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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cognac

#WhiskySanta’s Hennessy Paradis Super Wish!

Christmas is coming which means the return of #WhiskySanta’s Super Wishes! And the big, shiny, first Super Wish of 2019 is a corker of a Cognac: Hennessy Paradis! When I’m…

Christmas is coming which means the return of #WhiskySanta’s Super Wishes! And the big, shiny, first Super Wish of 2019 is a corker of a Cognac: Hennessy Paradis!

When I’m not busy delivering presents, grooming my beard or practising my ho, ho, hoing, I like to spend my time hunting down rare boozes to make sure my Super Wishes are really extremely super indeed. This requires lots of travelling, but I usually don’t use the old sleigh as I don’t want to be conspicuous or people will want to have selfies taken with me which is so tedious. Sometimes I even wear sunglasses, a hat and a false beard over my real beard just to make sure I’m not recognised. On one of my incognito jaunts to France, I stumbled across this week’s Super Wish hidden away in Cognac. It’s a little bit of heaven in a bottle.

Hennessy Paradis is #WhiskySanta’s first Super Wish of 2019!

Hennessy Paradis is blended from a selection of super rare Cognacs that are kept under lock and key safe from prying hands in a special place in the firm’s cellars called ‘le Paradis’. Yes, this Cognac literally comes from paradise. Imagine that! The Paradis expression was first conceived by master blender Maurice Fillioaux back in 1979 using Cognacs that had been laid down by his grandfather. This tradition has been continued to this day using only the rarest and oldest of spirits. And how does it taste? Like paradise, of course. Think dried apricots, tobacco, honey and the kind of polish you only use on very expensive furniture. Normally this would cost £975 but someone is going to get a bottle absolutely free this week. I know, I do spoil you. Well, I am #WhiskySanta, after all!

Sing with me: ‘This is how we do it’

How, I hear you ask? Well, head to the Hennessy Paradis product page, and hit that shiny ‘Wish’ button! It’s [almost!] as simple as that. As if by magic (except it’s me!), a box will appear with a pre-populated Twitter or Facebook post. Publish, and voila! You can also wish on Instagram too, if that especially appeals (just make sure you use the #WhiskySanta hashtag. I might be omniscient, but my MoM Towers minions are not and they need to see it!). You’ve got until the end of Thursday to get those mega wishes in, so go, GO, GO!!!

Time for me to reminisce about my Cognac trip with a glass of something tasty… luckily I know just the thing!

UPDATE: The time has come for me to grant my first Super Wish of 2019, and Alex Hosking will be the lucky recipient of the bottle of Hennessy Paradis!

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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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Eight category defying spirit drinks

Established distilleries are increasingly embracing the title in the name of innovation – but what does ‘spirit drink’ actually mean for the liquid within? To answer this question, MoM explores eight…

Established distilleries are increasingly embracing the title in the name of innovation – but what does ‘spirit drink’ actually mean for the liquid within? To answer this question, MoM explores eight bottlings that colour just outside of the lines of traditional category boundaries…

It’s easier to explain spirit drinks by highlighting what they aren’t, rather than list all the potential things they could be. Spirit drinks are alcoholic beverages that fall outside of classic category boundaries. This could be for a number of reasons, i.e. the ABV is too low, the liquid is too young, the category has a geographic indication (which means production is tied to a specific region or country) and so on and so forth. 

Where once this might be seen as a detractor – most regulations are, after all, devised as a commitment to preserving the quality of the spirit – today, experimental producers are using the term as a means to deviate, albeit slightly, from the trappings of a given category. Below, you’ll find eight spirits that err on the side of ambiguity, and are no less delicious for daring to do so.

Martell Blue Swift

The oldest of the big four Cognac houses, Martell, launched Cognac-based spirit drink Blue Swift back in 2018. The bottling, which sees its VSOP Cognac finished in Kentucky Bourbon casks, celebrates the brand’s historic ties with the US – Martell became the first house to ship its barrels to America in 1783. Combine Blue Swift, sugar syrup, Peychaud’s bitters and Pernod Absinthe to make a top notch Sazerac.

Distillerie de Paris Agave Spirit Drink

The first distillery to open in France’s capital city in more than a century, Distillerie de Paris has released more than 90 unique and unorthodox spirits, including this non-Tequila, non-mezcal agave spirit drink, made with agave nectar from Mexico. J’adore. Sip neat, stir into a Tommy’s, or go rogue with an agave twist on a Negroni  – whatever floats your boat.

Bacardi Oakheart Spiced Rum Spirit Drink

Even the most dedicated rum drinker will admit that the category, while compelling, is hardly known for its conservative regulations. And yet, this spiced Bacardi bottling still doesn’t fit the bill. How so? It’s all in the ABV – at 35%, Oakheart isn’t boozy enough to be called rum, but that’s no barrier to a cracking Cuba Libre. Some of the rums within have been matured in ex-bourbon oak casks, giving inviting brown sugar, honey and burnt vanilla notes.

Luxlo

Luxlo Spirit

At first glance, herbaceous Luxlo is a gin in every conceivable way. Juniper-led? Check. Plenty of botanicals? Check. Pairs perfectly with tonic? Check. ABV? Ah, right – at 20%, it’s a lower-alcohol alternative to traditional gin styles. Sub your full-strength favourite for Luxlo in any gin tipple (though you can’t go wrong with a classic G&T).

Absolut Extrakt No.1

Billed as a modern interpretation of traditional Swedish “snaps”, Extrakt sees Absolut’s signature spirit combined with cardamom and a few secret ingredients. Since it’s no longer vodka and lacks the sugar content to be considered an herbal liqueur, it’s eligible for this list.

Ketel One Botanical Peach & Orange

To make this delectable Peach & Orange creation, the team at Ketel One redistilled their signature spirit and infused it with white peaches and orange blossom – bringing vodka and botanicals together in a category-defying 30% ABV bottling. Serve spritz-style in a wine glass, topped with soda water.

Whyte & Mackay Light

While Scotch whisky and sherry has long been a match made in heaven, now Whyte & Mackay has taken the concept one step further with its 21.5% ABV Light bottling, which sees the two blended together before marrying in former sherry casks and bourbon barrels. Enjoy neat, over ice, or stirred into your favourite mixer. Lovely stuff.

Nc’nean Botanical Spirit

Scotland’s first 100% organic distillery Nc’nean redistilled its light, fruity new make with 10 botanicals – including juniper, coriander, sorrel, heather, and bog myrtle – to create, well… Not whisky, not gin, but in our humble opinion something altogether more special. Pair with tonic and a dash of Angostura bitters, then garnish with a slice of grapefruit.

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Vintage Cognac masterclass with Eric Forget from Hine

Where you age spirits can make a huge difference to the finished product. To learn more, we spent a morning with Eric Forget from Hine, trying vintage Cognacs, some matured…

Where you age spirits can make a huge difference to the finished product. To learn more, we spent a morning with Eric Forget from Hine, trying vintage Cognacs, some matured in the warmth of France, others in cold grey England. Yeah, it’s a tough life.

The results are in from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC): while global Cognac sales are doing very nicely thank you, the shocking news is that Europeans and, more particularly, the British just aren’t drinking enough of the stuff. What are you playing at? It wasn’t always this way, Cognac as we know it was largely created for the British market, often by British and Irish merchants. Perhaps the most British of all the Cognac houses is Hine, which was founded in the 18th century by a Dorset lad called Thomas Hine.

Until recently, a descendant, Bernard Hine, was still involved with the company (now part of French drinks group EDV SAS) but he has stepped down due to ill health.  Hine still specialises in a peculiarly British style of Cognac called early-landed. This dates back to when brandy was shipped in cask to Bristol and connoisseurs noticed how it aged differently to the French-matured product. Hine now matures these special Cognacs at Glenfarclas in Scotland (in its most humid warehouse) which then have to be shipped back to France for bottling (damned bureaucracy). Earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to meet with Eric Forget, cellarmaster at the company since 1999, for a comparative tasting of Bristol-aged versus Jarnac-aged Cognacs, as well as the core range.

Eric Forget

Eric Forget deciding whether it’s good enough to be a vintage Cognac

Hine is famous for its pale, elegant style. Forget explained the philosophy: “everything is finesse, delicacy and fruitiness, no harshness or bitterness.” There’s a lot less wood influence, to achieve this, he doesn’t use Limousin oak which he thinks has aggressive tannins, “we use Normandy, Limoges or Paris oak, northern oak trees have a finer grain and less tannin.” 

Forget doesn’t want the wood to mask the fruit: “We want to keep terroir, floral flavours, and maintain balance for all products.” The fruit comes only from the Champagne region. Hine owns 120 hectares in Grande Champagne, “we are vine growers. We also purchase from other growers and distillers, the same people every year,” Forget told us. The company never buys in aged Cognac. Hine distills on the lees: “lees means you can age for a long time, they give it body,” he explained. 

99% of grapes in Hine Cognacs are Ugni Blanc. Forget is sceptical about other grape varieties: “the rest forget it, very susceptible to rot”. But he’s not averse to experimentation. New crosses with some American genes are being developed which have some of the character of Folle Blanche (one of the old pre-phylloxera Cognac grapes) but with more resistance.  According to Forget: “we might see something in seven to eight years. Cognac changes in time, if well-managed, why not? We are not conservative. There are lots of young people in industry. I am the only old person at Hine.” 

Hine HQ in Jarnac

Perhaps to butter us up a little, he praised the British taste in Cognac, where delicacy is prized. He was less complimentary about the American and Chinese markets: “They believe dark Cognac is better, big mistake!” Hine produces a brandy called Homage to Thomas Hine ; named after the company’s founder, it’s a tribute to the lighter style that was popular in 18th and 19th century Britain. “VSOPs are meant to be pale, 200 years ago Cognac was paler,” Forget told us. Homage is a blend of early-landed Cognac, “to give it finesse” and other lighter brandies. 

Homage is a blend, but Hine’s speciality is its vintage products. “Vintages are easy, just select the best and there’s nothing to do”, Forget joked. The differences between the Jarnac-aged brandies and the Bristol-aged products is marked; in 1984 Forget was pleased with the early-landed but “the Jarnac-aged one was not so good, so I blended it.” He gave us the 1983s to taste, the French one was peachy and floral whereas the English one was angular with flavours of gooseberries and English hedgerow flowers.

In 2015 Hine launched a completely new product called Bonneuil, which not only came from a single vintage, but a single vineyard in Grand Champagne. Such a thing was almost unheard of in Cognac. The idea was to sell it with less age so that it expresses the terroir more than the effects of ageing. The first vintage was the 2005, we tried the deliciously fruity 2008. In it’s delicacy and fragrance, Bonneuil might be the quintessential Hine product. 

Hine Homage, note not too dark colour

The company doesn’t produce vintages every year, only in special years, “like d’Yquem” said Forget, referring to the legendary Sauternes château. He decides after five years whether the brandy is good enough for vintage, “otherwise we blend it,” he said. As part of the commitment to delicacy, vintages are only kept in wood for around 20 years before being transferred to glass demi-johns. And Hine use zero boise in any products and no caramel in the vintage or Homage.

Forget talked us through the range with a twinkle in his eye and an honesty rare in the often over-hyped world of booze. He’s not averse to criticising Hine’s own products: he wasn’t so keen on the opulent 1975 we tried, the vintage was too high in sugar apparently and the style is not typically Hine (I rather liked it). The early-landed 1975 in contrast is lean and citric. He’s also candid about the trend for vintage Scotch whisky: “vintages for Scotch are just marketing. It’s nonsense.”

Hine’s number one market is now China but, according to Forget, “China is very difficult because they keep changing the rules.” This is followed by America, Russia and then the UK. Mainland Europe isn’t doing so well. Compared with whisky, demand for rare Cognacs isn’t so strong. This comparative lack of interest, however, means that beyond a few bling-tastic bottlings, Cognac is seriously undervalued. So it might be time to have a look, or don’t because it means there’s more for us.

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The Nightcap: 23 August

In this every-changing world, few things are certain. One thing, however, you can rely on is that as long as there’s news about booze, there will always be the Nightcap!…

In this every-changing world, few things are certain. One thing, however, you can rely on is that as long as there’s news about booze, there will always be the Nightcap!

As another week comes to an end, it’s time to take off your workaday loose-fitting trousers and slip into your spandex weekend leggings. Don’t do this in the office in front of everyone or you might get a sternly-worded email from HR. Perhaps spandex legging like those worn by hair metal bands from the 1980s aren’t really your thing but it is important to mark the transition from work to play in some way. You could put on a pink stetson or adopt a comedy weekend accent. Actually, don’t do either of those things, just pour yourself a drink, we’ll have a Whisky Sour if you’re offering, sit back and read this week’s news from the world of booze.

On the blog this week we reported on the exciting news that Ardbeg has added a 19-year-old expression to its core range. It’s not a limited release. It’s new Ardbeg and it’s here to stay. We resisted the urge to go out all week and celebrate, however, and published more stories. Take Nate Brown, for example, who returned to ask why drinks have to be so hellish just because your at a festival, theatre or airport. Annie then provided a handy guide to decoding the seemingly endless marketing bumf that sadly is part and parcel of this industry of ours and got the low-down on some intriguing savoury liqueurs. Adam, meanwhile, rounded up a selection of booze for you all to enjoy this upcoming bank holiday before Henry made the delightful Le Rebelle Aperitif our New Arrival of the Week and then decided to mark the upcoming National Whiskey Sour Day over in America (Sunday 25 August) by making it our Cocktail of the Week. Not that we need an excuse to enjoy a good cocktail.

But there’s more going on in the world of drink than people drinking Whisky Sours in airports. There’s all kinds of boozy news to catch up on…

The Nightcap

The new shiny Kilchoman stills

Kilchoman doubles its production on Islay

Back in June, during the crazy days of Feis Ile, we spoke with Andrew Wills, founder of Kilchoman, about expansion plans. Well now they are official: the distillery has doubled its spirits production to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. A wall was knocked out in the existing production space to create, in Wills’ words, “a mirror image of the original stillhouse” with a new mash tun, two fermenters and two new stills. He went on to say: “Without an increase in capacity we would be heading towards a situation where all Kilchoman would be sold purely on allocation. With my three sons heavily involved in the business we want to continue building on the success of the last 15 years without the risk of running out of whisky.” Expansion plans, however, are not yet done as a new shop, cafe and visitor centre is due for completion within the next four months. Never a dull moment at Kilchoman!

The Nightcap

The first two expressions from the Signature Blends series

That Boutique-y Rum Company launches Signature Blends

That Boutique-y Rum Company (TBRC) is ready to change your rum cocktail game with a new series of Signature Blends. The company’s first selection of continuous rums (ie. not one off batches), which also make for delicious standalone sippers, were developed by TBRC’s ‘Rum-guy’, Pete Holland (of The Floating Rum Shack fame). The first expression is Signature Blend #1 – Bright-Grass, a predominantly unaged blend of funky rum from Jamaica and fresh, fruity rhum from Martinique, with a touch of 4 year-old Jamaican rum for added depth. As you can imagine from its name, the profile is bright and grassy and should make a killer Daiquiri. Signature Blend #2 – Elegant-Dried Fruits, meanwhile, was created with the intention of making Holland’s Mai Tai’s (Pete that is, not the Netherlands). Combining rich molasses-vibe Guyana rum with heavier, funkier rum from Jamaica and a small amount of high-ester rum, this is a bold and full-bodied blend. For both expressions, you can check out our own tasting notes to get an idea of what you’re in for (spoiler alert: they’re both delicious). As with the rest of the TBRC range, the labels for the Signature Collection have been developed by Microsoft Paint artist and Twitter legend Jim’ll Paint It. “When tasked with creating rums that would be predominantly used in cocktails, I, firstly, had to think of the style of drinks that I’d like to enjoy, then set about working a blend that stood up to my idea of what the cocktail would taste like,” Holland said. “I don’t like the idea of trying to balance many different rum styles, a situation that overly complicates things. I much prefer the simplicity of two distinct styles working harmoniously together. Each displaying their strengths and contributions to the cocktail.”

The Nightcap

Plumpton College has hit back at claims made in the Daily Mail

Wine business course not Mickey Mouse, says Plumpton College

Feathers were ruffled at Plumpton College in East Sussex when Chris McGovern from the Campaign for Real Education branded its £9,000 a year wine business foundation course a ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree in an article in the Daily Mail. Dr Gregory M Dunn, curriculum manager of the wine division, hit back: “Plumpton’s wine business course allows students the opportunity to work closely with industry on various projects and initiatives and access to many wineries and wine-related businesses. This improves the employability of the students. We believe the content of the course is relevant, current and intellectually challenging”. Paul Harley, programme manager for wine business at Plumpton, went on to outline how in-demand graduates of the course are in the wine trade: “Last year our employment rate upon graduation from the FdA in 2018 was 60% with only one graduate without a job by the autumn. For 2019 we have 100% employment.” Plumpton graduates are currently working at such prestigious businesses as Berry Bros & Rudd, LVMH and Liberty Wine Merchants with none, as far as we can ascertain, wearing Mickey Mouse or Elsa costumes at Disneyland Paris.

The Nightcap

The inaugural meeting of the London Armagnac Club is the 4th September

Armagnac Club lands in London

London’s jolliest-named restaurant, Monsieur le Duck near Farringdon, has just launched the London Armagnac Club. Events will take place at the bar above the restaurant, the Duck’s Nest, on the first Wednesday of the month and concentrate on different aspects of this fascinating but little-known spirit eg. cask ageing, grape varieties or brandies from a particular house. The inaugural event on Wednesday 4 September from 7pm to 9pm features Château de Laubade, one of the region’s top producers. Naturally, Gascon snacks, probably featuring lots of duck, will be served alongside but a vegetarian option will be available. There’s something you don’t get in Gascony. So whether you’re an Armagnac aficionado or just love dark spirits, then head to Monsieur le Duck. You won’t be disappointed.

The Nightcap

There’s a lot of money in the beautiful landscapes

Cognac exports continue to grow for the fifth consecutive year (but UK sales down)

Good news for fans of all things French and fiery as the National Interprofessional Bureau of Cognac (BNIC) has announced that Cognac exports have continued to grow for the fifth consecutive year in 2018-2019, reaching their highest level in volume and value. Favourable conditions and trade in the NAFTA Zone (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) and the Far East are noted as the major reasons: 97.7 million bottles were shipped during this period (+8.8% in volume and +17.6% in value) in the US alone and shipments to the Far East stabilising at 60.0 million bottles, representing 28% of shipments (a small decline of -1.5% by volume and increase of 1.8% by value). In total, there were 211.1 million bottles shipped in 2018-2019, with exports accounting for 98% of sales, to the tune of €3.4 billion. That’s a lot of Sidecars. Cognac isn’t resting on its laurels, though. To support this growth, an additional 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) of vineyards have been purchased over the course of three years, so thankfully there’s still more than enough to go around. However, shipments within Europe are down by -4.6% in volume and -6.4% in value, for a total of more than 39.4 million bottles and the United Kingdom is down by -6.0% and -6.7%, although it still leads the European Union market. Still, the lesson here is clear. We need to do our bit in the UK and buy more brandy. Now if only there was a good online retailer of booze around here that we could use…

The Nightcap

It’s a delicious celebration of all things Art Deco

Singapore’s Atlas unveils stunning Art Deco menu

Glorious cocktails alert! Singapore’s sumptuous watering hole Atlas has revealed its new menu Interbellum, and we’re in full drinks lust. Developed by head bartender Jesse Vida and his team, the menu celebrates all things Art Deco, taking elements from historical cocktails popular at the time, and Atlas’s Parkview Square home, which is mighty in-keeping with the theme. ‘Interbellum’ takes its name from the period between the two World Wars, a time of enormous change, and of course, the birth of the Art Deco movement. Split into five chapters, the menu plays a lot with gin and Champagne, showcasing all kinds of cocktails from the time. “Using fresh and house-made ingredients, each drink has been inspired by this most seductive of eras, while showcasing a blend of traditional European influences with an updated touch,” said Vida. “We look forward to welcoming guests to journey with us through the stories.” Serves include classics such as the French 75, as well as more modern twists such as the lower-ABV Art & Influence, and The Boy King, a Highball-style drink made with oloroso sherry, sweet vermouth and Aperol, which taps into all things “Tut-Mania” when Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. Beautiful all round.

The Nightcap

Only 6,000 bottles of Glenkinchie Tattoo were filled and you” have to go to Edinburgh to buy one

Glenkinchie releases special Edinburgh Military Tattoo single malt

No, it’s nothing to do with skin art, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual extravaganza of bagpipes, drums and marching performed by armed forces bands from around the world. It’s one of Edinburgh’s premier attractions so it’s a good fit with nearby Glenkinchie which is known as the capital’s very own single malt. Ramsay Borthwick, manager of Glenkinchie, filled us in on this new whisky: “This highly-prized release has been specially selected by our team at the distillery as a celebration of our heritage as ‘Edinburgh Malt’ and the unique partnership between two of the city’s greatest icons.” Glenkinchie Tattoo was matured in rejuvenated hogsheads and American oak barrels, and from the tastings notes of butterscotch, dried fruits and baking spices, sounds to us like a classic Glenkinchie. It’s bottled at 46% ABV and costs £65. A limited-edition of 6,000 bottles will be available only from the distillery, the Military Tattoo shop, or you can enjoy a dram or two while watching the Tattoo itself. So you’ll have to visit Edinburgh if you want to try it.

The Nightcap

No need to go in store, the Whisky Discovery experience comes to your doorstep

Waitrose launches at-home whisky tasting experience

UK supermarket Waitrose has attempted to follow up the success of its Gin O’clock initiative by introducing a two-hour Whisky Discovery experience to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. The guided masterclass will be led by a Waitrose whisky specialist who will invite guests to taste through five different whiskies neat: Maker’s Mark, The Chita, Highland Park 12, Jim Beam Double Oak and Laphroaig. The specialist host will then demonstrate how to make three cocktails, pair spirits with soft drinks, and give guests the chance to taste Jim Beam Double Oak with dark salted caramel chocolate and see how Laphroaig pairs with a range of cheeses. A complimentary Highball glass and a rocks glass is also yours to keep. The at-home whisky tasting experience, which was created by Waitrose Wine Tasting at Home, is available to book now and is priced at £400 (US$488) for a group of six to 10 people. “We’re thrilled to be bringing a truly memorable experience to people’s homes. Whisky is a drink that is often enjoyed with a fizzy accompaniment, with some finding the drink overpowering,” Andrew Riding, drinks experience manager at Waitrose Wine Tasting at Home. “This tasting shows just how versatile whisky can be by showing guests simple and delicious cocktails and delicious food pairings.” We always love to see people getting into whisky, so let us know if you’re thinking of signing up with your friends or family in the comments below.

The Nightcap

The Discount Suit Company’s El Pajaro cocktail, which we can confirm is most delicious

Ocho goes Subterranean for summer

Who doesn’t love a cocktail safari?! Exploring multiple settings, different approaches to drinks, all with one uniting theme… we’re sold. So when Ocho Tequila invited us down to Discount Suit Company in London’s Spitalfields to check out the first of five serves as part of its very own series, we were there in a flash. The Subterranean Summer Series brings together five of London’s best-loved underground bars in a collaboration to serve Ocho-based cocktails, all at the tasty price of just £5. The drinks and bars in question? Discount Suit Company’s El Pajaro (we thoroughly rate its Paloma-esque qualities), Bar Three’s Raspberry & Tequila, Hawksmoor Spitalfield’s Cherry Blossom Margarita, Ruby’s Bar & Lounge’s Corn ‘n’ Toil, and Nine Live’s #1 Jimador’s Remedy. Collect a stamp from all five bars and you get a bonus sixth cocktail at the bar of your choice entirely on Ocho! Plus you get to revel in the personality of five of London’s most characterful vibes. You’ve got until the end of the month to get involved – go, go, GO!

The Nightcap

The Dundee distillers pipped some tough competition to be awarded this opportunity

And finally . . . Dundee distiller to supply House of Commons gin

After all the hard work MPs do, sorting out Brexit and the like, they really deserve a nice glass of restorative gin. So we were pleased to discover that the contract to produce the official House of Commons Gin has gone to the award-winning Verdant Spirits of Dundee. Andrew Mackenzie, founder and managing director at Verdant, said: “We spent two years researching and finessing the perfect dry gin and we firmly believe in our product, but it still felt fantastic to win out in the taste test. To really show our commitment to the process, we didn’t want to simply add a logo or brand to the bottle, we wanted to create a truly co-branded product.” Apparently, it was a closely-fought contest to win the contract with five gins including Sipsmith in the running for this prestigious and, we imagine, lucrative listing. After all, politicians love their gin. . . allegedly.

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Rum past, present and future with Alexandre Gabriel from Plantation

As part of our Rum Month coverage, we talk to Alexandre Gabriel about rediscovering old distillation techniques, a pineapple concoction inspired by Charles Dickens, and a release that’s as “funky…

As part of our Rum Month coverage, we talk to Alexandre Gabriel about rediscovering old distillation techniques, a pineapple concoction inspired by Charles Dickens, and a release that’s as “funky as James Brown.”

We normally call interviews ‘Five minutes with…’ but that would rather misrepresent my meeting earlier this year with Alexandre Gabriel in which I spent a fascinating two hours listening, discussing and sampling different spirits. It could easily have been two days and the time would have flown by because not only is Gabriel an enthusiast but he is also a scholar who is hungry to know more about the history of rum, Cognac and other spirits. For Gabriel, learning about the past is the key to the future.  

He was brought up in Burgundy and after attending business school, came across Maison Ferrand, a historic but fading Cognac house. It was the beginning of a love affair with the region. He is now the chairman and majority shareholder of the company. In addition, he makes Citadelle Gin and Plantation Rum as well as doing collaborations with other producers such as Ocho Tequila. This interview is only a fraction of what we discussed. We aim to publish the Cognac portion later in the year, but as it was rum month, here’s Gabriel on rum:

Alexandre Gabriel

Alexandre Gabriel in his element at Maison Ferrand

Master of Malt: Where did the idea for Plantation come from?

Alexandre Gabriel: Plantation was born out of maturing the rums in our Cognac barrels and trying to treat rum beautifully and respectfully, this was our take. And the first barrels we made, over 20 years ago, were for us to drink. Then a friend of mine at the time, who was the buyer of Nicolas [chain of wine merchants in France], got to taste these and she said, ‘Mr Gabriel, this is absolutely delicious, I want to buy this’. And I said ‘well we don’t have a brand’ she says ‘make a brand’. And a farm in the Caribbean is called The Plantation so I grew up on a farm, I live on a farm, I said ‘we’re going to call it Plantation’. 

MM: Did you always want to own your own rum distillery?

AG: The idea of Plantation was really cherrypicking what I thought were great barrels. But I knew I would like to invest in a distillery. So, for quite a few years I was looking at different options. And one day West Indies Rum Distillery, which is an old lady on the beach, that’s been around since 1893 at least. There was a spring right on the water so it was the perfect place for a distillery: they could ship out the barrels and have fresh water. And I approached the family who owned it, it was a very old Bajan family and after a year of negotiation, they agreed to sell. And luckily, West Indies Rum Distillery owned a third of the National Rums of Jamaica, which consists of Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries. So we own a third of National Rums of Jamaica.   

MOM: Do you think rum is in the sort of place that say whisky was maybe 30 or 40 years ago where you have distilleries making these incredible rums but nobody’s heard of them because most go into blends?

AG: That’s a good point. Now people are rediscovering the distilleries. Historically, West Indies Rum Distilleries which was supplying most blenders of every county, including Barbados, was forbidden by law, to have its own brand, until recently. By law they couldn’t sell directly in Barbados or elsewhere. 

The West Indies Distillery, Barbados

The West Indies Distillery, Barbados, as you can see, it’s right on the beach

MoM: Where do you age your rums?

AG: All the Plantation rums go through a double-ageing, so first in the Caribbean, it depends, one-two-three-four-five years, rarely more than ten years in the Caribbean. After ten years you lose 7% a year, it’s a lot. And then we ship it to France for one or two years, it depends, three years. And we insist that that journey where the rum is travelling inside the barrel is magical. We are now we analysing it scientifically.

MOM: Tell me about the archive at West Indies Distillery:

AG: In the middle of the distillery, there is a room called ‘The Vault’. And inside they have been storing the documents since 1893. So we discovered stuff that was crazy. For example, they were fermenting using a little bit of seawater. The distillery is right on the beach. Just a small amount and I thought ‘that’s crazy’ and we tried it and the old guys were smiling, thinking ‘we know!’ kind of thing. There’s a guy, Digger, who’s been at the distillery for 40 years, and another, John Kinch, who has been at the distillery for 40 years as well. So these guys are smiling. We have an old still that used to be for making navy rum and went silent some years ago, and Digger said, ‘I can’t wait to run that baby again!’ And it still had the little ruler, the big piece of metal that he was using for the valves and stuff. We had to change a lot of the valves because they were faulty. We fixed it up. It’s distilling as we speak. 

MoM: Did you discover anything else?

AG: We dug out documents from the 19th century showing the barrels were made or fixed with local wood, mango trees, from the Caribbean. Why should we give that up? We have to keep that diversity. And it’s true with fermentation yeast, there were many yeasts in the old days. In Jamaica you find several ones, they are natural but they are also cultured, we should allow that. The same with the pot still, the same with the water we discussed. That’s the beauty of rum. 

Then Gabriel brought out a couple of rums for me to try, and he told me a little about them:

PlPlantation Xaymaca Special Dry

Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry – funkier than James Brown’s trousers

Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry

A blend of two Jamaican distilleries, Long Pond and Clarendon. This is the one that was described by a bartender as “funky as James Brown.” The nose is extremely powerful with lots of overripe pineapple and banana, but the palate is very elegant and dry. It’s the kind of rum that would have gone into navy rums in the past. 

AG: “This is what we call a ‘plummer’. In Jamaica you have different grades of rum and a plummer is when the rums are heavy, have a high level of non-alcohols and a high level of esters, higher than 150 grammes per hectolitre. Mr Plummer was a British guy who had plantations in Jamaica and was a trader and was in the docks, you know the docks of London, and was bringing back all the rums and they were going into blends. It’s 43% alcohol. This is a dry expression. I wanted to create quite an intense but elegant rum”.  

Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum

This pineapple-infused rum inspired by Charles Dickens came about from conversations with Dave Wondrich, American booze historian and author of the book Punch. It’s made by infusing pineapple rinds in white rum for a week and then redistilling it. This is then combined with a dark rum that has been steeping with pineapples for three months. The two components are left to marry in cask for three months before bottling. 

AG: “He [Wondrich] was saying:  ‘Alexandre, the pineapple rum of the 18th century and 19th century, you’re the one to recreate it.’ And then he keeps sending me these different recipes and different patents really. There were a couple that called for using the skin of the pineapple. But they were not very precise. So we distilled the skin of the pineapple, we peel it, and then we infuse the flesh and we blend the two together. And I was looking for a name and he says ‘why not the Reverend Stiggins from The Pickwick Papers, the guy always preaching abstinence and he had a little flask of pineapple rum’. So we called it Stiggins’ Fancy. That was a cool name and it stuck.”

Thank you M. Gabriel! 

We will be publishing the Maison Ferrand Cognac story later in the year.

 

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The Nightcap: 5 July

Tune in to The Nightcap this week for news about new distilleries, very old Talisker, and… Oh, tariffs again. Great. It’s been a busy ol’ week here at MoM Towers,…

Tune in to The Nightcap this week for news about new distilleries, very old Talisker, and… Oh, tariffs again. Great.

It’s been a busy ol’ week here at MoM Towers, only somewhat hindered by the sunburns acquired in a field in Somerset. However, with plenty of after-sun lotion at hand, we have made it all the way through to Friday, and we’re ready to provide you with all the news from the world of booze, because it’s once again time for The Nightcap!

On the blog this week we went competition crazy, announcing a Spirit of America edition in time for the 4th of July, while also declaring the winners of our VIP Bombay Sapphire and Mortlach competitions. Elsewhere, Nate Brown returned to shine a light on two distilleries doing something a bit different with new-make spirit, before we talked all things barley at Bruichladdich. Henry had an action packed week, enjoying an old favourite as his Cocktail of the Week, a new Starward expression for his New Arrival of the Week and four special iterations of Johnnie Walker Black Label inspired by key Scotch whisky regions. He even checked out all the good work the clever clogs at Circumstance Distillery are doing. Adam then reported on the major blaze that engulfed a Jim Beam warehouse facility, while Annie was on hand to spill the beans on Chivas Brothers’ Secret Speyside single malts  before telling us all about the return of Jigger Beaker Glass. If all of that wasn’t enough, we also showed you what Master of Malt Dram Club members will be receiving in July!

Phew. Catch your breath for a moment, we’ve not even started with the rest of the booze news yet…

The Nightcap

Not the Scotch, please anything but the Scotch…

Scotch whisky targeted by new US tariffs

The US continues to play the role of the Darth Vader of the drinks world. This week, Scotch whisky was named among a list of imported products in line for possible new tariffs. Just to underline how significant this is, here are some numbers. They are really big. The US is the world’s largest export market for Scotch whisky by value, snapping up £1.04 billion-worth in 2018. It’s also the second largest by volume, with 137 million 70cl bottles heading its way last year. Scotch also makes up 12% of the total American whisk(e)y market. While we don’t know yet when the tariffs could be imposed, we do know that they could affect European Union imports worth up to $4bn (£3.2bn) including luxury goods: think cheeses like Parmesan and Gouda (please no), pasta (hold me), olives (they wouldn’t dare) and Irish whiskey (now they’ve gone too far). The issue stems from a 15-year long dispute at the World Trade Organization between the US and EU over subsidies given to plane-makers Airbus, from Europe, and the US’s Boeing. It was only back in April that the US announced proposed a whole different set of tariffs on $11bn-worth of EU goods. “Exports of Scotch whisky to the US have been zero-tariff for 20 years, so it is disappointing that Scotch whisky has been drawn into this dispute,” a spokesperson for the Scotch Whisky Association commented. “The Scotch whisky industry has consistently opposed the imposition of tariffs, which harms economies on both sides of the Atlantic which depend on trade for their continued prosperity.” Scotland’s devolved government also weighed in on this issue, stating it was “deeply concerned” that Scotch whisky was being implicated in the dispute. “We are calling on the UK government to make urgent representations to the EU to ensure that Scotch whisky is not collateral damage to this long-term dispute between the EU and the US,” a spokesperson said. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States was equally condemning of the move, warning that it may harm both jobs and consumers in the country. Hopefully, sense prevails and we can report some good news on this issue soon.

The Nightcap

You can get yourself a bottle of hemp rum here

Dead Man’s Fingers creates CBD-infused rum

The buzz around hemp and spirits just keeps on growing. That’s right, what is said to be the first CBD Hemp Rum has been brought into existence by Dead Man’s Fingers! The original rum has been infused with hemp, which naturally contains around 20% CBD (cannabidiol). Most importantly though, it definitely doesn’t contain any THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, try saying that five times fast), which is the psychoactive compound in the plant. “Flavoured and spiced is the fastest-growing rum sub-category, driven by penetration of younger consumers, yet almost a quarter of rum drinkers are frustrated with lack of choice, the highest out of all spirits categories”, says Lucy Cottrell, brand manager for Dead Man’s Fingers. “Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum is an exceptional spirit that pushes the boundaries where others haven’t dared, and fulfils rum drinkers’ very clear expectations for something more exciting and experimental. With this launch, Dead Man’s Fingers will bring fun back to a category which has become stale in recent years.” The rum weighs in at 40% ABV, and is said to have notes of “cola, coffee, hops and pine with a grassy herbal back note”. We rather enjoyed the suggestion of a twist on a classic, a ‘Dankuiri’. If you fancied giving it a go, you’re in luck, because you can nab a bottle from your favourite online retailer!

The Nightcap

Look! It’s all new and shiny and wonderful!

New Lagg Distillery opens on Arran

Good news, everyone: Lagg Distillery has officially opened its doors to the public and is now welcoming visitors to the brand new site! The second distillery on the Isle of Arran, Lagg has already begun whisky production, with the first middle cut of spirit recorded on 19 March 2019. The spirit is expected to mature into a rich, smoky, heavily-peated (50ppm) single malt, a departure from the style produced at the original Isle of Arran Distillers site in Lochranza, which opened in 1995. Both distilleries are expected to draw over 200,000 visitors by 2020. The visitor centre includes a shop, an interactive video showcasing Arran’s whisky history, a café and restaurant, with ingredients sourced locally, as well as two new copper stills and four wooden washbacks. Within the same room. The experience means visitors can be guided through every stage of production, and highlights Arran’s place in the story of Scotch, with frequent references to past distillation in the island, both legal and illicit. Production will be overseen by both distillery manager Graham Omand, an Islay native who has spent the past eight years at the Lochranza distillery, and master distiller James MacTaggart, who has over 40 years of experience in the industry. “We’re all thrilled to be celebrating the opening of our spectacular new Lagg Distillery and to bring production back to the heart of whisky-making on the Isle of Arran,” Omand said. “We can’t wait to start writing the next chapter of this story and welcoming whisky-lovers from around the world to Lagg.”

The Nightcap

It might be small gin, but it packs a big taste!

Hayman’s launches Small Gin as low ABV alternative

Hayman’s of London made its mark on the low-to-no alcohol market this week with the launch of Small Gin, a full-strength tipple with stronger botanical flavours designed to reduce the amount of spirit required to serve a Gin & Tonic. The small 20cl bottle is theoretically so intensely flavoured with botanicals that you need just 5ml of Hayman’s Small Gin to make a balanced G&T, in theory reducing alcohol consumption by 80%. Having tried a cheeky G&T at Imbibe, we can confirm that it does indeed work. It’s one small G&T for us, and perhaps one giant leap for low-alcohol drinks. “Many consumers are actively looking to reduce their alcohol consumption but are keen to continue enjoying that classic gin flavour they have grown to love,” fifth-generation family member Miranda Hayman said. “Small Gin is the perfect solution – a real gin that allows you to mix a true G&T with just a fraction of the alcohol.” Distiller Sam Pembridge added: “We based the flavour profile for Small Gin on a classic London dry and getting all that wonderful botanical character into such a small serving size was an incredible challenge. We are working at the outer limits of what can be achieved but the flavour profile is spot-on. In blind tastings completed at our distillery, even the most experienced of gin drinkers were unable to tell the difference between a Small Gin & Tonic and a London dry Gin & Tonic.” Small Gin will available to pre-order at haymansgin.com for delivery in August, and is priced at £26 per 20cl bottle.

The Nightcap

The impressive second expression from the Bodega series.

Talisker releases oldest official single malt as part of Bodega Series

The Talisker Bodega Series, a range we’ve previously enjoyed in the past, has added a second stunning Scotch to its selection. Are you ready for this? It’s a 41-year-old expression. A 1978 vintage. Matured in Manzanilla sherry casks. Bottled at 50.7% ABV. The oldest official single malt to date from Skye’s oldest distillery. Limited to just 2,000 bottles. All of what you just read there should be said out loud in that sultry voice from those M&S food adverts. It will set you back £2,900 per 70cl bottle, obviously. Nothing can be perfect in this world. The bottling continues Talisker’s exploration of sherry cask finishes on some of its most valuable stock. In this case, the 41-year-old was finished in Manzanilla sherry casks from Delgado Zuleta, the oldest Sherry producer in the famed Sherry Triangle in the Marco de Jerez region. It’s also where Talisker historically enjoyed a trading connection, dating all the way back to 1900. Talisker’s master blender Dr Craig Wilson worked alongside the sherry masters at the bodega to craft the precious liquid. He hand-picked only six casks for finishing, all of which once held La Goya, the Bodega’s flagship wine and a very fine Manzanilla aged in casks for more than a century. The result is said to be a remarkably rich whisky, with notes of sultanas, orange peel, sandalwood, salty sea air, smoky raw sugar. “This is a magnificent example of Talisker, which initially holds back on the nose, but blossoms with spice in the mouth,” whisky writer Charles MacLean said. “It is a privilege to be able to taste such a memorable dram.”

The Nightcap

The new Black Rock Tavern, an izakaya inspired whisky pub

Black Rock becomes London’s first whisky hotel

Many a fellow whisky fan has enjoyed the odd dram at the award-winning Black Rock. A visit will see you sampling cocktails and expressions from its considerable range, and imbibing from its enormous 185-year-old oak tree table because, well, when in Rome. Very soon we’ll also get the chance to extend our experience as the whisky-centric bar is set to undergo a five-floor expansion of its Christopher Street location over the course of the summer! The new space will include a tavern, a blending room and a three-room hotel. Hurrah! The subterranean bar, which was launched in 2016 by spirit enthusiasts Tom Aske and Tristan Stephenson, will extend through the four-storey building above it, but don’t worry – the stripped-back decor and ace soundtrack will remain. And the tavern part opens today! A more casual alternative to the original bar, it will serve five beers on tap alongside a library of 40 to 50 whiskies. The decor will feature Japanese-inspired twists, including a reclaimed oak bar, bamboo ceiling panels and graffiti wall art by artist Ryan Gajda. The upcoming blending room, meanwhile, will host tasting experiences in which guests can enjoy a cocktail and blend their own 500ml bottle of whisky using a flight of single malts. And the best part? You can take your own blended whisky home with you. As for the three lodging rooms, they will be situated on the second and third floors, with two compact lodgings and one larger suite, the style of which will be “minimalist but luxurious”. It sounds fantastic, but good luck getting a reservation. We may have to book up the whole summer for err… research purposes, of course.

Redbreast’s new look has landed

Irish whiskey brand Redbreast is clearly feeling chipper after showing off the results of a makeover for its entire range. The refreshed look includes raised ‘Redbreast’ lettering at the base of the neck and ‘Single Pot Still’ on the reverse, while the labels are now a lighter cream colour with an embossed, textured background. The highlight is the reimagined classic – and let’s face it, adorable – robin redbreast, which is now represented in hand-drawn form by celebrated Irish illustrator Denise Nestor. Nestor, whose work has been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Variety and more, reinvented the bird in different flight positions for each whiskey expression. The idea is to represent the evolution of the brand over time and “the continuous journey of discovery that Redbreast drinkers find themselves on”. To complement the illustrations, Redbreast has also introduced a new colour palette of red, copper, navy, green and steel blue to distinguish each variant; with Redbreast 21 Year Old presented in a premium, handmade wooden box. You’ll also find tasting notes on the front labels, presumably with the words ‘delicious’ or ‘yum’. The new designs will be released initially on Redbreast 12 Year Old, 15 Year Old and Lustau in July and August, but you’ll have to wait until autumn to see the revamped Redbreast 21 Year Old and Redbreast 12 Cask Strength.

The Nightcap

Inver House MD, Martin Leonard

Old Pulteney propels Inver House to ‘significant’ growth

Old Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach parent company Inver House Distillers submitted a financial glowing report this week, with 2018 sales climbing 7.4% year-on-year. The stand-out superstar? Old Pulteney, which enjoyed bumper 20% growth for the 12 months to September. Caorunn gin also notched up double-digit growth, according to the chief bean counters. Seems fitting, interest in Scottish gin, in general, is definitely on the up. “This is the result of having consistently invested in our people, in production at our distilleries, in the quality of our spirits and in their sales and promotion,” said Inver House MD, Martin Leonard. “We also now have the channels in place to grow our brands in markets around the world, so our focus is very much on rolling out some exciting plans and building further success in 2019 and beyond.” If that means more delicious whiskies, we are well on board.

The Nightcap

Delamain Cognac will cultivate its own vines after more than century

Delamain Cognac returns to grape growing after more than 100 years

Big news from on-trade booze fest Imbibe this week. Cognac house Delamain announced it has bought 20 hectares of vines within the Grande Champagne region. The firm, which makes the legendary Pale & Dry XO, used to own vines until 1910, but since then has made its reputation with bought-in eaux-de-vie. This new venture guarantees the firm’s access to some of the finest grapes in Cognac. Charles Braastad, managing director of Delamain, said: “After over a century, we are very pleased to once again be cultivating vines. We originally abandoned the practice in 1910 upon the sale of our “Bois Clair” property in Saint-Brice which, at the time, allowed us to focus on selection, blending and ageing of Grande Champagne Cognacs. From 2019, the house of Delamain is re-committing to the very first moments in the lives of our Cognacs, to their birth and growth in the vineyards. We are certain that this decision to tend such extraordinary vines will permit us to continue creating ever more exceptional Cognacs for future generations.” It will be interesting to see whether, with its own vineyards, Delamain is tempted to follow Hine with a single vineyard and vintage bottling. That would be really exciting.

The Nightcap

Best of luck to Tim Etherington-Judge!

And Finally… Healthy Hospo’s Tim to run 42 marathons in 42 days

We like a more unusual or outlandish story for And Finally… and this week is no exception. The founder of on-trade wellness initiative Healthy Hospo, Tim Etherington-Judge, is about to undertake an especially ridiculous challenge. He’s preparing to run 42 marathons over 42 consecutive days in the year he turns 42 (a marathon is also 42 kilometres long. All the 42s). It’s a ludicrous feat – but also an incredible one, for an incredible purpose. He’s hoping to raise £42,000 for industry charity The Benevolent to build a brighter, better future for those working in drinks, and especially to shine a light on mental health. Etherington-Judge was diagnosed with severe depression after attempting to take his own life in 2016. Ever since, he’s been an advocate for better mental health across the on-trade and in society in general, and 424242run is a huge part of that. “On January 9 2019 I turn 42 years old, conveniently the same distance as a marathon and I plan to take my mission to the next level, to create as much attention, support and money as I can for improving the mental health of the hospitality industry by putting it all on the line and pushing my mind and body to the very edge,” he writes on Healthy Hospo. “Why am I doing this? Because I can and because we need to take the mental health of people in our industry seriously.” The challenge kicks off at industry event Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans on 20 July, and also takes in New York, Amsterdam and London. To find out more and to support Etherington-Judge, either as a sponsor or to pledge to run with him, check out the 424242run site. Godspeed, sir!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Grand Sour

This week we talk to the master blender, Patrick Raguenaud, and show you how to get the most out of Grand Marnier’s orangey, Cognac-soaked flavour profile. Cognac runs in Patrick…

This week we talk to the master blender, Patrick Raguenaud, and show you how to get the most out of Grand Marnier’s orangey, Cognac-soaked flavour profile.

Cognac runs in Patrick Raguenaud’s veins. Well, not literally, that would be lethal, but his family has been farming in the region since the 17th century. He distils from his family’s vines in the Grand Champagne region, is president of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), oh, and he’s the master blender at Grand Marnier. Where does he find the time?

We met him last week for the perfect start to a day, a Grand Marnier breakfast masterclass. He presented surrounded by little orange trees and bowls of sweet oranges which looked pretty but are actually very different from the fruit used in Grand Marnier. The recipe calls for bitter oranges which are bought from the Caribbean, Tunisia and South America. The oranges are picked when just turning from green to orange. “They have a very rustic flavour”, Raguenaud told us; the pulp is inedible and goes into compost while the skin is dried in the sun. He gave us some dried fruit to try: it was mouth-puckeringly, almost painfully bitter. The next step is to remove the pith and then the zest is macerated for two weeks in neutral alcohol.

The resulting orangey boozy liquid with the zest included is watered down and redistilled in a special still, similar to how gin is made. Then to make the classic Cordon Rouge expression, the distillate is diluted (to 40% ABV) and blended with sugar syrup and Cognac, which makes up 51% of the finished product. Raguenaud is very particular about the spirits he uses. He wants a light, fruity Cognac so doesn’t distil on the lees. He gave us some to try which was grassy with notes of pear and lemon and only a little wood influence. “We don’t want too much oak or it will spoil flavours”, he said.

Patrick Raguenau

Patrick Raguenaud with the Grand Marnier range

“It’s a very complex job to maintain consistency”, according to Raguenaud. The company both ages eaux-de-vie distilled to its specifications and buys in aged Cognac. This year it released a special version, Cuvée Louis Alexandre, using a higher percentage of Cognac, and older spirits. We tried it alongside the standard model and it’s richer, sweeter and longer. He also let us try some of the completely fabulous and astronomically-priced Quintessence which is made with XO Cognac.

Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge was created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle. Since 2016 the company has been part of the Campari group. The biggest market by far, according to Ragueneau, is America where it’s used in Margaritas. I love a Margarita as much as the next man but I think this week’s cocktail makes better use of Grand Marnier’s intense sweetness, mouth-coating bitterness and length that comes from the Cognac. In fact, as it contains high ABV spirit, a bittering agent, orange, and sweetness, Grand Marnier is almost a cocktail in a bottle. So all you really need to add is something sour and voila! You have an elegant drink.

This recipe comes is based on one from Difford’s Guide. It’s really very special and harmonious. Best of all is the finish where the complexity of the base Cognac really comes through, though I have a feeling that using one of the fancier versions would be even more delicious.

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

Got your bottle of Grand Marnier ready? Let’s get shaking.

60ml Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
30ml Lemon juice
15ml Blood orange juice (both freshly-squeezed)

Shake all the ingredients hard with ice and double strain into a chilled tumbler (or similar) with ice (or you could also serve it straight up in a coupe). Garnish with an orange round.

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Noteworthy Eurovision-Themed Drinks

The Eurovision Song Contest kicks off next week, with the final on Saturday 18 May, so we’ve selected some super European tipples for your enjoyment. Eurovision is pretty much the…

The Eurovision Song Contest kicks off next week, with the final on Saturday 18 May, so we’ve selected some super European tipples for your enjoyment.

Eurovision is pretty much the best thing in the world. Other people might insist on watching shows with dragons, superheroes or Keeley Hawes, but honestly how could that compare to a night of cheesy, camp fun with an endless array of bangers, ballads and the downright bizarre. From dancing Russian grandmas, Viking corpse costumes, drag queens and Jedward, TWICE somehow, Eurovision really has got everything.

To honour this year’s edition of the world’s biggest music entertainment show, we’ve rounded up some incredible booze from some of the competing countries so you can indulge yourself on an evening of unrivalled entertainment.

From French fancies to exciting English expressions, a couple of stunners from Spain and Switzerland and more, we’ve got some major treats for you. I’d tell you to enjoy, but it’s Eurovision. Of course you’re going to enjoy yourself.

Hepple Gin

The United Kingdom’s hopes this year rest on the shoulders of Michael Rice, a native from Hartlepool, County Durham, England, so it’s fitting that you’d cheer him on with a delicious and wonderfully Northern gin! Distilled by the Moorland Spirit Company using a rather intricate production method, which includes pot stills, vacuum distillation and a super-critical CO2 extraction process, Hepple Gin is full-bodied, balanced and simply begging to be put to good use in a G&T.

What does it taste like?:

Lemon peels, peppery juniper, coriander, pine and sherbet lemon sweeties.

Milk & Honey Young Single Malt Aged Spirit

From this year’s host city of Tel Aviv comes a young single malt spirit which isn’t quite old enough to be called whisky yet from Milk & Honey Distillery. This tipple was matured in ex-red wine, bourbon and ex-Islay whisky casks and boasts a tasty and complex flavour profile.

What does it taste like?:

Floral sweetness followed by smoky peat and maritime notes, orange peel, dried fruit and honeydew melon, with woody notes appearing on the finish.

Maxime Trijol VSOP

For those who enjoy all things French, why not combine the joy of Bilal Hassani’s song ‘Roi’ with this classic VSOP Cognac from Maxime Trijol? The family (the Trijols, not the Hassanis) has been distilling quality Cognac since 1859 and are now one of the largest and most consistent distillers in the region, so you know you won’t be going wrong with this beauty.

What does it taste like?:

Smoke, over-ripe fruits, sandalwood, marmalade, mixed peels, honeyed, peppery finish with sweet spices.

Stork Club Straight Rye Whiskey

What’s this? Rye whiskey from Germany?! That’s right. Eurovision is well known for springing a surprise or two, so we thought we’d follow suit and champion this straight rye whiskey from the wonderful Stork Club. Produced just south of Berlin using German rye, this tipple is a worthy celebration of the country whose hopes are pinned on S!sters this year. I wonder if anyone has let them know they’ve spelt that wrong. Someone really should.

What does it taste like?:

Brown bread with Nutella, cane sugar, punchy black pepper, nutmeg, clove, red apples and blackberries.

Malfy Gin Con Rosa

Perhaps some of you will be enjoying Italian gin witnessing an Italian win on Saturday 18 May? Even if Italy doesn’t bring home the big prize, you can be sure that you’ll be singing this ace gin’s praises, which was built around the delicious Sicilian pink grapefruit and a hint of rhubarb too.

What does it taste like?:

Tangy pink grapefruit at the fore, balanced well by peppery juniper and a touch of thyme.

XECO Fino

While Miki is on a mission to wow Europe’s heart with his entry ‘La Venda’, this Spanish brand on a mission to make sherry accessible again. XECO Fino, which was aged for a minimum of four years in American oak, is a crisp and refreshingly dry fino that makes for a great introduction to fortified wine, so it’s fair to say XECO has succeeded in its goal. It’s really tasty served straight up or over ice with tonic or lemonade.

What does it taste like?:

Dainty and floral on the nose, building to the refreshing umami-esque palate. Thirst-quenching stuff, and ideal for aperitifs.

Säntis 10 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

The Swiss really do make some delicious single malt, and if you weren’t aware of that than you should immediately familiarise yourself with the wonderful whisky distilled by Säntis. The Swiss brand produced this rich and complex 10-year-old expression which was independently bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Which was a very smart thing to do. This is a very, very tasty whisky.

What does it taste like?:

Toasted brown sugar, sticky treacle, Bramley apple, dried fruit, cacao, macaroons, drying barley, winter spice and brandy snaps.

La Trappe Blond

While Duncan Laurence represents The Netherlands with his song ‘Arcade’, you could show your appreciation for The Netherlands by enjoying some of its delicious beer, namely this excellent Trappist Blond ale from the Dutch La Trappe selection.

What does it taste like?:

Crisp and refreshing, with sliced banana, clove-studded orange and creamy honey. Big yeast influence on this one, too. Hop bitterness stays way in the background, but it certainly is there.

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The Nightcap: 26 April

Another short week, but that has not stopped the deluge of booze news occurring – get ready for another edition of The Nightcap! The super-long weekend continued into this week…

Another short week, but that has not stopped the deluge of booze news occurring – get ready for another edition of The Nightcap!

The super-long weekend continued into this week for us here at MoM Towers, meaning Monday was spent as far away from office desks as possible. However, by Tuesday, we were eager to get back to it – and clearly so was everyone else in the world of booze, as there is plenty of news to go through in The Nightcap! Let’s get to it, shall we?

On the MoM Blog this week, Ian Buxton was back to ask the difficult questions once again, this time concerning investment in whisky, before Adam championed English-made booze to mark St. George’s Day. Then he explored Scotch whiskies from Speyside, as we look forward to the upcoming Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. Annie was busy checking out the new Super Lyan bar in Amsterdam, but still made time to acknowledge Earth Day and Patrón Tequila’s contribution to it. Henry looked into how we can tackle the Malaria crisis with gin, while his Cocktail of the Week was The Iceberg Slim. Kristy also demonstrated an affinity to a Compass Box release for our New Arrival of the Week.

That’s a whole lot of news for a shorter week, but hold on to your hats because we’ve got even more – it’s The Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Samples are flowing off the stills!

Lagg Distillery kicks off whisky production

Some very exciting news came our way this week via Isle of Arran Distillers. Distillation has begun at Lagg Distillery! The very first middle cut of spirit was recorded back on Tuesday 19 March at 14.35, to be precise. The commissioning phase has now been completed and Cask Number One, a sherry butt reserved exclusively for members of the Lagg Cask Society, was filled on Wednesday 10 April with a heavily-peated (50ppm) spirit at 63.5% ABV. So, what can we expect from the eventual Lagg Single Malt? Well, the distillery hopes it will become a rich, earthy and smoky dram, making it something of a departure from the character of whisky currently produced at the original distillery in Lochranza. James MacTaggart, master distiller, said: “It’s incredibly exciting to be taking the very first steps in producing what will eventually be a magnificent Lagg whisky and something truly unique to anything we’ve produced previously.” The news comes as construction of the new distillery and visitor centre enters its final stages, with the outer structure now complete and many of the elements of internal design starting to come together. Lagg Distillery is expected to open fully in early summer, with the brand projecting that the distillery and visitor centre will increase total visitor numbers at both sites to over 200,000 by 2020. It’s all coming together, folks!

The Winchester Distillery’s range – for now…

Winchester Distillery reveals expansion (and crowdfunding!) details

As fifth birthday celebrations go, this is a pretty exciting one. Winchester Distillery has unveiled plans to expand its Hampshire-based production facilities! There’s a new higher-volume still going in, so the team can continue to explore new categories (it’s already got rum and whisky in the pipeline). It’s also looking into using locally-grown malted barley for its gin, vodka and whisky, too! But these adventures all need money, which is where the new Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign comes in. “With Winchester Distillery’s fifth birthday in May we are delighted to be in the position, with our annual average sales growth of 82% year on year, to take the business to the next level,” said Paul Bowler, the distillery’s managing director. “Having more capacity will mean we can make more of our well-loved spirits so we can enter new markets both here in the UK and overseas. We also intend to upgrade the current space here among the watercress beds in Old Alresford so that we can host more visitors for tours and tastings, and open a gift shop.” Thrilling stuff, indeed!

The mouthwatering result of globe-spanning teamwork

Diageo teams up with baijiu producer for ‘east-meets-west’ whisky

Exciting news if you’re a fan of intriguing whiskies: Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits player, has formed a joint venture with Jiangsu Yanghe Distillery, China’s third-largest baijiu-maker, to launch something brand-new in the country. It’s a whisky called Zhong Shi Ji, and while production details are scarce, it sounds like a curious thing indeed. Diageo’s Scotch master blender, Craig Wallace, and China Alcoholic Drinks Association’s baijiu master, Zhou Xinhu, worked on the project, which included some maturation in Chinese ceramic pots. We’ve not found out much else, except the result is said to be “unique, full-flavoured” and “exceptionally smooth”. “We believe that Zhong Shi Ji can play an important role in the Chinese dining occasion, launching a new era for whisky drinkers in China,” said C.H. Chu, MD at Diageo Greater China. Zhu Wei, vice president of Yanghe, added: “I firmly believe Zhong Shi Ji will quickly become Chinese consumers’ new favourite, with its ultra-smooth taste and superior quality, created through unique processes and craftsmanship from both China and the West.” If you come across it in the wild, let us know what it tastes like!

The Nightcap

It’s about time we got to enjoy whisky on the high seas!

The Dalmore sets sail on Queen Mary 2 cruise ship

Batten down the hatches, this week The Dalmore revealed an exclusive ‘whisky flight at sea’ on board the world’s only ocean liner, Queen Mary 2! This takes whisky to a whole new level (although we suppose it’s only sea level), as the Highlander can be sipped and savoured on board the ship between Southampton and New York. At the same time, an exclusive whisky experience will be offered on board during the Transatlantic crossing. To round off the whisky experience, master distiller Richard Paterson will be giving a presentation on board the ship. “The Dalmore is celebrated in iconic locations around the world,” Paterson said. “We see celebrations of The Dalmore at Baccarat Hotel New York, at 40,000 feet on board Emirates First Class, and now a unique opportunity to savour the Cunard whisky flight at 28 knots.” Also aboard the Queen Mary 2 will be two rare expressions from The Dalmore Constellation Collection, a limited edition collection of individual rare casks released by the distillery. We’ll certainly say ‘aye aye’ to that.

The Nightcap

Delicious booze and a good cause? We’re in!

Hedgepig gives a helping hand to hedgehogs with new gin liqueur

Hedgepig has increased its range of small batch gin liqueurs to four with the launch of a new flavour, Zesty Elderflower. The reveal coincides with and will benefit Hedgehog Awareness Week (5-11 May). By donating 50p for every bottle sold to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, the brand is doing its bit to alleviate the plight of the tiny, spiny mammals, who really don’t have it easy. Hedgepig was created by the team behind Pinkster gin, and crafts all its liqueurs from locally-grown or foraged fruits – Zesty Elderflower was made from wild elderflower. It’s said to have a ‘delicate’ flavour with subtle citrus notes and is best enjoyed cold with pudding or as a cocktail topped up with Prosecco. “We’re thrilled to be supporting the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, especially during their awareness week,” said Hedgepig founder, Stephen Marsh. “The plight of the hedgehog makes for desperate reading. In rural areas, numbers have fallen by half over the past two decades. We’re delighted to be supporting the fine work of the unsung heroes at this cracking little charity. Every little counts.” Don’t forget to check out The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which offers help and advice to those with sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs, if you’d like to do your bit to help those snuffly little fellows.

The Nightcap

Congratulations to Nick Savage, the new master distiller of Bladnoch!

Macallan master distiller joins Bladnoch

Lowland distillery Bladnoch has a new master distiller! Nick Savage will join the team from 1 July. This is big news, not only because the brand has replaced Ian MacMillan, who left the distillery to establish his own whisky consultancy firm in January, but because Savage has stepped down as master distiller of The Macallan to work with Bladnoch. Savage, who prior to his three-year tenure at Macallan was a distilling technical leader at Girvan Distillery and had a four-year stint at Diageo, will work alongside newly-appointed distillery manager Neil Bulloch. He explained his decision was down to “the vision and ambition shown by David Prior and the team at Bladnoch distillery”. He continued: “The opportunity also allows me a new challenge in single malt Lowland Scotch whisky from a 200-year-old distillery.” Prior, Bladnoch CEO and owner, added: “It’s a great privilege to welcome Nick Savage to the Bladnoch business. His youthful, positive and energetic approach will add great value to our team and business, as will his technical and operational skills.” As for Macallan, this announcement follows the departures of whisky maker Bob Dalgarno and former creative director Ken Grier to lead the team at Glenturret Distillery. There could be some interesting times ahead for the Speyside brand, which celebrated the opening of a state-of-the-art distillery in 2018 and seems to break numerous auction whisky records on a weekly basis. As of yet, there is no word on who will be replacing Savage in the role of the master distiller, but we’re sure it won’t take them too long to… make the call.

What time is it? It’s time to get tropical!

Laki Kane’s Georgi Radev launches tiki tome

Love tiki cocktails? Then you’ll probably already know of Georgi Radev. After managing London’s tiki outpost Mahiki for more than a decade, he opened his own rum embassy, Laki Kane, in 2018. It’s even got its own rum microdistillery upstairs (head on down and you can even re-distil your own!). Now he’s evangelising about all things rum through the written word with Let’s Get Tropical, a recipe book detailing over 60 delicious serves. The best bit? They’re all curated so we can make them easily at home! It starts with super-easy how-tos, from how to make a sugar syrup to learning to swizzle properly. Then Radev cracks on to the good stuff. He’s packed in the classics (the likes of Daiquiris and Mai Tais, with optional twists and reinventions) and then he’s treated us to some ‘Modern Tropical’ cocktails form his own imagination. There are punches, if you need to impress the masses, and even treats from the current Laki Kane menu, including the mouth-watering watermelon-based Wiki Tiki (we tasted it at the book launch. It was wonderful). If you’re prepping for a summer party, Let’s Get Tropical is essential reading. It’s priced at £9.99, and hits UK shelves in May!

The Nightcap

Introducing: Benromach Cask Strength Vintage 2008 Batch 1

Benromach launches new cask strength expression

We do love a story about more new whisky, and that’s exactly what Benromach Distillery has given us this week. The family-owned distillery has a new addition to its Classic Range, Benromach Cask Strength Vintage 2008 Batch 1. The limited-run single malt whisky was laid down in 2008 and matured in a combination of first-fill sherry and bourbon casks. It was then bottled in 2019 at a cask strength 57.9% ABV with an outturn of 5,500 bottles. According to Benromach, the rich and full-bodied dram has notes of cracked black pepper, fruits and milk chocolate, with a delicate smoky edge on the palate. The bottle itself was created to mirror the shapes and textures of the Speyside distillery and will detail the vintage year, batch number and age. “By offering the opportunity to own and enjoy batch releases, we are able to further showcase the expertise of our distilling team while determining the right time to bottle each batch to take full advantage of the remarkable single malt whiskies we produce,” said Keith Cruickshank, Benromach distillery manager. “We believe this expression will allow Benromach drinkers to understand more about the provenance of the whisky they are drinking.” We’ve got some on the way to MoM Towers so keep an eye out, folks!

The Nightcap

We think it’s safe a bottle of this beauty wouldn’t be Money for Nothing

Sultans of Gin! Former Dire Straits frontman teams up with Portobello Road

London dry gin brand Portobello Road has partnered with the legendary Mark Knopfler OBE (if you haven’t heard of him or Dire Straits, then get your act together) to make a distinctive, special edition ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ gin, Local Heroes No.3. It’s a move that’s as awesome as it was inevitable. (He had a song called Portobello Belle, folks. It was only ever a matter of time.) Local Heroes No.3 was created by Knopfler and Portobello Road Gin’s co-founder, Jake F. Burger using the nine botanicals from its Portobello Road Gin with the addition of lime zest, fresh cucumber peel and olive oil, which were distilled in the 400-litre copper alembic still King Henry, then bottled and labelled by hand. The label design is understandably guitar-themed, and each bottle even comes with a miniature version of Knopfler’s iconic sweatband from his Dire Straits gigs. “As a gin fan, it is a wonderful opportunity to work with a prestigious brand like Portobello Road Gin to craft my own blend,” said Knopfler. “It is robust in flavour and strong in spice – exactly the kind of gin that I enjoy and I hope my fans will too.” Burger added: “It is a huge honour to be able to work with Mark to create a London Dry Gin with a rock n roll edge. As expected, the flavours are totally unique and we believe the result is extremely exciting. So why not mix yourself a cocktail, turn the stereo up and listen to one of Mark’s many classic albums?”

The Nightcap

Founder Annabel Thomas wants to encourage more women to work in whisky

Ncn’ean offers whisky-making internships for women

Scotland’s first 100% organic whisky distillery is offering two women the opportunity to learn to make whisky, from mashing and distilling through to maturation, with two all-expenses-paid summer internships. Ncn’ean Distillery, situated in converted farm steadings on the grounds of the historic Drimnin Estate on the Morvern peninsula, will also teach interns how to forage for the local plants that are used in Ncn’ean’s Botanical Spirit and how to make cocktails. Annabel Thomas, founder of Ncn’ean, launched the initiative to raise the profile of distilling as a career option among women. “I wanted to challenge the outdated views a lot of people still have,” she explained. “The number of times people ask me ‘do you actually like whisky?’ just because I am a woman, and the lack of gender balance in the industry in Scotland, suggests we all still have more work to do.” She said she hopes women from all walks of life will apply. So, if you fancy trying your hand as a distiller then you should probably get applying! The internships are open to all women aged 18 or over and will take place from 15-20 July. All travel, accommodation and food are included. It sounds like it could be the opportunity of a lifetime!

Hannah Lanfear, Phil Duffy, and plenty of Cognac

Culture Cognac champions Cognac cocktails – we approve

This week, we hot-footed it over to East London for an educational Cognac immersion with the UK’s brand of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac – and it was brilliant! The UK Cognac Bureau put on the Culture Cognac workshop for the trade to highlight the spirit’s role in contemporary cocktails. Phil Duffy and Hannah Lanfear chatted through production choices (think: terroir, grapes, barrels, ageing and more) and how they influence flavour – clearly vital when it comes to cocktails. “It’s so positive to see the Cognac category continuing to grow in popularity, now more than ever, which is of course due to London’s love of cocktails being at an all-time high,” said Duffy. “Cognac is no doubt one of the most versatile spirits and is one of the hottest cocktail ingredients going.” The team from The Devil’s Darling bar helped out with the serves. Feeling inspired? Why not check out the Brandy Sour and give it a go this weekend?

Think about playing Monopoly with your Tequila-loving friends? Maybe think again…

And finally… Science suggests we shouldn’t trust Tequila drinkers

This week a mighty intriguing press release crossed our desks. Apparently, you can tell how likely someone is to cheat by their booze preference. This is from ghost-writing company EduBirdie, and is clearly Highly Scientific. Ahem. Anyway, it surveyed 18-24 year olds in the US and from more than 2,000 responses, somehow concluded that wine drinkers are by far the most reliable: only 16% admitted to cheating at school, with just 8% fessing up to cheating romantically. Whisky drinkers were less angelic; just over a third said they had cheated on a partner, and 78%(!) cheated at school. Beer drinkers were (slightly) more honest academically, with 68% saying they’d cheated at school – but almost half had cheated in a relationship. Then, we have the Tequila fans. While a third said they’d cheated at school, a whopping 81% said they’d cheated on a partner. We’re an office of whisky and agave lovers, and we’re shook.

On that revelatory note – that’s it for The Nightcap this week. Have a great weekend (and if you’ve got a date, give the Tequila a wide berth).

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