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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Gin

How the iStill is revolutionising distillation

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the…

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the good doctor about automation, cask ageing and why most distillers are stuck in the past. 

We met Dr Edwin van Eijk, or Odin to his friends, at an event called Speakeasy organised by Spanish spirits distributor Vantguard. Presenting after the charismatic Carlos Magdalena aka the Plant Messiah (one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 most influential Londoners, dontcha know) can’t have been easy but the doc more than kept the audience of bartenders and industry types transfixed. While he spoke, a silent lab coat-clad assistant (who I was later specifically told that I was not allowed to ask questions of) beavered away in the background with an iStill. It was like the Pet Shop Boys of distillation.

Odin in action with a mini iStill.

The genesis for the iStill comes from visits to Hungary, Van Eijk’s wife is Hungarian, a country where amateur distillation is commonplace. Most of the fruit brandies he tried were pretty rough, according to van Eijk, “but one guy came up with a nice smooth drink, no hangover. How?” Van Eijk’s curiosity was aroused but he quickly became frustrated by the unscientific approach to distillation: “I soon discovered that most information was anecdotal,” he said. “My grand grandfather did this.” For van Eijk this was good enough, he just kept asking ‘why?’ 

So, he built his own still, and added thermometers and automation so it could run while he was doing his day job. He quickly realised he was on to something so he quit his job, sold his house and set up his own business in 2012 with the aim of, according to the website, “making modern, game changing distillation technology.” 

All iStills are made in a factory in the Netherlands. It’s now a big operation. Van Eijk claims to be the largest supplier of distillation equipment worldwide in terms of numbers sold. Such well-known operations as Dornoch in Scotland, Wrecking Coast in Cornwall, Blackwater in Ireland all use iStills. You can see from these maps how ubiquitous they have become in Ireland and Scotland.  Some distilleries have both a traditional and an iStill. There’s something for all budgets: an eight litre mini still that can be carried in a suitcase (see above) starts at €3000; whereas a 5000 litre one begins at €90,000. The company recommends customers take a four day training workshop. Odin is also very responsive in distillation forums for those who have further questions. “We are successful because we keep asking why. Innovation is only key to success. Try something different”, he said.

A map showing all the iStills in the world

Take automation, for example. When you visit distilleries, even new ones or especially new ones, you are often proudly told that everything is manual. There are no computers here. For van Eijk described this as “bad business covered up as romance.” He went on to say:  “We all love horses and carriages but I came here by aeroplane and taxi. It’s in the glass you beat your competition.” He compared distillers love of old equipment unfavourably with brewers: “Craft brewers are ahead of the curve,” he said. “Brewing is understood and researched. Not magic.” iStills are fully automated with a robot that takes the hearts, heads and tails, and an app that tells you where to cut depending on what you’re looking for in a spirit: “The most profound flavours come from back end tails,” he said, “Toothy rooty, nutty and earthy flavours.”

An iStill doesn’t look much like conventional still. It’s square for starters and made out of stainless steel. “Why are stills made from copper?” he asked me. “It removes sulphur caused during fermentation. Why not start with great beer or great wine without sulphur?” (Though, of course, you might want some sulphur in your spirit). iStill does, however, offer a copper ‘waffle’ to remove sulphur compounds caused by “substandard fermentations” as the website puts it. iStills are direct-fired either with electricity or gas and claim to be much more economical than a standard set up. The biggest surprise though, is that it’s possible to mash, ferment and distill all in the same vessel: “Why mash, ferment and distill in separate containers?” he said. “They all take place in a boiler and are about heating up and cooling down. My machines can do everything in one boiler.” He thinks part of the reason people go for the traditional set-up is so that suppliers can sell more equipment.  

We’re not in Rothes anymore

You won’t be surprised to hear that Van Eijk has strong views about the finished product too: “Why should whisky taste like peat or sherry?” he said. “I want it to taste like grain. People in the whisky business used to say that 50% of the flavour comes from cask, now they say it is 80%. New make spirit has deteriorated in terms of the grain and procedures used in order to create as much alcohol as possible. This is worldwide. The real reason people use sherry and Port casks is to cover up spirit that has a fruity flavour deficiency.” That’s fighting talk! He’s also critical of gin: “Most gins do not have a lot of back end,” he told me. With the app, you can, according to van Eijk “see where there is a gap in flavour profile and find something that fills it out.” 

“We love to bash the status quo,” he told me. This has angered some people. To answer some of his critics he took part in a challenge with a distiller in Chicago. “He had beautiful copper still costing $200k and my little still cost $10k”, he told me. To the horror of the distillery owner and (some of) the critics, Van Eijk’s little still not only distilled faster but his spirit tasted better in a blind test. That day he sold seven stills. 

While van Eijk was talking, the iStill was running watched over by his silent assistant. Then at the end we got to try the result, a rum distilled with mint and lime, like a gin. Made in around half an hour. And the results, well, there wasn’t a traditionally-distilled version for comparison but it tasted pretty damn good to me. I’m going to start saving up for a iStillof my own. I think I could squeeze one into my shed.

You can find out more about how the iStill works on its YouTube page. 

 

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New Year, New Boozes!

A new year, a new decade, in fact, means there’s more new delicious booze for us to enjoy and so we’ve rounded up a few of the finest to make…

A new year, a new decade, in fact, means there’s more new delicious booze for us to enjoy and so we’ve rounded up a few of the finest to make life easier for you.

There are few things more joyful then the rewarding feeling you get when you take a chance on something you haven’t tried before and find a new favourite. It could be a film you’ll spend the rest of your life watching, a meal you’ll forever be tempted to order or a drink you’ll always have room for on your shelf. 

The beginning of a new year is the ideal time to try something different, particularly as there’s plenty of great events on the horizon that are perfect for a little boozy indulgence, from Burns Night to Chinese New Year. The following drinks are ideal for those who want to kick-off the new year by broadening their horizons and enjoying some of the finest new arrivals at MoM Towers.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Chinese New Year Tasting Set

As we touched on in the intro, Chinese New Year is on the horizon (25th Jan, meaning it’s sharing some celebration space with Burns Night). That Boutique-y Whisky Company has decided to mark the occasion the best way it knows how: with delicious whisky! You’ll find five different 30ml wax-sealed sample drams from the indie whisky bottler’s stunning range in this set, the packaging of which was modelled on the red envelopes gifted during Chinese New Year festivities. There’s also an expanded 12 Dram Gift Set for those who want to really see in the Chinese New Year in style.

Chinese New Year Red Envelope Whisky Tasting Set Contents:

Macduff 10 Year Old; Glengoyne 9 Year Old; Cameronbridge 27 Year Old; Teaninich 11 year Old and Linkwood 10 Year Old.

Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Bourbon

Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Bourbon is a blend of three whiskeys which were finished in hand-toasted, new American oak barrels from the Louisville-based Kelvin Cooperage. Wait, I haven’t mentioned yet that Heaven’s Door was co-founded by Bob Dylan. That’s right. It’s a Bob Dylan whiskey, folks. 

What does it taste like?:

Honey on rye toast, apricot, liquorice, apple, peach, lemon, pepper, grilled pineapple, burnt brown sugar and a hint of strawberry. 

The Wrecking Coast Kea Plum Rum Liqueur

Rum is said to be the go-to spirit of 2020, which is good news for tasty rum liqueurs like this beauty from The Wrecking Coast. It’s a modern twist on the Rum Shrub, a traditional Cornish drink that dates back to the 17th century made from mixing fruit with rum. In this example, Kea plums, which are only found in a single valley in Cornwall, were foraged and then rested in white rum for around two months with orange and ginger too.

What does it taste like?:

Sharp plum notes, with warming ginger, sweeter orange peel, and a tart, jammy finish.

Peerless 3 Year Old Single Barrel – Modjeska

Given that this booze was bottled for the British Bourbon Society, you’d be forgiven for thinking Peerless 3 Year Old Single Barrel – Modjeska is a tasty bourbon. But you’d be wrong. Instead, this is a particularly delightful and young rye whiskey that got its name after a type of confectionery first created in Louisville, Kentucky that’s made by dipping marshmallow in caramel. Which sounds awesome. Much like this whiskey. 

What does it taste like?:

White grape skin, clove spice, fresh cream, prickly pepper heat, crème brûlée, toasted marshmallow, white chocolate, buttery vanilla pod and butterscotch.

Teeling 18 Year Old Renaissance Series

The Renaissance Series celebrates the ongoing Renaissance of Irish whiskey, Dublin whiskey and Teeling themselves, which we’re happy to raise a glass to! The 18 Year Old single malt is the first expression from the series and was matured first in ex-bourbon barrels before enjoying a finishing period in ex-Madeira casks.

What does it taste like?:

Ripe red fruits, figs, cinnamon, clove spice, toffee apple, dried fruits, maraschino cherry and rosewater.

Colombo Navy Strength Gin

A Navy Strength gin from Sri Lanka concludes our round-up, one from the fine folks at Colombo! Made from a similar botanical recipe as the original Colombo London Dry, which includes juniper, angelica, coriander seed, liquorice root, Sri Lankan cinnamon bark, ginger root and curry leaves. In the Navy Strength, which was bottled at 57% ABV, there’s an extra helping of curry leaves to add an aromatic, spicy kick.

What does it taste like?:

A kick of candied ginger, with refreshing menthol, aromatic curry leaf and peppery coriander.

 

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The next generation of no and low-alcohol drinks are here

With alcohol-free cocktails inching their way onto mainstay menus, and an ever-expanding selection of low- and no-alcohol spirits, beers and wines to choose from, it’s little wonder that 2020 is…

With alcohol-free cocktails inching their way onto mainstay menus, and an ever-expanding selection of low- and no-alcohol spirits, beers and wines to choose from, it’s little wonder that 2020 is forecast to be Dry January’s biggest year yet. From mood-altering plant tonics to low-alcohol gin-alikes, we take a look at the latest teetotal tipples on the market…

With 8.6 million Brits actively moderating their alcohol intake, according to Drinkaware, and a sizeable 20.9% of the UK adult population completely teetotal in the latest ONS survey, the low- and no-alcohol movement can no longer be seen as a passing fad. Driven by demand for a lower ABV lifestyle, the market for alternative adult drinks has transformed from a one-brand-band – led by pioneers Seedlip – into a full-blown drinks category. And it is brimming with innovative creations.

“People who are reducing their drinking still want to have a fun night out and enjoy the time they spend with friends and family, so they are looking for drinks that give them the experience – just without the booze,” says Richard Clark, founder and MD of alcohol-free craft beer and cider producer Drynks Unlimited. The challenge, he says, lies in developing liquids that taste, look and smell like their alcoholic counterparts.

Jukes

It’s only Matthew Jukes!

Non-alcoholic beer has integrated into social occasions with relative ease, and alcohol-free wine is well on its way, with the likes of Jukes Cordialities premiumising the arena. Created by the Daily Mail‘s wine writer Matthew Jukes, the non-alcoholic cordial range is designed to mirror the ‘length and build quality of a fine wine’, the website states, with ‘complex, aromatic characters as well as uncommon texture, flavour and richness on the palate’.

Booze-free spirits, meanwhile, have faced a greater challenge winning over drinkers, largely because it’s far more difficult to replicate the real stuff. “Texture is a big thing,” agrees Geyan Surendran, development scientist and botanical alchemist at Three Spirit. “Some of the earlier non-alcoholic spirits, once mixed out, can be a little bit insipid, they don’t have that mouth-coating ability. The cooling and heating elements alcohol has are pretty key to the experience; complex textures that don’t just feel like flavoured water.” From punchy Siberian ginseng to calming valerian root, the non-alcohol spirit brand harnesses the power of plants to stimulate the mind and body as well as the palate.

It’s an approach shared by adaptogenic plant spirits brand Senser, founded by plants alchemist Vanessa Jacoby. The three-strong range sees ‘functional botanicals’ combined and treated in a way that means each 50ml serve ‘delivers an effective botanical dosage’. The Love bottling, for example, contains rhodiola, caraway and passionflower – all known for their calming, anxiety-soothing effects. “It’s about addressing why people drink beyond the aesthetic part of it, that’s what we’re interested in,” Three Spirit’s Surendran adds.

Atopia, made by the master distiller behind Hendrick’s Gin

Physical elements aside, alcohol-free producers are also keen to tap into the social ritual associated with drinking and make their offerings as accessible and acceptable as other full-strength products. And not just to appease teetotallers, either. Increasingly, drinkers are mixing traditional spirits with low- and no- options during the same drinking occasion. Take William Grant & Sons’ ‘ultra low alcohol spirit’ Atopia, created by Lesley Gracie, the master distiller behind Hendrick’s Gin. If you’re looking for moderation, Atopia enables you to go out and stay out, according to the website an Atopia & Tonic contains 75 times less alcohol than a Gin & Tonic. 

“We see that people within an evening are having the ‘wedge drink’ – moderating by alternating between an alcoholic and then a non alcoholic drink through the night,” says Mark Livings, CEO of Lyre’s Spirits. “The challenge here is that it’s obvious to others what you are doing and it’s a compromise that ‘breaks’ the taste of what you’re drinking.” Lyre’s, which offers a wide array of non-alcoholic spirits including Absinthe, American Malt and Dark Cane Spirit, intends to closely match the flavours and appearance of classic spirits to give sober curious drinkers more freedom. 

It’s not the only producer to move into this space. Scotland’s first distilled alcohol-free spirit, Feragaia, is an amber-coloured liquid that wouldn’t look out of place in a Glencairn glass. Distilled in the Lowlands, the team combines 14 responsibly-sourced botanicals, including seaweed, bay leaf and chamomile, capturing the flavours through ‘multiple runs’. The delicate notes of flowers and leaves combine with the earthier elements of root botanicals and spices to create a taste of clean complexity, the website explains. Non-alcoholic spirit Amplify, meanwhile, has adopted a classic botanical recipe – juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, lemon peel, lemongrass and ginseng root – to emulate the flavours drinkers are used to.

Feragaia

Feragaia, no alcohol, no sugar, lots of flavour

“We developed a menu hack that assimilates the non-alcoholic offering into the existing cocktail menu which has been a huge hit and helped to drive our brand forwards,” says Alex Carlton, founder and CEO of alcohol-free spirits range Stryyk. “By simply offering a non-alcoholic version of a bars’ existing cocktail menu by swapping out rum, gin or vodka for our Not Rum, Not Gin or Not Vodka – denoted by our Strykk asterisk on menu – consumers who are looking for quality non-alcoholic drinks can do so without breaking ritual and also enjoying the same experience as their friends who are drinking.”

Of course, not every alcohol-free offering sets out to imitate the alcoholic aspect of the drink. Rather than recreate a classic booze category, sparkling botanical drinks producer Humble Warrior cold brews, distils and extracts various roots, leaves and spices to make healthful adult soft drinks. Regardless of whether you’re emulating the spirit or levelling up the mixer, when you want to bring no and low to the masses, familiarity is key. 

“Products that are already aligned to make-at-home drinks are extremely appealing as they can enjoy their very same rituals without having to learn new unique and overly complicated serves from non-category aligned brands,” Carlton adds. “They can easily pick up a bottle of Not Gin, Not Rum or Not Vodka on the shelf in the supermarket or online safe in the knowledge that it’s already going to do what they expect it to do.”

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Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more……

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more…

I’m a fan of poitín. Maybe it’s the patriot in me. Maybe it’s the historian. It could just be that I love really good booze. It can be hard to find somebody as passionate about the spirit as I am. In Pádraic Ó Griallais, I’ve more than met my match.

Poitín has been distilled for over six generations by his family. The story began in 1848 with Micil Mac Chearra in Connemara, home to the largest Gaeltacht (a primarily Irish-speaking region) in the country. For over 170 years his ancestors have continued to make the spirit in the traditional manner using his secret recipe, predominantly illicitly. That was until 2015, when Ó Griallais gave up his teaching career to turn his legacy into a premium brand and bring back legal distillation to Galway after a century. 

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Ó Griallais at his charming distillery in the back of the Oslo Bar, which is also the home of Galway Bay Brewery, where we talked about illicit distillation, dispelling myths and creating a brand to prove poitín’s potential.

Ó Griallais was motivated to start Micil Distillery as he felt there was a terrible void in the poitín category for real authenticity. “There was plenty of ‘paddywackery‘, but I felt it was time to tell an authentic story,” says Ó Griallais. “I come from a family of poitín distillers. The methods have been handed down from generation to generation. My grandfather, Jimmi Chearra, taught me everything I know about the craft and heritage. I wanted to spread that knowledge and appreciation”.

The importance of family to Ó Griallais is underlined by the fact that the brand was named after Micil, while an old picture of Jimmi working on his craft was chosen as the brand’s logo, meaning he features on every bottle. “That was a pretty touching moment. He’s actually our honorary quality control, so he gets a bottle every week to give that final seal of approval. It’s great for myself and my brother that he trusts us to make it with absolute integrity” says Ó Griallais. “But more importantly, It really brought it home for him that this is the reality now: Micil’s recipe, Micil’s heritage and his own heritage is now on the open market and it’s being continued. The legacy has been brought into a totally different light”. 

It’s worth remembering the light that was cast on his family’s craft for many years was very different. Jimmi was fined as a younger man when he was caught in possession of malt. His story that he was only using it to brew beer was viewed rather dimly by the local police. If a poitín still, much like the one that sits in the middle of Micil Distillery, was found it would be confiscated and destroyed. Making poitín was a dangerous act of defiance for the people who distilled it, a hidden preservation of community and Irish identity. Ó Griallais talks about this troubled history passionately and knowledgeably, pausing to flash a quick mischievous grin before he tells me a story about that sums up that spirit of rebellion.

Micil Distillery

The old family still has a remarkable history

“Probably the most infamous poitín story happened about two miles away from where we lived. There was a confiscation of a still on local lands. The owners weren’t known by the local authorities or police but the still was brought to the police station to be destroyed. Nobody could have predicted what happened next,” says Ó Griallais. “That night the police station was broken into and the still was taken back by the original owners. The next morning the break-in was discovered and the search was on. Despite a big investigation, the still was never found and the culprits were never brought to ‘justice’ if you want to use that kind of terminology. We’re not believers of any kind of hearsay or old wives tales, but some people will say that the still exists today. Of course, nobody knows for sure.” Ó Griallais then says if I do happen to see it around, I should let him know before he allows himself once more wry smile and says, “But you know what? Sometimes it’s amazing what can be right underneath your nose”.

Things are much less controversial for Ó Griallais, who’s able to put to use the original 170-year-old family recipe in every bottle of Micil Poitín, using 100% Irish malted barley and a local Connemara botanical called bogbean. “We begin as you would imagine, by mashing our malts with hot water and then we’ll give it a rest period of approximately an hour. Then we take the sweet wort out of the mash and put that through a heat exchanger to chill it down to about 19 degrees centigrade. Later on, we add in our yeast, then the bogbean is added into the wash and we carefully observe the initial spirit to remove the heads and tails when necessary.” says Ó Griallais. “It’s amazing that we’re still able to use bogbean in our family poitín. It’s a local wild botanical that’s been used since the year 1324 by monks for medicinal purposes and it’s one of the things that really makes Micil’s poitín stand out versus many, if not all, the other poitíns that were being distilled around the same time”.

The words hand-crafted and small scale are tossed around a lot these days, but Micil Distillery is genuinely a modest enterprise overseen by Ó Griallais and his brother. Together, they distil approximately 60 bottles of poitín a day. The bottling, labelling and packaging all happen in-house. “My emphasis was always that we actually do things by hand throughout the process so we weren’t just a push-button operation. We didn’t want the craft to go out of the process and have it become too industrial,” says Ó Griallais. “That’s fine and I wouldn’t say it’s a case of one being better or worse, that’s just the way that we chose to do it. It’s romantic, I suppose, and very close to what would have been done throughout the generations”. 

Micil Distillery

Micil Distillery founder Pádraic Ó Griallais

For the Heritage Poitín the production changes as it brings into play one a raw material that is often considered Scottish in the world of booze: peat. “There’s no other fully Irish peated spirit on the market, so it’s something really unique, but it’s also something we’ve been doing for generations. It’s 80% barley and 20% oats and has the bogbean in there as well. For me it was such an exciting project because I wanted to show that we always made peated spirit as well as unpeated in Ireland,” says Ó Griallais. “We luckily found a farmer in County Meath that decided he was going to start peating his malt, so we actually gave him the turf that we harvest ourselves from Connemara. So it’s a real true expression of what poitín from Connemara would smell and taste like, which would be milder than your Islay whiskies”.

When it came to creating Micil Irish Gin, the process was different again because when you’re creating poitín, the emphasis is on the spirit more than the botanicals, whereas in gin this is reversed. But it was fundamental to Ó Griallais that the process retained the same sense of identity and provenance, which is why he was keen that his gin would showcase the botanicals, the flowers and the herbs available throughout Connemara. “I really wanted to express the West of Ireland and the Connemara botanicals in a different form to poitín, which is why I decided to go down the gin route. We wanted this gin to be what gin is all about: gin is all about juniper and gin is all about refreshment, but also creating something that has a real sense of terroir like our poitín, albeit in a different category,” Ó Griallais explains.

Fans of Irish whiskey will be delighted to hear that it is on the agenda for very soon for Ó Griallais and Micil Distillery. “Poitín is always going to be our founding category, so our whiskey will be modelled our poitín process. There will be innovation in terms of the type of whiskey that we do, from the use of grains to the styles. We’re not going to purely make single malt or your typical triple-distilled pot still style. There’s likely to be a variety,” Ó Griallais says. “We’re looking to move to a new location in the next year or two that will include more space to distil our whiskey. However, we are going to be making some whiskey before we move to our new location. We’re actually incredibly excited because we’ve got a new still for it, so we’re really looking forward to starting our journey with whiskey here in Galway”.

Micil Distillery

Micil Distillery is a small-scale, family-run operation

While Ó Griallais is comfortable engaging with different categories, poitín will always be at the heart of Micil Distillery. It’s not an easy sell, however. One of the reasons why it’s important for Ó Griallais to tell an authentic story of poitín distillation is because it’s such a misunderstood and maligned spirit. “I was brought up making it and recognising the difference between high quality versus mediocrity. Unfortunately, the latter has been the experience of a lot of people in Ireland which means often they have no real appreciation of any of the nuances in the category or what high quality means,” says Ó Griallais. “For me, poitín was all about high-quality ingredients and attention to detail in the process”.

A lot of Ó Griallais’ time is spent dispelling myths about poitín, such as the idea that the sole raw material used to create the spirit traditionally was potato. “In reality, for most of poitín-making’s history it has been a grain spirit and the predominant grain would have been barley. Other grains would have been used with the barley, of course, like oats, wheat and rye,” says Ó Griallais. “A lot of those grains would have been malted, a difference in the Irish whiskey tradition where there was a large use of unmalted grains to avoid taxes. But the potato is largely a myth and for whatever reason, its role has been really over-emphasised in the grand scheme of the category”. 

However, the most damaging and pervasive notion about poitín is a classic criticism that will be known to anybody in Ireland: poitín is a coarse spirit with a dangerously high alcoholic strength. “Poitín is like any other spirit, if it’s made poorly and without due care and attention you are going to get an inferior product,” says Ó Griallais. “It’s the same with historic gin, a lot of amateur or inexperienced people made it with a focus on just on making something alcoholic, there was no care for quality. We had a different take and a different story to tell. We always had this strong emphasis on pride in what we were doing”.

Micil Distillery

Poitín has a long and complex history and Ó Griallais believes in its potential to have a big future

It’s a shame because poitín is a genuinely fascinating and worthy category that’s undermined by misinformation and ignorance. But Ó Griallais is a patient man and is diligent in how he deconstructs each myth. “The practicality of what people say just doesn’t make sense. Poitín would rarely come off the still at 80 or 90% ABV and it’s really important to note that the distillers would also, of course, cut their spirit with pure water to bring it to bottling strength. Just like today, they wouldn’t bottle it at the strength it came off the still because they were aware of what people could actually consume,” Ó Griallais explains. “It’s all a big myth, but unfortunately the good stuff has kind of been forgotten about in all this noise, which is why we’re obviously dedicating our time and effort in telling the different story”. Ó Griallais role at Micil is as much being an ambassador and educator as it is being a distiller. As you can imagine, being a teacher in a previous life comes in handy.

This blend of tradition, provenance and identity that is at the core of authentic poitín makes Ó Griallais believe it has potential in the current market. He points to the success of Tequila, a spirit category that has previously suffered from its fair share of ignorance, in recent times as an example poitín could follow. “Tequila historically didn’t have the reputation that it does today. But people are now more educated about the category. They have a perception now that it is made with high-quality ingredients, with traditional processes and made lovingly and traditionally in a specific region,” says Ó Griallais. “Increasingly consumers are moving away from an association of the category as a cheap, rough, coarse party shot that’s just a way of drinking more alcohol. Tequila managed to turn this perception around by educating people, providing them with a great spirit and showing people how it can be mixed or consumed neat”. 

Ó Griallais’s ambition for Micil Distillery is that it will become the brand that helps the poitín category progress and find a consumer base. “Let’s give Patrón the credit it deserves, that brand, in particular, has lifted the reputation of the Tequila category. For us, we want to be the brand that helps the poitín category achieve this by having our focus on quality and authenticity,”  he says. “We want to show people the huge potential and the huge enjoyment that’s available with this spirit. The ambition going forward is we want to drive the poitín category on. We want to have a globally recognised brand. That’s the ambition; that Micil Distillery and our poitín would be considered and recognised up there as one of the greats”.

Micil Distillery

The Micil Distillery range

As you begin a new year there’s an urge to broaden your horizons and grow. Exploring the world of booze and finding a new go-to spirit is as good a way of doing that as any, in my book. Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance. Maybe you should. And that’s not the patriot in me, or the historian talking. That’s the love of really good booze.

Micil Irish Poitín Tasting Notes:

Nose: Incredibly fruity, with raspberry jam, Ribena and plenty of stone fruit. There’s a touch of peppery heat, wild herbs, honey and a hint of menthol.

Palate: Tinned peaches, blackcurrant and some delicate angelica notes, with a helping of peppermint and touches of peppercorn and red chilli warmth.

Finish: More stone fruit while the herbs also return.

Micil Irish Heritage Poitín Tasting Notes:

Nose: Earthy, aromatic peat is at the core with floral notes (violet mostly), red berries and garden herbs emerging through it.

Palate: Apricot, vanilla, blackberry and a little honey give the palate a sweet and juicy opening, which then develops with peat smoke and a hearty twist of black pepper. 

Finish: A little aniseed and mint linger.

Micil Irish Gin Tasting Notes:

Nose: Fresh and fragrant with bright juniper, creamy angelica, citrus peels and helpings of earthy herbs, green cardamom and aromatic spice from orris root and cumin powder. 

Palate: Hugely herbaceous and well-spiced, most of the notes return from the nose alongside hints of lemongrass and liquorice. Piney juniper pushes through these to make itself known sharply.

Finish: A little black fruit sweetness appears after a while, among liquorice, a little lime and the remnants of the well-balanced juniper, angelica and citrus peel core.

 

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10 ways to drink less. . . with Fiona Beckett

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious,…

Yes, it’s that time of the year when people’s thoughts to turn to being a little bit healthier. Whether you’re doing the full Dry January, or just being more abstemious, Fiona Beckett’s new book, How to Drink without Drinking, is an invaluable guide to making this process fun.

With her column in the Guardian and her website, Matching Food & Wine, Fiona Beckett is one of the most trusted names in British drink writing. When Beckett recommends a bottle, you know it’s going to be one that she genuinely loves. Contrary to popular belief, drinks writers don’t spend all their time boozing. Beckett says: “Although I have to taste wine or other alcoholic drinks most days, like everyone else I benefit from a break from actually drinking them”. Her latest book, How to Drink without Drinking, is a guide with tips and recipes (we have one at the end) for how to make alcohol-free drinking fun. As she puts it: “It’s important to me that the days when I don’t drink are as pleasurable in terms of what I consume as those when I do.” The vital thing, according to Beckett, is to focus on the positives; she advises: “It’s important to see alcohol-free days as an opportunity, not a deprivation. There are, as you’ll rapidly discover, many advantages, including a better quality of sleep, improved concentration, weight loss, more spare cash and, due to the happy lack of hangovers, more productive hours in the day.” Sounds great. Here are her top ten ways to make cutting back on or cutting out the sauce a breeze. 

Fiona Beckett

Unlike most drink writers, Fiona Beckett does not need to be photographed with a drink in her hand

  1. Set a personal goal

You have to start somewhere, but make it realistic. Two alcohol-free days a week is doable for most of us, most likely after the weekend. Three is better still – preferably in a row.

  1. Don’t make up for it on the days you drink alcohol

On some of the days when you are drinking, you might want to reduce the amount you drink to one drink a day, sipped slowly and mindfully rather than gulped unthinkingly. If you’re trying to cut down, limit yourself to one (modest) glass with dinner or resolve not to drink when alone. Be aware and honest with yourself about what you’re drinking when you do drink. An app may help you keep on track.

  1. Tell your family and friends

Family should be on your side, but one of the biggest battles you’ll face is friends who keep pressing you to drink, maybe implying that you’ve become a party pooper if you don’t. Don’t be embarrassed to explain exactly why you’re cutting down – or out – making it clear that you’re serious. It may even involve changing your social circle. Find a non-drinking pal to go out with if the pressure’s getting to you.

  1. Don’t needlessly put yourself in the way of temptation

On days or periods you’re cutting down or cutting out, avoid your usual boozy haunts. Don’t make having a drink the main reason for going out – unless it’s a coffee. In fact, it may be worth taking the car, which gives you an easy excuse not to drink. If you’re embarking on a longer period of abstinence, clear out the booze from the cupboards and fridge, and steer clear of the wine aisle. Stock up with alcohol-free alternatives instead.

Make your own drink, like this blackberry shrub

  1. B.Y.O. (Bring your own)

If you’re visiting friends and are not sure if there will be something alcohol-free to drink, take it with you, particularly to a party. Alcohol-free beers, which look similar to the full-strength version, are an especially good bet as they won’t make you stand out from the crowd. If you’re away for the weekend, take a bottle of an alcohol-free spirit and some tonic to your hosts.

  1. Think about food 

You’re more likely to crave wine with food from wine-producing regions, especially Italy, France and Spain. So avoid the trattoria or tapas bar on your nights off in favour of your local Indian, Thai or Vietnamese. 

  1. Get into alcohol-free cocktails

It’s hard to find a substitute for wine, but alcohol-free cocktails can be mindblowingly good these days, with many top restaurants offering an impressive selection. I often start the evening with one, whether I’m drinking or no, and end up drinking it with food.

  1. M.Y.O. (Make your own)

There’s a real pleasure and satisfaction in making your own drinks. Like home-cooked food, they taste so much better than the shop-bought version and are cheaper, too, making the best of seasonal produce. Make them look as beautiful as they taste. 

  1. Find a non-alcoholc drink to get passionate about

Part of the appeal of wine, beer and whisky, is the knowledge you accumulate about them. But you can apply that type of geekery to other drinks, too. Get into tea, get into coffee, get into fermenting – all fascinating, absorbing worlds.

  1. Learn to love water

Probably your best friend on your sober days – or months – both on its own and as a chaser for any alcoholic drink you’re drinking. Don’t drink because you’re thirsty – drink for the taste. Serve water cool, fresh and flavoured, if you like, with fruit, cucumber or herbs. 

G&T or NG&T?

And now here’s a recipe. . . .  the NG&T!

The N stands for ‘not’. Serve it in a fancy glass with lots of ice and garnishes, and you’ll get much of the pleasure of the real thing. Beckett recommends making a juniper syrup in advance but you can buy it ready made.

75ml juniper syrup (recipe below or you can buy William Fox ready-made)
Tonic water to top up
2 slices of lemon and orange, and 2-3 juniper berries to garnish.

Fill the glass with ice and the garnishes, pour in the syrup, top up with tonic and gently stir. 

Juniper syrup:

400g granulated sugar
475ml water
15 juniper berries, lightly crushed
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lemon
Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lime

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan. Gently heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to just below boiling point and simmer for ten minutes. Sieve when cool. It should last in the fridge for two weeks.

How to Drink When You’re Not Drinking by Fiona Beckett is published by Kyle Books, £15.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk

 

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Old Buxton’s almanack 2020

Today industry veteran Ian Buxton peers into the future to see what the wide world of drinks will bring in 2020. Warning, it’s not worth betting your house on his…

Today industry veteran Ian Buxton peers into the future to see what the wide world of drinks will bring in 2020. Warning, it’s not worth betting your house on his predictions. 

In looking into my crystal ball, I determined for this final column of 2019 to seek out the views of senior and influential industry leaders on the prospects for the spirits industry in the coming year and publish a range of informed and authoritative views on what the future holds for all of us.

Then I thought, ‘sod it, that’s a lot of work and they’ve no more idea than I have’, so here, in a spirit of frivolity entirely unsuited to the impending environmental apocalypse that’s about to engulf the known universe / fantastic economic Boris Boom as we ‘get Brexit done’ (delete as applicable), are the predictions to be found in Old Buxton’s Almanack (price several large ones at a PR junket, sorry ‘media briefing’, near you).

The following article contains forward-looking views and opinions. Master of Malt accepts no liability for any decisions taken on the basis of this ‘information’.  In fact, Master of Malt doesn’t accept any liability for anything. Frankly, you’re on your own.

January: Mystery Egyptian collector Mustafa Dram pays £1m at auction for a piece of paper with ‘Macallan’ written on it. Ken Loach announces filming to start on Angels’ Share 2, starring Charlie MacLean as himself and Jacob Rees-Mogg as Dr Dick Horgan, would-be PR exec. Two new craft gins launched this month.

Gin

There’s going to be a lot of gin in 2020

February: American craft distillery Ultimate Spirits launches Ultimate Monster Peat Whiskey (also available in herring barrel finish).  Pernod Ricard buys the distillery. Four new craft gins launched.

March: Not to be outdone the folks at Bruichladdich reveal their ultimate peated whisky, The Peat Behemoth.  Distilled by their peat master Peter ‘Peaty’ Peterson in peat-fired stills and aged in casks buried in a peat bog, each bottle contains a peat widget that releases a concentrated burst of phenols when the bottle is opened. “It’s verra peaty,” says Peterson “but ah just keep mine in the safe. We’re hoping Mustafa Dram will visit soon.”  Eight new craft gins launched.

April: Mystery Egyptian collector sells piece of paper with ‘Macallan’ on it for £1.5m to Cayman Islands based ‘whisky investment fund’, but pays £5m for bottle of Macallan 10 Year Old.  “It says Macallan on the label,” says Dram. “Look, I can see it here.” 16 new craft gins launched.

May: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon raises stakes on Boris Johnson with unilateral declaration of Scottish independence and reveals ‘Resource Tax’ on distillery water supplies.  “It’s Scotland’s water,” she cries into her Irn Bru. 32 new craft gins launched.

June: Chivas Brothers cancels Chinese project and announce £200m investment in new Carlisle distillery. SWA commences legal action against the estate of deceased country singer Glen Campbell for ‘passing-off’. 64 new craft gins launched.

July: Greece leaves the Euro. The New Drachma immediately devalues by 50%. Greek spirits market collapses.  Scotland applies to join the EU. Construction begins on Boris’ Wall along Scotland/England border. English Whisky Association applies for GI protection for ‘English whisky’.128 new craft gins launched.

August: Nothing happens in August. Everyone is on holiday in Greece.  Greek spirits market recovers. New Scottish currency ‘The Bawbie’ immediately devalues 50%.  No-one notices. 256 new craft gins launched.

September: Macallan launches £10m Ridicularius with label by Banksy; only bottle bought by Geneva-based whisky investment fund Fleece, Ewe & Runne which outbidded Mustafa Dram.  512 new craft gins launched.

October: “Rum is the new gin,” claims rather pompous PR hack Dr Dick Horgan.  No-one tells consumers as gin craze continues unabated: 1,024 new craft gins launched.

“Can you believe what they’ll pay for this stuff?”

November: Diageo re-opens Port Ellen and Brora distilleries in a move to “restore authenticity to single malt”.  Whistleblower reveals leaked internal email reading “can you believe what they’ll pay for this stuff? I mean seriously.”  Banksy Macallan self-destructs; shattered bottle now worth £20m. 2,048 new craft gins launched.

December: Geneva-based whisky investment fund Fleece, Ewe & Runne files bankruptcy papers. Macallan launches limited edition £150m Absurditas, each bottle comes with a free distillery.  Gin consumers notice they’re drinking mostly flavoured vodka; 4,096 new craft gins launched; Pernod Ricard buys them all. Master of Malt rebranded as Master of Gin.

Enjoy your passionate handcrafted artisanal journey to 2020 and I’ll see you in the New Year.  Slainte! 

 

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Did our 2019 drinks trends predictions come true?

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for…

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for all things booze came true…

One of our favourite January activities is to dust off the crystal ball (AND the fancy crystal tasting glasses) and have a bit of a think about what might make waves in drinks in the coming months. 2019’s trend musings were one of our most-read features on the site this year. But how accurate were they? 

Boom time for liqueurs

Our prediction that liqueurs were set for a bit of a boom certainly came to fruition. The number of bottles we sold soared by 30% year-on-year, and there were some interesting flavours going on. Three of our top 10 best-sellers try and replicate the essence of unicorn (if you know what unicorns are supposed to taste like, let us know. And we don’t mean in burger form…) while other popular variants were coffee, herbal, caramel and all kinds of other puddingy-type concoctions. Long live the liqueur!

Teeling aside, 2019 wasn’t the year when Ireland’s new distilleries took off

Irish whiskey

We predicted we would see a whole load of new expressions from Ireland’s shiniest distilleries hit the market and liquid came of age. Actually, this didn’t really happen – but we did see even more distilleries get the green light and/or start production. Could next year be the one where we start to taste the fruits of their labour?

Botanical spirits

Back in January we reckoned botanical spirits would be a ‘thing’ this year. And we think we were mostly right! One of the biggest launches to back this up was Ketel One’s Botanical series where the vodka was infused with natural botanicals, then re-distilled. Not a juniper berry in sight. Others started to play in this space, but really what we saw was the launch of even more gins with a questionable level of ‘predominant’ juniper. Perhaps it’s time for some actual legislation?

Category-defying ‘spirits’

Another prediction where we reckon we were sort-of right. Category-defying spirits are products that don’t neatly fit into the rules of one category – think a grain spirit made in Scotland but not from malted barley so it can’t be called a single malt, as one very simple example. But it literally could be anything. While we certainly saw new products from some fresh producers (Circumstantial Mixed Grain from Bristol’s Circumstance Distillery, we’re looking at you, and Affinity, Compass Box’s whisky/Calvados hybrid, too). But we weren’t overrun with these hard-to-define expressions. Another smaller trend set to bubble away in 2020, perhaps.

2019, however, was the year of low/zero products like Three Spirit

Alcohol-free imbibing

Here’s a trend where we were bang on the money. Low- and no-alcohol product sales soared by 89% year-on-year, and there were a whole host of new launches to delight those who for whatever reason are off the sauce (or looking to reduce their intake). At London Cocktail Week, revellers sipped on Nogronis alongside full-ABV serves, and Hayman’s made waves on social media and beyond with the launch of its Small Gin. Other launches that caught our eye? Nine Elms No. 18, Three Spirit, Whyte & Mackay Light (kind of another category-blurrer, too) and Atopia. There’s never been a more delicious time to eschew the booze.

Cognac and Armagnac

We were expecting a bit of a French resurgence this year, and while it wasn’t immediately perceptible, dig a bit deeper and we can see the big names all performed really well. As a whole, however, things weren’t quite as emphatic. Cognac bottle sales climbed 18% as a whole, while Armagnac saw 22% gains. The surprise French spirit to break through? Calvados! Sales soared by almost 40% year-on-year. Can newer players to the market, like Avallen, keep up the momentum? 2020 could be a stellar year for the lesser-known apple- and pear-based French spirit. 

Yeast conversations

After lots of chit chat in Scotch whisky about terroir and cask types, we thought the conversation would shift over the course of the year to the role yeast strains play in production. Apart from the launch of Glenmorangie’s Allta, we didn’t really see much of that. But what we did see in June was the Scotch Whisky Association relax its rules on permissible cask types in Scotch. This brought a new energy to how drinkers and makers think about maturation, and it’s a theme we could see continue on into 2020 as more esoteric finishes hit the market. 

Johnnie Walker highball collection

The Highball, still very much a drinks industry thing

Blended and blended malt Scotch

A tricky one to quantify, this. While we did see more conversation around good blended Scotches (and there was a LOT of lingo around the whisky Highball) we’re not sure it had any mega meaningful impact on what we’re buying. Perhaps it was a prediction too soon – but we do think Highballs rule. 

Could agave beat rum in the premiumisation stakes?

Here’s one where we can now say yes and no. How do you define premiumisation? Is it drinking less but better? Is it spending more on a product for better quality? In many ways, both rum and Tequila and mezcal all made great premiumisation strides this year. Then you factor in spiced and flavoured rums. While rum bottle sales literally skyrocketed (48%! It was emphatic!), so much of this came from spiced and flavoured rums. Now, this is no slight on the sub-category. Good expressions can be the absolute dream. But they tend to cost less per-bottle, and don’t represent meaningful premiumisation to most. In that regard, agave spirits win hands down, even if they represent a far smaller slice of the overall spirits pie. One to keep an eye on – it certainly looks like the race is on. 

Caution from the big players
Brexit, elections, trade tariffs… 2019 was a challenging year for the business types in booze. We predicted companies would operate with caution, and it’s a forecast that has come entirely true. Sizeable spirits acquisitions were few and far between (Diageo snapping up a ‘significant’ majority stake in Seedlip, Campari nabbing a trio of rhum agricole brands including Trois Rivières, and Hill House Capital taking over Loch Lomond were probably the biggest stories), and there weren’t really any huge new launches to shout about. With the exception of CBD-infused products, which while totally legal, still have a disruptive air about them, the drinks industry seemed to like it quiet in 2019. 

The verdict

We’d give ourselves a 6/10. In some areas, our trends forecast was completely spot-on. In other regards, some categories just weren’t quite ready yet. But we’re going to give it another go for 2020! Keep your eyes peeled for what we think could dominate all things booze in the coming months, live on the blog in the New Year. 

What did you think about 2019 in drinks? Were there any big surprises for you? Or did anything play out as planned. Perhaps we missed something entirely? Let us know in the comments below or on social

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The Nightcap: 20 December

It’s the final Nightcap of 2019, so for the last time year let’s all enjoy a fresh batch of boozy news! Christmas is just around the corner, and then New…

It’s the final Nightcap of 2019, so for the last time year let’s all enjoy a fresh batch of boozy news!

Christmas is just around the corner, and then New Year’s Eve will happen, and then we’ll be in a brand new decade. Yes, another one. They just keep on happening, don’t they? There won’t be a Nightcap next week, for reasons that have nothing to do with being full of pigs within blankets. So, for the very last time of the 2010s, let’s check out what’s going on in the world of boozes with a plethora of brilliant bite-sized news chunks. It’s The Nightcap!

On the blog this week we launched our fabulously festive Where’s #WhiskySanta? competition in which you can win a £250 MoM voucher! Speaking of competitions, you’ve only got a few days left to enter the Starward competition, so be sure to pick yourself up a bottle from the Starward distillery range if you fancy a free boozy holiday down under… Elsewhere, #WhiskySanta announced his final SuperWish, the incredible Glenfarclas 50 Year Old Decanter, while the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar continued to impress with its selection of spirits on days #14, #15, #16, #17, #18 and #19. Adam meanwhile rounded-up some cracking Christmas table tipples to ease your shopping woes, before checking out Amazónico, a new rainforest-inspired bar and restaurant in Mayfair. Henry then enjoyed the company of Cognac maverick Alexandre Gabriel and the spicy, bold WhistlePig Ten Year Old – Pitt Cue Exclusive. Annie made a case for The Alpine Toddy to be your winter warmer of choice this year, and cast her eye on an upcoming trend, the rise of the mini Martini.

Now, for the last time in 2019, let’s motor on with the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

The West Indies Rum Distillery issued a statement this week. Also, look at that view!

Barbados rum GI conflict hots up

The ongoing debate over the proposed geographical indication (GI) for Barbados rum has just gone to DefCon 3, after the West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD) issued a statement this week. It was signed by Andrew Hassell, managing director of the distillery, and Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender, and makes a few notable (and potentially controversial) points about what should be allowed in Barbados rum. Here we go: 1) Ageing off the island. They want a mandatory year’s ageing in Barbados, but the allowance of secondary maturation elsewhere like Cognac or England. “The 350-year-old double ageing historical practice must also be preserved,” they say. 2) Sugar additions should be allowed. “History shows that Barbados rums have been made for centuries both with and without the inclusion of sugar and caramel,” the statement reads. 3) Wood varieties: WIRD wants to continue using varieties of wood other than oak: “We are currently using seven types of sustainable wood for our rums and are studying further with local and international historians and established barrel-makers. Limiting Barbados to American oak barrels would be a great mistake that would obliterate historic practices,” they say. 4) Still types. In addition to pot and column stills, WIRD uses an archaic chamber still which they think should be allowed in the GI. Phew. This statement will no doubt be noticed by Richard Seale from the Foursquare Distillery, who has been vocal in the past about sugar additions, off-island ageing and described maturation in other woods in a recent interview as “marketing novelty”. There are stories of heated online debates over some of these issues. The statement from WIRD ends: “The future of the diversity of Barbados rum depends on this GI outcome.” Looks like this is an argument that will run and run.

The Nightcap

Hendrick’s does love a good pop-up

Hendrick’s Gin brings a giant snow globe to Heathrow Terminal 3

We know that we can always count on Hendrick’s Gin for a marvellously quirky pop-up, and the latest one is a rather festive activation in London Heathrow’s Terminal 3! It takes the form of a giant snow globe that’ll reside there until 7 January, with an army of aproned brand ambassadors ready to talk all things Hendrick’s. Get to the gin already! Alright, alright, yes, you can grab a free sample of either a Hendrick’s G&T, or a Gin Buck, which is paired with ginger ale and lime juice. That’s not all though. If you’re passing through the terminal, you can turn the ‘Key of Curiosity’, and you’ll be treated to a Hendrick’s cracker filled with either a 50ml bottle, a cucumber pin badge, or a Little Guide to Conjuring magic book. It’s like Hendrick’s read our Christmas list! Oh, but we haven’t even got to the best part yet. At some mystery point, one lucky traveller will get to pull an extra special cracker containing the rare stainless steel Hendrick’s penguin pourer, with his top hat on and all. Manjot Riyait, head of marketing for William Grant & Sons GTR, said of the T3 snow globe’s activation: “There has been a constant buzz of passengers around the globe, taking photos and enjoying a Hendrick’s and tonic, and we look forward to delighting many more happy travellers over what we expect to be a busy and fruitful festive period for global travel retail.” Who even needs to go on holiday after you’ve had all this festive fun?

The Nightcap

I think we can all agree that the Safe Ride KY coalition is a superb initiative

Kentucky revellers get free taxis

Here’s a good idea. The Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) has put $10,000 in a kitty so that party-goers can get a free or discounted ride home from a night out (depending on where they live). The initiative, run by the Safe Ride KY coalition, runs from 5pm on Friday 20 December until 5am on Wednesday 1 January. All you have to do is download the Lyft app on your phone, enter promo code SAFERIDEKY2020, and claim $10 in ride credit (more information here). KDA president Eric Gregory said: “We are proud to lead the coalition in offering discounted safe rides this holiday season for the third consecutive year. We encourage all who will be venturing out to celebrate to do so responsibly and plan your transportation ahead of time.” So if you’re going out in Kentucky this Christmas, you can have that Old Fashioned or two, and get home safely. Would be great if someone introduced something similar in Britain. We’re looking at you SWA.

The Nightcap

The delightful 2019 Distillery Exclusive

Royal Lochnagar launches distillery-exclusive bottling for 2019

As the year comes towards an end, Royal Lochnagar has gone and released its 2019 Distillery Exclusive! The Highland distillery matured the single malt in European oak and refill casks, bottled at 48% ABV. What to expect? The distillery tells us there are notes of warming wood spice, green apple, vanilla and toffee, with burnt cocoa and candy floss in there too. The limited-edition bottling has been released with a run of only 5,004 bottles. “This special liquid perfectly captures the spirit of Royal Lochnagar distillery character, with a wide range of outstanding flavours and aromas which are inspired by the experience of being out in the open landscape of our home in the Cairngorm mountains,” Neil Murphy, the senior site manager at Royal Lochnagar said. “This rare and exclusive single malt has been selected by our expert team and represents a rare memento of whisky history for visitors to take and enjoy.” Here’s the catch: if you want a bottle, you’ll have to go to the distillery itself to nab it. Trip to the Highlands, anyone?

The Nightcap

The WSTA feels consumers in the UK pay too much tax on their Christmas booze

WSTA calls for cuts to wine and spirit duty

This time of year might be one for giving, but sharing the boozy love will set you back a pretty penny if you’re in the UK, according to The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). Your basket of Christmas booze is set to cost an all-time high this year, with 49% of consumers’ cash going straight to the taxman. The French, by comparison, will pay just 21% tax. In fact, the UK alcohol industry is one of the most heavily taxed in Europe, with British drinkers paying an extraordinary 69% of all wine duties collected by all 28 EU member states and 25% of all spirits duties. This is by far the most of any member state despite accounting for only 11 per cent of the total EU population. That’s why the WSTA is calling on the government to cut alcohol duty. Wine is the UK’s most popular drink, enjoyed by 33 million Brits, but income from wine receipts actually decreased from last year’s take by 2.1% according to the HMRC Alcohol Bulletin figures released last month. If the 2.1% drop plays out for the whole year then Treasury would be set to lose £92 million compared to 2018. The WSTA attributes this to the chancellor’s decision to single out wine for a duty increase at the last Budget, and claims these figures are proof that raising alcohol duty is not only bad for business and consumers but also bad news for the Treasury. It’s worth remembering that the wine and spirit industry supports some 369,000 jobs and generates £49 billion in economic activity. “Comparing the wine and spirit tax regime in the UK to that in France puts the UK’s excessively high rate of excise duty firmly in the spotlight. The Treasury will be taking more money than ever from British businesses and consumers this Christmas while our French cousins’ booze bill will be much more palatable,” says Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA and certified Nightcap legend. “We are calling on the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, to support British consumers, pubs and the wider hospitality trade by cutting alcohol duty.”

The Nightcap

William Borrell, founder of Ladies and Gentlemen and knitwear model

Ladies and Gentlemen goes dry for January

Yes, Dry January’s a thing. And yes, we’re thanking the booze(-free) gods that there are delicious low- and no-ABV alternatives out in the world. And now, London bar Ladies and Gentlemen is doing a full-on alcohol-free takeover, complete with Mindful Thursdays, throughout the month. From 10-31 January, no drink will have a higher ABV than 0.5%, with a menu based on Willow, a low-alcohol spirit that brings together CBD with the flavour of pineapple, star anise, blue agave and cherry tomatoes. Low-alcohol wines and beers with also be available. Feeling especially stressed? Pop down on a Thursday for Lego-based therapy, a mindful activity that will also raise money for The Toy Project, which recycles toys and distributes them globally. There will even be low- and no-ABV cocktail-making workshops, too! “The no & low-alcohol category has kept growing with no sign of slowing since 2001. said William Borrell, Ladies and Gentlemen founder. “With more products available on the market, we wanted to cut through those questions we are asked on a daily basis to help build this exciting category. I believe that no and low is perfect for those who want to hold off on alcoholic beverages and don’t need to miss out on the experience of enjoying a beer with friends or a non-alcoholic cocktail with all the cues of alcohol. What better place to host a month of wine , spirit and beer than a rock and roll dive bar.” Hurrah!

The Nightcap

Big shoes: hip-hop icon Future

Hip-Hop artist Future and 1800 Tequila present ‘1800 Seconds Vol 2.’

1800 Tequila and Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Future have partnered together to curate 1800 Seconds Vol. 2 as part of an initiative to support up-and-coming talent. Seven rising artists chosen by Future and the A+R team were given the platform to write and release new tracks with major label resources and one major co-sign. The seven artists are Aurora Anthony (New York, NY), Herion Young (Memphis, TN), Juiicy2xS (Cincinnati, OH), Lihtz (Philadelphia, PA), Seddy Hendrinx (Jacksonville, FL), Shaun Sloan (Los Angeles, CA) and Test (Baltimore, MD). All beats and executive production came from Nick Papamitrou (aka Papamitrou or Nick Papz), who created the album in one week with Future in November, with the latter guest appearing on a number of tracks. The album, which is being distributed by UnitedMasters, is available now on all music streaming platforms. “When I got into music, I did it my own way, I made a path for myself. I’ve created shoes to walk down my path and I made them big enough for someone else to walk after me,” says Future. “Curating this project with 1800 Tequila gives me a platform to find and collaborate with young artists, help them shape their voice and push their vision.  Everyone has a different vision for themselves – real success and magic happens when we come together and work collectively.” To download the full 1800 Seconds album, meet the artists and watch the behind-the-scenes documentary, you can visit 1800seconds.com. So, grab yourself a Margarita and enjoy the sounds of the future…

The Nightcap

Anyone for a J&B Rare Manhattan?

The Rex Whistler at The TATE Britain reveals the J&B Rare Manhattan

Now, it’s not proven that cocktails that are only available for a limited time taste better, but knowing that not everyone will have the chance to try something may add that extra pizzazz. Which brings us to The Rex Whistler restaurant at The TATE Britain, which has created a J&B Rare Manhattan! Mind you, it’ll only be on there for the next month or so only, until January 2020. If you’re not sure what The Rex Whistler is, it’s been open since 1927 and was described as ‘The Most Amusing Room in Europe’ when it opened because of its unique mural, ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’. Nearly a century on, we wonder if it would still uphold its title. Matthew Randall, General Manager at The Rex Whistler has put his own unique twist on the classic cocktail, having aged in a sherry barrel for two weeks. “The Rex Whistler is a classic restaurant, and we wanted to create a classic cocktail to showcase the different elements of J&B Rare,” Randall said. The barrel-aged sweet sherry matches this timeless whisky to create a delicious seasonal cocktail.” Well, certainly sounds like the kind of treat we’d want after gazing at art for a few hours. Or maybe we’ll just skip that part altogether…

The Nightcap

The seductive Scent of Stilton

And finally… Eau de Stilton

Ah, the seductive scent of. . . . cheese?! Yes, at a Christmas party this year you might be sitting next to someone with a uniquely seasonal smell. No, it’s not because they have some horrible fungal infection, it’s a new limited edition range of fragrances from PerfumeDirect.com. There’s Eau de Christmas Pudding, Pigs in Blanket Parfum and the Stench, sorry, Scent of Stilton. We certainly wouldn’t mind getting close to someone wearing the Christmas pudding perfume containing as it does notes of berries, citrus, almond and apple, vanilla, clove and Cognac, and carnivores might go wild for some of that piggy goodness. But even Jonny Webber from Perfume Direct sounds a bit sceptical about the last one: “The Stilton perfume is certainly different and will probably turn a few heads when the wearer walks past.” And probably not in a good way. But really, who are we to judge. It’s nearly 2020, man, whatever blows your hair back.

And and finally… how do you feel about a lickable beer igloo?

In the spirit of Christmas, we felt it appropriate to have not one, but TWO And Finallys this week. (Also, it’s clearly silly season and neither of these stories are sensible enough to make The Nightcap proper.) News reached MoM Towers this week of a new structure to come to Southwark in London. It comes complete with sleeping bags. You can fit two adults in it. And… you can lick it?! Yes! The Anchor Bankside pub has commissioned an actual igloo made from 1,000 litres of its new Ice Breaker ale. “We’ve never seen a real frozen igloo, particularly one where the walls are made from real beer,” said Matt Starbuck, Greene King managing director. “If it’s successful, we might even roll it out to our pubs up and down the country – it could be the ideal overnight stay for people who don’t fancy getting a taxi home at closing time!” We’re all up for sharing a pint, but licking walls that have been enjoyed by goodness knows how many others… we’re not sure we’re ever going to feel that festive. But if you are? Get to Southwark with haste, the igloo’s only there until it melts…

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Mini Martinis – the next big cocktail trend

What could be better than a cool, crisp, refreshing Martini? A tiny ’Tini served in a miniature coupe, of course! As bartenders and spirits brands increasingly turn their hand towards…

What could be better than a cool, crisp, refreshing Martini? A tiny ’Tini served in a miniature coupe, of course! As bartenders and spirits brands increasingly turn their hand towards the charming cocktail serve, we take a closer look…

It’s a well-known fact that miniature things are adorable, and a scaled-down Martini is no exception. First and foremost, the tiny ’Tini trend reflects “a desire to get back to reasonable-sized cocktails that you can enjoy in a reasonable amount of time before it goes tepid and warm,” agrees Ryan Gavin, bar manager at Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar in Lower Manhattan, who also cites “the sheer adorableness of all things ‘mini’” as a catalyst. “This, of course, makes these things highly Instagrammable,” he says. Couple this with the natural creative flair of the modern bartender, and you’ve got yourself a trend with legs.”

Awwww, look at those tiny Martinis! They’re adorable

So compelling is the emerging trend, the Absolut Elyx Boutique has created miniature copper coupes that hold just three ounces [85ml] of the sophisticated serve. Instagram aside, there’s a logic to the launch. “The first three sips are simply the most enjoyable,” explains Miranda Dickson, global brand director for Absolut Elyx. And with a small vessel, the last sip will be as cool as the first.“The temperature of a Martini is more important than that of any other cocktail – as soon as the Martini is poured, even into a chilled glass, the temperature is going to go up,” she continues. 

Plus, there’s no denying that the Martini is a strong, spirit-forward drink. By shrinking the serve, you can actually enjoy more than one or two without having to hail a taxi. “Serving them in miniature enables our guests to not only enjoy the Martini at the most optimal temperature but also to try a couple – allowing them to experiment with different levels of dryness, different vermouths, olives, citrus twists, bitters, etcetera,” Dickson adds. You can explore the serve a little more responsibly, in essence.

While it’s gaining traction now, the mini Martini is by no means a new invention “Martinis have been enjoyed in tiny serves since the beginning of the 20th century; the tiny size of the cocktail glasses from that period are testament to this,” Dickson says. “The nineties saw a trend for huge oversized Martinis – the most popular bars in their heyday served 14oz [400ml] ones,” Dickson continues. “Considering it’s predominantly liquor with some dilution, that’s a pretty hefty serve! By the end, it was room temperature and really not a great experience.”

Peppi's Cellar Back Bar

Peppi’s Cellar is a booze wonderland

The burgeoning ‘no and low’ sector is testament that today’s drinkers want to socialise more responsibly. More and more people are going out to enjoy themselves without constantly over-indulging, explains Marshall Minaya, beverage director at New York bar Valerie. “As someone on the working side of the bar, serving mini Martinis is a grand idea,” Minaya continues. “Every night we are out to throw a party, and we want everyone and anyone to attend our party. Our goal is not to get people drunk, but to have people imbibe on personally crafted cocktails that they truly enjoy.” 

Presenting the Martini in a miniature vessel also democratises the drink, says Dickson. “Although the Martini is a well known, storied drink, steeped in glamour, celebration and sophistication, I think people are a little challenged by a 7oz [200ml] spirit-forward strong cocktail – which is, by anyone’s measure, a serious drink,” she says. “Enjoying the drink in smaller, bite-size serves makes it less serious, more fun, and ultimately more accessible for people to try.”

Ready to take on the tiny ’Tini? Keep reading for three miniature variations on the classic serve to try out at home… 

Either that’s a tiny Martini or the bartender has enormous hands

Italian Minis by Peppi’s Cellar at Gran Tivoli

30ml Fords Gin
15ml Carpano Dry Vermouth
7.5ml Strega Liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
7.5ml filtered water

Make in advance and keep chilled in the freezer until ready to serve. Garnish with a pickled grape tomato.

Mini Gibson by Valerie

37.5ml Le Gin
7.5ml Dry vermouth

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, fill with ice. Stir. Strain into 3oz Martini glass and garnish with a pickled pearl onion.

Mini Elyx Martini by Absolut Elyx 

25ml Absolut Elyx
5ml Lillet Blanc 

Combine both ingredients in a mixing glass and stir over plenty of cubed ice. Strain into a Chilled Copper Tiny Tini Coupe and garnish with lemon zest or an olive. 

 

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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!

 

 

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