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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: London

The roof is on fire: the best bars with a view 

Finding a roof with a view and a decent drink can sometimes be a challenge. You might get the view, but what’s in the glass ends up being a bit…

Finding a roof with a view and a decent drink can sometimes be a challenge. You might get the view, but what’s in the glass ends up being a bit of a dud. Luckily the team at MoM has been scaling tall buildings to find the good stuff. Spider-Man ain’t got nothing on us. So, here are some our favourite bars with a view

2021 might just be the year of the roof terrace, as venues up and down the UK look to make the most of any outdoor space. I love a good cityscape as much as the next roof terrace tourist, but I also want it to come with a decent drink.

For this particular rooftop round-up, the focus is on two of my favourite cities: London and Edinburgh. The former is full of great bars with a view, while the latter is really an excuse for us to mention just how excited we are about the soon-to-be-open malt Disneyland that will be Johnnie Walker Princes Street.

Seabird

Who’s a pretty boy then?

London Calling

Starting in London and the talk of the town has to be The Dorchester’s new space, aptly named The Dorchester Rooftop. The top deck offers views over Hyde Park, with live music, making it a great place for sunset cocktails. And we’re talking The Dorch, so you know the drinks are going to be on point. The new cocktail line-up (from 10 May) features some serious drinks. The Colombo Sour is a mix of Colombo gin, peach liqueur, kümmel, lemon and Angostura orange bitters; while Hikkaduwa sounds like the perfect sundowner, a blend of tropical mix, peach, Aperol and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.

Next is a personal favourite of fellow MoM writer Millie Milliken’s. Yep, it’s Seabird at The Hoxton, Southwark (see photo in header). The Insta-worthy drink here is The Toucan (above) – it’s a heady mix of Olmeca Altos Tequila, mango, cinnamon and aji pepper, served in a sort of ceramic parrot. Fortunately, it can’t fly away.   

But if you want to drink and dine like a professional, then take note of Milliken’s wise words: “It was actually at Seabird that I first tried the combination of straight mezcal and oysters – and I’m never going back,” she says, pointing out that the bar has seven mezcals on its menu to choose from. “I’d go for something herbaceous and vegetal like the Derrumbes Zacatecas to marry with a Jersey No.3’s crisp, green and lemony flavours.”

A few miles north and there’s another new kid on (top of) the block: The Standard. The vista at this London outpost of the US hotel group takes in the beautiful St Pancras Station, and Eder Neto, head of bars has got the recs. He suggests a Spicy Tommy’s Margarita from Black Lines with blanco Tequila, chilli, lime, agave nectar. “It’s refreshing, so it’s great for the summer, yet still packs a punch with a spicy kick,” he says.

ROOF GARDEN Glasshouse, Edinburgh

The massive roof garden at the Glasshouse in Edinburgh

Head north

While you’re near Kings Cross, you could just hop on the train to Edinburgh? And if The Standard roof terrace was a bit small for your tastes, head to The Glasshouse. This place has a two-acre roof garden. According to Google, that’s the same size as an actual football pitch!

Tom Gibson, general manager at The Glasshouse recommends a touch of Islay goodness for a summer evening, in the form of the Peaty Kiss signature cocktail. “With a base ingredient of Laphroaig 10 year old single malt, the flavour is delicately offset with fresh grapefruit and orange juice, with a sweet touch of honey and a small drop of Jägermeister,” he explains. “Scotland can do exotic and traditional all at the same time.”

If actual smoke (rather than peat smoke) is your bag, the hotel is also a great place for whisky and cigar pairings. Especially since the bar stocks about 100 whiskies.

“We recommend pairing the profound flavours of The Dalmore King Alexander III single malt with one of our individually picked cigars such as the Partagas Series,” says Gibson. “The deep and complex flavours of the whisky blend harmoniously with the bold and powerful aromas of these Habano cigars, making this a delectable combination.”

Johnnie Walker Princes Street Edinburgh

Artist’s impression of Johnnie Walker’s soon-to-open brand home in Edinburgh

Coming soon

Staying in Edinburgh and this summer promises another magical roof space – and good drinks here should go without saying. Yep, it’s nearly time to say hello to Johnnie Walker Princes Street. This eight-floor ‘experiential’ space features everything from a shop and entertainment space to an ‘interactive flavour activity’, all under the 1820 Rooftop Bar. There may even be ‘bars’ plural up there – and they will have views to the castle and across the city skyline to east, west and north.

Artists’ impressions suggest there’s an indoor-outdoor vibe to the roof space, which is handy to know. And while there’s not much more to tell until the space opens this summer, there’s always time to fix yourself a highball and dream of dizzy heights. Try a Johnnie & Lemon: 50ml Johnnie Walker Red Label, 150ml lemonade. Pour over ice and garnish with lemon zest and a lemon verbena sprig – or an orange wedge if you’re fresh out of lemon verbena sprigs.

There’s no reason why we can’t raise the bar and the roof this summer.

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The world’s best audiophile bars

Even though we engage all our senses when enjoying a cocktail or sipping a spirit, the one that we rarely (if ever) acknowledge is sound – but thanks to music-mad bar…

Even though we engage all our senses when enjoying a cocktail or sipping a spirit, the one that we rarely (if ever) acknowledge is sound – but thanks to music-mad bar owners across the globe, things are slowly starting to change. Meticulous about quality sound and excellent drinks in equal measure, we’ve picked out five unmissable audiophile bars to add to your bucket list…

They may be a relatively new phenomenon in the west, but in Japan, soundscaped lounges or ‘listening bars’ have been an institution since the 1920s. The oldest of them is Tokyo’s Lion Meikyoku Kissa, a two-story theatre established in 1926. It plays exclusively classical music, and boasts more than 5,000 records, 3-metre high wooden speakers and a strict ‘no talking’ policy.

While today’s cocktail venues might not take such a hardline stance with their own guests, the importance of background sound has never been so well-understood. “Sound, particularly music, plays a key role in creating the right atmosphere in a bar because it’s a medium that everybody can connect with,” explains Adam Castleton, CEO of music technology company Startle. 

Castleton says mood-setting playlists help to set a venue’s tone, a subtle factor that’s crucial in today’s drinks world. “Due to the highly competitive nature of the industry and the growing number of options out there, every little detail needs to be considered to give people a reason to visit a venue,” he adds. “Music absolutely falls into this bracket.”

Whether you’re mad on jazz, can’t get enough guitar, or prefer an uptempo house beat, there’s an eclectic audiophile bar out there for you. We’ve picked out five of the world’s best where you can pull up a pew and get lost in their especially-chosen music selection. Just remember to switch your phone to silent first.

1. In Sheep’s Clothing

Where? 710 East 4th Place, Los Angeles, California

‘To hear more, say less,’ is the mantra at all-day venue In Sheep’s Clothing, and it’s a philosophy that carries throughout the venue, where guests are asked to keep conversation volumes low and refrain from taking pictures. A sanctuary for music lovers, the vinyl-only bar boasts an immensely expensive and carefully created sound system that allows listeners to savour every note. Drinks-wise, expect cocktails, craft beer, wine and plenty of Japanese whisky.

2. Spiritland

Where? Venues across London, England

Split across three distinct London venues – a café-workspace-bar in King’s Cross, a restaurant located on South Bank, and a ‘headphone bar’ in Mayfair – Spiritland boasts an impeccable rosta of guest selectors along with talks, album launches and more. It was born of a desire to “engage with music in the deepest possible way,” the website states, “to hear it as the artist intended, to connect with the emotions within – with food and drink to match.”

3. Bridge

Where? Parkside Kyodo Bldg 10F, 1-25-6 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Being located on the top floor of an office building, Bridge offers unparalleled tenth-floor views of the famous Shibuya crossing, but its impeccable Rey Audio sound system remains the most compelling reason to visit. Serving up a selection of locally-inspired cocktails, the focus here is on electronic music – they call it a ‘DJ’ bar, since the venue regularly has guest sets from Tokyo’s finest DJs – but it’s nothing like your typical nightclub. 

4. Rhinoçéros 

Where? Rhinower Str. 3, 10437 Berlin, Germany

With a focus on jazz, soul and funk, cosy Prenzlauer Berg-based bar Rhinoçéros spins records from its vast collection and occasionally invites guest selectors in, too. Guests are welcome to bring their own records and give them a whirl on the incredible vintage sound system, which dates back to the early Seventies. Drinks-wise, there’s a wine and whisky focus. They have a dedicated Highball cocktail menu and make a mean classic too.

5. Public Records

Where? 233 Butler St, Brooklyn, New York

Listening bars have had a real renaissance in New York, with one of the newest being Brooklyn’s Public Records, located in an historic building on the Gowanus Canal. Essentially a hi-fi vegan cafe, cocktail bar, and ‘sound room’ (a performance space) split across three stories, the venue features custom sound systems that represent the pinnacle of acoustic design. Expect live acts, vinyl DJs and tasty AF drinks.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Highball Gimlet

This week’s Cocktail of the Week is the Highball Gimlet – a mouth-watering Mediterranean take on the classic, reimagined by renowned Athens-based bar The Clumsies. Here, we chat with co-owner…

This week’s Cocktail of the Week is the Highball Gimlet – a mouth-watering Mediterranean take on the classic, reimagined by renowned Athens-based bar The Clumsies. Here, we chat with co-owner Vasilis Kyritsis ahead of the team’s five-day residency at London rooftop bar Madison…

The Highball Gimlet is a timely tipple, since it marks the UK arrival of the team behind all-day cocktail bar The Clumsies – currently sitting pretty in sixth place in the World’s 50 Best Bar Awards – who have touched down in the capital for a one-off and rather exclusive residency at Madison from Monday 24 to Friday 28 February.

Team Clumsies

Set in a three-story townhouse that dates back to 1919, The Clumsies is known for its hospitality and charm, homely-yet-refined Greek food, and pioneering conceptual cocktail menus. And now, the team behind the Athens mainstay are bringing their creative flair to the penthouse spot of One New Change, a shopping centre in the City of London.

Teamwork, Clumsies co-owner Vasilis Kyritsis emphasises, is at the heart of The Clumsies operation, in particular their approach to conceptualising and bringing to life each cocktail list – from 2015’s colour palate menu ‘Kaleidoscope’, to ‘Genesis’ in 2017, which was inspired by art and Greek words.  “The whole team is working on the concept for every menu, which changes every year,” he explains. “We always want to include a concept behind our drinks, because we’re staying creative, and [it keeps] our customers interested – what are we going to do to the next menu?”

Taking over Madison, Kyritsis will shake up the bar’s offering with five Grecian creations inspired by current menu ‘Revisited’, which sees the Athens stalwart’s greatest drinks refined even further. “We’ve taken some of our top-selling drinks and favourite recipes from past menus and reviewed them, or reconstructed them, in a different way,” Kyritsis explains. “We’ve given them the same identity but changed the style of the cocktail”.  He went on to say: “The menu that we’ve created for the pop-up in Madison is customised from this menu, Revisited, that we have at The Clumsies,” he continues. “It’s a showcase of what we do at The Clumsies, as cocktails, as inspiration, and the whole design.”

View from the Madison in London. Very nice!

Our pick of the list is the immensely refreshing and flavourful Highball Gimlet. Hailing from The Clumsies’ Colour & Taste Guide concept menu from 2014, the drink is served fresh and tall in a Collins glass and garnished with a green olive. This long, fizzy twist on the classic gin-and-lime juice Gimlet combination sees Tanqueray’s citrusy No. Ten gin lifted further with lemon and lime-infused Ketel One Citroen and balanced out with herbal, earthy wild greens and rosemary, with a touch of bitter-sweet grapefruit. Just delicious.

Further down the list you’ll find the Aegean Negroni, which combines Tanqueray No.Ten, blended vermouth, Martini Bitter, fennel seeds, and diktamus (a native Greek plant) and the Seasonal Daiquiri, a blend of Havana 3 Year Old, pear, apple, cherry, and lime. There’s also the New Fashioned, a mix of Bulleit Bourbon, salted caramel, and citric bitters; and The Conch, which contains Otto’s Athens Vermouth, mezcal, salicornia (another edible plant), and lemon, to round off the limited edition menu.

Ever since The Clumsies was co-founded by Kyritsis and fellow bartender Nikos Bakoulis in 2012, its menu has received international acclaim – shining a light on the burgeoning brilliance of Athens’ bar scene. “A lot of people visiting Athens now from our industry say that it’s one of the most inspirational and high-end bar scenes that you can find all over the world,” says Kyritsis. “At the same time you can find a good combination of restaurants – high-end restaurants, local restaurants – and coffee shops; coffee is becoming bigger and bigger in Athens,” he continues. “I definitely believe that it’s one of the most interesting and innovative scenes all around the world.”

It’s a Highball crossed with Gimlet. What are we going to call it?

Right, that’s enough about The Clumsies, let’s make a cocktail!

25ml Tanqueray No.Ten
25ml Ketel One Citroen
45ml wild greens cordial*
5ml fresh lemon juice
London Essence Grapefruit & Rosemary Tonic to top

Put all ingredients – apart from the tonic – into a shaker and shake them for 10 seconds. Then double strain into a Collins glass filled with ice, and top up with the tonic. Garnish with a green olive. 

*Wild greens cordial recipe: Boil 2kg of wild greens (called ‘chorta’ in Greece, you can use ordinary non-Greek non-wild greens instead) in 2 litres of water at 100 degrees Celsius for one hour. Strain it and reserve the liquid. To this, add 1,300g white sugar, 20g fresh apple geranium, the peel of 3 pink grapefruits, 10g rosemary, 5g dried fennel, the peel of 1 lemon and 100ml orange flower water. Cook in a saucepan at 80 degrees Celsius for one hour. Strain it and reserve the liquid. Once it has cooled, add 30g citric acid and stir until it has dissolved.

 

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Behind the scenes at the UK’s first sake brewery

Through the strapline, ‘brewed like beer, enjoyed like wine’, Peckham sake brewery Kanpai is introducing British drinkers to the magic of fermented rice. Crafted according to Japanese tradition and moulded…

Through the strapline, ‘brewed like beer, enjoyed like wine’, Peckham sake brewery Kanpai is introducing British drinkers to the magic of fermented rice. Crafted according to Japanese tradition and moulded by modern London, the debut range has a distinct style of its own. We chatted with co-founder Lucy Wilson to find out more…

A sake buzz is building in the UK. It’s happening slowly – very slowly – but gradually, us Brits are increasingly showing interest in Japan’s beloved national beverage. Established in Peckham by Lucy Wilson and her husband Tom, the country’s first sake brewery (complete with upstairs taproom) marks a tipping point for the fermented rice spirit.

“It was born from a trip to Japan originally,” Wilson explains. “We went for a holiday – not specifically on a sake quest, we were there for the amazing Japanese food and culture and all the sights of Tokyo and the main cities. We ended up drinking a lot of sake, which led to us visiting breweries in some of the smaller towns that we went to. We really liked it and brought bottles and bottles back with us. So it stemmed from this inherent love for the drink.”

Lucy Wilson making sake

By the time they returned home to the UK, the Wilsons were hooked. Keen homebrewers, they turned their hands to sake and began making their own creations, practising initially with sushi rice – sake rice is tricky to get hold of, Wilson says, and sushi rice isn’t a dissimilar style grain. Unwittingly, they were laying the foundations for what would one day become Kanpai. 

“We used to have sake parties with friends and serve them our sake and other sakes and people really liked it,” she continues. “It grew into something that couldn’t quite fit in our flat anymore, and so we got a little lock-up in Peckham, because that’s where we live. It started out as something to do at the weekend and then before we knew it Tom could quit his day job to make sake full time.”

Today, the duo has three sakes in their core Signature range, available all year round, and as well as a limited edition trio of ultra-premium sake bottlings dubbed No Evil. Generally, Kanpai’s style is typically a little drier than than your average Japanese sake, Wilson explains, taking inspiration from the familiar flavour notes found within craft beers and dry white wine. From inoculating the rice to bottling the liquid, every aspect of production happens in-house. The entire process takes, on average, around three months.

“It’s a really slow build up at the beginning,” Wilson says. “You inoculate a portion of the sake rice with Koji mould spores, then you steam pressurise it and build it up with sake yeast. Then it’s just a long, low slow ferment. We do ours extra low and slow because the water in London is a lot harder than in Japan – the ferment would go wild, because the yeast actually loves the minerals in hard water.”

Pretty labels

“We press it, separating the rice solids from the liquid with a machine that replicates really old school sake breweries in Japan, bottle by hand in a little bottling machine, and then leave it to rest,” she continues. “It doesn’t really need to mature as such – we serve unpasteurized fresh sake from the tap room, which is quite spritz-y – but in the bottle we’d leave it for around a month to settle before we release it.”

The need for a lower, slower ferment gives the sake those signature dry flavours, and it’s this that Wilson feels most prominently embodies the London style. That, and the fact that everything is done by hand. “All the koji is turned by hand, the rice is washed by hand, we take it out of the steamer to cool by hand,” she explains. “The presidents of Japanese breweries come and visit us and they’re amazed that we’re still doing it this way. We’re very small scale!”

Growth is happening, albeit slowly. Last year, Kanpai hired its first employee, an assistant brewer, to cope with increasing production demands. The main focus for 2020 is growing the taproom, which is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays. “We’re really working on our tap range,” says Wilson. “We can do more small batch sakes and maybe experiment with flavours to see what people think – tea flavours and natural infusions, things like that.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, here is the core range. There’s some technical information for sake nerds. The Sake Metre Value measures how sweet your sake is, the higher the number, the more dry it is.

Kanpai!

Sumi –  clear Junmai
  • Off-dry +6 Sake Metre Value (SMV)
  • Gohyakumangoku Rice, 70% Polishing Ratio
  • #701 Japanese Sake Yeast
  • 15.0% ABV

Sumi is Kanpai’s clear, classic Junmai sake. “Very versatile, you can have it hot or cold,” explains Wilson. “It’s quite fruity but savoury at the same time. It’s your safe bet sake that you can pair with loads of different foods.”

Kumo – cloudy Nigori
  • Off-dry +7 SMV
  • Gohyakumangoku Rice, 70% Polishing Ratio
  • #701 Japanese Sake Yeast
  • 15.0% ABV

Kanpai’s Nigori-style sake, which means ‘cloudy’ in Japanese. “This has a little bit of the finalised sediment in the sake, so it’s got some texture to it,” explains Wilson, “it’s a bit more banana-y, a bit punchier in flavour. It’s our Marmite one, it splits the room – you either want loads more of it or it wasn’t quite for you. 

Fizu  – sparkling sake
  • Dry +9 SMV
  • Calrose Rice, 70% Polishing Ratio
  • #901 Japanese Sake Yeast
  • 11.5% ABV

Kanpai’s “most playful sake,” says Wilson. “It’s dry-hopped with Mosaic hops, which gives it blueberry notes. It has a natural secondary fermentation, so it’s got really fine bubbles like Champagne. That makes it quite versatile for cocktails.”

 

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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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