fbpx
Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Gin

5 minutes with Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the…

We talk to the authors of a new book, The World Atlas of Gin, on switching showbiz for the drinks industry, bonding over Islay whiskies and when they think the gin boom will end.

Oh you know, those two funny bearded chaps off the telly. No, not the Hairy Bikers, we’re talking about the drinks people from Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. If you’re even slightly interested in booze, you will more than likely be familiar with Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison aka World’s Best Spirits. As well as Sunday Brunch, they give talks and masterclasses, contribute to magazines, websites and newspapers, write books and still have time to attend every spirits tasting in Britain. How do they do it? They must be the hardest working men in the drinks business. 

Their latest book, The World Atlas of Gin, (amazingly Ridley had the time to contribute to another book this year) is a magnificent and thorough guide to a drink that is now truly global in scope. It’s a part of the Mitchell Beazley World Atlas series, anyone familiar with these books will know how what gorgeous objects they are. Without further ado, let’s hear from the toothsome twosome themselves. 

World Atlas of Gin

Harrison & Ridley in action

Master of Malt: What did you do before you became drinks writers?

Harrison & Ridley: We both worked in the music business, as A&R Executives (discovering new talent, signing it and making records) which was an incredible job to do at the time. Neil worked for Warner Brothers and Joel was at Island Records. We both and some amazing artists on the roster at the time such as Muse and Amy Winehouse respectively. We got to see a lot of amazing new talent coming up, but also a lot of rubbish music too!

MoM: How did you become drinks writers?

H&R: We started a blog in 2007, which was one of the very first whisky-focused websites, to document all the drams we were enjoying at the time, and to take an irreverent look at what was at the time quite a serious ‘leather armchair’ product. From that we were asked to write for various magazines and newspapers, and in 2015 our debut book, Distilled was released. It won the Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Drinks Book of the Year and is now the biggest selling book on pan-spirits globally, being translated into 15 languages along the way. We have similar hopes for The World Atlas of Gin, our third book together.

MoM: How did you meet? Was it love at first sight?

H&R: Funny story. Joel was going on holiday to Islay to visit some distilleries. At the back of a gig we got talking about it and shared our love of whisky. We ended up missing the gig, after heading to the bar for a dram or two. . . and the band was the Kaiser Chiefs who went on to sell over a million records. We probably should have stayed for the gig…!

They can do serious too

MoM: Can you remember a certain drink, bottle or cocktail that started your drinks obsession?

H&R: I think it was different for both of us, but certainly the single malts from Islay were a major drive to our shared passion. We both loved them, but there was also a big mix of bottles across our shared collection, from rich Speyside, to light grain, to our beloved Islay malts.

MoM: How long did it take you to research The World Atlas of Gin?

H&R: We developed our writing from whisky into general spirits for our debut book Distilled, and this kicked off a love affair with a variety of spirits from Armagnac through to gin. However, whereas the word of Armagnac has stayed relatively stable, the world of gin has exploded, as a result it took about 18 months of research across all sections of the book, from the production, to the history, to the brands. And we only include brands who make their own product (no contract gins) so that was fun, sifting out those producers who actually make their own liquid.

MoM: How many countries did you visit for this book?

H&R: There are near 60 countries covered in the book and we have visited about 50 of them across our time writing about distilled drinks, much of which was for this book.

MoM: Did you notice certain regional or national styles?

H&R: Yes, the ’new world’ style of gin whereby, in countries such as the US, the base spirit can be slightly lower in abv, vs the EU. In the US it is 95% and in the EU 96%. The 1% doesn’t sound like much but it leaves in a lot of flavour and texture. Therefore, in the ’new world’ style gins, the base spirit is almost like an additional botanical and can add a huge amount of flavour influence.

MoM: What was the most unusual gin you tried?

H&R: I think the London-to-Lima is the most unusual and plays on the idea of a ’new world’ gin, bringing in base distilled from grapes, a la pisco and drawing on Peruvian expertise in that area.

The Nightcap

They love a Negroni, but then who doesn’t?

MoM: Do you have a go-to gin?

H&R: We love a number of different gins depending on the drink it is going in to. For a Negroni, a nice bold spicy style gin works well. For a Martini, something with a clean and crisp, citrus-led flavour. And for a G&T, we love something a little juniper heavy. If we had to choose one that does all well, it would likely be No. 3, a great all rounder.

MoM: Some people get very upset by pink and flavoured drinks. Where do you stand on this divisive issue? 

H&R: So long as there is a heart of juniper, we don’t mind them at all. They can act as a ‘gateway’ for people to get into the gin category and if helps people discover drinks like the Negroni and Gimlet, then brilliant. Warner’s Rhubarb Gin is a fine example of a properly-flavoured, well-made product in this field. It’s delicious.

MoM: What trends are we likely to see in gin (and indeed in other drinks) over the next two years?

H&R: We believe there will be no let up in the gin boom. In the UK we will see people drinking more and more local products, like they do with real ale. So long as gin brands focus on their local market, they’ll be fine. Not all will be world-dominating. Globally, gin will continue to grow as different consumers in different countries discover the gin and tonic (tonic in America, for example, has historically been awful but now with brands like Fever-Tree it is actually a quality product), made with a local gin, and of course amazing cocktails such as the Negroni, Gimlet, Gin Sour, Martini etc…!

MoM: What’s your favourite gin-based cocktail?

Harrison: Anything. But a Gimlet is one of my top drinks, and a more savoury-led Negroni made with a good vermouth and garnished with rosemary, 

Ridley: You can’t go wrong with a clean and crips Martini (such as the one at Dukes or the Connaught Hotel), with a citrus twist. Or indeed just the classic G&T with lots (and lots) of ice.

MoM: What have you got coming up next? Books? TV? World tour?

H&R: We have our regular slot on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch which comes around every 5-6 weeks or so, and we are working on the next book. That’s always the best part of writing any book… the liquid research… 

Behold, the World Atlas of Gin!

 

 

No Comments on 5 minutes with Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

The Nightcap: 6 December

The countdown is on. It’s December and there are only so few editions of The Nightcap left for 2019 – let’s enjoy them! December has arrived, and while some people…

The countdown is on. It’s December and there are only so few editions of The Nightcap left for 2019 – let’s enjoy them!

December has arrived, and while some people are counting down to Christmas, other people are counting down to something completely different, though the event occurs on the same day. I am of course talking about Roast Potatocalypse. The day roast potatoes fear the most. So eagerly I await the day, but to pass the time, let us indulge in another edition of The Nightcap!

Over on the blog #WhiskySanta was feeling particularly festive as he made Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old his Super Wish this week, while we began to tuck into our Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. Check out each day (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5) to see which delightful dram hid behind each window and for a fabulous Q&A with a key figure at the distillery. Elsewhere, we announced the winner of our Jarrod Dickenson competition and revealed what Dram Club members can expect from December, before Adam cast a spotlight on Ron Izalco. Henry, meanwhile, got stuck into some of 2019’s best drink books and an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer for our New Arrival of the Week as Annie Hayes hung out with Sir Ranulph Fiennes to talk rum, as you do, and still found time to enjoy a Hard Seltzer.

Now let’s press on, the Nightcap awaits!

The Nightcap

Richard Paterson created the impressive bottling from two ex-sherry casks filled in 1951!

The Dalmore unveils rare 60 Year Old single malt Scotch whisky

There is only one way to celebrate 180 years of creating delicious whiskies, with a limited-edition pink gin. Just kidding. The Dalmore has marked the occasion by releasing a spectacular 60-year-old single malt whisky. The Dalmore 60 Year Old was created by master distiller Richard Paterson, who reunited two extremely rare ex-sherry casks from six decades ago which were first filled with spirit first distilled on 7th June 1951. The two twin casks were the last of the Mackenzie era when the Mackenzie clan owned the distillery, which ended in 1988 when Colonel Hector ‘HAC’ Mackenzie passed away. Under their stewardship, The Dalmore established long-standing relationships with suppliers to source casks that remain to this day and took the decision to adorn each decanter with the distinctive Royal stag. “Over the course of the past 180 years, The Dalmore has constantly strived for perfection, setting the standards for many other whisky makers today. The Dalmore 60 Year Old is a fitting tribute to the masterful talents of our distillers past and present, who have all helped to create an incredible body of work,” said Paterson. “For me personally, nurturing and caring for these two casks has been a true labour of love. The reunion of the two spirits has produced an unforgettable whisky that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.” The Dalmore 60 Years Old is limited to just three decanters, which will be unveiled at an exclusive celebration at The Dalmore’s Highland home, before embarking on a global tour to Shanghai, Los Angeles, Taipei, and London. Further details will be announced in due course, which you can find on the Dalmore website.

The Nightcap

The Times Series 52 Year Old Single Cask Finish

Royal Salute launches The Times Series 52 Year Old Single Cask Finish

Royal Salute and insanely old whisky fanatics, hold onto your hats. “Amplified and way more luxurious than anything before,” is how master blender Sandy Hyslop introduced the brand new Royal Salute expression, The Times Series 52 Year Old Single Cask Finish. This has been a labour of love and immense skill, periodically sampled every 18 months. At 38 years old, Hyslop decided not to bottle the whisky, oh no. He decided it was time to move it to another cask to be finished for 14 more years in American oak. “I desperately didn’t want the cask influence to be too much here,” Hyslop tells us. You’d be forgiven for thinking that over five decades in oak would result in a dry and woody whisky, but this is anything but. It dances between sweet and spicy, with the hallmark Royal Salute syrupy pear notes in there too. When we headed to a mysterious clock tower in St. Pancras to try it (Time Series, clock tower… we see what you did there Royal Salute), we were the only group outside Hyslop and his blending team to try have tasted the liquid in its finished form, which is pretty mind-boggling. Enough of that, we’re sure you’re eager to know how it tastes. The nose is sweet, thick and juicy, with plums, dark chocolate, ginger, cinnamon. The palate is mouth-coating to another level, revealing sweet liquorice, pears in syrup, orange marmalade and candied ginger, with a finish which goes on for almost as long as the whisky was aged itself! Of course, the spectacular whisky is presented with in an individually-numbered hand-blown Dartington Crystal decanter, alongside a stunning box featuring five layers of wood, each representing a decade of the blend. Whisky collectors, this one’s for you. There’s only 106 bottles, and if you have a spare $30,000 burning a hole in your bank account, we’d thoroughly suggest trying it.

The Nightcap

Wright Brothers gin, worth shelling out for

Wright Brothers launch Half Shell Gin

When sustainability and delicious boozes come together, it makes us very happy here at MoM Towers. So, when we were invited to try the new Half Shell Gin from Wright Brothers, made with reused oyster shells from the London-based restaurant group, we jumped at the chance, hook, line and sinker! To create the spirit, Wright Brothers partnered with The Ginstitute distillery of West London, using the thousands of oyster shells which the restaurant goes through each year. “We use Carlingford oyster shells, which are cold-macerated in neutral spirit and then distilled,” says Ivan Ruiz, Wright Brothers beverage manager. “We then add a percentage of the distillation to the gin. The oyster-shell taste is then balanced with a kelp seaweed, and other ingredients like juniper and Amalfi lemon. The result is a savoury gin with high mineral notes and a pink pepper finish.” We can absolutely vouch for that, it was thoroughly delicious. The outstanding seafood was accompanied by a G&T and a Martini, both showcasing Half Shell Gin. The Martini is an absolute winner, slightly savoury, well-balanced and exceptionally smooth. Visually, it’s an absolute joy, and seeing hundreds of oysters served up while we were sitting at the bar sipping on the very gin made from the shells is pretty cool. “We’d thought about creating our own wine, but we feel gin, especially this gin, reflects both our restaurants and the city we call home,” says Robin Hancock, co-founder of Wright Brothers. You can grab a bottle of your own at Wright Brothers restaurants, or choose to sip it in their wonderful cocktails.

The Nightcap

Congratulations, guys!

Irish Distillers takes home the World Whiskey Producer of the Year trophy

It’s fair to say Irish Distillers had a good time at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London last week. It scored the highest number of medals across its portfolio of Irish whiskeys throughout the 2019 awards season, beating distillers from Japan, Ireland and the USA. Midleton Distillery claimed 24 award wins, including the Worldwide Whiskey Trophy for Redbreast 12 Year Old, while there was gold medals for the Powers Three Swallows release, Powers John’s Lane 12 Year Old, Redbreast 15 Year Old and Red Spot 15 Year Old. Jameson Cooper’s Croze and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy also scored 98 points out of 100, as Irish Distillers ended the evening with the most Gold Outstanding honours within the Irish whiskey category. But above all that, the Irish whiskey producers were given the prestigious title of World Whiskey Producer of the Year. “We are honoured to be recognised as World Whiskey Producer of the Year by one of the most respected awards bodies, and to see such outstanding results across the portfolio,” said Tommy Keane, production director at Irish Distillers. “This trophy is a tribute to the incredibly hard-working passionate and skilled craftsmen and women at Midleton – 2019 has truly been a landmark year for Irish Distillers.”

The Nightcap

Now that’s what we call an immersive floral installation

St. Germain at Heddon Street Kitchen

We know that it’s dark and cold, but one of the best things about winter is all the awesome festive pop-ups! The latest one we popped along to was St-Germain’s Winter Bloom Experience at Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen. The immersive floral installation is golden, shiny and full of fairy lights and all things elderflower. We were told that the semi-dried flowers even have to be touched up every couple of weeks, which is more attention than we give our house plants. Each of the four serves has a suggested food pairing, created in collaboration with the team at Heddon Street Kitchen. Our personal favourites were the cockle-warming Cidre Chaud (St. Germain, Calvados, cider, star anise and lemon) and the light, refreshing Winter Spritz (St. Germain, Prosecco and soda). If you love elderflower like nothing else, this is the spot for you, though serves like Le Grand Fizz (St. Germain, Grey Goose vodka, lime and soda) aren’t overwhelmingly floral if you’re not mad for it. You’ll find the cosy floral hideaway at the restaurant all throughout the month of December. Perhaps a spot to keep in mind to treat yourself to a post-Oxford Street Christmas shopping session. 

The Nightcap

Responsible and festive, you don’t often pair those two together!

Beer brewed with recycled Christmas Tree needles launched

Being both sustainable and festive isn’t easy, but Lowlander Beer has managed with a Winter IPA brewed with recycled Christmas tree spruce needles. Part of the zero-waste ‘From Tree to Tipple’ campaign from the award-winning Netherlands Botanical Brewery, The Winter IPA is the result of last year’s initiative which collected unwanted Christmas trees to turn into beer. This year the brand has gone one further and made its Christmassy creation available to purchase as a gift pack from Not On The High Street and from other retailers throughout December. The profile of the beer isn’t dark and heavy as you would suspect from a wintery beer, but instead, it’s a light, refreshing White IPA brewed with juniper berries alongside the unconventional spruce needles. Expect a piney aroma alongside the hoppy & light citrus character. Over six hundred kilos of needles were needed to produce the 2019 batch of Winter IPA. Although only the needles were needed to brew Lowlander’s Winter IPA, the brewery reused every piece of the donated trees in limited-edition products, including bottles of a new creation: Lowlander Botanical Brut, a limited-edition sparkling beer made with spruce and Champagne-inspired Riesling yeast, available in the UK from 2020. Commenting on the release, chief botanical officer Frederik Kampman said, “Every December, about 2.5 million real trees bring Christmas spirit into our homes. By New Year, most of these end up in the chipper, on bonfires or piled at the roadside. We have found another use for them: in beer.” 

The Nightcap

The lovely, lovely Brora whisky on offer made us excited for the silent distillery’s future

Brora ramps up 200th-anniversary celebrations

What a year it’s been for silent Highland Scotch whisky distillery Brora. The momentum first got going back in 2017 when parent company Diageo announced it was going to reopen both Brora and Port Ellen, the iconic distillery over on Islay. Then, in August this year, we got word of a very special 40-year-old expression, developed to commemorate Brora’s 200th birthday (more on this shortly). And just last month, the distillery’s historic stills were whisked away for refurbishment – bringing that all-important reawakening a significant step closer. So when we were invited to a dinner earlier this week to celebrate it all, we just had to be there. Also in attendance were senior archivist, Jo McKerchar, and the Brora master distiller to be, Stewart Bowman. We looked at plans for the restored site (pop September 2020 in the diaries, folks), historical documents from the old distillery, and basically, had a thoroughly lovely time (and yes, we did get to taste that 40 year old – it’s rounded, and elegant, and like the robust smokiness of Brora but dressed up in a black-tie gown or tuxedo. We liked. A lot.). 2019 shall forever be known as the Year of Brora – until 2020 comes around and the closed distillery reawakens from its slumber. Bring it on!

The Nightcap

The biodegradable drinking straw is made from up-cycled agave

Jose Cuervo unveils ‘sustainable’ agave straws

We all now know plastic is the scourge of the earth (all hail David Attenborough), and that single-use bits and bobs are now about as welcome as the common cold. But sometimes straws are just, well, needed. Step forward Tequila brand Jose Cuervo, with has teamed up with scientists at BioSolutions Mexico and production types at Mexico-based PENKA to create agave-based straws! They’re made from upcycled agave fibres (the raw material in Tequila and mezcal) and are biodegradable. More than a million of them will be sent out across the US and Mexico in 2020. “The past, present, and future of Jose Cuervo is tied directly to the agave plant – without it, we would not exist,” said Alex Coronado, Cuervo’s master distiller and head of operations. “As the Tequila industry worldwide booms, it is our company’s responsibility as the leader to take care of the agave plant and ensure that we are producing tequila sustainably. It takes an average of six years to grow an agave plant before it is mature enough to harvest for Tequila production, and we have to be committed to finding more ways to use the agave fibres once that process is complete. The debut of our biodegradable, agave-based drinking straws is a new step in utilising the full potential of this very special Mexican agricultural product.” Now, agave is far from the most sustainable raw material for spirits (think: monocrop issues and all the energy requirements for all that processing), but it certainly seems like a mammoth step in the right direction. Good riddance, plastic!

The Nightcap

Head winemaker at Graham’s Charles Symington

Graham’s releases 1940 tawny Port

Now you have the chance to taste a little bit of history as Port house Graham’s, part of the Symington group, has announced the release of single harvest tawny from 1940, a blend of two exceptional casks. Wine from this period are extremely rare not just because of their great age but because with Port’s principal markets at war, very little was made.  Head winemaker at Graham’s Charles Symington commented: “It’s not often we have the privilege of releasing a wine that is eight decades old and bears such unique historical significance. The 1940 Single Harvest really is remarkably refined and balanced, offering a reflection not only of the quality of the original wine but the skilled care and attention it received from our forebears.” Yours for around £800. Interest in old single harvest tawny Ports (aged in barrel as opposed to vintage Ports that are aged in bottle) has been increasing in recent years. The 1940 is the final part of Graham’s Cellar Master’s Trilogy of old tawnies, joining the 1994 and 1963. It’s old but not as old as the special 90 year old tawny the company released in 2016, a blend of three years 1912 , 1924 and 1935, released to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.

The Nightcap

Keep your gin safe with an Edinburgh Gin Safe

And finally. . . protect your precious boozes with the Edinburgh Gin Safe

Tired of flatmates or relatives pilfering your favourite gin? Well, the boffins at Edinburgh Gin have come up with the answer: a gin safe. Available directly from the distiller, your safe consists of a clear box containing a full bottle of gin with the contents safely secured with a padlock. The only way to open it is to solve a cryptic puzzle which will reveal the combination for the lock. Neil Mowat, UK marketing director of Edinburgh Gin, commented: “Given Christmas is the most wonder-filled time of the year, we wanted to bring some of our own distinctive magic to the concept of gift wrapping with our gin safes. Designed with the ultimate gin fan in mind, they’ll be able to see the reward that’s waiting for them, but they’ll need to have a little fun first to unlock the wonder within.” All great fun but we can see a problem that owners might forget the code after too much eggnog. . . or perhaps that’s the point. 

No Comments on The Nightcap: 6 December

Whisky Advent 2019 Day # 5: Steel Bonnets

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle.  First…

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle. 

First of all, why is it called Steel Bonnets? Well, it’s time to don the old tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and indulge in a bit of history. Pay attention at the back, Jenkins! Cumbria, where the Lakes Distillery is situated has long been fought over by England and Scotland. Borderers developed their own fierce outlaw culture (which they took to Ulster and Appalachia). Bandits who operated across the frontier were known as border reivers and wore metal helmets aka steel bonnets. There’s a non-fiction book about them by George MacDonald Fraser (he of Flashman fame) called, Steel Bonnets.

So, what better name for a blend of Cumbrian and Scottish whisky? Steel Bonnets is a blend of malts from the Lakes Distillery and from further north. The distillery was founded in 2014 by Chris Currie, who had previously set up the Isle of Arran Distillery, and Nigel Mills, who made a bit of money in property and hotels. They had some serious talent on board from day one in the form of former Dewar’s master distiller Chris Anderson and Alan Rutherford, former production director at Diageo. In addition to Steel Bonnets, there’s another British blend called The ONE plus vodka and various gins.

In 2016 Dhavall Gandhi joined the team from Macallan. As you might imagine, he’s not averse to a sherry cask or two. And indeed, this year’s long-awaited first commercial single malt release, The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1, is a sherry monster. To tell us more about the Lakes, Steel Bonnets and sherry casks, we spoke with Gandhi:

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Master of Malt: Steel Bonnets is such a great idea, a blend of English and Scottish whiskies. Can you tell me how you came up with it and whether you have any other cross border plans?

Dhavall Gandhi: The idea of our cross-border blended malt, Steel Bonnets, was conceived by our two founders, Nigel Mills and Paul Currie, and our chairman, Dr Alan Rutherford. This is a very unique platform and gives us many opportunities to create some interesting cross-border blends. Watch this space!

MoM: How much do you love sherry casks?

DG: Every cask will influence the character of the whisky in a unique way, and, out of all the casks available for whisky maturation, sherry casks are my absolute favourite. I love them so much that I have decided to make it the focus of my professional career. I continue to study them in-depth and work very closely with our trusted suppliers on a variety of experiments.

MoM: In what ways does it help the Lakes Distillery to be part of a category, English whisky?

DG: English whisky or even world whisky in general is an exciting and growing category. A lot of whisky makers in England are producing great whiskies and it helps to be a part of the category when everybody is doing the best they can to create they own distinctive style and contribute to growing this category. 

Steel Bonnets

Steel Bonnets, an Anglo-Scots collaboration

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

DG: Whisky-making is a subjective topic and hugely influenced by the philosophy of the whisky maker. The focus will be in flavour but the most interesting thing is that every whisky maker will focus on areas they believe are important in creating their own style of whisky. These will highlight the nuances and diversity of flavours created by raw materials, fermentation, distillation, maturation and blending.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DG: It will depend on the time, occasion and the company, but there will be a variety of whiskies and some wine. I am looking forward to enjoying the Quatrefoil Hope with my dad.

Steel Bonnets Tasting Note:

Nose: Hazelnut whip, vanilla pod and gingerbread, with stewed plums and a hint of wood smoke underneath.

Palate: Touches of exotic fruit, cinder toffee and nutmeg emerge through the combination of dried fruit and creamy nuttiness at the core.

Finish: Medium-length, sweet and a little bit smoky.

 

No Comments on Whisky Advent 2019 Day # 5: Steel Bonnets

Adventure bottled: Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum…

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum than British expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Allow us to regale you with the tale of his daring Great British Rum – rather than age the liquid in a barrel, the barrel is put in the still… 

As CVs go, Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ one is pretty damn impressive. Named the world’s greatest living explorer by the Guinness Book of Records, the author, poet, former military man and endurance record holder is the first person to have visited both the North and South Poles travelling only on the surface, crossing the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans. 

In 2009, aged 65, Fiennes climbed the summit of Mount Everest; the oldest Brit to achieve this feat. In fact, he’s climbed the highest mountain on three of the world’s continents, and aims to do so on the remaining four, too. In 2003, he ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents (despite a heart attack that left him in a coma for three days and double heart bypass operation four months prior). And now, he has his very own rum.

Sir Ranulph with Dr John Waters

The idea for Great British Rum has its roots in the late seventies during the Transglobe Expedition, which saw a team, led by Fiennes, circumnavigate the world on its polar axis using only surface transport back in the late Seventies. The trip took seven years to plan and saw the hardy crew cover some 52,000 miles in three years – so huge was the undertaking, no one has repeated the route since. 

To keep spirits high, crew mate Oliver Shepherd devised a plan inspired by the ‘happy hour’ commonplace in military messes. Every day at 17.30, everyone on the ship would congregate in his room and toast the expedition with something tasty – more often than not, rum. In January this year, as a nod to this special memory, Fiennes partnered with the folks at English Spirit distillery to tread new ground in rum. And the resulting liquid is as pioneering as the adventure it stems from.

“It’s bringing back, into this format, memories of an expeditionary type from 50 years plus,” says Fiennes. “The Brits have been at the forefront, not just because of colonialism, of exploring remote areas and getting there first, and to me there’s 50 years of doing just that. Going beyond the limits, that’s really what it’s all about, Some of my moments of joy at completing sometimes 10 years of work – getting to the ship, living instead of dying – have been celebrated with rum.” 

Lovely colour, John

Instead of ageing Great British Rum in a barrel, master distiller Dr John Walters has put the barrel in the still, having sourced wood from the locations of Fiennes’ favourite adventures – Sequoia from Canada, Pine from Norway and Date Palm from Oman – to add during distillation. First, though, the process starts with 100% pure sugar cane molasses from Venezuela, which are fermented with a bespoke yeast for 10 to 14 days. 

The wash is distilled three times in a 200-litre copper pot still, with the three bespoke woods introduced during the final run. Those woods will have their own amount in the recipe, their own time in the still, their own unique shape and their own level of bespoke charring, Dr Walters explains. Then, the rum goes through a micro-oxygenation step that involves cascading distillate through the wood, which gives the rum its golden colour. 

“Ten years ago we bought a variety of different barrels from different places and the first thing we did was break them up to understand how they’re put together – their chemistry, their charring, the rate at which they can bind alcohol, the rate at which they would allow oxygen to migrate through them and other bits and bobs,” he says. “We got a vague understanding – the chemistry is very complicated – about pairing woods with spirits, and so we were able to buy certain woods looking for different chemical subsets to help provide the characteristics we wanted to embellish our rum with.”

Great British Rum

That’s a Great British Rum

The result? Given tasting notes of orange, caramel and spiced Christmas cake on the nose, a hint of tobacco and vanilla on the palate, followed by a mix of milk and dark chocolate and golden liquorice. Very British flavours indeed. If there was just one thing about your rum that you could share with everyone, I ask Fiennes, what would it be? The memories associated with the specific types of wood, he says, pointing to an experience in British Columbia back in 1971. 

“We did the first ever water journey from their northern border, 2,000 miles through the Rockies along nine interlocking rough rivers as part of the country’s centenary,” he explains. “At one point, I ended up by myself in mosquito-laden woods and started smelling burning wood. Now, if you’re in the middle of a forest with no way out and you smell burning wood you’re in trouble. I remember the smell of that wood was delicious, but frightening. And when you taste the wood from those same pines in the rum, you’ll bring amazing memories back to us.”

Great British Rum will be landing at Master of Malt soon. Check the New Arrivals page for more information.

1 Comment on Adventure bottled: Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum

Drink books of the year 2019

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

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

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

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

A Brief History of Lager Mark Dredge

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

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

The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip Tristan Stephenson

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

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

Fine Cider Felix Nash 

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

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

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! Ben Howkins

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

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

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

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

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

The Whisky Dictionary Ian Wisniewski

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

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

Whisky Tasting Course  Eddie Ludlow

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

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

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

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

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

The World Atlas of Gin Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

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

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

The World Atlas of Wine Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson

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

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

No Comments on Drink books of the year 2019

New Arrival of the Week: Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens. Barentsz…

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens.

Barentsz is named after a 16th century explorer Captain Willem Barentsz who attempted to find a way through the Arctic to China. He didn’t succeed but gave his name to the Barents Sea somewhere way up north between Norway and Russia. Barentsz’s intrepid nature and never-say-die attitude inspired Michael Claessens to create his own gin.

Drink runs in the family blood: “My father’s business, Claessens, is the foremost specialists for the development and creation of brands for the international beverage industry. It has been developing, re-positioning and creating brands for nearly 40 years,” he told us. So starting his own drinks brand was the most natural thing in the world. And with his Anglo-Dutch heritage, gin was the obvious choice: “Gin has clear ties with my two home countries – UK and Holland. My family’s Dutch roots, blended with my London upbringing, made it appropriate that the new brand should be a gin – which was born in Holland and perfected in London”, he said.

Michael Claessens.

It’s Michael Claessens!

Refreshingly, he is totally candid about where the gin is made, by Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers in London. Claessens knew exactly what he was looking for when designing his own gin with Maxwell: “Barentsz is different in that we actually spent time looking at the concept of gin from the perspective of ‘mouth feel’. It was very important to us that the harsh and often bitter reputation of gin was overcome, in order that we could create a spirit foundation of the finest quality that was soft enough to allow for more delicate and fresh botanicals – and a gin that could actually be enjoyed neat over ice.” He went on to say: “I spent a long time playing with the formulation of our spirit foundation. I wanted it to be something that tasted smooth before the botanicals were added.” The result was a special spirit made from two grains, golden rye and winter wheat.

We are big fans of the standard bottling here at MoM. With its jasmine note, it’s very distinctive but this doesn’t stop it being extremely versatile. It achieves the gin triple crown of being superb in a G&T, a Martini and Negroni. It was honoured with a gold medal at the IWSC in 2018. This new version turns up the jasmine and adds mandarin to the mix. “Once again, we seek to honour the pioneering spirit of the Dutch Arctic explorer, Willem Barentsz,” Claessens said. “Our mandarin and jasmine botanicals are inspired by his quest for a northeastern trading route to China by way of the sea. Mandarin oranges symbolise luck at Chinese new year and our jasmine flowers are sourced from China.”

Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin takes on some colour and sweetness from the mandarins but, according to Claessens, there is “no artificial colouring or sweeteners and no sugar. All sweetness is natural”. Claessens recommends drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange but like its brother, it’s lovely with a decent tonic water. So let’s raise a glass to Williem Barentsz and the Anglo-Dutch alliance and himself. Proost!

1 Comment on New Arrival of the Week: Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin

The Nightcap: 29 November

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

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

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

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

Now, onto the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Congratulations to you David!

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

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

The Nightcap

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

Diageo sets AI What’s Your Whisky quiz

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

The Nightcap

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

Berry Bros. & Rudd launches Ronnie’s Reserve

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

The Nightcap

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

Möet opens Alpine Lodge in Soho

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

The Nightcap

Things are getting festive at the German Gymnasium!

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

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

The Nightcap

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

Glencairn releases black glass for Black Friday

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

The Nightcap

Good things come in small pubs

Guinness opens pint-sized pub for a cosy Christmas

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

The Nightcap

The GlenDronach Traditionally Peated will be at MoM Towers soon…

The GlenDronach reveals its new release, Traditionally Peated

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

The Nightcap

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

Come for a shave, stay for a drink

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

The Nightcap

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

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

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

No Comments on The Nightcap: 29 November

Bartender for life: Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar

The bar at Dukes Hotel is a London institution. The same could be said about the head bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who talks to us about Ian Fleming, moving with the…

The bar at Dukes Hotel is a London institution. The same could be said about the head bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who talks to us about Ian Fleming, moving with the times, and what is and isn’t a Martini. 

Dukes Hotel isn’t easy to find. Located just off St James’s Street, the first time I went there, it felt like I had been initiated into one of London’s great secrets. According to Alessandro Palazzi, the dapper Italian gentleman who runs the bar, “we are hidden away, so it’s a destination place. It’s like a club, but without being a club.” Following stints at the Ritz in Paris, The Great Eastern Hotel (now Andaz), and running his own bar in Perugia (“a big mistake” as he puts it), Palazzi took over at Dukes 13 years ago from Gilberto Preti, who himself was handed the baton by Salvatore Calabrese. You don’t have to be Italian to work at Duke’s but it certainly helps: “Maurizio, my assistant, he’s been with me 13 years. Then I have another gentleman, Enrico, as well, who’s been thirteen years,” Palazzi told me. 

1. Alessandro Palazzi

You don’t have to be Italian to work at Dukes but it helps.

It might surprise people who find Dukes a bit old-fashioned, but the first thing Palazzi did when he took over was to relax the dress code. Previously it was jackets and ties; now it’s just smart casual. He told me that they lost some of their old customers when he took over and modernised the place. Other changes have also gone down badly. “One lady, an important politician, complained when we removed the awful green carpet,” he said.

Others, however, have embraced the changes. “We have a lot of old customers who actually introduced their children and they carry on coming,” he continues. We still have lots of old customers, because they come here for the drink and the building.” It was a different world when Palazzi first came to London in the 1970s: you would be sacked if you were seen in hotel bars like the Savoy. Customers shouldn’t see the staff out drinking. The clientele of Dukes, according to Palazzi, was dominated by politicians and the military, like its most famous customer, Ian Fleming. “Some people think that I used to serve him! I’m not that old,” Palazzi said. “Now you have people in the arts and music. And also younger people now, because this place has become fashionable. People come for their first date, and people propose here because of the place,” he told me. According to Palazzi, younger customers are happy to spend money. “People don’t put money in the bank anymore because they might go bankrupt.”

Duke’s certainly isn’t cheap, at £22 for a Martini. But Palazzi defends the prices: “You get five shots of premium gin, Amalfi lemon, Sicilian olives, snacks, and if you want you can buy one drink and have the table all night.” He compares it to a Savile Row suit. There’s no doubt that Palazzi has a rare gift for making his customers feel special. He prides himself on treating everyone the same and told me a story about turning away a famous actress who wanted to barge the queue. “We don’t have the bling-bling”, he told me. “We probably sell a bottle of Krug or Cristal every six or seven years. We don’t have here that type of clientele. That’s why a lot of people like to come here as well. There’s no showing off, everybody’s the same.” 

3. DUKES Bar

It might look like nothing has changed here since 1953 but Dukes is slowly moving with the times

Customers come for the beautifully-prepared cocktails prepared on a trolley at the table. Palazzi sees being a bartender as a noble vocation. “Bartenders now, they start as a bartender and then they want to become brand ambassador. I grew up in Italy; I knew I wanted to be a bartender for the rest of my life.” In the past, places like Dukes and The American Bar at the Savoy were the only places to get classic cocktails but now, “there has been a bar revolution in London and outside London, in Leeds, in Manchester. You have more and more amazing bars.”

Duke’s has had to move with the times, but do it in its own way. Smoky domes, flames and DJs wouldn’t be quite right. “When I took over the menu was boring”, Palazzi said, “when I say boring, we have the usual cocktails, there was nothing there.” So Palazzi came up with a list inspired by Dukes’ most famous customer, Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books. There’s a Tiger Tanaka, a Kissy Suzuki and Palazzi’s own take on the Vesper using Sacred vermouth, Berry Bros’s No. 3 Gin, and Polish vodka. Sadly, Palazzi told me, “I cannot use the name Fleming anymore, because they [the Fleming estate] want money.”

Another of Palazzi’s innovations was introducing new kinds of gin. “I knew gin was going to become a big thing,” he said. He was an early supporter of Sacred but his new favourite is the superb (and pricey) Procera Gin from Kenya. So, when the time came to have a drink, he suggested a Martini made with this special gin. When I demurred, as I didn’t think I could manage a full Dukes Martini at 3pm, he suggested a “Martini-ini.” 

The famous Martini trolley

The famous Martini trolley

Out came the famous trolley, which was introduced by Palazzi’s predecessor. Then the Sacred vermouth. Palazzi told me that the ritual of putting it in the glass and then throwing it on the floor began as a joke, but it’s now become his trademark. As I wanted a wetter Martini, mine stayed firmly in the glass. Next the frozen gin and then the heady scent of Amalfi lemon, the droplets of oil floating in the thick cold gin. 

Palazzi has strong views on what and what isn’t a Martini. “For me, a Martini is a drink which has to be strong and three ingredients,” he said. “An Espresso Martini is not really a Martini. A Martini is supposed to be all alcohol. It’s the most simple cocktail to make: it’s the temperature, the quality ingredients, the lemon. There’s the vermouth, gin or vodka, and the oil. That’s what a Martini is.” 

Time to take a sip; it’s the lemon that dominates at first followed by the thick, unctuous flavour of the frozen gin tempered with a little vermouth. It’s delicious, of course, but you can’t separate the taste from the escapism, the sense of occasion and Palazzi’s hospitality.  Maybe I will have another

No Comments on Bartender for life: Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes Bar

Cocktail of the Week: The Martinez

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this…

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this week, we’re resurrecting this classic with a special oak-aged gin from Martin Miller’s. 

Before anybody had thought to put the words ‘craft’ and ‘gin’ together, there was Martin Miller’s Gin. It was launched in 1999, that’s 10 years BS (Before Sipsmith), by Martin Miller of Miller’s Antiques guide fame. Craft gin years work rather like dog years, making Martin Miller’s 70 years old! It’s distilled at the Langley Distillery in the West Midlands before being shipped to Iceland where it’s blended with spring water. This makes it sound a bit gimmicky but Martin Miller’s quickly established itself as a favourite among bartenders and drinks writers. 

Martin Miller himself died in 2013 but the company goes from strength to strength. It produces a range of oak-aged gin called 9 Moons after the number of months the spirit is aged. The latest version has just been launched, called Solera Reserve – it uses French oak barrels and a solera process to ensure consistency. Some oak-aged gins can rather whack you around the head with oakiness but this is quite subtle, giving a creaminess, roundness and spice without overpowering the botanicals.

Martinez

A Martin Miller’s Martinez

The company recommends serving it in a Martinez. This 19th century classic is often thought of as the forerunner of the Martini. David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks refers to the Martinez as “the original Martini.” The cocktail itself is probably named after a town in California called Martinez, the inhabitants of the town certainly think so as there’s a plaque saying as much in the town square. It’s essentially a Manhattan made with gin instead of rye or bourbon. An early recipe in O. Byron’s The Modern Bartender from 1884 specifies using Dutch gin which would have been oak-aged so this version from Martin Miller is a nod to the original Martinez, though the Dutch gin would have also been sweet. Other original versions call for another sweet gin, Old Tom.

For a long time, the Martinez lived in the shadow of its more famous off-spring. Ask for one and you might be given a blank look, but in recent years there’s been a mini-revival, helped by the return of sweeter styles of gin and the availability of exciting new vermouths. The Martinez is a very broad church running the gamut from very sweet, made with Old Tom gin and a high percentage of Italian vermouth, to almost Martini levels of dryness. Some versions call for a rinse of absinthe which certainly makes it distinctive. This one is at the drier end but still is very much a sweet cocktail as it uses Italian vermouth and Maraschino liqueur. The creaminess and spice of the oak-ageing takes this into Manhattan territory. One could use it as a gateway cocktail to tempt your gin-loving friend into brown spirits.

Anyway, here’s the Martinez. We hope you like it.

50ml Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Solera Reserve Gin (or another oak-aged gin)
20ml Martini Rubino vermouth
5ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir all the ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice for a minute or so. Strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass and garnish with a piece of lemon peel.

 

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: The Martinez

Five minutes with… Sandie van Doorne, creative and communications director at Lucas Bols

Dating back to 1575, Amsterdam-based Lucas Bols has earned its place in the history books as the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand. Here, creative and communications director Sandie van Doorne…

Dating back to 1575, Amsterdam-based Lucas Bols has earned its place in the history books as the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand. Here, creative and communications director Sandie van Doorne shares insight into those early days of distilling – and the dynamic company’s future plans…

With more than 400 years of distilling know-how under its belt, and recipes that have been handed down over centuries, Lucas Bols is one of the oldest Dutch companies still active today – a remarkable feat, you’ll agree. But the company has not stood the test of time by sitting still or resting on its laurels. 

While the processes of distillation, percolating and macerating are practised as they have been for the last four centuries, Lucas Bols has its sights set firmly on the future, working closely with bartenders across the globe to develop new products and flavours as well as exploring and adapting old recipes according to the latest cocktail trends.

We sat down with Sandie van Doorne, creative and communications director at Lucas Bols, to find out more about the past, present, and future of the Dutch spirits-maker…

Sandie

It’s Sandie van Doorne!

MoM: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Sandie! First of all, could you explain a little about your job and how long you have been in the role?

Van Doorne: I’ve been with the company since 1999 and in this role since 2006, which was the year our CEO, our CFO and myself completed a management buyout. We came back to Amsterdam and re-established ourselves in The Netherlands again after a couple of years of the company being in French hands. It was then that I stepped into the role of creative and communications director to tell the beautiful story of over four centuries of craftsmanship and history of Lucas Bols, and make sure that we are innovative and that whatever we do in the market is special – and giving tender loving care to this company and these beautiful brands. 

MoM: What’s 2019 been like for Bols – what are some of the highlights so far?

SvD: The work that we’re doing on low-alcohol cocktails and the revival of using liqueurs as a base spirit. It’s something we started working on about two years ago, and we’ve really seen this picking up in 2019. When you pair, for example, Bols Cucumber liqueur with tonic, it’s a classic low-alcohol Gin and Tonic alternative. Sometimes you want a really flavourful drink with an alcohol bite but without the alcohol effect – when you take a liqueur that has the natural flavours of a fruit or a botanical and mix that with tonic or soda, or, for example, Bols Watermelon with bitter lemon, it’s a fantastic drink. You have an adult drink without having a high alcohol content.

MoM: Lucas Bols has a long and storied history – could you talk about how the family business first set up and what those early days of distilling might’ve looked like?

SvD: In 1575 – I still think it’s amazing that we go back that far – the Bols family established on the outskirts of Amsterdam, which at that point was very small. Where the distillery would have been is now in the centre, because the city emerged around it. They started by distilling liqueurs for medicinal purposes and festive occasions, and later, in 1664, they also started making genever. Genever had been around for a long time for medicinal purposes, but in the 17th century it became popular with the wider population and there became a recreational demand for it. The Bols family, who were very good at distilling, picked up on this and started making genever and it became the second pillar of their company, next to liqueurs. The company is named after the grandson of the family, Lucas Bols, because he transformed this small distillery into an international company. 

Lightbulb moment at Bols

Innovative cocktails are a big part of Bols’ business

MoM: Amazing! How did Lucas Bols turn the business into a global brand?

SvD: In 1700 he became a majority shareholder in The Dutch East India Trading Company, and with that, he received exclusive rights to all the new herbs and spices coming into Amsterdam, which was the centre of the world for trading at the time. With those herbs and spices Lucas Bols was able to create over 300 different liqueur recipes and started the international distribution of the brand, which today is in over 110 countries. So he really made what was a small distillery into a big company with a wide product range and an international footprint. After he died in 1719, the Bols family carried on for about another 100 years until the last male heir died in 1816. The widow and her two daughters sold the company off. It has always remained the Lucas Bols company because she made the buyer sign a promissory note saying that the name would be forever used on the product. By doing that, she created the world’s oldest distilled spirits brand. 

MoM: Could you talk about Dutch drinking culture and how it has changed over the years?

SvD: In the 17th century, people were drinking beer and genever a lot, and they have stayed with us for a long time. Genever is still the biggest spirits category in the Netherlands – the aged genevers especially are in favour, and a lot of people like to pair them with a nice craft beer which we call a ‘headbutt’ or kopstoot. Beer and genever share a lot of the same ingredients, with the grains and the hops, so they go very nicely together. And then in the last decade or so we’ve seen strong cocktail development in the Netherlands. We opened the Bols Bartending Academy in 2006, where we train about 3,000 bartenders every year, and we really see the growth of cocktail-making and cocktail drinking and of course the Gin & Tonic trend has helped that a lot as well. 

MoM: Today, Bols has more than 20 brands in its portfolio, including Damrak Gin, Galliano and Passoã. What’s the main challenge for you when creating a global strategy?

SvD: Bols is the main brand that we focus on, so the hard part is that you want to give tender loving care to all the other brands in our portfolio. But the upside is that since we are distributed in over 110 countries, having all these different brands gives us the opportunity to really match every market with a different product, because they all have different needs – especially the emerging markets. 

Bols Amsterdam

Traditional methods and modern technology sit side-by-side at Bols

MoM: On the flipside, what’s the most fun aspect of the company?

SvD: We are a small player in a huge market, and that is so much fun. We’re a small team, so we are able to do things how we like to do them, and do them in a different and special way. That’s why we created the House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience and the Bols Bartending Academy, that’s why have the opportunity to bring genever back around the world. It’s very difficult to bring a category back and it’s a huge and long project that takes investment but we can do this because we are agile and flexible.

MoM: Finally, on a personal note – on a Friday night, what’s your go-to drink or cocktail?

SvD: Definitely the Amsterdam Mule, which is ginger beer and Bols Genever. Ginger beer mixes really well with genever because of the maltiness; the ginger goes very well with that.

No Comments on Five minutes with… Sandie van Doorne, creative and communications director at Lucas Bols

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search