time you finished, there was probably no wine profile left in the liquid. We’ve got all these incredible wines in Australia, so I thought: ‘Why aren’t we shouting about this?’ From day one it’s always been about celebrating varietals from key regions. Where that evolved over ten years to last year was to then hang our hat on one winemaker, being an organic winemaker, and a celebrated vineyard in an emerging region, Orange, New South Wales. And bringing those varietals through but being organic and talking to the winemaker a lot more. Justin Jarrett (above) from See Saw Wines is our wine partner now, where the home of Regal Rogue is being built. We will have a home for the brands in his vineyard at some point in the very near future. If 75% of the liquid is wine, get the best wine you can get and shout about where it’s come from.

MoM: You said you’re building a brand home at the moment but do you have a factory/winery/distillery in Australia where all this is done at the moment?

MW: We’ve always had one. We’ve moved around through the years. But we now have a proper home which is in Orange, New South Wales. Which is an organic vineyard, where all of the grapes are grown, pressed, and then where the extracts are prepared and where all the blending is done under the one vineyard. It’s a huge milestone for us as a brand and for me. And the winemakers love the product. For the first time in probably our lifetime as a brand, we not only have a home to take people to, whether it’s trade, consumers or media, but we also have a team that are so invested in where the brand’s going that we can start doing limited editions, we can start playing around with other varietals that we haven’t looked at, and really start getting quite clever with what we’re doing of the development of the brand and the range. 

MoM: I just wanted to ask about the dry red expression, because that caused a bit of a stir didn’t it?

MW: Yeah it is! Rosso, or red vermouth, traditionally is sweet. Most of the older Italian styles don’t use red wine as a base. We use organic Shiraz that gives you a natural spiciness and peppery note. We use native Australian pepperberry and wattle seed into cinnamon, star anise, clove, nutmeg, ginger, orange and cherry. So we have all these lovely notes naturally in the liquid. I don’t have a sweet tooth, I’m not mad about sugar, so when I was putting the liquid together it was about showing enough of the wine balanced with the extracts. We didn’t need to add a lot of sugar because it was already naturally quite full-bodied. Where we end up as a brand is with a semi-dry as a red vermouth, meaning that we’ve got 50-90 grams of sugar per litre. Most are about 160-220 grams of sugar per litre. I wanted something really clean, really fresh, that represented Australian wine styles.

Bold Red makes a great aperitivo

MoM: Can you tell us a bit about the process with the botanicals? Do you steep them in alcohol or are they all steeped in the wine or are different ones treated in different ways?

MW: When we started to make Regal Rogue we went down the obvious route of putting all these herbs and spices in a bag and steeping it in the wine and pulling it out when you think that it’s got the right maceration. But it’s quite a hard way to be consistent. We had some nuances in our liquid from batch to batch and I didn’t know how to correct it. I was saying: ‘We’re doing everything the same each time’ but what we weren’t really watching is in the same way that vintages change year-on-year with wine so do herbs and spices. You get this intensity that changes year-on-year. In 2014 I entered into the Distil Ventures Programme with Diageo and they said: ‘One of the things you really need to do is go and learn from the best.’ 

I went over to Turin and met Carlo Vergnano, who had basically written his thesis with Alberto Cinzano. He is now the chairman of the Vermouth di Torino committee. I spent two and a half years with him. He said: ‘Pull out all of these wild native Australian botanicals and make them on their own’. Because some of them need six days, some need 12 days, some need 15. So we now do all of them individually. We sit the dried herbs in the grape spirit that we fortify the wine with at 45% ABV, a little bit higher than a normal alcohol to pull that flavour out. Each one is done differently based on what it is, they all have their own individual times and then we put all the extracts together and then blend them back through with the fortified wine. 

MoM: Why did Intrepid Spirits take a stake in the business?

MW: I’ve had a couple of big investment people knock on the door. I’ve spoken to all the big companies. And they all said: ‘You’re too small, you’re not big enough, we need volume at 30,000 litres’, which is a funny one. It’s a chicken and an egg; it’s like: ‘You can get us from where we are to 30,000 overnight, it’s probably going to take me another five years!’ But this year we began working with Intrepid Spirits globally and we’ve now taken our production from batches of 20,000 bottles to 50,000 and now the brand is moving. It’s going in a very different direction very quickly. With the facility with the vineyard, coupled with Intrepid Spirits doing all this commercial push into new markets, now, in the last week or two I have sat back and gone: ‘This is it, this is happening and the brand is actually really getting to a really established spot’. 

MoM: When was the Intrepid deal finalised? 

MW: May 1st, almost in the middle of what we thought was the middle of COVID! Our conversations started in December-January and we got to April and COVID was just kicking in and I said to John [Ralph], the founder of Intrepid: ‘Hey, I need to know if you’re not going ahead with this because I’ve stopped all other conversations’ and we got to the point as a business and brand that we needed more resource and more money to grow. We did a huge deal with Virgin Atlantic a couple of years ago, it was just to service those types of things, you needed more people. He said: ‘No, we’ve had a chat as a board and we’re 100% committed to get this done’. So we signed on May 1st. They’re a good team. There’s 25 of them and three or four of us, who have integrated, and now, although I have input on everything in the business I’m not managing every part of the business. 

Looking dapper, it’s Mark Ward!

MoM: Do you have any plans to do anything else at the moment? 

MW: We are not going to evolve the four products, four is enough. We do have a new format that launches officially in Australia on October 1st and it’s a five litre bag-in-box. It’s not going into retail and it’s for the on-premise where we’ve got a high volume going through their account. We’ve got a couple of really exciting venues, one in Australia, that’s actually going to launch this officially with a well known London bartender, who is a forager and an experimenter with fermentation and all sorts of things. So you can probably guess who that is! It gives a discount for the venue of about 25% on the bottle equivalent. It’s fully recyclable. It reduces packaging and it helps them be more efficient with their batching as they go through the volume. We have also got some collaborations coming up. We’re looking at a few different wine styles that might result in maybe 3,000 bottles each vintage. And working with some really interesting people from chefs to foragers. Again, all based on the DNA of Regal Rogue which is Australian herbs and spices and Australian wine.

Get the Regal Rogue range from Master of Malt.

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Seven no/ low cocktails – with expert tips on how to make them

There’s never been a better time to order (or indeed make) a cocktail sans booze. With some careful tinkering and a little insider know-how, you can rehash your favourite classics…

There’s never been a better time to order (or indeed make) a cocktail sans booze. With some careful tinkering and a little insider know-how, you can rehash your favourite classics into satisfying low-no tipples – or try something totally new. Continuing our Sober October coverage, we share the recipes for 10 no/ low cocktails, with expert-backed tips on how to make them shine…

The quality of no-low cocktails has improved vastly over the last few years. And you’ll never guess who’s driving it – yep, us drinkers. “In our Non-Alcoholic Drinks: A Growth Story whitepaper, we reported that this growth is driven largely by clear consumer demand – 61% of consumers reported they want better choice when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks,” says Gareth Bath, managing director at Diageo’s independent drinks accelerator Distill Ventures.

The demand for no-and-low alcohol alternatives is booming, agrees Tom Warner, co-founder of Warner’s Distillery in Northamptonshire. The team recently launched their 0% Botanic Garden Spirits range with two bottlings – Pink Berry and Juniper Double Dry – sourcing 90% of the ingredients from their farm distillery. “Nearly half of all adults are looking to cut back on their alcohol intake and one in ten of 18 to 24 year olds claiming to be teetotaling,” he says. “Consumers don’t want to compromise on flavour – and they shouldn’t have to.”

Indeed, we’re making more considered choices than ever when it comes to the contents of our glasses, and want the same cocktail fanfare regardless of whether our liquid contains alcohol. And bartenders have responded. “It’s about better hospitality,” says James Morgan, co-founder of Nine Elms – an alcohol-free tipple designed to complement food. “Good mixologists are wanting to provide better experiences for all of their guests. In the past, choosing a booze-free option relegated you to the bottom of the priority list. Thankfully those days are now behind us.”

Aquavit in London, swanky

As a society, there’s a clear trend towards mindfulness, self-care and sustainability – of the self, and the environment – that has contributed to our increasing proclivity towards alcohol-free spirits. “People are more conscious about their own well-being as well as that of the planet,” says Ennio Pucciarelli, head sommelier at Aquavit London. “They’re increasingly looking for natural, organic, non-chemical products that are good for the environment and for their own health – and the industry has responded.”

With that being said, we still want to have a good time. “People still want to go out with their friends or for dinner and socialise and be ‘part of the fun’, and why shouldn’t they be able to do this with a delicious, non-alcoholic drink in hand?,” asks  Filippo Carnevale, head sommelier at Xier | XR in London. “Tastes have evolved beyond simple sodas and sweet juices, and customers expect options now when it comes to no-low alcohol drinks and cocktails.”

No longer relegated to the back end of menus, “just as much time and effort goes into the creation of no-and-low cocktails as it does to other stronger creations,” Bath says. “This has opened up enormous opportunities for drinks founders and venues to develop sophisticated, complex, high quality liquids that sit perfectly naturally alongside their alcoholic equivalents.”

Which is precisely why we asked brand owners, bartenders and industry experts for their tips on crafting a first class no-low serve. Here’s what they suggested:

Angus Lugsdin and Howard Davies, founders of Salcombe

1) Focus on flavour

Focus on flavour, says Howard Davies, co-founder of Salcombe Distilling Company, which recently launched its first non-alcoholic spirit, New London Light – a blend of 18 botanicals. “Consider the two or three flavours you want coming through the cocktail and make sure it really does deliver on these,” he says. “In the absence of the ‘crutch’ of alcohol it is doubly important that tangible, stunning flavour comes through.”

Aim for a balance of complexity and harmony, suggests James Morgan, co-founder of Nine Elms – an alcohol-free tipple designed to complement food. “Start with one or two core base notes and layer interest with complementary and contrasting flavours and textures.”

2) Don’t just replace booze

“The main point of difference is to not fall into the mindset of just ‘replacing’ booze,” says Nik Hannigan, global ambassador for Fluère Drinks, which makes a range of distilled non-alcoholic spirits including Smoked Agave, a mezcal alternative, and Spiced Cane Dark Roast, made from pure sugar cane molasses. “Appreciate the non-alcoholic spirit as its own flavour, and create a delicious drink based on the merits of the non alcoholic spirit.”

It’s a sentiment with which Rudi Carraro, global ambassador for Amaro Montenegro – an Italian bitter liqueur flavoured with 40 botanicals – agrees. “It’s becoming ever-evident that stronger cocktails are not as popular as they were a few years ago,” he says. “Don’t try to exactly replicate the style and the flavour profile of a ‘full abv drink’. Focus on creating a new combination of flavours and styles that have a ‘wow’ effect.”

3) Use quality ingredients

Use high quality, fresh ingredients – just like you would with any other cocktail, says Clare Gibson, marketing director at Intercontinental Brands, which owns distilled non-alcoholic spirit Amplify. “There are a number of great-tasting non-alcoholic spirits on the market, so start by picking your ‘base spirit’ and go from there,” she says. “Find out the botanical mix or flavour profile of your chosen non-alcoholic spirit to work out what additional flavours would work well.”

4) Think about mouthfeel

“It’s important to think about texture when choosing ingredients, as less alcohol means thinner liquid and mouthfeel,” says Eric Sampers, co-founder of Illogical Drinks (and former Beefeater Gin brand director). He’s just launched Mary, a low-abv (6%) botanical spirit made with sustainably-sourced plants. “There are many amazing liquids that can be mixed with no-low spirits, for example kombucha or other fermented liquids, which will add spiciness.”

Always use good quality ice

5) Use quality glassware and ice

Never underestimate the power of good glassware, says Carnevale. “It can really help elevate any drink, as can straws – metal or bamboo are best as the most sustainable – and good ice cubes,” he says. “It sounds a simple thing, but having good, solid, large ice cubes will create a better finish for your drink than small, chipped pieces of ice.”

And Gibson agrees. “It’s important that the experience is the same as that of the ritual of having a cocktail,” she says. “Make sure you are serving in the right glassware – whether that is a Martini, a Highball, or an Old Fashioned glass, for example. Then add a bit of theatre with garnishes and drinks accessories like straws.”

6) Keep things simple

You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel, says Davies. “Cocktails have been developed over hundreds of years, culminating in a broad selection of amazing classics that we are lucky enough to benefit from,” he explains. “Just because we want to create a great no-low cocktail doesn’t mean we should throw away the hard work and expertise that has been built up over time.” It might be as simple as switching the ratios of the drink – for example, pairing one part non-alc spirit with just two parts tonic in a G&T (rather than the usual three).

The right equipment helps

7) Don’t shake sparkling…

…Unless you want your kitchen to be coated in cocktail fizz. “Do not shake anything sparkling,” warns Carnevale. “The bubbles will release lots of pressure which may cause an ‘explosive’ cocktail,” he says. “I’d also say don’t go over the top with sugary juices and syrups – they can be overpowering and give an unpleasant texture to the drink. Acidity is the key to find balance.”

8) Experiment with fresh produce

Fresh fruit and herbs are key to giving your drinks a handcrafted feel, says Carnevale. “Citrus like lemons, lime and grapefruit are cocktail staples because they give an otherwise bland beverage the zing it needs,” he says. “Punch up the flavour of a sparkling drink with a squeeze of juice or zest of the fruit. Berries are ideal for muddling and can give a sweet note to your serves. If you’re feeling adventurous, add in fresh herbs like mint, basil or rosemary to add complexity that will take your alcohol-free drinks to the next level.”

9) Don’t be shy about experimenting

“In my opinion there are no rules,” says Pucciarelli. “You can be really creative with no-low cocktails, and it can be quite surprising the flavours that work together. Follow your tastes, recognise what you’re in the mood for, and have fun experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try adding savoury ingredients, such as spices and herbs – they can really elevate your finished beverage.”

10) And finally…

Whatever you do, don’t use the m-word. “Don’t call them mocktails,” says Morgan. “Real people want real drinks.”

Ready to flex your new skills? We’ve picked out a selection of delectable no-and-low serves to try out at home. Drop us a comment and let you know how you get on. Shakers at the ready…

Shore Elevation  

50ml New London Light
25ml chilled strong green tea
25ml sage syrup*
25ml lemon juice
1
5ml aquafaba (chickpea juice)

Fill a Nick and Nora glass with ice to chill and set to one side.  Add the New London Light, green tea, sage syrup, lemon juice and aquafaba to a Boston shaker with plenty of ice and shake for 15 seconds. Remove the ice from the Nick and Nora glass. Double strain the mixture into the glass. Garnish with sage 

*To make the sage syrup, mix together 1 cup of hot water, one cup of sugar and 3 sage leaves 

Think Pink 

45ml Fluère Raspberry
90ml Fentimans Rose Lemonade

Put a lot of ice in the glass. Pour Fentimans Rose Lemonade into the glass. Pour Fluère Raspberry into the glass. Stir gently. Garnish with an orange zest

Espresso Up

50ml Amplify distilled non-alcoholic spirit
15ml honey syrup*
60ml cold brew coffee
Pinch of salt

Shake all ingredients hard with ice, double strain into coupe glass and garnish with grated orange zest. 

*To make the honey syrup, dissolve equal amounts by weight of acacia honey with hot water and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool and refrigerate before use.

The Olson 

75ml Nine Elms No.18
10ml cold brewed coffee
75ml Fever Tree Light Tonic

Measure the Nine Elms No.18 and cold brewed coffee into an ice filled highball or rocks glass. Give it a gentle stir then add the rosemary sprig and grapefruit twist. Top with the tonic.

Elderflower Presse (by Shaman Coffee at the Leman Locke, London)

50ml Everleaf
30ml elderflower cordial
20ml fresh lemon soda

Add ingredients to highball. Add ice cubes and stir. Top up with soda. Garnish with lemon zest and long thyme sprig.

Spiced Fizzero

40ml Warner’s 0% Juniper Double Dry
15ml lime juice
10ml sugar syrup
Ginger ale to top

Pour all ingredients over ice in the glass, top with ginger ale and stir slowly. Serve with a lime wedge and cinnamon stick.

Turmeric Rocks

70ml Amplify
1ml freshly pressed turmeric juice*
3ml cucumber juice
15ml sugar syrup
Half a passion fruit, mint sprig garnish

Shake all ingredients hard with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

*To make your turmeric and cucumber juice, place the turmeric root and cucumber through a juicer and refrigerate.

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