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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Gin

How to buy (a bit of) your own drinks brand

This week Ian Buxton explores how you can own a little bit of your own booze business through the magic of crowdfunding. You might even get in on the ground…

This week Ian Buxton explores how you can own a little bit of your own booze business through the magic of crowdfunding. You might even get in on the ground floor of the new Brewdog and get rich! But you probably won’t.

Did you get any Brewdog? Not pints of the eponymous beer but a bit of the company. The self-styled bad boys of brewing raised capital through crowdfunding. If you picked Brewdog as an investment in 2010 then well done – early backers saw huge returns. As James Watt, BrewDog’s co-founder, explained in 2017 when a US private equity company took a 22% share: “Shares purchased in Equity for Punks I are now worth 2,765 percent of their original value. Even craft beer fans that invested in Equity for Punks IV, which closed in April 2016, have seen the value of their shares increase by 177 percent in just one year.”

If you’d invested in Brewdog in 2010, you’d be rich. RICH!

Unlike schemes such as Kickstarter where your cash is effectively a pre-order for a product and you don’t own a share in the company, crowdfunding means you are buying equity and become a shareholder – a co-owner of the business.

Now, you can buy shares in the large publicly-quoted drinks businesses, such as Diageo. In fact, if you have any kind of formal pension fund you quite probably already do. But crowdfunding is different: it allows you to get in at an early stage of the development of a new company. It’s interesting, fun, and potentially more profitable than investing in a well-established company but – pay particular attention to this bit – carries considerable risk that you can lose all your money.

So why do it? Well, several reasons. You may know the founders or principals of the fledgling concern and be prepared to back their judgement; you might agree that they’ve spotted a genuine gap in the market; in the case of a community-based enterprise you might take an essentially philanthropic view or you might just fancy a flutter.

You’ve missed out on Brewdog but, on the basis that you’re reading this on a drinks site I’ll assume you’re interested in booze, so what opportunities are out there right now? I’ve taken a look at Seedrs.com, a UK crowdfunding site, and WeFunder.com based in the USA. Note that these sites operate by providing you with information on the company, funds to be raised, intended use of the cash and details on what percentage of the business is being offered. There will be a fundraising target and a date when the offer will close. Read all this information VERY carefully before you commit.

Burleighs gin raised over £100,000 through crowdfunding this year

No one can have missed the gin craze of the last few years. If you think it can carry on for a while yet, then £10 will buy you a piece of Burleighs Gin – they’ve already raised over £100,000 on Seedrs.com.   

On the other hand, you might consider that gin is already a little passé and have heard of the hard seltzer boom in the USA. In that case, premium non-alcoholic and alcoholic seltzer brand Something & Nothing could be a good fit for your portfolio. Investment, also on Seedrs.com starts at £20, but one bold backer has already pledged £96,000 so evidently someone believes in the proposition.

Perhaps something on the huge US drinks scene will appeal. Turning to WeFunder.com there are a number of opportunities, ranging from flavoured malt beverage HoopTea (a $1,000 minimum commitment though) to Kokoro Spirits ($100 and up). Starting with Tequila it aims to build a “collection of premium spirits and a brand that celebrates communities and cultures from around the world”.

It’s always a good idea to spread your risk by diversifying investments. With that in mind, Drifter Spirits is creating a portfolio of craft spirits for the US market, starting with cachaça and aquavit brands. The company has been trading for some seven years with an experienced management team  $500 gets you a place on its share register.

There are many more opportunities arising on a regular basis and there are other crowdfunding sites. These are simply examples of an interesting new trend.  Any of these companies could be the next Brewdog or all might crash and burn, taking your hard-earned with them. Caveat emptor!

IMPORTANT: Nothing in the foregoing constitutes investment advice or a recommendation. As with any investment consider the risk factors, do not invest more than you can afford to lose and seek appropriate professional advice. Disclosure: Ian Buxton may be an active investor in one or more of the businesses mentioned here.

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Our favourite specialist bars for specific spirits

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new…

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new tipple, we’ve rounded up a few awesome specialist bars that are pros in specific spirits!

They say variety is the spice of life, but on the flipside, there’s also the conundrum of being the jack of all trades and master of none. Well, these bars are each the master of one chosen spirit. In the words of Wham!, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.

When it’s safe to go back out to all the wonderful places the world has to offer, make sure you have this list to hand to guide you through the glorious world of spirits!

specialist bars

Hacha

What? Agave spirits
Where? London

Tequila and mezcal line the back bar of Hacha over in East London, which is also home to the legendary Mirror Margarita. Trust me, forget about any misgivings you’ve had about Tequila in the past, it’s like no other Margarita you’ve tried before. There’s a selection of 25 spirits behind the bar, and while you may have been expecting that number to be higher, when a bottle is finished a new one takes its place. Now you’ll never get bored of the same old choices! What’s pretty cool about this place is that owner Deano Moncrieffe (who was previously a Diageo Tequila ambassador) pairs different nibbles with the ever-changing selection of agave spirits. Some come with Monster Munch, others come with Toblerone. It’s all-round awesome. 

specialist bars

Smugglers Cove

What? Rum
Where? San Francisco

Opened in 2009, Smugglers Cove is everything you’d expect from a bar that specialises in rum. The three-story tiki bar boasts the largest rum selection in the country (over 550 behind the bar at one time), and it’s a place that really embraces part of rum’s identity with waterfalls, lots of nautical paraphernalia and an entirely wooden interior. Meanwhile, the cocktail list takes into account the centuries of history behind the spirit. You’ll find both classic and more contemporary serves, and one that has made quite the name for itself is the Smuggler’s Rum Barrel, a punch made with 15 different rums and 20 different juices!

(Smugglers Cove isn’t currently open because of COVID, but be sure to take a trip over there when it’s safe!)

specialist bars

Bobby Gin 

What? Gin
Where? Barcelona

Well, the clue is in the name here, and you’ll find Gin Club in the home of the Gin Tonica, Spain! Specifically, Barcelona. At Bobby Gin you’ll find those classic fishbowl glasses, with almost countless numbers of gins, tonics and garnishes to play with. With a sign on the wall stating ‘the perfect Gin & Tonic doesn’t exist’ (well, it actually says ‘el gintonic perfecto no existe’, but I thought I’d save you the trouble of translating), though you  may as well start here to try and find it!

specialist bars

Black Rock 

What? Whisky
Where? London

Now, choosing just one whisky bar was a near impossible mission. But, finally, Black Rock emerged as a winner, boasting both London and Bristol locations! Aside from the truly jaw-dropping selection of whiskies you’re faced with (over 250), the London site even has the city’s first whisky hotel, along with a blending room where you can take home your very own creation. It’s a brilliant place for people who want to explore the spirit more as well as seasoned drinkers, because each bottle is clearly labelled with one of five flavour profiles and its price. If you’re really stuck, the clever chaps behind the bar will certainly be able to help you out. Whisky for all!

specialist bars

Le Syndicat Paris 

What? Cognac
Where? Paris

Le Syndicat only stocks French spirits, so it’s not technically a Cognac bar per se, though you will be greeted with a lot of brandies among a scattering of absinthe and eau de vie. You’ll find DJs on the weekend playing mainly hip-hop (with half of the artists played probably sporting their own Cognac brand), French food and French twists on classic cocktails. If you don’t just want to try out the cocktails, you can treat your taste buds to a Cognac tasting, too!

specialist bars

Spirits Bar Sunface Tokyo

What? For when you’re feeling lucky
Where? Tokyo

Here’s a fun one. Over in Shinjuku, Spirits Bar Sunface doesn’t actually have a drinks menu. They serve brilliant cocktails, make no mistake, but instead of you choosing a drink (how normal that would be), you have a chat with the folks behind the bar and then your drink will be made to suit you. We’ve heard that it sports quite an extensive collection of Tequila, though its back bar spans quite a range of spirits! The place itself is just as unique, with its centrepiece a fabulous tree trunk which serves as the bar. It’s a bit like a tarot card reading, but with cocktails. Let us know what you get!

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New Arrival of the Week: Mad City Rum

This month we’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with a rum that thinks it’s a gin from those booze innovators at Foxhole Spirits. Sound a bit crazy?…

This month we’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with a rum that thinks it’s a gin from those booze innovators at Foxhole Spirits. Sound a bit crazy? Well, it is called Mad City.

One of the biggest trends in spirits in the last few years is the blurring of previously discrete categories. For example, gin starts to take on some of the characteristics of whisky after ageing in bourbon casks. Our new arrival, Mad City, is a flavoured rum, no doubt about that, but its clean bright flavours, which we think will appeal to gin lovers in particular, are a world away from sweet spiced rum

The man behind it is James Oag-Cooper. The company was originally set up in conjunction with Sam Linter from Bolney Estate, one of England’s best vineyards, but  is now independent. The team has form when it comes to this sort of genre-bending. Their first product was the Foxhole Gin made with a grappa-like spirit distilled from leftovers from wine production. This was followed last year by HYKE, another gin which strayed into brandy territory as the base spirit is made from surplus grapes. 

Oag-Cooper explains: “Our goal has always been to prove that using sustainably sourced, surplus materials can create spirits better than those that use grown for, single-purpose materials. With Mad City we’ve been able to apply our skill working with botanicals to rum and demonstrate expertise in a different category. We believe that the style of Mad City, with no sugar added post distillation, puts it in a category all of its own. The result is fine and balanced, absolutely delicious, and thoroughly satisfying to drink. This isn’t a flavoured rum or a spiced rum. It’s Mad City”.

The label is by Bristol-based urban artist, Sled-One. Pretty crazy

The base spirit used to make Mad City is packed with flavour. No wonder, as it includes pot still rums from three distilleries in Jamaica: Worthy Park, Clarendon and Hampden Estate; column still rum from the Diamond distillery in Guyana; pot still from Consuelo Estate in the Dominican Republic and finally some column still spirit from the West Indies distillery in Barbados. All of these are unaged. 

Oag-Cooper told us: “The approach was the same as for HYKE & Foxhole Gin.” It’s about matching the botanicals to flavours in the spirit. He continued: “The development process involved lots of blending of rums and botanicals, but the final production method once we had the exact flavour profile dialled down is just like a gin; we add all of the botanicals together, macerate and distil through an Arnold Holstein hybrid still, before cutting with natural spring water.” The botanical list is long: coffee, coconut, papaya, cherry, lime peel, sweet and bitter orange, rosemary, coriander seed, allspice, cassia bark, green and black cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, cacao nibs, ginger root, tonka bean, molasses, liquorice root, lapsang souchong, cubeb, hibiscus tea, and vetiver root. Phew! It can’t have been easy getting that line up to harmonise especially with such characterful rums.

The coconut, coffee and molasses aside, you would not be surprised to find these botanicals in a gin, and indeed the profile is quite like a gin. The spicing is very subtle and elegantly done, first sip you think it might be gin but hold the front door, there’s no juniper and then there’s pineapple, chocolate and coconut with grassy and citrus notes with warm baking spices. It’s extremely elegant and has a sweetness about it though without any added sugar.

The big question is then how do you drink it? With gin, everyone knows what they are doing, mix it with tonic, make a Martini, stick it in a Negroni. That’s why gin is so loved because it’s so adaptable while always remaining distinctive. But what do you do with this botanical rum? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that it does go with tonic water making a sort of G&T that isn’t a G&T. It’s also great in other classic gin drinks like a Tom Collins or indeed a Martini; the latter worked particularly well-made half and half with dry vermouth. Naturally, it’s right at home in a Mojito or Daiquiri. Mad City suggests adding basil and acacia honey to the latter for “a mad twist on a classic”. They’ve also come up with a Hard Seltzer made with coconut water, fizzy water and orange zest. Very simple and refreshing. And a take on the rum and ginger with a little added Italian vermouth. See here for the full recipes. 

Treat it like a white rum or a gin, and really you can’t go wrong. We’ve been told time and time again that rum is the new gin. Hell, we’ve been saying ourselves more than once. It hasn’t quite happened yet but if there’s any rum that’s doing to tempt the gin drinker, Mad City is it.

Mad City rum is now available from Master of Malt.

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The land of fire and ice: Icelandic spirits part two

For the second and final instalment of our series on Icelandic spirits, we explore the island’s native flavours and traditions, from sheep dung-smoked spirits to fermented shark chasers, reveal the…

For the second and final instalment of our series on Icelandic spirits, we explore the island’s native flavours and traditions, from sheep dung-smoked spirits to fermented shark chasers, reveal the regulatory issues faced by distillers, and glimpse the country’s spirited future…

Around three-quarters of Iceland’s total 39,000 square miles is barren of vegetation due to soil erosion. In fact, in around 7,000 of those square miles it’s severe enough to render the land totally useless. Plant life consists mainly of grassland, which is grazed by cattle and sheep (sheep outnumber humans almost three to one). “Icelanders are incredibly proud of their heritage and the harsh weather conditions that have defined their resourceful people,” says Fabiano Latham, brand ambassador for Reyka Vodka. “It’s all about using what’s available, preservation, and survival. Yes, conditions today are much more manageable, but you still see nods towards their adventurous ancestors in all aspects of cuisine, including alcohol.” 

Of the distillers in Iceland who actually make their product locally – more on this later – most utilise the herbs and berries found around the country, such as crowberries, bilberries and moss, explains Birgir Mar Sigurdsson, co-founder of Thoran Distillery. Many of the botanicals grow wild in the highlands, and there’s plenty more to be found in the Icelandic countryside and closer to the coast. “There’s a lot of different seaweed [varieties] that many distillers have been experimenting with, us included,” he says. “We don’t grow any of the classic fruits like oranges, lemons, etc., but there are many greenhouses around the country that do grow things like strawberries and tomatoes.”

Birgir Mar Sigurdsson looking pensive

The most common native tree is birch, which once covered much of Iceland. It’s a key botanical at Foss Distillery, which makes liqueur, schnapps, bitters, and vodka using the historic species. “Icelandic birch is easily recognisable by its delicate dentate leaves and silver-hued papery bark,” says co-founder Ólafur Örn Ólafsson. “About a third of Iceland is thought to have been covered in birch woods when the first settlers arrived nearly 1,150 years ago, which shows that the tree had fully adapted to the windy and changeable conditions in the country. Our policy is to interfere as little as possible with nature, and so we take the sap from the trees at the best time for the trees, and collect the decorative sprigs when cuttings are made by specialists to thin the woods and facilitate natural growth.”

Of the various berries, herbs and spices that grow wild in Iceland – among them caraway, angelica, rhubarb, juniper – one of the most compelling is arctic thyme. “That is our pièce de résistance,” says Óskar Ericsson, CEO and master distiller at Brunnur Distillery. “That is the most beautiful thing that we have. It’s basically this little purple-pink flower, and when it blooms, it smells like lavender.” Ericsson, an artist by trade, had the idea for Himbrimi Gin back in 2013 on a family fishing trip to the West Fjords, where his father-in-law owns land. “Standing in the river, you’re looking at this clean water,” he says. “There’s juniper nearby, angelica on the other side of the bank, there’s arctic thyme. I decided to mix that and use it.”

What started as a warming tipple for family fishing expeditions has transformed into a bona fide microdistillery that has listings in bars across the world. And yet, to this day Ericsson still hand-picks his botanicals and numbers each bottle by hand. It’s a similar story at 64°Reykjavik Distillery, which uses foraged berries and botanics to make its small-batch liqueurs and spirits. Sustainable foraging is embedded in Iceland’s culture, says founder Snorri Jónsson. “These resources are commercialised on an extremely small scale,” he says. “Only a few thousand bottles are made of each spirit.”

Nice bit of copper at Reyka distillery

Distilling local flavours has also put modern producers back in touch with Iceland’s national spirit, brennivin, which is traditionally consumed with fermented shark. A handful of Icelandic bottlings – including Foss Distillery’s Helvíti, 64° Reykjavik Distillery’s Brennivín 50, and Brunnur Distillery’s Thúfa – have seen the caraway-heavy spirit reinvented with blueberries, seaweed, sweetgrass, and other botanicals. “Our goal is to reclaim the reputation of Icelandic brennivin and to take it outside of Iceland and introduce it to the world as this delicious spirit, which it is, instead of something that you use to wash your windows or clean your car or something,” says Ericsson.

Botanical infusion isn’t the only way for Icelanders to utilise their natural resources. “In terms of native flavours and traditional techniques, the drying and smoking of meat and fish using birch and sheep dung is something we’ve been doing for centuries,” says Sigurdsson. “This technique lends itself perfectly to the drying of barley used in whisky. So instead of using peat as the Scots do, we’d be using birch and sheep dung.” Iceland currently has little in the way of whisky, but the future is promising. The country’s first (and currently only) single malt, Flóki, was made by Eimverk Distillery, located in the town of Garðabær a few minutes from downtown Reykjavík, and the distillery also produces a ‘young malt’ made with sheep dung-smoked barley.

“When we started the company in 2013, the idea was to make whisky,” says Sigurdsson. “That’s still very much on the table and is still where our passion lies.” The immediate success of Thoran Distillery’s initial release, Marberg London Dry Gin, saw the team “put the whisky on ice, pun intended” to give Marberg a chance to thrive, “but recently we’ve been putting things in motion and can hopefully start whisky production this year,” Sigurdsson says. “We do have a few hundred litres maturing in various casks, but those are for research and development purposes. We did a lot of experiments with various barley strains – both local and imported – developed innovative malting and drying techniques, tried different types of oak to see which would complement our spirit…. The groundwork is there, and we’re ready and excited to take it to the next stage.”

Cocktails with Marberg gin

It’s certainly an exciting time for distilling in Iceland, but the industry is not without challenges. One of the struggles brewers and distillers have had to deal with are the regulations regarding the sale of beer and spirits, says Sigurdsson. “Right now, the state has a monopoly on all alcohol sales, which makes it illegal for me to sell a bottle of Marberg to anyone visiting our distillery,” he says. “The fees and taxes added to alcohol are also among the highest in Europe.” 

Authenticity issues are another thorn in the side of the country’s distillers. For a long time, most of the ‘Icelandic’ spirits were made abroad, imported to Iceland and mixed with Icelandic water, according to Sigurdsson. “There are a handful of awful producers – here, as well as internationally – bottling bulk spirit as something authentic,” says Jónsson. “They use financial resources to build their image as quality producers, but are merely bottling plants or business makers.” This can be tricky for drinkers to detect, he continues, since it’s applicable to producers both big and small. “The result for us is: hard competition for the attention,” Jónsson continues. “A competition that the small authentic producers will lose, because our interest and resources are in the products, not the marketing.” In response, distillers are in talks about how to best protect the reputation of their spirits. Right now we are drafting an application which specifies what should be considered an Icelandic spirit,” says Sigurdsson.

Given its subarctic climate, Iceland might not be the first country you associate with distilling, but thanks to its environmentally-conscious inhabitants, the country’s natural resources – the geothermal steam from its volcanoes, the abundance of pure, mineral-free water, the unique botanicals that thrive on the country’s wild terrain – practically lend themselves to spirits-making. “In terms of negatives, there really aren’t a whole lot of challenges that come with distilling in a colder climate,” Sigurdsson says. “Maturation in casks is a bit slower because of the cold, and the Icelandic legal system gives me a headache once in a while. But we roll with it. We knuckle down and do the best we can with what we got. And more often than not, that actually turns into something great.”

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Master of Malt visits… Anno Distillers

Kent’s first whisky, science and new products (look out for MoM exclusive…) were all topics of discussion when we visited the wonderful Anno Distillery back in January. Which you can…

Kent’s first whisky, science and new products (look out for MoM exclusive…) were all topics of discussion when we visited the wonderful Anno Distillery back in January. Which you can see for yourself. We got it all on film.

I don’t know if you get on with your neighbours, but at MoM Towers, we’re delighted to have Anno Distillery just down the road from us. Among all the hop fields, sandy beaches and medieval castles of Kent are distilleries, many of them quite new and releasing all kinds of tasty booze at break-neck speed. Anno, the county’s first gin distillery in 200 years, has certainly been busy in the last decade creating a range of gins, vodkas and even Kent’s first whisky along the way.

We were invited for a visit to learn about its history, how the founder’s background in science impacts distillation and more. Which we did. But we went one better and filmed our tour so you can enjoy it as well. Particularly useful given many of you won’t have been able to visit any distilleries for the time being.

We begin at the beginning because we’re mavericks like that. Dr. Any Reason joins us to tell us about how he founded the brand in 2011 with Dr Norman Lewis (hence the name: it’s a combination of the first two letters of Andy and Norman). Dr Reason outlines how the brand created its distillery in Marden, where his love of spirits began, what the ambition for Anno Distillers was and even offers us a little glimpse into its future…

While whisky may be produced all over the world now until recently you couldn’t buy a whisky that was produced in the garden of England. In this video, Dr Reason tells us the story behind Kent’s very first whisky, how the brand partnered with Westerham Brewery to create this unique bottling and why it was matured in a medium-charred ex-bourbon cask that had previously held Speyside whisky.

As a former PhD research and development chemist, Dr Reason (by the way, amazing name. Sounds like an X-Men character) already had a keen understanding of the process of distillation. In this interview, he outlines how this background in science gave the brand an edge to make delicious booze, what kind of profile of gin he wanted to create and more. Bonus fact:  The logo, a registered trademark, demonstrates this influence as it was found in a 17th-century German text, and was recorded as the alchemical sign for distillation.

Assistant distiller Jake Sedge joins us now to give us a guided tour of the distillery and walk us through the production process. We meet Patience, Anno’s 300-litre copper pot still (Anno has come a long since experimenting in Dr Reason’s kitchen with a 2 litre still) which got its name thanks to an arduous 18-month wait for a licence. Sedge then explains how each set of botanicals are distilled in order for the brand to make its award-winning gin.

Sedge returns to underline the importance of water in distillation and how Anno filters its ultra-pure water in-house and then introduces us to Defiance, a smaller still the brand has on-site to conduct experiments with. Currently, Anno is looking to create its first rum. Is that a Master of Malt exclusive?! I think it is. There’s even talk of brandy. How very exciting.

Fancy blending you own gin and taking home a personalised bottle? Our good friend Jake Sedge is back again to talk us through the Marden distillery’s blending experience. He offers his expert advice, presents the many flavour options available to you and makes his own tasty example (which changed colour when he added tonic. Neat.). Did you know that you get to make your own unique label and keep a record of your recipe in the blending notebook so you can reorder the blend in future, direct from the distillery? Awesome.

Finally, we taste the Anno range with Anno sales and marketing director Kim Reason. If you’re thinking of picking up a bottle of its Kent Dry and 60² gins or a flavoured expression like its Orange and Honey Gin, B3rry Pink Gin or Elderflower Vodka then you’ll want to watch this. Best of luck picking one. They’re all very tasty.

Anno Distillers

We hope you enjoyed the tour!

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10 more gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Ever had a gin with botanicals such as bourbon vetiver, gunpowder tea, squid ink, moon rock or Jaffa cakes? These expressions feature such delightful and peculiar ingredients and more. Remember…

Ever had a gin with botanicals such as bourbon vetiver, gunpowder tea, squid ink, moon rock or Jaffa cakes? These expressions feature such delightful and peculiar ingredients and more.

Remember when we cast our big MoM-branded spotlight on ten gins that have the most intriguing ingredients? Well, it turns out there is a seemingly never-ending supply of bottlings that feature botanicals of all profiles and styles from all around the world. So we’ve decided to once again point you in the direction of those that benefit from the selection of strange and sublime ingredients. Here are 10 more gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Jaffa Cake Gin

While some people would waste time asking if Jaffa cakes are biscuit or cake, wisdom prevailed at least with the creators of this beauty, who put the bickering aside and instead turned the irresistible chocolatey-orange treats into gin. Along with oranges, fresh orange peel and cocoa powder, actual Jaffa cakes were popped into a vacuum still to make an expression that will make one of the best Negronis you’ll ever taste, made all the easier by this Jaffa Cake Gin Negroni Bundle

What does it taste like?:

Zingy orange (marmalade-esque), rich and earthy chocolate, vanilla-rich cake, a touch of almondy-goodness and a solid backbone of juniper. Also, Jaffa Cakes!

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Theodore Pictish Gin

A tribute to a tribe who are thought to be some of the very first settlers of Scotland, Theodore Pictish Gin contains 16 botanicals including some delightfully strange examples such as pine, damask rose, pomelo and bourbon vetiver. These ingredients were distilled using an old charentais still, just to add to the intrigue and delight of this expression.

What does it taste like?:

Damask rose and oolong tea make a floral bouquet, with both fresh and dried spicy ginger warmth, alongside notes of citric pomelo and crisp pine needles, smoky bourbon vetiver and hints of vanilla.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin

An Islay gin created at the Bruichladdich distillery, The Botanist features a huge 31 botanicals, some of which are native to Islay and a fair few of which you’ll struggle to find in other gins. The full list of botanicals is as follows: angelica root, apple mint, birch leaves, bog myrtle leaves, cassia bark, chamomile, cinnamon bark, coriander seed, creeping thistle flowers, elderflowers, gorse flowers, heather flowers, hawthorn flowers, juniper berries, lady’s bedstraw flowers, lemon balm, lemon peel, liquorice root, meadowsweet, orange peel, orris root, peppermint leaves, mugwort leaves, red clover flowers, tansy, thyme leaves, water mint leaves, white clover, wood sage leaves. Did you get all that? Please don’t make me repeat it.

What does it taste like?:

Enough botanicals to make us wish we had five noses. Big notes of citrus, delicate menthol and flowers everywhere! 

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Roku Gin

The first gin from Japan’s legendary Suntory features six Japanese botanicals that provide a whistle-stop tour of the four seasons. If you’ve never tasted the likes of sakura leaf and sakura flower (spring), sencha tea and gyokuro tea (summer), sansho pepper (autumn) and yuzu peel (winter), then Roku Gin should make the perfect introduction. 

What does it taste like?:

Earthy and vegetal, with a light whisper of fruity sweetness hiding underneath. Peppery notes develop on the finish.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Whitley Neill Handcrafted Dry Gin

Whitley Neill’s core bottling has proved exceptionally popular, with people enjoying its unique botanical blend, which comprises of African ingredients such as extracts from the Baobab Tree (known as the Tree of Life) and Physalis fruit. This London dry gin was distilled in a one-hundred-year-old copper pot still, just in case you thought its charm belonged solely to its botanicals.

What does it taste like?:

Juniper upfront, with hints of perfumed, coriander leaves, calves leather, cassia bark, cut herbs, acacia honey, exotic spices and citrus.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin

The Shed distillery may not have been around long but it has already made some terrifically tasty spirits, such as its first Irish whiskey, Drumshanbo Single Pot Still Inaugural Release and this wonderful Irish gin, the brilliantly named Gunpowder Gin. Its name comes from its signature botanical, gunpowder tea, which is vapour infused alongside lemon, lime and fresh grapefruit and distilled with juniper, angelica, orris, caraway, coriander, meadowsweet, cardamom and star anise.

What does it taste like?:

Bright citrus and green tea notes are complemented by the spices.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Comte de Grasse 44°N 

French distiller Comte de Grasse’s inaugural gin, 44°N is a truly unique bottling, made using ultrasonic maceration, vacuum distillation and CO2 supercritical extraction. The spirit was inspired by perfume production methods and features an extensive list of botanicals that pay tribute to this, including mimosa, patchouli, everlasting (a golden flower), horse parsley, cade (a species of juniper), samphire, verbena, lavender, grapefruit and Sichuan pepper.

What does it taste like?:

Woody juniper and a pinch of salt, with a burst of sweet and bitter citrus followed by an aromatic floral bouquet, a creamy note on the finish supported by warming pepper spice.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Dr. Squid Gin

The Pocketful of Stones Distillery in Penzance has crafted using this gin using genuine squid ink! It’s an ingredient that’s become very popular in cuisine, so it’s no surprise to see it enter the world of gin. You won’t be surprised to learn that this is a rather savoury expression, with a coastal feeling to it along with a few touches of citrus and spice. It also comes in a charming copper flask, engraved with all sorts of flora and fauna and what looks like the eponymous Dr. Squid on the label. Oh, and your drink will also turn bright pink if you mix in some tonic water. How cool is that!

What does it taste like?:

Savoury kitchen herbs, fresh lemon zest, meadowsweet, woody juniper, a touch of sea breeze, spring blossom and pine.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Bareksten Gin 

If you’ve ever wanted to taste Norway in a glass (admit it, you definitely want to) then your best bet is to try Bareksten Gin. The botanical list for this one goes on and on. There’s juniper, coriander, blueberries, grains of paradise, fennel, rose hips, lime peel, rose flowers, cinnamon, caraway, cardamom, angelica, lemon and orange peel, orris, rhubarb, aniseed, nutmeg, red clover, lavender, chamomile, mint arnica flowers, elderflowers, lingonberries… Creator Stig Bareksten even uses a botanical GPS marker for each of the ingredients that are foraged.

What does it taste like?:

Earthy and oaky, with a bright hint of caraway shining through.

gins with wonderfully unusual botanicals

Moonshot Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

That Boutique-y Gin Company’s space-age sensation doesn’t feature many botanicals you’ll be unfamiliar with, but it is the only gin we know that was made solely with botanicals that have been sent to space! Juniper, coriander, cubeb pepper, fresh lemon peel, chamomile flowers, cardamom, dried bitter orange peel, cinnamon, liquorice root, angelica and moon rock from a lunar meteorite (!) were all sent into the stratosphere at an altitude of at least 20km where they were exposed to extremely low pressures before being bottled.

What does it taste like?: 

Candied peels, starfruit, warming juniper, lemon thyme, cassia, black pepper, lemon sherbet, coriander seed, ginger beer and grapefruit.

 

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The land of fire and ice: Icelandic spirits part one

From dramatic glacier-cut fjords to lunar-like lava fields, cascading waterfalls to black sand beaches, Iceland’s surreal and mesmerising landscapes have been shaped by the forces of nature over millions of…

From dramatic glacier-cut fjords to lunar-like lava fields, cascading waterfalls to black sand beaches, Iceland’s surreal and mesmerising landscapes have been shaped by the forces of nature over millions of years, all the while remaining relatively untouched. In the first instalment of a two-part series, we explore how the country’s natural resources and Viking history have shaped the Icelandic approach to making spirits…

Located in the tiny fishing village of Borgarnes – approximately 75km north of capital city Reykjavík – William Grant & Sons-owned Reyka fired up its stills for the first time in 2005, becoming Iceland’s first (legal) distillery in the process. It was shortly followed by 64°Reykjavik Distillery, a family-owned operation in the town of Hafnarfjörður, around five miles south of the capital. Then came Foss Distillery, in a town called Kópavogur, which lies immediately south of Reykjavík. It was co-founded by chef Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, who also co-owns Dill, the first restaurant in Iceland to be awarded a Michelin star.

While spirits were being produced in Iceland prior to Reyka, they were focused on “blending rather than distilling,” explains Thorfinnur Guttormsson, sales manager at Foss Distillery (one of just three employees). “Today, Iceland has six distilleries and quite a few producers that are focusing on blending spirits. At the end of the year, there is a massive distillery being built in Sauðárkrókur where the focus is on making ethanol from whey. Once that is up and running, an estimate of 1.3 million litres of neutral grain spirit will be in local production. Very exciting stuff.”

Most stories concerning the nation’s distilling history begin with Prohibition, which came into effect between 1915 and 1989. But in order to fully understand the history of distilling in Iceland, “we have to look way back into Iceland’s rich Norse history,” says Fabiano Latham, brand ambassador for Reyka Vodka. “Iceland was settled in the late ninth century by the Vikings. In 1262, Icelanders became subjects of the king of Norway, and then in 1397, the union between the Nordic countries put Iceland under the Danish crown.”

Icelandic spirits

Fabiano Latham is the brand ambassador for Reyka, Iceland’s first legal distillery

Malt and honey were freely traded between Scandinavia and Iceland, Latham continues, and Icelanders could make their own mead, and occasionally beer. “In 1602, the Danish King instituted a trade monopoly – the ‘Einokunarverslun’ in Iceland,” he says. “Only Danish merchants could trade with Iceland, and Icelanders could not trade with anyone else.” Unfortunately, mead, beer, honey and malt took up valuable space on the ships. 

“Spirits, however, took up less space, didn’t spoil, and could be sold for a much higher price – no brainer,” Latham says. “The distillation techniques of the day, known as ‘burning’, meant that the resulting spirits – known as ‘burnt wine’ or ‘brann-vin’ – were often grim. One way to improve the taste was to infuse the spirits with herbs. Even in the harsh climate of Iceland, caraway was widely available, so it was used to flavour the shipments of spirits from Denmark.”

In a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted in favour of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, effective 1 January 1915. The ban was partially lifted in 1922, when “Spanish wines were imported due to pressure from Spain,” says Snorri Jónsson, founder of 64°Reykjavik Distillery. “Spain imported a lot of salted cod from Iceland, hence the ban was lifted.” When it was modified once again to legalise spirits following a national referendum in 1935, the caraway-heavy spirit that once flavoured shipments from Denmark was launched by Iceland’s state-owned alcohol company as Brennivin; a clear, unsweetened schnapps that would become the nation’s signature spirit.

Beer with an alcohol content of more than 2.25% remained off-limits until 1 March 1989, a momentous 74 years after Prohibition came into effect (now celebrated nationally as ‘Beer Day’). The blanket ban on drinking – and making – booze may be a distant memory for most Icelanders, but certain controls still linger. You won’t see any drinks ads in Iceland, since alcohol advertising is illegal. Moreover, you can only buy bottles and cans from one of 46 state-owned off licences, called Vínbúð. 

Icelandic spirits

Iceland: The land of fire and ice

When Led Zeppelin stopped off to play a show in Reykjavík in 1970, frontman Robert Plant was so taken by Iceland’s natural wonders, he penned a song referring to ‘the land of the ice and snow’ with ‘midnight sun, where the hot springs flow’. The band performed it for the first time in concert six days later, and the song – Immigrant Song – went on to be one of their best-known hits. 

It’s easy to see why Iceland made such a bold impression on the singer-songwriter. Home to around 200 volcanoes, one-third of all lava flows on Earth can be found in Iceland, and yet 11 per cent of the country is covered by glaciers – including Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, which is around 1,000 metres thick at its thickest point. This unique combination results in some pretty unique natural features, including hot springs, waterfalls, geysers, icebergs, basalt cliffs, black sand beaches, lava fields, fjords and more. 

Icelanders are pretty good at harnessing all this natural power. Around 85 per cent of the primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from natural renewable sources, says Latham, mainly in the form of geothermal and hydroelectricity. “The geothermal energy is drawn from subterranean volcanoes,” he explains. “Water is pumped into mile-deep boreholes and then flashed into steam due to the intense heat upon re-entry to the surface. The steam powers turbines and the remaining hot water is pumped around Iceland in huge zig-zagging pipes to be used for central heating and melting snow on driveways. The hydroelectricity comes from a handful of the country’s most powerful waterfalls.”

Icelandic spirits

The country’s spring water is ideal for distilling

Iceland’s culture of sustainability is evident across many aspects of Icelandic life, and this extends to the spirits industry. Indeed, every distillery in Iceland uses geothermal steam to heat its stills. “The ‘Icelandic brand’ is very focused on keeping the country clean, unspoilt, natural, green and what have you,” says Birgir Mar Sigurdsson, co-founder of Thoran Distillery, which is based in a town called Hafnarfjordur approximately six miles south of Reykjavík. “So making our spirits with the smallest carbon footprint possible is always a priority.” 

Given that 95 per cent of all drinking water in Iceland comes from springs, the country’s water is ideal for distilling, too. “The water in Iceland is arguably the purest in the world – and when I say pure, I also mean devoid of minerals, due to the time glacial water spends travelling underground through porous ancient lava rocks,” Latham says. “It’s ideal for distillation and bringing spirits down to their required strength, due to mother nature doing all the filtering – rather than having to treat the water at a demineralising plant.” 

This is due to the surface tension of Icelandic water, says Arturo Illán Illán, global brand manager for Martin Miller’s Gin, which uses Icelandic water to reduce its (English distilled) gin to bottling strength. Surface tension refers to “the barrier between air and water, formed on the surface of water by electrically-charged molecules”, he says. The strong surface tension “inhibits the evaporation of the distilled spirit from the water” to make a softer and more complex spirit.

Icelandic spirits

Look out for part two of our spotlight on Icelandic spirits…

“Early experiments blending Martin Miller’s Gin showed dramatic differences between blends using demineralised waters and Icelandic water is drawn straight from source,” Illán Illán says. “The trials using demineralised water lacked the soft mouthfeel of Martin Miller’s Gin and delivered a less complex nose with a more ’ one-dimensional’ aspect where juniper was too dominant. In addition, the ‘burn’ from alcohol was more intense.”

Of course, water is just one aspect of the production process. There’s also the small matter of ingredient sourcing – no mean feat given the country’s wild terrain and challenging weather conditions – from hardy Icelandic barley to hand-foraged berries and herbs. In Iceland’s dazzling and yet extremely delicate ecosystem, only the hardiest plants can thrive, and often in limited quantities, as we’ll explore more in Part Two. This has made Icelanders an extremely resourceful people.

“What I really enjoy in Iceland is that it’s a barren rock,” says Óskar Ericsson, CEO and master distiller at Brunnur Distillery, producer of Himbrimi Gin. “There are so few things that grow here, so you have to make most of what you have. You never have a glut of anything. Maybe fish, but everything else is just scarce. If you find wild strawberries or blueberries or crowberries, or some reindeer moss or some seaweed, you can make great things out of it. But you don’t have a glut. You never do.”

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We took a virtual tour of Warner Distillery

If you can’t make it to a distillery right now, why not let the distillery come to you? A few weeks ago, MoM participated in a virtual gin tasting and…

If you can’t make it to a distillery right now, why not let the distillery come to you? A few weeks ago, MoM participated in a virtual gin tasting and tour hosted by Warner’s Distillery co-founders Tom and Tina Warner on their picturesque Northamptonshire farm. Expect cows, bees, and plenty of gin…

“Seven years, seven months and 18 days ago, we launched one of the first craft distilleries in the world,” says a triumphant Tom Warner, half-yelling into a microphone disguised as a trowel. He and his wife Tina are in the middle of a field on Falls Farm, besieged by cows. “We’re the old guys now – we’ve kind of built the blueprint for what craft is, and we’ve done a lot of firsts for the categories.” 

“Our dream at that point in time was to save the world from mediocre gin,” Tina beams. The cows have been joined by dogs; all are roving in and out of shot. “But now it’s so much more than that, guys. We like to think that we unite and inspire through farm-grown flavour and the wonder of nature. And it’s all about celebrating the natural ingredients, hard graft and just epic passion that go into every bottle of gin that we make.”

It’s a fun introduction to the idyllic countryside farm, which is located in Harrington, a village in the middle of Northamptonshire. The site encompasses six acres of botanical gardens, a 200-year-old stone barn-turned-stillhouse, and, as we’ll find out later, millions of bees. But first, it’s time for a G&T – “the perfect serve of our firstborn, Harrington Dry,” says Tina – made from one of five miniature bottlings we’ve been sent as part of the pre-tour preparations, along with Fever-Tree mixers and a Get Growing Kit comprising wildflower and lemon balm seeds.

Warner Distillery

Meet Warner’s Distillery co-founders Tom and Tina Warner!

“It’s a beautiful gin,” Tom says as he talks us through the serve, which combines Harrington Dry Gin with Indian tonic water and a slice of orange. “It was a different world when we launched the distillery in 2010. I grew up on the farm, went to agricultural college, worked in coffee buying in East Africa, and then imported fruit from all around the world. In 2009, I decided to look at farm diversification and come back to the family farm.”

Two of the farm’s fields are scheduled monuments, having been identified as a former monastic fish pond, and the terraced gardens of a mediaeval manor house. Much like a listed building, there’s very little the Warner family could do with the space. Initially, they were going to buy a perfume still and create essential oils using botanicals grown at the farm but quickly realised distilling would be a far more exciting – though admittedly challenging – proposition. At the time, “it was an industry dominated by global giants,” Tom reflects. “We’re talking about multi-billion-pound international organisations with all the marketing power and sales teams and expertise in the world. But all the brands they owned were absolutely soulless and value-engineered to death. The industry was “wide open for independent producers to come in and put a focus on quality rather than quantity; on passion, on ingredients, on experimentation.”

We press on, over the gate and through to a courtyard that houses the ancient stone barn. A former tack room, garden shed, and animal ‘hospital’ – “if any of the animals got a cold out in the hills, my dad would put them in here to get better,” says Tom – the barn is now home to bespoke copper stills Curiosity and Satisfaction and also functions as a bar for guests to enjoy a post-tour tipple. 

Warner Distillery

The Warner Distillery range

Inside we meet master distiller Lois Gaultier, who proceeds to make a fresh batch of Warner’s Lemon Balm Gin live on camera, right before our eyes. The lemon balm is sourced fresh from the botanical gardens nearby, and harvested and distilled within the hour, along with botanicals lemon verbena, lemon thyme, juniper, coriander seed, lemon peel, angelica root, liquorice, bee pollen, pink peppercorn, grapefruit, cinnamon and lavender. 

For certain flavoured gins in the range, once the team has distilled its chosen botanicals according to the London Dry style, the liquid is reduced from still strength using a technique dubbed ‘the Harrington Process’. “Instead of water, we use fruit juice,” says Gaultier. “For our Rhubarb Gin, our Raspberry Gin, they are cut down with rhubarb juice and raspberry juice. We add a little bit of sugar to balance with the acidity of the juice.”

Of any given gin bottling in the Warner’s range, 99 per cent of the ingredients are from the UK and the remaining one per cent are imported out of necessity, Tina explains. Of the British-grown botanicals, an impressive 25 per cent are hand-picked from one of the farm’s three botanical gardens. “Environmental sustainability is at the heart of everything we do,” she continues, directing viewers to beds of rose, lavender, chamomile, strawberries, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and more in Botanical Garden Two. “We try to be as self-sufficient as possible, and we’re working on that as we go.”

Warner Distillery

In any given gin bottling in the Warner’s range, 99% of the ingredients are from the UK

After a guided tasting of the Lemon Balm Gin, we’re transmitted around one kilometre across the farm to Botanical Garden Three, where Tom walks us through a wealth of botanicals – huge sticks of rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, dandelion, blackcurrant sage, angelica, and lemon thyme, until we reach the elderflower orchard, which is to be the backdrop of the Elderflower Gin tasting. It’s pretty special stuff. Distilled just once a year, there are 300 flowers in each bottle, and all are harvested and distilled within a four-hour period. “At the moment we get all of our elderflower from the hedgerows on the farm,” Tom explains. “We’re growing a special cultivar that has dinner plate-sized heads. This year they’re establishing themselves and we should hopefully start to get harvests from them next summer.”

Our next virtual pit stop is at the apiary, where we meet conservation and sustainability manager Jonny Easter, who is also the beekeeper at the farm. Every bottle of Warner’s Honeybee Gin – our next tasting sample – contains honey collected from the beehives at Falls Farm, as well as from other local beekeepers, equivalent to five percent of the bottle. “In terms of bee effort, that’s a bee flight from here at the farm to Quebec in Canada,” he says. Honey is one of 28 total botanicals used in the recipe, which includes hibiscus, rose petal, blue cornflower, orange peel, fresh lime, fresh ginger, fresh quince, coriander seed and many more.

“Our Honeybee Gin really is a celebration of pollinators because 95 percent of the gin botanicals that we use and grow at the farm are pollinated by bees, with the exception being things like juniper, which is wind-pollinated,” says Jonny. “In each hive, you’ll have up to 60,000 bees and they’re all working away as a very refined unit to control the temperature, humidity, the amount of food that’s coming in, the health of the bees, the laying condition of the queen… It’s really quite complex. Bees in a colony will take different roles when they’re born. They start as nurse bees, and then as they get older, they will go out and forage.”

Warner Distillery

All of the gins are 100% natural and made with “real organic material”, according to Tom Warner

One of the biggest causes of bee decline is a lack of forage, which means food supply. The UK has lost 95 per cent of its flower-rich meadows in the last 100 years, Jonny says. In response, the team has cultivated more than five acres of wildflower meadows at the farm and encourages guests to plant their own (remember those wildflower seeds we were gifted at the beginning?). They also support ongoing conservation initiatives, with bottle sales going towards the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, and more. 

“Hopefully you start to see the feedback loop we’re creating on the farm, which is the relationship between us, the farm, the botanicals that go into our gins, the plants we’re growing that create flavour and biodiversity, which enables lots of pollinators,” says Tom, broadcasting from the distillery’s plant nursery. “It’s not just the insects that we’re creating an area for, but it’s also everything that feeds on those insects, everything that feeds on the things that feed on the insects. It’s a fantastic feedback loop.”

As we continue our virtual foray around the farm – to the distillery, to revisit the Lemon Balm Gin as it runs off the still; to the Tack Room Bar, glittering with Warner’s bottles, to learn about the label – you can’t help but marvel at the homegrown nature of the entire operation. “We like to say that when we’re making gin, we are cooking you dinner every single day,” says Tom. “It’s like inviting you around to our house for a dinner party, that’s how much care and effort and love goes into every single bottle of gin that we produce.”

Warner Distillery

Tasty gin, environmental sustainability and a picturesque farm. Lovely. Thanks for the tour, guys!

The tour draws to a close in Botanical Garden One with a tasting of Rhubarb Gin, which was a ‘world’s first’ in 2013. It was launched as a limited edition bottling made with Queen Victoria’s rhubarb grown on a crown estate, but today Warner’s “no longer use the royal crop, because we need too much,” says Tom. One tonne of rhubarb makes 700 litres of rhubarb juice, which is used to cut the new make to bottle strength.

“No synthetics, no fragrance, no jiggery-pokery, no nasty stuff,” he continues. “All of our gins – and there are very few people in the world that can say this, especially in the flavoured gin sphere – are 100 percent natural. We use real organic material to make everything that we do. It’s a lot bloody harder to do. But it gives you a unique flavour profile that cannot be replicated in a lab.” And let’s face it – it makes for a way better distillery tour, too.

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Five minutes with… Elwyn Gladstone from Hotel Starlino

Today, we talk to the marketing guru behind such brands as Sailor Jerry rum, Hendrick’s and, most recently, Malfy Gin. His latest venture, Hotel Starlino, aims to bring Italian aperitivos…

Today, we talk to the marketing guru behind such brands as Sailor Jerry rum, Hendrick’s and, most recently, Malfy Gin. His latest venture, Hotel Starlino, aims to bring Italian aperitivos to a whole new audience. If anyone can do it, Gladstone can. 

You probably haven’t heard of Elwyn Gladstone but will have drunk something he has worked on. He’s not a distiller or a blender, instead he’s the person who supplied the marketing magic behind brands including Sailor Jerry, Hendrick’s gin and Kraken Rum. He worked in-house at global multinationals before forming his own company  Biggar & Leith which had a notable hit with Malfy Gin which launched in 2017. Last year, he sold the brand to Pernod Ricard. So you could say that Gladstone has the midas touch when it comes to drinks. We were particularly excited, therefore, to talk to him about his latest venture, a range of Italian aperitivos, including a bourbon-cask Vermouth Rosso, an Arancione and a grapefruit-scented Rosé, under the Hotel Starlino brand. All of them share the Gladstone ethos of delicious bright flavours, stylish packaging and an eye for an untapped corner of the market. 

Welcome, Mr Gladstone!

Elwyn Gladstone with Carlo Vergnano from Torino Distillati

Master of Malt: How did you get into the booze business?

Elwyn Gladstone: I worked in Edinburgh in the Oddbins there and they used to do really good single malt programmes and lots of champagne stuff. I got really interested in wine and spirits; I travelled a lot in France and with my dad and learned about wine. I decided after university I would go to UC Davis [wine school of the University of California] and I got a scholarship to go there. And I found it really, really interesting. I actually decided to move back to the UK  – my wife didn’t want to live in California, which perhaps was a mistake but anyway…  Then I went to work for Bulmers Cider, in Hereford, when it was family-owned.

MoM: How did you make the change to spirits?

EG: I went to work for William Grant & Sons in London. And that was the time that we started brands like Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. And my business partner now, is a guy called Mark Teasdale and he was really the one who started up all those brands. He did them in the US, I was based in the UK. It was really interesting: William Grant’s at the time was really a Scotch whisky company, they didn’t have anything that wasn’t Scotch. And they really didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t Scotch. So it was a really interesting challenge to both get brands like Hendrick’s Gin going. And what was most interesting about it was actually they worked, which is quite unusual with these new brands. 

MoM: Why did you decide to strike out on your own? 

EG: I went to work for Jose Cuervo, the Tequila company, in the US. And we did a lot of good brands there, like we created one called Kraken Rum. And then after a while I didn’t enjoy it anymore and started my own little company called Biggar & Leith and created a brand called Malfy Gin, from Italy, and grew it really, really well to become a big million bottle brand in a very short space of time and we sold it to Pernod Ricard. 

MoM: Can you just tell me a bit about the idea for Malfy because it was a very strongly-branded gin?

EG: We wanted to do something that was a little bit different to the traditional juniper-heavy gin, there’s so many of those that are really good, it didn’t seem like the world needed another one. We found this really interesting factoid that gin maybe came from Italy originally with monks adding juniper to alcohol, way, way back, on the Amalfi coast. Citrus fruits are really interesting flavour profiles and they fit with the whole gin thing. Strong juniper flavours are possibly the reason that gin was limited in terms of consumer acceptance. Brands like Hendrick’s did a much softer, easier-to-drink profile.  We just thought ‘people love Italian stuff’ and there were no Italian gins at the time. It has a great connection with cocktail culture, Italy and all that kind of thing. The packaging was bright and stood out and very good-looking. And it really caught people’s imagination, we created a brand that took you to the Amalfi Coast. What was interesting to me was it had such international acceptance, we got it into about 90 different countries, Japan and Russia and China and all sorts of places, and that whole Amalfi thing works all over the world. 

Hotel Starlino vermouth

MoM: How did Hotel Starlino come about?

EG: Another category that I think is really interesting is vermouth. Which is sort of the wine equivalent of gin. It’s wine that is infused or flavoured with various different botanicals and herbs. It’s lower in alcohol than gin. The people we work with, that made Malfy, are Torino Distillati, it’s an old distillery and bottler. And we became enormous friends with the family that owns it, the Vergnano Family, and all the people that work there. And they’ve been making vermouth for a long, long time. But people don’t really know what aperitivos and vermouths are. I don’t know whether people understand what Aperol is. But anyway, this nice family was making lots of interesting products, they just weren’t particularly well marketed or nicely presented. And so that’s our expertise: making interesting brands with really nice, easy-to-drink, good high quality liquids and making a story around them that hopefully will interest consumers and grow the category overall. 

MoM: So how do you think yours are different from other vermouths or aperitivos on the market?

EG: In the US most people drink red vermouth as a cocktail mixer with bourbon. And so we came up with the idea finishing the red product in bourbon barrels. And then in terms of the pink and the orange, we really wanted to make something very friendly. I think some might critique Aperol as being a little chemically, a little overdone perhaps, a bit mass-market. So we wanted to try and do something that was an easier flavour profile but still had that interesting bitter and sweet combination. It has pink grapefruit in it which is a very popular flavour at the moment and it’s something that grows a lot in Italy. We created an interesting brand story with nice modern-looking packaging but it also has traditional hues in it as well. I come back to this thing like we did with Malfy Gin, the world doesn’t need another very traditional bitter-style aperitivo. So again, we try and do stuff that has the heritage but is much more approachable, interesting-tasting and drinkable.

Beppe Ronco and Carlo Vergnano in the blending room

MoM: How long did it take you and who was it who worked on the recipes?

EG: We do everything with Torino Distillati. There’s a guy there called Beppe Ronco and a very nice man called Denis Muni. They have a lab and they have all various botanicals and they have lots of miniature stills and access to all different types of wine and stuff. It took maybe three or four months of experimenting with various different flavour profiles and different blends and mixes. And the feedback we’re getting at the moment is people seem to like them, they’re pretty well-accepted. 

MoM: We hear a lot about vermouths and aperitivos being the next big thing. What do you think about that?

EG: I think the drinks industry is guilty of saying everything is the next big thing: mezcal, Islay whisky and absinthe, that was a classic one that was going to be the next big thing! I think they [aperitivos] hit a lot of good spots which is that they are lower in alcohol compared to spirits, but they look like spirits. This is just me pontificating but people have bottles of Martini in their drinks cabinet, so they don’t think of those things as wine. They think of them more as a spirits-type product. They last once you open them for a while. And I was reading a very interesting article about Treasury Wine Estates and their belief is that these sort of hybrid wine products, of instance one they were talking about is red wine with coffee in it sounds bad, don’t judge! I do think there is something interesting in terms of categories blurring more and more. And I do think the aperitivo ‘moment’ in places like the UK and in France and in Germany is a real thing because consumers go on vacation, they go to Italy or they go somewhere and they really do have that great moment of a pre-dinner drink. A very refreshing drink. And that’s the other thing, I think it sounds a bit stupid but global warming, as things get hotter and hotter, I think people do want more and more refreshing drinks. And I think they fit into that very well because you can have a decent glass of it and not fall over. 

Bright vivid flavours and strong branding

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink them in cocktails or just very simple with tonic or soda?

EG: I think really simple. I think with soda is great. Tonic is delicious if it’s good tonic. And then the spritz with some prosecco or… we launched a range of sparkling Moscato, with the same branding, to give the consumer an idea of what to do with it. 

MoM: What else are you working on?

EG: We have a big number of different brands. We’ve got our cherries; we’ve got an amaro, that we’re going to bring out, that we think is also a really interesting category. It’s made with traditional amaro botanicals etc. but then we distill cherries around it, again, to give it a slightly brighter, easier to drink, less bitter flavour. We’ve got a very fun blended malt brand that we’re bringing out, all around Gladstone, my ancestor, who is receiving some not-so-good press recently! My great-great-grandfather was Gladstone and my mum and dad live in his old house. He was the one in 1860 who signed the Spirits Act which allowed blending of Scotch whiskies together. And his relatives had all been in the Scotch whisky trade as well, back in the 1780s and later. Then we have an interesting Tequila project that we’re working on, which is really fun and cool, called Butterfly Cannon. And some of them have some flavour in them, no one’s cracked flavoured Tequila really, and I think that’s an interesting opportunity to try and bring people into the category.

MoM: What are the rules on flavouring Tequila, can you still call it ‘Tequila’?

EG: There is no such thing as ‘flavoured Tequila’ but you can communicate on the packaging that it has Tequila in it. So that’s a fun one and Tequila is obviously very fancy at the moment. We have a few new brands coming out and we’ll kind of roll them out one-by-one and we’re trying to create a portfolio of interesting brands and do them in categories that are perhaps a little bit overlooked. I think to say it’s the next big thing is a bit pompous but overlooked things that are interesting but perhaps haven’t had the magic unlocked yet. 

The Hotel Starlino is available from Master of Malt. If you’re looking for some cocktail inspiration, go to the website.

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The joy of distillery pets

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and…

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and botanical snacks with the proud owners of several distillery pets

Once upon a time, distilleries would employ mousers fearless, often semi-feral cats with the job of keeping the mice out of the barley. These days, all kinds of creatures can be found sleeping by warm stills, entertaining visitors or patrolling the grounds. Some even have their own Instagram accounts. MoM found five distillers willing to share the stories of their four-legged or feathered friends.

Darcy from the Cambridge Distillery, England

You could say that Darcy is the brains behind the entire operation: it was walks with her owners, (Cambridge Distillery founders) William and Lucy Lowe, through Grantchester Meadows that sparked the idea for the business. “There wouldn’t be a Cambridge Distillery without Darcy,” explains Will. “We made the decision to start making gin whilst out on a walk with her and it was out on a walk that we discovered the amazing array of botanicals that surround us, which inspired us to create the world’s first truly seasonal gin. Everything went from there.”

Darcy the black lab even has her favourite botanicals, including nettles, apple and pear blossom, blackberries and blackcurrants. She can usually be found overseeing operations by following the sunny spots around the distillery and then cooling off with a swim in the river Cam, which flows behind the site. It really is a dog’s life. 

Chicken from FEW Spirits, Chicago, Illinois

Don’t be fooled by the name, chicken is a dog. Though he is also a bit of a chicken: “He is a very good boy but he hates the noise and smells at the distillery,” says FEW founder and Chicken’s human, Paul Hletko. “It’s a very scary place for him and he just wants to sit in my lap when he’s there.” Chicken enjoys hanging out with his brother, Elvis, and naturally the pair have their own Insta – @chicken_and_elvis (chicken is the foreground above, Elvis behind).

The big question is how did the family end up with a dog called Chicken? “I have three kids, two wanted a dog. One wanted a chicken. She’s still mad and thinks she got ripped off,” explains Hletko. Elvis’s name choice was a bit more conventional – he came home when Hlekto’s oldest child was in a big Elvis Presley phase. “My wife and I wanted Egbert (or Egg, for short) to answer the ‘chicken/egg which came first’ question forever, but we lost to the kids.

“Elvis is also a very good boy.” MoM wonders how often he leaves the building…

Ginny from Manifest Distilling, Jacksonville, Florida 

Ginny the cat walked into the distillery right off the street. “She hid in our ‘high-proof room’ for the first couple days before she realised that we were her friends,” says general manager Jim Webb. 

It wasn’t a great start for Manifest’s new feline friend – she needed a trip to the vet to get her jabs as well as get rid of what Webb describes as “FLEAS FROM HELLFIRE”. They also discovered she had a broken leg, right at the knee, that couldn’t be fixed. Luckily, it healed on its own and restored Ginny with the majesty and mischief of a good distillery cat: “She can climb and jump and set off the motion detector alarm at all hours of the evening and early morning,” says Webb.

In less unusual times, Ginny’s favourite job was to go on tours and meow to get all sorts of attention from new people. Now, though, tours are on hold so Webb and the team have a new full-time job, paying Ginny attention. “She likes finding confined places to nap and currently is in our front-of-house stock closet snuggled up in a case of plastic shot glasses (safely wrapped for their future shooter’s protection),” says Webb. 

Ginny’s also on the ‘gram: @manifesting_ginny

Otis from Badachro Distillery, Scotland

Otis, the long-haired Weimaraner, joined the Badachro menagerie just before lockdown. “We already have two Labradors, Ellis, our old lady (13) and Timo (10) who were only mildly amused – to be honest, we think Ellis wanted to give him back straight away, but Timo quite enjoys having a little brother to go out for walks with,” says Badachro co-founder Vanessa Quinn.

Izzy the cat “tolerates” Otis, while the chickens are having to take a temporary break from being free range and the ponies believe him to be crazy. “One of the highlights of Otis’s life at the distillery are the delivery drivers and the posties, always prepared with a dog biscuit. They are more than welcome and he will let us know when they come up the drive,” says Quinn.

As lockdown life eases, visitors have started to return to the distillery and many are keen to meet Otis, who has become a hit on the Badachro Insta (@badachrodistillery).

Otis is nearly six months old now and Quinn says he might be trained as a gun dog, though he hasn’t yet decided what he wants to be when he grows up.

Rowan from Lux Row Distillers, Bardstown, Kentucky

Most distilleries have cats or dogs. Rowan, however, is a peacock. In fact, Lux Row inherited a handful of peacocks from the property’s former owners, the Ballard family. When the distillery opened in 2018, the folk at Lux Row say there were about half a dozen birds. “Now we’ve got at least 17 four new babies this year.”

While most are tricky to tell apart, Rowan boasts the longest tail feathers and so the ambassadors named him after a prominent historical Bardstown figure, who also gives his name to the road on which the distillery is located. Handy. Rowan enjoys strutting his stuff for the visitors and allows himself to be photographed after all, every side is his best side.

“No other distillery on the Bourbon Trail (that we know of) has such unique animals,” the team at Lux says. Mr Ballard still comes to feed the peacocks two or three times a week, but every now and then they may snack on some spilled leftover grain.

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