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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Calvados

New Arrival of the Week: Christian Drouin Mars Angels

For the first New Arrival of 2021, we are shining our big MoM spotlight on an apple brandy that was aged in Japanese whisky casks. Just don’t call it Calvados….

For the first New Arrival of 2021, we are shining our big MoM spotlight on an apple brandy that was aged in Japanese whisky casks. Just don’t call it Calvados.

Casks finishes are common in whisky but in the more conservative world of French brandy, they are rarer. We have covered Alexander Gabriel’s attempts to push the boundaries of what is allowed in Cognac. Now, it’s the turn of Calvados, the great apple and pear brandy from Normandy, with Christian Drouin’s Experimental series.

The first release was called Hampden Angels and it was finished in casks that formerly held Jamaican rum, and the second release has just arrived with us. This maverick expression is called Mars Angels and consists of a 13 year old Pay d’Auge Calvados that is then transferred to casks that formerly held Komagatake single malt from the Mars distillery in Japan, hence the name. It stays here for eight months before bottling at 43% ABV and, like the first release, is sold as an Eau de Vie de Cidre as the Calvados laws do not allow for ageing in non-traditional casks. The Japanese whisky casks add sweet cereal notes to the fruitiness of the apple brandy. It is described as the result as a “subtle marriage of Normandy and Japan.” 

Old casks at Christian Drouin

Old casks at Christian Drouin

The Drouin family are relative newcomers to Calvados. The firm was founded in 1960 by Christian Drouin the elder, an industrialist from Rouen in Northern France. He developed his interest when he bought a farm in Gonneville complete with cider apple orchards and decided to try to make the best Calvados he could. It’s still a family business now run by the third generation and widely acknowledged as one of the best as well as most innovative producers in the region. 

The family don’t only age brandy in experimental barrels but they also send Calvados-seasoned casks so that other distilleries can create innovative expressions like Mackmyra Äppelblom. Now wouldn’t it be interesting to try a brandy aged in a cask that formerly held Mackmyra Äppelblom? Or would that be taking things a bit too far?

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Fragrant with citrus blossom and perfumed oak, with a hint of malty, hoppy brightness slowly developing. Soon enough, hints of cooked apple and baking spices appear.

Christian Drouin Mars Angels Eau de Vie de Cidre is now available from Master of Malt.

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Our top drinks trends for 2021!

From agave spirits to the advent of at-home cocktails, 2021’s drinking trends look set to cement this year’s seismic shifts, rather than usher in a spirits revolution. It’s that time…

From agave spirits to the advent of at-home cocktails, 2021’s drinking trends look set to cement this year’s seismic shifts, rather than usher in a spirits revolution.

It’s that time again – time to get out the [Glencairn] crystal ball and look ahead to what we’ll be drinking in 2021! And if this year taught us anything, it’s that you literally cannot predict what will happen… but in terms of what will be in our glass, we’ll give it a good go..!

We’ve picked out our forecast based on sales patterns here at MoM HQ, plus we’ve kept an eye on social media hubbub, and checked out Google Trends’ search analysis. If you could sum it up in one, we reckon we’ll see more of the same: 2020 largely forced us away from bars, meaning if we wanted a cocktail fix we had to get it at home. At the same time, we all got a little more comfortable with shopping online for spirits (wine and spirits have lagged behind other eCommerce sectors for a while now – think about fashion or electronics). And with a far wider range to shop from than the traditional supermarket aisle, smaller brands and lesser-known categories have got more of their fair share of airtime. 

With all that in mind, here’s what we reckon we’ll see in 2021. Onwards and upwards, folks! 

We made a lot of cocktails at home in 2020

More at-home cocktails

Remember when we were all afraid of getting it a bit wrong when it came to mixing cocktails at home? Now, we’ll literally try anything! From Instagram Live tutorials to dedicated TikTok accounts, we’ve become emboldened when it comes to mixing our own drinks. It’s something we’ve seen in bottle sales, too – vermouth was one of our fastest-growing categories this year to date. Sales of mixers have soared, too. Even the less adventurous among us are buying into pre-bottled cocktails for at-home treats. We think this trend will continue on into 2021 (although let’s face it, as soon as we can, we’re heading back to bars. We miss you!).

The Nightcap

Gin boom – not over yet!

Don’t write off gin – yet

For the last three years it’s been the same question: is the gin boom over? In word, no. But growth is flattening significantly. Could 2021 be gin’s last hurrah? We think there’s still a little more longevity than that. Instead of seeing a proliferation of outlandish flavours, we’re seeing a small but significant return to classic styles, and a few much-loved flavours. This is partly driven by a change in shopping habits – why brave the supermarket for longer than necessary if you can order your favourite gin online instead? A pattern we noticed from Google Trends that’s worth highlighting is a sharp uptick for ‘gin’ searches in the UK as the first lockdown was announced. In tough times we apparently turn to juniper – and long-live classic gins!

bargain rum

Rum was big this year

The continued rise of rum

If flavour fans are deserting gin, where are they heading? The answer continues to be rum. Our rum sales more than tripled in 2020 – driven in large part by the continued taste for spiced and flavoured concoctions. Some of the biggest sellers for the year included Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum, Two Swallows Cherry & Salted Caramel Rum, and sister company Atom Labs’ Jaffa Cake Rum. Sweet stuff indeed. The question for us is, will the wider rum category benefit, and do we need some tighter definitions for what makes a rum a rum? Even if they exist in terms of labelling, do we as drinkers understand them? One thing’s for sure, rum is set to get even hotter in 2021.

Storywood Tequila

Blue Weber agave (photo courtesy of Storywood Tequila)

All hail agave spirits!

Here’s an interesting one. We’ve talked a lot about the fast-growing mezcal category, and asked whether it could ultimately upend Tequila. Turns out, in 2020 Tequila’s growth slightly outpaced that of its smoky cousin! We think Tequila has finally outgrown its shots-led reputation, and is growing into itself as a serious sipping and mixing drink. And about time, too – Tequila is thoroughly delicious! It also makes sense in line with wider drink-less-but-better consumption trends. 2021 looks to be Tequila’s year as this trend continues to develop, and we are here for it. 

The Nightcap

Glenmorangie’s striking new campaign

A new age of single malt Scotch

For some time now, single malt Scotch whisky has been trying to reinvent itself. With one eye on the developments of world whisky, American whiskey, and the growing interest in other categories, there’s been a sense of needing to up its game to stay relevant and attract new drinkers. Some of our favourite recent moves in this direction include Glenmorangie’s gorgeous It’s Kind of Delicious and Wonderful ad, and Glenlivet’s Original Since 1824 spot. Marketing is increasingly featuring women, people who aren’t white, and single malt being enjoyed long and in cocktails. There’s genuine excitement around whisky again. Just check out Instagram to see who’s posting about the category, and the imagery put out by this new generation of drinkers. We’re excited to see what 2021 holds for the category.

Stop trying to make hard seltzers happen

… And did our 2020 predictions come true?

As we do each year, twelve months ago we posted our trend predictions for 2020. Did they come true? After a quick glance, we’d give ourselves a solid 8/10 (while cutting ourselves some slack – it’s hardly been a regular year!). Rums were just getting started, world whisky has increased its airtime, vodka continues to grow here at MoM HQ, American whiskeys beyond bourbon are proving popular, we’ve seen more unusual cask finishes come through, and liqueurs have turned a little more traditional. Calvados sales have even soared by almost 300%! However, hard seltzers didn’t make the huge breakthrough promised (although summer parties were off… maybe next year), and while Aquavit and mezcal sales are in significant growth, they didn’t fly quite as predicted. There’s always next year…

What do you think? What are your trends for 2021? What will you be drinking? Let us know on social @masterofmalt, or leave a comment below!

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Classic Bars – Coupette

Say hello to our shiny new Classic Bars blog series! Here we’ll be looking at… well, classic bars. What better time than now to shine a spotlight on these well-loved…

Say hello to our shiny new Classic Bars blog series! Here we’ll be looking at… well, classic bars. What better time than now to shine a spotlight on these well-loved haunts, just as we’re allowed to return to our favourite watering holes? (For now, anyway.) First up is Coupette over in Bethnal Green, which also just happens to have released its new cocktail menu.

Though Coupette only came onto the scene in the summer of 2017, it secured its place as a classic in no time. It’s ranked number 23 in The World’s 50 Best Bars, and while that may set some expectations, it doesn’t really tell you anything else about the bar itself. We’re here to do that. 

Coupette is the brainchild of bartender extraordinaire Chris Moore. Moore has been behind the bar since he was legally allowed, joining the Savoy’s Beaufort Bar in 2010. There he stayed until 2015, when he left to start working on opening Coupette. You may have guessed from its name that the bar has French ties (Coupette translates as “cheeky one”), inspired by France’s cocktail history. As such, it has an intense love affair with Calvados – well, Moore’s Instagram handle is literally @mr.calvados, so this was to be expected. 

Its modest front means you could easily walk past it, though once you’re inside, its charm is irresistible; the interior strikes the perfect balance between chic and rustic – an old ‘tabac’ neon sign sits between exposed brick walls above a luxurious leather armchair. Plus, you can even nibble on gratin dauphinoise or a croque monsieur while you sip. A whole new level of bar snack.

Anyway, let’s talk about the cocktails! “Coupette has a main concept, which is a French 5* neighbourhood bar,” bar manager Andrei Marcu explains. “Everything we do has to fall under that concept.” Coupette boasts three award-winning serves that withstand any menu change. The first ensures there is always Calvados on the menu, and that’s Apples, made with the brandy as well as pressed apples, carbonated on-site. There’s also Boardroom, a smoky, Don Draper-esque blend of Hennessy and Dubonnet, with walnut, cherry and coffee. And finally, the snazziest twist on a classic to grace our palates, the famed Champagne Piña Colada, boasting coconut sorbet (rather than cream) and a luxurious splash of fizz. The rest of the cocktails come and go with each drastic menu change. (More on that later.)

After a successful couple of years, Moore stepped away from his project in late 2019. So now Marcu is heading things up – and what a job he and the team have done throughout this crazy year. “We have a saying here at Coupette,” says Marcu. “‘Good is never good enough’.” That sets the tone for every drink that they serve.

Obviously this year has posed more challenges than usual, but crafting an entirely new cocktail menu in lockdown was one of them. Usually, Coupette changes its menu every three to six months. “We always liked the idea of a seasonal menu and that is exactly what we did so far. Yet, with the new menu we decided to create more of a conceptual menu that will last for almost a year or less. This is a bit due to the pandemic that made us feel insecure about launching a new menu every three or six months.”

So, how was it coming out of lockdown? “It was very hard to be honest,” Marcu tells me. “The fact that we went from five days a week work to nothing and back to five days a week after three months was very exhausting. But it is slowly getting better and we are happy to be able to open our door every single day and have guests visiting us.” 

We’re pretty happy about it too, because it meant we finally got to try the new menu! Dubbed Urban Legends & Their Uprising Tales, it launched on 10 September and explores  ‘the darker side of East London’. A jaw-dropping (and mouth-watering) 21 new serves have been created by the team, Marcu tells me it was over six months in the making. “We were meant to launch in April,” he says, but obviously you-know-what rather got in the way of that. “So then we had to go back and reformulate.” 

The menu illustration for the Watermelon Spritz

The six-chapter menu tells the (fictional) origin story of an East London gang through illicit rum deals, spirit smuggling and ingredient hustling. It’s grittier and darker than previous menus. The physical menu is gorgeous more of a hardback book as the team enlisted the help of illustrator Molly Rose for each cocktail. When I ask Marcu what his favourite new drink is (which is probably his least favourite question) he ends up naming half the menu. 

You start drinking a cocktail with your eyes, so it’s no surprise the presentation is always a delight – though never flamboyant. Dazzling glassware and simple garnishes showcase the liquid each serve, along with the most impressive ice cubes (or sometimes spheres) you’ve ever seen.

Chocolate & Red Wine, a firm favourite

“Every single drink has to be its perfect version,” Marcu says when I ask him if there were any new serves which were particularly challenging to get right. It was pretty much all of them, by the sound of it. “We have tried a tremendous amount of ingredients, recipes and drinks until we chose the one that we believe is perfect. For example, we have a drink called Chocolate & Red Wine for which we have tried 15 to 20 different recipes. But the hardest to get right was Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy, a Parmigiano-inspired drink that we wanted to turn into a pleasant flavour to everyone. We were looking into getting out fruity notes from one of the strongest flavoured cheeses one can find and we definitely managed to do so. But that one was a hustle.” 

Yes, that is a corn in my Gimlet

No doubt the hard work has more than paid off. There is truly something for everyone, from Rhubarb Bellinis and insanely refreshing Watermelon Spritzes to twists on Negronis (with carrot as an ingredient) and Manhattans (made with ale vermouth), and everything in between. While I didn’t get to try them all, there were two absolute stand-outs for me. First, was one Marcu has already mentioned, Chocolate & Red Wine. This short serve made with Flor de Caña 18 Year Old, chocolate wine and cacao manages to remain delicate and light, even though it packs a boozy, fruity, chocolatey punch. Second was the Corny Gimlet, with salted butter-distilled Plymouth Gin, home-made corn liqueur and sour popcorn tea, garnished with a charred baby corn. It was sweet, sour and slightly bitter, by far one of the strangest things I’ve ever tasted – and I loved every sip.

“We just launched Urban Legends & Their Uprising Tales but we already started thinking about the next one, and I have to tell you so far it sounds very exciting.” Luckily this 24-cocktail menu will keep us busy until the next one!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Pomme Spritz

How do you like them apples? A lot? Well, we’ve got the perfect cocktail for you, a refreshing blend of tonic water and the none-more-appley 30&40 Double Jus aperitif from…

How do you like them apples? A lot? Well, we’ve got the perfect cocktail for you, a refreshing blend of tonic water and the none-more-appley 30&40 Double Jus aperitif from France. 

30&40 is named after a card game, trente et quarante, that was popular in France before the war. It was played at the casinos of Deauville, when artists and aristocrats flocked to the playground of the Normandy coast, according to the brand’s co-founder Vincent Béjot. “It was the golden age for Normandy, it was also the golden age of the aperitif,” he said. 

Béjot, a Norman himself, was living in Paris and, he said, “drinking lots of Calvados.” He got two friends, Aymeric Dutheil and Thibault Patte, hooked on it too and the idea emerged to create an aperitif based on their favourite drink. They took pommeau, a Norman liqueur rather like Pineau des Charentes made with apple juice and brandy, and mixed it with Calvados, hence the name Double Jus. But they couldn’t get the recipe quite right: Béjot explained: “Too much Calvados, around 24/25 % ABV, made it taste too much like brandy. But when we put more pommeau in, it was too sweet and heavy like pommeau can be.” He didn’t want to take the easy way out of using neutral alcohol or sugar.

Left to right: Thibault Patte, Jean-François (fellow Norman distiller), Vincent Béjot, and Aymeric Dutheil (hidden)

They worked with a spirits specialist called Alexandre Vingtier to solve the problem. The answer was inspired by the Norman port of Le Havre, which rather like Leith in Scotland, used to be awash with old barrels from sherry, Port and rum, which Calvados producers would age their brandy in. So they experimented with adding rum to the recipe. According to Béjot, the flavour of rhum agricole was too overpowering but a tiny amount, about 2%, of five year old rum from Belize (very expensive, according to Béjot) rounded the whole thing out without adding sugar. In future, however, he’s looking to make Double Jus with all local products. 

An early supporter was Paris bar Le Syndicat, famous for only using French products. Béjot only had samples in plastic bottles at that stage but the bar placed an order for two cases. “I filled the two first cases in my room.Then I thought: ‘now we can get serious’”, he said. London bartenders too, quickly saw the potential: “Erik Lorincz when he was at the American Bar at the Savoy, Happiness Forgets and Three Sheets. They all supported us. That’s how we started.” The hobby had become a business. 

As well as making a delicious drink, the aim with 30&40 is to help the Calvados category which has been in decline in recent years (though there are signs that it is picking up) and to revive the great French tradition of the aperitif. Béjot explained: “In the 1920s, after the war, people were super happy to stop at a local bar or cafe and have a drink after work. The word aperitif comes from the Latin apero, to open.” Drinks like Dubonnet and Byrrh with their bitterness were designed to get you salivating.

It was also the time of the soda syphon. According to Béjot, the word spritz comes from Austrian tourists to Italy who ask for a ‘spritz’ of soda in their bitter aperitif drinks. A cocktail classic was born. 

Le Pomme Spritz

Sadly, the classic French aperitif declined in the 1960s due to changing drinking habits. Béjot explained: “Most of the brands died or were bought by big industrial groups whose main focus was to keep affordable products for existing clientele. Natural ingredients were replaced with artificial colouring and flavouring and ABV lowered for tax purposes.” 

He added: “For us the market is not super exciting. That’s why we decided to launch a product like Double Jus,” Béjot said, “Quite high ABV compared with some aperitifs, and all completely artisanal. Made only from apples grown in Normandy no flavours or colourant. You can tell when you try neat or over ice.”

There is still the tradition of going out for a pre-dinner drink in France even if people aren’t drinking French aperitifs. Instead, it’s usually wine, beer or, increasingly, Aperol, which has led to a Spritz revival. Béjot said “Whether in the UK or France, people are used to Aperol and want to try something else. This is just the right moment to try our product.”

And that’s the best way to drink 30&40, just with a spritz of soda or tonic water. It could be the drink of the summer, Now, anyone for cards?

50ml 30&40 Double Jus
150ml Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic (or any tonic water)

Add the ingredients to an ice- filled Highball glass, stir gently and garnish with a piece of lemon peel.

Double Jus is available from Master of Malt. Tonight, Wednesday 8 April at 5pm (BST), there’s a live tasting with Vincent Béjot @thelianacollection Instagram page. 

 

 

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Our top drinks trends for 2020!

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year….

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year. Read on for our top drinks trends for 2020!

It’s not just a new year – 2020 brings with it a box-fresh decade, too. But what will be drinking this year? We’ve had a good chinwag in the office, looked at sales trends from the last few years and kept our ears to the ground for word of the Next Big Thing in booze. 

Before we crack on with our top ten trends, a quick note on two topics. First up: sustainability in terms of both production and packaging. We reckon every single producer should have this on their radar by now. We’re working hard to make our own ops here are as lean and green as they can possibly be. It’s not a trend, just the right way to do things. We’ve not included this in our list as it’s a societal shift that’s here to stay. Similar with low- and no-alcohol products. 2019 saw the segment explode – but it’s not going anywhere. Brands that give us the option to drink less alcohol while keeping things delicious are a welcome and permanent part of the drinks industry.

So. What else does the year have in store? This is what we reckon we’ll be drinking for the next 12 months!

spiced rum drinks trends for 2020

Spiced rums will continue their dominance into 2020

Spiced and flavoured rums are just getting started

One of the runaway successes of 2019 has been spiced and flavoured rums. In fact, over the whole of 2019, 15 of our top 20 rum best sellers were spiced or flavoured. It’s a trend that accelerated over the course of the year, and while you’d expect an uptick in November and December (hello Christmas!), sales of the likes of Bombo, Cloven Hoof and Pirate’s Grog rums are in year-on-year growth for the start of January, too. One shift we think we’ll see? A move towards more ‘grown-up’ flavours and bottle designs. Spiced and flavoured rums don’t have to be all about the party; they can hold their own as respectable cocktail ingredients, too. 

world whisky drinks trends for 2020

No need for a passport – explore the world through whisky!

Genuinely world whisky

Move over, Scotland. Hang back, America. You too, Ireland and Japan. Yes, you make delicious whiskies. But 2020 looks set to be the year that world whisky meaningfully comes to the fore for more of us. Take Israel, for example. There are three distilleries already up and running (Milk & Honey, Golan Heights, Pelter), but there’s the Jerusalem Distillery, Legends Distillery and Eder’i Malthouse and Distillery all hot on their heels. Up in Finland, you’ve got Kyrö, Teerenpeli, The Helsinki Distilling Co, and Panimoravintola (and no doubt numerous others at the development stage). Australian whisky continues to gain momentum (Starward, Sullivans Cove, and Hellyers Road, anyone?), and we’re excited by what distillers are doing across New Zealand, Sweden and France, too. And there’s India, South Africa, England, Wales, The Netherlands… you get the picture. We’re also thrilled by the geographic diversity of whisky production and the different approaches and flavours inherent in that. We reckon loads of you will be, too. 

vodka drinks trends for 2020

Get set for a vodka revival

Viva vodka!

A slightly unexpected one, now. Did you know our vodka sales in 2019 soared by 30% year-on-year? It’s a bit of a surprise for us, too. Bottle sales ramped up gradually but noticeably over the course of the year, and it initially had us scratching our heads. After a pretty break time in the 2000s and 2010s, why is vodka falling back into favour? We looked at our top-sellers and noticed a couple of things. It’s generally not flavoured vodka that’s hitting the mark (a couple of notable exceptions: Thunder Toffee Vodka and Whitley Neill Blood Orange Vodka). Instead, it’s the classic, neutral, big names that seem to have appeal. But that’s not all. Smaller brands playing on their legitimate flavour differences derived from their raw materials are doing especially well. We think the likes of Black Cow Vodka (made from leftover whey from cheese-making), East London Liquor Company 100% Wheat Vodka and Konik’s Tail (made with three different grains: spelt, rye and wheat) will drive this trend forward into 2020.

hard seltzers drinks trends for 2020

Hard seltzers will be A Thing

Hard seltzers and sodas

Call them what you like (the seltzer vs. soda debate could go on), but this sparkling, low-ABV mix of flavoured water and booze isn’t going anywhere. Hard seltzers have been big news Stateside for some time now, and we reckon 2020 is the year they’ll make their presence really felt this side of the Pond. Why? Beer sales are down, people are embracing low- and no-, and we’re all rather partial to a train tinnie, which, if you think about what cocktails in a can actually are, we’re barely a swift step from a hard seltzer anyway. Last year saw the UK launch of Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water, and native names DRTY Hard Seltzer and Bodega Bay are already in the market. Plus, White Claw, the US hard seltzer hero, has already registered its trademark here, too. We’re ready

Beyond bourbon drinks trends for 2020

American single malts for the win!

Beyond bourbon

Hands up who loves American whiskey? Us too. And it’s hardly new. So why does it feature on our list of drinks trends for 2020? Bourbon has long been seen as a synonym for American whiskey, but when you think about its legal definition (in short, it’s made in the US; its mashbill recipe contains a minimum of 51% corn; it’s matured in new, charred oak) it becomes clear there’s a whole load more to American whiskey than perhaps we collectively understand. Step in rye. Come in, American single malt. Oh hello, wheat whiskeys. And of course, there’s a whole host of category-defying whiskeys coming out of the US that can’t be called bourbon. Rules are there to be broken, and when distillers shrug off the bourbon confines, deliciousness can spring forth, and we think 2020 is the year we’ll get to grips with these expressions. Want in now? Check out Balcones Texas Single Malt, Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, St. George Baller Single Malt, and WhistlePig 12 Year Old – Old World.

calvados drinks trends for 2020

Appley goodness right there

Calvados returns

If you’re unfamiliar with this historical French brandy, you are not alone. Calvados is made from apples and pears in Normandy, distilled in either traditional alembic or column stills, and is aged for at least two years. And it’s mighty tasty. We’re waking up to its mixing and sipping potential: last year our Calvados sales soared by an enormous 40% in 2019 over 2018. One of the key drivers was the launch of Avallen in June, a more modern expression that is all about sustainability and boosting biodiversity. Calvados Coquerel has undertaken a re-brand, bringing more energy to the category. And the likes of Berneroy and Château du Breuil are also seeing renewed momentum. 2020 is the time for Calvados to shine.

mezcal drinks trends for 2020

How mezcal gets its smoke

The advent of Mezcal

Tequila’s smoky cousin made its presence felt in 2019, when we saw sales climb by 31%. But what will 2020 have in store for Mezcal? Quite a lot, we think (especially when you consider its 2017-18 growth stood at just 5%). The biggest-selling brands are increasingly well-recognised (Del Maguey, Pensador and Montelobos are rapidly becoming familiar names), and customers in bars and in shops (on and offline) have a deeper understanding of the Mexican spirit. So, what’s next? More at-home mixing and sipping, and a deeper appreciation for all things Mezcal out and about. Bring. It. On.

scotch whisky casks drinks trends for 2020

Bit cold out there

Unconventional cask finishing in Scotch

In June 2019, the Scotch Whisky Association widened the list of permitted cask types in Scotch whisky production. In short, as long as what was previously held in that cask wasn’t made with stone fruits, and hasn’t had flavourings or sweetening added, you’re good to go. It wasn’t an unexpected decision, and loads of Scotch distillers already had experiments under way (Glen Moray Rhum Agricole Cask Finish Project, we’re looking at you). So what? In 2020 we reckon we’ll see loads more esoteric expressions, perhaps some agave finishes, and maybe even some Calvados casks. And probably some stuff we’ve not even thought of yet. Get set for a new wave of flavour in Scotch whisky. (At this point, we’d also like to add a nod to Irish distilleries, who have been playing with different casks for some time.)

aquavit drinks trends for 2020

Delicious dill

An age of aquavit 

Similar to Calvados, aquavit is a traditional category with strong local ties that flies way too low under the radar for our liking. We’re going to stick our necks out and say 2020 is going to be the year that starts to change. To kick off, last year our aquavit sales blossomed by 27%. More people are seeking out the dill- or caraway-flavoured Scandi spirit than ever. What’s also interesting is that some producers in international markets are looking to aquavit for inspiration and are crafting their own expressions, most notably Svöl Danish-Style Aquavit, from Brooklyn, and Psychopomp Aqvavit, hailing from Bristol, UK. This comes hot on the heels of the botanical spirits trend – tried all manner of gins and want something new? Eschew the juniper and look to aquavit instead. It’s a narrative that could well play out this year. 

liqueurs unicorns drinks trends for 2020

RIP, unicorns

Liqueurs ditch the unicorns

2019 was a bumper year for liqueurs, growing 31% to rank as our third-largest drinks category by bottle sales. It’s a notoriously diverse category, defined really only by sugar levels rather than style or flavour. Good job really, three of our top 10 most popular liqueur products are ‘unicorn’ flavoured, whatever that means. There has been a slight shift already though: for the last three months of the year, whisky, coffee, herbal and caramel varieties proved far more popular. Yes, it could be Christmas. But we reckon there’s an underlying trend of a return to more conventional liqueur flavours. Yes, they’re still going to be sweet (that’s kind of the point). But 2020 looks likely to be the year more traditional liqueur variants reclaim the realm from mythical beasts.

Over to you! What do you think will be the biggest drinks trends for 2020? Have we missed something out or got it wildly wrong? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and on social! 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Corpse Reviver No.1

With the party season looming we thought it would be a good idea to look at a famous cocktail to take (in moderation, of course) the next day after a…

With the party season looming we thought it would be a good idea to look at a famous cocktail to take (in moderation, of course) the next day after a big night out. It’s the mighty Corpse Reviver No.1!

Even for drinkers as responsible and mindful as the Master of Malt editorial team, there are times when we might have one too many Brandy Alexanders of an evening. The next day, there’s the familiar dry mouth, headache and general sense of impending doom, though that might just be the forthcoming General Election. We all have our little rituals for such days: some swear by Alka Seltzer or breakfast at McDonald’s; for me nothing works better than ice cold full fat Coca-Cola. Annie Hayes wrote something recently on the industry devoted to curing one of mankind’s most perennial ailments.

Some hangover remedies, however, are a little more fiery. In PG Wodehouse the Inimitable Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s butler comes up with a concoction consisting of a  raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper. Jeeves describes it as “extremely invigorating after a late evening.” It’s what Americans would call a prairie oyster and the idea is, I think, that it’s so unpleasant that it distracts from the pain in the head. Bertie describes it as like “a bomb inside the old bean.”

Working on a similar principle is the hangover cure recommended by Fergus Henderson from St John restaurant in his book Nose to Tail Eating consisting of two parts Fernet Branca to one part créme de menthe drunk over ice. Which sounds like the kind of thing that will send you to an early grave. 

The Corpse Reviver No 1. is an altogether more generous pick-me up. The recipe below is from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) where he writes: “To be taken before 11am, or whenever steam and energy are needed.” It is, however, a much older cocktail, dating back to foggy 19th century London where there were a whole variety of cocktails designed to get your day off to flying start with names like Gloom- Lifters, Eye-Openers, Smashers and Morning Jolts. There’s also a Corpse Reviver No. 2 for when the No. 1 doesn’t work which consists of gin, triple sec, sweet white vermouth, lemon juice and just a hint of absinthe; Craddock comments: “Four to these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again”, so watch out!

Corpse Reviver cocktail

“Hope will dawn once more”

But back to No. 1, it’s not unlike a Manhattan but made with two sorts of brandy, Cognac and Calvados, instead of bourbon or rye. You might be drinking this at breakfast but don’t use cooking brandy. H by Hine VSOP is one of the best value Cognacs on the market, specifically designed for cocktails. For the Calvados, you could go for some funky farmhouse stuff but instead I’ve plumped for something smooth and fruity from Boulard. And to finish off your pick-me-up, Cocchi Storico Vermouth Di Torino is hard to beat. 

Right, let’s wake the dead!

40ml H by Hine VSOP
20ml Boulard Grand Solage Pays d’Auge Calvados
20ml Cocchi Storico Vermouth Di Torino

In a shaker stir with lots of ice and strain into a chilled Coupette glass. Drink, and to paraphrase Bertie Wooster, hope will dawn once more.

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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 French apple brandy – but skip across the Channel, and you’ll find a burgeoning cider-based spirits scene right here in the UK….

Calvados may well be the best-known variety of French 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 apple 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 cider brandy 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 distilled from cider 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? Of course it does.

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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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New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box Affinity

What happens when you gather two really rather delicious beverages, one from Scotland, and one from France, and mix them together? Compass Box has done just that with Scotch and…

What happens when you gather two really rather delicious beverages, one from Scotland, and one from France, and mix them together? Compass Box has done just that with Scotch and Calvados. The result? Affinity, an intriguing thing indeed…

Oh, Compass Box. The whisky blender extraordinaire, the maverick drinks maker, the champion of transparency*. What can’t be said about the self-proclaimed whiskymaker? (We visited way back in 2012 and were super-impressed. Time for a return trip.) Not only do the brand’s bottlings look the part (seriously, check out the labels), the blends themselves are seriously innovative. Well, that’s what I thought. Until Affinity came along, and suddenly, the rest of the range feels almost pedestrian in comparison.

Why the hype? Because Compass Box Affinity is one of those category-defying, hybrid spirits we got so excited about at the start of the year. And it’s here!

Affinity is a Scotch whisky-Calvados blend. And it’s a union made in heaven. Quite why it’s not been tried before I’m not sure (do let me know if you spot something similar already out in the wild). It’s appley, of course – thanks to the Calvados, from Christian Drouin, which, at 37.5% of the volume, is by far the largest of the six constituent parts.

As well as Calvados, Affinity is produced using a Highland malt blend (Clynelish, Dailuaine, Teaninich) matured in three different cask types, a blended Scotch parcel from a refill sherry butt, and Craigellachie from a first-fill sherry butt. It’s exciting to be able to dissect something in such a way. Especially a spirit so unusual in terms of its make-up. This is the joy of Compass Box. Not only is the product range genuinely ingenious, the brand is committed to letting us all know, in as much detail as it legally can, exactly what its drinks are made from.

In his notes on the release, Compass Box founder John Glaser says the team has been blending Calvados and Scotch for some time, “enchanted” by the character of the pair. “One of the world’s greatest spirits, sadly Calvados is also one of the most under-appreciated,” he writes. “Affinity showcases the mouth-coating texture and ripe fragrance of Calvados, partnering it with the rich spiciness and malty aromas of Scotch whisky.”

Delicious indeed. But how to drink it? The inspired Compass Box sorts recommend serving Affinity with amaro and vermouth for a thoroughly unexpected Boulevardier twist. Or with a sweet tarte tatin (guaranteed to impress at the next dinner party). I reckon simply sipping over ice is thoroughly pleasing, especially now the mild spring evenings are here. Tchin-tchin!

*In 2016, Compass Box launched a Scotch Whisky Transparency campaign after it got told off by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) for inadvertently breaking the law around age statements on two of its products. Compass Box had detailed the ages of the constituent parts in its blends, but EU law states that only the youngest can be disclosed.  

 

Compass Box Affinity

Compass Box Affinity

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