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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Bourbon

Five minutes with. . . John Little from Smooth Ambler

Almost by accident, John Little built a business around his ability to sniff out great mature whiskey for his award-winning Old Scout brand. But what happened when other people got…

Almost by accident, John Little built a business around his ability to sniff out great mature whiskey for his award-winning Old Scout brand. But what happened when other people got in on the act and those sources dried up? We find out. . . .

John Little never intended to go into the whiskey business. He ran a number of ventures in West Virginia with his father-in-law Tag Galyean before founding Smooth Ambler in 2009 to make craft gin and vodka. But when they came across casks of quality mature bourbon that nobody else wanted, they saw an opportunity. According to Little: “A lot of people start businesses and they start sourcing and they create a brand, and if it goes really well maybe they build a distillery. Ours was the opposite story”. The result was Old Scout, a range of sourced mature whiskeys. They quickly built a reputation, winning awards and selling in unexpectedly large quantities. But success brought its own problems as good mature whiskey became harder and harder to source, and the Old Scout brand nearly disappeared. In 2016, Pernod Ricard took a majority stake in the company, with Little staying on as CEO. Since then the company has stabilised, producing a range of whiskeys from bought-in new make and spirits distilled by the team at Smooth Ambler. We talked to Little to find out more. . .

John Little nosing out some quality whiskey

Master of Malt: How are things in West Virginia?

John Little: They’re pretty good. Well, as well as can be expected during this crazy craziness. We’re still bottling but mashing and distillation has switched over to bottling hand sanitiser. So right now we’ve committed to 19,000 bottles of hand sanitiser so we’re getting those out. We’ve taken the crew that was doing mashing and distillation over to hand sanitiser.

MoM: When did you set up your distillery?

JL: We had the idea in 2008, my father-in-law and I were in a separate business together. We were trying to showcase what we love about living here in West Virginia: clean water, clean air, really wonderful people. It’s a cheap place to buy land so putting some sort of facility here was great. We’re an eight hour drive from 70% of the US population because we’re so close to all these big cities. We looked at making clothes and doing a customer service centre and making furniture. One day my father-in-law saw an article in Time magazine that talked about the growth of the distilling business. Ten days later there was a conference in Louisville Kentucky and that kind of set us on a path to where we are today. 

MoM: Were both of you keen whiskey drinkers before?

JL: At the time I was drinking a lot of vodka and some red wine and that was pretty much it at the time, and a little bit of whiskey. Our original business we started off was making vodka and gin. All those craft folks, everybody was trying to figure out how to do the shortest amount of time without any sort of profitability! With vodka and gin you can make it today and sell it tomorrow. When we first started we were making vodka and gin and making whisky whenever we had time; whisky wasn’t the focus. We did that for a while and then realised that vodka sells for one of two reasons: it’s either priced very well or marketed very well and ours was neither.

Smooth Ambler warehouses in West Virginia

MoM: How did you get into buying casks of mature whiskey? 

JL: In 2010 we realised that we needed another still to be efficient. We went to buy a still in Kentucky and I met Richard Wolf. He is a broker, he sells barrels for a living. At the time, late 2010/ early 2011, the bourbon business was much different than it is right now. There was bulk inventory available from probably six or seven different places. And we tasted through some of that. I think the tenth or eleventh sample that we tried was this high-rye mash bill from MGP [Midwest Grain Products of Indiana]. As soon as I nosed it I thought ‘yeah, this is what I’m looking for’.

MoM: Where did the name Old Scout come from?

JL: Everything up until that time had been about grain-to-glass. Then I found this juice and I called one of our distributors and I said ‘We have this chance to buy some bourbon that is really good and it’s affordable and we’re going to do different than what some other people have done, which is to say that they made it, we’re going to tell people that we didn’t make it’. That’s where the name ‘Old Scout’ came from, we’re going to say that we scouted this out. I said ‘can you sell it?’ and he said ‘yeah, I think so’ and so we bought 40 barrels. And then we bought 80 barrels. And then we bought 120 barrels. And then my partner said ‘I’ve seen enough, let’s buy all of them that we can!’  

MoM: How important is it to be honest about where your whiskey comes from?

JL: I want to make sure that we’re being open and honest in running our business, whether it’s about this or anything. That’s the way we try to live our lives and certainly that’s the way we’re going to run the business. I remember we won World’s Best Single Barrel in 2016 [at the World Whiskies Awards] with a single barrel of MGP and people were upset because we didn’t make it. A reporter, Mark Gillespie, asked me about it and I said ‘look, let’s be honest, MGP did the heavy lifting, I just made it available’. We have never lied about it, we have always told people the truth.

Inside one of the warehouses

MoM: And now that the American whisky boom has happened is it harder to get these whiskies or are they just a lot more expensive?

JL: Well, both! The ability to be able to buy whisky from other people, that went away quickly, in two years, maybe from 2011 to 2013. There just wasn’t stuff out there, people saw what was happening so fast. Investors were buying barrels and trying to flip ‘em. And that’s really what screwed us, right? Well, a lot of things. We made a lot of mistakes early on right, we just didn’t know. Like we bought a bunch of whisky, at one point in time we had about 3,800 barrels, early on. We were tiny our first still was 175 gallons and we had a little bitty business and we have 3,800 barrels and I thought ‘God, this is going to take a lifetime to sell!’ Turned out it took about three or four years! Our business was booming Old Scout was just going crazy and the plant was expanding and we were adding people and it was enabling us to do all sorts of other things. We kept thinking there were some deals out there, or strategic partnerships that we were going to make that would give us access to more whiskey. They never really materialised. 

MoM: How did this shortage affect the business?

JL: The ability to buy those barrels had gone away. We grew that business explosively from 2011 to 2016, and in 2016 we stopped selling Old Scout Ten, Old Scout Rye and Old Scout Bourbon. We took our three biggest sellers off the market because we just didn’t have the inventory. In 2014, we started buying whisky from MGP but instead of buying it in an aged format we bought it as new-made contract. That whisky that we bought is now just coming available for us at the end of last year. When we first started sourcing Old Scout it was all five years old. Then we went for three years without selling it. From 2016-19 we didn’t have any Old Scout except for a little bit of American Whiskey. And then just last September we bought out some more Old Scout (Revenant) Five Years Old. 

MoM: Have you noticed any difference between the stuff that you were buying in ready-aged and the stuff that you’ve aged yourself?

JL: No, I can’t taste any difference. When we started selling Old Scout it was five years old, the same age as what we’re selling it right now. The problem is that it aged up. So it was five years old and then it was six years old and then it was seven years old. Well then at the end, when we stopped selling it, some of that whisky was eight, nine, ten years old. We changed it from ‘Five’ to ‘Six’ to ‘Seven’ but by the time we got to ‘Seven’ we were big and we had a lot of distribution so we didn’t want to change it to an ‘Eight year Old’ and we’d have some Seven and some Eight so we just understated the age. We were putting eight, nine, ten year old juice in a seven year old bottle. So if you drank Old Scout in 2016, or whatever was leftover from 2016-17 you were drinking an eight, nine or ten year old product. And if you taste that aside the Old Scout that we’re putting out you say ‘well, it’s good but it’s as good’ because it’s a five year old whisky compared to an eight or nine year old whisky. That’s one of the issues that we have but with Old Scout I didn’t really see a way around it right, unless we waited another four years which is something that we just couldn’t do.  

The Smooth Ambler range

MoM: Have you been distilling your own whisky as well and maturing it alongside Old Scout?

JL: Yeah, we do it for Big Level, which is 100% house-made. We think of our business now in three ways: the stuff we make, Big Level and some other products that aren’t even out yet; the things that we don’t, which is Old Scout; and then in 2013/14 we created a brand called Contradiction, and it’s a blend of things that we make and things that we don’t. That’s where the name came from. We used to primarily make a wheated bourbon, that’s what Big Level is. It’s about a third of what we make and two-thirds sourced. So a wheated bourbon mixed with a bourbon made from rye. 

MoM: How has it been working with Pernod Ricard?

JL: There have been some growing pains, mostly from figuring out how a small brands fits in among the big brands. But they have made us a better business, that makes better whiskey, is safer, and more efficient. And they are as much like family as any corporate business can be. We’re proud of our relationship with them.

MoM: And do you still do a vodka or was that left behind?

JL: We stopped selling vodka in 2015-16, and stopped selling gin in 2017. If you go into a store and you have ten minutes of their time, and you only have three things to show them, what do you show ‘em? You show them the three biggest sellers and they were always whisky. So gin was sort of forgotten about. But our gin was delicious and we still have people all the time begging us to make it again. Our response is always ‘well if you had been buying a whole lot more back in the day we wouldn’t have stopped making it!’ 

MoM: How has the EU/US trade tariffs affected your business?

JL: We’ve had to change our prices on everything, in order to be competitive in the EU and UK. Trade wars, as far as I can tell, are bad for everybody. But you know, I love the market there. London is one of my favourite cities to go to. The best bars in London just also happen to be some of the best bars in the world.

MoM: What are your favourite ways to drink your whiskey?

JL: I’m pretty simple, at home I’ll make bourbon and ginger ale. In a bar I’m going to be pretty basic too. I’ll probably drink it in an Old Fashioned. One of my favourites is a drink called the Brown Derby. A mixture of bourbon, grapefruit and honey, it’s named after a Los Angeles diner that was shaped like a hat, a brown derby [take a look at the picture on Wikipedia].  

Smooth Ambler whiskeys are available from Master of Malt.

 

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Five minutes with… Oskar Kinberg, Hide

He may have a Michelin-starred kitchen at his disposal, but you won’t find bartender Oskar Kinberg – one of the creative minds behind acclaimed London restaurant Hide –  raiding the cupboards…

He may have a Michelin-starred kitchen at his disposal, but you won’t find bartender Oskar Kinberg – one of the creative minds behind acclaimed London restaurant Hide –  raiding the cupboards for obscure ingredients. Here, Kinberg delves into the inner workings of a well-executed menu and shares two simple cocktail recipes you can make at home…

Serving up unfussy cocktails with a culinary twist, Hide’s menu is the culmination of 15 years’ bartending experience, which began when Kinberg moved to London from Sweden in early 2005. After seven years of tending bars around London – including private members’ The Cuckoo Club – Kinburg opened Michelin-starred Dabbous and Oskar’s Bar with business partner and chef, Ollie Dabbous.

The duo went on to meet Yevgeny Chichvarkin and Tatiana Fokina – the couple behind Mayfair’s Hedonism Wines – and together, they opened Michelin-starred dining experience, Hide, in 2018. The capital’s most eagerly-awaited restaurant opening in years, Hide is split across three levels: fining dining restaurant ‘Above’, all day restaurant and bakery ‘Ground’, and basement bar ‘Below’. 

Naturally, Below stocks a jaw-dropping selection of fine and rare spirits. But for us, the biggest draw is the cocktail list. ‘Whether the main flavour is a spirit, fruit or a vegetable, our aim is to present it in the very best way we can, using both modern and classic techniques,’ Hide Below’s website reads. As such, the menu changes seasonally, ‘so we can always use our favourite ingredients when they taste their best’, it continues.

Oskar Kinberg looking pensive

You’ll find drinks like the Creamed Corn Soda, made with Bulleit Bourbon, sweetcorn, Angostura bitters and soda, and Pineapple Express, which combines fortified muscat, pineapple, cardamom, bay leaf, and fino sherry. The classics have been given a twist, too – the Dry Martini is stirred with frozen birch sap instead of ice, ‘to give it a silky mouthfeel and a luxurious, soft finish’. Here, we caught five with Kinberg to find out more:

 

MoM: Who or what would you say are your biggest creative influences when it comes to shaping your bartending style and approach to designing drinks?

Oskar Kinberg: It has changed a lot over the years. As I started out it was very much about replicating other people’s work and classics and modifying them slightly. I think this is probably quite common. Next step was more like a stage of challenges – someone would say, ‘I bet you can’t make a nice drink with this’, handing me a disgusting ingredient, and then I would make something palatable with it. My standard answer now would probably be, ‘Why would I want to?’ I try to find inspiration in things that naturally sound delicious rather than the obscure and unknown. If you put nice things in the shaker, you usually get a good end result. You’re less likely to get a drink made with strawberries sent back than a drink with squid ink. I know this not only because it makes sense to everyone, but also because I’ve had a drink on a menu with squid ink, and it got very mixed reviews. To sum up, I try to only make drinks that I think our guests will enjoy.  

MoM: What sets Hide apart from your previous projects in terms of the equipment you use and the way you have approached the menu?

OK: The team is much bigger and our equipment is much nicer. Even so, our menu is smaller than previous places I have worked in. I personally find it draining reading a tome of cocktails when I get to a bar and much prefer to have a shorter menu of well-executed drinks. Guests always order mainly from the first two pages anyway. With that said, we have two pages of cocktails. Page one is the more seasonal one with more fresh ingredients. These drinks are long, light and fresh and based around fruits and berries. Page two is for spirit aficionados and the drinks there are more booze-forward. As such, not as seasonally-bound – more seasonal in an emotional way. Winter time would see more warm spices and summer would use lighter, fruitier flavours, while still being boozy. We obviously offer all the usual classics as well. We prefer saying yes rather than no to any request, however odd it may be. 

MoM: We love the sound of a Martini stirred with frozen birch sap instead of ice. Could you share any other inventive ways you’ve used ingredients or techniques to add texture to drinks?

OK: Thank you, I like it too! The best other example would be our Cross-Eyed Mary. We’re not the only ones doing a clarified Mary but it’s the best one I’ve tried. We make a tomato consommé with fresh tomatoes, basil, and spices and then combine this with a vodka washed with olive oil and a little bit of dry sherry. It’s really light and elegant. It’s more of a drink than a meal, as is the case with its Bloody sibling. We have a lot of regulars coming back just for this drink and they rave about it worldwide, bringing friends down to the bar from all corners of the world. We even had Jethro Tull’s manager – the band whose song the drink is named after – email us and inquire about it in a humorous ‘do not cease and desist’ email. I’m still waiting for them to pop in to try it though. 

“A good bartender is not the person that makes the best drinks, but the person that makes you feel the most at home”

MoM: Which drink(s) on the menu receives the most compliments from guests? What’s in it, how is it made, and why do people love it?

OK: Other than Cross-Eyed Mary, I would say that Adam & Eve is very popular. It’s a milk punch with fig leaf, rum, cider brandy and spices. This is a drink that goes against everything I’ve previously said, but comes out really clean and elegant. The balance is amazing, according to myself, and it’s very difficult to dislike it. We serve it very simply on a block of ice with no garnish. It looks like a glass of water but the flavours are amazing. Fig leaf tastes a bit like coconut, but not in a sunscreen way – a little bit greener. 

MoM: Is distilling your own spirit or liqueur something you’re interested in experimenting with, or do you prefer to bring different ingredients and flavours together in a bar setting?

OK: I don’t think so. Plenty of people are very good at it and certainly have a head start. I think I’m happiest when mixing other people’s spirits and liqueurs together. I would probably be more keen on getting in later in the production stage and learning about blending, etcetera. Never say never, though! 

MoM: They say every day’s a school day – what do you wish you knew when you started bartending that you know now? 

OK: Cocktails are a small proportion of bartending. A good bartender is not the person that makes the best drinks, but the person that makes you feel the most at home. There is also an element of work that needs to be done behind the scenes. Setting up and making sure your prep is good is as important as putting things away right at the end of the night and cleaning down. If this all fails you will end up looking like a fool anyway. If you have the discipline to do this well every day and every night you will be rewarded for it in the long run.  

MoM: Could you share a cocktail recipe or two that our readers could make at home?

OK: Ja. Not many of the drinks we make at Hide Below are that easy to replicate at home, I guess that’s why you come to us instead. Here is a perfect summer cocktail called Fallen Madonna. It’s fresh, fragrant and made with ingredients you can find in a supermarket. I’ve also included the recipe for an old favourite; Fizzy Rascal, also light, fresh and perfect in the warmer weather.  

The Fallen Madonna (perhaps a reference to ‘Allo ‘Allo)

Fallen Madonna

50ml Tanqueray gin
35ml flat tonic water
25ml aloe vera juice
12.5ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup

Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, shake and strain into an Old Fashioned glass with cubed ice. Garnish with pea shoots and flowers.

Fizzy Rascal

50ml Chopin potato vodka
15ml fresh lemon juice
15ml elderflower cordial
25ml apple juice
2 sage leaves
1 slice cucumber
Prosecco to top

Combine all ingredients in a shaker except prosecco, shake and strain. Serve in a Highball glass filled with cubed ice and top with prosecco. Garnish with extra sage leaves.

 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The New Yolk

This week we’re serving up a bourbon-based twist on the Brandy Alexander called the New Yolk. This dessert-style cocktail is straight off the menu at City Social, Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred…

This week we’re serving up a bourbon-based twist on the Brandy Alexander called the New Yolk. This dessert-style cocktail is straight off the menu at City Social, Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred restaurant and bar in London. Here, bar manager Catalin Ciont shares the story behind this indulgent tipple and talks us through the recipe…

Are you a ‘main and dessert’ rather than ‘starter and main’ kinda person? Do you find yourself partial to a pun-based cocktail name from time to time? Do you like drinking bourbon? If you answered yes to the above, prepare to feel many things as we describe this week’s Cocktail of the Week to you. 

Named New Yolk, this delectable drink hails from City Social’s ‘Signature’ list – a flavourful tour of Atherton’s various venues across the globe, from the Philippines to Doha, Dubai to Shanghai, St. Moritz to London and many more regions besides. When the team assembled the menu, they matched each restaurant to a classic cocktail before creating their own twist on the serve using different flavours and ingredients associated with the local culture there.

The New Yolk represents – you guessed it – Atherton’s New York-based restaurant The Clocktower, and combines bourbon whiskey, zabaglione cream (more on this in a moment), double cream and vanilla syrup. It’s a decadent whiskey-based twist on the classic Brandy Alexander, traditionally consisting of Cognac, crème de cacao and cream, usually topped with a light dusting of nutmeg.

While brandy-based sipper rose to prominence during the early 20th century – i.e. ages ago – it wasn’t the original. In fact, it’s a variation of an earlier, gin-based cocktail that was simply called ‘Alexander’. New Yolk, then, is a twist on a twist on a classic. Like the movie Inception in cocktail form, but with more double cream and fewer cliffhangers.

You might be wondering which ingredients put the ‘New York’ in ‘New Yolk’. As you may know, New York City has the largest population of Italian Americans in the entire country, and the cocktail is designed to reflect this in both flavour and formulation – bringing an Italian cooking technique together with America’s homegrown whiskey, bourbon. As such, the cocktail does require a little preemptive kitchen prep – City Social is a Michelin star venue, after all – but you’ll be pleased to hear there’s no complicated equipment involved. You just need a kettle (or a hob) and a couple of bowls.

“We’re going to use an Italian cooking method well known to make pasta carbonara, called bagnomaria or ‘bain-marie’,” says Ciont, “a type of heated bath. In our case, we’re using it to make a lovely homemade cream called zabaglione, which we will add to our cocktail later. It’s mostly used in Italian desserts for its creamy texture.”

Behold! The New yolk!

The key ingredients are the bourbon and homemade zabaglione cream, Ciont says – the bourbon giving the drink body and structure; the lactose from the double cream softening and rounding the alcohol. “Together with the rest of the ingredients they bring a unique pleasant taste and creamy texture to your pallet, easy to drink any time in the day or night,” he adds. 

The method is simple – shake and strain – but if you don’t have a professional cocktail shaker to hand, a protein shaker or blender will work too, Ciont says. Just follow the instructions below, grate some Tonka bean over the top (very much an optional garnish, it’s important to note) and you’re good to go.

Ready to get cracking (no yolk intended)? Below, you’ll find the methodology for both the zabaglione cream and the cocktail. As for any remaining cream left over… we hear it goes down a treat with a little fresh fruit and crushed amaretti. 

40ml FEW bourbon
30ml homemade zabaglione*
10ml double cream,
10ml vanilla syrup 

Fill a shaker up to the halfway point with ice before adding the bourbon, homemade zabaglione, double cream and vanilla syrup. Give the mixture a strong shake before straining it into a coupette glass. Use a kitchen fine strainer to avoid any pieces of ice in your glass. Garnish with grated Tonka bean and enjoy.

* To make your zabaglione you’ll need 6 egg yolks, 25g caster sugar, 50ml sweet wine or vermouth (like Martini Rosso). Fill a bowl with one litre of boiling water and then place another bowl on top (so the water heats the bottom). Add the egg yolks, caster sugar and sweet vermouth and stir the mixture until all the ingredients are creamy. Set aside.

 

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The search for perfect snack & spirit pairings

If you’ve ever felt uncertain mixing spirits with snacks, you’re not alone. However, through rigorous and very scientific testing methods, we think we’ve uncovered some perfect pairings… Food and drink….

If you’ve ever felt uncertain mixing spirits with snacks, you’re not alone. However, through rigorous and very scientific testing methods, we think we’ve uncovered some perfect pairings…

Food and drink. The phrase rolls off the tongue in such a way that it makes me believe they should rarely be apart. Breakfast deserves orange juice. Tea demands biscuits. They complement each other so carefully that you can almost imagine every type of drink having an invisible string connecting it to its faithful food friend.

But then spirits enter the picture, and the strings end up getting a bit tangled. You can enjoy an excellent spirit with food, I just don’t think I’ve ever quite found a perfect duo. However, I truly think there’s opportunity for greatness when spirits meet snack foods, and so through my Very Important Research, I set out to uncover some impeccable pairs.

First order of business was to assemble a snack selection. I chose eight snack foods that I believed stood a good chance of complementing a spirit – with some caveats. For starters, I’m a vegetarian, which automatically ruled out some snacks – my apologies, pork scratchings aficionados. I’ve also seen the dangers of introducing cutlery to a casual pub setting first hand, so anything involving knives and forks was also not considered. With this in mind, the final snack list was…

The snack ensemble

Crisps – Specifically cheese and onion flavoured crisps. It’s the best readily available flavour of crisp and I am willing to fight my corner on that.

Peanuts – Specifically salted peanuts. Why wouldn’t I want my legumes to be covered in tiny mineral crystals?

Tortilla chips – Specifically salted tortilla chips. I usually want to avoid having my fingers covered in that bright orange dust found on cheesy tortilla chips.

Plantain chips – Specifically salted plantain chips. OK, this time I was limited by the selection at the shop, but probably what I would have chosen anyway.

Popcorn – Specifically salted popcorn. I refuse to acknowledge sweet popcorn.

Olives – Specifically green olives. You might think olives need cutlery, or at least a toothpick, but I don’t. Does this make me a monster? Maybe.

Pretzels – Specifically salted pretzels. Other jazzy flavours are available, but let’s be real. Let’s be really real. If you’re getting pretzels, you’re getting salted pretzels.

Pickled onions – Specifically… Actually, never mind. They’re pickled onions.

Next, a spirit selection was assembled. For this list, I picked out drinks that wouldn’t raise too much of an eyebrow if you were to see them on the back bar of your local drinking establishment. OK, the genever might be a bit surprising, but I really like genever and wanted to see what if there were any good matches. I’ll admit I was playing favourites. To allow for general applications of the findings I won’t be revealing any of the brands, but I aimed to use good examples of the spirit and style. The final list was peated single malt, sherried single malt, bourbon, dark rum, gin, genever and reposado Tequila.

Snacks chosen. Spirits chosen. The science soon followed. These tastings were done over a series of days, and the routine was to sip Spirit A, eat Snack A, assess, take a good glug of water, eat Snack A, sip Spirit A, assess, take a good glug of water, repeat with Snack B, and so on. Tasting the spirits and snacks both ways around seemed important to me when I started, but it only ever really made a difference a handful of times. If a combination tasted bad one way around, nine times out of ten it tasted bad the other way around too. I did get to eat more pickled onions than I would have done otherwise, though. Silver linings.

Well then. Here’s how it all played out.

Peated single malt

Top Snack: Peanuts

Peat and peanuts!

It appears that peanuts and phenols are good friends, as the salted peanuts were the best partner for peated single malt. It ended up tasting like smoky peanut butter, which absolutely should be a thing. I am willing to lose crunchy peanut butter if it means we can have smoky peanut butter instead. The briny intensity of olives stood up well to peaty whisky, and the tangy brightness of pickled onion was enjoyably refreshing when juxtaposed with the smoky single malt. Popcorn is the enemy of smoky whisky – the combo was astringent and unpleasant.

Sherried single malt

Top Snack: Plantain chips

Plantain chips and sherried whisky makes for a fruit-forward combo

The sweet, subtle fruitiness of plantain chips blended brilliantly with the red berry and chocolate notes in sherried single malt, making it the best partner for this whisky. However, the rest of the snacks didn’t really put up much of a fight for the top spot. The cheesy crisps we’re pretty good (after a few seconds – it starts out a bit too sweet, but gets better), and pickled onion is definitely worth a go, though neither were anywhere near great. Tortilla chips and sherried single malt somehow ended up having the consistency and flavour of spent coffee grounds. As you can imagine, not great.

Bourbon

Top Snack: Pickled Onions

Who didn’t see this one coming?

Pickle juice and bourbon is a strange combination that sounds terrible but is the complete opposite. With that knowledge, I will admit that I approached bourbon and pickled onions with an inkling that this would be a winning pair. Reader, I was right about pickled onions and bourbon. They’re such a great team. Popcorn performed well here, as did the tortilla chips, which I think has something to do with their corn content and the corn content of bourbon. The sweetness of plantain chips did not help its cause, with the combination becoming unappealingly marshmallowy. Sadly, olives are just too funky to pair with bourbon very well at all.

Dark rum

Top Snack: Popcorn

I was a big fan of rum and popcorn

Popcorn was the biggest surprise here. I’d say it “really pops”, but that’s the kind of pathetic pun that makes me want to push chairs over instead of do a polite giggle. Anyway, the heaviness of the dark rum along with its powerful fruit notes pair brilliantly with the lightness of the popcorn, as well as feeding into the classic sweet/savoury dynamic. If you really like peanuts, dark rum is a good match, as it somehow manages to bolster and intensify the peanut’s flavour profile. The subtle estery notes of plantain chips blended well with rum, giving it a tasty, tangy kick, too. A strange, acidic bitterness developed when introducing pickled onions to rum, so that combo is to be avoided, I reckon.

Gin

Top snack: Inconclusive

So here’s the thing. I didn’t find a snack that I could confidently say paired perfectly with gin. That isn’t to say one doesn’t exist. This was only a test of eight snacks, I have of course missed great swaths of snack foods, including ones across the globe that I have never had the chance to try (but really want to – if anyone knows where I can get halva in Ireland, give us a shout). I did taste a few good matches, though. To the surprise of no one, olives work well with gin. The creamy, subtle sweetness of plantain chips helped to balance the herbal bitterness, as did the very light toastiness and saltiness of pretzels. Pickled onions were fine, if a little bit too punchy. The best thing to be said about crisps and gin was that it opened up the chance to write something about “crisps and crisp juniper”, but even then it was kind of hard to fit into a sentence naturally. A missed opportunity.

Genever

Top Snack: Peanuts

Got all artsy with the peanut placements

You might think that genever is too similar to gin to yield any different outcomes, and that my personal love of the spirit might influence the results. However, try genever and peanuts and tell me that combo isn’t awesome. I dare you. Spiciness, creaminess, saltiness, a whiff of earthiness and subtle sweetness – it’s all there, and it’s great. Plantain chips are on a similar wavelength to peanuts when paired with genever, except leaning a bit more on the sweetness. Tortilla chips, crisps and popcorn helped the herbaceous elements of genever come through a little brighter, which was cool. Pretzels and genever ended up being a pretty bland combination, while the pickled onion overwhelmed the genever completely, which is a sin in my book.

Reposado Tequila

Top Snack: Olives

My favourite combo of the lot – Tequila and olives

Only one snack and spirit pairing made me swear out loud, and that was olives and Tequila. It’s such a good combo – instantly bright and juicy on the palate, with savoury, oily notes lasting, plus a little hint of funk popping up later on. But that’s not all – both popcorn and pretzels really impressed me with the Tequila too. The big, crunchy salt crystals on the pretzels supercharge the vegetal earthiness of the spirit, and the softly toasty popcorn created an almost bourbon-esque flavour profile with the Tequila. The oniony notes of the crisps made for an enjoyably tangy experience, while the estery elements of the plantain chips were bolstered wonderfully. Tortilla chips performed pretty well, but did get a bit lost underneath the Tequila, while the opposite was the case for pickled onions, which took over the palate once again. Peanuts started out alright, but after a few chews the combination became surprisingly way too sweet.

I recognise that I have written a lot of words about snacks, all of which sort of amounts to a series of yummy/not yummy verdicts. I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped past them in the hopes of there being a graph or something you can refer to and quickly see what snack you should pick up to pair with a tasty bottle you’ve got on your shelf. If you did do that, you’re in luck. Inspired by a colleague’s deep love of charts and graphs, feast your eyes on this incredibly artistic chart that I made. Enjoy.

Artistic, scientific, and very colourful

What did we learn from this? Well, personally I think I have learnt that Tequila may be my favourite spirit to pair with food. It produced the best combo with the olives, and worked well with almost all of the snacks. While I was very excited to see how pickled onion would fare, I found that it wasn’t actually a great match for most of the spirits on the list. I’m honestly not surprised, but I think it’s good to have that confirmed – I’ll stick to eating them straight from the fridge when I accidentally wake up at 2 a.m. I also decided that further research will need to happen to find a good partner for gin. Even with top tier Martini and Gibson garnishes in the running, nothing made me jump out of my chair. Perhaps sweet snacks are the way to go? Only time will tell. On the topic of more testing, I really would love to do this again with different spirit and different snacks. If you reckon there’s a spirit out there that could use a partner, or snacks that deserve investigation – or if you’ve done your own analysis and found your own perfect match – let me know in the comments!

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Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to fantastic American whiskey. Let us help narrow down your options. When you’ve got time on your hands it’s the perfect opportunity…

There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to fantastic American whiskey. Let us help narrow down your options.

When you’ve got time on your hands it’s the perfect opportunity to try something new, which is why we’re  giving you a glimpse into what’s happening in the American whiskey scene. In our selection, we’ve got classic brands that have been doing the business for decades and younger distilleries firing up stills ready to make their mark. There’s bottlings that are best savoured by sipping them straight and those that make great whiskey cocktails. We’ve got spicy ryes and smooth bourbons, various mashbills and even a heavy-metal inspired expression. 

But they all have something in common: they’re delicious American whiskeys that we heartily recommend. Enjoy!

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Slipknot No.9 Whiskey

Yes, this is a whiskey that was made in collaboration with heavy metal band Slipknot. In fact, it was actually blended by Slipknot’s very own Shawn “Clown” Crahan (he wears a clown mask when performing), with the help of the lovely folk at Cedar Ridge Distillery. Both the band and distillery hail from Iowa, so fittingly the whiskey was made from Iowa corn as well as a helping of rye. If you’re looking for the perfect pairing then you can’t get more appropriate than Slipknot’s Iowa album!

What does it taste like?:

Honey, toasted cornbread, smoked paprika, toffee apples, chocolate digestives, citrus blossom, cracked black pepper, caraway and fragrant florals.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon 

A delightful Kentucky bourbon that represents fantastic value for money, Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon is ideal for those who enjoy an Old Fashioned. It has a rich, spicy profile that’s partly down to a mash bill that features a high percentage of rye: 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malt.  

What does it taste like?:

Honey, leather, cocoa, a little smoke, toasty oak, vanilla cream, butterscotch, espresso beans, winter spice, cereal sweetness, plenty of rye, ground ginger, almond oil and cereals.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof 

If you haven’t enjoyed the sweet, spicy and distinctive character of rye whiskey, then you should rectify this situation immediately. This award-winning expression, which commemorates Philadelphia’s famous Rittenhouse Square, was produced in the tradition of the classic rye whiskeys that dominated the industry pre-Prohibition and is fantastic in a number of cocktails.

What does it taste like?:

Dried fruits, soft spices, cocoa, butterscotch, orange peel, cinnamon, caramel, chocolate oranges, cassia bark, nutmeg and marmalade.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey 107 Proof

A full-bodied, punchy and powerful bottling from those fab folks over at Smooth Ambler Spirits in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, this is not for the faint-hearted. The fantastic variation of the brand’s classic Old Scout American Whiskey was bottled at 107 proof (or 53.5% ABV for those of us here in the UK). 

What does it taste like?:

Roasted coffee beans, burnt caramel, a good kick of cumin, floral vanilla, fresh ginger, fiery cinnamon, fudge, mango and sponge cake.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Michter’s US*1 Bourbon

A stylish and superb Kentucky bourbon with a mellow, earthy and delicately sweet profile, Mitcher’s US*1 Bourbon is made in small batches typically composed of no more than two dozen barrels. The brand is named after what some believe to be the oldest former distillery in the US, which dates back to 1753.

What does it taste like?:

Caramel, vanilla and fruit notes, alongside a pleasing earthy quality at its core.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Mellow Corn

Arguably the most intriguing bottling in our selection is the delightful Mellow Corn, which is made at the Heaven Hill distillery. Inside that distinctive bright yellow bottle, you’ll find a punchy, gold-coloured American corn whiskey made with a mash bill that’s at least 81% corn, with the rest being a combination of malted barley and rye.

What does it taste like?:

Buttery corn, toffee popcorn, vanilla, brown sugar and a flicker of woody spice.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Sazerac Straight Rye 

An expression named for the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans, birth-place of the famous Sazerac cocktail. While it was originally made with Cognac, the Sazerac is also delicious when it’s made with rye whiskey. Particularly very tasty rye whiskey, like this fine example from the Buffalo Trace distillery.

What does it taste like?:

Sweet spices, stem ginger in syrup, orange zest, freshly ground black pepper, mixed peels, Seville orange marmalade, peanut butter, toffee and barrel char.

 

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Virtual pub quiz: 27 March

Think you know your booze? Then you should enter our new and improved virtual pub quiz. All entries will get a discount code and one winner a £25 off voucher….

Think you know your booze? Then you should enter our new and improved virtual pub quiz. All entries will get a discount code and one winner a £25 off voucher. All must have prizes!

It’s the return of the Master of Malt pub quiz. We’ve made it slightly easier this week as well as put it in a snazzy format so it’s easier to enter. We do like to make your life easy. For those bamboozled by last week’s quiz, here is a link to the answers. Remember, strict pub quiz rules, no looking at Google.

 

Fancy your chances?! Go to the quiz by hitting ‘click here’!

CLICK HERE

(And remember, no cheating. We might not know, but it is not in the spirit of quizzing!)

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Cocktail of the Week: The Improved Whiskey Cocktail

What’s better than a Whiskey Cocktail? A Fancy Whiskey Cocktail. And better than that? Why, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, of course. It’s an Old Fashioned but slightly better.  Back in…

What’s better than a Whiskey Cocktail? A Fancy Whiskey Cocktail. And better than that? Why, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, of course. It’s an Old Fashioned but slightly better. 

Back in the good old days, a cocktail was a specific type of drink rather than a generic term for an iced mixed drink. The Cocktail Book from 1900 lists pages of drinks called ‘cocktails’ that are variations on the spirit (or wine) plus bitters, sugar and ice theme. But you can also see new drinks creeping in involving vermouth like the Manhattan and early versions of the Martini. Therefore, in the book, an old timey Whiskey Cocktail is called a Whiskey Cocktail Old-Fashioned to differentiate it. There’s also something called a ‘Fancy’ version made with maraschino liqueur as a sweetener. So fancy!

The Old Fashioned may have been old fashioned but doesn’t mean that it stopped evolving in 1845. It’s an endlessly versatile drink, which is why bartenders love coming up with new versions of it. Jerry Thomas, of the Eldorado Hotel in San Francisco, is usually credited with the invention of the Fancy Old Fashioned. Though more likely it was something that was around at the time and he was the first person to write it down in his Bartenders Guide: How to Mix all Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks (1887). There’s that word again, fancy.

Adding maraschino liqueur to a drink that was often garnished with a bittersweet cherry is not such a leap. It’s just a twist on a classic. But Thomas’s next step was more extreme: to turn a ‘Fancy’ into an ‘Improved’, he added absinthe taking the Old Fashioned dangerously into Sazerac territory. For the many who loathe aniseed this is not so much improved as ruined. 

Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Looks fancy. Sorry, I mean improved

Even as an aniseed lover, I will concede that a little goes a long way, so rather than add a teaspoon as with most recipes, you can add a few drops as a wash to the glass and shake it out before adding the rest of the ingredients. I’m using Ricard instead of absinthe as it’s what I’ve got in the house. It provides just a background note of aniseed. If you’re using proper absinthe which is drier instead of pastis then you might want to add more sugar. Then it’s a question of which whiskey to use. Well, it’s got to be American. Thomas would probably have used a rye but I’ve chosen a classic all-rounder bourbon, Woodford Reserve. It’s a really complex, well-balanced drop made, unusually for Kentucky, in a pot still. I’m serving it on the rocks but you could stir it over ice and serve it straight up. Oh and don’t forget the bitters. I’m using a mixture of Angostura and just a drop of orange which really lifts the whole thing.

Right, let’s improve a whiskey cocktail!

60cl Woodford Reserve bourbon
1 tablespoon Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 tablespoon sugar syrup
1 tsp Ricard pastis (or absinthe)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters

Add a teaspoon of pastis to an Old Fashioned glass, swirl it around and then shake it out. Add lots of ice cubes, all the other ingredients and give it a good stir. Express a piece of orange over the top and then serve. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Boondocks 11 Year Old Cask Strength whiskey

This week we’re highlighting an American whiskey that’s very close to a bourbon in style but with one crucial difference, created by former Woodford Reserve supremo Dave Scheurich. Whisky distillers…

This week we’re highlighting an American whiskey that’s very close to a bourbon in style but with one crucial difference, created by former Woodford Reserve supremo Dave Scheurich.

Whisky distillers are like master criminals, no, not in terms of morals, well, some of them are, but that’s another story. What they have in common is that both announce their retirements, only to be lured out by one final job. Think of Jim McEwan who retired from Bruichladdich in 2015 only to be made an offer he couldn’t refuse by the Hunter Laing mob when they were setting up a new distillery on Islay, Ardnahoe

Then there’s Dave Scheurich, who retired from Brown-Forman in 2010 after over 21 years at the bourbon giant.  He was instrumental in setting up the Woodford Reserve brand and making it one of the most admired whiskeys in America. Before that he had stints with Wild Turkey, and 14 years man and boy at Seagram, the now-defunct Canadian giant who dominated the international spirits business before collapsing in 2000. In 2012 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Whiskey Advocate magazine. After that sort of career, most of us would be happy to take up fishing and long-winded anecdotes, but not Scheurich.

In 2016, it was announced that he had teamed up with the Royal Wine Company (a New York-based business that specialises in kosher wine) to create a new American whiskey brand, Boondocks. The name is inspired by a slightly-pejorative word used by fancy city types for the countryside. What we might call it ‘the back of beyond’. 

The aim was to create fine American whiskeys that were a bit different from the bourbon norm. Despite its corn-heavy mash bill (80% corn with the rest rye and malted barley), our New Arrival can’t be called bourbon because it’s not put in new oak casks. Instead like much Scotch, it’s aged in used casks. It’s also significantly older than most American whiskeys, which to be sold as such in the EU only have to be three years old (and can be much younger in the home market). This is also bottled at cask strength, 63.5% ABV, something that will appeal to aficionados. There’s also a 47.5% ABV version as well as an 8 year old bourbon.

With a name like Boondocks, you’d probably imagine it’s made in a tiny distillery in the woods, miles from the nearest town of any size, that hasn’t changed much since prohibition was repealed and staffed mainly by men called Jedediah. Sadly, nothing so romantic as the brand doesn’t have its own distillery and buys in its whiskey. Nothing wrong with that, lots of brands in whiskey, especially in the US and Ireland, don’t make their own spirit, it’s just not such a good story.

Still what matters most is what’s in the glass. And it’s good, really good, with a depth of flavour you don’t often find in American whiskeys. Previous releases have won awards like a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition 2016 and Best of Category in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2016. It’s a great sipper either with a splash of water, with ice or I can’t think of a better whiskey for an Old Fashioned. Drink it slowly, let the ice dilute the high strength and see how it changes.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Strong coffee with just a splash of milk, rich cherry sweetness and a subtly floral hint.

Palate: Toasted almonds and spicy rye, underneath layers of brown sugar and cookie dough.

Finish: Lingering buttery corn and stem ginger.

Boondocks Cask Strength 11 Year Old American Whiskey is available from Master of Malt.

 

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The Nightcap: 6 March

If it’s booze news in bite-sized pieces you’re looking for, you have done very well indeed in finding The Nightcap, because that’s what it’s all about! We’ve recovered from our…

If it’s booze news in bite-sized pieces you’re looking for, you have done very well indeed in finding The Nightcap, because that’s what it’s all about!

We’ve recovered from our leap day-proved existential confusion with only minor frets of being trapped in a time warp, and we’ve made it to another Friday. No, that’s not the name of the next film in Ice Cube’s Friday film franchise… Wait, have we used that joke before? Wait, are we actually trapped in a time loop incurred by the leap day?! You’d better read the rest of The Nightcap to check and see if all this news is new to you – if not, we may indeed be living this week over and over again until someone somehow breaks the cycle…

On the blog this week we excitedly launched a VIP trip to the home of J.J. Corry, where you’ll get the chance to create your very own bottling with founder Louise McGuane. She wasn’t the only outstanding woman to feature on the blog this week, however. Annie caught up with Jill Boyd of Compass Box and Miranda Dickson from Absolut Elyx before Henry championed the legacies of pioneering bartender Ada Coleman and the Grande Dame herself in the build-up to #InternationalWomensDay. Elsewhere, Jess enjoyed a spiced rum that’s out of this world as Adam tasted the oldest permanent Redbreast expression, had a chat with the man behind The Whisky Baron and suggested some stunning sippers for the new season. Oh, and we also told Dram Club members what to expect from March.

But now’s the time for Nightcapping, so scroll away and get stuck into this week’s helping of boozy news!

The Nightcap

Is that Alexei Sayle on the right? No, it’s Marcin Miller with the team at the Kyoto Distillery

Pernod Ricard takes stake in Kyoto Distillery

Hot gin news has just arrived in our in-tray: Pernod Ricard has bought into the award-winning Kyoto Gin Distillery for an undisclosed sum. Founder Marcin Miller told us: “We remain fully invested in and will continue to run the distillery.” He went on to say: “Our gin has been well received and exceeded our expectations, and at this rate, we’ll exceed capacity at the current site soon. To build a new distillery, especially in Japan, takes time and we needed investment to help us fulfil this ambition. We were approached by a number of interested parties but decided to go with Pernod Ricard. I’ve had a lot of contact with the company over my 20 years in the industry. Everyone I have met has been great. The company culture is wonderful from the head down. Alexandre Ricard, in particular, took an interest in the distillery from the beginning. Looking to the future there are excellent distribution and marketing opportunities in this partnership.” Miller has had an interesting career in the drinks business as a publisher, with his own PR agency Quercus Communications, and the Number One Drinks company, which was set up with David Croll in 2005 to distribute Japanese whiskies. “We were fortunate enough to buy the full inventory of Karuizawa,” he said. A tidy investment when you see how much a bottle goes for today. In 2015, he set up the Kyoto gin distillery with Croll and his wife Noriko, quickly winning plaudits with its ultra-premium gin made with Japanese botanicals. Looks like we won’t be running out of Kyoto gin any time soon. Phew!

The Nightcap

Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth, the first mezcal cask Soctch whisky we’ve tried, it won’t be the last

Dewar’s releases mezcal cask whisky

In June last year, we reported that the new SWA rules now allow for ageing in unconventional casks such as Tequila or mezcal. Well, someone at Dewar’s clearly noticed as well as the firm has just released a mezcal cask whisky. It’s an 8-year-old blend called Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth. No, that isn’t a typo because the casks used formerly held Ilegal Mezcal. Brian Cox, vice president of Dewar’s North American, commented: “We’ve been considering experimenting in the mezcal space for a while and are thrilled to partner with Ilegal for this exciting world first. It’s a fortuitous collaboration as there are many parallels between Tommy Dewar, one of the Dewar’s founders, and John Rexer, founder of Ilegal. They both have grit, wit and passion for creating something new on an ambitious scale – the very best ultra-premium, smooth spirits. Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth pays homage to both of their successful legacies by dispelling myths about what’s possible between whisky and mezcal and ultimately breaking new ground in both categories. The end product says it all,” added Cox. We were given a little sample to try, initially, it smells like a blend with a high-peated percentage but then the vegetal taste of the mezcal comes through strongly. It’s highly distinctive and won’t be for everyone but it’s good to see Dewar’s experimenting. Sadly, at the moment it’s only available in North America. We will let you know when/ if it arrives on these shores.

The Nightcap

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

Mama Shelter London and Isle of Harris host IWD whisky tasting

This Sunday (8 March) is International Women’s Day (you may have noticed a fair few features about ace women in booze over on the blog this week). A whole bunch of brands, distilleries and venues are hosting celebrations (check out Lyaness and The Artesian if you’re at a loose end on the day itself), and our very own editor Kristiane was thrilled to join Mama Shelter London and Isle of Harris Distillers for Whisky as Told by Women this week! The concept: four women in whisky each give a bit of insight into their careers, life in drinks and why they love whisky, while sharing one of their favourite drams with a room filled to the brim with fellow geeks! We were on board. Also sharing their stories were The Glenlivet’s Kirsty Thomson (accompanied by The Glenlivet 12), The Balvenie’s Alwynne Gwilt (The Balvenie Sweet Toast of American Oak), and The Whisky Lounge co-founder Amanda Ludlow (Jameson Black Barrel). And our Kristiane shared That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Cambus 29 Year Old! A stellar line-up, even if we say so ourselves. The general consensus was how much the whisky industry has changed, even over the past two years. Women now hold senior positions right across the sector – and folks no longer seem surprised that women (gasp!) enjoy whisky. Has full gender parity happened? Not quite, especially when you think about the harassment many women in hospitality encounter all too often. But we’re proud of the progress that’s happened – let’s raise a dram to that, while pushing for even more equality, right across the board, in drinks and beyond. 

The Nightcap

One of the US’s biggest cocktail competitions has returned!

Stoli gets set for LGBTQ+ Key West Cocktail Classic

One of the US’s biggest cocktail competitions is back for its seventh outing! This week Stoli Vodka announced its bartender contest Key West Cocktail Classic is returning for 2020, honouring the legacy of gay bars and celebrating LGBTQ+ bartenders and their allies. And the prize is pretty epic. As well as scooping US$15k for a hometown charity of their choice, the winner will nab a holiday to anywhere in the world. That’s a pretty sweet deal. The theme for this year is ‘The Stolimpics’, and bartenders initially enter by creating a cocktail that celebrates their hometown. One winner from 14 different cities will bag themselves a ticket down to Key West at the beginning of June for the eight-day final/shindig! “For more than 35 years, Stoli has celebrated gay bars as the original safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Patrik Gallineaux, Stoli Vodka national LGBTQ+ ambassador and manager. “We are committed to championing these community centers and the individuals who are central to advancing them. I am thrilled to report that through this initiative, Stoli has had the opportunity to positively impact LGBTQ+ supportive non-profits across North America, with more than $120,000 awarded to LGBTQ+ charities to date.” Good luck to everyone taking part!

The Nightcap

Ahbi Banik standing by his patented Banik Still

Copper Rivet awarded patent for Gin Still 

It’s been quite the week for Kent’s Copper Rivet Distillery! After a three and a half year application, the distillery (of Dockyard Gin fame) has finally been awarded a patent for its Banik Still, named for head distiller Abhi Banik. In the Banik Still, the maceration is performed away from the heat source, with the botanicals’ flavour infused at a lower temperature than most traditional distillations. This, combined with a vapour infusion basket, allows distillers to have more control over how the flavour is extracted depending on the type of botanical, rather than a one size fits all approach. “It was when I was studying distilling, nearly 10 years ago, that I began to wonder why no one had tried to change or improve distillation processes for hundreds of years,” says head distiller Banik. “It took me seven years to design the still, a concept all in theory and CAD drawings, and with no experimental proof that it would work. When the Russell family and I were designing a still for Dockyard Gin, I showed the team my concept and they believed in it enough to give it a try!” What’s more, the new still is also focused on efficiency with increased charge alcohol recovery between 80 to 85% of total charge, compared to 60 to 75% in other more traditional distillation techniques, as well as really getting the most out of the botanicals so, in theory, less will need to be used to achieve the same result. Huge congrats to the Copper Rivet team!

The Nightcap

The Queen’s favourite hotel is going back in time to the 1920s!

The 1920s arrive at the Goring, finally

If you could go back to any time when would it be? It would be hard to beat the 1920s, jazz music, glamorous open-topped cars and more cocktails than you can shake a stick at (though we’d probably miss modern dentistry.) Now you can travel back in time as from 6pm every Sunday starting on 8 March, the bar at the Queen’s favourite hotel, the Goring, will be transformed into The Roaring Goring. Not such a vast change for an institution where the last 100 years could easily have not happened. There will be live music and classic cocktails made by bar manager Tiago Mira including the Hanky Panky (see our latest Cocktail of the Week), Air Mail (Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, lime, honey, Ayala Champagne and Green Chartreuse) and the Scofflaw (Lot 40 Canadian Rye, Mancino Secco Vermouth, lemon, grenadine and orange bitters). So put on your baggiest trousers, brush up on your jazz age slang, and get down to the Goring for a night to remember. 

The Nightcap

A 3D render of the new micro-distillery set to open in John O’Groats

Planning permission secured for Scotland’s most northerly whisky distillery 

When you think of John O’Groats, you probably think of people doing crazy cycle rides or long walks to there from Land’s End. Well, now the wonderful world of whisky has made its way to the most northerly part of Scotland, with a new micro-distillery set to open in John O’Groats in 2021! The first Scotch whisky distillery in John O’Groats since 1837, planning permission was secured on 2 March for a 32,670 square foot site which will be home to a distillery, visitor centre and bonded warehouse. The distillery is the brainchild of husband and wife duo Derek and Kerry Campbell, and it’ll claim the title of Scotland’s most northerly mainland whisky distillery. Brought to life with the help of £198,000 of funding secured from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with a capacity to produce up to 60,000 litres of whisky each year. “We believe the whisky we will produce will be unlike that from any other distillery, due to our coastal location in John O’Groats and the impact the local climate will have on our spirit as it matures,” says founder Kerry Campbell. “With traditional methods at the heart of our plans and an ambition to showcase whisky distilling in John O’Groats to the world, we are looking forward to opening the doors to our micro-distillery in due course. The support we have received from the local community and business owners to date has been fantastic and we can’t wait to welcome them to our distillery in 2021.” Now those mad folk travelling from Land’s End to John O’Groats will be rewarded with a local dram when they arrive!

The Nightcap

This is incredibly important news and vital work

Early Times is searching for ‘All-American Dogs’ for advertising campaign

Now, we’re a self-proclaimed gaggle of cat-lovers (at least most of us are) here at MoM Towers, though having said that we’re also partial to the occasional office dog (then we find it really hard to concentrate). Our ears pricked up when we caught wind of a fur-tastic advertising campaign from Kentucky whiskey maker Early Times, which has put out a call to arms to find “All-American Dogs” to serve as the faces for its 2020 advertising campaign. “When we started talking about what  being “All-American” means, we immediately thought of the loyalty and dependability that dogs bring to our own lives,” Early Times senior brand manager Dallas Cheatham. “It felt natural to connect with our Early Times drinkers by celebrating their amazing dogs.” Whiskey lovers (over 21) can share a photo of their beloved canine and explain why their pup embodies the “All-American” spirit, and Early Times will select 10 winning doggos. The competition is live until 12 April, and this is actually the second year that the competition is running. Last year there were more than 10,000 entries, but don’t let that deter you and your pooches!

The Nightcap

GlenDronach’s new visitor centre is open for business and looking good

GlenDronach gets a new visitor centre

For our money, Glendronach makes some of the finest whisky on Speyside, and we know you agree judging by the demand for its expressions like the 15 Year Old Revival. Now the distillery has a visitor centre worthy of such magnificent drams. There is a new bar and visitors will have the opportunity to fulfil their wildest dreams by filling their very own bottle of GlenDronach. Don’t worry though, this isn’t some space-age aberration stuck on the side of an old building, the design pays homage to the distillery’s founder James Allardice and the original buildings with natural stone walls with brass, marble and leather detailing. It’s the work of designer agency 1751 working with Ross McNally from Scarinish Studio. Jennifer Proctor from the distillery commented: “James Allardice was both a visionary entrepreneur and a warm and welcoming host. Our vision was to carry forth his hospitality and to bring the traditional craftsmanship of The GlenDronach to life, creating the perfect experience for our visitors to immerse themselves in the distillery’s rich heritage and our Highland single malts. Everything has been designed around the guest experience, from the striking circular table in our tasting room to the comfortable leather lounge area. With a range of tours also available, we look forward to welcoming everyone from the whisky curious to experienced aficionados. . . .” As you can see from the picture, they’re done a great job. 

The Nightcap

The comedian may need to change the name of Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, on Channel 4 now…

And finally…  Comedian Joe Lycett changes his name to Hugo Boss

The artist formerly known as Joe Lycett pulled off quite the stunt this week by legally changing his name to Hugo Boss by deed poll as part of a comedic revenge mission against the giant fashion brand. Hugo Boss (the brand) has previously taken legal action against small firms using word boss in names, including Boss Brewing, a Swansea-based craft brewery, who were left with a £10,000 legal bill after the luxury designer brand sent it a cease and desist letter when the brewer applied to trademark its name, a process that usually costs £300. A further rebranding process cost upwards of £20,000 after the items had been relabelled and old stock discarded, according to founder Sarah John. She said the comedian’s move was “such a brilliant way of showing support”. A charity called DarkGirlBoss had also supposedly received a legal letter from Hugo Boss when it tried to trademark its name. Hugo Boss (the man), whose Twitter and Wikipedia have been updated to reflect the change, tweeted an image of the deed poll letter, complete with a new signature with an unusually phallic structure along with the following statement: “So Hugo Boss (who turnover approx $2.7bn a year) have sent cease & desist letters to a number of small businesses & charities who use the word ‘BOSS’ or similar, including a small brewery in Swansea, costing them thousands in legal fees and rebranding. It’s clear that Hugo Boss HATES people using their name. Unfortunately for them this week I legally changed my name by deed poll and I am now officially known as Hugo Boss. All future statements from me are not from Joe Lycett but Hugo Boss. Enjoy.” The comedian added that he would be “launching a brand new product as Hugo Boss” and would reveal the details on the new series of Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, on Channel 4, which takes on big corporations to fight for the rights of British consumers. The German luxury fashion house has responded and said that they welcome the comedian as a member of the Hugo Boss family, but it would appear the pr damage has already been done. Anyone for a Boss beer?

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What the blazes: a history of distillery fires

Making whisky is not without its hazards, distillation can be a dangerous business. Then there’s the challenge of storing thousands of wooden casks of flammable liquid safely while they mature….

Making whisky is not without its hazards, distillation can be a dangerous business. Then there’s the challenge of storing thousands of wooden casks of flammable liquid safely while they mature. Inevitably, things sometimes go wrong. Ian Buxton looks into the explosive history of distillery fires. 

If you’ve ever visited a distillery warehouse of recent construction, you’ll have noticed that it’s festooned with all kinds of safety precautions in the event of fire: smoke sensors; sophisticated monitoring and alarm systems (frequently linked to the local fire station) and substantial fire walls to prevent the flames taking control of the whole building. There’s generally a significant gap between modern buildings, both to prevent the fire spreading and to allow firefighters access to all sides of the structures. Different vintages of production are spread across a number of warehouses to prevent the possibility of the total loss of a specific age of whisky.

Not the aftermath of the Blitz but Watson’s Whisky Bond following a fire

All permanent staff will have had training and there will be fire-fighting equipment on site, though possibly out of sight of the visitors. Health & safety legislation quite properly lays great stress on mitigating risks and training staff in good practice or, if the worst should happen, evacuation procedures. For all the care, though, there are still accidents (and sometimes accidents with a still), such as the recent fire at Masons in Yorkshire. For some reason, the USA has in recent years been particularly prone to significant conflagrations: Heaven Hill (1996), Wild Turkey (2000), Jim Beam (2003 and again in 2019) and, tragically, Silver Trail in Kentucky where in 2015 a young distiller was killed and a colleague severely injured.

Fortunately, fatalities are rare these days and usually only whisky is lost.  Sadly, it has not always been so. Glasgow was the scene of one of Britain’s worst ever peacetime fire services disaster when, on 28 March 1960 the Cheapside Street whisky bond caught fire and collapsed, killing 11 firemen. The blaze took a week to fully extinguish and, at its peak, required 450 firemen, 30 pumping appliances, five turntable ladders, four support vehicles, and a fire boat on the River Clyde. There were six bravery awards, including two awards of the George Medal.

At this time, Glasgow still had a considerable number of operational warehouses in the city itself though. Following the fire, most were relocated (the buildings still presented hazards, though.  Failure to remove security bars from the windows at an old bond in James Watt Street led to the death of 22 employees of an upholstery workshop just eight years later.)

Postcard commemorating the fire at the North of Scotland Distillery in Aberdeen

Clearly earlier lessons had not been learned. Prior to world war one there were disastrous fires in both Aberdeen and Dundee. In September 1904, the North of Scotland Distillery in Aberdeen was totally destroyed by fire and some 700,000 gallons of whisky (around two year’s production) was lost. Though the distillery did reopen it proved hard to recover and it eventually closed in 1913, ironically just as Port Dundas Distillery in Glasgow, which had lain dormant since a fire ten years earlier, was recommissioned. 

A little further down Scotland’s east coast, in Dundee, a devastating fire broke out in July 1906 in the James Watson & Co. bond at the junction of Seagate and the aptly-named Candle Lane. Then one of the largest distillers in the country and a major force in the industry, Watson’s never really recovered from the disruption to their business and the company and remaining stocks were eventually acquired by the DCL (forerunners of today’s Diageo). The neighbouring blending house of John Robertson & Son was also badly affected by the fire as flaming alcohol was seen raining down on surrounding streets and buildings, setting light to a sugar warehouse, jute factory and printers. 

So bad was the inferno that firemen had to be called from Edinburgh to help fight it. The fire, which burned for 12 hours, has been described as the most destructive in the history of Dundee. An eyewitness recorded it sending “rivers of burning whisky” through the city, the spectacle attracting a thousand strong crowd of spectators. According to the Dundee Courier, the glow was visible from Brechin and Montrose (about 30 miles away) and people on Dundee’s outskirts could read newspapers out of doors at midnight.

major fire at Jim Beam

There was a major fire at Jim Beam in 2019

While the six storey bond, several other buildings and around 1,000,000 gallons of spirits were lost, there were mercifully no fatalities recorded – and local postcard company Valentines were quickly on the scene to record the damage in a series of rare and now collectable postcards.

So, next time you visit a distillery and your guide prohibits flash photography try to remember these tragic events in Scotland’s distilling history and confine the mixture of fire and whisky to a Blue Blazer cocktail when you return home!

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks. A former marketing director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

 

 

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