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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Bourbon

Whisky innovation – how far is too far?

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks back at how whisky has evolved throughout its history, examines some of today’s more outlandish innovations, and asks whether it’s wise or even…

In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks back at how whisky has evolved throughout its history, examines some of today’s more outlandish innovations, and asks whether it’s wise or even possible to try to control experimentation in the category. 

A long, long time ago – when I last had a proper job, since you ask, and thus a very long time ago – my then-MD warned me in portentous and grave tones that too much innovation would confuse the consumer and encourage promiscuous buying behaviour at the expense of brand loyalty.

‘Pompous git’, I thought, and went right ahead with what proved to be Scotland’s first branded, cask strength, single cask release – a blatant crib from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, of course, but carrying a distillery name (oh alright, it was Glenmorangie) instead of an anonymous number.  The late Michael Jackson loved it and devoted his entire column in The Independent to explaining the concept and singing its praises, a source of considerable pride, then and to this day. Shortly after I left the company (a long story) and shortly after that the product was discontinued. Moral: don’t disagree with your MD!

But, unremarkable as that whisky would be today, it was a definite innovation and one which aroused a certain amount of controversy at the time.  Actually, innovation in whisky has generally attracted some controversy, perhaps because people really care deeply about the drams they drink.

The advent of blending from the late 1860s onwards didn’t go down well with the then-dominant Irish whiskey industry. The passionate opposition of the leading Dublin distillers to ‘sham whisky’ and ‘silent spirit’ (that’s grain whisky to you and me) proved to be a major nail in their collective coffin, albeit one that they hammered in very firmly all by themselves. Leading Scotch blenders such as Walker, Buchanan, Dewar’s and others gleefully seized this opportunity.

Charred oak spindles

What fresh madness is this?

Malting technology has evolved considerably over the past hundred years and as for barley varieties, well, that’s an arms race.  For much of the nineteenth century, Chevallier was utterly dominant, but displaced by Plumage Archer which, in turn, was toppled by Proctor and Maris Otter, only for these varieties to be replaced by Golden Promise. This was once widely used: The Macallan famously going so far as to describe it as one of the ‘Six Pillars’ of its brand, a claim which has since been quietly dropped (marketing messages have an even shorter lifespan than barley varieties). But today it’s long gone and the merry-go-round continues.

It’s all about money, of course. Poor old Chevallier produced around 300 litres of pure alcohol per ton of dry malt, where today the accountants, sorry ‘distillers’, are looking for 450 litres or more.  Unless you’re Bruichladdich, of course, or Mark Reynier at Waterford, where the pursuit of terroir is what counts above all.

Or a ‘craft’ distiller in the USA.  Leaving aside the vexed topic of what constitutes ‘craft’, there are now, I was mildly astonished to learn, approaching 2,000 small-scale distilleries in the USA., Unconstrained by the Scotch Whisky Regulations, innovation is absolutely the name of the game among our colonial cousins – for how else is a nascent distiller to stand out in such a congested and competitive market?

The rise of flavoured whiskies from major brands – think Jack Daniel’s Honey and its many imitators – opened the floodgates and small distillers have followed suit, embracing unusual grains, varying production methods and every kind of cask finish you can dream up (and some you’d rather not).  Finishing, incidentally, is generally acknowledged as beginning, in a conscious and deliberate sense, with the 1982 launch of The Balvenie Classic. But little did Balvenie’s mild-mannered David Stewart MBE imagine what mischief popping some whisky into a sherry cask would unleash.

Ever since then, the sorcerer’s apprentices have been busy.  The US craft distillers are taking their smoked whiskeys, whiskeys made with heritage corn, wheat, millet, oats or triticale (a rye-wheat hybrid which, full confession, I’d never heard of either) and putting them in brand new wood of every possible variety of oak, barrels made from old pieces of chestnut furniture, beer-aged casks, any former wine barrel known to man and, apparently, even a Japanese fruit liqueur cask.

Virginia-Highland whisky

Virginia-Highland whisky, the kind of thing that gives the SWA sleepless nights

And then I learned that the Virginia Distillery Co. imports single malt Scotch to blend with its own American single malt, and age the result in a cold brew coffee-soaked cask.

Oh, please! That’s enough!  Innovation stops right here! Or am I now the pompous git?  What say you? How far should (not can) innovation go?

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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The Nightcap: 22 March

Looking for bite-sized bits of booze news? That’s exactly what The Nightcap is all about! This week we’ve got stories about distillery facelifts, trees and 47 year old whisky… It’s…

Looking for bite-sized bits of booze news? That’s exactly what The Nightcap is all about! This week we’ve got stories about distillery facelifts, trees and 47 year old whisky…

It’s time once again for the MoM editorial team to remove the selection of stylish toppers from our heads and don our snazzy newsy caps with the little bit of paper saying “PRESS” or “NEWS” sticking out of them. The Nightcap is back for another round of news stories from the booze world. You can wear whatever variety of hat you want as you read it. Perhaps a pillbox hat? A Stetson? A whoopee cap?! All headwear is allowed.

So what’s been going on here on the MoM Blog? Well, it kicked off with Henry looking at Graham’s Blend No. 5 Port, which he followed up with the Cocktail of the Week (it’s a Manhattan) and an overview of the last 20 years of the London cocktail scene. Annie explored the world of terroir and how it relates to vodka. Kristy took a look around the home of American craft distilling pioneer St. George Spirits in San Francisco. Adam collected together a bunch of suitable springtime treats that would make excellent Mother’s Day pressies. We also had a nose around Aberfeldy, and made it so you can use Apple Pay at the checkout!

That’s all well and good, but what about the rest of the news? Read on…

Clynelish

Clynelish, the Highland ‘home’ of Johnnie Walker, is set for a radical revamp

Clynelish and Cardhu set for fancy facelifts

Diageo has revealed the latest recipients as part of its £150 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism – Highland distillery Clynelish, and Speyside’s Cardhu! Local residents have been invited to check out yet-to-be-submitted plans for both sites, which will become outposts for blended Scotch brand Johnnie Walker. Clynelish, situated about an hour north of Inverness, will get a visitor centre on the upper floor, along with a new bar and tasting area, boasting stunning views of the Sutherland coast. As the Highland ‘home’ of Johnnie Walker, the distillery will share design cues with the major new visitor attraction in Edinburgh. Clynelish shares its site with Brora, a long-closed distillery that’s being brought back into production in a separate project. Meanwhile, over in Speyside, Cardhu is also set for a refurb. The distillery, just north of the River Spey near Knockando, will become Johnnie Walker’s Speyside home. It’s association with the brand dates back to 1893 when it became John Walker & Sons’ first distillery. The investment will see a visitor experience dedicated to Helen and Elizabeth Cumming, the two women who set up and ran the distillery in the 19th century, plus a new orchard space for people to enjoy. “Tourism is an increasingly important part of the Speyside economy, alongside distilling,” said Laura Sharp, Cardhu Distillery brand home manager. “The investment we are making here at Cardhu will add another jewel to Speyside’s whisky tourism crown and we look forward to working with the local community and stakeholders as we progress our plans.” Jacqueline James-Bow, her Clynelish counterpart, added: “Scotch whisky tourism is one of the major attractions driving economic growth in rural communities such as Brora. With the work we are already doing at Brora Distillery, and that we plan to do at Clynelish, we are bringing major investment and creating exciting new economic opportunities for the community.” Subject to planning permission, work is expected to get underway at both sites later this year.

Tres Agaves

Feast your eyes on the new Tres Agaves Distillery!

Tres Agaves opens new Tequila distillery

We’ve heard a lot about new distilleries across Scotland and Ireland recently, but this week we bring you news of a pristine Tequila distillery! San Francisco-based Tres Agaves has opened its first production site in Amatitán, Mexico, with Iliana Partida at the helm as its founding master distiller. Tequilera TAP has been custom-built and will continue to make Tres Agaves’ Blanco, Reposado and Añejo 100% agave range, only now with full organic certification. The set-up includes a 20-ton autoclave, a four-stage roller mill, shallow stainless-steel fermentation tanks, and copper coiled alembic distillation stills. As well as the shiny new kit, there’s also a traditional brick horno, a tahona wheel and shallow pine fermentation tanks, to provide time-honoured production options, too. Capacity will reach more than 600,000 litres of spirit per year. Visitors are welcome, and can take advantage of tours and private tastings, including single-barrel releases. The Tres Agaves team seem delighted with the developments. “Tres Agaves has always been about family, the local community and producing the finest quality authentic Tequila,” said Barry Augus, founder and CEO of Tres Agaves Tequila. “I’ve known Iliana’s family for twenty years and even purchased the land for the new distillery from her father, David. The opening of our state-of-the-art distillery with Iliana, whose family I have known since my start in the Tequila industry, marks a major milestone for us.” Congrats to all!

It seems appropriate to celebrate Cotswolds Dry Gin victory with a quick tipple…

ADI names Best of Class craft spirits

Remember when we headed out to San Francisco for the American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits? Well, the winners have been announced! And they are a diverse bunch indeed. Those named Best in Class were deemed outstanding by the individual panels, and then re-tasted by the entire judging contingent – so you know they’re good. And leading the gin charge was England’s very own Cotswolds Distillery, which won the International Gin category with its Dry Gin! Other top tipples were NAUD’s VS Cognac, which won International Brandy; and Casa D’Aristi, which scooped International Liqueur with its Kalani Coconut offering. Kudos also goes to The Heart Distillery which won in the US gin category, Solar Spirits, which snapped up US vodka for its Eclipse Vodka, and Cutwater Spirits, which triumphed in the US Whiskey section with Devil’s Share American Whiskey. Overall, there were hundreds of medals awarded to all kinds of spirits across the category spectrum. Congratulations to all the winners!

Mortlach

Just look at this beauty. Wow

Mortlach releases 47 year old ‘Singing Still’ bottling

We love the meaty taste of Mortlach. It’s not known as the beast of Dufftown for nothing. So, we were particularly excited to learn about a new 47 year old expression from the single malt Scotch distillery. 47 years! Imagine the beastiness. This is the oldest expression ever released by the distillery. It’s the first to hit the market in a new series of single cask whiskies called The Singing Stills Series (can now picture Disney-esque stills actually singing) after Mortlach’s famously vocal distillation equipment. This one is from a refill American oak hogshead that was filled in 1971. “This bottling is exquisite for its age and is unmistakably Mortlach, with its intensely complex character and well-balanced flavour profile,” said master blender Dr. Craig Wilson. Global Scotch ambassador Ewan Gunn added: “The sound of the stills is as distinctive to the distillery as the taste of the whisky. Mortlach’s exceptionally bold and complex flavours effortlessly bridge the gap between mellow and smoky.” Mmmmmm, mellow and smoky. On 25 March one bottle will be auctioned by Bonhams of Singapore with the money going to Daughters of Tomorrow, a charity that supports underprivileged women. A further 94 will go on sale on 9 April for £10,000 apiece. Master of Malt will be given a wee taste soon; we will let you know ASAP whether it’s worth dipping into your wallet.

Barton 1792

You can enjoy bourbon and the Kentucky sunshine with Barreled And Bold

Kentucky distillers team up for free tours!

Great news if you’re Kentucky-bound – Buffalo Trace, Copper & Kings and Barton 1792 have partnered to offer complimentary (yes – free!) distillery tours! Known as Barreled And Bold, the experience takes in each of the three distilleries, based in Frankfort, Louisville and Bardstown respectively. To take part, visitors need to register at BarreledAndBold.com, and then collect their B&B pass at the first stop. The pass gives bearers access to a free tour at each site, and progressive discounts along the journey (10% at the first distillery, 15% at the second, 20% at the third). Visit all three, and get a commemorative gift! “This is not just serendipity, this is allowing for a partnership that can provide an exciting, adventurous window to the past, present and future of distilling in America, well beyond the borders of Kentucky,” said Mark Brown, Buffalo Trace Distillery and Barton 1792 Distillery president and chief executive officer. Copper & Kings founder Joe Heron added: “What a proposition! Bourbon Pompeii to Rock & Roll Brandy, Warehouse X, maybe not SpaceX, but it does feel like a rocket about to take off. Three completely unique perspectives of adventurous Kentucky spirits, Bourbon, American Brandy, Gins and Absinthe. From the barrel for the bold, bold from the barrel. It’s Kentucky hospitality distilled.” We’ve got it on the travel bucket list.

Cooper King Distillery

Cooper King Distillery, doing its bit for the environment

Cooper King marks International Day of Forests by planting hundreds of trees

Over in North Yorkshire, Cooper King Distillery has donated over £1,000 to the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) to mark International Day of Forests on 21 March. The donation will enable it to plant 115 trees! It comes as part of a wider distillery vision to plant 400 trees in its first year of operation. 335 are already in the ground, offsetting 167.5 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of 50kg of carbon dioxide for every bottle of Cooper King gin sold. Imagine if every distillery did that! It’s one of just a handful of distilleries in the UK to run on 100% green energy, and instead of relying on fresh water to supply the cooling system, the team uses a nifty closed loop system, saving an eye-watering 13 tonnes of fresh water every year. Cooper King is also the first distillery in England to launch a scheme encouraging people to bring their empty gin bottles back to be refilled. You’ll get 15% off if you do! Think of it as a much more rewarding supermarket plastic bag scheme. If a small distillery that’s been up and running for less than a year can do this, why aren’t others stepping up? As Michael Delvin, development manager at YDMT, commented: “Big businesses can learn a lot from passionate start-ups such as Cooper King Distillery.” Hopefully it will inspire many more to follow suit.

Near & Far

Near & Far comes to Camden!

Get a taste of California in Camden at the latest Near & Far

The Near & Far family of bars is growing once again! With locations already in Peckham and Angel, another bar has just opened in Camden. The third instalment spans four floors of Californian-inspired decor, with room for 180 happy guests. Prepare yourself for palm trees, pastel hues and a copious number of cacti. There’s even a roof terrace which, being in England and all that, is sure to get its fair share of use all year round. With a cocktail menu inspired global tastes and Mexican street food from Elote, there’s literally something for everyone. A few of the cocktails are old favourites from other bar locations, as well as some new blood on the scene (not literally). We’re sure a favourite is going to be The Benedict Cucumberbatch – though isn’t that just his regular name..? There’s also a fabulous range of non-alcoholic cocktails and beers. In even more good news, it’s open seven days a week! Now, near or far, you’ve no excuse not to go…

P(our) Symposium

P(our) Symposium will come to the English capital for the first time

P(our) Symposium heads to London

Listen up, bartenders and other booze folk: thought-provoking non-profit convention P(our) is coming to London for the first time! As well as revealing the location for the proceedings (Village Underground, 24 June), the team has also unveiled this year’s topic: Understanding. Speakers unpacking the theme through a variety of talks and collaborations include Isabella Dalla Ragione, and agronomist and expert on biodiversity; Brigitte Sossou Perenyi, a documentary producer and author; and bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. More names will be announced in due course. “We’re excited to bring to the fore this year’s theme of ‘Understanding’, looking at it from different perspectives – where it comes from, why it’s important, where more is needed and how it can be built,” said co-founder Monica Berg. Other P(our) founding members include Alex Kratena, Simone Caporale, Ryan Chetiyawardana, Jim Meehan, Joerg Meyer and Xavier Padovani, who united to bring and embrace change in drinks through discovering new ideas, sharing information, and exchanging inspiration. Tickets for P(our) are free, will be released in April through an application process. Fancy going along? keep your eyes peeled.

Highland Whisky Festival

Fancy Glen Ord? It will offer visitors a chance to operate the distillery themselves

Highland Whisky Festival reveals programme, complete with Game of Thrones tasting

The Highland Whisky Festival, Scotland’s newest whisky event, is really taking shape! Set to run from 10-17 May, the celebration takes in distilleries across one of Scotland’s most beautiful and varied, though often overlooked, regions. Programme highlights include a special Game of Thrones tasting at Clynelish on 12 May, and a peek inside the soon-to-be reborn Brora distillery. Balblair will screen Ken Loach’s film The Angel’s Share among the casks of Dunnage no. 3, while on 14 May Glenmorangie will host a special single cask dinner. Meanwhile, the brave team at Glen Ord will offer visitors a chance to operate the distillery themselves on 16 May (sounds potentially dangerous.) To round things off on 17 May, Tomatin will roll out the barrel with live coopering demonstrations and a dinner, just in case you need more feasting after a week of festivities. It all sounds brilliant!

Bacardi

Look at its little face. This is vitally important work

And Finally… Bacardi backs the bats in Puerto Rico

We are a bunch of animal lovers here at MoM Towers. From cat pictures to office dogs, we are fans of all things fluffy. And the not so fluffy too, it turns out. News reached us this week that Bacardi Limited, owner of Bacardi rum (makes sense), has been rewarded for its efforts to protect bats at its rum distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico, and our hearts soared. Like a bat in flight. Bacardi picked up WHC Conservation Certification, becoming the first site on the island to do so. What’s all the fuss about? Well, the bat programme offers education to employees and locals alike, stressing the creature’s importance to the island’s ecosystem. The company is also working to restore the natural forest area near its campus, creating a better habitat for the local bats. “Bacardi is an environmental leader, voluntarily managing its lands to support sustainable ecosystems and the communities that surround them,” said Margaret O’Gorman, president, Wildlife Habitat Council. “Achieving certification at the Bacardi Corporation facility in Puerto Rico demonstrates the company’s commitment to the environment, employee engagement and community relations.” Hurrah for Bacardi! And actually, looking at that little dude above, we reckon bats fall into the fluffy animal category, after all…

That’s it for The Nightcap for this week, folks. Have a marvellous weekend!

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St George Spirits: The home of dynamic distilling

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team. Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco…

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team.

Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco – the confines of the street grids and the expanse of sky, the nostalgia and the novelty, the big business and the homelessness – is a startling stretch of nothing. After the colour, the noise, the sharp undulations of the city, arriving the St George Spirits Distillery in Alameda is disorienting.

Driving down West Midway and onto Monarch Street, you feel like you’ve landed on a different planet. The scale is extraordinary; cavernous buildings set back from the road, each in acres of space, barely another car to be seen. The proportions, the flatness, the emptiness are the opposite of the city across the water. I was half an hour ahead of schedule when my Lyft pulled up outside St George, one of the last buildings on the island. I’d enormously overestimated the time it would take to drive over from the city, and was feeling as worried about my early arrival as I was surprised by Alameda’s quiet. It all felt mildly post-apocalyptic.

St George Spirits

Storm incoming: the view from St George back to San Francisco on a grey day. We promise the city is there somewhere

The weather didn’t help. A winter storm was about to roll in; sensible types were already safely harboured from the forecast deluge. My driver had inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, dropped me on the wrong side, keen to get back over the bridges into the city before the worst of the weather. The St George building was as huge as all the others, and I wondered if anyone would hear my knock. They did. A warm, friendly welcome greeted me, completely at odds to the starkness outside; one of the distilling team led me through the impressive 65,000 sq ft production and warehouse space. There were two banks of gleaming stills, vats and tanks galore, and near-floor to ceiling racking – more on all that shortly. It somehow felt far smaller on the inside that it did from the outside, stack after stack of maturing spirits filling the vast space to the brim. Out the other side, right by the really rather obvious entrance I should have arrived at, was a generous visitor area, with two bars and a shop at the far end. Windows down the exterior wall provided a glorious view back to San Francisco, with all its towers. There’s nothing between the distillery and the city except for a wash of wetland, the Bay itself, and an expanse of concrete which turned out to be a disused runway.

St George Spirits roof

St George barrels and the original WWII hangar roof

“This is World War II construction, an old aircraft hangar,” confirmed Dave Smith, St George Spirits head distiller and vice president, an animated yet softly-spoken fellow who joined the team nearly 14 years ago. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me despite my poor timekeeping, and welcomed me with literal open arms. “The last squadron stationed in the hangar prior to the base’s retirement was Atkron 304, known as the Firebirds, which were made up of Grumman A-6 Intruders.” The scale of the buildings now makes sense, and when I looked into the site afterwards it turns out it was a Naval air base that only closed in 1997.

‘Creating a movement’

St George Spirits dates back to well before the airfield closed, though in a different location. Jörg Rupf, widely considered to be the father of American artisan distilling, set up St George way back in 1982 – long before hipster beards and ubiquitous quirkiness overran the territory marked ‘craft’. He travelled to the US on an assignment from the Ministry of Culture in his native Germany, but it was San Francisco, and his family heritage as Black Forest brandy makers, that shaped his course. It started with eaux-de-vie, pear in particular, made in a tiny “20ft by 20ft” room, Smith told me. Times might have changed when it comes to production scale (the team moved to the current site in 2004) but fruit brandy remains an integral part of the St George offering today.

St George Spirits

St George Pear Brandy in front of the distillery – a starting point for the brand

The breadth of the distillery’s product portfolio is one indicator as to why a visit to St George Spirits is high on the bucket list for so many drinks lovers, myself included. And that’s where we began, hunkered down at one of the gleaming bars as the storm swept in across the Bay. As he poured St George Pear Brandy, Smith was keen to stress just how much of a catalyst Rupf was for the US spirits scene. “Jörg was really thoughtful about helping other distillers,” he said. “He really had a sense of ‘all ships will rise’; he created a movement.” Under his mentorship, other distillers set up shop, and he shared his expertise in fermentation and distilling, especially with regards to eaux-de-vies and fruit spirits – drinks totally new to the market, at the time. It’s a category that makes perfect sense for California, with its lush fruit harvests.

And that’s what you get with Pear Brandy – a hit of fresh lushness. It’s made with Bartlett pears, and a lot of them: there are 30-35lb of pears in each bottle. Why Bartlett pears? “We want small fruit, so the essential oils are very concentrated,” Smith said. The cinnamon spice, pear drop notes develop during a two-week fermentation, with the spirit eventually made in a 250-litre pot still. “Our job as distillers is to be expressive of the raw materials,” Smith stated. It’s this pear spirit that is the base for so many other St George products, including the All Purpose Vodka. That vibrant pear note is like a signature sillage you pick up throughout the portfolio.

St George Spirits

All kinds of distilling options at St George

We tasted our way through the vodka line with California Citrus and Green Chile Vodka. It’s here that the St George philosophy to showcase raw materials really hits home. The spirit is made with five different chilies (jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros, then red and yellow bell peppers) in a mix of infusions and distillations, depending on what flavours, textures and heat levels each technique extracts. “We separate these things out, and then recombine,” he explained. “I can use alcohol as a solvent, I can distil, I can infuse… But I don’t want things to be complex for the sake of being complex.” The creativity, the technicalities, the detail… it’s mind-boggling. And this is just for one bottling among 20 or so – not including limited-run expressions.

Transparent production

We moved on from the vodkas to the trio of St George gins, each distinct, each characterful, but each clearly St George. We start with Dry Rye, which, as the name implies, uses 100% pot-distilled rye spirit as a base. It’s juniper-forward, with just five other botanicals: black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, grapefruit peel and lime peel, combining for a rich, warming hit, but never overpowering the rye character. “We’re trying to find things that are expressive, and that have a statement to make,” Smith said. Next is Botanivore, Smith’s “botanical leader” made with a whopping 19 botanicals with a mix of infusions, macerations and distillations. It’s deliciously complex on the palate, still with that vital juniper but with a St George eccentricity, too.

St George Spirits gin

The trio of St George gins

Next up: Terroir Gin, which was actually the first St George gin, Smith explained. It was master distiller and president Lance Winters who came up with the concept. “He was picking up his son from summer camp, when he had the idea,” he detailed. When you taste the gin, you can picture the scene: the mountains, the forests, the sea. It’s California in a bottle, an evocative, aromatic gin made with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, coastal sage and other local botanicals. The flavour is earthy, outdoorsy, and especially effective with a building storm as a backdrop.

Time to segue into whiskey. First stop: the latest batch of Breaking & Entering, an intriguing expression that blends sourced bourbon and rye with some of St George’s own California malt whiskey. “We want to be really transparent that we’re not making it all in-house,” Smith stated. “And as none of the four grains are more than 51%, there really isn’t a category that we can label it as.” The rye, barley, corn and wheat mashbill is balanced so that none is prominent, but all is delicious. The 2018 edition was bursting with rich, pastry notes, jammy red fruits and dash of menthol, all wrapped up in a sweetcorn smoothness. A treat, indeed.

Just one of the very many barrel types

The final thing we tasted before stepping back into the distillery was St George Single Malt, a fascinating expression that Smith described as a “brandy made from grain”. Winters’ background is brewing; combine that with the eaux-de-vie obsession that underpins operations, and this starts to make sense. The barley at the base of this bottling is malted in multiple ways, including smoking some over beech and alder wood. Different barrels, from ex-Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee, to Port pipes and both French and local wine casks, contribute all kinds of flavours. Maturation spans from four to 19 years. You’d expect it to be bonkers, but it works. It’s batch-produced and changes each year, but the 2018 expression was like a sweetly-spiced hot chocolate, with zesty orange top notes. Lovely stuff. And that’s just part of the portfolio; after the distillery tour we sampled the Raspberry Brandy, Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau de Vie, California Reserve Agricole Rum, Raspberry Liqueur, Spiced Pear Liqueur, NOLA Coffee Liqueur, Bruto Americano bitters and Absinthe Verte, complete with a mischievous monkey on the label. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a range from a single producer. Tasting the whole lot in one morning was quite an experience.

Influences and inspiration

St George lays claim to a number of American-firsts in that list, including the Absinthe, which Smith described as “the worst kept secret in the Bay Area for about a decade prior to its official release”. Many defy category definitions (can you even make Rhum Agricole in California? The answer is yes, as long as you drop the ‘h’), and walking through the production space it all starts to make sense. The team here has an infatuation with flavour and a mastery of raw materials and process. There are five pot stills ranging in size from 250 litres to 1,500 litres, including hybrids with column options and an old Holstein, plus a coffee roaster dating back to 1952. If they can possibly make it in house, they will.

St George Spirits

Creation station: All kinds of stills

Grain for spirit currently maturing is floor-malted down the road at Admiral Maltings (“if you think about the real-estate in the Bay Area and what you need for maltings…” Smith says, as an aside). New cask requirements are met by Burgundy-style barrels. The California climate does hit the angel’s share – as much as 10% is lost in the first year, with 3-6% evaporating every year after that. We stopped for a taste of something really exciting – some California Shochu, followed by some unusual cask samples. It was a real treat, and there were yet more examples of surprising ideas coming out of this distillery.

Cali shochu, anyone?

In terms of newness, the stakes ramp up even higher in the St George lab. We stepped into the experiential space and the energy from all the ideas was almost tangible. On the left was a library of samples. Single distillates, infusions and more stack from floor to ceiling. There were two test stills, one 10-litre, one 30-litre, and all kinds of tanks, one even styled to look like Star Wars’ R2-D2. There’s stuff on every surface – you couldn’t call it clutter because it all felt purposeful, like the next big idea could be in any of those little bottles.

St George Spirits

Dave Smith gets the cask sample spirit flowing

“It’s what we’re influenced by, what we’re excited by,” Smith said. “We need to do more than what we did yesterday, increase our repertoire and techniques.” Not everything is successful, he added. But it doesn’t need to be. There’s clearly no fear of failure here, which goes some way to explaining why the range of St George spirits is not just delicious, but incredibly diverse.

St George Spirits lab

Experimental lab stills!

We headed out of the room and back to the bar. The storm was in full swing; rain pounding against the windows, the old WWII wooden roof hollering in the elements. You couldn’t even see across the old runway, let alone make out any shape of the city beyond. Smith looked around back towards the distillery as if taking it all in, and summed up what seems to be the St George philosophy: “We create things because we can.” And what better reason is there than that?

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The Nightcap: 15 March

Rock, rye and Bristol – that’s what The Nightcap is about this week (among other things. There are many, many other things, too). Time to dig in! Spring is here….

Rock, rye and Bristol – that’s what The Nightcap is about this week (among other things. There are many, many other things, too). Time to dig in!

Spring is here. Kinda. Meteorological spring has been here for a while, but astronomical spring is kicking off next Wednesday. Also, the weather has still been a bit grim. We’re in a bit of a weird mini-season, which we’re going to call wing, partly because it’s the words winter and spring smooshed together, and partly as an homage to Wings, the band The Beatles could have been. Anyway, kick start your wonderful wing weekend with our weekly round-up of booze news – it’s The Nightcap!

Here’s what has been happening on the MoM Blog this week. Our Annie chatted to Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey’s Tony Carroll and then showed off our Cocktail of the Week – The Shallow Negroni. Henry started up a new weekly feature for the blog focusing on exciting new arrivals at MoM Towers, and then did a spot of reading (whiskey-related reading, of course). Kristy caught up on all things Irish whiskey with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton, and had a look at the plans for Gordon & MacPhail’s upcoming distillery. Adam then checked out the new series of photogenic whiskies from Berry Bros. & Rudd. Good stuff all around.

Now. On with the news!

Pernod Ricard

Will Pernod Ricard follow in the footsteps of Diageo and sell its wine brands?

Is Pernod Ricard about to sell its wine brands?

This week, we’re kicking off The Nightcap by dipping our toes into the world of reports, speculation and rumour – but if true, this development could significantly shape the structure of the global wine industry. On 13 March, Bloomberg reported that Pernod Ricard, best-known perhaps for its Jameson, The Glenlivet, Beefeater, and Havana Club spirits brands, is thinking about selling off its wine division. Why is this significant? Because its wine portfolio includes the likes of Jacob’s Creek and Campo Viejo, some of the biggest wine brands in the world. Pernod Ricard itself is tight-lipped, but if it does decide to sell up, it wouldn’t be the first spirits-maker to sharpen its focus on spirits by sacking off the wine. In 2015, Diageo offloaded its Chateau and Estate wine brands to Treasury Wine Estates, and in 2017, Campari Group sold off the Château de Sancerre winery, its final foothold in wine. Will Pernod Ricard follow suit? We’ll have to wait and see – probably with a glass of wine in-hand.

WSTA Brexit

Brexit is difficult and confusing. Booze? Now that we understand…

WSTA ‘delighted’ by apparent Brexit delay

If you’ve had one eye on UK politics this week, you’ll know there’s been a right load of drama. Votes left, right and centre, rebellious MPs, and more confusion than how and why Stonehenge was built – it’s been a palaver and a half. One group who have some sort of handle on what it all means for drinks is the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). On Wednesday, the day after Theresa May’s deal was thrown out (again), Miles Beale, WSTA chief exec, said the drinks trade faced “deeper uncertainty, and for longer”. He continued: “We welcome the decision that there would be a temporary suspension of tariffs on wine and most spirits under ‘No Deal’,” adding that more action was needed to keep the booze industry flowing. He was in chirpier spirits on Thursday though, when he said the WSTA was “delighted” to see ‘No Deal’ off the table. But is it actually? Beale said it was “imperative” for the government to pass emergency legislation before 29 March, the UK’s current leaving date. Still confused? Us too. “The wine and spirit industry still lacks clarity as to what the trading landscape will look like when we do leave the EU,” Beale continued. Can we have some of that clarity too, please?

Foo Fighters

It’s Times Like These you learn to love bourbon! Image: Andreas Lawen

Foo Fighters named Bourbon & Beyond headliners

Like your bourbon with a side of rock and folk? Then you’d better head on down to Louisville, Kentucky from 20-22 September. Annual festival Bourbon & Beyond, founded by whiskey author Fred Minnick and music exec Danny Wimmer, is a celebration of bourbon, music and food (throw in cats and you’ll have our top four all-time favourites), and this week the line-up was announced. Top of the bill? The Foo Fighters! Other acts include John Fogerty, The Flaming Lips, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and loads more, including one big name yet to be revealed. The bourbon line-up is also pretty impressive. Festival-goers will be able to sample more than 40 brands, including the likes of Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace, Coopers’ Craft, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Michter’s, Old Forester, Wild Turkey, WL Weller, and Woodford Reserve. Blenders and distillers will be on hand to dish out info about their brands, and there’s a full programme of masterclasses, too. Tickets go on sale today, 15 March! Time to book some flights…

Aber Falls

All smiles at Aber Falls distilling Wales’s first rye

Aber Falls distils Wales’s first rye!

Rye whisky fans, we bring you glad tidings: Aber Falls has distilled its first ever rye whisky! It seems that Aber Falls is a distillery of firsts, as it is also the first whisky distillery that North Wales has seen for over 100 years. The distillery has been producing new-make malt spirit for just little over a year, since January 2018. Of course, the rye whisky will only be available from 2020, once it’s mature. Though it appears rye is the first of many plans, as the distillery is aiming to put itself on the world whisky map, building a portfolio fit for the next 20 years. Innovation is key to the distillery and James Wright, managing director at Aber Falls stated that this addition of a rye whisky “allows us to bring into the fold whisky drinkers beginning their journey of experimentation”. For both new and seasoned whisky drinkers, this is fantastic news from those Aber Falls folks.

legent

Introducing: Legent, which you will find at MoM Towers later this year…

Meet Legent, a bourbon where ‘East meets West’

When Japan’s Suntory Holdings snapped up US-based Beam, Inc. in 2014, it was a very stark union of East and West. And this accord is now playing out in actual whiskey! Behold Legent (pronounced ‘lee-jent’), an unusual bourbon developed jointly by Fred Noe, seventh-generation Jim Beam master distiller, and Shinji Fukuyo, the chief blender at Suntory whisky, and only the fifth person to ever hold the role. Legent starts life as a Kentucky straight bourbon made with a classic Beam recipe. It’s then aged in wine and sherry casks, before being blended with more straight bourbon for a “perfectly balanced yet complex and layered” tipple. Takeshi Niinami, Suntory Holdings CEO, described the expression as “the perfect articulation of the amazing things that can be achieved when two great cultures come together as one”. We’re intrigued – but might have to wait a bit to taste it. Legent is due to land a MoM Towers later this year.

Circumstance Distillery

The “unashamedly funky” Circumstance Distillery

Circumstance distillery releases saison yeast spirit

You want innovation? The team at Circumstance Distillery in Bristol has it coming out of their ears. Not content with offering pre-sales with their very own cryptocurrency, the team is now pushing the envelope with the first release. Called Circumstantial Barley, it will be made from 100% British malted barley. Doesn’t sound so crazy does it? The interesting thing is the fermentation process. In addition to distillers yeast, the team is using a French saison beer yeast, and the whole lot ferments for nearly two weeks. Most distilleries are all done within two days. The resulting wash is packed full of flavour. It’s then put through a short column still and, according to head distiller Mark Scot, aged for “six months on a combination of charred bespoke oak spindles and first-fill bourbon casks”. The result? “A beautiful raw spirit, and our short ageing techniques allows the quality of the raw spirit to shine through,” he continued. Co-founder Danny Walker added: “We have thrown out the rule book and are focusing on flavour over tradition and experimenting with every step of the process to make a ‘new world’-style spirit.” It will be bottled 45% ABV and cost £44 for 700ml bottle. Circumstance has a rye and an “unashamedly funky” (who is ashamed of being funky?) white rum in the pipeline. We want to try them all!

Waterford Distillery

Say hello to Hunter (the barley, not the person)

Waterford Distillery successfully makes spirit from heritage Hunter barley

Those barley- and terroir-obsessed Waterford folks are at the grain experimentation game again – this time with a spirited outcome! This week the distillery successfully distilled 10,000 litres of spirit – 50 barrels-worth – from a barley varietal that’s not been available to distillers for 40 years. The grain in question is called Hunter, named after a chap called Herbert Hunter who worked in barley breeding at Ireland’s Cereal Station (cool name, vital work). Hunter (the barley, not the person) was introduced in 1959, but was last used in 1979 when it fell out of favour as other strains provided better yields. So why bring it back now? It’s all part of efforts, led by the Waterford team, to take a flavour-focused approach to barley selection, rather than solely focusing on how much booze it generates. “Contrary to what much of the industry is telling drinkers, flavour starts with the grain and the terroir in which it’s grown,” said Neil Conway, Waterford’s head brewer. “Hunter is an old favourite, a very successful variety, so much so that it dominated for 20 years. That’s why we’re working with Minch Malt and our growers – we’re on the hunt for profound sources of flavour, even if that means going back decades to find these forgotten treasures.” Good luck to them! The Hunter development at Waterford follows the production of the ‘world’s first’ biodynamic whiskey at the distillery last year.

Kestin Hare x BenRiach

Those look lovely – and the clothes are nice too…

Kestin Hare x BenRiach collection arrives

We knew that whisky was fashionable, but combining whisky and fashion? That’s new! Scottish menswear designer Kestin Hare has joined forces with BenRiach distillery for his Spring Summer 2019 Collection! It features five different garments inspired by the whisky itself, the Speyside landscape and architecture of BenRiach distillery. The clothing has been dyed with peat, each shade representing a different aged single malt from BenRiach. Peat isn’t the only influence for the collection; inspired by the whisky casks themselves, Hare created a digital print that reflects the colours and patterns seen on the wood. What’s more, the pieces are fully functional for a trip to Speyside! They’re made from water-resistant fabrics inspired by golfing and fishing garments, while the colour scheme, full of golden sand, grass green and peaty tones, is sure to help you blend into the natural surroundings. Or camouflage into a wall full of BenRiach whiskies. It’s up to you. The SS19 collection can be found in store, online and in selected global retailers from today.

Francois Badel and Aldrick John Baptiste

Congrats to Francois Badel and Aldrick John Baptiste!

Francois Badel and Aldrick John Baptiste named Mai Tai Champions

How’s that for a title – Mai Tai Champion? Well, we now have two new ones following the conclusion of the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge 2019. What is such a challenge? The Saint Lucian rum brand whisked a whole host of talented bartenders to the island’s Rodney Bay (aka, paradise) to put them through their paces. This was after heats in France, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Switzerland, Canada and the US, so we know we’re dealing with the world’s best here. Each bartender was then paired up with a local St Lucian bartender to collaborate on creating an incredible original Mai Tai-like serve using local ingredients and Chairman’s Reserve as a base. Each pair then had to present their creation to a panel, demonstrating the culture of St Lucia at the same time. And France’s Francois Badel and St Lucia’s Aldrick John Baptiste were named champions! “I was taken aback by the passion these skilful bartenders had for Chairman’s Reserve,” said Margaret Monplaisir, St Lucia Distillers managing director. “Their attention to every detail, their enthusiasm, and knowledge of Chairman’s Reserve was remarkable.” Mai Tai, anyone?

And finally… Joss Stone performs in North Korea as part of ultimate bar crawl

Yep, you read that right. Pop singer Joss Stone, best known for early noughties tunes such as Fell in Love with a Boy and You Had Me, has taken to the stage in a North Korean bar, of all places. Two questions: why; and, surely this isn’t newsworthy?! Bear with us. Stone is embarking on a literal world tour, or in her words, “to bring loveliness in the form of music to every single country on our planet”. It’s a noble effort. She’s already sung in Syria. And why is it newsworthy? We all have ambitions: to drink in every watering hole in town (responsibly, of course); visit as many breweries as possible; enjoy a dram at every Islay distillery. We reckon performing in every country in the world, taking in its many myriad bars as you go, is the stuff of dreams. It’s something we’d certainly sign up for if we could hold a tune. And the more adventurous of us would include North Korea in that…

On that note, have excellent weekends, folks!

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The Nightcap: 8 March

The weekend is almost here, and we wouldn’t want you to go into a wonderful Saturday without a whole heap of booze news – hence, The Nightcap! It has been…

The weekend is almost here, and we wouldn’t want you to go into a wonderful Saturday without a whole heap of booze news – hence, The Nightcap!

It has been a long ol’ week, despite being around the same number of hours as every other week for about… Well, since weeks were invented. Whoever did that should have made them shorter, because then you would get more editions of our weekly round-up of stories from the world of boozes. Maybe write a letter to the week inventor. See if they can get rid of a day or two somewhere. Thursday has always felt a bit extraneous.

Anyway, what’s been happening on the MoM Blog this week? Well, Kristy has been chatting to some of the amazing women who work here at MoM Towers in celebration of International Women’s Day (it’s today, by the way) – you can read all of those interviews right here. Annie once again did her best Mystic Meg impression and looked at the bars of the future that exist today. Henry watched whisky on the big screen, found out more about Israel’s Milk & Honey distillery and brewed up something tasty for Cocktail of the Week – the Espresso Martini. Adam greeted the new season with open arms and tasty garnishes as he looked at delicious spring spirits. We also did some more winning, this time at the UK eCommerce Awards.

Say hello to Diageo’s first women apprentice coopers

Diageo recruits first women apprentice coopers!

In case it had escaped your attention, today is International Women’s Day. And there was some exciting news from Diageo this week which makes a fitting top Nightcap post! The drinks group has recruited the world’s first female coopering apprentices at its Cambus Cooperage in Scotland. Angela Cochrane and Kirsty Olychick are part of a 16-strong team of apprentices at the Coopering School, where traditional coopering skills are taught over the four-year course. Both women are in their 30s, not just shattering the stereotype that coopering is exclusively a career for men, but also that apprenticeships are only open to school-leavers. “I’ve never been put off by gender stereotypes,” said Cochrane. “I don’t think that should stop anyone from doing what they want to do. And knowing you’re contributing to the growing whisky industry is an amazing feeling.” Olychick added: “Coming into a male-dominated workplace didn’t put me off at all, in fact I found it really empowering to be one of the first women to take up the craft and make my mark in history. It’s such an exciting prospect to think that I’ll be contributing to the next generation of Scotch.” We’re raising a dram to them both – while hoping that at some point soon stories like this won’t be newsworthy as there will be genuine equal representation across the spirits industry.

We should celebrate, with some Aperol of course!

Aperol sales soar by 28% as Campari Group reports ‘strong’ results

Financial results time! And Campari’s full-year stats make for interesting reading. Vibrantly-hued Aperol continued its global charge, with sales soaring by more than 28% over the year, while Campari saw sales climb by 5.1% (Negronis are still ON). Wild Turkey (+7%), Grand Marnier (+5.2%), Bulldog Gin (+7.2%), and the Jamaican rum portfolio (+8.3%, includes the likes of Appleton Estate and Wray & Nephew Overproof) all did very well. Not so good for Skyy vodka though, which saw 8.1% declines, blamed on weaknesses in the US, or Glen Grant, which saw sales fall by 5.7%. An agave price hike impacted profitability, although its Espolòn Tequila brand posted emphatic 26.1% gains. Overall, total group organic sales climbed by +5.3%, and CEO, Bob Kunze-Concewitz, is happy. “We remain confident in achieving a positive performance across the key underlying business indicators in 2019,” he said.

Meet Igor Boyadjian!

All change at the top: The Macallan names new MD

Single malt Scotch brand The Macallan is about to get a new managing director! Following news that Scott McCroskie, current MD, is off to lead parent company Edrington, Igor Boyadjian has been named as his successor. Boyadjian leads Asia Pacific & India at Edrington, and will take up his new post – and a spot on the Edrington executive team – from 1 April. He first joined Edrington in 2017 to lead the travel retail operations, but had partnered with the company for more than a decade before that as part of its Edrington-F.I.X. Middle East joint venture. “I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to help chart the next stage in the journey of The Macallan,” Boyadjian said. “Under Scott’s leadership, The Macallan has demonstrated a constant pursuit of excellence and dedication to creating the finest single malt Scotch whisky. It is both an honour and a privilege to work alongside a dedicated and talented group of people all over the world, whose mastery, creativity and pride for the brand have helped push the boundaries to make The Macallan what it is today.” Congrats, Igor!

These bourbon and rye whiskies were distilled before Prohibition.

Rare 1920s bourbon for sale in Kentucky

Lovers of good old time sippin’ whiskey should head to the Frazier Museum in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Thanks to a change in the state alcohol laws, the museum is now allowed to sell some of its collection of rare whiskeys. Known colloquially as “dusty bottles”, they are likely to get bourbon lovers salivating. The first releases of what will become a regular thing are pint bottles of Old Hickory Canadian Rye bottled in 1925, Old Jim Gore Bourbon, distilled 1912 and bottled in 1925, and John Poindexter Old Bourbon, distilled in 1916 and bottled in 1928. The last two were distilled by Wigglesworth Brothers of Harrison County, Kentucky. The bourbons are $2,000 a pop, with the rye a snip at $1,500. Andrew Treinen from the museum told us: “There was a guy waiting to buy one of all three when we opened the morning after the release. We have a small inventory of all brands still available and hopefully more on the way.” Readers will note that they were bottled during Prohibition. How was this even possible? Well, to get around the law forbidding the sale of alcohol, at the time they were sold for medicinal use only. We imagine that doctors were pretty popular people in 1920s America.

The value of rare Scotch whisky has increased by a staggering 600%.

Whisky now a better investment than art, cars or coins

If you’ve got some spare cash to invest, then you could do a lot worse than ploughing it into rare whisky, according to The Wealth Report 2019, released this week. Whisky currently tops the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII) which tracks the value of assets including cars, art and rare coins. The whisky index, based on the auction values of 100 bottles of rare Scotch, has increased in value by 40% in the last 12 months. In the past ten years, prices have risen by nearly 600%! That’s a lot of moolah. Much of this growth is driven by the Asian market. “The stunning price growth of rare single malt whiskies shows that the appetite for new ‘alternative’ asset classes remains strong among high-net-worth investors,” said Andrew Shirley, editor of The Wealth Report and the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index. Andy Simpson, co-founder Rare Whisky 101 added: “While rare whisky remains a somewhat fledgling asset class compared to some other passion investments, the market for rare and vintage bottles has witnessed extraordinary growth over the past ten years.” We should point out, of course, that assets can go down in value as well as up. Nothing is guaranteed. However, the great thing about whisky is that if prices do collapse, at least you will have something to drown your sorrows with.

Even more Irish whiskey to come!

Ireland officially has another working distillery – welcome to the party, Clonakilty!

We all know Irish whiskey is booming, and now there’s another distillery to add to the must-visit list. On 5 March, the waterfront Clonakilty Distillery and Visitor Experience in West Cork opened its doors! In addition to its three-still stillhouse and whiskey and gin production, the site has a story room which tells the tale of Clonakilty town’s brewing and smuggling history, a gin school, a bistro, and a fancy gift shop. The distillery is open to the public from Tuesday through to Sunday, and tours can be booked on the distillery website. Clonakilty becomes Ireland’s 23rd operational distillery, and reckons it will attract as many as 35,000 visitors a year. Congrats, all!

Say hello to Tamdhu’s new 15 Year Old!

Raise a glass to Tamdhu’s new 15 Year Old

It wouldn’t be the Nightcap if there wasn’t news of delicious new whisky. Scotch single malt distillery Tamdhu has done the decent thing this week and launched a new limited edition 15-year-old annual release. Fans of the Speyside drop will be pleased to know it’s as sherry-tastic as ever, having been matured in American and European oloroso-seasoned casks for the full 15 years. Tamdhu 15 Year Old was bottled at 46% ABV without any chill-filtration or additional colouring, and is said to be a complex and rich dram that delivers notes of apple pastry, spiced currants, orange zest, juicy apricot, vibrant raspberry, almonds, malt biscuit, cream sherry and vanilla. The bespoke bottle sports Tamdhu’s new packaging, which tells the history of the distillery and highlights the significance of sherry casks in its maturation. “We’re extremely proud of our new Tamdhu 15 Year Old,” said Sandy McIntyre, Tamdhu distillery manager. “When you taste a dram of Tamdhu 15 Year Old, you can really taste the time and care that has gone into creating this incredible whisky. We hope Tamdhu drinkers around the world will savour it as much as we do.” You’ll be pleased to know that Tamdhu 15 Year Old is on its way to MoM Towers, so keep an eye out…

The Signature Range has arrived!

Glasgow Distillery Company to launch all kinds of new whisky!

The Glasgow Distillery Company, founded in 2014, has made the sort of announcement that makes us geek out in excitement here at MoM Towers. Glasgow’s first independent single malt whisky distillery since 1902 is poised to release not one but three new Scotch whiskies! Alongside the return of its 1770 Single Malt Scotch Whisky in the form a 2019 edition, meet peated and triple-distilled expressions, 1770 Peated and 1770 Triple Distilled. Most excitingly, these three together will form one awesome collective, like the Power Rangers, except this one is called the Signature Range. The first 1770 release sold out in 2018, so many will be delighted to welcome it back. Matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks, finished in virgin oak and non-chill filtered, the new 1770 Single Malt is available to pre-order now from the brand’s website. The first peated expression will follow in late 2019 and the triple-distilled bottling will appear in early 2020. “Innovation is very important to us, and the announcement of the 1770 Signature Range is no different,” said Liam Hughes, CEO and co-founder. “We’re proud to be one of a select few distilleries in Scotland to have three different styles of single malt as part of their core whisky offering.” Exciting stuff!

Congratulations to Hannah Lanfear!

Hannah Lanfear is the new Armagnac educator for the UK

The wonderful Hannah Lanfear (who we spoke to as part of last year’s International Woman’s Day series) now has another exciting role: she is the new Armagnac educator for the UK! Working closely with Amanda Garnham of the BNIA (Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac), Lanfear will present Armagnac masterclasses and training sessions over the next few months to take Armagnac to thrilling new brandy-based heights. The Mixing Class founder has a wealth of experience as a spirits educator for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) up her sleeve. She’s previously hosted WSET classes on Armagnac at Brooklyn Bar Convent in the US, and is an Armagnac judge at spirits competitions. There’s an ever-growing interest in the category, particularly within the bar community, and the versatile, complex brandy looks set for a bright future. “Since travelling to Gascony during distillation season I have completely fallen for this historic brandy,” said Lanfear. “Not only is it an immensely interesting spirit to study the production of, it has a wonderful depth of flavour and is utterly enigmatic in a cocktail. I am thrilled to be able to share the story of Armagnac in London.”

The London Classics

Bimber celebrates London with new drinks range!

Introducing The London Classics, a collection of spirits from Bimber Distillery featuring a London Vodka, a London Gin and a London Rum, all distilled, packaged and labelled by hand at the brand’s West London site. This means the London Classics are 100% made in London, which is very pleasing. The trio was created to offer an alternative to the standard house spirits found in the speed rail of many a bar, pub, restaurant and hotel. Bimber set itself the challenge of rallying against a perceived lack of creativity, individuality and value for money in these tipples. The plan was to create a new range based on character and flavour, housed in stylish, minimalist and convenient bottles that are easy to pour, while being affordable and fun. A lofty ambition, but seeing as we already stock the vodka, gin and rum, you can decide for yourself if these handcrafted, small-batch spirits live up to it.

The Winchester Collection Vintage 1967. The Glenlivet has wowed us.

The Glenlivet teams up with British designer for 50 year old(!) bottling

Today, just literally today, The Glenlivet unveiled The Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, a super-rare 50 year old limited-edition single malt whisky worth $25,000 (around £19,000), with a bottle and display case designed by award-winning British designer Bethan Gray. The whisky marries malts from a number of casks, the youngest of which was filled in December 1967. That’s right, the youngest. With whiskies this old, around 60-80% of the liquid has been lost to the angels’ share – what remains is like gold dust. Or liquid gold, perhaps. No wonder only 150 bottles have been released worldwide. Gray’s grandfather lived and worked in the Cairngorms, close to The Glenlivet, and the misty landscape around the valleys inspired the Dhow pattern that adorns the case. The glass bottle is hand-blown, while the ombré glass mirrors the ageing process of the whisky. The hand-stained maple case, decorated with mother-of-pearl, is made using solid copper overlays, reflecting The Glenlivet’s copper stills, crafted with a technique that was specially invented for this curved case – now try telling us that isn’t special! This is certainly a collector’s item, though beneath all of this is simply some truly outstanding whisky!

The launch of Rémy Martin’s cigar terrace at Dukes didn’t go entirely to plan… (It wasn’t us).

And finally… Rémy Martin smokes out Dukes Bar. Accidentally.

We try to make sure that there’s a Master of Malt representative at all the swankiest events, so naturally we sent someone to cover the opening of the Rémy Martin Cognac and Cigar Garden at Dukes London Mayfair. But while everyone was sipping Rémy XO and puffing on a Romeo Y Julieta, there was trouble brewing. Someone (not us, we hasten to add) had left the door to the terrace open. Consequently, the waft of fine cigar smoke was permeating the entire hotel, including the famous bar presided over by Alessandro Palazzi (winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Class Bar Awards). He came striding through the hotel and told us firmly and politely to keep the door shut. Normally the most genial and relaxed of hosts, it’s the only time we have seen Palazzi looking the tiniest bit flappable. A newsworthy moment indeed. Everyone assumed the naughty schoolkid pose. Sorry, Alessandro!

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Hack six classic cocktails with these at-home essentials

To help bars and pubs whip up everyone’s favourite whisky cocktail quickly and consistently, Woodford Reserve Bourbon has developed a cocktail syrup for the Old Fashioned. Don’t let bartenders hog…

To help bars and pubs whip up everyone’s favourite whisky cocktail quickly and consistently, Woodford Reserve Bourbon has developed a cocktail syrup for the Old Fashioned. Don’t let bartenders hog all the fun, though – cut corners at home with six bottlings that promise to create high quality cocktails in a flash…

If there’s one thing us Brits excel at, it’s waiting. We understand that it sometimes takes 15 years for whisky here to taste nice, and we can form an orderly queue like we were born to do it. But I’ll let you in on a secret – underneath that tight-lipped facade, we’re just as impatient as the rest of the world.

It’s a relief, then, that the good folks at Woodford Reserve Bourbon have been working with some of the UK’s best bartending talent to craft a bespoke cocktail syrup that balances the core flavours of this timeless serve – bitters, sugar and orange essence – because if there’s one thing for which we hate waiting for the most, it’s a cocktail.

“The Old Fashioned is a favourite with the public and bartenders alike, ranking as the world’s best selling classic cocktail and featuring on nine out of 10 of the world’s best bar menus,” Emily Richardson, head of super premium brands at Brown Forman, told Master of Malt.

“However it’s often seen as a complex and time-consuming serve to perfect. By using a pre-made syrup such as Woodford Reserve’s Old Fashioned Cocktail Syrup, the recipe becomes more accessible, making it possible to recreate with ease and consistent quality.”

Oh, and to make the whole process even quicker, Woodford Reserve has launched a barrel programme that enables bartenders to pre-batch the drink on-site – so keep your eyes peeled for two-litre cask on the bar.

Now, efficiency isn’t really an issue when you’re making drinks for your pals at home, but following complicated bartender drinks specs can be. It’s often an exacting task that requires, skill, equipment, and multiple boozes and syrups that frankly, you might not use for another six months.

The solution? Stock your home bar with these bottles to serve six classics in a flash…

The Handmade Cocktail Company Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned in a bottle from The Handmade Cocktail Company

Old Fashioned

Use: The Old Fashioned Cocktail

It would be remiss to begin with any other cocktail, really. Put your faith in the trustworthy folks at The Handmade Cocktail Company and nab this pre-batched bottling to make serving this classic drink a doddle. Pour over ice, stir, and then garnish with a twist of fresh orange peel, it’s as easy as that. It won’t wash the glass up for you afterwards though – you have to do some of the legwork I’m afraid.

Bermondsey Tonic Syrup, just add sparkling water and gin

The G&T

Use: Bermondsey Tonic Syrup

Making a G&T is much like making a cup of tea – we’re super fussy about the ‘best way’ to make it (for the record, it goes tea bag then water then milk). This concentrated tonic syrup from the folks at London gin bar 214 Bermondsey is the solution to your flavour woes. Simply mix it with carbonated water to your taste, add gin, ice and a garnish if you feel fancy and voilà: the ultimate serve.

Tippleworth Espresso Martini,

Tippleworth Espresso Martini, mix with vodka and shake

Espresso Martini

Use: Tipplesworth Espresso Martini Cocktail Mixer

The Espresso Martini isn’t exactly the easiest (or cheapest, let’s face it) cocktail to replicate at home, especially on the fly. Thankfully, her good self Lady Tipplesworth has the remedy: a ready-made mixer made with cold brew coffee. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add 50ml vodka and 50ml mixer, then shake, strain, and serve. Coffee bean garnish optional, Instagram upload essential.

Mr Lyan’s Spotless Martini – nothing else required

Martini

Use: Mr Lyan’s Spotless Martini

Sometimes you’re better leaving it to the experts, amiright? And if there’s one guy who knows a thing or two about ready-made drinks, it’s the living legend that is bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana. What with him launching what was essentially the world’s first bottled cocktail bar back in 2013 and all that. Anyway, his mix of gin, citrus and olive distillates, and vermouth easily puts our amatuer Martini-making efforts to shame. Thanks to the citrus hit, you don’t even need to add a garnish just freeze, pour, and enjoy.

Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita-Mix

Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita Mix

Margarita

Use: Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita Mixer

Who wants to shell out on triple sec and fruit, when you could just crack the lid of this Margarita Mixer? To be clear, this is a BYO Tequila affair. Sure, the good folks Cuervo probably envisaged you using I don’t know Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver, or something, but if you choose to use another brand we promise we won’t dob you in. Just combine one part Tequila with three parts mixer, stir and serve over crushed ice.

Campari Negroni Cocktail

Campari Negroni Cocktail

Negroni

Use: Campari Negroni

As the saying goes, there’s “No Negroni without Campari” – something we imagine the Italian owners of that bitter red liquid continue to be absolutely delighted by, given the drink’s recent resurgence. When aperitif started attracting some serious bartender heat, the folks at Gruppo Campari went the whole hog and combined their beloved booze with London dry gin and (we can only assume) Cinzano Rosso vermouth. The most you’ll have to do is slice an orange.

 

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Despite everything, American whiskey is booming in Britain

With the Super Bowl taking place this weekend, we take a look at how American whiskey sales are growing in the UK, and pick some of our favourites for you…

With the Super Bowl taking place this weekend, we take a look at how American whiskey sales are growing in the UK, and pick some of our favourites for you to enjoy in front of the big game.

Due to recent, ahem, disagreements between the European Commission and the current US administration, there’s currently a whopping 25% tariff imposed on American whiskey (you may have noticed how your favourite bourbon isn’t quite as good value as it once was). People were predicting catastrophe for American whiskey exports – and yet, the UK market is not only holding up, it is positively booming.

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Valentine’s Day gifts for drinks lovers

Mark the occasion of all things love and romance with these Valentine’s Day-themed tipples! The 14th of February approaches. Valentine’s Day. It’s the time of year when you need to…

Mark the occasion of all things love and romance with these Valentine’s Day-themed tipples!

The 14th of February approaches. Valentine’s Day. It’s the time of year when you need to be your most romantic, passionate and thoughtful, but it’s also the day dinner reservations die and expectations go through the roof. Just how on earth are you supposed to come up with an original, Instagram-able way to celebrate your relationships every year?

Luckily, there’s an alternative. A better way. Sure, you could say ‘I love you’ with roses, chocolate or one of those personalised novelty cards with cats on the front (actually, you really should still invest in that last one). But if you want to make this a memorable February 14th, then why not say it with your beloved’s favourite tipple??

Let us play Cupid this year and help you touch the heart of your favourite drinks fan with our round-up of Valentine’s gifts for drinks lovers. Don’t forget you can also give a gift with a personal touch by personalising a bottle of whisky for your beloved. Enjoy!

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The Nightcap: 11 January

It’s our first Nightcap of 2019 so it’s a special bumper edition. We’ve got a lot to get through so without further delay, ado, procrastination or beating about the bush,…

It’s our first Nightcap of 2019 so it’s a special bumper edition. We’ve got a lot to get through so without further delay, ado, procrastination or beating about the bush, here’s what we’ve been up to since the last Nightcap way back in 2018.

Cast your mind back to New Year’s Eve, we know it seems like a long time ago, Adam came up with some top tips to drink on the night. Between Christmas and New Year, we rounded up our most-read stories of 2018, and looked at Glenkinchie’s exciting plans to become a top tourist destination. Then as January began, Annie fell in love with grain whisky and learned how your other senses affect how you taste. Adam produced a list of mouthwateringly-refreshing drinks and got all seasonal with winter-y botanicals. Kristy peered into her crystal ball (yes, she really has a crystal ball) to see what we’ll be drinking in the next few years and spoke to some bigwigs at Johnnie Walker about the future of whisky. And finally, Henry put in a plea for fortified wines, introduced a new regular feature, Cocktail of the Week, and got all bitter and twisted over amari. See what we mean about bumper edition?

And that’s not all. We had our first Dram Club of 2019 and announced a competition to win a VIP trip to Ardbeg!

Such content. Now we can’t hold back the tide of news any longer. Here it comes!

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Master of Malt’s most read stories of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on the news and features that caught your eye the most this year. Well, we’ve reached the end of another year. The…

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on the news and features that caught your eye the most this year.

Well, we’ve reached the end of another year. The Earth has put in another hell of a shift in its orbit around the Sun. Now is the time where we reflect on all that happened in 2018.

It has been another 12 months filled with standout stories, all manner of incidents, and of course highs and lows. Among the articles you read most on our award-winning blog were round-ups of great booze, limited-edition whisky launches, and a sorry tale of a collapsing warehouse. We shed a tear for all that bourbon.

Without further delay, these are the top 10 stories that you read, shared and talked about the most in 2018.

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