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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Gin

Top ten: Gins under £30

Want to treat yourself to some juniper-based deliciousness without shelling out your savings? That’s exactly why we’ve rounded up our ten favourite gins that won’t put a dent in your…

Want to treat yourself to some juniper-based deliciousness without shelling out your savings? That’s exactly why we’ve rounded up our ten favourite gins that won’t put a dent in your bank account, because they’re all under £30! 

The world of gin is an ever-growing category, and if you end up feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of juniper-based opportunities there are to try, we don’t blame you. If you’re feeling snazzy sometimes you might fancy a gin distilled with ants or some rare African botanicals, but let’s be honest – most of the time you just want a tasty G&T that doesn’t break the bank. 

We’ve gathered up our top 10 affordable bottlings that don’t skip out on flavour, so here’s hoping you’ll find a new favourite too! If you thought affordable means boring, think again… 

Favourite gins

Moonshot Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company) 

Deets: Though most of the botanicals within That Boutique-y Gin Company’s Moonshot Gin are pretty classic, the fact that each and every one of them have been sent to space certainly isn’t! Among the likes of juniper, citrus peels, chamomile and cardamom, the Boutique-y folks even included actual moon rock from a lunar meteorite. As you do, eh? The result is a fairly traditional flavour profile with a stellar (!) back story.

What does it taste like? Lemon sherbet and peel, followed by spicy ginger, bitter citrus and peppery juniper. 

Favourite gins

LoneWolf Cactus & Lime Gin 

Deets: BrewDog (yes, the beer people!) has made quite the splash with its spirits line, which is no surprise seeing as it’s releasing expressions like this LoneWolf Cactus & Lime Gin. Alongside a base of the original LoneWolf Gin you’ll find makrut lime and Queen of the Night, a fragrant cactus flower that gets its name because it only appears after dark. Talk about unusual botanicals! One for a dose of tropical, zesty deliciousness.

What does it taste like? Zingy lime citrus and sweeter lychee, with watermelon and piney juniper in support.

 Favourite gins

Kyrö Gin

Deets: A wonderful gin all the way from Finland’s Kyrö, known for its love of rye. Naturally, this gin is distilled from rye too, along with meadowsweet, citrus, cumin and juniper. A spicy, leafy and herbal expression which even won the IWSC Gin & Tonic Trophy! Get the tonic out, folks. 

What does it taste like? Floral violet, juniper and spicy rye, with hints of almond, citrus and mint. 

Favourite gins

Roku Gin

Deets: Suntory took its inspiration from Japan’s four seasons for its very first gin, Roku Gin! Six Japanese botanicals give us a whistle-stop tour of the four seasons, with sakura leaf and sakura flower evoking springtime, summery sencha tea and gyokuro tea, sansho pepper for autumn and yuzu peel for winter. If you forget all that, fear not – the botanicals are engraved on the beautiful bottle to remind you! 

What does it taste like? Peppery undertones build alongside fresh florals, tangy citrus and fruity sweetness, backed up by earthier notes. 

Favourite gins

Flavoursmiths Pink Grapefruit Gin

Deets: A blushing gin from the aptly-named Flavoursmiths, harnessing the zesty power of pink grapefruit! Unlike many pink gins, this is far from sickly sweet. There’s a good dose of juniper in here too, so it’ll do well to put a zesty twist on classic gin cocktails – though you can’t go wrong with a simple G&T along with a generous wedge of the eponymous citrus.

What does it taste like? A big burst of vibrant grapefruit, supported by piney juniper and subtle woody, peppery spices. 

Favourite gins

Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin

Deets: Though this Seaweed Gin hails from the Welsh Dà Mhìle Distillery, the gin itself has been infused with seaweed from the Newquay coast for three weeks – cue a subtle green hue and a glorious coastal character! It’s not all about the savoury notes, with citrus, menthol and spice bringing balance. If you’ve ever thought about pairing gin with food, crack out the seafood for this one (or even oysters if you’re feeling super adventurous).

What does it taste like? A dash of sea salt alongside fresh mint and lemon peel, with refreshing juniper and distinctive eucalyptus. 

Favourite gins

McQueen Smokey Chilli Gin

Deets: This unique Smokey Chilli Gin is part of the McQueen range, with Chipotle and smoked chilli at its core. What else goes with those two spicy botanicals? Oh yeah, lime, and that’s in there too! We could see this making some sort of intriguing gin-based twist on a Margarita…

What does it taste like? A wisp of smoke leads into zesty lime, with chilli heat building throughout alongside woody juniper.

 Favourite gins

Jaffa Cake Gin

Deets: We bet you haven’t seen anything like Jaffa Cake Gin before, distilled with real, no-foolin’ Jaffa cakes, along with cocoa, oranges and fresh orange peel! This is full strength, so it’s not sickly sweet and is distinctly a gin, with juniper coming through among the unmistakable… Biscuit? Cake? Let’s not get into that. Trust us when we say it makes the best Negroni you’ve ever tasted.

What does it taste like? Unmistakable Jaffa cakes, with hallmark rich chocolate and zesty orange, all backed up by a good piney juniper tang. 

Favourite gins

Boë Passion Gin

Deets: Passion fruit is a pretty distinctive flavour, and this Passion Gin from Scotland’s Boë has bottled up all of that tangy, tropical goodness. Fresh passion fruit is the star here alongside orange and all of your classic herbaceous gin botanicals. Plus, the colour ought to make for some fantastic eye-catching cocktails! 

What does it taste like? Puckering passion fruit and sweeter orange, with herby juniper and a dash of menthol. 

Favourite gins

Hayman’s Sloe Gin

Deets: Perfect as we descend into the cooler months, Hayman’s Sloe Gin is a rather traditional tipple. It’s made with wild-foraged English sloe berries, which are steeped in the distillery’s own London dry gin for three to four months before it’s blended with natural sugar. The result is a deliciously mixable, bittersweet and fruity gin!

What does it taste like? Reminiscent of Bakewell tart, with ground almond, sour cherry and ripe plum, all backed up by juniper.

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The story behind Northwest Passage Expedition Gin

A team of ocean explorers is hoping to become the first to row the Northwest Passage – the treacherous Arctic route that links the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. To…

A team of ocean explorers is hoping to become the first to row the Northwest Passage – the treacherous Arctic route that links the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. To raise money for the historic endeavour, known as the world’s Last Great First, they’ve created a one-of-a-kind gin in collaboration with Orkney Distillery. We spoke to crew member Jack Hopkins to find out more about the record-breaking voyage…

The European history of the Northwest Passage began in the 15th century; the goal was to find a direct route to China that bypassed the Silk Road. For hundreds of years, western explorers braved the ice-bound passage to find a trade route to Asia, eventually abandoning the endeavour when the brutal conditions made it impossible to continue. “It reads like a who’s who of famous explorers,” says Hopkins, “you had Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Martin Frobisher, Sir Francis Drake, Captain Cook…”,

By the 1800s, he says, “the value of a trade link through the Northwest Passage to China is no longer really there, because sufficiently fast and reliable travel had been established,” and the challenging route instead became “a symbol of prestige”. Victorian explorers across the globe set out to chart the passage, most famously Sir John Franklin, whose voyage ended with icebound ships, pneumonia, and cannibalism. 

As Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company began mapping out the surrounding areas, people started to question whether the route even existed at all. Then, in the 1860s, Orcadian explorer Dr John Rae identified a sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific hiking overland. The Northwest Passage was finally traversed in the following century by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who navigated from Greenland to Alaska over the course of three years between 1903 and 1906.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!

“There was a fundamental shift in the culture of exploration,” explains Hopkins. “Prior to the 1900s, indigenous people were treated in an adversarial manner – as though they couldn’t provide any value to sophisticated Europeans.” Roald Amundsen’s expedition was successful because he learned Arctic survival skills from the local Netsilik Inuits. “He incorporated their approaches, and learned to hunt, for example, in the Inuit way,” says Hopkins. 

Fast-forward more than 100 years, and records are set to be broken once more. A team of 15 rowers will attempt to navigate the 2300m Arctic route by human power alone, embarking from Baffin Island – the most northerly point of the expedition – and rowing in continuous shifts (three hours on, two hours off) for around two months in perpetual half-light. It’s incredibly tough going by anyone’s standards.

“You get off shift, allow a 15-minute period to have some grub, have a drink and wash yourself with wet wipes,” says Hopkins. “You go and have a nap for an hour and a half, which is the minimum amount of time necessary for a REM sleep cycle, and wake up with 15 minutes left to go – you might go to the toilet or brush your teeth. And then you get on the oars and row for two hours. 

“After you’ve finished rowing, you’re on ice watch for an hour,” Hopkins continues. “You stand near the bow of the boat and make sure we don’t run into any ice, because there’s going to be a lot of it.”  After you’ve done the ice watch, you’re free to go and sleep again. It’s a gruelling schedule, he says, made all the more challenging by the bitter cold, hostile wildlife – hungry polar bears, for one – and psychological demands. “It’s unrelenting, there’s no days off.”

Will they look quite so friendly after three months together in a rowing boat?

You might wonder why anyone would choose to embark upon such a trip. The reasons are as varied as the people that are doing it, says Hopkins. “Some people are motivated by the tradition of exploration – for example, we have a couple of people on the crew whose ancestors were explorers.” [Crew member] David Fletts’ ancestor was with John Rae when the Northwest Passage was geographically discovered, while the father of fellow shipmate Mark Agnew mapped out Greenland and South America.  

For Hopkins, the expedition offers the opportunity to make a statement about the changing environment in the Arctic. The only reason this once impassable route has become marginally possible during July through September is due to retreating levels of sea ice. “This is the expedition that we shouldn’t be able to do,” he says. “And consequently, if we are able to get a row boat through the Northwest Passage, then it’s hopefully evidence to everyone that something has gone terribly wrong.”

As part of the endeavour, the team will collect data for climate scientists at the Big Blue Ocean Cleanup and New York University along the way – using salinity measurements and microplastic readings to gauge the water quality, and hydroponic listening devices to examine how the wildlife distributions are changing. “We’re going to be interviewing the local communities to try and find out how they’re dealing with the changing environment,” says Hopkins.

Now, with little more than a year until they set sail, the crew has launched Northwest Passage Expedition Gin to fund the expedition, with every penny of profit going towards provisioning the boats and covering the logistics. They partnered with The Orkney Distillery to create the historic bottling and pay tribute to the explorers that came before – specifically local man John Rae, the Hudson’s Bay Company member who discovered the route.

Profits from gin sales go towards this epic journey

“Around 80 percent of the people who became a member of the Hudson’s Bay Company and did all the early exploration work came from Orkney,” says Hopkins. “The ships would travel north from London, stopping in Kirkwall or Stromness to pick up supplies before heading over the Atlantic. And so because of this, there’s a really strong connection between Orcadian history, northern Canada, and the Northwest Passage.”

To link the three together, the gin combines botanicals found on the shores of Canada’s Hudson Bay with those found on the shores of Orkney, including sugar kelp – which brings a mild maritime saltiness to the liquid – angelica archangelica, ramanas rose and burnet rose, plus lemon peel and calamondin. It’s also made from water sourced from the very same spring that supplied the ships of the early explorers.

“It was closed 100 years ago, when the Hudson’s Bay Company stopped sending ships over the Atlantic, but we had it reopened” says Hopkins. “The water in the gin is from the same source that provided water for the ships of luminaries like Captain Cook and Sir John Franklin. Not only are we trying to establish provenance with the history of the Northwest Passage, we’re also trying to write the next chapter of it. Every bottle harks back to the past and propitiates the future.”

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Top ten: Home bar essentials

As we’re once again going to be spending much more time at home because of lockdown, we thought it would be useful to round-up the essentials bottles you need to…

As we’re once again going to be spending much more time at home because of lockdown, we thought it would be useful to round-up the essentials bottles you need to make great drinks without having to step outside your front door.

We don’t know about you, but we got pretty good at cocktails during lockdown earlier this year. We learned how to make syrups and picked up some tips from the pros. Unfortunately, it seems that it is all happening again just as we thought it was safe to venture out to our favourite bar again. We thought it would be helpful, therefore, to round up some of our favourite bottles.

Just add fresh fruit, soda water, sugar and bitters (Angostura and orange will do), and you’ve got everything you need to make dozens of cocktails. Then all you’ll need is some quality barware, the ultimate home bar book (plug! plug!), and now you can turn your living room into the bar of your dreams. Then dim the lights a bit, put some music on and voila, swanky bar city!

Home bar essentials

Bathtub Gin

Gin is the most important spirit for cocktails. The Martini, the Martinez and the Negroni are all based on gin. We’re huge fans of Bathtub gin because it delivers a great wack of juniper which is what you need but it’s also complex with a great mouthfeel. It’s the consummate mixer but it’s also pretty delicious sipped on its own.

Home bar essentials

Four Roses Small Batch bourbon

After gin, good American whiskey is the next most used spirit in the cocktail repertoire. Most people choose bourbon though many bartenders prefer rye. Small Roses Small Batch solves this conundrum because it has a high rye content giving it masses of spice alongside the sweeter flavour. Also superb value.

Home bar essentials

Dolin Dry vermouth

You’ve got to have dry vermouth and this classic French brand ticks all the boxes for us. It’s delicately flavoured and low in sugar and harmonises beautifully with gin in particular. It’s also extremely handy to have around the kitchen to add a splash to sauces.

Home bar essentials

Martini Speciale Riserva Rubino vermouth

The standard Martini Rosso is a great all-arounder but we think it’s worth spending the extra money on this. It’s much subtler than the standard bottling and unusually is made with red wine from Piedmont giving it a delicious tang. It makes the best Gin & It.

Home bar essentials

Havana Club 3 year old rum

In order to make rum-based classics like the Daiquiri, Mai Tai and Zombie, you’ll need at least two rums in your cupboard. For the white, we’re very taken with Havana Club’s 3 year old. It’s packed full of character but also mixes with pretty much everything. No home bar should be without it.

Home bar essentials

Dunderhead Rum

This is a great dark blended rum made with a good dollop of high ester Jamaican pot still spirit in it. If you love big funky flavours of banana, pineapple and toffee, then this is the rum for you. It’s a superb mixer providing a bass note of funk to a wide variety of cocktails but especially the Mai Tai.

Home bar essentials

Hankey Bannister Scotch whisky

The name might sound like something an Aberdonian builder would say when he’s inspecting your staircase, but this is actually one of the nicest blended Scotch whiskies around. It’s all about sweet honey, heather and toffee flavours making it a great base for cocktails like the Rob Roy or Rusty Nail. 

Home bar essentials

Janneau VSOP Armagnac

In the olden days, it was brandy and not bourbon that was the basis of most cocktails, so if you want to make an old-timey Sazerac, a Brandy Sour or a Vieux Carre, then you’ll need a decent bottle. This Armagnac with its sweet grapey flavours and nutty complexity is a real find and a steal at the price. 

Home bar essentials

Kavka Vodka

Vodka doesn’t have to be boring and tasteless. This delicious little number from Poland is made with rye and wheat and contains a tiny proportion of strongly-flavoured fruit brandies. These give it a depth of flavour rare in this category. Makes one of the best vodka Martinis we have ever had.

Home bar essentials


And finally, no home bar is complete without a bottle of the red stuff. It’s an essential ingredient in the Negroni and the Americano. It’s delicious with soda water and it’s a great way of perking up a mediocre bottle of white, rose or fizz. All hail the king of the bitter drinks!

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Halloween booooos!

Don’t worry if you can’t hit the town this Halloween, we’ve rounded up five of the spookiest cocktails to get you in the spirit of things (sorry!) at home. You could…

Don’t worry if you can’t hit the town this Halloween, we’ve rounded up five of the spookiest cocktails to get you in the spirit of things (sorry!) at home. You could even serve them in a pumpkin! How scary would that be? 

It looks like it’s going to be a night-in for most of us on the 31 October this year. Never mind trick or treat, we’ve got some delicious Halloween-themed cocktails you can make at home this year. So put down the mulling syrup and pick up your shaker for some easy to make cocktails, all perfect served in the dark with a scary movie! 

And whatever cocktail you plan to create on Halloween night, one way to up your mixology game is to exchange your glass for a pumpkin bowl! To make, simply grab a small pumpkin and carefully chop around the top. Next, remove all of the flesh from inside. Finally, give the whole pumpkin a good rinse and you’re ready to go! Fill it with the cocktail of your choice – make sure you’ve got yourself a straw or things can get rather messy… Oh and don’t carve a face out of it first or you’ll have booze all over your costume. 

Halloween cocktails

Jaisalmer Pumpkin Cocktail 

This warming Spiced Pumpkin Cocktail was made using Jaislamer’s Indian craft Gin. It’s deliciously sweet and sour, and scarily simple to make! 

50ml Jaisalmer Gin
25ml Monin Pumpkin Spice syrup
20ml lemon juice
Cinnamon sticks to garnish 

Add all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake well. Then double strain into a Martini glass and garnish with cinnamon sticks for an extra whack of warming spice! 

Halloween cocktails

Bathtub Blackberry Fizz

This delicious cocktail made with Bathtub Gin is light, fruity and fresh, and with a good muddle the blackberries give you all the right colours for Halloween! Chances are you’ve already got everything you need to make it too! 

50ml Bathtub Gin
Fever Tree tonic water
Orange slice and more blackberries to garnish

Grab yourself five of the blackberries and muddle at the bottom of a Highball glass. Next, fill half the glass tonic water and stir. Fill your glass with ice and top with tonic water. Garnish with more blackberries and an orange slice. 

Halloween cocktails

Red or Dead

This is a great smoky sipper from Cut Smoked Rum, a smoked three year old Jamaican rum infused with coffee. Plus, those distinct layers of cranberry juice and soda give it a ghoulish and gory appearance! 

25ml Cut Smoked Rum
100ml cranberry juice
Dash of soda water
3 lime wedges 

Start by filling a tumbler halfway with ice. Next, add the cranberry juice and then carefully pour on the soda to ensure a clear layer. Follow with the Cut Smoked Rum, add the lime wedges and serve. Give it a stir before drinking.

Halloween cocktails

The Witch Doctor 

If you’re looking for a cocktail that makes you go “Ooh ee ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang” Cazcabel has got you covered. Cazcabel Honey, a Tequila-based honey liqueur, adds a lovely sweetness to this cocktail, a little more complex in terms of ingredients for this one, but it is called the Witch Doctor after all! 

20ml Honey Cazcabel 
20ml Smokehead Islay single malt
20ml pineapple juice
25ml lime juice
15ml Orgeat syrup 
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters 

Fill a Nick and Nora glass with ice to chill. Place all of your ingredients into a shaker, and shake. Remove ice from your Nick and Nora glass and strain the mix into it. Garnish with a dried orange wheel and a sprig of fresh rosemary. 

Halloween cocktails

Bloody Rob Roy

A smoky version of the classic Rob Roy, just in case you were unsure what a Scottish outlaw had to do with Halloween… Anyway outlaws aside, this cocktail is made using Ardbeg’s new Wee Beastie, one incredibly smoky dram, with nothing really ‘wee’ in its flavour… Expect smoke and lots of it! 

50ml Ardbeg Wee Beastie
20ml Gonzalez Byass La Copa sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Orange twist and cherry to garnish

Add your ice and all of your liquid ingredients into a mixing glass, and stir until mixture is suitably diluted to your taste. Strain into your favourite coupe glass, garnish and indulge in a Bloody (smoky) Rob Roy!

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Master of Malt visits… The Lakes Distillery

Just before lockdown we squeezed in one last trip to the stunning Lakes Distillery – although we didn’t know it was going to be the last. Luckily we captured our…

Just before lockdown we squeezed in one last trip to the stunning Lakes Distillery – although we didn’t know it was going to be the last. Luckily we captured our wonderful time through the magic of video, so you can enjoy it too!

From the glorious landscapes to the wonders of the whisky studio, Lakes whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi showed us all the sites when we made our way up to Cumbria to take a nose around the distillery. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about sherry casks or the burgeoning English whisky category, or both at the same time, then you’re in the right place.

If you like words as well as videos, then you can check out our blog on what we learned at the distillery here!

First up, we chat with Gandhi about how he ended up in the whisky business, having started in the finance industry!

In Part 2 of our interview with Gandhi, we learn more about his unique holistic whisky making process and get an insight into a day in the life of The Lakes whisky maker.

Time for a sneak peek into each of the production processes at The Lakes, including a special insight into the importance of fermentation, with Gandhi as our guide.

Let’s talk all things cask maturation! It’s time to learn about the brilliance of sherry casks and different types of oak.

Blending is a huge part of Gandhi’s process, and here in his shiny whisky studio he explains about how blending whisky is a lot like art.

Tasting time! First up is Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.3, tasted by the whisky maker himself.

Gandhi tastes us through The ONE Signature Blend, taking us through how the Lakes own single malt works alongside Scotch grain and malt whiskies.

Time for some juniper, as Gandhi tastes and talks us through why The Lakes Classic Gin is indeed a classic.

Last, but certainly not least, The Lakes Pink Grapefruit Gin tasted by Gandhi, including his perfect serve.

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How to get the best out of overproof spirits

From barrel proof bourbon to navy strength gin, it’s hard to know how – and when – to use punchy overproof spirits in cocktails and mixed drinks. Here, we explain the…

From barrel proof bourbon to navy strength gin, it’s hard to know how – and when – to use punchy overproof spirits in cocktails and mixed drinks. Here, we explain the different ways you can incorporate these high-octane sippers into your cocktail repertoire without overpowering your palate (or doing yourself a mischief)…

Before we get into the spirits, let’s tackle the etymology of overproof. The term was coined in the 18th century, when sailors would mix their spirits with gunpowder and light it with a match. If the booze caught alight and burned steadily, it was ‘proof’ the spirit was of adequate strength and hadn’t been watered down. They were often paid partially in alcohol rations, and after all, no one likes being short-changed. 100% proof corresponds to around 57% ABV in new money.

We may no longer feel the need to set our spirits on fire before accepting a booze delivery, to the relief of postmen and women everywhere. But potency pyrotechnics aside, our obsession with ABV remains otherwise unchanged since the 18th century. Whether we’re sipping cask strength Cognac, overproof rum, or navy strength gin – or exploring the emerging no- and low-alcohol category – the potency of booze remains a key talking point among drinkers, distillers and bartenders to this day.

The just-released Highland Park Cask Strength was bottled at a mighty 63.3% ABV

The vast majority of our favourite spirits are diluted with water before they’re bottled, settling somewhere around 40% ABV. This isn’t necessarily a negative – if you have a preference for cask strength Scotch, there’s a solid case for diluting the dram with a touch of water before you drink it – but it does mean boozier bottlings, typically from 50% ABV upwards, are fewer in number. Beyond upping the alcohol content in the bottle, less dilution with water means a greater concentration of esters, fusel oils and other compounds – collectively known as congeners – in the final spirit, which carry through as flavour and complexity.

Not only does a great overproof spirit bring flavour by the bucketload, but it also makes the other flavours in the drink “more concentrated and intense”, says Georgi Radev, owner of London bar Laki Kane. “When you add high-ABV spirit to a cocktail, you are adding more flavour and viscosity to it,” he says. Up to a point, of course. Overproof spirits are notoriously difficult to enjoy neat, and can be extremely challenging to work into short cocktails, “because the high volume alcohol numbs our taste buds, so we can feel only the strength of the alcohol,” he says. “The flavours are there, but we can’t enjoy them.”

However, overproof spirits are perfect for “long drinks with more ingredients using multiple strong syrups,” says Radev, with “Tiki-style tropical cocktails,” being a prime example. For example, the Piña Colada. “Overproof rum makes a perfect Piña Colada,” he says. “The cream balances the high alcohol content. In a normal Piña Colada, the rum is almost undetectable. The main flavours are pineapple and coconut. With overproof rum, it’s a different game.” These kinds of drinks need flavourful spirits to stand out, and they’re one of the few circumstances where such powerful sippers ought to be used as a base.

The Piña Fumada

The Piña Colada tastes even better when made with overproof rum

If you’re set on shorter drinks, though, you don’t necessarily have to steer clear of overproof spirits. You can use such tipples as a modifier by incorporating a little into the body of the recipe, rinsing the glass before you pour, or floating a small amount on top of the finished cocktail. Adding just a few meagre millilitres will turbocharge the flavours in the drink and also add texture, as Radev alluded to earlier when he mentioned viscosity. A higher ABV cuts through citrus and syrups to bring a rich, almost oily mouthfeel to a cocktail that’s near-impossible to replicate with any other ingredient (just ask any lab-weary alcohol-free producer). 

Indeed, the difference a handful of extra ABV percentage points can make, even to the same spirit, is fascinating. “On a trip to Guatemala I was introduced to an aged rum that was 46% ABV, in comparison to its regular counterpart at 40% ABV, and it completely transformed the experience,” says James Shearer, global beverage director for London restaurants Oblix, Zuma and Roka. “In my opinion, a higher ABV is the distiller’s way of perfecting the product for the drinker.”

However, what overproof giveth, poor bar technique taketh away. In exchange for flavour by the bucketload and money-can’t-buy mouthfeel, you have the challenge of adapting your drink to accommodate the extra punchiness. Overproof spirits – especially at the higher end of the ABV spectrum – redefine the character of a cocktail, so it’s not just as simple as subbing your usual gin choice for a Navy strength sipper. You’ll likely need to rethink the proportions of the drink, and potentially your ingredients. For example, if you’re making a Manhattan with barrel proof rye whiskey, choose a robust, powerful vermouth to pair with it and drop the pour size of both.

A Negroni is a great foil for navy strength gin

If you’re stuck for classic recipe recommendations, Shearer recommends balancing navy strength gin in a Negroni, “to bring out the citrus and bitter notes”. Overproof Tequila “can add a slap of flavour to a Zombie,” he says, while high-strength Cognac works well when utilised with overproof rum in a Between the Sheets. Overproof rum shines in a Nuclear Banana Daiquiri or classic Mai Tai, and cask strength whisk(e)y goes down a treat in a Prescription Sazerac.

With a bit of planning, overproof booze is nothing to shy away from, providing you treat it carefully and use a delicate hand. “You need to start working with overproof spirits to get to understand them,” says Radev. “Most people think that overproof is mainly for lighting up cocktails, but it’s so much more than that. Start using it in drinks and you will grow to love it.”

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Cocktail of the Week: The Ramos Gin Fizz

Now that you’ve mastered the Silver Fizz, we’re taking things a step further: creating the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz is a labour of love, requiring graft and grit in equal…

Now that you’ve mastered the Silver Fizz, we’re taking things a step further: creating the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz is a labour of love, requiring graft and grit in equal measure. Get it right, and you’ll be rewarded with a milkshake-like texture and frothy white head. Get it wrong, and you’ll be left with burning elbows and sore biceps. Aaron Wall, co-owner of London bar Homeboy, talks us through the process…

They say that if you want to strike up a conversation with a bartender, you should ask them how they’d make a Ramos Gin Fizz. And if you want to infuriate them, you should order it. While a straightforward drink at heart – the ingredients list isn’t particularly arcane requiring gin, lemon juice, lime juice, simple syrup, orange flower water, egg white, cream, soda water, and depending on who you ask, vanilla essence – the traditional methodology requires time and effort. Lots and lots of effort.

First created by Henry C. Ramos at his bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans, back in 1888, the drink is rumoured to have been shaken with ice for up to 12 minutes – some historical sources claim longer, others reason it was more like five – by an assembly line of 20 or more bartenders known as shaker men. Each would shake for a full minute to emulsify the drink before passing it along to the next employee. The Fizz is served straight up, so all that shaking “adds length to the drink,” Wall explains.

Thankfully, you don’t need a line of shaker men to recreate the Ramos Gin Fizz at home, nor do you need to shake for the best part of a quarter of an hour to get the same effects. “There’s a number of different things you can do to effectively create more dilution,” Wall continues. “You can add a little bit of crushed ice in the shaker if you want, or you can add just a bit more cold soda water when you’re making the drink.”

The Ramos Gin Fizz, it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it

Another time-saving hack involves both dry shaking and wet shaking the ingredients (without the soda water, of course). “Some people debate about which order to do it,” says Wall, who opts to dry shake first. “My logic is, if you do it the opposite way around, you’ll get uneven bubbles in the top of your drink. But if you give it a quick shake without ice to break up the proteins in the egg whites and mix all together, and then shake it really hard for a while with ice, it’s spot on.”

Once you’ve shaken the cocktail for a suitable period of time – a minimum of 30 seconds dry, one minute wet – the next hurdle involves creating that glorious soufflé-like head at the top of the glass. “So highball glass, add two or three fingers of cold soda water, and then fine strain your Ramos on top of it,” says Wall. As you get to the top of the glass, stop. You have to let the head settle for a minute or two, so it sets slightly.” 

Using a straw or a bar spoon, poke a hole in the middle of the top of the head, and steady your hand. “Pour more soda water in the middle, so it goes through the drink and pushes the head up,” he continues. “You should be able to get two fingers above the top of the glass, at least. When you put your straw in the Ramos, it shouldn’t fall over to the side – the drink should be thick enough or foamy enough to hold it in place.”

We told you it was tricky, didn’t we? But persevere, and you won’t just have an Instagrammable tipple. You’ll have a super tasty one, too. “The drink has texture, aromatics, botanicals, a touch of fizz, length,” says Wall. “I suppose it’s like American cream soda. You’ve got a mix of that dairy mouthfeel, but the lemon and soda make it refreshing, and the gin and orange flower water make it aromatic.”

While the Ramos Gin Fizz is recognised as a classic across the globe, the most storied place to order the drink is The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. The venue trademarked the drink name in 1935 and still makes it today, as Wall can attest. “We were a bunch of geeky bartenders delighted to be there to have a Ramos,” he recalls. “This amazing lady made them for us, and she made them so effortlessly, like there was nothing to it.”

Just before she served them, he says, the head on one of them crashed over. Unfazed – and against the protests of Wall and his group, who were happy to enjoy the decapitated drink – she grinned and set about speedily making a new one. “It was her level of professionalism to make sure that everything went out looking absolutely perfect,” he says. “New Orleans is like nowhere else in America, their hospitality is so warm and genuine and fun.”

So, if your Ramos doesn’t quite go to plan on the first, or second, or fourth attempt, don’t sweat it. Just channel a little of that New Orleans energy, smile, and give it another go. Here, Wall shares his recipe for the ultimate Ramos Gin Fizz. 

50ml gin
15ml lime juice
15ml lemon juice
20ml vanilla sugar syrup*
1 egg white
4 dashes orange flower water
30ml double cream
Soda water to top

Chill your glassware and soda water in the fridge, Combine all the ingredients – bar soda water – in a shaker and dry shake for a minimum of 30 seconds. Add cubed ice to the shaker and shake again for a minimum of one minute. Add two or three fingers of soda water to your pre-chilled glass and fine strain the mixture into it. Leave the drink to set for a minute or more, and then poke a hole in the centre using a bar spoon or straw. Slowly add more soda water through the hole until the head of the drink is an inch or more higher than the rim of the glass. Add a straw and serve.

To make the vanilla sugar syrup, combine 1 part caster sugar and 1 part boiling water (1:1).

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How your taxes help small distillers

Ever fancied investing in a small distillery? Well, you might not realise it but you already have. Through various regional development funds, taxpayers’ money has been pouring into the drinks…

Ever fancied investing in a small distillery? Well, you might not realise it but you already have. Through various regional development funds, taxpayers’ money has been pouring into the drinks sector. Ian Buxton takes a closer look at what we are getting for our hard-earned cash.

Do you, in economic terms, favour more of a New Keynesian approach to government expenditure or do you lean towards Ayn Rand’s Objectivist view? Or, to put this in terms more immediately relevant to a drinks blog, do you believe that new distillery start-ups should be funded with taxpayers’ (i.e. yours and mine) money? Perhaps you’ve never thought about it, or perhaps you didn’t know but across the UK many of the new boutique distilleries that have been springing up in recent years have benefited from the largesse of our public sector. 

There are, of course, any number of ways of financing a distillery project. The promoters may be in the fortunate position of having all the necessary capital themselves in which case there’s no need for outside finance. Or they could seek angel investors, or borrow from a bank or other lender, or turn to crowdfunding. That’s been an increasingly popular route: from Burleigh’s Gin to Salcombe Distilling; Cotswolds to Glen Wyvis and Nc’nean to Sliabh Liag examples abound of enterprising entrepreneurs tapping a worldwide and growing community of drinks enthusiasts willing to back new distilling projects. And not just for small beer – some of these projects have raised over £1m from their backers, most of them hoping for a Sipsmith-style payday sometime in the future when the nascent brand attracts the greedy attention of an industry giant seeking some craft credibility.

Nc’nean distillery – you helped pay for this

But there’s another route open to the ambitious promoters of a new business, particularly in Scotland or some of England and Wales’ less prosperous areas. Here the secret is to find the relevant local economic development agency and plead your case for support. Their backing could come in the form of equity (i.e. a share of the business) or more probably a soft loan, outright grant or support for specialist consultants to help develop your business. There’s quite a lot of free money out there if you know where to look and if you don’t, an army of consultants are all too willing to help.

Unlike a venture capitalist, such an agency is not risking its own money. On the contrary, the business enterprise network is funded by the public purse; that’s to say from the taxes, on both income and consumption, which you (hopefully) have been paying, more or less willingly. Most, of course, pays for the schools, hospitals, roads, welfare system, defence and so on that we all rely on but a modest percentage finds its way to the enterprise agency network and a smaller part of that builds distilleries.

So what is the case that they can make for the cash? It’s hardly a capacity argument. The UK has more than adequate production volumes to make all the gin and whisky we need and it would be hard to argue a strategic requirement for making spirits – they’re hardly a coronavirus vaccine, tempting though the thought might be.

No, the magic words that unlock the loot appear to be job creation, tourism or exports – or, better still, a combination of all three. As their name suggests, development agencies are seeking to promote economic regeneration in their local area. Thus the boom in craft spirits and distillery tourism is seen as a lever to create sustainable businesses that attract visitors, creating employment for local people who spend their new wages locally, thus creating more employment in the immediate area. It’s a classic Keynsian multiplier effect and considerable numbers of new distilleries have benefited.

Holyrood Distillery manager Jack Mayo peers into a still

To take a few examples at random, Scottish Enterprise has put funding of various types into Isle of Harris Distillers, Nc’nean, The Clydeside Distillery, Holyrood Distillery and a number of others. The recently opened Annandale Distillery was helped to get off the ground with financial assistance from Historic Scotland and the Scottish Government through a Regional Selective Assistance grant and later enjoyed additional support from Interface, another agency funded by the public sector. As a leading Scottish accountancy practice Johnston Carmichael puts it, the “Scottish Government [is] very supportive, [via] Scotland Food & Drink [and] Scottish Enterprise Investor Ready assistance with business planning costs and other costs”. Their professional recommendation: “Max out on free money!” [That’s an actual quote from Johnston Carmichael.]

But the support doesn’t stop at Hadrian’s Wall. Situated in the Peak District National Park the tiny Forest Distillery were backed by Cheshire East Council’s Economic Development Service and went on to collect two separate double-gold medals at the San Francisco Spirit Awards. And from England’s south coast another example: a beneficiary of the Isle of Wight Rural Fund, HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin recently collected the ‘Best in Category International Navy Strength Gin’ accolade in the American Distilling Institute’s Spirit Competition.

However, it can be tough surviving in the global drinks industry and prospering is even more demanding. So, as it’s our money they’re handing out, let’s hope our civil servants are backing winners. Regardless of where you might place yourself on the political spectrum we can all drink to that!

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New Arrival of the Week: Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

This week we’re looking at only the second core expression to come from a Surrey-based distillery since it opened in 2014 – it’s the shiny new Rare Citrus Gin from…

This week we’re looking at only the second core expression to come from a Surrey-based distillery since it opened in 2014 – it’s the shiny new Rare Citrus Gin from Silent Pool!

Ian McCulloch and James Shelbourne are the creative minds behind Silent Pool, and like all good stories, it began in a local pub. Here the pair met and, to cut a long story short, with McCulloch in marketing and Shelborne in distribution, they started planning their distilling adventure. One thing both firmly agreed on was that they had to find a site with a good story. 

They found just such a site when they came across a dilapidated farm on the Albury Estate. Here chamomile had taken over the decrepit building that became the first still room, so naturally that went into the gin. Elderflower grows in abundance surrounding the site, so that’s in there too, along with linden, lavender and rose. All the florals are what makes their gin unique. 

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

Silent Pool gin by the Silent Pool!

Then there’s the all-important Silent Pool and the myth from which the distillery gets its name. If you don’t already know, the story goes that a young woodcutter’s daughter was pursued by the evil Prince John, and drowned in the pool in a bid to escape, which is said to have been haunted (and silent) ever since. Most brands begin with happier tales, though this one does ground it in a sense of place!

Eerily beautiful and blue, it is true, the top pool is much quieter than the one below, which is bustling with bird life. I (somewhat cynically) ask Tom Hutchings, head of distillery operations, why the pool is really so quiet. “Because it’s haunted, obviously!” he says. Or could it be because it’s just much colder? We’ll never know. With Silent Pool, the story is the brand. The bottle captures it all, with the colour of the pool, the myth and botanicals all reflected in the packaging.

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

Rare citrus galore

But onto Rare Citrus! Excitingly, this is only the distillery’s second core expression since it opened. The clue is in the name for this one. The team came across a brilliant duo over in Portugal, Jean Paul and Anne, who are citrus fanatics and experts. No, really, they have a smashing 500 different varieties of citrus growing in their garden! Monoculture? Never heard of it.

“Having felt that passion and their craft, we always wanted to do a project with them, so this felt like the perfect opportunity,” Hutchings tells me. They have a library of rare fruit, mainly citrus, and these rare varieties make excellent gin botanicals.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: this is not a flavoured gin. All the botanicals are distilled with as much thought as went into the first bottling. Whacking a load of flavourings in wasn’t going to cut it. The team travelled over to Portugal (back when that was a thing you could do) and harvested the fruit themselves, bringing back 12 fruits and a few varieties of leaves. They eventually narrowed down the selection to four. 

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

So, what are these rare citruses? First up is Buddha’s hand. If you haven’t seen one, I urge you to look it up right now! It gives flavours of pure sherbet and effervescent lemon, all those bright top notes. It’s pith all the way through, but the pith is what gives it its sweetness – unlike most citrus fruit. Then there’s Seville orange bringing those classic grassy, bright bitter notes we know and love from our marmalade. 

Next up is natsudaidai. Yeah, we hadn’t heard of that one before either. Hutchings describes this as a cross between pomelo and mandarin, “but with slightly sweeter grapefruit and orange flavours”. Last but not least there’s hirado buntan, which is a type of pomelo, tasting like a sweeter grapefruit with notes of honey. Apparently it’s one of the best citrus fruits Hutchings has ever tasted “with the perfect balance of sweet and sour”. High praise indeed!

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

If you think Rare Citrus would be ace in a Negroni, you’re right…

Each citrus fruit was separately distilled and then blended together. While they wanted to keep the essence of the original gin, the same botanical base just didn’t work with the citrus additions. Lavender is the only remaining floral, and a few different peppers have been added – Timur pepper (which, despite its name, is actually a variety of citrus), wild forest pepper (used in perfume) and the musky voatsiperifery pepper.

Tasting the gin straight, the citrus is complex but not overwhelming. Juniper is still very much there, along with peppery spice. The citrus is evident though – bitter orange and zesty grapefruit appear throughout, lifted by those sherbet notes and grounded by the woody, musky peppers. 

Being a citrus-forward gin, we immediately started thinking about Negronis. To avoid losing the delicate citrus complexity of the gin, the Silent Pool folks have made their own version, tinkering with the ratios of gin, Campari and vermouth to 2:1:1, topped off with a pink grapefruit garnish. We took it upon ourselves to taste-test it and it was fabulous.

You can grab a bottle of Silent Pool Rare Citrus from MoM now!

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LVMH launches premium Cuban rum brand, Eminente 

We were given an early taste of the latest spirit in the Moët Hennessy portfolio. As you might expect from this luxury goods giant, it’s a little bit special. Introducing…

We were given an early taste of the latest spirit in the Moët Hennessy portfolio. As you might expect from this luxury goods giant, it’s a little bit special. Introducing from Cuba, Eminente Reserva Rum…

Moët Hennessy is famous for its Champagne bands such as Ruinart, Krug, and Veuve Clicquot but now, according to brand manager Max Helm, “spirits are the way forward” because there’s not much room to expand in Champagne, both in terms of production and sales. So, joining such illustrious names as Belvedere, Ardbeg and Glenmorangie in the company’s portfolio comes a new rum from Cuba. 

The company had been looking to produce, in Helm’s words “a very versatile style of rum” about three years ago and so some of the team met with the Cuban government which controls the industry. It was serendipitous timing as the state monopoly, Ron Cuba, had been preparing the groundwork for a premium product, laying down stocks of mature rum. “They really wanted to showcase one end of the spectrum. Something you don’t see coming from Cuban rum and to show off their expertise,” Helm said. We’ve heard from other brands that the Cuban government isn’t that easy to deal with but this rum took only three years from inception to bottling. 

It’s maestro ronero Cesar Marti!

It’s a good fit, a Cognac company working with a Spanish rum company as Helm explained: “It’s about working with eau-de-vie, ageing, blending, different barrels sizes.” It was clearly a meeting of minds when the Hennessy team were introduced to the youngest ever Cuban maestro ronero, Cesar Marti. Helm explained: “Cesar Marti is the beating heart behind this. He’s a bit of a prodigy. His family worked in the industry so he understands sugar and soil. But he’s also done a chemical degree so he has expertise in all areas.” His face and signature adorn every bottle. 

The production process behind the rum is fascinating and worth explaining in detail. It all starts with 100% Cuban sugar cane. This is grown slowly and only harvested when it has reached “maximum potential” ie. a high sugar content. Sometimes it is allowed to grow for as much as 22 months. It’s then processed using, as is normal in Cuba, somewhat antiquated machinery. This leaves molasses behind with around 54-64% sugar rather than 45% using more modern equipment so you have “a rich base,” as Helm puts it. It’s then fermented quickly for 25-30 hours to give a clean fruity wash.

Then it’s on to distillation which takes place at various facilities around the island. Rum master Marti produces two spirits: a high strength rum of about 95% ABV, and what is known as an aguardiente of around 75% ABV. A good way to think of these two spirits is the first as a grain whisky providing alcohol and helping bring components together, and the second as the more full-flavoured single malt. The aguardiente is aged for two-to-three years in ex-Scotch and Irish whisky ex-bourbon barrels as the Cuban industry cannot buy casks directly from the US. Marti blends the aged aguardiente with fresh high ABV spirit. This blend is then aged for seven years with increasingly older aguardiente added slowly during this time. According to Helm, there are 14 blending processes overseen by Marti. The result has an age statement of seven years, as in Scotch whisky the age of the youngest component, but contains older spirits. The final blend is about 70% aguardiente, most aged Cuban rum is around 18%. Five grams of sugar per litre is added before bottling.

Where it all begins, in the sugar can fields

The result is an extremely appealing rum (full tasting note below). It’s very much in the classic Spanish style of being clean, fruity and fragrant but also complex, like Santa Teresa from Venezuela. It will appeal in particular to Cognac drinkers. The sweetness is just right. It has a great depth of flavour mixing fresh fruit like cherries with dark chocolate, coffee and tobacco. It’s a great sipper, but also good in simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned, an El Presidente or Palmetto (mixed half and half with vermouth and served straight up with a dash of orange bitters.) 

As you’d expect from LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), the packaging is pretty snazzy too, with the bottle ribbed to resemble the skin of a crocodile and on the label a drawing of the island of Cuba in the form of a crocodile. Helm told me that Cuba has its own unique species of crocodile and the locals refer to the island as ‘el crocodillo.’

Eminente is aimed at spirits lovers rather than rum nerds. Helm thinks it will appeal to whisky drinkers but also to “people who try new gins every week and people during lockdown, who thought I’m not spending money in other ways, I’ll upgrade and spend money on a bottle.” 

Moët Hennessy doesn’t always get it right. The company dipped its toe in rum back in 2005 with a product called 10 Cane which was, oddly enough, an agricole-style rum from Trinidad. It seemed to confused consumers at the time because it was “made for sipping but the consumer preference in the US was for mixing,” Helm told me. He also joked that it didn’t taste good mixed with coke which was how most Americans drank their rum. 10 Cane flopped but the market globally has become a lot more sophisticated since then and Eminente is clearly a much better thought-out proposition. Also, I reckon it’ll have no problems with coke. So far though, the launch is quite low key with limited quantities going into the UK, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. There’s also an on-trade only three year old ‘claro’ expression. 

Fancy packaging, as you’d expect from LVMH. The contents are good too

It’s not just rum, the LVMH spirits portfolio is expanding in other areas too: a new Tequila brand called Volcan de mi Tierra Blanc has just been launched in the US and Mexico; and in 2017, it bought a bourbon distillery in Washington state, Woodinville, But what about gin? Helm, who has been with the company since 2006, told me that when he joined, “there were all sorts of rumours about Hendrick’s but the gin train left and somehow we didn’t have a ticket!” But now that spirits are such an important focus for the group, Helm said: “There will have to be a gin coming somewhere, but when, how or in what form, I don’t know.” So expect a gin from LVMH in the not too distant future.

Eminente Reserva 7 year old tasting note:

Nose: Lots of cinnamon spice with fresh cherries and a little dried fruit plus followed by dark chocolate, coffee and tobacco.

Palate: Fresh, fragrant and floral, light body, just a touch of sweetness, some pepper, then toffee, chocolate and coffee swing in. With a little smokiness in the background. 

Finish: Long and layered with sweet dark chocolate. 

Eminente Reserva is now available from Master of Malt.

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