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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cider

Sassy: Putting the sass in cidre

Sassy in France blends traditional Norman techniques with modern flavour profiles and marketing to make an authentic cider with a twist. We meet the man with cider flowing through his…

Sassy in France blends traditional Norman techniques with modern flavour profiles and marketing to make an authentic cider with a twist. We meet the man with cider flowing through his veins, Xavier D’ Audiffret Pasquier.

First, let’s get that name out of the way. It doesn’t come from that tired word to describe young heroines, ‘sassy’. No, the brand is named after the Château de Sassy owned by the family of the brand’s founder Xavier D’Audiffret Pasquier. Sometimes in France, the word Chateau can be used rather generously to describe large farmhouses, but the family’s place is the real thing, looking for all the world like a miniature Versailles. 

Sassy_Château founders

Xavier D’Audiffret Pasquier (left) and Pierre-Emmanuel Racine-Jourden in the grounds of the Chateau de Sassy

Changing the image of cider

The D’Audiffret Pasquier family are cider aristocracy, as you’d expect with such a magnificent name. They have been making cider and Calvados in Normandy since the 19th century. But Xavier’s (I’m going to break convention by using his Christian name as saying D’Audiffret Pasquier over and over again just looks too unwieldy) business has only been going since 2014 and is completely independent. 

His background is in finance but, he told us “I had always wanted to launch my own company.” So he partnered with his old school friend, the equally magnificently-monikered, Pierre-Emmanuel Racine-Jourden to create Sassy. The idea was to shake up the image of cider in France which Xavier said “is very old fashioned, something you eat with galettes and crêpes.” 

Getting the branding right was very important. But they also wanted to make a cider that tasted a bit different while staying true to their Norman roots. Working with a cellar master, they developed three recipes. “I wanted to create something different to what every other farmer is making in Normandy,” Xavier said. Whereas most French ciders use four different apple species, Sassy uses 20, and less of the classic bitter apples to create something “delicate, fine and well-balanced with good complexity” as he puts it.

Sassy apple

It all starts with the humble apple

Very artisan

He describes production as “very artisan.” He uses fruit from trees planted in loam soils which apparently creates a “nice acidity” with low yields, they only plant 150 trees per hectare compared with the normal 600, and he waits eight years for the trees to mature before using the apples. The ciders are made from a combination of his own orchards and bought-in fruit from ten local farmers. 

As well as rejuvenate the category, Xavier wants to help promote his home region and protect its cider inheritance. “We wanted to launch something that could help to revitalise the Norman economy. The wine economy is massive and we’d like to do the same now for cidre. We saw that a lot of apple producers were destroying orchards,” he said. 

Innovative production methods

To make the cider, the team uses a pneumatic Champagne press that works gently so it doesn’t introduce any harsh tannins into the juice. His ciders are lower in alcohol than the Norman average, beginning at 2.5% ABV for the Le Vertueux and going up to 5.2% ABV for the L’Inimitable. He puts this low alcohol down to shorter fermentation times which they cut short by chilling to leave a little residual sugar. The ciders are then bottled and carbonated. 

Despite the low alcohol, Sassy ciders are packed full of flavour with a distinct fruit taste – like spiced apple pie. They stay true to their roots with a little tannic bite. The taste is distinctly Norman but also very fruity, modern and accessible. My mother-in-law, who doesn’t really drink, loved them. I was particularly taken with the 3% ABV rose La Sulfureuse cider made with pink-fleshed apples. 

Sassy cider rose

Sassy cider, perfect for picnics

Good mixers

They are also, Xavier said, “great low ABV mixers.” I can vouch that it makes a superb Anglo-French Kir Royale combined with White Heron British Framboise. He’s been working with Michelin-starred chefs like Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, and making sure his cider is poured in 5 star hotels and cocktail bars like Nightjar. The aim is to: “change the perception and be disruptive.” He has begun to see his hard work pay off with cider increasingly seen on “cool terraces in Paris,” he said.

In 2017, they began exporting to Britain. If cider has a problem in France with its old man image, then Britain has it far worse. Say cider and many will think of tramps or teenagers in parks. In the UK, cider only has to contain 35% apple juice compared with 80% in France. Sassy is made from 100% whole fruit, and yet it is in the same category as Kopparberg.

“Kopparberg, it is not real cider. It’s more like hard seltzer than a cider,” Xavier complained. At the same time he recognises that though much of what people drink isn’t great quality, the cider market in Britain is ten times the size of France. Low apple ciders “make cider popular. It’s not a good product, but people like it,” he admits.  

But attitudes are changing in England too, with companies like Cider is Wine or the Fine Cider Company insisting that cider should be made like wine and enjoyed as such. Better quality ciders are increasingly available in pubs and restaurants, and people are waking up to the joys of real, whole fruit cider. Sassy is a great place to start if you want to know what the fuss is about. 

Buy Sassy cider here

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The Nightcap: 10 September

What to expect from this week’s round-up of boozy news: Midleton’s new rye whiskey, CAMRA’s plea to us to drink better cider, and the promise you can drink more if…

What to expect from this week’s round-up of boozy news: Midleton’s new rye whiskey, CAMRA’s plea to us to drink better cider, and the promise you can drink more if you exercise. It’s all in the Nightcap: 10 September edition!

What we love about the British summer is just when you think it’s over and autumn has definitely arrived, it’ll return for an encore. We’re making the most of the sunshine because before you know it, the darkness and gloom of winter will be here. But we need not be too sad because there’s a drink or drinks for every season. We’re looking forward to putting away the cold lagers, Margaritas, and Gin and Tonics, and moving on to the hot toddies, sherried single malts, and, best of all, lashing and lashing of Port. And to read with your seasonal beverages? Why, there’s always the Nightcap. Those winter months are just going to fly by.

Before we get stuck into the news from the world of booze, we have to tell you about all the excitement on the blog this week. And we mean excitement. The week began with a look at the long-awaited Johnnie Walker brand home on Princes Street in Edinburgh. Then Henry toasted the start of a new week with four limited-edition whiskies from Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Tobermory, and Ledaig. New columnist Lauren Eads spoke to Shannon Tebay, the first American to run the American Bar at the Savoy, while Adam knocked up Snoop Dogg’s favourite cocktail, the Gin and Juice. Ian Buxton returned with a look at the lost world of Australian and New Zealand whisky. Then we wrote about the oldest Japanese whisky ever released, a Yamazaki 55 Year Old! But that’s not all because Adam has just come back from Glenmorangie’s experimental new distillery. All in one week!

Now it’s on with the Nightcap: 10 September edition!

Dennis Malcolm at Glen Grant

Dennis Malcolm celebrates 60 years in whisky

Glen Grant launches 60-year-old whisky to honour Dennis Malcolm

Glen Grant sure knows how to mark an anniversary. The Speyside distillery is celebrating master distiller Dennis Malcolm’s six decades in the business with a 60-year-old single malt Scotch. The aptly-named Dennis Malcolm 60th Anniversary Edition comes from a single ex-oloroso Sherry cask, #5040, which was filled on 24 October 1960, making it the distillery’s oldest bottling in its 181-year history. It will launch globally in October this year and is made up of just 360 decanters designed by Glencairn Studio housed in a presentation box made from sustainable walnut. Each case is engraved with Malcolm’s signature and comes with a certificate of authenticity, signed by the master distiller himself. All this for €25,000. Malcolm was actually born at Glen Grant in 1946 and followed in his father and grandfather into the industry as an apprentice cooper when he was 15 years old. His work in whisky earned him recognition from Queen Elizabeth II in 2016, when he was named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). Bob Kunze-Concewitz, CEO of Campari Group, which owns Glen Grant, paid tribute to “the career of a true Scottish gentleman and globally recognised Scotch whisky craftsman,” adding that “Dennis has not only created some of the most-awarded single malts in the world, but also serves as an unwavering champion for the industry”. Hear, hear. Cheers to you Dennis!

Distillers Katherine Condon and Eva O'Doherty (2)

Katherine Condon and Eva O’Doherty look like they’re about to drop the folk electronica album of the year

Midleton Method and Madness Rye and Malt is here!

When we visited Midleton near Cork a couple of years ago, the highlight of the tour was the on-site experimental Micro Distillery. Now the first release from this hotbed of innovation is here and it sounds like a cracker. Called Midleton Method and Madness Rye and Malt, it was created by Katherine Condon who joined Irish Distillers as a graduate trainee back in 2014. It’s apparently inspired by 1857 notebooks from John Jameson III who was using rye at the time. Condon explained: “We have been inspired by the innovators in Irish whiskey who came before us. In turn, we have questioned tradition and challenged convention to follow their inspiration and drive the Irish whiskey category forward for a new generation of creators, consumers, and indeed, suppliers.” The mashbill is 60% rye and 40% malted barley. After fermentation, the grains were double-distilled, before going into ex-bourbon casks. It’s bottled at 46% ABV  with an RRP of €95. As massive fans of a) rye whiskey b) the Midleton distillery, to say we are excited would be an understatement. We’ll report back when we’ve had a little taste.

 

Fitness and alcohol

More of this and you can drink more of the good stuff, claim scientists

Fitter people can drink more and handle their booze better

Higher fitness levels are significantly related to greater alcohol consumption, according to a new study looking into people’s exercise and drinking habits. Regular exercisers drink more alcohol, but are less likely to be problem drinkers as stated in new research that appeared in Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise from a study at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. According to the research, which looked at data from 38,000 healthy patients ranging in age from 20 to 86, there is a strong link between exercise and alcohol habits. The findings showed that “women within the moderate and high fitness categories had greater odds of moderate/heavy alcohol consumption in comparison to their low fitness counterparts. Similarly, moderate and high fit men had greater odds of moderate-to-heavy alcohol consumption in comparison to the low fitness group”. In addition, men who were heavy drinkers all displayed “higher fitness levels were related to lower rates of suggested alcohol dependence,” stated the findings. The subjects’ fitness was estimated with a treadmill test to exhaustion and transparency about their drinking habits, ultimately revealing how higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are related to increased alcohol consumption management among adults. In a similar study conducted by the University of Notre Dame, recent research found that people with a lower percentage of body fat will have lower ‘Blood Alcohol Concentration’ (BACs) than those with a higher percentage of body fat, debunking myths suggesting that if you are overweight you can handle your drink better.

Gabe Cook CAMRA and Cider

Gabe Cook says: drink better cider!

CAMRA calls on government to support UK cider makers

CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) has teamed up with Gabe Cook, aka the Ciderologist, to try to get legislation changed to protect Britain’s independent cider makers. They are going to send a copy of Cook’s latest book Modern British Cider to all 70 MPs who sit for cider-making constituencies. The aim is to get them to change some of the laws governing cider and taxation in the UK. One is to introduce a progressive cider duty so that smaller cider makers looking to expand above the current 70hl duty exemption size won’t get clobbered. Next, they want to make ingredient labelling compulsory so that customers will know exactly what goes into their cider. Hint, it’s often not apples. At the moment ciders only need to be made from 35% apples, the rest of the alcohol can come from sugar. Many ciders are little more than apple-flavoured alcopops. So finally CAMRA and Cook are calling for a minimum 50% apple content in cider. In France, it’s 80%. Cook said: “I hope this book lends a voice to these causes and readers will join my calls to support the industry. Britain is blessed with so much cider heritage, which we desperately need to conserve, but also wonderful innovation, fun, and boundary-pushing boldness which we need to nurture. There truly is a cider for everyone.” It sounds like a worthwhile campaign. It should be more of a scandal how little apple content there is in most British ciders. 

Will Hawkes Fortnum & Mason drinks writer of the year

Congratulations to Will Hawkes (he’s the one in the middle)

The best drinks writers celebrated at Fortnum’s awards

To the glittering Royal Exchange outpost of Fortnum & Mason for the annual celebration of great food and drink writing. All the stars were there: Grace Dent, Claudia Winkleman, Stanley Tucci (!), and somehow Master of Malt managed to bag an invite. We were delighted that Will Hawkes won drinks writer of the year for his work in Pellicle and new drinks magazine Tonic. We were especially pleased to see Hawkes staying on brand by celebrating with a glass of beer rather than the Champagne that everyone else was knocking back. Man of the people. Another popular winner was Cas Oh for his snazzy cocktail book Co Specs which we covered on the blog earlier this year. It was great to catch up with him and discover that he’s as charming and stylish as his book. He snapped up the debut drinks book award while the main drinks book award went to Wine Girl by Victoria James. There were also some food awards with Fay Maschler, Jimi Famurewa and James Martin among the winners. Go here to see the full results. A great time was had by all and somehow we managed not to corner Stanley Tucci and bore him about how to make the perfect Negroni, though we did go a bit starstruck over Grace Dent. 

Joel McHale & Monkey Shoulder distill dry first dates

A new campaign for Monkey Shoulder has a revolutionary idea: whisky might help first dates be a bit less stuffy. In a bold move, William Grant & Sons’ mixable malt brand has enlisted Community actor and The Soup host Joel McHale to hit the streets of New York City to help daters drop the pretension and relax – preferably with a glass of Monkey Shoulder. The ‘Stick it to Stuck Up’ campaign attempts to remove the snobbery surrounding whisky as well as dating. It features McHale wearing a plaid suit with crystal lowball glass in hand playing “a person who’s trying way too hard to impress you,” before chucking the glass offstage and stripping down to a casual sweater. “To enjoy your whisky, you don’t need some guy with a handlebar mustache spewing a bunch of pompous tasting notes,” he quips. Anyone taking notes? As a part of the initiative, daters have the chance to have McHale crash their first dates by sharing stories of their most stuffy and stuck-up dating experiences. Go here to enter the contest. Not that anyone here at Master of Malt needs any assistance in the dating world. Now where’s my cravat, I’ve got a hot date tonight. 

Lockdown fine wine

Did you spend lockdown doing this? You’re not alone

And finally… Brits spent lockdown sipping fine wine

Did you learn another language during the many lockdowns? Or maybe get round to clearing the garage or grouting the bathroom? We didn’t do anything quite this dramatic but we did learn to make a killer chip shop curry sauce (the secret is to add apple, oddly). The other thing we did was drink better wine more often and it seems we weren’t alone. Bordeaux Index has just released figures showing that 75% of British wine drinkers saw their consumption of fine wine rise. Not only that but apparently 29% think of themselves as connoisseurs – presumably,  to paraphrase Basil Fawlty, they know a claret from a Bordeaux. It’s all great news for Bordeaux Index which has seen its wine and spirit sales increase by 44%, year on year. Director Matthew O’Connell explained: “Today’s findings show that the pandemic has significantly changed our approach to the way we consume fine wine, and the increasing desire to aspire to drink better at home. We have seen this in our own UK business, and interestingly have observed broadly similar patterns across our Asian and US offices.” He added that, if you can resist drinking the stuff, wine can be “a great investment option and we are seeing more and more investors enter the space.” As rumours fly of a fourth lockdown in the pipeline, or perhaps fifth, fine wine merchants across the country will be bracing themselves for deluge of orders. 

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Ten great British booze destinations 

As most of us won’t be going far this summer, we’ve picked some great British booze destinations around the country for you to visit. From vineyards to gin distilleries, these…

As most of us won’t be going far this summer, we’ve picked some great British booze destinations around the country for you to visit. From vineyards to gin distilleries, these are some of our favourite places to enjoy whether the sun comes out or not. 

Last week we showed you how you can go on holiday without leaving the comfort of your own home. Today we’ve picked some of our favourite drinks destinations around Britain, from ancient breweries to modern vineyards, and not forgetting the wealth of distilleries found all over the country. There’s something here for everyone. 

Great British booze destinations

Somerset Cider Brandy Company

Burrow Hill Cider, Somerset

Anyone who has been to the Glastonbury festival will have tried Burrow Hill’s delicious produce at the famous Cider Bus. At his farm in Somerset, cider master Julian Temperley (above) produces a broad range of traditional West Country ciders ranging from delicious summer sippers to complex bottle-fermented products made from single apple varieties. But that’s not all, he’s also the man behind the Somerset Cider Brandy Company, making, since 1989, England’s answer to Calvados. Truly this place is a booze wonderland. 

Hush Heath estate, Kent

Hush Heath Estate, Kent

Hush Heath has to be one of the most gorgeous vineyards in England, set among the rolling Kent hills. Here the father and son wine making team of Owen and Fergus Elias make a superb selection of wines under the Balfour label. They are justly famous for their sparkling wines, particularly, the rose but the still wines are coming on strongly with some increasingly good Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. Take a walk in the vineyards and then soak up that view from the terrace with a few glasses of wine and some food. 

Tillingham

Tillingham vineyard, East Sussex

I’ve learned from bitter experience that children find wine tasting very boring which is why I’ve picked this place. While you taste and practise your best wine speak, they can eat pizza and run around. There are rooms and bell tents to sleep in in the summer. It’s run by a maverick called Ben Walgate (seated above) who makes delicious idiosyncratic wine and cider using Georgian amphora and the like. There’s a real sense of fun about Tillingham.

Chase Distillery in Herefordshire

Chase Distillery, Herefordshire

The Chase family is all about potatoes. First it was crisp, Tyrell’s. Then they sold that business to do something a bit different, make vodka. And they turned out to be rather good at it winning awards left, right and centre. The distillery, set in the heart of Herefordshire cider country, now produces a range of spirits including gin, apple brandy and liqueurs. The distillery itself with its huge column still (once the tallest in Europe) at the centre looks spectacular and it’s worth a visit even if you’re not a booze nerd.

The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria

The Lakes Distillery, Cumbria

One of the perennial questions for tourists in England is what to do when it’s raining in the Lake District, which is often. Well, instead of sitting in a tea room reading Wordsworth, you should instead visit the Lakes Distillery, makers of first class single malt whisky. It’s really set-up for tourism with a fine restaurant and cafe on the site. Take a guided tour and then sample some of the sherry-cask whiskies created by ex-Macallan whisky maker Dhaval Gandhi. You won’t want the rain to stop. 

Shepherd Neame Faversham in Kent

Shepherd Neame Brewery, Kent

There’s something magical about towns like Faversham in Kent that are dominated by a large family brewer. The sprawling Shepherd Neame site sits in the centre of this beautiful medieval market town and permeates the whole place with the sweet smell of malted barley. The company dates back to the 17th century and is still in family hands.It’s the home of perhaps Kent’s most famous beer, Spitfire, as well as great strong beers like Bishop’s Finger and 1698.

Adnams Copper House Distillery

Adnams Brewery and Distillery, Suffolk

Another two for the price of one visit here as Adnams not only produces a delicious selection of Suffolk ales, but there’s also a distillery. The company was a pioneer of English whisky when it began distilling in 2010, so they have some properly mature whisky now for you to sample. Our favourite is probably the malted rye. Adnams also has a wine merchant arms, so they’ve got the booze business pretty well covered. It all takes place in Southwold, one of the prettiest seaside towns in the country so we’d recommend staying for a couple of days. In a pub owned by Adnams, naturally. 

Haymans Gin

Hayman’s Gin, London 

If you love gin then you have to visit Hayman Distillers in south London. The family has been distilling for generations, they are descended from James Burrough who created Beefeater gin, but the name Hayman’s only appeared on a bottle in 2004. Then in 2018, they opened this gin palace in Balham to produce a range of true London dry gins. Visitors can learn about the history of distilling in the capital,  admire the gleaming stills, and find out how gin is made. Or if that sounds a bit too strenuous, you can just enjoy the best gin and tonic in London at the bar.

Glenfarclas Distillery, mountain background

Glenfarclas Distillery, Speyside

Whisky fans are spoiled for choice in Speyside, the home of Glenlivet, Macallan and Balvenie, but there’s something particularly special about Glenfarclas. It might be because it’s one of the very few single malt whisky producers that is family owned, by the Grant family since the 19th century. Or it might be because the old ways are preserved here, like direct-fired stills, long-ageing in sherry casks and damp earth-floored warehouses, not because they look picturesque but because they make whisky with character. 

Ramsbury Distillery/ Brewery in Wiltshire

Ramsbury Estate, Wiltshire 

The Ramsbury Estate is a mecca for food and drink lovers. Covering nearly 20,000 acres of beautiful Wiltshire countryside, the farm raises cattle, pigs and deer, and grows wheat, barley, rapeseed, and other crops. Best of all, you can visit the on-site brewery and distillery which makes first-rate gin, vodka, and beer all made from scratch (no bought in grain alcohol here) largely using estate-grown produce. Nothing is wasted: leftovers from gin distillation are even used to cure venison to make charcuterie!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Stone Fence

Bourbon and cider come together to create one of the cocktail world’s more simple but obscure serves. From Connecticut to east London, we explore the hazy life of the Stone…

Bourbon and cider come together to create one of the cocktail world’s more simple but obscure serves. From Connecticut to east London, we explore the hazy life of the Stone Fence.

Breton Cider is a powerful beast. The hazy, fermented apple juice can make you do interesting things. For me, it was the catalyst for an unexpected evening at a Slipknot gig in Ally Pally; for Kevin Armstrong of Satan’s Whiskers, it forms part of his Stone Fence cocktail.

During lockdown, the Bethnal Green bar got together with Maker’s Mark bourbon to create a bottled limited edition version. Combining Maker’s Mark, cider, lemon cordial, ginger and orange bitters, I found it the perfect 2pm livener for a lazy Easter Sunday.

Chasing history

Despite having reportedly been around since the 18th century, the Stone Fence is still a relatively unknown cocktail. “It’s like an obscure classic,” says Noel Venning of fellow east London bar Three Sheets, where the cocktail has been on and off the menu since its opening in 2016.

Indeed, its origins are opaque. According to the intrepid drinks historian David Wondrich in an article for Esquire: “The name ‘Stone Fence’ alludes to the effect produced by getting outside too many of these, which is not unlike that produced by running downhill into one.”

He goes on to explain how the drink also called the ‘Stone Wall’ has its origins in the volatile atmosphere of revolutionary America when in 1775 a group of New Hampshire colonists known as the Green Mountain Boys decided to seize Ticonderoga fort from its well-armed British garrison. To prepare, the gang needed a little Dutch courage.

Wondrich writes: “What do you drink before taking on a garrison of well-entrenched professional soldiers, a garrison that has 100 cannon to your none, with nothing more than a gang of high-spirited part-timers? According to the Green Mountain Boys, you drink cider. Hard cider. In fact, hard cider with a hefty shot of rum in it. A lot of it.” And so the Stone Wall was born. Over time, the drink evolved to include whiskey and became the now-known Stone Fence.

Rock solid recipes

It’s appeared in various forms ever since. In 1872’s Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks by William Terrington, it features in the ‘Cobblers and Smashes’ section with a simple recipe of a gill (quarter pint) of whiskey, half pint of cider and half pint of shaved ice. 

However, in Louis Fouquet’s 1896 Mixellany’s Annotated Bariana the cocktail calls for Cognac and sweet cider; while Harry Johnson in his famous 1900 Bartender’s Manual instructs the reader to gather a whiskey glass for serving, one wine glass of whiskey, two or three lumps of broken ice and to: “‘Fill the glass with cider, stir up well, and serve; as a rule it is left to the drinker to help himself to the whiskey if he so desires.” A cider and whiskey chaser, if you will.

More modern iterations include that of Jim Meehan in his 2017 book Meehan’s Bartender Manual combines cider, bourbon whiskey, grade A dark amber maple syrup, and the option of adding a dash or two of Angostura bitter, the latter becoming more mainstream in modern serves.

Stone Fence

It’s a Stone Fence!

Devil’s play

The first time Armstrong put a Stone Fence on the menu was during his time in charge of the bars at Match Bar Group. “I looked after all the recruitment training menus for Milk and Honey, Trailer Happiness, etc and one of the people that was working as a consultant was Dale DeGroff [American master mixologist, award winner and ‘King of Cocktails’]. Whenever we did a Matchbar menu we would do a ‘Dale’s page’ which had some of his originals. At one stage we put an entire page of Stone-related drinks, using the same recipe but different base spirit.”

During the pandemic, Armstrong wanted a bottled bourbon drink that wasn’t a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned (“high booze content, a little bit boring”) and was looking for something lighter: “Everything we did was about creating a range of drinks that could be drunk at midday, 2pm or 1am, 2am. There aren’t that many long carbonated good cocktails so the Stone Fence is comfortably more accessible. We have a brilliant in-house recipe so we thought, ‘let’s work on that and see if we can make it work in a bottled cocktail’.”

Ginger juice was replaced with a clarified ginger syrup; fresh lemon was dried and then rehydrated into a sugar syrup; followed by lemon, ginger and orange essences; pressed apple juice was added as was a blend of Breton cider and West Country ciders for extra dryness; and a healthy slug of Maker’s Mark topped it off. “Maker’s Mark was really excellent with getting the balance right and it also comes in at a lower ABV than some other bourbons,” says Armstrong.

The riffs keep on coming

Over at Three Sheets, the recipe for its Stone Fence cocktail has evolved over the years while also keeping regulars happy. “We always have the ability to serve it,” explains co-owner Venning who credits his brother Max with creating the original bar recipe. “We always keep a batch of the drink on hand because we have regulars who drink it exclusively.”

Describing it as a good summer-to-autumn drink, Venning reckons it’s changed three times since 2016. A recipe in a previous bar he was at the helm of used pear with Calvados. Now the Three Sheets recipe calls for 25ml bourbon, 5ml Merlet Peche, 5ml 2:1 sugar syrup, 25 ml lemon juice, 5ml egg white, two dashes Angostura bitters, 50ml soda water and a Breton cider top. Served in a chilled water or fizz glass, the first six ingredients are shaken with ice until diluted. Soda water is added to the bottom of the glass, then the shaken ingredients are double-strained over it, left to settle and topped with the Breton.

Hopefully the rise in popularity of American whiskeys – will see the Stone Fence become somewhat less obscure than it has been in recent years. Venning is hopeful too: “It’s a bit left field, but I think bars are trying to increase knowledge of it.”

How to make a Stone Fence (from Meehan’s Bartender’s Manual)

90ml good quality still dry cider*
60ml Maker’s Mark bourbon
7ml grade A dark amber maple syrup
Dash or two Angostura Bitters (optional)

Build together in a Collins glass, fill with ice and garnish with an apple fan.

*Recipe calls for unfiltered hard apple cider which is usually dry and still. If your cider is sweeter then cut back on the maple syrup; if it sparkles, then it’s probably fine to use. It’s the quality that matters.

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Drinks to take on a picnic

On the 8 March, UK residents will finally be allowed to meet friends outdoors which means one thing… picnic time! So, for all your outdoor feasting needs, here are our…

On the 8 March, UK residents will finally be allowed to meet friends outdoors which means one thing… picnic time! So, for all your outdoor feasting needs, here are our favourite drinks to take on picnics. 

There’s not doubt that the British love a picnic. We even celebrate the less enjoyable aspects of eating out of doors; who can forget those lines from John Betjamin’s poem Trebetherick: “Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea”? 

Wasps aren’t the only hazard you can face on the beach. Last time we went to Ramsgate, a little boy ordered some chips and then next thing you know there were seagulls as big as pterodactyls swooping down to steal their share. They were eventually beaten off by a gang of children armed with cricket bats. Anyway, I suppose my point is that there’s lots of uncontrollable elements in life, but there’s no excuse for not having top quality booze.

Happily these days, there’s a massive choice of drinks suitable for taking on a picnic, and they’re all at Master of Malt. From delicious bitters and lagers, to fine ciders from Kent, the West Country and France. Not to mention delicious RTD (ready to drink) cocktails in cans and fantastic choice of wine. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites so stock up in preparation for the official beginning of picnic season. Don’t forget the corkscrew, and a cricket bat to beat off marauding seagulls.

Beer

Adnams Lighthouse Beer

Adnams Lighthouse

Adnams in Suffolk brews some of the finest beer in the country as well as making some impressive spirits. This Lighthouse Beer named after the famous Southwold landmark, is a picnic beer par excellence. It’s a light refreshing pale ale, packed with gentle hop character, and weighing in at a very drinkable 3.4% ABV.

Small Beer Lager

Small Beer Co. Lager 

One of the best things to happen to brewing in the last five years is the development of genuinely delicious low ABV beers. There’s some cracking ones at 0.5% ABV but we’re particularly taken with the slightly stronger range from the Small Beer Company. Everything it does is excellent but this lager packs a lot of flavour into its 2.1% ABV.

Cider

Sassy Cider

Sassy La Sulfureuse

The name comes from the sassiest castle in France, the Château de Sassy. It’s in the heart of Normandy, the home of French cider. This is a classic Norman sparkling cider but made from apples with pink flesh which gives it its pretty colour. The flavour is just off dry and packed full of sweet apple fruit. 

Ready-to-drink

Goslings Dark and Stormy

Goslings Dark and Stormy

Fancy a proper Dark ‘n’ Stormy made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer without messing around with bottles and jiggers? Well, now you can because this is the canned version. Simply add ice and a slice of lime and it’s just like being in the Caribbean. Or just drink it straight from the can.

East London Grapefruit Gin and Tonic

East London Liquor Company Grapefruit Gin & Tonic

This beauty comes from one of our favourite distillers, the East London Liquor Company, or ELLC to its friends. This blend of the company’s excellent grapefruit gin with tonic water should be in everyone’s Esky when the sun comes out. 

Ginking

Ginking

This is a splendid concoction. It’s a mixture of gin, English sparkling wine and mineral water. It manages to be refreshing, utterly delicious and it comes in at a very drinkable 8.5% ABV, much lower in alcohol than a straight sparkling wine. There are also Mediterranean and Italia versions.

Croft Twist

Croft Twist Elderflower, Lemon & Mint

Here’s another marvelous mash-up. It’s a sherry cocktail in a can blending Croft Fino sherry, elderflower, lemon and mint cordials as well as sparkling water. And only 5.5% ABV. Perfect for hot summer’s days.

Wine:

Saint Amour Beaujolais Domaine Chardigny

Domaine Chardigny Saint Amour A la Folie 2018

Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape, is the ultimate picnic wine. It goes with pretty much any food and tastes equally delicious chilled as at room temperature. This example is packed full of fruits of the forest and partly-aged in concrete for maximum freshness.

domaine sautereau sancerre rose

Domaine Sautereau Sancerre Rosé 2019

Here’s one you may not have had before, Rosé from Sancerre, a region best known for its whites made from Sauvignon Blanc. This is made entirely from Pinot Noir and exhibits fresh strawberries with a citrus tang. It’s class in a glass.

Txomin Etxaniz 2019

Txomin Etxaniz 2019

It’s not the easiest wine to pronounce, but it’s worth getting your tongue around all those ‘x’s because this white wine is delicious. The grapes are Basque natives, Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza, and the resulting wine is light, vibrant and lemony with delicate fizz to it.

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus 2019

This wine was a massive hit in our family last summer. It’s made from the grape that England has made its own, Bacchus. Then to keep all those vibrant citrus and elderflower flavours, it is carbonated. Yes, just like with lager. Also makes a great base for a Kir Royale, just add creme de cassis

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Five minutes with. . .  Mark Harvey from Chapel Down 

English wine is on a bit of a roll at the moment and the country’s largest producer, Chapel Down, is based right here in Kent. But that’s not all, it…

English wine is on a bit of a roll at the moment and the country’s largest producer, Chapel Down, is based right here in Kent. But that’s not all, it also makes gin, vodka, beer and cider alongside it’s award-winning wines. We thought it was time to learn a bit more. . . 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, those lines seem particularly apt for English wine. On one hand there’s been booming sales, a run of great harvests and increasing brand recognition by consumers; on the other there’s the uncertainties caused by Brexit and Covid plus a lack of profitability among some producers. One company, however, that looks set to thrive even in today’s uncertain times is Chapel Down. It produces everything from popular still wines to the superb single vineyard Kit’s Coty range which tops out at around £100 a bottle for the prestige Couer de Cuvee. In addition, there is beer, gin, vodka and cider. It’s a one stop shop for all your English drinks needs. Recently we ran a sale on the site of Chapel Down products and were stunned by the response so we thought we’d find out a bit more from the company from managing director Mark Harvey who joined the firm in 2015. 

MoM: How are you finding lockdown at Chapel Down?

MH: It’s a really mixed bag. Our restaurants, shops and tours are all shut. The minute we got the advice, we acted pretty swiftly on that, which felt like the right thing to do. All of the on-trade which is heavy on the beer but lighter on the wine is switched off. Then the retail side, we’re in Majestic, Waitrose, Sainsburys, all that lot, they seem to be doing really well. I mean all the signs are pretty positive. And then online it’s just gone bonkers. I mean, literally, 10-15 times up what it would normally be! 

Mark Harvey, MD of Chapel Down

MoM: How are things in the vineyards?

MH: The vineyards just don’t stop obviously and we’re kind of going through frost season [we spoke to Harvey at the end of April] at the moment, so kind of nervously looking at the ground each morning but so far, we got a little bit of frost last week on one parcel of land, one block of land, but nothing major. But we’re not out of the woods yet so we’ve probably got another two weeks of just looking and checking. But the forecast is good, so that should be all right. Last year’s harvest was so big, we are still processing 2019 wines. This week we are doing all of the Bacchus and then we need to get onto blending the sparkling wines because we will start bottling in, hopefully June if the French guys can come over and do it, or if not it might be a little bit later. But yeah, the vineyards and the winery are dead busy. 

MoM: Are you worried about potential shortage of pickers because of Covid 19 and Brexit? 

MH: That’s an ongoing thing. Lots of this stuff is just really unknown. I saw that there was a plane-load of Romanians coming in a couple of weeks back for the fruit that needs picking now, so whether that will happen with us, I don’t know. We obviously work with external companies, who bring these guys and girls in, so they obviously paint a pretty positive picture, because, why wouldn’t they? If we’re in a bit of a corner come August time, it will be around that time, we will probably look to see if we can get local pickers. 

A team of pickers in the vineyard

MoM: And what’s your background before you joined Chapel Down?

MH: I used to work at LVMH so I sold champagne and spirits. I was in the UK for probably half of that and then I was general manager in Ireland. My last job was business director for the whiskies in the US. 

MoM: You joined Chapel Down in 2015, is that right?

MH: It will be five years in September that I’ve been here. It’s gone really quick actually! I’m kind of the glory boy, it [English wine] was already good when I started but it’s going really well now. This next period will be interesting with corona and on-trade shutting down and all of that, as it will for lots of businesses. But long term you step back from it and the future is pretty rosy.

MoM: Do you think at some point there’s going to be a bit of consolidation in the British wine industry? 

MH: Without doubt, yeah. I think this current crisis might possibly accelerate that. And I think the large harvests of 2018 and ‘19 might make things difficult for some as well. Because up until now, the dynamic has been massive demand and not sufficient supply so lots of people have been planting like crazy and then suddenly we’ve had two whopping harvest in ‘18 and ‘19 and I think it’s going to get tougher. And then it’s brands ultimately that win out. There’s lots of lovely boutique wineries but in terms of brands, with a guy wandering down the Waitrose aisle, how many English wine brands does he know? Not many. And even the top ones, like Chapel Down and Nyetimber, the awareness isn’t that high. I think it’s going to be really interesting and yeah, I think a consolidation in the next few years is inevitable. 

MoM: And in the time that you’ve been in the wine business, English wine has changed massively. What are the factors that have seen it become the industry that it is today?

MH: Oh man, it’s changed out of all recognition. I mean, fundamentally, the wines are really good now. I think site selection at the starting point is really important and that’s got better. The knowledge and the expertise of the guys in the vineyards planting the vines and cultivating and all of that, the establishment of the vineyards has got much better. The guys in the winery have got much better. And it’s a combination of talent coming in so there’s some New World and Champagne guys have come over. And then, in our example, it’s two home-grown talents in Richard Lewis and Josh Donaghay-Spire, our winemaker. They’re graduates of Plumpton, the wine school in Sussex. So the expertise has got a lot better and the resulting wines are better. 

Beyond the production-side, you’ve got more professionalism coming in. So, dare I say it, someone like me coming in from LVMH. You’ve got people from big wine organisations coming in, we recruited a guy from Treasury Wine Estates. I’m a massive believer in brands and I think the fact that the leading players are doing the right thing by the brands. The pricing is right, the bottle looks decent on-shelf, it’s sold in the right channel. English wine as a brand is really well-established. The only fear now is that as more wine comes on-stream, that people do the wrong thing with price and… we’ll just have to see how it goes. 

Head winemaker and Plumpton graduate Josh Donaghay-Spire

MoM: What do you think is going to be the next thing that takes off in English wine?

MH: From a varietal point of view, there will be bits and pieces and innovation round the side and we have had a grower that’s planted some Albariño, that was a bit of fun. Ben Wallgate at Tillingham does some interesting stuff and so there will always be bits and pieces around the outside. I think it’s great that you get that diversity. But actually the two main messages whenever I talk about English wine are ‘the traditional method’ and the link back into Champagne. And then Bacchus on the still side. And those, I think, are the two flags that will keep going for a long time. 

MoM: Do you think still Chardonnay will go mainstream or is it always going to be a premium product?

MH: That’s a good question. I think for us it will always be a premium product actually. Just given the scale of it, the quality of it and we shift it, we’re always after more! So unless somebody comes in and plants a lot more… I mean you never know what’s going to happen but I think Bacchus will continue to be at the entry-point still wine scale and then Chardonnay will tend to be at that more premium price point. Our single vineyard chardonnay is 30 quid, which is obviously premium and we just can’t make enough of it. 

MoM: You’re part of the Wine Garden of England group with other Kent winemakers. Do you think Kentish wine has its own identity? 

MH: Yeah, it’s a really interesting one. I like the Wine Garden of England because I think at core there’s a sort of truth to it which is ‘we all believe that Kent is the best place for growing grapes for traditional method wine – lots of clay, lots of chalk and the right climate. So there’s something to it, we’ve all planted in Kent for a reason, so it’s not made up. It makes sense to hold hands on tourism and attracting people to Kent but personally, I don’t think there’s much merit in complicating it beyond that. I think the smart thing to do is just forge ahead as brands. Kent is part of the makeup of what we do, it’s a bit complicated because we also source grapes from Essex and Sussex. I just think that all of us should just go hell-for-leather on our own brands and then the details of ‘Kent’ and ‘England’ and ‘Britain’, it’s just secondary messaging. I think the most interesting things for consumers are individual brands and stories and provenance and that’s what’s of interest. Whether the fact you have an overriding Kent logo or England logo on the bottle, I just don’t think they care. 

Kit’s Coty, Chapel Down’s most prestigious vineyard

MoM: The other thing I wanted to ask you about was the sparkling Bacchus because that’s quite innovative isn’t it?

MH: It is and controversial in a way as well as it’s carbonated. Bacchus, because it’s fresh and it’s meant to be drunk young, you don’t want the brioche-y notes you get from secondary fermentation, so it just works. And it’s cheaper to make. And the price point is lower. And it’s a bit of fun. And we’ve been really happy with it and we partnered with Waitrose from the start, who have gone gangbusters with it, it’s now in Majestic [it’s done very well through Master of Malt too]. It was flying in the on-trade and it’s irked a bit because it was about to skyrocket in a few national chains, but such is life. But yeah, it’s a cracking product. 

MoM: How did making gin come about?

We started making spirits a couple of years back. We make a grappa from the Chardonnay grape skins that are left at the end of harvest and that’s the base of the vodka. And that’s then blended with English wheat spirit and it’s as simple as that. We’ve got two gins. One is a Bacchus base and the other one is a Pinot Noir base. And then the botanicals mirror the flavour profile of that particular grape varietal. 

MoM: How is the beer side of the business developing?

MH: We opened up a brewery in Ashford last May and that’s going well. The difference between wine and beer is that wine is really heavily weighted on off-trade while beer is weighted on-trade, so beer is tough right now. But then the online sales of everything has gone bananas and we have got some retail. 

MoM: And finally, you do a cider as well don’t you?

MH: Yeah, I’ve just been drinking it actually! Every week, it’s a bit cringey, but I do this cocktail online for Instagram and I’ve just made a ‘Taste of Kent’ which is the Chardonnay vodka blended with the Curious Apple. It’s pretty punchy: 60ml of vodka, 40ml of the cider, poured over ice, two cracks, two twists of black pepper, stir it round and that’s it. But it’s very punchy.

The Chapel Down range is available from Master of Malt.

 

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Drink books of the year 2019

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by…

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by the fire with this Christmas. 

Well, it’s been a bumper year for drink books. There’s new offerings from old pros like Jancis Robinson and Tristan Stephenson, as well as debuts from Felix Nash and Eddie Ludlow. In fact, it was such a good year that we had trouble narrowing the list down so apologies if your favourite is missing. 

All of them will make great gifts for the drink lover in your life. And we can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays than with a roaring fire, a dram/ glass/ pint of something delicious and one of these books, and that includes watching Casablanca on Christmas Day with a belly full of Port and Stilton. 

A Brief History of Lager Mark Dredge

Lager is so ubiquitous, it’s the beer the world drinks, that it’s hard to imagine how 200 years ago it was a Bavarian speciality. At that time, beer in the rest of Europe was essentially ale. But slowly lager spread and along the way mutated from a sweet, brown beer to the crisp golden brew we know today. It’s a great story told with a real sense of fun by award-winning beer writer and TV regular Mark Dredge. 

Sample line: “Lederer kept contact with Sedlmayr and Dreher, and there’s a wonderful photo taken in 1939 of the three of them all wearing top hats and overcoats, each with a thick moustache, and all holding hands.”

The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip Tristan Stephenson

Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender is the author of many excellent cocktails books. In this latest outing, he takes a journey across America sampling whiskeys from 44 distilleries both large and small including some real MoM favourites like Balcones 44, St George, and Michter’s  nice work if you can get it.

Sample line: “Tuthilltown is home to a huge cat call Bourbon (there another cat called Rye that we didn’t get to meet.”

Fine Cider Felix Nash 

You probably haven’t realised it yet but we are living through a golden age of cider. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet, but all over England, Wales and the cider-producing world (which is much bigger than you think), producers are waking up to the potential of apple-based goodness. Felix Nash, a cider merchant, has written a heartfelt, in-depth hymn to his favourite fruit and drink.

Sample line: “I wouldn’t be able to tell you about all the apples used to make cider or the pears used to make perry, and no one could. It’s not simply that so many varieties exist in the world, but that they can very localised”.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! Ben Howkins

We’ve written a fair bit on the blog about how much we like sherry, so this was a book after our own hearts. Written by a man with more experience in the wine trade that he would like to admit, this is a love letter to one of the world’s great wines. Reading this, you can almost smell the bodegas of Jerez. Warning, it’s almost impossible to read this book without developing a serious sherry habit. 

Sample line: “Olorosos are the wines that will emulate rugby players, rather than ballet dancers.”

Spirited: How to create easy, fun drinks at home Signe Johansen

You might know Johansen (the lady in the header) as Scandilicious, evangelist for all things Scandinavian and delicious. Originally from Norway, now living in London, she’s just as good on drinks as food. This book makes a great introduction to cocktails, tips for non-alcoholic drinks and all round guide to stress free non-nerdy entertaining. 

Sample line: “Life is too short to worry about what anoraks and bores think so now I happily enjoy whichever drinks I’m in the mood for.”

The Whisky Dictionary Ian Wisniewski

Someone who is certainly a bit of an anorak but never a bore is Ian Wisniewski. He’s the one on distillery tours who will always be asking more questions than anyone else. We know as we’ve been round a few with him and we always learn a lot. This book, which we have already found an invaluable reference guide, is a testament to that insatiable curiosity. 

Sample line: “Do enzymes ever get the applause they deserve? Rarely. If ever. It’s time to make up for that with a standing ovation.”

Whisky Tasting Course  Eddie Ludlow

Like many of the best people in the drinks business, Ludlow began his career at Oddbins. Since then he’s become an expert at opening up the often confusing world of whisky. In this book, Ludlow breaks it down into easily digestible segments, explains why whiskies taste as they do, and talks the reader through the most common styles of whisky such as single pot still Irish, small batch bourbon and Islay single malt. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “bonfires on the beach” or muttering “mmm, Jamaica cake” like an old pro.

Sample line: “Your mouth and tongue are actually quite inefficient at detecting all but the most basic flavours.”

The World of Whisky – Neil Ridley, Gavin D. Smith and David Wishart

Lavishly-produced guide to the every-expanding world of whisky by three of the best writers in the business. And you do really need three to cover what is now such an enormous topic. Inevitably the majority of the book is on Scotland with a page devoted to each malt distillery, but the Irish, US and Japan sections are also impressive.

Sample line: “Would even the most discerning of palate be able to detect a differences made using barley grown in Mr McTavish’s bottom field and the one, over yonder hill, behind the tree and the babbling burn?”

The World Atlas of Gin Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

Another book part-written by Neil Ridley! How does it do it? We suspect that he has actually cloned himself to spread the workload. There’s a lot of gin out there and it’s expanding all the time, meaning that this book can only be a snapshot of what’s available but you know with these two that everything in here is going to be worth drinking. Also extra points for not being afraid to put in the big names, like Beefeater, rather than going for hipster obscurity points.

Sample line: “France has embraced the gin revolution with a charismatic style and charm of its own.”

The World Atlas of Wine Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson

This is the 8th edition of an all time classic book, first published in the 1970s and updated every few years. Originally just written by Johnson, Robinson joined the team in 2003. It’s hard to think of a better looking book with its lavish photos and intricate maps of the world’s greatest wine regions. The words are pretty nifty too as you’d expect from (probably) the world’s top two wine writers. 

Sample line: “For centuries, Hungary has had the most distinctive food and wine culture, the most varied grape varieties, and the most refined wine laws and customs of any country east of Germany.”

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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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Move over Moscato – ice cider is this summer’s sipper

Don’t underestimate the humble apple – well-made cider can have the depth, complexity and nuanced quality as your favourite glass of vino. Here, we chat with Andreas Sundgren, founder and…

Don’t underestimate the humble apple – well-made cider can have the depth, complexity and nuanced quality as your favourite glass of vino. Here, we chat with Andreas Sundgren, founder and CEO of Brännland Cider, who has made it his mission to change the face of the category with his sweet-sipping ice cider…

“When I talk about cider, I talk about cider which is made as a wine,” says Sundgren, addressing the table at London’s M Victoria over a four-course paired menu created by executive chef Mike Reid. “And what we’ve seen with wine is that which seems simple is often much more complex.”

Sundgren speaks from experience. The route he took setting up Swedish cider business Brännland – which specialises in ice cider; the apple-based cousin of ice wine – has been far from linear. Today, the range is made from 100% freshly pressed fruit grown in the often sub-zero temperatures of Västerbotten, located on northern Sweden’s Baltic seaboard, as well as produce sourced from a select grower in the south of the country.

Andreas Sundgren

Andreas Sundgren supervising the planting of an orchard

Which makes it all the more comical that his artisanal business was very nearly a goat farm. Like many white males in their early 40s, I had a midlife crisis, but just went further in mine than maybe others,” he jokes. Disenchanted with the music software industry, Sundgren woke up on midsummer’s day 2008 in Long Island, New York and decided to “jump ship” on the business he’d built from the ground up.

“First I thought about buying a goat farm because there was one for sale in the mountains where I live,” says Sundgren. “I thought, ‘I’ll move there with my gun dogs and write novels and make artisanal goats cheese’. And then I thought about prospect of milking goats at four in the morning every day for the rest of my life in all weathers, and I went, ‘maybe that’s not me’.”

A beer brewery would be fun, but his real passion lay in wine. But how do you make wine in northern Sweden? Having travelled through France in the final stages of his former career, Sundgren had an epiphany. “I thought, ‘I’ll pick the apples from the gardens around my village, make a real simple cider, and sell that to local restaurants’,” he explains. When he started a Facebook group to recruit apple-pickers, Sundgren expected perhaps two or three friends to join him in support. When 40 people turned up on the first day, it was clear he was onto something. The blueprint for what would later become Brännland was born.

There was just one small problem. Sundgren had never made a drop of cider in his life and was, by his own admittance, a little naive about the process. “I thought if you pick the apples, press them and ferment the juice you get cider,” he says. “I did that, and it turned out really really bad. It was undrinkable. Not only because I didn’t know what I was doing, but because the apples weren’t right to make the best cider.” Unlike the UK or France, Sweden doesn’t grow cider apples and in the same way you wouldn’t use supermarket grapes to make wine, Granny Smith’s aren’t quite going to cut the mustard in cider-making.

“We only have table apples in Sweden,” Sundgren says. “They’re characterised by high acid and high sugar. If you ferment all the sugar out of them, you get a cider that’s completely undrinkable because of the high acid. But when I tasted the cider while it was fermenting and still had residual sugar, it was fantastic.” It was a lightbulb moment. “Rather than go, ‘you can’t make cider from Swedish apples’, I turned the problem around: ‘You can’t make French or English cider from Swedish apples so what is a Swedish cider?’.”

Ice cider

Ice ice cider

Sundgren embarked on a solo mission to find a cider with natural residual sugars. Established cider-makers told him it was impossible, since the liquid would continue to ferment after bottling. “But I thought, ‘that’s weird, because wine has residual sugar, and I don’t think they pasteurise Sauternes’.” His apples were no good for a dry cider, that was for sure. But perhaps they would be better suited to a sweet cider?

He came across ice cider, an ice wine made using apples instead of grapes. It was first developed in Canada in the early 90s, and in 2005 a denomination of quality was established in Quebec, stating that the apple juice used to make ice cider must be concentrated with ‘natural cold’. Sundgren found a mentor in a Vermont-based producer who taught him the production  process over the internet, adhering to the rules of the appellation. In 2012, he released the first 500 bottles to the Swedish market.

The production process Brännland follows is called cryoconcentration. The apples are picked in October and kept in chilled storage until December. Then they’re pressed, and the juice is transferred into 1,000-litre tanks, which are kept outside to freeze. The region experiences temperatures as low as -35 in January, says Sundgren. “Just like in a frozen grape, the water freezes, and the relative sugar level of the remaining juice goes up,” he explains. “The juice drops to the bottom because it’s heavier due to the higher density. Once we’ve extracted [the juice] there’s nothing left but water.

To make one bottle of ice cider, you need around 4kg of apples, says Sundgren. After extraction, the raw juice contains around 500-600 grams of sugar per litre. “As we’ve grown our ice cider production, we’ve more and more variations in flavour,” he adds. “We have harvest variation, we have extraction season variation, the vintage is different, the apple variety is different, and we’ve also found that fermentations differ very much.”

Brännland is made exclusively using Swedish-grown apples across a handful of different varieties. In Just Cider, the brand’s flagship product, there are “two or three”, while the ice cider contains “a core base of about five apple varieties”, says Sundgren. “On top of that we’re planting apples in what is the northernmost orchards in the world for cider-making.”

Located at Röbäcksdalen outside of Umeå in northern Sweden – the same latitude as southern Iceland – the orchard contains more than 1,000 trees spanning heirloom Russian, Finnish and Swedish apple varieties. Over the coming years, Sundgren and his team will plant orchards in a variety of parcels all over Västerbotten, from the inland forest country to the Baltic coast. As trailblazers of Swedish cider, Brännland isn’t afraid to experiment with its liquid; every year, the team set aside a portion of liquid for barrel ageing. At the end of the meal we’re treated to a dram-sized solera system-aged ice cider that contains blends from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. A slow sipper, it’s thick and syrupy with the flavour profile and body of an XO Cognac. Truly mind-blowing stuff. But at its heart, Brännland is winery that happens to use apples instead of grapes.

Everyone said we had to pasteurise or put sorbates in our cider, and we didn’t want to do that,” says Sundgren. “So where do you gain the knowledge to make a low-alcohol wine with residual sugar? You go to Asti in northern Italy and ask how they make Moscato d’Asti*, and they’ll tell you. We try to emulate wine producers rather than cider producers, because the wealth of knowledge and tradition is so much bigger.”

Brannland Cider

It’s proper fancy

* The Moscato winemaking process involves chilling the stop fermentation which leaves a very sweet wine of less than 5.5F% ABV. This is then filtered the remove yeasts to make sure it doesn’t start fermenting again.

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Tell ’em about the honey: How mead became the latest thing

Before there was beer, whisky or gin, people from northern climates turned to honey for all their alcohol needs. Since then, mead, has been out of fashion for over half…

Before there was beer, whisky or gin, people from northern climates turned to honey for all their alcohol needs. Since then, mead, has been out of fashion for over half a century. But now, it’s back…

Last month, I went to a pop-up bar in Peckham, south east London, and everyone was drinking not craft beer or yuzu smoothies, but mead. Yes, mead, the drink that we associate with Vikings and chubby medieval friars is now, whisper it, a bit cool. We’ve noticed the mead effect here at Master of Malt. It is flying off the shelves. So, we thought it would be a good idea to look a bit further into the category and find out what it’s all about.

Tom Gosnell in trendy Peckham

The bar in question was called Gosnells Upstairs at the Coal Rooms, and it will be open for the next six months. It’s designed to showcase Gosnells Mead which is produced just around the corner. The founder Tom Gosnell used to make cider, but picked up a love for good quality mead in the US. “I was travelling along the East Coast of the US when I was first exposed to mead that was crafted with real, love, care, and respect for the honey,” he said. “This really lit a fire in me, and I was determined to start making a modern mead in London.”

And so, in his own words, Gosnell opened “the first London meadery in over 500 years”. Being based in Peckham means that he’s in the heart of London’s craft brewing scene. “It’s so vibrant and diverse, there’s a real energy here that you can’t help but get caught up in,” he told me.

James Lambert from Lyme Bay down in Devon also started with cider, then wine, and now makes an extensive range of mead including the bestselling Moniack brand that was previously based in Scotland. “We own the Highland Wineries brand and make all their products at our Devon winery,” he explained. “This change took place when the Fraser family, who used to own Moniack, closed it and sold the business.”

Lyme Bay

Lyme Bay, they make cider, wine and mead here

In order to make alcohol, all you need is a sugary liquid and yeast. So it’s understandable that honey was one of the first products that people made into alcohol. Tom Gosnell explained the process: “We simply take honey, mix it with water and pitch a yeast, which turns the sugars into alcohol.” But it’s important to use top quality raw ingredients. “Great mead starts with great honey,” He continued. “When you ferment, you strip away some of the sweetness and get access to the amazing tertiary flavours that the bees have been collecting from all the flowers.”

Gosnells London Mead is made from Valencian orange blossom honey. According to the company’s mead maker, Will Grubelnik, this is to ensure consistency. Grubelnik is an Australian brought up in a wine producing part of Victoria. “Wine and mead are very close in fermentation style and they’re both very much about terroir,” he told me. Gosnells’ bestselling 5.5% ABV original is pasteurised to retain some sugar, carbonated and then sold in 750ml bottles to rival Prosecco or good quality sparkling cider.

The team also produces limited edition meads made from single flower varieties, single areas or individual beekeepers. A current offering from Biggin Hill in Bromley is fully fermented to about 8% ABV, so it is bone dry. Grubelnik enthused about meads barrel-aged for 18 months that taste a bit like dry sherry.

James Lambert agrees on the importance of good honey. He uses a “unique blend of English, Mexican and Chinese honey which combines the most aromatic of indigenous flower species to create the rich, floral and pungent characteristics that our meads are famous for.” You can also add flavours and spices, as they do at Lyme Bay. “We combine honey with hand-picked spices and ferment them with water to create our award-winning range.” Lyme Bay offer a huge range of flavoured products including Garden Mead (made with fresh mint); Tournament Mead (ginger); Rhubarb Mead; and Yore, “a dry, light mead with a sparkle and a delicious honey kick which makes a refreshing alternative to beer and cider”.

In proper mead all the alcohol should come from honey. However, there are no regulations for the category, so many meads get some alcohol from apple juice or beer, or may even be merely honey-flavoured. Grubelik told me that they are currently campaigning for a regulatory framework.

So, how to drink all that honeyed goodness? Lambert recommends drinking her Rhubarb Mead “served chilled or on the rocks but this tangy mead also has the sweetness and fruitiness to pair it perfectly with blue cheese and terrines, as well as ice cream and fruit-based desserts.” According to Gosnell, the sparkling product is “perfect as an aperitif, an alternative to Prosecco, but I really like the way that it holds up well to spicy food, and cuts through fattier dishes like pork belly.”

Mead also works superbly as a cocktail ingredient. Gosnell gave me a drink to try called a Peckham Lemonade. It sounds like old-school gangster slang: ‘he ain’t gonna snitch no more, Vern’s given him a dose of Peckham Lemonade’. But it’s actually a delicious long drink made with gin, honey, lemon juice and sparkling mead.

Gosnells Mead

It’s all about the honey

Lambert agrees: “Mead’s flavour combinations make it an ideal addition to cocktails. We’ve collaborated with Sam Boulton, owner of The Vanguard mead bar in Birmingham, who has come up with six mead cocktail recipes.” These include a Rhubarb Negroni, made with Rhubarb Mead, Aperol and Cotswold Gin, and a delicious-sounding low-ABV one called English Gardening, made with Garden Mead, Seedlip Garden, elderflower liqueur, apple juice and soda water.

What’s driving mead’s new-found popularity? Could it be something to do with Game of Thrones? James Lambert had some thoughts. “Across the pond, mead is having a full-blown revival and is one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages in the country. It has captured the hearts of a new generation of discerning drinkers and there is also, of course, a certain HBO series that is putting mead in the spotlight. Over in the UK these effects are being felt and we are seeing the beginning of a long and sustainable growth.”

Grubelnik reckoned about a third of the people who came to the bar were already into mead, particularly customers from Scandinavia, and wanted to try flights of different meads. But Gosnell told me that many customers are completely clueless. “There often isn’t the fundamental understanding around mead,” he said. “It’s not just a new product to the market, it’s a whole new category!” All we can say is, give it a go and maybe you too will acquire the need for mead.

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