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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: London

New Arrival of the Week: Merser & Co. Double Barrel rum

This week we delve into the history of rum blending in London and try a very special rum part-matured in the capital by the Hayman family.  Gin or porter are…

This week we delve into the history of rum blending in London and try a very special rum part-matured in the capital by the Hayman family. 

Gin or porter are what probably comes to mind when you say the words ‘booze’ and ‘London’, but according to James Hayman, “for over one hundred years, the streets of London were home to a bustling network of merchant rum blending houses. The merchant’s skill lay not in distilling but rather in the sourcing, blending and secondary maturation of the rum. Our family was involved in the trade for some time – sourcing stock from West India Docks to create our own proprietary blends.” Apparently, if you landed at the Tower of London you had to give the Warden of the Tower a barrel of rum.

Now those heady days are back! The Hayman family, famous for their gin, have converted a four story townhouse off the Strand into a rum experience called Charles Merser & Co which is open to the public. Here you can learn about this lesser-known part of London’s history and even blend your own rum. On my visit, I tried the component parts of the first release from Merser & Co called Double Barrel, named not after the top Jamaican tune but from the way the spirit is matured. 

The rums are aged and blended in the Caribbean into three component parts (see below) before being married for 15 months in fourth-fill hogsheads which provide a very neutral container. The marrying takes place at Hayman’s distillery in Balham because health and safety wouldn’t let them store lots of flammable spirit in an old house in central London. Boring!

Merser & Co

The make-up of Double Barrel

And what a fascinating blend it is, mixing unaged high ester rums from Jamaica with older Spanish-style and Barbados rums. Brand director Jonathan Gibson explained it to me: “Young Jamaican rum gives vibrant freshness like a drop of Caol Ila in a blended Scotch. I love them but these might be too much for a general audience. We want that voluptuous quality as well.” He went on to say that the lack of an age statement gave them more freedom in the blend, “age statements can be limiting.”

Part A (19% of the blend) majors on the high ester pineapple with earthy, funky and balsamic notes.

Part B (47%) all mature Latin American and brings tobacco, dried apricot and orange peel like an old Cognac.

Part C (34%) adds chocolate, vanilla, toasty oak and more pineapple. 

Tasted together, it’s a fascinating experience with Jamaica dominating on the nose but on the palate it’s more about something elegant from Latin America, Flor de Caña perhaps. There’s no sugar or colour added. Full tasting notes below. It’s designed as a sophisticated cocktail rum and indeed tasted excellent in a Palmetto, half and half with Martini rosso and some orange bitters. “If you don’t have funky element then rum can disappear in cocktail”, Gibson told me.

Merser & Co.

Just off the Strand look for the Sign of the Post & Hound

The Hayman family have clearly put a lot of thought into this first release. The packaging is stunning. At the moment, Merser & Co is going to focus on the Double Barrel, but there are plans for other blended rums, perhaps inspired partly by Gibson’s old employer, Compass Box. So, let’s raise a glass to the return of rum to the capital. 

Tasting notes:

Nose: You can’t mistake that high ester Jamaican component, pineapples just jump out of the glass, followed by grassy vegetal flavours, orange peel and dark chocolate.

Palate: Creamy and elegant, with stone fruit to the fore and the Jamaican funk present but very much in the background.

Finish: Vanilla, coconut and chocolate.

Overall: Elegant, harmonious and distinctive. 

Double Barrel is available now

 

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Five minutes with… Alex Wolpert, founder of East London Liquor Company  

East London Liquor Company has graced our shelves with a trifecta of fascinating new whisky releases, including the distillery’s very first single malt – cause for celebration if ever we’ve…

East London Liquor Company has graced our shelves with a trifecta of fascinating new whisky releases, including the distillery’s very first single malt – cause for celebration if ever we’ve heard one. As we blow up the balloons and scatter the confetti, founder Alex Wolpert talks us through the tasty trio…

Those already familiar with East London Liquor Company’s spirits-making philosophy will know they don’t do things by halves. These are the people who, when presented with the opportunity to release the city’s first distilled whisky in more than 100 years, released a London rye made in a combination of pot and column stills and matured in three different cask types. Whether it’s ageing gin in Moscatel casks or distilling 100% English-grown Chardonnay brandy, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Wolpert and his team.

The east London-based distillery has just launched three new whiskies, each as compelling as the last. The first, East London Single Malt Whisky, is double pot-distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks from California’s Sonoma Distilling Company and ex-bourbon casks from Kentucky for a minimum of three years. Bottled at 47% ABV, given tasting notes include ‘peanut butter, bitter almond and biscuits, developing into a vegetal finish of green tomatoes and light tar, with a delicate and slightly oily mouthfeel’. 

Alex Wolpert looking happy in his distillery, and with good reason

There’s also a fresh batch of London Rye, matured first for a year in virgin oak before being rested in ex-Sonoma and Kentucky Bourbon casks for two years, with six months’ maturation in an ex-peated cask before it was finished in ex-Pedro Ximénez. Another 47% beauty, this bottling boasts ‘a big, umami hit of leather, peat, bouillon, porridge and peanut butter on the palate, with a chewy mouthfeel, wrapping up with notes of candied ginger and light tar to finish’. 

The third and final release goes by the name of ELx Sonoma, a blended whisky made in collaboration with Sonoma’s owner and whisky maker Adam Spiegel. Bottled at 45.5% ABV, the liquid contains London Rye whiskies aged in a variety of casks (including ex-peated, Pedro Ximénez and oloroso casks, as well as ELLC’s own barrel-aged gin barrels) along with Spiegel’s own blend of Sonoma bourbons. Here, spice and fruit lead on the palate, with notes of black peppercorn, dried apricots, candied cherries, corn silk and oatmeal.

Thirsty for more details, we called ELLC’s Wolpert for a chinwag. Here’s what he had to say…

Master of Malt: You’ve just released three brand new expressions, including your very first single malt whisky. Talk us through that project…

Alex Wolpert: From our point of view, it’s always been about experimentation – we never set out specifically to make single malt. Our London Rye last year was about, ‘how can we celebrate rye as a grain? How can we get that into a whisky that showcases us as a distillery? How do we find our character as a whisky producer?’. And at the same time we were – and are still – experimenting with single malt, so Andy Mooney, who is responsible for our whisky production, has really taken this approach to its limits. You’ve got extra pale malted barley, double pot distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks. We talk about it being a balance between nutty bitterness, a sweet, fragrant note, and then a vegetalness which really makes it incredibly moreish. It’s really special. But obviously I’m completely biased. 

The three new whiskies. We can’t wait (but we’ll have to because they’re not here yet)

MoM: It’s been a year since you launched London Rye. How was it received by drinks aficionados? What do the barrel finishes in the new bottling bring to the spirit?

AW: It went better than we could ever have dreamt. We allocated a couple of bottles to 40 of our key accounts, I hand-delivered the London accounts on the Friday and by the Monday most of them were out. It was really rewarding to see that not only were people prepared to take the juice and try it, but actually people came to the venues, asked for it by name and it sold. The whole production team were really very happy and it gave everyone a big spring in their step in terms of how we progress and what we work on. The new bottling feels like a development of what we did last year and it’s really tasty – that peated note adds to the fruity flavours of the Pedro Ximénez in such an incredible way.

MoM: You guys have collaborated with Sonoma Distilling Company in the past – could you talk about your relationship with them and the creative process behind ELx Sonoma?

AW: We’ve been importing Adam’s rye, bourbon and wheated whiskey for almost four years now. I never set out to have an import arm, I guess it was driven by finding amazing liquid, and his stuff is truly exceptional. Earlier this year I was out in California, I guess I had a bit of our liquid with me, he had a little bit of his and we just thought, why not see what might happen? In the end we made a few different samples, developing it and having conversations about ABV and blending. To end up with a liquid on this level was slightly unexpected, it’s amazing. What I love is that it proves we’re in pursuit of great liquid. If Adam’s high-rye bourbon adds something to what we’re doing, then why shouldn’t we bring them together? There’s a danger in any category that people have tunnel-vision, so it’s lovely to break that up and say, ‘We want to elevate rye – what better way to do that than to work with other great rye producers?’. Plus, Adam’s a lovely guy and we get along well, so any excuse to sit down with him and drink whisky is always gratefully received.

East London Liquor Company founder, Alex Wolpert, with distillery team

Team East London Liquor Company with founder Alex Wolpert second from right

MoM: When you first opened the distillery, your aim was to “produce spirits that are accessible in flavour and price, while being of the highest quality”. So far, are you happy that you’ve achieved what you set out to do?

AW: Absolutely, yes. Nothing leaves the building without us collectively saying, ‘This is really good’.  And for every new release, there’s so much in the background that isn’t ready or doesn’t quite work. So much work goes into finessing every release and making sure it’s of that standard. At the same time, sometimes you have these moments of panic where you think you’re in a big echo chamber – you release something, like our Grape Scott, where you think, ‘Will people like this? Does this work?’. And then you get great feedback and it acts as a sense check. So I’m really excited to hear what people think about these whiskies. Democratising good booze is always going to be at the forefront of what we do, it really informs how we develop and grow as a business, so that’s always going to be what we come back to.

MoM: ELLC’s momentum is super inspiring – what’s the distillery’s next goal?

AW: I feel immensely privileged, we’ve come so far and the team is a real testament to that. We’ve got such an incredible team who make it happen – without amazing product, we’re nothing. I guess our next goal is getting more whisky out and growing our gin footprint. We don’t call ourselves craft, but in an environment where ‘craft’ is perceived as justifying a £35 price tag for a bottle of gin, we want to get more of our £21.50 gin into people’s cupboards so they realise that price tag doesn’t equate to quality. We’re not shy about experimenting, so there will be some new releases on the horizon. It might be a bit unfair to say that without saying what will come, but when we think they’re ready, they’ll get airtime. We’re not standing still, and we’re not shy of pushing the envelope and developing what we do. 

These fabulous whiskies should be arriving at the end of October, keep an eye on our new arrivals page.

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New Arrival of the Week: East London Liquor Company Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1

There are three things we love at Master of Malt more than anything else: high quality spirits, bad puns and Back to the Future, so when a product arrived called…

There are three things we love at Master of Malt more than anything else: high quality spirits, bad puns and Back to the Future, so when a product arrived called Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1, how could we resist?

Today’s puntastic New Arrival is a collaboration between the East London Liquor Company and Renegade Wines. The ELLC will need no introduction to regular readers of this blog but to irregular readers (you know who you are), here’s a bit of background: the distillery was founded in 2014 by Alex Wolpert at Bow Wharf, East London’s first distillery in over 100 years. Last year Wolpert financed his expansion plans with a successful crowd-funding initiative, raising £1.5m. The company makes a range of gins, vodkas and last year released a highly-regarded London rye that has got bartenders all hot under the collar. There are also some more experimental things including a chestnut wood-aged whisky and rum barrel-aged gin but this latest product, an English grappa-style spirit, is perhaps the most unusual thing to come out of this stable. 

East London Liquor Company founder, Alex Wolpert, with distillery team

Team ELLC with founder Alex Wolpert second from right

ELLC’s partner in crime is Renegade Wines, a urban winery based in nearby Bethnal Green founded in 2017 by Warwick Smith and New Zealand winemaker Josh Hammond. No, they don’t have a vineyard in an allotment off Roman Road, instead the pair buy in grapes from all over Europe, have them shipped to London and, using the magic of fermentation, turn them into wine. As well as exotic continental grapes, Renegade also uses honest-to-god Herefordshire-grown Bacchus (hence the name). This grape variety, originally developed in Germany, has found a home in the English countryside and makes some of the country’s best still wines.

After making their delicious wines, there’s lots of stuff leftover called pomace, mainly grape skins and bits of stalk. So what to do with it? Well, it can be used as fertiliser or to feed cattle, but it’s more fun to make it into more booze. Actually, Grape Scott Part 1 isn’t the first winery/ distillery mash-up in England. Hyke Gin, a recent New Arrival of the Week, uses grape leftovers as a botanical, and very nice it is too. Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1, however, is as far as we can tell the very first English pomace brandy, known in Italy as grappa and France as marc.

You’ve probably had grappa on holiday in Italy. Just the thing after a long meal, it can be rather fiery. Which is why it loves a bit of ageing to mellow it out a bit. ELLC ages its Bacchus brandy in old red wine casks which add richness and colour, but also softens it. Bottled at 47 .1% ABV, the result is punchy and distinctive, like an Italian grappa, but with the edges smoothed off. It makes a great digestif to finish off those long East London lunches, but we think it might do interesting things in a cocktail. Bacchus Boulevardier has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

 

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Casoni x Gibson savoury liqueurs are here

Considering liqueurs and bitters are the cocktail equivalent of ‘seasoning’, the bar world is surprisingly short on savoury modifiers. Until now. We discover how to elevate our favourite classic cocktails…

Considering liqueurs and bitters are the cocktail equivalent of ‘seasoning’, the bar world is surprisingly short on savoury modifiers. Until now. We discover how to elevate our favourite classic cocktails with Marian Beke, owner of London bar The Gibson, as he rolls out a trio of contemporary liqueurs in collaboration with family-owned Italian distillery Casoni…

When it comes to superior savoury flavour knowledge, we can’t think of a better mind than Beke’s. For the unacquainted, his bar – The Gibson, in east London’s Old Street – is named after the Martini variant, which combines gin, dry vermouth and a pickled onion. “We make all of our drinks with a focus on savoury notes, even if it’s a fruity drink for example, there will always be a touch of savoury, whether it’s smoke, salt, vinegar,” he says. 

At first, this touch came entirely from non-boozy ingredients, though mostly through necessity rather than choice. With few decidedly savoury spirits to choose from, Beke first created a gin – The Gibson Edition – in collaboration with Belgium’s Copperhead Distillery, containing 15 botanicals that are normally used for pickling, including mace, bay leaf, ginger, allspice, fennel and dill seeds. Around two years ago, he came across Casoni’s balsamic vinegar barrel-aged vermouth, and a light bulb went on.

Marian Beke from the Gibson

Marian Beke from the Gibson

“If you go into any bar, the liqueurs are orange, coffee, maybe elderflower; they’re usually artificial colouring and flavour,” he explains. “We thought it would be great to create something real and natural but not just a sweet liqueur as always. It’s not just about making ‘my’ recipe – it’s all connected with Casoni’s history.”

The creations acknowledge the historic distillery’s Italian home, Modena, which you’ll recognise from supermarket aisles the world over since the region is renowned for its balsamic vinegar. Each variant, developed over a two-year process – Wild Berries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Figs and Cherries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, and amaro-amaretto hybrid Amarotto – has been infused, distilled and bottled according to ‘the protected traditions of the Casoni family’ (which, FYI, has been busy crafting liqueurs since 1814).

The concept of a savoury liqueur is intriguing in and of itself. According to EU regs, a liqueur must contain minimum 100g sugar per litre and a strength of at least 15% ABV. Incidentally, the Amarotto has the highest ABV at 29%, followed by Figs and Cherries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at 21%, and Wild Berries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at 17%. Achieving the desired flavour profile while adhering to the minimum requirements was no easy task, Beke admits. “It’s a vinegar, you know, so we had to balance it many times,” he says. “We added it in small amounts and used older balsamic, which has less acidity.” 

While balsamic liqueur isn’t a new concept, many bartenders are cautious about incorporating it into cocktails “because it has a really strong flavour of balsamic and nothing else,” he says. Through his collaboration with Casoni, Beke sought to break down these barriers by replicating flavours people were already familiar with.

Casoni savoury Liqueurs 220719

Casoni savoury liqueurs with their very fetching retro labels

“I can easily go to the bar and say, ‘are you using raspberry, strawberry, or blackberry liqueur?’ and they say ‘yes, of course’ and make something like a Bramble or Russian Spring Punch or Kir Royale,” he explains. “And I can say, ‘ok, great, now try it with Wild Berries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and you’ll see it has more complexity and texture and a savoury note’. It can be used in place of any of these fruity liqueurs.”

His Figs and Cherries and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, for example, makes a great replacement for Heering Cherry in recipes like the Blood and Sand [Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, Heering Cherry and orange juice], to bring “more complexity and extend the length,” says Beke. “It’s like in food if you add salt, smoke, or something like aged old cheese, the savoury notes prolong the flavour. That’s the beauty of savoury.” 

The Amarotto, meanwhile, emulates a savoury almond snack flavour, combining “real amaro, a little bit of smoke and a pinch of salt,” he explains. It makes for an exceptional twist on an Amaretto Sour – “just add a splash of lemon and egg white and you’ve got a great drink straight away,” Beke says – as well as with tonic, ginger beer, cola or coconut water.

Or, alternatively, drop by The Gibson in Old Street, where Beke has developed a range of low-ABV serves to highlight the complex notes of each liqueur, from the light, sweet Amarotto Pickled Manhattan to that aforementioned aromatic Blood & Sand with Figs and Cherries.

 

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How do you make alcohol-free beer delicious?

Britain’s pioneering brewers have made it possible to enjoy a flavourful sip without unfavourable ill-effects the following morning. But how, exactly, is alcohol-free beer made? We chatted to the brains…

Britain’s pioneering brewers have made it possible to enjoy a flavourful sip without unfavourable ill-effects the following morning. But how, exactly, is alcohol-free beer made? We chatted to the brains behind a handful of innovative booze-free breweries…

Let’s get right into it. There are two ways to brew an alcohol-free beer. “Firstly you can brew to a very low alcohol using a small amount of malt, extracting a small amount of fermentable sugar, and therefore creating a small amount of alcohol,” explains Luke Boase, creator of alcohol-free lager Lucky Saint. “Secondly, you can brew a full strength beer and remove the alcohol at the end of the process.”

Made with Bavarian spring water, Pilsner malt, Hallertau hops and a bespoke strain of yeast, Lucky Saint is brewed according to the latter. Rather than use a single-infusion mash, the team has opted for a more labour-intensive step-mash, whereby the temperature is progressively increased through 60 to 75 degrees celsius. “This gives us greater control over the creation of fermentable sugars and, importantly, allows us to produce a wort with minimal non-fermentable sugars,” Boase outlines. 

Lucky Saint beer

Lucky Saint bottles cast long shadows

Then, the beer is fermented and conditioned for six weeks, during which time any sediment naturally separates, allowing the team to “retain as much flavour, body and character as possible”. The final stage before bottling is vacuum-distillation. “There are a couple of technologies available,” he continues. “We selected vacuum distillation, which changes the atmospheric pressure and reduces the evaporation point of the alcohol.

“Typically, alcohol evaporates at almost 80 degrees Celsius, but beer doesn’t survive those kinds of temperatures too well,” Boase explains. “Within the vacuum, we can lower the evaporation point to around 40 degrees Celsius, removing the alcohol without affecting any of the delicate flavours of the beer.”

Beer alchemy at its finest, you’ll agree. But while the team has spent time honing the process, they aren’t precious about experimenting when it comes to future bottlings. “Different technologies can work better for different products,” Boase says. So, what about the alternative? How exactly do you go about brewing a beer that barely registers above 0.5% ABV at full strength? 

To find out, we tapped up the folks at Big Drop Brewing Company. “We use a ‘lazy yeast’, which is bad at converting sugars to alcohol; a smaller-than-usual mash bill, which has fewer sugars to convert; and we control the temperatures at various points to control how quickly everything ferments,” explains director Nick Worthington. “We use a wider variety of grain, up to 20 different kinds everything from wheat, oats, barley, rye to give that depth of flavour and pack a punch.”

Big Drop Brewing Co 02

Just some of the delicious Big Drop range

Of course, for every craftsman there’s a multinational conglomerate willing to cut corners and make a buck from the masses. It’s worth noting that the bigger breweries – the household names on the periphery of alcohol-free alchemy – are often more economical, shall we say, in their endeavours, opting to add a malt extract after brewing and chemically extracting the booze to boost certain flavour notes, for example. Still, for the most part, the burgeoning industry remains a hotbed of authentic innovation balanced with reverence for the wider beer category.

“It’s a really interesting and exciting challenge for brewers,” says Chris Hannaway, who co-founded Infinite Session brewery with his brother Tom, “to create a great tasting beer without the main ‘ingredient’ that usually helps them to do this. It takes more precision, more research and more skill to make a great alcohol-free beer.” 

When brewing their beer, the duo uses a variety of different malts to achieve the desired mouthfeel, complexity, sweetness, colour and head for each bottling. So far as alcohol-free brewing is concerned, “this really is only the start,” he continues. “As the taste and quality improves across the board, any stigma that remains will become almost non-existent.”

Ultimately, breweries are trying to offer more choice, adds Worthington, and that can only be a good thing. “Many brewers now offer a variation of one of their most popular styles in an alcohol-free format,” he says. “They recognise people might not want to drink beer all the time but may still want to drink one of their products. They still want an adult-tasting drink.” There’s plenty of chatter about Generation Z eschewing alcohol and staying sober in the age of social media, but Worthington believes booze-free beer is beloved by a different demographic. “People say one in three 18 to 25 year olds aren’t drinking, but it’s not necessarily them – we don’t think they’ve ever drank beer, so they’re unlikely to pick up an alcohol-free one,” he says. “It tends to be the generations above who are looking to put some balance back in their lives. They like the taste of beer, but they don’t necessarily want the alcohol with it.”

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Five of the world’s most sustainable bars

Have you ever considered the carbon footprint of your favourite cocktail? Between its exotic ingredients and region-specific spirits, needless to say it’s probably racked up more air miles than you…

Have you ever considered the carbon footprint of your favourite cocktail? Between its exotic ingredients and region-specific spirits, needless to say it’s probably racked up more air miles than you have this year. But not to worry – we’ve championed five environmentally-savvy bars that encourage their customers to sip and savour without destroying the planet… 

We hate to break it to you, but your average bar is far from eco-friendly. Between the throwaway lime wedge in your G&T to the bucketfuls of water it takes to craft each drink (from the excess ice that dilutes the liquid or the dishwasher that cleans the glass), few of us consider just how wasteful the average night out can be.

However, an increasing number of bars are taking steps to lessen their impact on the environment, and making some incredibly creative and unique drinks while they’re at it. Thanks to a few daring industry trailblazers, conscious imbibing is now more than just a trend – it’s a movement.

So, what else makes a bar ‘sustainable’? The Sustainable Restaurant Association, an independent collective that champions sustainability in the food service industry, suggests that environmentally-conscious venues ought to consider the following steps…

  • Talk to suppliers to reduce or eliminate single-use packaging
  • Switch to reusable coasters and reconsider napkins
  • Water is a valuable commodity so use every last drop of ice
  • Review which drinks need straws, reduce and consider non-plastic alternatives like metal, bamboo, pasta and paper
  • Look into using seasonal non-citrus fruits and when using citrus, think sharp and use the whole fruit, juice peel and all
  • Promote local: discover spirits and mixers produced by smaller producers nearby

Sounds like a pretty good place to start. Here are five eco-friendly hangouts to encourage you to drink more sustainably. We could all do with taking a (nature-friendly) leaf out of their book…

Himkok, Oslo

Himkok, Oslo

Himkok, Oslo

Where? Storgata 27, 0184 Oslo, Norway

Why? The energy and resources used to ship spirits across the globe is surely one of the most prominent issues faced by the drinks industry. Oslo hangout Himkok houses a micro-distillery powered by hydro-energy which produces around 80% of their spirits requirements, with a focus on aquavit, gin and vodka. This means zero air miles and very little waste from glass bottles because they are constantly re-used. When it comes to sourcing ingredients, the team gives ‘ugly’ produce – misshapen carrots and unconventional strawberries  – a second chance at life, and make their own in-house soft drinks and mixers. Himkok is also big on the ‘sustainability of people’, offering pensions and paid holiday as well as capping shift length at eight hours.

Akedemi, Bali,

Akedemi Bar, Bali

Akademi Bar, Bali

Where? Jl. Petitenget No.51B, Kerobokan Kelod, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia

Why? With venues across Bali, Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta, lifestyle and hospitality brand Potato Head’s ‘good times, do good’ ethos echoes throughout its bars, restaurants and pop-ups (most recently, the team fashioned an entire bar out of discarded coconuts). The Akademi Bar menu celebrates tropical flavours native to Bali, featuring seasonal ingredients from local farmers and producers according to a ‘root-to-flower’ philosophy that extends to the design – plastic has been ditched in favour of locally-sourced degradable or reusable materials such as bamboo, metal, glass and paper. Akademi doubles as a bartender school and research lab for Indonesia’s native botanical ingredients, and hosts monthly workshops focusing on the region’s indigenous materials.

Operation Dagger, Singapore,

Operation Dagger, Singapore

Operation Dagger, Singapore

Where? 7 Ann Siang Hill, #B1-01, Singapore 069791

Why? Ethical practice is the name of the game at avant-garde cocktail spot Operation Dagger in Singapore. The bar, which opened in 2013, has never used plastic straws; boozes are re-distilled, stored in recycled brown apothecary bottles and marked with handcrafted labels made from recycled receipts. The team are conscious of food miles and packaging too, cutting down their use of citrus – lemons, limes and so on aren’t native to the region and instead have to be imported from California and Australia – and subbing in vinegars and shrubs instead, which are often made from leftover, unused wines. Modern culinary methods and traditional fermentation techniques inform the recipes to make seriously striking drinks occasionally garnished with oddities from the bar’s in-house herb garden.

Charlie Parker’s, Sydney

Charlie Parker’s, Sydney

Charlie Parker’s, Sydney

Where? Basement/380 Oxford St, Paddington NSW 2021, Australia

Why? Closed-loop cocktails are the central focus at Charlie Parker’s, which breaks its menu down according to plant anatomy – from the delicate flavours of the flower to the earthier, vegetal root. The skins, seeds and leftover flesh from whatever available produce happens to be season is preserved, fermented, infused and sometimes even re-distilled to create a unique selection of shrubs, bitters, tinctures and garnishes. Soda is made in-house using recycled citrus, even the straws break down after two weeks’ composting. And this sustainable ethos extends beyond ingredients to the space-saving design of the physical bar as well as the staff recruitment process. There are no hosts, no pot wash, no waiting staff; everyone who works there is a bartender first and foremost to ensure a seamless experience from the first sip to the last. Economical bartending at its finest.

Scout, London

The ice cubes at Scout remind you where you are. Clever

Scout, London

Where? 224 Graham Rd, London E8 1BP, UK

Why? East London’s Scout with its daily-changing menu is about as close to zero-waste as you can possibly get. Every ingredient in the bar is either sourced from British producers, farmers and growers, foraged locally – bay leaf and wood sorrel from Hackney, for example  – or grown on-site; each part of the plant finds a function, whether through drying, brewing, distilling or more advanced cocktail alchemy. Perishables are fermented and pickled when they’re at their prime to make bespoke wines that last year-round. The place even makes its own yeast. Scout’s second outpost in Sydney is equally brilliant, crafting drinks with quandong, sandalwood and even locally-sourced ants.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin and Tonic

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely…

As I am sure you all were aware, yesterday was National Gin & Tonic Day. Any excuse to look a little closer at a drink that is often made extremely badly…

I’ve had many terrible Gin and Tonic experiences, so to get me in the right frame of mind for this article, I thought back to three particularly great ones:

1) A bar in Barcelona in the mid ‘90s, I’ve just ordered a Gin Tonica. The barman fills a tall Collins glass with ice, then free pours Larios Gin almost to the top, adds a slice of lime, adds a splash of tonic on the side, and I marvel as the UV light turns the drink blue (something to do with the quinine) while Ritmo de La Noche bangs away.

2) Sunset over Lake Malawi, the heat of the day has faded a bit, I’m sipping a G&T made with the local gin (which is excellent, why does nobody import it?) and thinking about dinner. The drink is extremely cold and alive with limes that taste as if they’d just come off the tree. Probably because they had.

3) At my grandfather’s house. Him explaining to me in his pedantic grandpa way how to make a G&T. The method involved Beefeater gin, lots and lots of ice, good quality heavy tumblers and Schweppes tonic water out of tiny bottles so that they were bursting with fizz. My grandfather made a mean G&T, much better than my father.

Gin Mare

The Spanish do make a cracking G&T (photo courtesy of Gin Mare)

These stories illustrate how a G&T should be: majestic, refreshing and invigorating. Now think of those pub versions you’ve had: watery ice, flat tonic, and sad dried out lemon, if you get any citrus at all. The whole thing tasting sickly sweet. Here I turn to the words of the great Victoria Moore in her book How to Drink (it was published in 2009, we really need an updated version): “Some people think that there is no need for instruction when it comes to making Gin and Tonic. Those people are wrong.” Making a good G&T isn’t difficult but it does require care.

When it comes to ingredients, we’re now spoiled for choice. You can go for classic gins with a big whack of juniper (Tanqueray) or floral lighter ones (Bombay Sapphire) or even ones that don’t really taste like gin (looking at you, Gin Mare). I’m using Ramsbury Gin from Wiltshire which contains quince as one of its botanicals. Tonic water has exploded recently with every variety under the sun from Fever Tree and its rivals. Don’t, however, ignore Schweppes. For many G&T fanatics, it’s the only one that will do. Which gin or tonic you use, however, is largely a matter of taste.

What isn’t a matter of taste is the proper way to make the thing. First the glass: use a heavy tumbler, a Collins glass or one of those Spanish fishbowl things. You need lots of ice, the cubes should be as large as possible. Try to avoid ice bought in bags as the cubes have holes in which makes them melt quicker. Both your gin and tonic should be chilled. I keep a bottle of gin in the freezer for emergency Martinis. Now the citrus fruit: it can be lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange (particularly nice with Brighton Gin) but it must be freshly cut. It sounds a bit pretentious but you will really notice the difference with Amalfi or Sicilian lemons as they have a floral perfumed quality rather than just being sharp.

Got your ingredients ready? Is your gin in the freezer? Let’s have a bloody Gin Tonica!

50ml Ramsbury Gin
100ml 1724 Tonic Water
Quarter of lemon

Fill a Collins glass or tumbler with ice, pour in the gin and top up with half the tonic water. Rub a quarter of lemon around the rim, drop in and stir. Serve with the rest of the tonic on the side so you can dilute to taste. Don’t forget the salty snacks.

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A Way with words: Globetrotting cocktails at Little Red Door

Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for…

Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for us – they’ve interpreted them as cocktails. We caught up with group bar manager Rory Shepherd to find out precisely what (or who…) ‘pochemuchka’ is…

If you’ve ever felt as though you can’t quite find the right words, it could be because they don’t exist – not in English, anyway. The team at Little Red Door has clocked onto this with a new drinks selection, taking 10 untranslatable words and using them to inspire corresponding cocktails.

Behind the Little Red Door

Behind the Little Red Door

The premise of the menu, dubbed A Way With Words, is this: all words are rooted in emotion, which is how they are given meaning (deep, we know). So the cocktails, in their deliciousness, will delve deep into the emotion behind the phrases.  The team, who hail from French, Dutch, Swedish and Venezuelan backgrounds – and usher hundreds of international guests through their doors each week – were inspired by the language barriers that are often broken down in the bar.

“As a Scotsman it was very hard not to involve some seriously rough Scottish slang,” says Shepherd of words that didn’t quite make the final cut. “We also wanted to do words that are an absolute no in a bar environment like ‘culaccino’, which in Italian refers to the mark left on a table by a wet glass.”

Pochemucka

Pochemuchka 

Ingredients: Strawberry leaf Belvedere, strawberry wine, strawberry moo juice
Language: Russian
Rough translation: Why is the sky blue? Why are strawberries red? Why does that person keep asking questions?!
How it’s made: The team separates milk using strawberry leaf-infused Belvedere vodka, adds strawberry vermouth, and then filters the mix to serve a clarified milk punch.

So, how did they do it? First, they gathered words that “depict a certain emotion, feeling, state or ritual that in its native language sums up an entire experience, but in English needs a full description”, and shared them out among the bartenders, who got busy researching, interpreting developing, and ultimately translating their given word into a drink – albeit in their own creative bar language.

“Pochemuchka is someone who asks questions,” explains Shepherd. “There’s a kids book called Pochemuchka about this kid who is super curious about everything to the point where it’s almost annoying. We purposely wrote Strawberry Moo Juice so you’d ask what it is. What is a ‘Moo’ and what would it’s ‘juice’ be? …. Strawberry milk!”

Passeggiata

Ingredients: All day amaro, bubbles
Language: Italian
Rough translation: Strolling along by the sea, breathing in the warm sunset air, digesting a lovely meal, being with each other.
How it’s made: To create this non-alcoholic twist on the classic Americano serve, the team combine house-made non-alcoholic Amaro with Seedlip Garden 108 and soda water.

The physical menu, should you be lucky enough to get your mitts on one, is decorated with artwork by surrealist photographer Natacha Einat which aims to evoke the feeling of the words behind each cocktail. Thought-provoking drinks are, after all, a Little Red Door staple.

The new cocktails follow 2018’s Menu of Universal Values, made up of drinks representing 10 different values that everyone feels at least once (strength, stimulation, achievement, hedonism, benevolence, conformity, self-direction, tradition, universalism, and balance, FYI). I ask Shepherd what he enjoys about approaching cocktails in this way.

“It’s fun, it’s bonding, it’s intriguing,” he says. “By digging into a topic you don’t really know about you discover new things so therefore when you are exploring flavour you will also do the same, it’s an amazing way to step out of our comfort zone. Ultimately our interests lie in social studies and anthropology, which in a social world such as cocktail bars it’s nice to get nitty gritty with this.”

Fuubutsushi

Ingredients: Monkey Shoulder, seasonal tea, rice wine, ‘terroir’
Language: Japanese
Rough translation: The sense of seasons to come, the first scent of cut grass, bees collecting nectar, leaves turning to amber.
How it’s made: Well, it really depends on the season. The flavour of this whisky cocktail which is served on the rocks in a Japanese-inspired bowl with seasonal flowers and fruits – will be dictated by the local produce available.

While the hip hangout, situated in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris, undergoes a small refurbishment, Shepherd and the team will take their new creation on an international tour, working in collaboration with bars along the way to create bespoke drinks based on words in their native languages. London will be the first to taste A Way With Words over the coming weekend (12, 13 and 14 April), hosted at buzzy Marylebone bar FAM in collaboration with Porter’s Gin.

We collaborated on a Cognac drink which will be available at FAM after we leave for the duration of Cognac Week in London,” says Shepherd. “It was super fun coming up with this name because we had to kind of reverse our process; an English word that doesn’t really translate… Higgledy-Piggledy contains Remy Martin 1738, Londinio Aperitivo, fino sherry, lemon thyme, and Sacred Amber vermouth.”

Na’eeman

Ingredients: Fermented agave, forbidden fruit, hops
Language: Arabic
Rough translation: A feeling of self-freshness. The purity and ritual of cleanliness
How it’s made: Fermented agave wine made in Paris is combined with red apple verjus and mastiha soda with hops to make a light, floral drink.

A Way With Words is available at Little Red Door now, presented in both French and English.

 

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Mixable spirits: The rise of cocktail-specific boozes

In days gone by, the primary function of a cocktail was to mask the harshness of the spirit within and make the drink a little more palatable. Thanks, however, to…

In days gone by, the primary function of a cocktail was to mask the harshness of the spirit within and make the drink a little more palatable. Thanks, however, to improvements in distillery technology – and good old health and safety – cocktails evolved to show off the quality of the alcohol. Now, producers are turning everything on its head and creating spirits that serve the cocktail, rather than cocktails that serve the spirit.

“Following the explosion of the global cocktail scene in the early 1990s and the more recent renaissance of classic cocktails in the last five to 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the production of mixology-focused spirits,” observes Geoff Robinson, UK brand ambassador for Santa Teresa rum. A former bartender at London bars Happiness Forgets, Library, Seven Tales and Satan’s Whiskers, he has experienced – and experimented with – the burgeoning ‘cocktail spirits’ market first hand.

Geoff Robinson

Geoff Robinson thinking of new uses for Santa Teresa 1796 rum

“Bartenders are no longer afraid to take risks with premium spirits,” he continues. “The widespread trends for clarification, fat-washing and fermentation, amongst others, demonstrate the creativity of bartenders in the current climate and how they are leveraging the wealth of technology, and products, available to them to create truly ground-breaking innovations in cocktails.”

This nascent bartender ingenuity has prompted producers to follow a new path: distilling – and bottling – with mixed drinks in mind. And who better to inform their decisions than the very people who will be pouring the liquid? From brainstorming flavours to tapping into specific cocktail applications and testing early batches of product, bartenders have been increasingly involved at every stage. Some brands, like Auchentoshan, go a step further – making the process a competitive collaborative endeavour, such as its Bartenders’ Malt release.

So, what are bartenders looking for? The quality of the liquid is the most important element. “If you ask a bartender today what his or her impression of ‘base spirits’ for cocktails are, you’re likely to get a mixed response,” notes Giovanni Spezziga, general manager of The Coral Room in London. “Many of them will say their experiences have been disappointing. It’s as if they really wanted to like the products or brand but were let down by the actual liquid inside the bottle.”

Giovanni Spezziga

Giovanni Spezziga and one of his team at the Coral Room both resplendent in crushed velvet

The other key consideration, according to Robinson, when engineering a spirit specifically designed for mixing is to ensure that it brings something distinct to the back bar: “That need not be some esoteric or long-forgotten ingredient – it can be as simple as a much-loved spirit at a higher ABV, or a single distillate expression of a much sought-after botanical or flavour,” he explains. “Ultimately, the key is to add something of value to the existing conversation; ideally, you want bartenders to understand that spirit as uniquely able to offer a particular profile, thus allowing them – and simultaneously inspiring them – to use it in new creations or twists on classics.”

Flavour aside, there’s also the small matter of practical use when it comes to the cocktail-specific spirit. The packaging and bottle must be ergonomic – both in the hands of bartenders and atop the backbar – and depending on the venue, or perhaps even the cocktail, durable enough to protect the contents within. Flavours change over time, says Spezziga, depending on the style and size of the bottle as well as the liquid. Aged spirits like bourbon and Scotch can lose a significant amount of their colour due to exposure to both light and heat, he adds.

Some may think crafting spirits for cocktails is an easy endeavour after all, the liquid is going to be mixed (and potentially masked) with something else regardless but as Robinson and Spezziga attest, creating bartender-worthy booze is no walk in the park. Here, we’ve picked five spectacular spirits that were designed with cocktails in mind…

Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder

What is it?  Blended Scotch malt whisky from William Grant containing “a unique combination of small batches of three different Speyside single malts” according to team MS.

Cocktail credentials: First released in 2005, this easy-drinking malt was quite literally “made for mixing” according to its creator, master blender Brian Kinsman. Watch out for the Monkey Mixer, an 11,000-litre cocktail shaker made from a “pimped out cement mixer truck”, which tours around the globe.

How to serve it: Try a Monkey Splash – 30ml Monkey Shoulder, 45ml soda, orange wedge. Build the ingredients in a glass and garnish.

Fords London Dry Gin

Fords London Dry Gin

What is it? Created by Simon Ford of The 86 Company and Thames Distillers’ master distiller Charles Maxwell, Fords Gin combines juniper, coriander, lemon, bitter orange, grapefruit, cassia, angelica, jasmine and orris to produce a fresh, aromatic and floral gin.

Cocktail credentials: The brand’s strapline is ‘The Cocktail Gin’, and it’s not just fancy marketing. When deciding the recipe, Ford and Maxwell considered classic gin cocktails, broke them down by their flavour profiles, and paired those flavours with botanicals to craft the most versatile gin possible. The ergonomic bottle features a measuring scale on the side, so you can see how many serves are left…

How to serve it… In a 50/50 Martini: 45ml Fords Gin, 45ml Dolin Dry Vermouth, 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters, 1 lemon twist. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, stir for 40 counts, then strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.

Olmeca Altos

Olmeca Altos Plata

What is it? Tequila made from 100% blue agave grown in the Los Altos highlands of Mexico.

Cocktail credentials: Olmeca was designed by bartenders – specifically industry legends Dre Masso and the late Henry Besant – for bartenders, with the help of Olmeca master distiller Jesús Hernández. It’s citric and sweet, with a fruity aroma.

How to serve it… Put a twist on a classic with the Negrete, Mexico’s answer to a Negroni. Combine 1 part Altos Plata Tequila, 1 part Campari, and 1 part red vermouth in a mixing glass. Stir with cubed ice, decant into a tumbler, and garnish with a slice of orange.

Pierre Ferrand 1840

Pierre Ferrand 1840 

What is it? A VS Cognac from the house of Pierre Ferrand, made from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne region.

Cocktail credentials: Made according to a recipe that dates back to 1840, the liquid is a collaboration between Pierre Ferrand owner Alexandre Gabriel, cellar master Christian Guerin, and cocktail historian Dave Wondrich.

How to serve it… No question – the Original Cognac Cocktail, as adapted from Jerry Thomas’ 1862 tome Bar-Tenders’ Guide. In a mixing glass, stir ½ teaspoon fine sugar with 5ml water until dissolved. Add 60ml Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula, 5ml orange liqueur and 2-3 dashes aromatic bitters. Fill the glass with ice, stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. To garnish, twist lemon peel over the top.

Santa Teresa 1796

Santa Teresa 1796

What is it? Single estate Venezuelan rum aged according to the solera method commonly used in Spanish sherry.

Cocktail credentials: Five generations of rum-making poured into one bottle. Rum blends aged up to 35 years in bourbon barrels undergo solera-ageing resulting in a dry, smooth rum that can make any classic cocktail shine.

How to serve it: The Roseta. Pour 1 ½ parts Santa Teresa 1796 into a glass, top with sparkling water and garnish with an orange twist. Delightful.

 

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Are these Britain’s smallest gin distilleries?

Some people build a garden shed and store a lawnmower in it. Others think, ‘I could make gin in that’. We like those people. Here, we celebrate five of Britain’s…

Some people build a garden shed and store a lawnmower in it. Others think, ‘I could make gin in that’. We like those people. Here, we celebrate five of Britain’s smallest gin distilleries – proof (geddit?) that great things come in small packages.

What makes a distillery ‘small’? Still capacity in litres, perhaps, or the number of batches produced each week? Or do you judge each site quite literally, by floor space? These things don’t exist independently of course the folks at Beefeater aren’t running one of the world’s best-selling gin brands from a garden shed but they spark competition among small-scale operations that choose to use their size as a selling point.

For the sake of this listicle, we’ve considered a mix of the aforementioned factors to determine the ‘smallest’ all-round sites. It’s important to remember that we’re not Guinness World Records inspectors, we’re just a bunch of people who really, really like spirits. We did not traverse the UK with a clipboard questionnaire and a juniper-sensitive Basset hound. Nor did we break and enter any distilleries with a measuring tape and jug to confirm or dispel any claims about capacity.

Without further ado, here we’ve unearthed five of the UK’s smallest gin distilleries right now… well, the ones we know about, anyway. Have you noticed a curious juniper-y smell wafting out of your neighbour’s conservatory? Or perhaps your postie has started a side hustle? Share any fledgling distillers we’ve missed in the comments below!

Shed 1 Distillery

Andy and Zoe Arnold-Bennett with their shed

Shed 1 Distillery, Lake District, Cumbria

Peer inside Andy and Zoe Arnold-Bennett’s 7ft x 7ft garden shed on the outskirts of the Lake District and you won’t find a rusty tandem bicycle – you’ll unearth something far more interesting: bucketloads of gin. Established back in October, 2016, the Shed 1 range consists of three core bottlings: Giggle in the Ginnel, Fancy Frolic, and Cuckold’s Revenge, with 36 x 500ml bottles produced in every run. The duo is partial to a seasonal tipple too – their most recent limited edition bottling, Shed Loads of Love, combines “rose petals, lavender and strawberries with a delicate hint of chilli”.

Second Son Distillery

Second Son gin from Cheshire

Second Son Distillery, Norley, Cheshire

Established in 2016, Second Son Distillery which claims to be the smallest licensed distillery in the UK is the brainchild of former pub landlord John (depicted on the label) and graphic designer-slash-gin-aficionado Anna. Together the business partners distil, label and bottle their three creations – Cheshire Gin, Winter Spiced Gin, and Summer Edition Gin – in 250-year-old pub The Tigers Head on the edge of Delamere Forest, producing just 32 bottles per batch. You can bet the place serves a cracking G&T, too.

Duck and-Crutch Kensington

The tiny still at Duck and Crutch in Kensington

Duck and Crutch Distillery, Kensington, London

Such is the London property market that a Kensington shed could be marketed as a studio flat and no one would bat an eyelid. Instead, couple Hollie and George (and to a certain extent, their dachshund Meryl) kitted out their 6ft x 4ft space with a lovely shiny copper still and launched Duck and Crutch gin, featuring vanilla pod, fresh lemon, Darjeeling tea, fresh thyme, orange peel, cardamom pod and nutmeg botanicals. If you like a punchier gin, Duck and Crutch releases 33 bottles of Kensington Overproof Dry Gin each month, which comes in at a respectable 57% ABV.

Culpeper Gin

Culpeper Gin, serving suggestion

The Nicholas Culpeper Pub & Dining, North Terminal, Gatwick Airport

If you’re looking for an excuse to book your next holiday, we’ve found one. But you won’t need to travel thousands of miles to sample The Nicholas Culpeper London Dry Gin more or less straight off the still in fact, you need not even go through security. Named in honour of the 17th century English botanist, herbalist and physician who once lived nearby, this creation is produced in the world’s first airport gin distillery. The still is named Judith after Culpeper’s ill-fated fiancée, and makes just 12 bottles per run. N’aww.

Carnoustie Distillery

Note clan tartan

Carnoustie Distillery, Carnoustie, Scotland

At this point I’m starting to feel like the only person in Britain who doesn’t own a shed, but even if I did, I can’t promise I’d use the space as wisely as the father and son distilling team behind Carnoustie Distillery. From white chocolate-flavoured vodka to toffee apple rum liqueur (and, of course, gin) Billy Duncan and his son Jory create a variety of craft spirits in a 10 ft x 8 ft distillery in their back garden the bottles of which are bedecked with the Duncan family tartan and motto. At the age of 21, Jory is thought to be one of the UK’s youngest distillers.

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