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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Brandy

The whole fruit and nothing but the fruit

Fruit brandies are big on the continent but unknown in Britain. Almost unknown, that is. There is one man distilling eau-de-vies in tiny quantities using local fruit and an obsessive…

Fruit brandies are big on the continent but unknown in Britain. Almost unknown, that is. There is one man distilling eau-de-vies in tiny quantities using local fruit and an obsessive attention to detail. Ian Buxton travelled to the Cotswolds to meet him. 

Where do your literary sensibilities lie? Do you prefer Henry James or Marcel Proust to Ian Fleming and Wilbur Smith? Or for an agreeable foreign break, would you choose a cultural tour of little-known Greco-Roman remains over Club 18-30? Nothing wrong with either I should add, but you do need to know what you like. You may, for example, really enjoy very robust Islay single malts or monstrous roaring sherry-soaked whiskies. That’s fine, but if so I’d suggest that you look away now because I doubt that the English fruit brandies (or eaux-de-vie) of the Capreolus Distillery will really float your boat. 

Everything here is about subtlety, refinement, delicacy and precision. These are very cerebral spirits, not for quaffing with roguish abandon but to be savoured, thought about and analysed. These, I would submit, should be drunk with at least some appreciation and regard for the precision that has gone into making them.

Barney Wilczak in action

But who or what is the Capreolus Distillery, I hear you ask. At one level, it’s another of the many tiny craft distilleries we’ve seen spring up over recent years. This one is based in a converted Cotswolds greenhouse, with a garage serving as warehouse and dry goods store.  Two small Czech stills are the engine at its heart and self-taught distiller (and professional photographer, see photos in the article) Barney Wilczak presides over the operation. A highly-regarded gin first drew the world’s attention.

So far, so unexceptional: well-rated gin from a start-up distillery is praiseworthy (and the gin is very, very delicious) but not all that unusual. What really makes Capreolus stand out are the fruit brandies. Eaux-de-vies are not an English tradition. With the exception of cider and, less often perry, fruit has conventionally been used in England for preserves and desserts whereas in much of continental Europe small-scale, artisanal distilling is well established. Indeed, such is its importance that in France, Germany, Hungary and Italy among other nations it’s considered part of their cultural patrimony, enjoys an honoured place in the drinking repertoire and is an essential component in gastronomy. Oh, and upstart outsiders are looked at sceptically. 

Fermented raspberries

Fermented raspberries being transferred to still by hand

In working with locally-grown English apples, pears, quince, plums, damsons, greengages, blackcurrants, raspberries and other fruits, Wilczak has taken on a considerable challenge.  Not only are the products a minority taste in the UK, his meticulous approach means they are incredibly demanding and expensive to produce. His pursuit of absolute purity of taste borders on the obsessive: only the finest fruit is selected, no sugar is added and only wild yeasts employed in fermentation. Very considerable quantities of fruit are required to produce even a single litre of distillate.

Just imagine examining 34.5 kilos of raspberries by hand. Each single berry is inspected, damaged berries or leaves removed and prior to fermentation the fruit is washed by hand.  When bottled at 43% ABV, Wilczak estimates that there’s the equivalent of one kilo of raspberries in each 25cl measure or, as he puts it, “100,000 pips in every glass”. 

Even using a 37.5cl bottle as standard, this painstaking approach means that quantities are very limited: in 2018 there were a mere 93 bottles of the Raspberry Eaux-de-Vie and despite a price tag of £120 they were soon all gone. Other expressions are similarly restricted: 106 bottles of Damson, 142 of Greengage, and 194 from the Quince, every single one of which was picked by hand, then individually washed to remove any trace of a fine fluff that becomes rancid after distillation. 

Guarding the precious eaux-de-vie

The results are remarkable, with an intensity and delicacy that is hard to convey on paper.  What Wilczak is doing seems closer to perfumery than distillation as we understand or usually experience it. The natural home of these products would be a Michelin-starred restaurant where they can be served with due ceremony and appreciation as the culmination of an exceptional gastronomic experience. I should add that a little goes a long way, but that these are a quite exquisite expression of the transcendental power of distillation to preserve the essence of the base ingredient whilst magically transforming our understanding of the fruit to a profound new level.

That may be a candidate for Pseuds Corner but, if you had tried any of these products you’d understand. Here’s a tip: start with the Garden Swift Gin. Not only is it less expensive, it’s the ideal pathway to understanding what has been achieved here. Personally, I’m happy to sip it neat, very slowly, and restrict myself to a single, small glass (not a sentence I write all that often).

Click here for the Capreolus range available from Master of Malt.

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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What we learned at Armagnac Academy

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

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

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

Armagnac Academy

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

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

The basics

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

Armagnac Academy

A sunny shot of Armagnac. Spot the foie gras…

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

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

Armagnac Academy

A big ol’ bottle of Armagnac

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

Distillation season

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

Armagnac Academy

Check it out, it’s a still on wheels!

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

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

Armagnac Academy

Straight from the barrel to the glass

How do I drink it?

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

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

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

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The Nightcap: 29 November

Need to decompress after all the Black Friday sales hubbub? We’ve got just the thing – it’s The Nightcap! If you find yourself exclaiming out loud “How on earth did…

Need to decompress after all the Black Friday sales hubbub? We’ve got just the thing it’s The Nightcap!

If you find yourself exclaiming out loud “How on earth did it get to be 3 o’clock?!” almost every day, you might be very surprised to find out November is almost over. You were probably getting ready to go to the beach or hide chocolate eggs in the toaster or something. Go dig out a Santa hat and glue it to your forehead so you’re constantly aware of what’s going on. And to keep your noggin warm. It’s quite chilly out there if you’re dressed for a spring morning stroll. We’re also ready to help bring you up to date. Behold, it’s another edition of The Nightcap, our round-up of booze news from the week that was!

On the MoM blog this week you probably noticed that #WhiskySanta announced that he was giving away an Old and Rare Whisky Advent Calendar worth nearly £1,000. That wasn’t only the bargain on the blog, however, as we rounded-up some of our best Black Friday deals. Ian Buxton returned to investigate a curious phenomenon while Adam caught up with Billy Walker, owner and master blender at Glenallachie Distillery. Elsewhere, Annie looked at a blended Scotch you’ll want for your next Highball, and talked over 400 years of distillation with Sandie van Doorne at Lucas Bols. Henry’s week involved a lot of Martini-based fun, from enjoying its predecessor The Martinez, to interviewing Alessandro Palazzi from the esteemed Dukes Bar, although he did find time to make a Kentucky whiskey aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred our New Arrival of the Week.

Now, onto the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Congratulations to you David!

The Balvenie’s David Stewart MBE nabs top gong at IWSC

Last night saw the glittering International Wine & Spirit (IWSC) Awards Banquet take place at London’s Guildhall (the most Harry Potter-esque venue you ever did see). It was the 50th anniversary of the awards, which celebrate all kinds of things, from tip-top wine and spirits producers and their wares (obvs), but also communicators, and outstanding achievers, too. And step forward The Balvenie malt master David Stewart! He was honoured for his Outstanding Achievement in Scotch Whisky over his whopping 57-year career, garnering praise from peers and whisky drinkers right across the globe. Other big winners include Ryan Chetiyawardana who scooped Spirits Communicator of the Year, and William Grant, which bagged the Outstanding Spirits Producer 2019 gong. Congrats all!

The Nightcap

You can find out what your ‘perfect dram’ is now!

Diageo sets AI What’s Your Whisky quiz

We’re sure many of you whisky-lovers have a selection of favourite expressions, from go-to bottles to desert-island drams. But have these preferences been verified by the wonders of technology? Because Diageo has created a ‘digital experience’, said to help people find their perfect whisky based on their preferences for certain flavours. What’s Your Whisky uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyse a user’s personal palate, asking eleven questions to understand their preferences, such as “how often do you eat bananas?” and “how do you feel about chillies?”. The data collected is then used to create a ‘Flavour Print’, which matches the user with a single malt whisky that the AI thinks they will love. “We are using our extensive consumer knowledge, whisky expertise gathered over hundreds of years and cutting-edge AI to help consumers discover, explore and enjoy Scotch in new and exciting ways,” said Dr Adeline Koay, principal scientist, research and development for Diageo. Andy Parton, senior regional manager for Diageo, added: “We’re excited to roll this out at scale and help many thousands of people find their perfect Whisky based on the innovative FlavorPrint AI technology.” I took the test and found the questions amusing, but slightly limiting. It did recommend Talisker, which I admittedly do love. So maybe it does work. Although if your dream dram isn’t made by Diageo I wouldn’t hold out too much hope of it coming up… What’s Your Whisky launched on 28 November in nine countries (UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands) – check out the website or scan a QR codes in participating bars, restaurants and shops. 

The Nightcap

The inimitable Ronnie Cox, as drawn by Alasdair ‘Loon’ Hilleary, red socks and all!

Berry Bros. & Rudd launches Ronnie’s Reserve

Ronnie Cox has worked in this industry for 43 years, spending more than three decades of that at Berry Bros. & Rudd (BBR). He’s a Master of the Quaich and a member of the Worshipful Company of Distillers. He’s also part of the seventh generation of the Cumming family, which previously owned Cardhu distillery. Now, as BBR’s legendary brands heritage director “edges towards retirement”, he’s been tasked with curating a range of single malt Scotch whiskies. The seven single cask bottlings are all from one undisclosed distillery (it’s very easy to figure out if you know the brand’s history). Two of the bottlings are from casks laid down in the 1990s, one is from the ‘80s, two are from the ‘70s and two are from the ‘60s, including the remarkable Tempus Fugit 1968 Cask No. 13497, which produced 65 bottles and is priced at £3,800 (this is the one that you’ll have to wait until June 2020 to purchase). Cox explained that he had his eye on these for many years, and he counted himself “incredibly fortunate to be able to select these whiskies to bottle under my name”. The first six bottlings will be launched on St. Andrew’s Day (30 November), available from Berry Bros. & Rudd. The illustrations on the bottle were drawn by Alasdair ‘Loon’ Hilleary, a lifelong friend, who depicts Cox wearing his classic red socks, which he’s made something of a trademark. If you do happen to get your hands on a bottle or two, do be sure to don your best scarlet stockings as you imbibe. 

The Nightcap

It’s a wintery dose of Swiss-esque bliss in London

Möet opens Alpine Lodge in Soho

Many people like the idea of apres-ski. Think cosy cabins, Last Christmas I Gave you my Heart knitwear and wintery drinks, without all the palaver with snow, salopettes and chair lifts. Möet has cleverly spotted this by opening an Alpine lodge, not in Gstaad or Whistler, but in London. Located in 100 Wardour in Soho, it’s open now and runs until the end of January. We popped in this week and can confirm that it’s just like being halfway up a mountain in Switzerland, only much easier to get to from Tottenham Court Road Underground station. On arrival, we wrapped ourselves in blankets and got stuck into the cocktails; as you might expect from the world’s largest Champagne company, they were pretty good. We were particularly taken with the Snowed Under which combines Tanqueray Export Strength, Möet & Chandon Impérial, lavender syrup, lemon juice, and icing sugar; and the Ice Ice Baby, made with Antica Formula, Campari, Möet & Chandon Impérial, plum bitters, crusta sugar, and a dried orange. Nothing says ‘Christmas is coming’ like a dried orange. And then rather than having to cross country ski home, like they do in the Alps, we took a train. Much more civilised. 

The Nightcap

Things are getting festive at the German Gymnasium!

Maker’s Mark reveals gingerbread pop-up at German Gymnasium

Sticking with Christmas for a moment, and we’re spotting a micro-trend for all things gingerbread this season. After Fentimans unveiled a life-size gingerbread house at London’s Skylight, bar and restaurant German Gymnasium has opened its very own tasty terrace, this time in partnership with bourbon brand Maker’s Mark. Described as a “sugar-filled wonderland”, the space features wooden huts, lights and lanterns galore, cosy blankets, and, of course, a mouthwatering, sweet-themed cocktail list. Serves include a Gingerbread Old Fashioned (made with Maker’s Mark and gingerbread syrup, topped with toasted marshmallow), and Maker’s Milk (Maker’s Mark, Kahlua, rum, vanilla, double cream and egg white, served in a milk bottle). Hot serves will also be on-hand in case of chilliness. Head to King’s Cross with haste if you’ve got a sweet tooth this December and January!

The Nightcap

This should put a stop to people judging a dram by its colour…

Glencairn releases black glass for Black Friday

In honour of Black Friday (which for better or worse, is now very much a thing), top Scottish glassmakers Glencairn has released a limited-edition glass that might be the blackest thing on the planet. It’s blacker than Darth Vader’s helmet, blacker even than Back in Black by AC/DC, the previous holder of this title. The colour not only looks very metal, but will stop you judging your dram by its colour, putting your olfactory system firmly in charge. Each glass costs £7 and comes in a black box, naturally. Only 1,000 have been produced and they go on sale first thing on Black Friday (so may be already gone by the time you read this). This season, black is very much back. 

The Nightcap

Good things come in small pubs

Guinness opens pint-sized pub for a cosy Christmas

Guinness is opening a tiny pub in Flat Iron Square in London from Thursday 5 till Sunday 8 December. From 1pm until 11.30pm, punters will be able to enjoy food, fire and more Christmas tunes than you can shake a stick at. There will also be a certain famous Dublin stout on tap. Here’s the best thing: it won’t cost you a penny. That’s right, free Guinness! Before you book your travel to central London though, we should let you know that it’s a very small space indeed so there’s only room for five people (not including the bartender) and you have to book.  Simply sign up via Design my Night and you can reserve the entire pub for you and a few friends. Oh, and you’re only allowed two pints each. Still, it sounds pretty ace. So gather your nearest and dearest, huddle into a tiny pub, and enjoy free beer. If you can think of a better way to keep out the cold, we’d like to hear it.

The Nightcap

The GlenDronach Traditionally Peated will be at MoM Towers soon…

The GlenDronach reveals its new release, Traditionally Peated

GlenDronach is showing us its smoky side with a brand new peated single malt! The GlenDronach Traditionally Peated harks back to the days in 1826 when the distillery was founded, and it was common practice in the Highlands to burn peat in the kiln towards the end of the barley malting. For the whisky, the distillery has kept it traditional sherried style, marrying liquid from a range of Pedro Ximénez, oloroso sherry and Port casks, all bottled up at 48% ABV. “The GlenDronach Traditionally Peated offers connoisseurs a rare opportunity to explore the distillery’s rich depths of sherry cask maturation, while paying homage to the robust peat-smoked earthy character of the early 19th century, that James Allardice himself would likely have enjoyed,” says master blender Dr. Rachel Barrie. “This wonderfully complex single malt presents notes of Highland toffee, dark honey and coal-smoked barley. Burnt orange and treacle glide over the palate, on a base of cloves and smoked bramble. Liquorice and dark fruits linger and intensify into the rich and earthy finish.” Sounds like a smoky Highland lip-smacker to us! Keep an eye out, it should be landing on our shores very soon…

The Nightcap

Getting your haircut so often you’re basically bald for the free Metaxa is most certainly a ‘mood’

Come for a shave, stay for a drink

There are few things more pleasurable than getting your haircut while enjoying a drink. Now, this could be some Wray & Nephew overproof rum drunk out of a teacup at Kyrie’s in Kensal Rise, or a single malt Scotch at Blades in Soho. Both we would highly recommend. But there’s a new contender in London town for best drink/cut combo. From now until the end of December, you will receive a free Metaxa Ginger Rock, a combination of ginger ale and Metaxa 12 Stars, when you book a haircut or a shave at Sharps Barber Shop in Great Windmill Street. For those who have never been to Greece where no meal is complete without a little glass, Metaxa is a blend of brandy, Muscat wine and botanicals, and, especially in 12 Stars form, is utterly delicious. We can see ourselves going for repeat utterly unnecessary haircuts just for the free Metaxa. 

The Nightcap

Sobar. Sober. So-bar… Oh, yep. I get it. Nice one, guys.

And finally… A snack bar claims it can make you less drunk

It’s not that we’re sceptical here at MoM Towers, but a piece of news reached us from across the pond this week that had our eyebrows raised pretty much to the roof. Sobar, a brand of snack-sized protein bars, is claiming it’s found a magic formula that will make us less giddy after one too many drams. Sort of. Apparently a study has found it reduces alcohol absorption, and, in comparison to other similar foods, it was about twice as effective per calorie. Each Sobar weighs in at 210 calories, and apparently it works because a thing called Alco-HOLD keeps the booze in your stomach for longer so it can be “inactivated”. “This research project started after I had too much to drink on an empty stomach at a wedding,” said SOBAR inventor Joseph Fisher, MD PhD.  “After that experience I thought that there was a huge need for a specialised, low-calorie snack that could efficiently and effectively reduce alcohol absorption.” Or you could. . . sip not gulp in the first place? Just a thought. 

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Five modern twists on traditional spirits

As some pioneering producers peer into the future for creative inspiration, others have chosen to look to the past, revisiting beloved booze categories favoured by previous generations. We look at…

As some pioneering producers peer into the future for creative inspiration, others have chosen to look to the past, revisiting beloved booze categories favoured by previous generations. We look at five traditional spirits bottlings that have been reloaded for the modern palate…

Whether it’s through reviving regional ingredients or resurrecting long-lost production practices, the spirits industry certainly enjoys indulging in a little nostalgia now and then. Perhaps because it’s a visceral display of human ingenuity that allows us to marvel at how strikingly different our world is now – and how far we’ve come since the dawn of distilling. Or, maybe we’re just pretty fascinated by old stuff. Whatever it is, all the innovation going on in the drinks industry has always been underpinned with a sense of reverence for the past.

However, humans are fickle and trends are cyclical, so we’re lucky that a handful of producers have been busy reimagining traditional spirits for our modern drinking preferences. Through them, the likes of absinthe, brandy, genever, and more, have been presented a path to the future. You might scoff at the idea of, say, brandy being a forgotten spirit, but without a little producer ingenuity and inventiveness, such categories are destined to continue their slow retreat from the back bar before they’re inevitably condemned to the history books. Without further adieu, we present five contemporary twists on traditional spirits…

Bobby's Schiedam Jenever

Bobby’s Schiedam Jenever

Another cocktail hero lost in time, genever fell out of favour in the early 20th century when light, bright drinks became the order du jour. It was a blow that gin’s malty cousin never quite recovered from, but fast-forward to today’s cocktail renaissance, and bartenders are slowly rediscovering the unique flavour profile of ye olde ‘Dutch Courage’. Made in the Netherlands, the veritable birthplace of genever, Bobby’s Schiedam Jenever contains a blend of Indonesian spices – including cubeb pepper, lemongrass and cardamom – that have been infused in traditional malt wine. A truly fresh take on a timeless classic that pairs perfectly with tonic.

Bertoux Brandy

Bertoux Brandy

Once the cocktail world’s darling, brandy was forced to retire from the back bar after the phylloxera outbreak devastated vineyards in the late 1800s. Now Bertoux Brandy co-creators Jeff Bell, from New York bar Please Don’t Tell, and Thomas Pastuszak, sommelier at The Nomad trio of hotels, hope to return the spirit to its fabulous former glory. A blend of pot-distilled Californian brandies aged for three to seven years in French and American oak, Bertoux seeks to pave the way for a brand new generation of brandy-based cocktails (and, of course, reinvigorate the classics that made the spirit so beloved in the first place). Sidecar, anyone?

Ballykeefe poitin

Ballykeefe Poitín

It’s taken more than 20 years for distilleries to embrace Ireland’s original ‘illegal’ spirit after the ban was lifted back in 1997, but poitín is making a comeback. Notorious for its potency, today the spirit still carries an ABV of anywhere between 40 and 90% – such is the magic of what was once known as Irish moonshine. The team behind eco-friendly County Kilkenny spirits producer Ballykeefe sought to encapsulate this rebellious essence and repurpose it for a contemporary audience (that’s you and me), and we think they’ve done a rather stunning job. Bottled at a palatable 40% ABV, serve Ballykeefe Poitín long, with plenty of ice and lashings of ginger ale.

Copper & Kings Absinthe

Copper & Kings Absinthe Alembic Blanche

In true Copper & Kings style, the Kentucky-based producer has given the classic Swiss absinthe recipe a delightful American overhaul. Traditional botanicals like wormwood, anis and fennel macerate in Muscat low wine for around 18 hours before undergoing a double distillation in alembic copper pot stills and bottled at a reasonable 65% ABV (no green fairies to be found here, thanks). The resulting liquid makes a cracking Absinthe Julep – all you need is crushed ice, simple syrup and mint. The team has also created an barrel-aged iteration, pictured above, that has been lovingly matured in ex-wine and ex-brandy casks.

Avallen Calvados

Avallen Calvados

Made in Normandy according to some rather strict regulations, brandy’s hipster cousin, Calvados, is also enjoying a revival. Sharing a passion for traditional spirits and sustainable products, Avallen co-founders Tim Etherington-Judge and Stephanie Jordan sought to create the most eco-friendly spirit they could. Described as fresh, fruity and apple-forward, the resulting bottling, made at Domaine du Coquerel, has injected new life into the languishing category. Try pairing with tonic and plenty of ice or alternatively get super-creative with a Calvados Sour.

 

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Five irresistible British apple brandies

Calvados may well be the best-known variety of apple brandy – but skip across the Channel, and you’ll find a burgeoning cider-based spirits scene right here in the UK. Here,…

Calvados may well be the best-known variety of apple brandy – but skip across the Channel, and you’ll find a burgeoning cider-based spirits scene right here in the UK. Here, we’ve picked out five British apple brandies to wet your whistle, no Eurostar required…

The first reference we have about distilling cider brandy is in a book called A Treatise of Cider by John Worlidge which was published in 1668, explains Matilda Temperley, director of the Somerset Cider Brandy Company. The farm can be found within 180 acres of cider apple orchards at the base of Burrow Hill in south Somerset, and was granted the UK’s first ever full cider distilling license in the 1980s. Today, its brandy has protected geographical indication (PGI) status. “The cider we distil is especially made for this purpose,” Temperley continues. “It is very pure with nothing added and contains at least 20 varieties of traditional cider apples. At the moment we are the only people in the UK to legally use the term Somerset Cider Brandy, because ‘brandy’ is tied to our PGI. Anyone else making aged cider spirit must use the term ‘cider spirit’.”

Somerset Cider Brandy Company

Julian Temperley from the Somerset Cider Brandy Company

Matilda’s father, Julian Temperley, pioneered the resurrection of the category, paving the way for other apple enthusiasts to get stuck in – people like Chris Toller, co-founder of Shropshire’s Henstone Distillery, which opened its doors in 2016. His brandy is distilled in a 1,000-litre pot column hybrid still named Hilda and matured in new American oak barrels.

Two of Henstone’s four founders own a brewery that also produces cider, “so it seemed obvious that we should distill it!” Toller says. “We named our spirit Nonpareil after one of the apple varieties used to make the cider. The Sweeney Nonpareil is a native Shropshire apple that almost became extinct in the 1970s and now features in our orchard here at the distillery.”

While the category as a whole remains very much under the radar, the emergence of independent cider producers across England, Wales and beyond will mean there’s plenty of produce to distil. We can only hope to taste the fruits of their labour in aged form over the years to come, so long as British spirits continue to pique the interest of drinks fans.

“There’s talk of a brown spirit revolution, which is encouraging,” says Temperley, adding that production can be a painstaking process – there are brandies ageing for up to 25 years at the Somerset Cider Brandy Company farm. “We have just built a new bonded warehouse to double our output, so we are feeling positive,” she says.

While we wait for those – and others – to come of age, here’s our pick of five phenomenal cider-based spirits from around the UK…

Henstone Nonpareil

From: Henstone Distillery, Shropshire
Henstone Nonpareil is made by distilling Stonehouse Brewery’s Sweeney Mountain Cider in a pot column hybrid still. The use of the columns means the process is equivalent to five individual distillations, resulting in a “very smooth distillate”, says Toller. Maturation in new American oak barrels introduces “a pleasant vanilla flavour and a little smoke on the nose,” he adds.

Shipwreck Single Cask Cider 

From: Somerset Cider Brandy Company, Somerset
Billed as the South-West’s answer to Calvados, thanks, in part, to the Coffey still used to make it, Shipwreck Single Cask Cider Brandy is a unique proposition. The 10 year old brandy has been finished in shipwrecked Allier oak barrels from the MSC Napoli, which ran into difficulty en route to South Africa back in 2007. Hence the name.

Greensand Ridge

Maturing casks at Greensand Ridge

Greensand Ridge Apple Brandy

From: Greensand Ridge Distillery, Kent
Dubbed the “whisky of the Weald” (by its producer), Greensand Ridge Apple Brandy is made from sweet dessert apples collected from fruit growers across Kent and Sussex. After a long fermentation, the cider is distilled and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Since the apples are surplus, the varieties and ratios changed year-on-year – this bottling is made with 60% Gala and 40% Mairac.

Dà Mhìle Apple Brandy

From: Dà Mhìle Distillery, Wales
Fantastic liquid from the folks at Welsh distillery Dà Mhìle, which is made from organic wild apples foraged from their own farm as well as the nearby valleys. The fruit is first made into cider, then quadruple distilled and aged in former French red wine barrels for a year. Rich, rounded and very moreish.

Fowey Valley 1 Year Old Cider Brandy

From: Fowey Valley Cider, Cornwall
The folks at Fowey Valley distill their vintage cider an honourable five times before laying the liquid down in new American oak barrels for a minimum of one year. Expect black cherry and sandalwood on the nose, with nuts, molasses, raisins liquorice and pepper on the palate. Sound good? Be quick, there’s only one bottle left.

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Save the bees, drink Calvados

Not only is Calvados one of France’s best-kept secrets, it’s also one of the most sustainable spirits in the world. We get the low-down on this unjustly neglected brandy as…

Not only is Calvados one of France’s best-kept secrets, it’s also one of the most sustainable spirits in the world. We get the low-down on this unjustly neglected brandy as Avallen Calvados co-founders Tim Etherington-Judge and Stephanie Jordon introduce their eco-friendly brand to the world.

“Calvados is an extremely dusty old-fashioned category,” Etherington-Judge admits. “There’s amazing liquid inside the bottles, but they’ve been marketed and designed by old French producers. I liken it to single malt Scotch in the early eighties, which was driven by connoisseurship of a few people in the know. If you didn’t, it was very unapproachable.”

For the uninitiated, Calvados is brandy made with French apples and pears. All Calvados has to come from Normandy, and much like Cognac, it is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations and has a very stringent set of production rules (which you’ll find on our Calvados list page, the link is above). For Avallen – an old Cornish word, FYI, meaning apple tree – the duo partnered with existing distillery Domaine du Coquerel, which sources apples from 300 different farmers located within a 20 to 30-kilometre radius to create the liquid.

From left: Tim Etherington-Judge; Pierre Martin Neuhaus, owner of Distillerie Coquerel; Stephanie Jordan

“The apples come in, they’re washed, they’re pressed and the juice is fermented, which takes around two to three months because it’s a wild fermentation that happens in the winter,” says Etherington-Judge. The liquid is aged in French oak barrels for two years and bottled at 40% ABV with no added sugar, caramel or boisé. Some of the pulp from the apples is used to make the paper for Avallen’s labels – which are printed with sustainable dyes – and the rest is loaded into a methane digester and turned into gas to run the distillery. The bottle, meanwhile, is one of the lightest on the market, reducing Avallen’s carbon footprint during shipping.

When Etherington-Judge and Jordon, who worked together at multinational drinks goliath Diageo, set out to build their own brand, they wanted the project to be as sustainable and as environmentally-friendly as possible. Calvados as a category promotes biodiversity and extremely local production, explains Etherington-Judge. “Cows roam the orchards in Normandy, the bees pollinate the flowers and the cows eat some of the early-ripening apples and fertilise the trees,” he continues. “There’s also a very low level of chemical use in Normandy and where we’re made, in La Moche, no pesticides are used at all. It’s very different to the monoculture [cultivated for] the grains for our whiskies and gins and the sugarcane fields for our rums.”

For every bottle sold, the duo will donate €0.50 of profit to organisations dedicated to restoring and protecting the declining bee population. They have also committed to planting 100,000 wildflowers across the next three years, and operate the business as a vegan company – you won’t find any eggs in an Avallen Sour. “One of the biggest causes of bee decline is industrial agriculture, particularly the farming of meat,” says Etherington-Judge. “How can we talk about saving the bees if we are not following through on it on every single decision we make?”. The duo are also dabbling with blockchain technology, uploading laboratory analyses, invoices for each charitable donation and, eventually, finer details about the orchards online in a bid to be “100% transparent and authentic”.

Save the bees!

Save the bees!

Traditionally, Calvados has been enjoyed as a digestif, but the team behind Avallen want to “completely break away from that model because it’s obviously not working for the category, and get back into cocktails” from the “simple and delicious” Avellen and Tonic to the old-school Delicious Sour, which dates back to 1891 and combines Calvados, peach brandy, lemon juice, simple syrup and a pasteurised egg white (or an alternative vegan foaming agent in Avallen’s case).

Whether served straight up, in a short sipper or as a component in a quaffable long drink, Avallen is set to bring some vibrancy and life into what is, at present, a dull and poorly-understood category. “At the end of the day, it tastes like cooked apples and vanilla custard,” muses Etherington-Judge. “Who won’t love that flavour?”

The bartender’s last word…

“Guests who have been on holiday to Normandy are generally the only people aware of Calvados,” says Tom Soden, co-founder of sustainable London cocktail bar Nine Lives, where Avallen made its UK debut. “It’s lost behind the more famous brandies of France. Perhaps this is due to no particular brand evolving – Calvados brands haven’t changed with the times.

“Typically Calvados has been used as a more accessible alternative to Cognac – both in terms of taste and price,” he continues. While stirred drinks and classic style Punches seem to be the favourites, the “round fruit flavours” in Calvados make it “a great entry level into more spirit-forward drinks”.

“Stronger Sours and lighter stirred drinks have been where we’ve found Calvados to excel,” he continues. “Perhaps the introduction of new dynamic brands like Avallen will break new ground and attract new customers.”

Avallen Calvados

Avallen Calvados

 

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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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Cocktail of the Week: The Brandy Sour

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history. When mixing drinks, most of…

This week we’re making a drink that appears simple but needs precision to pull off successfully, plus having a look at brandy’s rich cocktail history.

When mixing drinks, most of us reach for gin, rum or whisky, and forget about Cognac and Armagnac. Which is a shame because not only can these two brandies be great cocktail ingredients but in many cases, they were the original ingredient. The Sazerac, for example, according to Eric Felten in How’s Your Drink, gets its name from “a brand of Cognac popular in New Orleans in the 19th century”.

Brandy was also massive on the other side of Atlantic. But its premience among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. By the 1890s, there was panic in the gentleman’s clubs of Britain as they were running out of brandy. Blended Scotch was specifically designed to fill this gap. Whisky merchants borrowed from Cognac the technique of blending heavier and lighter spirits to create a consistent product. In America, cocktail lovers moved over to rye and bourbon where they have remained ever since.

Armagnac vineyards

The beautiful vineyards of Armagnac (credit: BNIA)

Nowadays, however, brandy is back on the cocktail menu. Amanda Garnham from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac (BNIA) told me that bartenders love Armagnac because “of its multifaceted nature and depth of flavour”. But, she also warned that it was important not to lose that complexity when making your drink. So keep it simple. To educate the hospitality industry, the BNIA has just taken on Hannah Lanfear, recently crowned Educator of the Year at the Imbibe Personality of the Year Awards. I asked her for some recommendations.

“Armagnac offers the bartender incredible complexity and depth, with a structured flavour profile that gives a wealth of possibility for flavour combinations,” she said. “A classic sour makes for a perfect showcase for the picture painted by the distiller.”

So I decided to take her advice. A sour requires just three ingredients: something boozy, something sweet and something sour (obviously). It’s part of a family of cocktails based on these principles that includes the Daiquiri. This very simplicity, however, means that there is no room for error. You have to get the ratio of booze, sour and sugar exactly right. You also must take care when shaking not to dilute it too much.

It is a supremely adaptable drink. You could add an egg white to give it a gorgeous silky texture (in which case it will need to be shaken for longer), or finish it off with a couple of drops of Angostura bitters. Add triple sec or Grand Marnier, and you have a Sidecar (5 parts brandy, 2 lemon juice, 2 triple sec). Hell, you don’t even have to use brandy: you could use pisco, gin, rum, amaretto, bourbon, or Metaxa (a Greek brandy flavoured with Muscat grape juice) though you may have to play around with the ratios. But today, we’re using Armagnac.

So, which one to use? Garnham recommends not using anything too old or delicate. On the other hand, you do want something that can take centre stage, so don’t use something that you’d put on your Christmas pudding. The perfect choice is Baron de Sigognac VSOP. Not only is it an excellent affordable Armagnac, but I’d say it is one of the best-value spirits on the market. With its tropical fruit and crème brûlée character, it’s as smooth as David Niven’s smoking jacket.

Sold? Right, let’s get mixing!

Armagnac sour BINA

Armagnac sour (credit: BNIA)

50ml Baron de Sigognac VSOP
15ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
Glass: coupe or Nick & Nora
Garnish: lemon slice

Shake all the ingredients hard and quickly with lots of ice (you don’t want too much dilution). Double strain to remove any ice crystals into a coupe, and garnish with a slice of lemon (or you could use an orange twist or a maraschino cherry).

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Fantastic French Brandies

Indulge yourselves in the final days of autumn in style with this fantastic selection of French brandies… Autumn means the days are shorter, colder and darker. But this is nothing…

Indulge yourselves in the final days of autumn in style with this fantastic selection of French brandies…

Autumn means the days are shorter, colder and darker. But this is nothing to fear or loathe because it’s the perfect setting to enjoy everything the wonderful world of French brandy has to offer!

And why not? French brandy is no longer a forgotten favourite. It’s ditched the stuffy old-man’s image. The three French ‘Appellation Contrôlée’* brandies, Armagnac, Calvados (the Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams to Cognac’s Beyonce Knowles) and Cognac, are all now welcome guests at cocktail parties and bartenders have embraced the bold, complex spirits with a wide range of styles and character.

So, join us, both seasoned experts and intrepid newcomers alike, as we run through some of the most flavoursome and fantastic French brandy around. À votre santé!

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Copper & Kings: The American brandy revival

Earlier this week, US wine and spirits giant Constellation Brands snapped up a minority stake in independent Kentucky distillery Copper & Kings American Brandy Company. Following the news, we chatted…

Earlier this week, US wine and spirits giant Constellation Brands snapped up a minority stake in independent Kentucky distillery Copper & Kings American Brandy Company. Following the news, we chatted to Joe Heron, founder and CEO of the innovative brandy maker, to discuss the past, present and future of a category that his business seemingly single-handedly reinvigorated.

“I’ll give you an analogy,” Heron tells me, as we deliberate the distillery, the deal, and the wider American brandy category over the phone. We’re speaking immediately after news of his company’s transaction with Constellation Brands broke. “We’re the Leicester City [Football Club] of spirits*, because we are relentless. We have no money, but we are relentless, and we are very, very fast. We pass well from the middle, so that’s what we do. We innovate at a pace that’s unheard of. Once we’re in, we’re running and gunning and it’s very hard to keep up with that.”

If this brilliant description sounds somewhat business-like, it’s because Heron and his wife are established entrepreneurs who have always sought to capture what he calls “the vacant space”. And they’re bloody good at it. Nutrisoda, a line of health-and-wellness soft drinks, was their first endeavour, launched during a period when energy drinks reigned supreme. They sold it to PepsiCo in 2006. When everyone was raving about craft beer, they launched Crispin Hard Cider Company, which was bought by MillerCoors in 2012.

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