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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: France

The art of slow drinking

Bartender Nate Brown asks why we try to cram our drinking into certain designated time slots but shun alcohol at all other times. That’s not how they do things on…

Bartender Nate Brown asks why we try to cram our drinking into certain designated time slots but shun alcohol at all other times. That’s not how they do things on the continent. . .

Hemingway once said that drinking was a way to end the day. Clearly, old Ernest didn’t spend enough time in 21st century Europe, where Croatian fishermen begin their daily routines with a tall Karlovačko, or where French farmers drink Picpoul like water under the afternoon sun. To true Europeans, the ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ mentality is a grotesque excuse: the clock is not the gatekeeper of the gullet.

Ricard pastis

Savoir faire, innit? (photo credit: Pernod-Ricard)

Besides, it isn’t much of a stretch to feel that Champagne was made for mornings and Martinis for lunchtime. When, if ever, is a Negroni an unwelcome addition to your day? A Highball in the afternoon, or a pastis at sundown, this laissez-faire timetable is when drinking is at its best, not crammed into a few blurry nighttime hours like Claphamites on the tube.

We’ve got to hand out to our continental friends, they know what to drink and when. A recent trip to southern Spain confirmed our differences. Not only do they actually have weather (as opposed to dreary old England’s perpetual grey), but they also know how to handle it. Siestas, two-hour lunch breaks, cafes that spill out onto the town square, and best of all, bucket loads of the grape and the grain to stave off the heat noon and night.

Alas, to the modern Brits anything more than a ‘cheeky’ glass at lunch is obscene. The sight of a lonely chap nursing his afternoon Boddingtons evokes feelings of pity and dread. There but for the grace of God drink I. Don’t believe me? Suggest a chilled Beaujolais over breakfast to your nearest and dearest and await the intervention.

It wasn’t always this way. The restrictive licensing structure as we recognise today was brought in to allegedly aid the war effort (I trust the terrible irony of Dutch Courage is not lost here). The Defence of the Realm act (which is not actually from Game of Thrones, who knew?) restricted the sale of alcohol in public houses to ‘luncheon’ and ‘suppertime’ as if the feast mentality of the barbarians still held true. David Lloyd George, the teetotal Chancellor of the Exchequer reportedly said that Britain was fighting “Germans, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink.” And so he more or less brought to an end the afternoons of whisky sodas that had lubricated decades of social affairs. The taboo is a recent fancy, I don’t think the men and women of Victorian England had any qualms with an afternoon’s tipple, mother’s ruin or no.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, making his usual breakfast cocktail

But since then we’ve learned to cram our drinking into designated time periods. No wonder most of us drink too quickly. I say it’s time to return to the past and slow down a bit. When in Rome, do as the Romans do: have a Negroni at 11.30am before embarking on a four hour lunch. And by slowing down, we can learn to recognise that what’s in your glass has been patiently grown, crafted, and rested (if it’s been rushed, don’t drink it).

Think about this. The years that it takes for an agave plant to reach maturity before catalysing into a spirit can be an astounding 10 years, often more. And we shoot it down like a penance to be paid en route to delight. The minimum three years of solitary silence endured by the Palomino grape in a sherry butt can only command prices of less than £15 per bottle. It’s madness. Fermentation can be aided, but there is no fast-forward button. These things take time, time that we cannot get back, time that is so rarely appreciated. The patience practised in alcohol creation is a virtue beyond parallel. Who’d be a producer, eh?

After all, time is the one vital ingredient that is almost always overlooked in the world of drinking. I dare say that if the hospitality industry began a campaign of education surrounding the time that goes into creating a spirit, a wine, or a beer, the world would be a better place; a place where we can drink cans of Mojito (or preferably something tastier) on the tube home, or where a glass of something sparkling can welcome the day, or where the awkwardness of meetings can be dissolved in a glass of gin. That’ll be the day.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box Affinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Compass Box Affinity

Compass Box Affinity

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New Arrival of the Week: Mackmyra Äppelblom

Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the…

Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the name…

Back in 1999, Mackmyra was the first and only whisky distillery in Sweden. The story began with eight friends who all loved whisky but realised there were no Swedish producers. Naturally, they questioned why, and solved this problem by creating their own!

Today, Mackmyra is actually made up of two distilleries and continues to push boundaries. When it launched in 2002, distillation was carried out at the Mackmyra Bruk site, until 2011 when production was moved to the new Gravity Distillery at Gävle. This innovative feat of construction stands 35 metres tall and seven storeys high. As you might have guessed from the name, the distillery makes use of gravity throughout the whisky-making process. In 2017, the old distillery at Mackmyra Bruk was brought back up-and-running under the name Lab+Distillery, which explores slightly more experimental spirits.

The Gravity Distillery!

Mackmyra Äppelblom, the latest release, is a single malt aged in ex-bourbon and new American oak casks. Äppelblom, meaning apple blossom in Swedish, refers to the very special finishing process in oak casks which previously held Calvados from one of the region’s leading producers, Christian Drouin (Calvados is an apple or pear brandy from Normandy in France). The family-run company began in 1960, and the apples come from the Drouin family orchards, many of them harvested by hand. Mackmyra’s master blender Angela D’Orazio partnered with Christian Drouin and his son Guillaume to create the whisky, which is bottled at 46.1% ABV. It seems it was a match made in heaven; D’Orazio commented that “the choice of Calvados producer was easy. Christian Drouin creates absolutely fantastic Calvados, […] he has challenged French traditions in this area, and is therefore the perfect match for Mackmyra’s approach and our enjoyment of experimenting”.

Since Christian Drouin’s Calvados is aged for an exceptionally long time, a minimum of 20 years, there’s very little opportunity for the casks to be used a second time. For the first 20 years of the business, all of Drouin’s Calvados was ageing and not one bottle was sold. We’d say that was quite an investment, and clearly this isn’t a finish that we’ll see all that often! Guillaume Drouin, managing director at Calvados Christian Drouin stated that he was “happy to see the result of this innovative ageing using one of the very few casks we ship from our cellar”.

We present to you, Mackmyra Äppelblom!

The result is a lightly-spiced and fruity whisky, reminiscent of fresh green apples, just in time for spring! While wonderful served neat, you can also try Mackmyra Äppelblom alongside a warm apple dessert or even apple sorbet.

Tasting note for Mackmyra Äppelblom:

Nose: Toasted oak and orchard fruits galore, namely apple and pear with a hint of lemon, delicate floral notes with sweet vanilla and toffee.

Palate: Well-rounded fruity and spicy notes continue with the marriage of pear and citrus. Cedar wood emerges alongside aniseed, caramelised almonds, white pepper and ginger spiciness.

Finish: Spicy tones linger with gentle oak and zesty lemon and apple.

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