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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: liqueurs

Making a mint, the Giffard liqueur story

Since 1885, the Giffard family has been making some of the bartending community’s most loved liqueurs and syrups. Millie Milliken travelled to its home of Angers, France, to meet the…

Since 1885, the Giffard family has been making some of the bartending community’s most loved liqueurs and syrups. Millie Milliken travelled to its home of Angers, France, to meet the generations taking the brand into the 21st century

Standing on the almost bare five hectares of land in Chemille where the Giffard family has been growing Mitcham mint for their oldest product, Menthe-Pastille, for the last 10 years, it’s hard to believe that in a few months’ time, this area will be filled with enough of the plant to make the brand’s iconic peppermint digestif.

For a brand with such a rich history, it’s also hard to believe that – while it’s a go-to for bartenders – not more of the British public are familiar with a business that pumps out 60 different liqueurs, from apricot and banana to pepper and peach and around 5 million bottles a year.

Indeed, seeing the inner workings of the distillery where the fourth and fifth generations oversee the making of their liqueurs – not to mention the shiny new factory which turns out 90 syrups – even I’m surprised at the sheer scale of this over 200-year-old dynasty.

So, how did a chemist create France’s leading liqueur company?

Giffard mint

Edith Giffard in field of Mitcham mint

Mint condition

In the distillery’s visitor centre, Edith Giffard, deputy CEO, explains the story of how her grandfather, Emile Giffard, began the family business. Born in 1842, Emile studied to be a chemist in Paris before returning to his home county and setting up his own pharmacy in Angers’ Place du Ralliement. Come the summer of 1885, a heat wave hit the Loire Valley town.

Good timing, as Emile had been studying the cooling effects of mint and making his own mint liqueur. He gave it to the guests of the neighbouring Grand Hotel to help them cope with the heat – its success spurned him on to turn his pharmacy into a distillery and Menthe-Pastille was born.

As was the overarching brand of Maison Giffard, which includes many others from the family within the business. Aside from Edith, her brother Bruno is CEO, his daughter Emillie is sales and brand development manager and Edith’s son Pierre is COO.

The cultural significance of the brand’s original product is clear to see with prints of its vintage advertising posters lining the walls. Some of the art world’s most famous artists, illustrators and animators have depicted the bottle in politically humourous, or striking settings, from ‘the father of modern advertising’ Leonetto Capiello, to Paul-Michel Foucault, Eugène Ogé and Ferdinand Mifliez.

The family brought Mitcham mint, which as its name suggests is originally from Britain, to France and work with a local farmer to grow this crucial ingredient. Harvesting takes place in July when the plants are cut at the base and left to dry on the field (important considering they are steam distilled) before being distilled all in one go. Its continued popularity is evident as I spend a couple of days in the area – with most restaurants I visited listing it as a digestif on their menus.

Giffard

There’s more than mint in the Giffard range

Flavour, flavour

Of course, Menthe-Pastille is only one part of the story. Giffard makes 60 different liqueurs based on fruits, spices and weird and wonderful flavours (including bubblegum).

Watching the distillery in action from the viewing gallery, Edith explains the different processes each ingredient must go through before maceration or infusion (it differs depending on the fruit) in order to create the final liquids: cherries are processed with their stones, elderflower and rose are dried before infusion while mint is kept fresh. Across the board, when it comes to their fruit liqueurs, the entire fruit is used rather than just the juice to make the most of their aromatics (incidentally, when it comes to making their syrups, it’s the opposite).

As well as its classic range, the family decided to launch a premium arm to its liqueur offering inspired by a trip to the UK and the flavour profiles bartenders needed behind the stick. Favourites have to be the premium range’s Banane du Bresil (which I’ve already waxed lyrical about in a banana-themed article) and smacks of caramelised and buttery banana; Cassis Noir de Bourgogne using blackcurrants from Burgundy and an absolute no brainer for a Kir Royale (mixed with Champagne); and the Abricot du Roussillon, made by macerating Rouges du Roussillon apricots. The core range has plenty of standouts too: Crème Fraise de Bois, bursting with wild and grassy strawberry notes; Crème de Violette, perfect for using to make Aviation cocktails; and Poire William, infusing William pears with Poire William brandy.

Edith Pierre Emilie et Bruno Giffard

It’s a family affair: Edith, Pierre, Emilie and Bruno Giffard

Sweet nectar

As well as creating new and exciting flavours in their liqueur range, the Giffard’s are also bringing the syrup side of the business (which began in 1992) into the 21st century. In 2017, it began operation in a new facility complete with a solar panel, water reuse system and plans to reduce the weight of its glass bottles, reducing it by a whopping 400,000 tonnes in the process. Marketing director Romain Burgevin tells us that plans to do the same for the liqueurs are in motion for 2023.

Giffard also works hard to engage with the global bartending community. It celebrated the relationship between art and drinks with two books chronicling UK and Southeast Asian bartenders’ stories behind their tattoos, while the 2022 round of its annual West Cup competition is underway with bartenders across 17 countries invited to enter.

Considering the origins of the Giffard brand, born in a small pharmacy in France’s Loire Valley, its ability to still excite bar – and home- tenders is testament to its dedication to capturing and bottling flavours in all their complexity. Next time you find yourself in hot climes, think about prescribing yourself a dose of Menthe-Pastille.

Click here to browse the Giffard range at Master of Malt.

 

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Lucas Bols – over 400 years of cocktail inspiration

Today we’re taking a look at a company with some of the richest history in drink: Lucas Bols. From its beginning in 16th century Amsterdam, its liqueurs and spirits are…

Today we’re taking a look at a company with some of the richest history in drink: Lucas Bols. From its beginning in 16th century Amsterdam, its liqueurs and spirits are in pretty much every bar in the world. It’s quite a story.  

I wrote a book a few years ago called Empire of Booze looking at the British influence on alcoholic drinks. If it was successful, I envisioned a sequel looking at other enormously influential countries for alcohol, Republics of Booze, perhaps, and top of the list would be the Netherlands. Sadly so far the silence from publishers has been deafening. 

Well, they are missing a trick because the Dutch influence is everywhere: brandy is a Dutch word coming from brandewijn meaning burnt wine, gin comes from geneva, and we owe great wines like Chateau Lafite to Dutch engineers who drained the swamp north of the city of Bordeaux to create the Medoc.

The Lucas Bols story

Then there’s liqueurs. For over 400 years it’s a Dutch company that bartenders around the world trust when pouring triple sec, creme de cacao or blue Curaçao, Lucas Bols. I spent some time on Zoom with the company’s creative and communications director Sandie van Doorne.

The Bols story begins in 1575 when the family began producing liqueurs in a small distillery on the outskirts of Amsterdam, but as the city has expanded, this area is now very much in the urban centre. According to the company’s history, the first flavours used were cumin, cardamom, and orange. 

At the time liqueurs were used mainly for health purposes – juniper distillate was thought to be good for settling the stomach – or for special occasions like weddings. There was even one called ‘bridal tears’ made with flakes of gold leaf. These were not everyday drinks. 

1979-What-Rembrandt-did-for-art-Lucas-Bols-did-for-flavor-Bols

Lucas Bols himself on an 1979 poster for the US market

The Dutch Golden Age

In 1652, the grandson of the founder, Lucas Bols, took over and began turning the company from a local operation to an international affair. At the time, Holland was going through what’s known as the Dutch Golden Age. The Dutch had fought off domination by the Spanish to become the world’s top mercantile nation with a formidable shipping fleet. When you think of the beauty of old Amsterdam or paintings by masters like Vermeer and Rembrandt, this is the period.

Much of this wealth came from spices and other valuable goods from the east shipped by the VOC, the Dutch East India Company. In 1700, Lucas Bols became a major shareholder, giving him access to the finest spices from the orient. He would give bottles to seafarers so wherever the Dutch went, which was everywhere, Bols liqueurs went too.

As well as liqueurs, the Bols name is strongly associated with genever, Dutch gin. This was a rough spirit at the time according to van Doorne, but the Bols company elevated it into a fine spirit made from rye, wheat, and malted barley. Nowadays the company makes a vast array of traditional genever including aged and single cask expressions. Unlike London gin, it’s made from a base spirit with a rich character.

100 years ahead of the English

If all this sounds familiar – spices brought from the east, a great explosion in wealth, for some, and the elevation of a rough spirit – it’s because a similar thing happened in London and with gin but roughly 100 years later. As with many things, not just alcoholic, the Dutch were there first. In fact, the Bank of England was modelled on the banking system in the Netherlands. 

While London gin ruled in Britain, the heavier Dutch original found a home in the US, initially brought by Dutch immigrants. It proved immensely popular and if you look at old cocktail books, there are recipes that call for something called Hollands Gin. Jerry Thomas, cocktail pioneer, only used four base spirits, rum, brandy, whisky and genever in his 1862 book, Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide.

Erven_Lucas_Bols_Distillery_,_Amsterdam_,_Netherlands,_1940

Lucas Bols distillery in 1940

The family sells up

Meanwhile back in Amsterdam, the last male Bols heir died in 1816. The family sold the company, to the magnificently-named Gabriel Theodorus van ‘t Wout, but with the proviso that the name Lucas Bols (who died in 1719) should be on the bottles in perpetuity thus keeping the name alive. In 1868, the Moltzer family acquired Lucas Bols and it remained with them until it was floated on the Dutch stock exchange in 1954 before a merger with Remy Cointreau in 2000. 

In 2006, van Doorne was part of a management buyout which returned the company to Dutch hands. And in 2014, Lucas Bols began distilling again in Rozengracht, near the site of the original Bols distillery. Bols had come home. 

Semper idem

The key to Bols success has been consistency. The firm’s motto is semper idem – always the same. According to van Doorne the technology such as distillation, maceration, and percolation hasn’t changed much in 400 years. Many of the recipes are based on the originals created by Lucas Bols. But, she added: “we have changed over time with current flavours.” The trend now is for “natural botanicals” compared with the “big flavours” 1980s. “In the old days, we didn’t always use natural ingredients,” she said. As well as Bols-branded products, the company owns a portfolio of other drinks including Galliano. 

To keep up with the times, Bols works closely with bartenders. The company has the Bols Academy (see photo in header) where it trains bartenders and it runs cocktail competitions. The very bottles are designed for use by professionals with non-slip rings for ease of handling. 

Blue Bols

Blue Bols cocktail bundle

For the home bartender

But Lucas Bols is now aiming to move out from behind the bar and into the homes of customers. Hence things like the cocktail finder on the Bols website so you can make use of Bols products at home. We made a Brandy Alexander yesterday, and very nice it was too. During Covid, the team speeded up the development of RTD cocktails which will be arriving in Britain very soon. 

It’s a remarkable story of over 400 years of Dutch booze know-how, surely there’s a book in there somewhere. Publishers, it’s over to you.

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The joy of liqueurs

Finishing off our dryish January coverage, Lauren Eads takes a look at an often-overlooked member of the drinks family which offers maximum flavour but with around half the alcohol of…

Finishing off our dryish January coverage, Lauren Eads takes a look at an often-overlooked member of the drinks family which offers maximum flavour but with around half the alcohol of spirits. Isn’t it time you embrace the joy of liqueurs?

There are few better ways to cut down on booze than with a warming, flavourful liqueur. With all the punch but up to half the ABV (typically 15-30%) of a spirit, liqueurs can be a pretty virtuous choice, with low and no-alcohol alternatives emerging too (Crossip and Lyre’s Coffee Originale for a start). 

Lockdown liqueur lovers

Their popularity is growing too. Liqueur sales rose by 27% in the year to 11 September 2021, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). Growth was attributed to pandemic-stricken Brits whipping up colourful cocktails at home and sharing their creations on social media.

Whatever gets people loving liqueurs, all the better. Too often they are mistakenly dismissed as frivolous, save for the rare-but-very-serious Chartreuse collector. It is a fun category, full of colour and flavour. Disaronno, Chambord, Cointreau, Kahlua and Bailey’s are some of the biggest household names. But the category goes far beyond big brand liqueurs, and is one of the oldest, most diverse and eclectic of all.

Liqueurs are essentially distilled spirits that have been sweetened and flavoured. In the EU that means a strength of at least 15% ABV and a minimum of 100g of sugar per litre. A liqueur flavour wheel would look something like this: herbal, fruit, cream, créme, coffee, chocolate, floral, anise, nut and whisky. The result is a mind bogglingly vast array of flavours. 

Chartreuse

Chartreuse – king of liqueurs

Liqueurs ancient and modern

“There are ancient recipes made by monks and innovative modern examples with creative aromas and flavours,” says Tobias Gorn, chair of judges at the World Liqueur Awards. “It is a wonderful but sadly underrated drinks category. One that’s fun and with so much history, inclusion and innovation. From mediaeval alchemists and ancient monks to modern city-dwelling lactose-free vegans, everyone can find their favourite.”

The word liqueur comes from the Latin liquefacere, meaning ‘to make liquid’. First produced by mediaeval monks and alchemists as early as the 13th century, these herbal remedies, also known as tonics, elixirs and oils, were once used as medicines and even aphrodisiacs. The naturally green herbal liqueur Chartreuse is one of the oldest.

Francois Hannibal d’Estrees (marshall of artillery for King Henry IV) is said to have given an ancient manuscript entitled An Elixir of Long Life to a Carthusian order of monks in France in 1605. It wasn’t until 1737 that the complex recipe was perfected, resulting in the first Chartreuse Elixir. It’s made with 130 different plants, herbs, roots, leaves, barks, brandy, distilled, honey and sugar syrup. But the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret. It’s said that at any one time only three monks know the recipe, and they never travel together. Green Chartreuse has an ABV of 55%. In 1833 a milder and sweeter 40% ABV version was created, known as Yellow Chartreuse. Nearly 300 years later, classic herbal liqueurs like Chartreuse, and Bénédictine D.O.M, are still revered, with top bartenders and collectors seeking out old bottlings, says Gorn. 

Floral flavours

Whereas these ancient monkish liqueurs are cult drinks, floral liqueurs, which use rose, violet, hibiscus, and elderflower, are among the most unsung members of the category. Which is a shame as not only can they be delicious but they have long histories too.  Quaglia Camomilla is a fragrant camomile-flavoured liqueur, while Liqueur de Violettes from Tempus Fugit Spirits is based on a mid-19th century recipe made from hand-harvested French violets grown in the Côte d’Azur. Liqueur de Pain d’Epices is made by Alsace-based distiller G.Miclo and tastes like drinking gingerbread. If you can imagine such a thing.

Equally festive is Zirbenz’ Stone Pine Liqueur, made with Arolla Stone pine cones found in the Alps, which give the flavour and aroma of a Christmas tree. For the more adventurous there’s Ancho Reyes, a chilli-flavoured liqueur that’s great in a Bloody Mary, and the more unusual Chareau, a Californian liqueur made from aloe vera, cucumber, spearmint and lemon peel. “There’s some superb liqueurs with tea and the use of more exotic citrus like yuzu,” adds Gorn. “I always encourage consumers to be brave and try new things.”

Bailey's cocktail

Everyone loves Baileys

Anyone for Baileys?

Then there are cream liqueurs, typically made with whisky, which includes Baileys and Arran Gold Cream Liqueur. Not to be confused with whisky liqueurs, which are made from Scottish and Irish whiskies blended with herbs, spices, honey and other ingredients. Think Glayva, Irish Mist or Drambuie. 

For vegans and the lactose-intolerant there are an increasing number of dairy/lactose-free options. Baileys Almande is a dairy-free version of Baileys Irish Cream, made with almond milk and a touch of vanilla. Horchata is a Spanish drink traditionally made in Valencia with soaked, ground and sweetened tiger nuts (which are tubers and not actually nuts). Licor 43 Horchata is a dairy-free and vegan ‘cream’ liqueur made with cinnamon and citrus, as is Besos de Oro, made with brandy from Jerez and horchata from Valencia.

Those with a sweet tooth will find comfort in chocolate liqueurs like Austria’s Mozart, or Ireland’s two-toned coffee liqueur Sheridans. But if you’re really after a sugar hit go for a créme liqueur, which must contain a higher sugar content of 250g/l. For créme de cassis, the star of a Kir Royale, it’s 400g/l.

There are also bittersweet liqueurs like Italy’s amari (plural of amaro), the most famous being Campari, Aperol and Fernet Branca. In Germany you’ll find Kräuterlikör (herbal liqueurs), known as “half bitters”, which are bittersweet and close to an amaro with less perceptible sweetness, like Jägermeister and Underberg. 

Muyu

The team behind Muyu: Kratena, Berg and Caporale

Not quite so sweet

A number of ‘savoury’ liqueurs have also emerged. In 2019 London bar the Gibson and Italian distillery Casoni designed a trio of liqueurs that use balsamic vinegar from Modena to “add a savoury note” to cocktails. They include Amarotto, a cross between amaro and amaretto, a fruit liqueur made with blueberries and blackberries and a third made with figs and cherries. Muyu is another trio of liqueurs based on the flavours of the Amazon rainforest (Jasmine Verte, Chinotto Nero and Vetiver Gris) developed by renowned bartenders Alex Kratena, Monica Berg and Simone Caporale in partnership with De Kuyper.

Modern liqueurs have moved beyond synthetic flavours, while traditional liqueurs have had centuries to perfect their craft. You might favour a bittersweet herbal digestif, love seriously sweet sips, pine for pine cones or salivate over spice – it doesn’t matter. Liqueurs are democracy in action: there’s something for everyone.

Click here to browse the full range of liqueurs at Master of Malt.

 

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Discover the Joys of Crème de Cassis

We visited the brand home of Lejay Lagoute, the creators of crème de cassis, to find out why you should embrace this delicious blackcurrant liqueur. I’m standing in the beautiful…

We visited the brand home of Lejay Lagoute, the creators of crème de cassis, to find out why you should embrace this delicious blackcurrant liqueur.

I’m standing in the beautiful Burgundy countryside learning about the harvest: how to plant em’, when to pick em’. In the middle of all the rolling farmland are rows of ripening fruits that will soon be made into delicious booze. But I’m not in a vineyard of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes. I’m in the green fields where Lejay Lagoute harvests its blackcurrants to make crème de cassis. A number of questions cross my mind while we examine the woody shrubs. One being, how the hell did we look at all this in Britain and arrive at Ribena?

But the bigger question that sticks out is why, outside of industry types, don’t I hear much about crème de cassis? Do a quick survey of your friends. How many can tell you a) what this sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants is and b) where it comes from. In an era where provenance, heritage and brand character have never been more important and where demand for liqueurs increases annually, this seems slightly odd. They’ll probably have heard of Dijon mustard, but that’s just a recipe. Crème de cassis is different.

crème de cassis

The blackcurrant fields where Lejay harvests its ingredients

In 2015, the new protected geographical indication (PGI) for ‘Crème de Cassis de Bourgogne’ was approved, guaranteeing its Burgundian origin. If your bottle is labelled ‘Crème de Cassis de Dijon’, then it must contain blackcurrants grown in Dijon, while ‘Cassis de Bourgogne’ can only use currants grown in the greater Burgundy region. The legislation also dictated the minimum quantity of berries used in its production (the variety Noir de Bourgogne is also essential) and that liqueur must have a minimum alcoholic content of 15% ABV and contain at least 400 grams of sugar per litre.

To some it might sound like an archaic drink that lives to gather dust in the corner of a drinks cabinet, its top fused with crystallized sugar and label peeling, only brought out to make some sort of white wine and cassis drink. Fruit liqueurs are as popular as ever but have a mixed reputation thanks to some poorly made versions that are cloyingly sweet and feature bonkers flavours. But crème de cassis deserves your attention, not just for its considerable history, but mostly because each glass smells like a thick, rich compote made from real berries.

crème de cassis

The beautiful city of Dijon, home of crème de cassis.

For that, you can thank Lejay Lagoute, one of only four producers in the French city of Dijon, Burgundy. It is the original creator of crème de cassis and still makes its signature product according to the original 1841 recipe established by its founder Auguste-Denis Lagoute. “He visited Paris in the 1830s, he discovered a very popular beverage called ‘Ratafia de Neuilly’, a spirit made with some macerations of fruits and spices. He was very inspired by the idea of maceration,” explains Donatien Ferrari (is that not the best name you’ve ever heard?), global brand ambassador for Lejay Lagoute. “He started to macerate some fruits and through his experiments, he made the first crème de cassis. This idea of slow maceration was intended to maximise the potential of the fruit, without any artificial additives. Later on, Henri Lejay married Auguste-Denis’ daughter Elisabeth and the company became officially Lejay Lagoute, so you could say it all started with a love story!”

It’s not surprising that Ferrari enjoys the romance of his brand’s signature product because, while in Dijon, you notice how much of a role crème de cassis plays in this city of medieval churches and Renaissance townhouses. Every menu we peruse has a meal that pairs with it, every bartender has a number of serves in mind for the curious drinker. “In Burgundy, and particularly in Dijon, crème de cassis is a huge part of the social and economic life. We’re very proud of our history,” says Ferrari. “When you welcome your friends or your family at home you always offer them cème de cassis with some gougères (delicious cheese-filled choux pastry) and “jambon persillé” (a marble ham with garlic and herbs). It’s hospitality, you become fat very fast but you are happy!”

crème de cassis

Lejay use the Noir de Bourgogne and Black Down varieties of blackcurrant

All of Lejay’s liqueurs are made only using natural products and for its signature cassis, the brand only uses the Noir de Bourgogne and Black Down varieties of blackcurrant, which are harvested between mid-June and late July. “The cassis (French for blackcurrant) is originally from the foothills of the Himalayas in Tibet. The ‘black pearl’ as we call it in France arrived in Burgundy in the Middle Ages. The biggest producers are Poland and Russia, so it will be very easy for us to buy some cassis directly in those countries. But we wanted to stay 100% French and use only cassis produced in France”, says Ferrari. “The two varietal that we use use very different and very complementary. The Noir de Bourgogne has very high acidity and typical vegetal aromas, while the Black Down is rounder and sweeter. When you blend them you achieve the perfect balance”. 

Once the berries are harvested, they are transported to Lejay’s distillery in northern Dijon. It’s a modest-looking building and operation, but it’s where an almost 180-year-old process takes place all the time. “Our process is all about good fruit, time and gravity. We do not need any filtration, it is 100% natural,” says Ferrari. The first part of the Lejay process is static maceration, a unique technique that Auguste-Denis Lagoute established when creating the liqueur. It’s not all that common, as most other liqueurs would macerate berries in revolving vats. “This process is unique because we let the fruits and the alcohol exchange slowly. It is very important to use only neutral alcohol in order to keep only the taste of the fruit,” Ferrari explains. “If you do it too fast using centrifugation, for instance, you will extract some bad tannin and bad aromas. This way we have a more consistent product, with great colour and longer shelf-life”.

crème de cassis

Lejay’s distillery in northern Dijon

This lasts for two months, before its time to extract the flavour and aroma from the berries. “When we open the vats we drain the liquid with an Archimedes’ screw before slowly and gently pressing them with a pneumatic bladder. This extracts the juice and alcohol while ensuring seeds and skins are not crushed. This would mean some undesirable tannins,” Ferrari says. “Then it’s all about gravity. We transfer the spirit to our underground tanks where it rests. This causes sediment to settle at the bottom of the tank and we wait for it to have perfect clarity, which can take up to 12 hours. We then have what we call the ‘vierge melange’, or virgin blend, which we extract carefully to leave the sediment behind”.

Lejay makes a point of not using additives, but it does have a secret weapon of an ingredient: small quantities of blackcurrant buds. “Our magic ingredient! We harvest the buds in January during the cold Burgundian winter. The buds are made only with the Noir de Bourgogne varietal. Then we macerate them for 30 days in neutral alcohol to create a highly concentrated infusion,” Ferrari explains. “Just one drop in each bottle is enough to give a special vegetal aftertaste to our Cassis. It’s a very expensive technique, because when we pick the buds those bushes will not yield fruit and because they can be used to produce very fancy French fragrances instead, so the demand is very high”.

crème de cassis

Lejay’s secret weapon: blackcurrant buds!

The final part of creating Cassis involves blending it with sugar. Lejay opted to use crystallised sugar instead of liquid sugar because it preserves the rich flavour of the liqueur and adds the desired texture. It really works, providing a natural sweetness that’s not at all cloying. “When it comes to sugar there are a lot of options, but the best in terms of taste and texture is the classic saccharose crystal sugar that you use in your tea and in your coffee,” says Ferrari. “Even though we have some of the best sugar cane in the world in Martinique, we prefer to use the high-quality beetroot sugar that we have here in the north of France”. 

Crème de cassis is often consumed as both a digestif or apéritif (an answer to everyone wondering can you drink crème de cassis straight – absolutely, it does very well served simply with ice!), or mixed with white wine or a classic Champagne cassis drink. However, cocktails are where crème de cassis really shines. “Cassis is super versatile. There’s only one rule when making cocktails with cassis, have fun! If you do some tests and replace the vermouth in your Manhattan or sugar in your Old Fashioned with Lejay, you’ll be pleasantly surprised”, says Ferrari “When the sun is out we love a nice Lejay Bicyclette, an old school drink served at Harry’s Bar in Paris. You make it by combining 25ml of Lejay Cassis, 40ml of dry vermouth and ice. Stir this mix then top with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist. I’d also recommend the Diablo, a classic created by Tiki god Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s fame. He combined 30ml of Lejay Cassis, 50ml of good Tequila, 20ml of lime juice and topped it with ginger beer. You can do a twist with it and use mezcal or make your own ginger syrup”.

crème de cassis

The Lejay Bicyclette, an old school drink served at Harry’s Bar in Paris

However, by far the most well-known cassis cocktail is The Kir, a classic serve popularized by French Resistance hero Felix Kir. “In Burgundy, it was the tradition to mix crème de cassis and white wine, especially Aligoté wine. Felix Kir was mayor of Dijon City from 1945 till his death in 1968 and he would make this drink all the time so people started to name the drink after him,” says Ferrari. “He was very close to Lejay so he decided to grant the rights to his name exclusively to us in 1951, which means both the Kir and Kir Royal are registered trademarks. So, if you want to do the original Kir you have to use Lejay. Thank you Canon Kir!”

Lejay is the world leader concerning cassis, producing 8 million bottles per year (that’s not full capacity) and selling in more than 30 markets. Around 80% of those sales going to Japan, who love a bit of cassis in all those Highballs. But it’s clear the brand feels it can do more. “The category is still under the radar in many countries and we can always improve our distribution,” says Ferrari. “We are now part of a family-owned French group called La Martiniquaise. It is a chance for a small brand like Lejay to grow, because La Martiniquaise is a reference in the world of spirits and the brand will benefit from all their expertise”. I’d recommend you give crème de cassis a chance. It’s earned its time in the spotlight.

crème de cassis

Lejay Crème de Cassis

Lejay Crème De Cassis

Nose: Like Ribena but better. Big, thick fresh blackcurrants with outstanding clarity and character. There’s a slight green, vegetal note underneath. 

Palate: On the palate, there’s a rush of white sugar sweetness which is accompanied by more blackcurrant, this time slightly tart but very refreshing. 

Finish: This note carries over into the finish, which is medium length, sweet and a little tart.

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Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

With Easter weekend just days away you’re probably on the lookout for a sweet treat. Good thing we haven’t let lockdown life stop us from rounding-up some our tastiest tipples…

With Easter weekend just days away you’re probably on the lookout for a sweet treat. Good thing we haven’t let lockdown life stop us from rounding-up some our tastiest tipples for the occasion. Happy Easter, everyone!

With everything going on at the moment you can be forgiven for forgetting that Easter is on the horizon. Usually, this weekend would be filled with plans and celebrations, making the most of the days off work and the time spent together at home. But not everything has to change. You can still indulge yourself this weekend, whether that’s with a frankly unacceptable amount of chocolate or a delicious drop of booze. 

If you’re in the mood for something festive or need some help picking out the right bottle then you’re in the right place. We’ve picked out a selection of sweet treats from the shelves of MoM Towers that are perfect for Easter. Enjoy!

Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

Ableforth’s Dark Chocolate VSOP 

Ableforth’s makes all kinds of delicious booze but this indulgent offering is the most suitable for your Easter celebration. The Dark Chocolate VSOP was made by infusing VSOP Cognac with Criollo cocoa nibs, which is then blended with more VSOP and XO Cognac. A touch of sweetness is then added to the final blend to create a rich and complex profile.

What does it taste like?:

Slightly bitter dark chocolate, a touch of maple syrup, a hint of sour cherry, lots of juicy dried fruit, red grape, prunes, a drizzle of honey and a prickle of spice.

Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

Flavoursmiths Cucumber Gin

When you think of perfect flavours to add to gin, you probably imagine sweet fruits, tart citrus or warming spice take centre stage. Like Lemon Peel or Parma Violet. For this expression, however, Flavoursmiths combined refreshing and aromatic cucumber with the crispness of juniper and traditional gin botanicals. It’s a delightful creation, which should make an incredible G&T garnished with a thick slice of cucumber (of course).

What does it taste like?:

Refreshing cucumber, aromatic citrus, gentle sweetness and peppery juniper.

Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye 

Rock & Rye is a sweet and intriguing drink that was very popular pre-Prohibition. The New York Distilling Company has brought back the style with Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye, a combination of their youthful rye whiskey, rock candy sugar, sour cherries, cinnamon and a touch of citrus. It’s a superb sipper over ice but can also be used in a number of cocktails too. We recommend it as an alternative for the rye in a Manhattan!

What does it taste like?:

Brandied cherries, buttered malt loaf, aniseed balls, candied orange peels, boiled sweets, cinnamon and rye.

Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

Jaffa Cake Gin 

Every now and again you see something that truly restores your faith in humanity. A gin distilled with oranges, fresh orange peel, cocoa powder and actual jaffa cakes is one of those things. How do you make your Gin and Tonic better? Jaffa Cake Gin. How do you improve your Negroni? Jaffa Cake Gin.

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! 

Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

Mozart Dark Chocolate Liqueur 

“Hi there, kind people of Master of Malt. I’d like to add a dose of delicious chocolate to my Easter drinks, how would you recommend I do that?” This. This drink is exactly how you add the kind of chocolatey goodness you desire. From Austrian masters of the craft, Mozart, this decidedly decadent and rich liqueur is also delicious on its own over ice.

What does it taste like?:

Lots of pleasantly bitter and subtly sweet dark chocolate with touches of vanilla, toffee and just a hint of salty butter.

Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

Bloom Strawberry Cup 

For those who would like to add a touch of summer bliss to their Easter weekend, this gin liqueur is perfect. Bloom Strawberry Cup combines the fantastically floral Bloom Gin with fresh strawberries in a very delicious way. That’s probably why it was awarded a master medal in the Liqueur category at The Travel Retail Masters (The Spirits Business) 2019. It’s superb with tonic water, lemonade, Prosecco or ginger ale and enjoy!

What does it taste like?:

Violet, light juniper, angelica, honeysuckle and huge strawberry influence.

Delicious drinks for the Easter weekend!

Aberfeldy 12 Year Old 

For so long a fundamental cog in the Dewar’s blended Scotch recipe, it’s brilliant to see Aberfeldy get its time in the spotlight as a single malt to show off the delicious whisky it creates. This smooth and sweet dram is an excellent introduction to this wonderful Highland distillery and works both neat and in cocktails. Combine 50ml of Aberfeldy 12 Year Old, a teaspoon of honey and a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters and Orange Bitters and you’ve yourself the expressions’ signature serve: The Golden Dram.

What does it taste like?:

Sherried fruit, a hint of smoke, prune, custard, espresso bean, malt, vanilla, peaches in cream, subtle oak, ginger, nutty nougat and a little grapefruit zest.

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We have two bundles of awesome spirits from The Lakes Distillery to be won!

It’s no secret that we love a bundle. What do we love more than a bundle? Two bundles! That’s right, we’ve got two bundles full of wonderful spirits from The…

It’s no secret that we love a bundle. What do we love more than a bundle? Two bundles! That’s right, we’ve got two bundles full of wonderful spirits from The Lakes Distillery to give away.

We’re big fans of The Lakes Distillery, what with all the awesome spirits the beautiful distillery over in Cumbria has graced our palates with since it opened. Now, you could be in with the chance to win five bottles of its delicious liquid in a lip-smacking bundle. Oh, and did we mention there’s two bundles to be won? We know, we are good to you.

So, what’s in this wonderful bundle?

Lakes Distillery Bundle

All this could be yours!

You’ll find a bottle of The Lakes Vodka, as well as a bottle of The Lakes Classic Gin, a super classic, juniper forward tipple. Then you’ll find a bottle each of The Lakes Salted Caramel Vodka Liqueur, The Lakes Elderflower Gin Liqueur and The Lakes Rhubarb and Rosehip Gin Liqueur, all three of which are brand new!

Now that we’ve got your mouths watering, we’re sure you’ll want to know how to enter…

  1. Follow @masterofmalt Instagram account.
  2. Follow @lakesdistillery Instagram account.
  3. Like the competition post⁠.
  4. Tag a friend you’d share your bottles with.

And it’s that simple! Complete those four steps by 22 March and you’re in it to (possibly) win it. Plus, now your chances of winning have doubled! Best of luck to everyone.

MoM Competition 2020 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 16 March to 22 March 2020. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. See full T&Cs for details.

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Acqua Bianca, a liqueur inspired by perfume

To make a liqueur as aromatic and delicate as a fine perfume, says bartending icon Salvatore Calabrese, you need to include a rather rare and historic ingredient in the recipe….

To make a liqueur as aromatic and delicate as a fine perfume, says bartending icon Salvatore Calabrese, you need to include a rather rare and historic ingredient in the recipe. MoM learned the story behind his latest creation, Acqua Bianca, made in collaboration with De Kuyper Royal Distillers…

It reads like something out of a clickbait article – ‘this liqueur contains ONE WEIRD INGREDIENT you would NEVER expect’ – but in the case of Salvatore Calabrese’s new liqueur, it’s absolutely true. Alongside lemons from the Amalfi coast, bergamot from Calabria, cidron (one of the oldest varieties of citrus), from Asia, and another, rather unique ingredient in the bottle: ambergris.

Known among bartenders as ‘The Maestro’, Calabrese first came across the substance – the details of which we’ll delve into shortly – in an antique cocktail book. “I looked at an old recipe from the 1700s, Planters Punch,” he explains. “And there was one ingredient that really sparked me, and that was ambergris. And I thought, what is ambergris? There was no word of it in any cookbooks or in any liqueurs. That intrigued me.”

Salvatore Calabrese in action

When Calabrese started to research ambergris, he discovered that it’s “very much used for fine perfumery”. Not only do the world’s leading perfume houses use ambergris – incorporating the ingredient explains why their scents are so damn expensive. Also known as ‘floating gold’, ambergris is a waxy byproduct expelled by sperm whales. One that is unbelievably good at binding, elevating and extending aromas.

The sperm whale diet mainly consists of cephalopods, such as squid and cuttlefish, which are partly made of an indigestible protein called chitin. Over time, this protein builds up in the whale’s digestive tract, where it binds together and forms a mass. (A very valuable mass, at around $20,000 per kilogram). 

This lumpy mass is then expelled one way or another – experts don’t know which end it emerges from – before it floats through the ocean and, eventually, onto shorelines. For centuries, clever perfumiers have collected it to extract ambrein, an odourless alcohol that intensifies and lengthens their signature scents.

For Calabrese, it was a lightbulb moment. “I’ve been a bartender since 1966,” he explains. “I know most of the liqueurs, and every liqueur is always the same, strong flavours. Either citrus, minty or herbal or bitter notes, chocolate, nutty, coffee. But what is missing? The aroma.” 

They call him Il Maestro

Take a nut-flavoured liqueur, for example. “When you try to smell it, the gentle note of the nuttiness is there but it’s not present,” Calabrese continues. “When you start to drink it, the nutty flavour appears in the middle palate. That’s when you start to figure out what you’re drinking.”

Working with De Kuyper’s master distillers, he set about creating a uniquely aromatic liqueur with all-natural ingredients such as lemon, bergamot, peppermint and rose that “explodes” with aroma and flavours when you taste it. “It’s not sticky, it’s quite fresh in your palate; intense but delicate,” Calabrese explains. “That’s what makes a great liqueur. It’s what makes fine spirits and fine wines.” 

In a nod to the recipe that inspired Acqua Bianca, the quirky bottle – created by Salvatore’s daughter Francesca Calabrese and her design agency Five Foot Eight – resembles a book, with the label as the spine. Look closer still and you’ll find a tiny jigger in the ‘A’ letters, while the ‘Q’ looks a little like ‘2’ – as in, H2O. 

Despite our probing efforts, the full recipe and details of the production process remains a closely-guarded secret. But we’re willing to accept that in this instance, ignorance probably is bliss. It tastes good, and that’s enough. 

When he first started research and development for the project, around two years ago, Calabrese set out to “create a liqueur that was the real centre stage of any cocktail”. With Acqua Bianca, he’s done just that. Below, you’ll find a selection of easy-to-make Maestro-approved tipples to recreate at home…

Acqua Bianca Frappe

Acqua Bianca Frappé:

50ml Acqua Bianca

Pour Acqua Bianca into a balloon glass or an old fashioned glass and fill with crushed ice (see picture above).

Spritzer Fresco:

25ml Acqua Bianca
15ml Italicus
15ml Pink grapefruit juice
Prosecco

Pour Acqua Bianca, Italicus and pink grapefruit into a large wine glass filled with ice, and top up with Prosecco. Stir and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Sal’s Stinger:

40ml Hine Cognac VSOP
20ml Acqua Bianca

Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

You can find Acqua Bianca at Master of Malt

 

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Our top drinks trends for 2020!

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year….

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year. Read on for our top drinks trends for 2020!

It’s not just a new year – 2020 brings with it a box-fresh decade, too. But what will be drinking this year? We’ve had a good chinwag in the office, looked at sales trends from the last few years and kept our ears to the ground for word of the Next Big Thing in booze. 

Before we crack on with our top ten trends, a quick note on two topics. First up: sustainability in terms of both production and packaging. We reckon every single producer should have this on their radar by now. We’re working hard to make our own ops here are as lean and green as they can possibly be. It’s not a trend, just the right way to do things. We’ve not included this in our list as it’s a societal shift that’s here to stay. Similar with low- and no-alcohol products. 2019 saw the segment explode – but it’s not going anywhere. Brands that give us the option to drink less alcohol while keeping things delicious are a welcome and permanent part of the drinks industry.

So. What else does the year have in store? This is what we reckon we’ll be drinking for the next 12 months!

spiced rum drinks trends for 2020

Spiced rums will continue their dominance into 2020

Spiced and flavoured rums are just getting started

One of the runaway successes of 2019 has been spiced and flavoured rums. In fact, over the whole of 2019, 15 of our top 20 rum best sellers were spiced or flavoured. It’s a trend that accelerated over the course of the year, and while you’d expect an uptick in November and December (hello Christmas!), sales of the likes of Bombo, Cloven Hoof and Pirate’s Grog rums are in year-on-year growth for the start of January, too. One shift we think we’ll see? A move towards more ‘grown-up’ flavours and bottle designs. Spiced and flavoured rums don’t have to be all about the party; they can hold their own as respectable cocktail ingredients, too. 

world whisky drinks trends for 2020

No need for a passport – explore the world through whisky!

Genuinely world whisky

Move over, Scotland. Hang back, America. You too, Ireland and Japan. Yes, you make delicious whiskies. But 2020 looks set to be the year that world whisky meaningfully comes to the fore for more of us. Take Israel, for example. There are three distilleries already up and running (Milk & Honey, Golan Heights, Pelter), but there’s the Jerusalem Distillery, Legends Distillery and Eder’i Malthouse and Distillery all hot on their heels. Up in Finland, you’ve got Kyrö, Teerenpeli, The Helsinki Distilling Co, and Panimoravintola (and no doubt numerous others at the development stage). Australian whisky continues to gain momentum (Starward, Sullivans Cove, and Hellyers Road, anyone?), and we’re excited by what distillers are doing across New Zealand, Sweden and France, too. And there’s India, South Africa, England, Wales, The Netherlands… you get the picture. We’re also thrilled by the geographic diversity of whisky production and the different approaches and flavours inherent in that. We reckon loads of you will be, too. 

vodka drinks trends for 2020

Get set for a vodka revival

Viva vodka!

A slightly unexpected one, now. Did you know our vodka sales in 2019 soared by 30% year-on-year? It’s a bit of a surprise for us, too. Bottle sales ramped up gradually but noticeably over the course of the year, and it initially had us scratching our heads. After a pretty break time in the 2000s and 2010s, why is vodka falling back into favour? We looked at our top-sellers and noticed a couple of things. It’s generally not flavoured vodka that’s hitting the mark (a couple of notable exceptions: Thunder Toffee Vodka and Whitley Neill Blood Orange Vodka). Instead, it’s the classic, neutral, big names that seem to have appeal. But that’s not all. Smaller brands playing on their legitimate flavour differences derived from their raw materials are doing especially well. We think the likes of Black Cow Vodka (made from leftover whey from cheese-making), East London Liquor Company 100% Wheat Vodka and Konik’s Tail (made with three different grains: spelt, rye and wheat) will drive this trend forward into 2020.

hard seltzers drinks trends for 2020

Hard seltzers will be A Thing

Hard seltzers and sodas

Call them what you like (the seltzer vs. soda debate could go on), but this sparkling, low-ABV mix of flavoured water and booze isn’t going anywhere. Hard seltzers have been big news Stateside for some time now, and we reckon 2020 is the year they’ll make their presence really felt this side of the Pond. Why? Beer sales are down, people are embracing low- and no-, and we’re all rather partial to a train tinnie, which, if you think about what cocktails in a can actually are, we’re barely a swift step from a hard seltzer anyway. Last year saw the UK launch of Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water, and native names DRTY Hard Seltzer and Bodega Bay are already in the market. Plus, White Claw, the US hard seltzer hero, has already registered its trademark here, too. We’re ready

Beyond bourbon drinks trends for 2020

American single malts for the win!

Beyond bourbon

Hands up who loves American whiskey? Us too. And it’s hardly new. So why does it feature on our list of drinks trends for 2020? Bourbon has long been seen as a synonym for American whiskey, but when you think about its legal definition (in short, it’s made in the US; its mashbill recipe contains a minimum of 51% corn; it’s matured in new, charred oak) it becomes clear there’s a whole load more to American whiskey than perhaps we collectively understand. Step in rye. Come in, American single malt. Oh hello, wheat whiskeys. And of course, there’s a whole host of category-defying whiskeys coming out of the US that can’t be called bourbon. Rules are there to be broken, and when distillers shrug off the bourbon confines, deliciousness can spring forth, and we think 2020 is the year we’ll get to grips with these expressions. Want in now? Check out Balcones Texas Single Malt, Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, St. George Baller Single Malt, and WhistlePig 12 Year Old – Old World.

calvados drinks trends for 2020

Appley goodness right there

Calvados returns

If you’re unfamiliar with this historical French brandy, you are not alone. Calvados is made from apples and pears in Normandy, distilled in either traditional alembic or column stills, and is aged for at least two years. And it’s mighty tasty. We’re waking up to its mixing and sipping potential: last year our Calvados sales soared by an enormous 40% in 2019 over 2018. One of the key drivers was the launch of Avallen in June, a more modern expression that is all about sustainability and boosting biodiversity. Calvados Coquerel has undertaken a re-brand, bringing more energy to the category. And the likes of Berneroy and Château du Breuil are also seeing renewed momentum. 2020 is the time for Calvados to shine.

mezcal drinks trends for 2020

How mezcal gets its smoke

The advent of Mezcal

Tequila’s smoky cousin made its presence felt in 2019, when we saw sales climb by 31%. But what will 2020 have in store for Mezcal? Quite a lot, we think (especially when you consider its 2017-18 growth stood at just 5%). The biggest-selling brands are increasingly well-recognised (Del Maguey, Pensador and Montelobos are rapidly becoming familiar names), and customers in bars and in shops (on and offline) have a deeper understanding of the Mexican spirit. So, what’s next? More at-home mixing and sipping, and a deeper appreciation for all things Mezcal out and about. Bring. It. On.

scotch whisky casks drinks trends for 2020

Bit cold out there

Unconventional cask finishing in Scotch

In June 2019, the Scotch Whisky Association widened the list of permitted cask types in Scotch whisky production. In short, as long as what was previously held in that cask wasn’t made with stone fruits, and hasn’t had flavourings or sweetening added, you’re good to go. It wasn’t an unexpected decision, and loads of Scotch distillers already had experiments under way (Glen Moray Rhum Agricole Cask Finish Project, we’re looking at you). So what? In 2020 we reckon we’ll see loads more esoteric expressions, perhaps some agave finishes, and maybe even some Calvados casks. And probably some stuff we’ve not even thought of yet. Get set for a new wave of flavour in Scotch whisky. (At this point, we’d also like to add a nod to Irish distilleries, who have been playing with different casks for some time.)

aquavit drinks trends for 2020

Delicious dill

An age of aquavit 

Similar to Calvados, aquavit is a traditional category with strong local ties that flies way too low under the radar for our liking. We’re going to stick our necks out and say 2020 is going to be the year that starts to change. To kick off, last year our aquavit sales blossomed by 27%. More people are seeking out the dill- or caraway-flavoured Scandi spirit than ever. What’s also interesting is that some producers in international markets are looking to aquavit for inspiration and are crafting their own expressions, most notably Svöl Danish-Style Aquavit, from Brooklyn, and Psychopomp Aqvavit, hailing from Bristol, UK. This comes hot on the heels of the botanical spirits trend – tried all manner of gins and want something new? Eschew the juniper and look to aquavit instead. It’s a narrative that could well play out this year. 

liqueurs unicorns drinks trends for 2020

RIP, unicorns

Liqueurs ditch the unicorns

2019 was a bumper year for liqueurs, growing 31% to rank as our third-largest drinks category by bottle sales. It’s a notoriously diverse category, defined really only by sugar levels rather than style or flavour. Good job really, three of our top 10 most popular liqueur products are ‘unicorn’ flavoured, whatever that means. There has been a slight shift already though: for the last three months of the year, whisky, coffee, herbal and caramel varieties proved far more popular. Yes, it could be Christmas. But we reckon there’s an underlying trend of a return to more conventional liqueur flavours. Yes, they’re still going to be sweet (that’s kind of the point). But 2020 looks likely to be the year more traditional liqueur variants reclaim the realm from mythical beasts.

Over to you! What do you think will be the biggest drinks trends for 2020? Have we missed something out or got it wildly wrong? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and on social! 

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Superb Fireside Sipping

Celebrate Bonfire Night this year with a selection of booze appropriately bursting with deliciousness. Remember, remember the fifth of November… No, seriously. Check your calendars. It’s approaching fast. Maybe you’re…

Celebrate Bonfire Night this year with a selection of booze appropriately bursting with deliciousness.

Remember, remember the fifth of November… No, seriously. Check your calendars. It’s approaching fast. Maybe you’re planning to watch all things sparkly and spectacular illuminate the sky. Or perhaps you can’t wait to get into your dressing gown and comfy slippers to wrap up warm indoors. Both sound good to us, but whether you’ll be in front of a bonfire or fireplace, we can surely all agree that it’s the perfect time to indulge in some cockle-warming drinks.

For those who need inspiration, we’ve made things nice and easy by selecting this smashing selection of spirits. Expect smoke, spice and everything nice from this round-up of bonfire-themed booze!

Smoked Rosemary Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

Smoked rosemary is an absolute winner in many a cocktail, ask any good bartender. But who wants to bother with the hassle of setting fire to some fresh rosemary themselves? Save the flames for an actual bonfire and instead enjoy this delightful gin from That Boutique-y Gin Company! Sensationally smoky Martinis await…

What does it taste like?:

Well, there’s no doubt that this contains rosemary, as well as plenty of juniper, saline seashore smells, cracked black pepper, lemon, a hint of smoked bacon.

Glenfiddich Experimental Series – Fire & Cane

The Experimental Series has produced some corking expressions, and Fire & Cane is no exception. Malt master Brian Kinsman created this bottling by finishing some of the distillery’s peated single malt for three-months in rum casks from a variety of South American countries. The cask complements the peated profile perfectly and makes this one an ideal fireside sipper.

What does it taste like?:

Billowing soft peat notes, rich sweet toffee, zesty fresh fruit, oak and sweet baked apple.

Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur

Ever had a liqueur made with chile ancho (dried poblano chiles) before? No? Well now is the perfect opportunity to acquaint yourself with the delights of this Mexican liqueur. It was made by macerating chile ancho in neutral cane spirit for half a year, which was then blended with a selection of other ingredients and allowed to rest a little longer for the flavour to marry. An ideal liqueur for those who want to add smoke and spice to their cocktails.

What does it taste like?:

Plenty of woodsmoke and dry, warming spice is complemented by a touch of liquorice.

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin gets its name from its star botanical, gunpowder tea, which is distilled with juniper, angelica, orris, caraway, coriander, meadowsweet, cardamom, fresh grapefruit and star anise as well as vapour infused oriental lemon and lime! Now try and tell me you don’t like the sound of a Gunpowder G&T.

What does it taste like?:

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

Smokehead Sherry Bomb

Spice and smoke feature again as a deadly duo in this whisky, made using well-peated single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery which was then matured in Oloroso sherry casks. Smokehead Sherry Bomb is unashamedly a powerhouse of a dram and every drop of it seems tailor-made to enjoy beside a fire.

What does it taste like?:

Dark chocolate, seaweed, a hint of medicinal peat smoke, BBQ smoke, stem ginger, sherried peels, sea salt, rum-raisin ice cream, red chilli flake, treacle, prunes and clove.

Cut Smoked Rum

Cut Rum range added an extra dimension of flavour to this Jamaican rum by smoking it using oak chips, which not only made it very tasty but also perfectly appropriate for Bonfire Night! This is one you can enjoy both in cocktails or neat.

What does it taste like?:

Struck match, coffee bean bitterness balanced by vanilla.

Black Fire

Liqueurs are extremely popular at the moment, so plenty of you will be looking for a bottling that adds some heat to your Bonfire-themed cocktails. The awesomely named Black Fire was made by combining the flavours of Blanco tequila, coffee and a kick of chilli. As well as cocktails, this is superb when splashed into some good quality coffee.

What does it taste like?:

Chocolate with red chilli mixed in, slightly earthy notes of agave and red pepper, smoky at points.

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Talking ethical booze with Gorilla Spirits

Given that today (24th September, if you’re nowhere near a calendar) is World Gorilla Day, we thought it was ideal timing to chat with Andy Daniels, founder of Gorilla Spirits…

Given that today (24th September, if you’re nowhere near a calendar) is World Gorilla Day, we thought it was ideal timing to chat with Andy Daniels, founder of Gorilla Spirits Co. about creating an ethical business, founding a distillery, and why he was moved by the plight of the mountain gorilla.

For every bottle of gin, vodka, rum or liqueur you buy from the Gorilla Spirits Co., £1 goes to The Gorilla Organization. The business model is simple: you purchase delicious booze, and support a great cause at the same time. “Everyone’s a winner: the consumer gets a great product; our company benefits from the sale of that product and the gorillas benefit greatly by additional resources being put in that direction,” explains Gorilla Spirits Co. founder, Andy Daniels.

Daniels had spent the best part of 35 years in corporate life, but during that time he’d always been drawn to the wonderful world of food and drink. He brewed his own beer, became a hobbyist cider maker, and even distilled for many years before he started a spirits company. The motivation to create his own brand came back in 2008.

“I got wind of what the Sipsmith guys were about to do, who are an important part of every craft spirit story in the UK today, and it sparked the idea,” Daniels says. “I spent a couple of years learning about the industry and formulating plans to start the business. From early 2011, I set about a formal project to get the company going, and it wasn’t until December 2015 that we actually launched our first project. It took a long time. Not only did we design our first commercial gin, but we also designed, from the ground up, a small but industrial-class distillery.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Gorilla Spirits Co. founder Andy Daniels

With the Gorilla Spirits Co., Daniels was determined to demonstrate that placing corporate social responsibility at the heart of a business not only serves society and the world at large as well, but it’s also positively good for business. “Very close to my heart is a strong belief that businesses should be more than just about making money. Businesses need to recognise that you can’t continually focus entirely on profit while taking out of the world’s resources,” Daniels says. “Many major organisations today have corporate social responsibility agendas. But I don’t believe that many, if any, really put it at the core of their business. I don’t think that’s a sustainable business model.”

When Gorilla Spirits Co. was founded, mountain gorillas were facing extinction with only 880 in existence. For Daniels, it was obvious to him that the focus of his social responsibility should be their conservation. “What shocked us about that was not just the fact that there were 880 mountain gorillas in the world, but the fact that the people who look after them knew that it was 880. It wasn’t 881 or 882, it was 880. When you can count the numbers of an entire species to that level, then clearly we’re in trouble,” explains Daniels.

In order to do his bit for the cause, Daniels struck up a partnership with UK-based charity The Gorilla Organization, which works with communities at the forefront of gorilla conservation through innovative and award-winning projects in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo. “We had some conversations with them about what they were doing and were really impressed, particularly because, for such a tiny charity, they’re able to do some amazing work,” Daniels says. “We entered into a formal contract with them which obliges us to pay one pound from every bottle that we sell. There is no termination clause in the agreement, so regardless of whether I’m running the business or whether anyone else is running the business, it remains committed to making that donation.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Mountain gorilla numbers have thankfully increased in recent years

In November 2018 the IUCN announced that mountain gorillas have been moved from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’. “The most recent census of the mountain gorilla puts its numbers at 1,004,” says Daniels. “The governments of Rwanda and Uganda have recognised the value of conservation, particularly when it comes to their gorilla populations. It just goes to show that when you get governments, charities and businesses all focused on supporting something and making something happen, you truly can make things change.”

It’s a promising message, given that brands based around conservation efforts have become increasingly common, with the likes of Elephant Gin and Snow Leopard Vodka also fighting the good fight. “We are not exclusive in this; they’re doing some amazing things,” explains Daniels. “It’s quite incredible that there are a few brands like us in the spirits industry who take a similar approach and I know full well that it’s as good for their businesses as it is for ours. As I said, it’s not just about philanthropy; it’s positively beneficial to business.”

It was important for Daniels that this model of ethical practice didn’t just concern its central cause, but also extended to the local community, “I was delighted that we were recently awarded an international corporate social responsibility excellence award for the work that we do not just with gorilla conservation but also in the way that we engage with the community,” he says. “For example, at the distillery, we have an onsite shop that we don’t open for anything other than booked visitors. So if somebody turns up here, we send them to our village shop. We do that because we want to be part of the community and we want to encourage the local rural economy.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Mugwaneza, the 200-litre Gorilla Spirits Co. still

The spirit of social responsibility played a large part in the location of the Gorilla Spirits Co.’s distillery. It is found in Upton Grey, in the northeast corner of Hampshire where it borders with Surrey. As Daniels explains, “One of the areas of the national economy that’s suffering particularly badly is our rural economies. Setting up where we are, we do have the potential to add money to the local economy.” The distillery has a visitor centre which regularly houses tours, tastings and cocktail masterclasses, as well as a ten-station gin school, all of which have proved popular. The gin school holds particular appeal, and Daniels describes it as “the ultimate experience really for a gin lover”. Given that participants make enough of their own gin (from a choice of over 60 botanicals) to bottle most and have enough left over for a G&T, it’s not hard to see why.

The main attraction remains the 200-litre still, an entirely digitally-connected and software-driven beauty called ‘Mugwaneza’. “When you go around the country, many stills have got very quintessentially English names like ‘Constance’ and ‘Patience’. Because we’re a bit different and because of our links with gorillas and with Africa, our still is named ‘Mugwaneza’,” says Daniels. “Translated into English from the language used in Rwanda, it means ‘she who is content’. In my long experience of life, whenever ‘she’ is content – whoever ‘she’ might be – then the world is quite a happy place”. All of the gin school’s ten stills likewise have names drawn from the Rwandan language, so if you make a bottle of gin with Gorilla Spirits, your label has the name of the still that it was produced in.

The Gorilla Spirits Co. doesn’t just manufacture its own spirit product. It has a contract distilling business on the side, and is currently making four brands with another three or four lined up over the next few months. “That’s the side of the business that we’re actively growing. That has been fantastic actually; to work with some other start-up brands and be part of their growth,” says Daniels.

Gorilla Spirits Co.

The Gorilla Spirits Co. portfolio

The current Gorilla Spirits Co. range consists of three gins, one vodka, one liqueur and one spiced rum, but there’s more to look forward to. “We’ve always got some exciting things going on in the background. We are doing some ageing at the moment, so I think in the next few months or so we’ll see some interesting aged products,” says Daniels. “We’re also looking to expand our rum portfolio and we’ve done some whisky trials.”

We look forward to seeing what’s to come, but for now, there’s plenty to enjoy from Gorilla Spirits Co.!

The first product the Gorilla Spirits Co. released was Silverback Mountain Strength Gin, which was produced back in December 2015. It’s London Dry in style and was crafted from seven botanicals which Daniels splits into two groups. The first is filled with classic ingredients, juniper, coriander, angelica root and sweet orange, and then the three additionals are calamus root, acacia blossom and lemongrass. “We describe Silverback as being a ‘citrus-led’ gin. So three of the seven: you’ve got coriander which gives us that spicy citrus note; orange for a nice warm citrus note; and then lemongrass which accentuates the high notes,” says Daniels. “Giving it its full title ‘Silverback Mountain Strength Gin’ the ‘mountain strength’ is actually not connected with the ABV but it is another nod to the strength and power of the gorilla”.

The Old Tom Gin uses exactly the same ingredients as Silverback Mountain Strength Gin, but the number of botanicals that are put into the distillation are increased because Daniels wanted to capture the Old Tom style which much richer in flavour and it’s sweetened. “After distillation, we add a tiny bit of sugar to sweeten it. We make it largely because I think it’s bloody delicious! At the end of the day you have to please yourself before you please anyone else and it’s a style that I really like,” says Daniels.

Initially launched as a limited-edition product, Silverback Raspberry Gin has proved so popular demand it might become a regular. To create this flavoured gin, Daniels began with the regular Silverback Mountain Strength formula, reduced the ABV to bottle down to 38%, added Scottish raspberry juice and a tiny bit of sugar to balance the tartness of the raspberry. Why Scottish raspberries? “Because they are the best in the world. It’s as simple as that! So whatever we put into a product we try to ensure that it is the very best that we can buy. And Scottish raspberry, bar none, is the best raspberry in the world,” says Daniels. “It has a lovely vibrant colour that suggests that it’s going to be a very fruity, very sweet liquid. But people are always surprised that actually what you get is a really, really lovely gin with a little trace of fresh summer fruit coming through it.”

Blackback Mountain Strength is an entirely British wheat-derived vodka which features a pot still-finish to add depth and character. “It has a really lovely mouth-feel, a touch of spiciness about it and a little hint of sweetness. It’s absolutely perfect for something like a vodka tonic or you want it for a cocktail, says Daniels. “What’s interesting from a story point of view, is that you know that a silverback gorilla is the head honcho of the troop and the great protector. A blackback gorilla is a young adolescent male who may become a silverback in the course of time, although it’s not guaranteed. There’s a little bit of playfulness in our branding as gin is essentially flavoured vodka, so our Blackback could one day be a Silverback.

Maraba Coffee Liqueur was made from single varietal red bourbon Arabica coffee beans from small growers in Rwanda and takes its name from this coffee-growing district. In order for the process to be as sustainable and ethical as possible, Gorilla Spirits Co. exceeds Fair Trade pricing for the growers concerned. The beans are roasted and ground by a local coffee roaster called Moonroast before it is effectively cold-brewed with alcohol, “so we get these amazing buttery, chocolate notes in it, along with the higher floral notes and taste and aroma. Then, of course, we mix it up into a liqueur,” says Daniels. “So with Maraba, again, great for cocktails so things like the nation’s favourite right now, espresso martini, as well as white Russians and black Russians”.

The most recent addition to the range is Karisimbi Spiced Rum. In fact, it was only just released last week on September 19th, or as I’m sure you all know it as, International Talk Like A Pirate Day. The name was taken from the highest volcanic peak in the Varumba National Park, which is home to a troop of mountain gorillas. “It’s quite a complex blend of aged and unaged rums from a number of different rum distilleries. It’s really beautifully spiced with vanilla, blood oranges, ginger and cinnamon. I would pit it against any spiced rum on the market, I think it’s absolutely delicious,” says Daniels. “It is predominantly designed for mixing and goes particularly well with things like Fever Tree Smoky Ginger Ale or a good quality cola, ginger beer, that kind of thing. But the quality of the rum is so good that it really is a sipper as well.”

Gorilla Spirits Co.

Happy World Gorilla Day!

Don’t forget, for each bottle of gin, vodka, rum or liqueur you buy from the Gorilla Spirits Co., £1 goes to The Gorilla Organization, whose fantastic work you can check out by clicking the link. The Gorilla Spirits Co. has also just launched an app which is available on the Apple Store and Google Play Store, so if you want a directory of cocktails to play with, as well as more info on the distillery and its conversation work than it’s the place to go. Happy World Gorilla Day, folks!

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