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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: rum

The divine truth about the angel’s share

From whisky to Cognac, the concept of the angel’s share, how much liquid a cask loses to evaporation, is one that is unique to every distillery. Millie Milliken takes a…

From whisky to Cognac, the concept of the angel’s share, how much liquid a cask loses to evaporation, is one that is unique to every distillery. Millie Milliken takes a closer look at this costly but vital part of the ageing process. 

It’s true: there are some alcoholic liquids that have nearly swung me in the direction of believing in divinity. And while none have quite got me willingly through the doors of a church on a Sunday (or any other day for that matter), there is one supernatural story that never fails to enchant me – that of the ‘angel’s share’.

A quick question on my sophisticated data collection software (Instagram stories) solicited many a fellow drinks lover telling me where they were the first time they learned about the term: “a trip to Lagavulin on Islay”; “Speyside at Chivas Regal getting the grand tour from the master, Ian Logan”; “Officially? At the Aber Falls distillery”.

Yet a quick poll of my non booze-dwelling friends found that nearly all of them had no idea what I was talking about. So, what is the angel’s share and why does it happen?

Duppy Share

It’s not just angels that love spirits

Give it wings

The angel’s share is the amount of liquid lost from a cask during the ageing process due to evaporation. As a spirit ages, water and alcohol evaporate through the wood’s pores, rising off the cask and are lost into the atmosphere. Or, should I say, to some rather lucky angels.

But it’s not just angels who appreciate ageing spirits. Anyone who has been inside an old distillery may have seen a black substance slick on the walls when they looked heavenwards. This is baudoinia compniacensis, a fungus that thrives on airborne alcohol and as such it is particularly happy in warehouses and distilleries housing spirits. And “in the Caribbean, spirits called ‘duppies’ swoop between the islands taking rum as they go,” said Jack Orr-Ewing, CEO of Caribbean rum brand, The Duppy Share.

Whoever it is enjoying the alcohol, Scotch whiskies on average lose 2% of a cask’s liquid per year. The duppies are even greedier, taking about 7% per year from Caribbean rums. Over time, this can amount to a shockingly high proportion of the distiller’s liquid. On average a VSOP Cognac will have lost over 10% over its life in cask, an XO will have lost 30% and after 50 years ageing, your now extremely expensive Cognac will have lost a staggering 70% of its original liquid (image in header is courtesy of Delamain Cognac).

The Nightcap

The higher up the stack you go, the hotter it gets, and the greater the angel’s share

Location, location, location

There are a multitude of factors that can affect how much the angels get. As well as the strength of the liquid when it enters the cask, climate and temperature are two important ones and depend on the distillery’s location. Casks stored in humid conditions will lose less water and more alcohol than those stored in non-humid ones.

When it comes to temperature, a barrel kept in cold conditions will age slower than one in the hot climes of somewhere like Kentucky. Indeed, some Kentucky whiskies can lose up to 10% of their liquid in the first year while in the Caribbean, rums can lose up to 7%. 

And then there’s the design of the warehouse which can affect ageing and the quality of the resulting liquid. “In Cognac you have a wide range of options,” says Clive Carpenter, general manager of Gérant Domaine Sazerac de Segonzac and creator for Seignette VS Cognac. “New-build warehouses are rather hot and dry because they are made of breezeblocks and are taller which means you’ll get a lot of water evaporation. That produces Cognacs which age faster but are harsher on the taste buds. Old-fashioned warehouses are made of stone, by the river on beaten earth, [so they’ve] got a very humid atmosphere. There you can lose a great deal of alcohol and not much water and if you overdo ageing in a damp warehouse, you get Cognacs that are over flabby.”

Then there’s how the barrels are stored in the warehouse. Airflow is important and in larger warehouses, casks can be stored on racks meaning more air can circulate around then and there is more evaporation. At The Glenlivet in Speyside, according to the website: “we have a traditional (dunnage) warehouse, with a gravel floor and only a small number of casks. This helps us to hold on to liquid as best we can.” In contrast, if the casks are stacked in a Kentucky warehouse, the temperature of the top of the warehouse will be far hotter than at the bottom.

The Glenlivet

Inside a traditional dunnage warehouse at Glenlivet

Cask matters

Cask size and wood type can also affect angel’s share. Brand new oak will absorb more liquid quicker than second-fill casks while smaller casks with more liquid-to-wood contact will encourage more evaporation too. At The Glenlivet, “casks that hold fewer than 50 litres can show really remarkable losses, which also leads to a faster maturation.”

And when we’re talking casks, we’re also talking ‘devil’s cut’. This is the liquid lost to the cask (and not evaporation) depending on how porous the wood is. Jim Beam has even created a Devil’s Cut expression using its 90 proof bourbon and blending it with the absorbed spirit extracted from the barrel.

Angel, duppy or devil, losing a percentage of your liquid is a price every distiller of aged spirits has to pay. If they do exist, sounds like the bar will be well stocked in both heaven and hell.

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New Arrival of the Week: Scratch Faithful Rum

This week we’re shining our New Arrival lamp on a Scratch Faithful Rum which was distilled not in Jamaica, Cuba or Barbados, but in Stevenage. And that’s not all because…

This week we’re shining our New Arrival lamp on a Scratch Faithful Rum which was distilled not in Jamaica, Cuba or Barbados, but in Stevenage. And that’s not all because Faithful is the basis for a whole range of rums made by Doug Miller, entirely from scratch. Hence the name.

In an age of media-trained master distillers and slick brand ambassadors, it’s refreshing to talk to someone who just says what he thinks, even if it might get him into trouble. Someone like Doug Miller, the man behind Scratch rum, who has strong views about a lack of transparency in the fast-growing ‘English rum’ category. But more on that later.

It’s also refreshing in an age of City-funded start-ups to find somebody distilling in an old stables near Stevenage using one 500 litre copper pot still rather than a shiny state of the art distillery. He’s doing what he always wanted to do. “I got into rum at university and I started just doing ferments and beers. Then post-uni I started just distilling,” Miller said. 

He quickly realised what he was doing wasn’t exactly legal, so in 2016 he obtained a distilling licence and got to work. He spent a couple of years experimenting, “trying different yeasts, different sugars, different fermentation times,” he said. From the beginning the focus has been on rum alone. “I didn’t want to set up a distillery and do gin, whisky, and vodka,” he said. “Rum as a category is so broad, there’s enough of it to fill a lifetime of exploration and distillation.”

Doug Miller by his 500 litre Hoga still

Doug Miller by his 500 litre Hoga still

Making Faithful from scratch 

“I am one of those slightly weird people who actually likes fermenting and making things from scratch and doing things the hard way”, he said, “well you get more control so you get a nicer product in my view… but I would say that of course!” 

The basis of the current Scratch range is what he calls Faithful. It begins with molasses and a very long fermentation, between two and three weeks. It took a lot of experimentation to find a yeast that worked in England’s cold climate. He uses the Jamaican technique of adding dunder – left over from the first distillation – to the ferment. “What you get is consistency of flavour across a number of ferments but also the nutrients and the compounds found in that leftover stuff feed that yeast and over time make the flavour profile more pronounced. It’s almost like reducing a stock.”

This fermentation stage is not something to be hurried through. “You can never make a great rum from a shit ferment,” he said. The final step before distillation is to filter the ferment which, according to Miller, makes the end product “cleaner” and prevents “bitter flavours” during distillation

He uses a 500 litre copper pot still from Hoga in Spain but his technique is unusual. After the first distillation rather than putting it back through again, he ages the low wines in new Scotch whisky casks with “a small portion of the heads and tails from previous runs. So you’re getting a full blend of the spectrum of distillation.” After ageing, the liquid goes back through the still. It’s then blended with water and bottled at 42% ABV to create Faithful rum.

But that’s not all, Faithful is the basis of everything at the distillery at the moment.

Scratch botanical rum

Can you spot the botanicals?

Secret botanicals

Miller makes a sloe rum and a secret recipe botanical rum using only British ingredients. “I’m not a fan of spiced rum. I find spiced rum cloying, and essentially a way to mask a bad spirit. So what I tried to do with Botanical is create a product using British foraged local botanicals,” Miller said.

He’s cagey about the process and recipe, “because I’ve seen big producers come in and copy stuff.” But will say it involves British botanicals that mimic classic spiced rum flavour. Using his one still, “we put in a smaller 50 litre copper pot, with the botanicals in the vapour trail and then we take cuts from between 85% ABV down to about 78% ABV.”

Despite the lack of tropical botanicals, it really does taste of citrus, vanilla and coconut. Very clever and makes a refreshing alternative to a G&T as well as a killer Daiquiri.

Cask master

Miller produces two ages rums, Golden, matured in new oak casks, and a longer-aged rum called Patience which won a bronze medal at the IWSC this year. “Patience is a blend of three and two year old spirits. The bourbon cask is the three years, it makes up 90% of the blend and then the final 10% is that two year old new oak cask.” 

There’s clearly a massive amount of potential at Scratch particularly with cask releases. Miller compares British rum to Japanese whisky, taking traditional techniques but innovating. “It can remain grounded to rum as a whole, but it can move the category forward.”

He’s a fan of Foursquare in Barbados particularly the single cask releases but thinks that he’s trying to do something different. “Most of the Caribbean producers tend to use ex-bourbon casks because of the proximity to the US. In the UK we’ve got proximity to a wine industry, we’ve got beer guys, you’ve got whisky guys, you’ve got a whole range of Cognac producers in France,” he said.

Aged products will always be small batch releases either blends or single casks. He said, “We’ve only got about 300 bottles of Patience left and when that’s done I’m going to make another cask release.” He’s got all kinds of different barrels on the go including Cognac, Tequila, bourbon and Scotch whisky, sweet wine and others.

He’s also playing around with different ferments including one based on a yeast strain that he isolated himself and by adding things to the ferment including hops and fruit. 

Doug Miller Scratch rum maturing casks

Can’t wait till these beauties are ready!

What is British rum?

Miller is aware that rum’s greatest asset, its lack of rules, can be a liability compared with more strictly-governed spirits like Scotch whisky. He thinks there’s a “lack of transparency” in the industry. He is particularly outspoken about how confusing rum can be for customers with many seemingly British producers using imported base spirits: “I don’t think you should be able to import a rum that’s aged in the Caribbean, flavour it or water it down here and then stick it in a British branded bottle or a label that says ‘made in Britain’ or ‘crafted in Britain’ or ‘British rum’, I think that’s disingenuous to say the least.”

Miller also thinks there needs to be more “transparency around the production methods as well as what you can and can’t do post-distillation.” He described some flavoured products as like “alcoholic squash”. He thinks: “the more shit rum that’s on the market, that’s full of all kinds of flavouring, sugars, and caramel, that puts off people from actually trying other rums.”

“The industry as a whole needs to actually own some of the stuff that it’s peddling and some of the stuff that it’s selling to consumers,” he said. It’s similar to what Richard Seale from Foursquare and others have been saying about the need for an agreed classification so that people know exactly what’s in the bottle and where it came from. But with so many producers including the industry’s giants invested in the current opaque system, it seems unlikely there will be any progress in the near future. Miller acknowledges that “he’s probably in a minority.”

Plans to expand

Scratch, however, has built a reputation in a short space of time based on the quality of its products rather than being part of some sort of ‘British rum’ movement. Since signing up with a distributor Oak and Still, “we’re starting to get bigger order volumes now and we’re at maximum production given that we don’t make a huge amount anyway,” he said. At the moment it’s only Miller, his sister-in-law Ellie and their one still. So the next step is to expand which requires money. He’s planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign in September. As Scratch grows, let’s hope that expansion doesn’t involve Miller being sent on a media training course. That would be a shame.

Scratch Faithful Rum is available now from Master of Malt. Click here to see the full range.

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Top ten: Bottlings to immerse you in the world of rum

From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to…

From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to help you get under the skin of this wondrously diverse category.

We love a bit of rum here at MoM Towers. And why not? Whether it’s got a molasses or sugar cane juice base, a fun mixer or a serious sipper, or something completely quirky all together, there’s so much deliciousness to be found in the wide world of rum. And we’re pretty proud of our enormous offering!

That said, it can be a fairly tricky category to navigate. The flavour experience between each style can be vastly different – which can make choosing the perfect bottling for you (or as a gift) a little tricky. So this is why we’ve picked out ten of our favourite bottlings (ok, there’s a tasting set in there, too) to serve as a useful place to start.

Browse on, and bring on the rums Oh, and made a new discovery recently? Let us know in the comments or on social. We’re @masterofmalt everywhere!!  

spiced-rum-tasting-set

Spiced Rum Tasting Set 

So you know you like spiced rums. But even within this rapidly growing and ever-expanding style there are a whole load of discoveries to be made. Which is why we put together this fabulous tasting set! You’ll get 30ml tasters of five different expressions from an array of different producers. Sip, mix, and be [responsibly] merry!

eminente-reserva-7-year-old-rum

Eminente Reserva 7 Year Old

Aged rum more your thing? You’ll be in super safe hands with this seven year old expression, which hails all the way from Cuba. It’s big, round and mouth-filling, with notes like tobacco and coffee adding depth to the fruity sweetness. A great one for springtime sipping, or why not try it in a Rum Old Fashioned?

the-duppy-share-caribbean-rum

The Duppy Share 

Did you know that Duppies are the mischievous spirits said to travel from island to island across the Caribbean, pinching their share of the ageing rum reserves? That’s what this brand pays homage to with its blend of five year old bourbon-barrel-matured rum from Barbados, and Jamaican three year old liquid!

tidal-rum

Tidal Rum 

Reckon flavoured rums are only ever sweet? Think again! Tidal Rum brings together a blend of rums from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic, with oak-smoked dulse seaweed from Jersey! It’s a green, herbal, slightly vegetal rum with a wisp of smoke running through it – just divine!

project-173-chocolate-rum

Project #173 Chocolate Rum

But if sweeter flavoured rums are your thing, you won’t be disappointed with Project #173 Black Chocolate! It’s tangy, vibrant, and bursting with authentic chocolate notes. Possibly most delicious with cola, this expression also works over ice as a sipper. We also reckon a splash over ice cream would make the most decadent dessert…

el-destilado-rum

El Destilado Rum 

Like your rums on the grassier side? This is a bottling you’ll want in your collection. Hailing from Mexico, El Destilado is made using raw sugar cane juice that’s been wild fermented for all kinds of lush, green notes. The label tells you everything you could ever want to know about the spirit you’re drinking – we love the transparency. And the rum!

o-reizinho-3-year-old-that-boutiquey-rum-company-rum

O Reizinho 3 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

And if you’re after the vegetal vibes of sugar cane juice rums and a cask influence, we recommend you check out Madeira’s O Reizinho’s 3 Year Old! This is full of fabulous funk (green olive and banana) plus the vanilla and treacle notes associated with cask ageing. Both irresistibly delicious and fabulously fun.

discarded-banana-peel-rum-70cl-rum

Discarded Banana Peel Rum

Like your rum to be tasty and do good? Step forward Discarded Banana Peel Rum! Its creators have taken an aged Caribbean rum and then infused it for a fortnight with banana peel. Here’s the good bit: the peel comes from a flavour house that would otherwise have chucked it away! Hurrah for sustainable sourcing. 

el-dorado-3-year-old-white-rum

El Dorado 3 Year Old White Rum

Did you know that lots of producers will sometimes age their spirits and then filter out the colour? This is how El Dorado 3 Year Old was made! The result? An award-winning sipper that combines the citrus, icing sugar and fruity notes of molasses rum with subtle coconut, vanilla notes of oak ageing. Win-win!

east-london-liquor-co-rarer-rum

East London Liquor Co. Rarer Rum

We love rum. We also love puns. East London Liquor Company has brought the two together with its Rarer Rum. How so? ‘Rare’ as in ‘Demerara’, its base! This Guyana-made beauty was distilled in the world’s last remaining wooden Coffey still, and was then matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Delicious indeed.

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Cocktail of the Week: El Presidente

This week we’re celebrating a Cuban Prohibition classic, El Presidente; it’s an enigma in rum, vermouth and bitters. But what have the French got to do with it – or…

This week we’re celebrating a Cuban Prohibition classic, El Presidente; it’s an enigma in rum, vermouth and bitters. But what have the French got to do with it – or Christina Aguilera for that matter?

According to the BBC, the top five most popular lockdown 1.0 buys were Tequila, gym equipment, makeup, luxury bedding and elastic. I’m guilty of four of those items, but I eschewed elastic for something slightly more, as I like to tell myself, educational – MasterClass!

Yep, those Instagram ads finally paid off. No sooner had the well-worn security code of my debit card been tapped in (muscle memory is a wonderful thing), I had some of the best minds in the country teaching me their crafts. My favourite writer David Sedaris on storytelling and humour, Dr Jane Goodall on conservation, and, um, Christina Aguilera on singing.

But perhaps the most natural fit was award-winning bar duo Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) and Lynnette Marrero on mixology. And it was through watching the soothing videos of the two making their staple cocktails that I rediscovered the Cuban classic El Presidente – and its rich, nuanced and nostalgia-laden history. 

PresidentMenocal-Cuba

It’s Presidente Menocal, but was El Presidente named after him?

Found and lost

It all started where most good things did – during Prohibition (or so some say) and in Havana. One story goes that it was first created to mark President Mario Menocal coming to power; he was in office from 1913-1921. The drink combined amber rum, vermouth and Angostura bitters. 

Yet according to Esquire cocktail editor David Wondrich, it was really the creation of American bartender Eddie Woelke in the mid 1920s, during his tenure at Havana’s Jockey Club and in honour of President Gerardo Machado (in office from 1925-1933).

However it was invented, the combination of white rum, Chambery vermouth (more on that later), orange Curaçao, grenadine and a garnish of orange peel, became the drink of Cuba’s upper echelons. “It is the aristocrat of cocktail and is the one preferred by the better class of Cuban,” wrote Basil Woon in his 1928 book When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba (feel free to grab yourself a copy for £3,000).

It was also enjoyed by visiting booze-deprived Americans. Though apparently, US President Calvin Coolidge declined an El Presidente from el presidente Machado for fear of drinking during Prohibition and being cancelled. Post-prohibition, Pan Am served a version of it called the Clipper Cocktail made with gold rum, vermouth and grenadine. But by this stage, El Presidente itself was going out of fashion and stopped being ordered by the beautiful people.

New discoveries

It’s fall from grace may have had something to do with vermouth. As Wondrich points out, when bartenders started making the cocktail, most bars would have been stocking French dry vermouth – but the original recipe calls for a Chambery Blanc. This is, in fact, a sweeter style of vermouth – more specifically Dolin Blanc which was created in France in 1821. This seemingly small change is where the El Presidente can win or fail, and many a drinks lover and expert has been undone by it. Making one at home? Make sure it’s Dolin Blanc not Dry.

When it comes to the Curaçao, dear lord make sure it’s orange and not blue. And the choice of rum is important too. The 1915 tome Manual del Cantinero by John Escalentecalls for a light rum and while white expressions are the classic choice, bartenders aren’t shy of veering towards those with a light amber hue.

el Presidente

El Presidente, Distill & Fill style

Bitters and twists

As for bitters, here bartenders can really get creative. Rum-specialist London bar Trailer Happiness has its El Presidente on home delivery site The Drinks Drop. It combines Santiago de Cuba 11 Year Old, Lillet Blanc, strawberry liqueur, falernum, passionfruit, with Supasawa and Angostura bitters.

Meanwhile in Wales, 2021-born drinks company Distill & Fill run by Jenny Griffiths and Philip David has just unleashed The Presidential Suite on its website. This version mixes Plantation Isle of Fiji, Sacred English Spiced Vermouth, Monin Acerola Syrup, with a touch of both Ferdinand’s Vineyard Peach and Peychaud’s Bitters.

So what are you waiting for? Surely, our own pre-Roaring Twenties, post-lockdown world is the perfect time for an El Presidente revival. In the words of Christina’s What a Girl Wants: ‘It’s for keeps, yeah, it’s for sure’. Now that’s philosophy.

How to make an El Presidente

45ml Plantation 3 stars white rum (or any light rum)
22ml Dolin Blanc
22ml orange Curacao
1 dash grenadine
Orange peel twist

Chill a coupe or Martini glass. Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Add white rum, Dolin Blanc, Curacao and grenadine and stir with a bar spoon. Strain  into your chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

Recipe from Ryan Chetiyawardana and Lynette Marrero on MasterClass.

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The Nightcap: 26 February

The Nightcap makes its final February appearance for 2021 with news on record-breaking whisky, a host of new releases and the life-affirming effects of gin-soaked raisins. Happy Friday, folks. If…

The Nightcap makes its final February appearance for 2021 with news on record-breaking whisky, a host of new releases and the life-affirming effects of gin-soaked raisins.

Happy Friday, folks. If you’re in England, you’re no doubt excited or anxious about the roadmap to end the country’s lockdown measures. It makes you think that at some point all this will just be a bizarre collective memory we share. But while we wait for normality to return, we still need to find ways to pass the time. And thankfully there’s always enough going on in the drinks industry to keep us entertained. Just look at this week’s Nightcap, for example. It’s bursting at the seams with boozy happenings.

As was the MoM blog this week, as Kristy revelled in her good fortune at tasting the remarkable Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series, Ian Buxton returned to unmask a mysterious billionaire Scooby-Doo-style while Lucy sat down with Adnams head distiller John McCarthy to hear his thoughts on all kinds of boozy business. Mille then made a cocktail that made us all realise how much we love Maryland turtles before Henry showcased ten of our favourite vermouths and put forward a contender for best image to ever feature on our blog after speaking to Kathy Caton, the founder of Brighton Gin. Elsewhere, Adam had a wonderfully whisky-soaked week, going around the globe in a tasting glass to find out why Peerless whiskey is making waves, how the Dartmoor whisky distillery has unlocked Devon’s potential as a home for great drams and what the confusing but charming new Starward bottling is all about.

Now, onto the Nightcap!

The Nightcap: 26 February

This one bottle alone fetched £1m

Whisky collection sells for almost £6.7m at auction

The record books are going to need some significant revising following a recent auction. You might recall the ‘The Perfect Collection’ was tipped to make headlines and now the nearly 3,900 bottle-strong hoard of whisky has lived up to the hype. The group took a hammer price of £6,675,000, attracting 1,557 distinct bidders from 54 countries. While a bottle of Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare 60-year-old, sold for £1 million, making it the first single bottle of whisky to be sold at an online-only auction for one million pounds (looks at the camera with Dr Evil face). The collection, which was built up by the late American private collector Richard Gooding, has become the highest-value hoard ever to sell on the secondary market at an auction dedicated to one single collector’s whisky. “This auction was solely dedicated to one collector’s magnificent library of whisky – a man who was dedicated to building the perfect collection. As enthusiasts of whisky ourselves, we knew that this collection deserved its own spotlight to allow us to truly convey the rarity and sheer scale of something so historic,” Iain McClune, founder of Whisky Auctioneer, said​. “With so many incredible bottles attracting the attention of high-value investors and passionate collectors across the world, the sale is one for the record books.” The whole affair is an absolute gem for those who love eye-watering sums being traded for incredible booze that will almost certainly never be drunk. Which is a shame.

The Nightcap: 26 February

Campbeltown Harbour, back in the good ol’ days

Old Campbeltown photos sought by Glen Scotia distillery

Campbeltown was once the whisky capital of the world, containing over 30 distilleries in the 19th century. There are only three left today. Now that rich history is being celebrated by one of the three, Glen Scotia, in a new initiative to find old photos of the town’s whisky heyday. So if you have any tucked away in your loft, you can email them in to [email protected] or do it the old fashioned way and send them by post to the distillery. More information on the website. The deadline is 31 March this year. Chosen images will be used as part of Glen Scotia Whisky Festival. Iain McAlister, master distiller at Glen Scotia, said: “Whisky was a way of life in our coastal town for over 100 years and over time, all that experience, craft and passion has been poured into Glen Scotia. Now we are looking for photography that will help us uncover what makes Campbeltown the ‘whiskiest place in the world’.” To whet your appetite, Glen Scotia has published some evocative old photographs like the one above. Ah, it really takes you back.

The Nightcap: 26 February

The smoky-sweet high strength dream of a dram will be here soon

Benriach releases Smoke Season

There’s a new small-batch smoky Benriach on the horizon and we’ve just had a little taste. It’s the aptly-named Smoke Season and pays tribute to the old days of Speyside when the region’s whiskies would have been peated. The peat used is from the mainland which comes from trees and heather and has a quite different character to the seaweed-scented Islay variety. According to the press bumf it’s “the most intensely smoked whisky to be released by the distillery” and yet because of its cask maturation, the smoke is beautifully balanced by layers of chocolatey sweet spicy oak. Master blender Dr Rachel Barrie explained: “With intensely peated spirit batch distilled every year, at Benriach we never stop exploring how the fruit and smoke aromatics intertwine and mature in a range of eclectic oak casks, either amplifying or transforming the perception of peat.” The barrels include “a high proportion of charred and toasted American Virgin oak casks.” Despite being bottled at a punchy 52.8% ABV, we reckon it’s best without any dilution, all the better to enjoy the rich sweet salted caramel, tobacco and cinnamon notes. RRP is a very reasonable £53, roughly a £1 per percentage of alcohol, and we should be getting some in soon. 

The Nightcap: 26 February

If you’re a fan of white rum this is definitely one to check out

Equiano Rum reveals new white rum 

In a category as diverse and brilliant as rum, it can be difficult to stand out. However, when Equiano, the world’s first African & Caribbean rum, was launched by global rum ambassador Ian Burrell and Foursquare master distiller Richard Seale back in October 2019, it received plenty of headlines. Probably because of the world first thing. And the fact that Burrell and Seale were involved. Also, it’s a blend of molasses rums from Foursquare and Mauritius-based Gray’s Distillery. It really had a lot going for it. As does Equiano Light, the brand’s first line extension. Made from a blend of liquids from the same distilleries, namely lightly aged molasses Foursquare rum and fresh sugar cane juice rum from Gray’s, the spirit is said to have “subtle notes of ripe sugarcane and hints of natural vanilla and citrus” meaning it should be perfect for classic rum cocktails such as The Daiquiri. The brand has also said that Equiano Light was created to offer a “contemporary alternative to traditional pouring rums” and to “enrich the taste profile of an often-underrated spirit” while “silencing any notion that white rums lack the sophistication of their darker counterparts”. Equiano Rum, named after African-born writer, entrepreneur, abolitionist and freedom fighter Olaudah Equiano, will also continue to grant 5% of global company profits and £/$2 from every bottle sold through equianorum.com to ground level freedom and equality projects annually. The brand has also recently teamed up with Anti-Slavery International, the oldest international human rights organisation in the world, to fund their vital work to eliminate all forms of modern slavery across the globe.

The Nightcap: 26 February

Missing the hubbub of nightlife, this Mexican bar has the solution

‘I miss my bar’ recreates those nightlife noises we miss so much

Do you miss your bar? We certainly miss ours which is why we loved an initiative from Monterrey bar, Maverick (sent to me by wife’s father who lives in LA. Shout out to you Mr Lemkin! We have a very informal relationship). That’s Monterrey Mexico, not Monterrey California. It’s a website called ‘I miss my bar’ that lets you recreate the noises of your favourite bar with sliders controlling elements such as rain noise, music, background chatter, traffic and drinks being made. Every week there’s a new playlist put together by staff. All you need to provide are the drinks. Wouldn’t it be great if you could really just turn down that loud group in the corner, though? What are we saying? We are that loud group in the corner. As well as being great fun, it serves a serious purpose, to encourage people to buy vouchers to be redeemed when the bar opens. If you don’t live near Monterrey, then think about helping out your local bar, pub or restaurant, or it might not be there when the lockdown lifts.

The Nightcap: 26 February

This would make one hell of a birthday present, as Jay-Z knows all too well

Sotheby’s to sell Jay-Z’s 1969 D’Ussé Cognac 

We don’t know if any of our dear readers got something special for their 50th birthday, but we would wager that few got a one-of-a-kind bottle of Cognac. But that’s exactly what Shawn Carter, or Jay-Z as you probably know him best, got when he celebrated the big 5-0 in December 2019. D’USSÉ surprised him with the first-ever bottle of its 1969 Anniversaire Limited Edition Grande Champagne Cognac. The bottling was taken from a single barrel-aged in a two-hundred-year-old cellar at Château de Cognac. It’s also housed in a diamond-shaped cut crystal bottle and is adorned with 24 karat gold leaf wrapping on the neck, so it’s suitably swanky. A limited run of the Cognac will be made available for consumer purchase in the spring. Before that, however, a bottle carrying Mr Carter’s engraved signature will be presented for sale at Sotheby’s and is estimated to fetch between $25,000-75,000. That money won’t be lining the legendary hip-hop star’s pocket, however, as the proceeds will go to the Shawn Carter Foundation, which aims to help individuals facing socio-economic hardships further their education at institutions of higher learning. There is no reserve for bids in this auction lot, so Bottle No. 1 will open at just $1 at 2pm GMT on 1 March and the winning bid will be announced at 2pm GMT on 13 March 2021. Fancy your chances?

Jung & Wulff Barbados rum No.3

It’s just like being in Barbados

Sazerac releases Jung & Wulff Caribbean rum range

More exciting rum news! Sazerac, the New Orleans-based drinks company, has just launched a new range of rums and we have to say they look brilliant. Consisting of spirits from Trinidad, Barbados and Guyana, we are particularly taken with the snazzy retro travel posters on the labels. At a time when we can’t travel, they are just the tonic we need. The Trinidad Rum No.1 features steel drum players in front of an ocean liner, Guyana Rum No.2 a tropical jungle scene and the Barbados Rum No. 3 label, a cricket match set against palm trees. The contents are pretty tasty too. All are limited edition blends of pot and column still rums from undisclosed distilleries – though you’ll probably be able to guess the origins of the Trinidad and Guyana bottlings. As with all Sazerac brands, there’s a good bit of history here too as Liam Sparks from importer Hi-Spirits explained: “Jung & Wulff were early importers of rum, distributing to cafés and bars across New Orleans and beyond. Strictly limited, our Jung & Wulff rums celebrate three influential places: Trinidad, Guyana and Barbados. I believe these rums are a true interpretation of each island’s style and brilliantly showcases the different terroirs that are available throughout the Caribbean.” And they’ve just arrived at Master of Malt.

The Nightcap: 26 February

Nine gin-soaked-raisins a day keeps the doctor away… supposedly. (It won’t. But they sure are tasty)

And finally…  105-year-old woman claims gin-soaked raisins helped her overcome Covid

Forget cross country running, meditation and salad, if you want to lead a long life one American lady has the answer, gin-soaked raisins. 105-year-old Lucia DeClerk from New Jersey contracted Covid in her nursing home despite being vaccinated but managed to fight off the virus. The New York Times reported that she had very few symptoms and was back to her best after two weeks. She attributed her robust old age to eating nine gin-soaked raisins a day: “Fill a jar, nine raisins a day after it sits for nine days,” she said. She didn’t specify which brand of gin but it seems that this special diet gave her a raisin to live. 

Sorry.

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Top 10 delicious drinks for Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is fast approaching! Don’t forget to treat your mum with something tasty – luckily we’ve rounded up a whole range of gift-worthy tipples right here… This is your…

Mother’s Day is fast approaching! Don’t forget to treat your mum with something tasty – luckily we’ve rounded up a whole range of gift-worthy tipples right here…

This is your friendly reminder to get your hands on something delicious for Mother’s Day (it’s on 14 March, FYI). Nothing beats cracking open a bottle together, though this year it’s probably going to be a little different – let the Zoom drinks commence! Nonetheless, you can rest easy knowing that you picked out a top bottle for her to enjoy for the occasion. 

Brilliant bottles await! 

Lind & Lime Gin

Lind & Lime Gin

Your mum will love a gorgeous bottle of delicious gin, and that’s exactly what we have here – Lind & Lime Gin is the first release from Edinburgh’s Port of Leith Distillery! The zesty spirit was inspired by Dr. James Lind of Edinburgh, who first made the link between citrus fruits and scurvy. Alongside a good dose of lime citrus there’s pink peppercorn and juniper spice, too. Plus, after it’s been drunk, you could use the bottle for all sorts of other purposes. Candle holder. Vase. Lamp. The list goes on!

What does it taste like? Bright citrus, fresh and authentic. Juniper is oily and subtly spicy, bolstered by pink pepper and cardamom warmth.

Jaffa Cake Rum

Jaffa Cake Rum

Orange and chocolate. A dynamic duo, and flavours you’ll often find in aged rum. The folks behind Jaffa Cake Rum went one step further, a blended Caribbean rum with real life Jaffa cakes, alongside oranges, fresh orange peel and cocoa powder! Make sure to whip your mum up a Rum Old Fashioned, garnished with a Jaffa cake – failing that, a ribbon of orange peel will do. Mother’s Day drinks, done!

What does it taste like? Zesty orange, cake-y vanilla, and tropical fruit tang, with dark chocolate and bittersweet coffee bringing balance.

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Whether your mum is a seasoned sipper or looking to explore the world of whisky, Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old is a superb choice. The delicate and flavoursome Highland single malt was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks, with just a smidge of smoke running through it. Sublime stuff, and maybe she’ll even share a dram with you if you’re nice enough to give it to her!  

What does it taste like? Oily and nutty, with almond and butterscotch alongside heather honey, malt biscuits, and oaky vanilla. 

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus 2019

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus 2019

Our Kentish neighbours at Chapel Down know exactly how to make the most out of their Bacchus grapes, and this sparkling wine is one such example! This is a wonderfully refreshing English wine, brimming with vibrant fruit and gentle vanilla notes, all carried by fine bubbles. The perfect bottle to pop open on 14 March!

What does it taste like? Elderflower, pineapple, mango, citrus, cut grass, and nectarine.

Mermaid Pink Gin

Mermaid Pink Gin

Remember what we said literally just now about beautiful bottles and delicious gin? Well, not to hammer the point home, but we’ve got another brilliant example here from the Isle of Wight Distillery! It’s a blushing variant of its gorgeous Mermaid Gin, infused with strawberries from the aforementioned isle. Think bright berry fruitiness balanced by savoury rock samphire and herbaceous Boadicea hops, and you’re there. Pair with a splash of elderflower tonic and handful of fresh strawberries, and serve it straight to your mum. A sure way to become the favourite!

What does it taste like? A burst of bright berries initially, with citrus and piney notes, balanced by subtly coastal samphire.

Starward (New) Old Fashioned

Starward (New) Old Fashioned

Mother’s Day calls for cocktails! Though if you’re not familiar with the ol’ shaker or stirrer, a pre-bottled serve might be the best option. This is the (New) Old Fashioned from Starward in Australia, made with its very own whisky, house-made bitters, and, for an extra Australian touch, wattleseed demerara syrup. If you have ice and a glass, then you’re ready to serve this tasty tipple!

What does it taste like? Sharp orange, stewed berries and strawberry jam, oak, a hint of mint leaf.

Project #173 Pineapple Rum

Project #173 Pineapple Rum

A tropical treat for you from the Project #173 range, made with a delicious top-quality rum base which has been flavoured with the tangy delights of pineapple! It’s totally gift-worthy too, because it’s presented in a bottle adorned with actual 23 karat gold leaf. Go on and make Mother’s Day Daiquiri with this. It’s like a normal Daiquiri, except you’ve made it on Mother’s Day without being asked!

What does it taste like? Vibrant pineapple, and tangy tropical fruit, with fried banana, runny caramel, and a crackle of peppery spice.

Dr. Squid Gin

Dr. Squid Gin

Yes, this is unusual, but that’s what makes this Cornish tipple amazing! Dr. Squid Gin is from the Pocketful of Stones Distillery in Penzance, and it’s made with real squid ink – we know you saw that one coming, you read the name, right? As such, there’s a coastal touch to the spirit, balanced by those classic notes of juniper, citrus, and spice. As if it wasn’t cool enough, it even turns bright pink when mixed with tonic water! And it’s presented in a copper flask! See? Cool!

What does it taste like? Juniper and citrus kick it off, with a subtly savoury sea breeze running through, along with a helping of sweeter florals.

Caoruun Gin

Caorunn Small Batch Gin

First things first, if you’re going to give Caorunn Gin to your mum, you’re going to have to know how to pronounce it. It’s ‘ka-roon’. You’ll also probably want to know what’s in the Scottish spirit, and it’s local botanicals galore! Hand-picked rowan berry, heather, coul blush apple, and dandelion feature in here, and its signature serve is with a good quality tonic and slice of apple to garnish.

What does it taste like? Floral heather, woody juniper, and green, leafy notes, with a burst of citrus and spice.

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Premium Gin Collection

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Premium Gin Collection

Drinks by the Dram has taken all the hard work out of choosing by doing it for you, rounding up 12 of its favourite gins in this gorgeous collection. Within you’ll find 12 wax-sealed 30ml drams from all over the world – we’re talking England, Australia, Finland, and more! It’s the perfect shape for easy wrapping (should you be so inclined), though covered in florals it’s pretty just as it is.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Palmetto

This week’s cocktail couldn’t be simpler, all you need is the finest rum you can get your hands on and some excellent sweet vermouth like the recently-landed Agora Rosso which…

This week’s cocktail couldn’t be simpler, all you need is the finest rum you can get your hands on and some excellent sweet vermouth like the recently-landed Agora Rosso which comes from Suffolk.

The Palmetto is part of a family of simple cocktails consisting of an aged spirit combined with vermouth and a dash of bitters stirred over ice, and served straight up. The best known in the family is the Manhattan but there’s also the Rob Roy, made with Scotch, the Harvard, made with Cognac, and the Emerald, made with Irish whiskey. Palmetto is a type of palm tree so no prizes for guessing which spirit goes into it. Just to be clear, it’s rum.

Harry Craddock’s recipe in The Savoy Cocktail Book calls for equal parts Italian vermouth with St. Croix rum and a dash of orange bitters. St. Croix was a brand made at the Cruzan Distillery in the US Virgin Islands. The distillery is now owned by Beam Suntory but the brand is no more so what to use in your Palmetto? Well, the world, or rather the Caribbean, is your oyster. High ester Jamaican rums like Plantation Xaymaca make punchy explosively fruity Palmettos, the sweet vermouth just about taming the Jamaican funk. Using something smooth and sophisticated from Latin America like the Eminente from Cuba makes the Palmetto a completely different animal, taking it into Harvard territory. If you want just a little funk, Merser & Co is hard to beat.

For the vermouth this week we’re using a new brand that landed at MoM late last year, Agora Rosso. It’s made by an Australian in Suffolk, Arthur Voulgaris. He began his career tending bar in Melbourne where he picked up a love of Negronis before moving to London to work in the wine trade. It was, appropriately enough, in Manhattan where he really caught the vermouth bug. He was working for English wine brand Digby in New York and, he told us in an interview last year: “I drank Manhattans like they were going out of fashion.”

Arthur Voulgaris enjoying a cocktail of an evening

He tried every vermouth he could get his hands on but wasn’t always that impressed with the quality. “I thought, ‘could this category be a bit better? Could there be more finesse and balance within vermouth?’ I find that some of them can be incredibly bitter, and to counteract that and balance it out, a lot of sugar is added,” he said.

When he returned to England to work for Gonzalez Byass, he set about trying to make his dream vermouth. He began experimenting at his place in Suffolk, and the result, after much tinkering, was Agora, which means marketplace in Greek – Voulgaris’ family are from the island of Kos. Most rosso vermouths get their colour from caramel but Voulgaris wanted it to come from grapes, Cabernet and Merlot sourced from the south of France. There’s no added sugar, caramel or glycerol, all the sweetness comes from grape must. The botanicals include wormwood, rose, vanilla, lavender, star anise and cassia bark, and he uses neutral grape alcohol. “I didn’t want anything synthetic. I didn’t want anything that was too confected, cloying, bitter or simply sweet,” he said. It comes in at 120 grams of sugar which is classed as semi-sweet for a vermouth. 

The finished product is made at DJ Wines in Monks Soham, Suffolk. For the next batch Voulgaris is going to use locally-grown Pinot Noir grapes. He’s also planning a bianco made with English Madeleine Angevin grapes and with, as he puts it, “sea coastal botanicals such as Maldon sea salt and samphire” plus “something a bit oriental like kaffir lime.” 

How does the rosso taste? Well it’s very grapey and fruity, with the profile not unlike a fortified wine from the south of France like Maury with floral, fruity and bitter botanicals coming through harmoniously. We tried a batch last year which was a little bitter but he’s upped the grape sugar levels, and the balance is now perfect.

Palmetto

The magnificent Palmetto

It’s extremely nice just served on the rocks with a slice of orange as they do in Spain. But it’s also ideal for a very vermouth-heavy cocktail like a Palmetto. I tried it with both a Jamaican and a Cuban rum with the Cuban probably nosing it as its elegance chimed better with the subtlety of Agora. The classic way to serve your Palmetto is straight up but this year I’ve taken to drinking mine on the rocks in a tumbler and enjoying how the flavours change as the ice melts. It’s the perfect instant cocktail.

Here’s how to make the classic version:

35ml Eminente 7 Year Old Reserva Cuban Rum
35ml Agora Rosso Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker or jug, stir for a minute and strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

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Three boozy desserts to see out the festive season

During the lull between Christmas and New Year celebrations, so why not put any half-opened bottles of booze to good use with spot of baking? From rum-spiked cinnamon swirls to…

During the lull between Christmas and New Year celebrations, so why not put any half-opened bottles of booze to good use with spot of baking? From rum-spiked cinnamon swirls to a classic tiramisu, we’ve pulled together three show-stopping recipes to try…

When you think about boozy desserts, your first thought probably jumps to a Christmas pudding drenched in brandy. But there’s more to spirited baking than merely setting foodstuffs alight for a photo opp. In fact, adding a splash of booze to your favourite bakes can take the flavour of the dish to a whole new level. You just need to know when to add them, and how much to add.

To help boost your dessert-assembling credentials, we’ve pulled together three decadent recipes to try out ahead of your New Year’s celebrations – tis’ still the season, after all – spiked with delicious booze. There’s even Baileys dish in there, because seriously who doesn’t love Baileys?

1. Dark and Stormy Swirls

Recipe from Goslings Black Seal Rum. Makes six cinnamon swirl pastries.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 rolled sheet of puff pastry, 2 tbsp Goslings Black Seal Rum, 2 sweet apples diced into small cubes, ½ tsp cinnamon, 1 small thumb of ginger peeled and crushed, 1 lime (juice and rind), 50g raisins (soak in rum overnight if you have the time), 50g brown sugar, 50g butter, 1 egg wash

METHOD:

1) Place apples, sugar, butter, ginger, lime juice and cinnamon in a saucepan and gently cook down. Then add the rum and raisins and cook on a low heat for 30 mins.

2) Take the puff pastry sheet and place horizontally in front of you, and brush with the rummy applesauce – be generous.

3) Once coated, roll it up in a tight cylinder. Slice into six and place on baking paper on an oven tray. Coat with egg-wash and grate lime zest over the top.

4) Cook in a preheated oven at 180°C for 25 to 30 mins, remove and allow to cool on a wire rack – or serve warm. 

2. Tiramisu

Recipe from Quick Brown Fox.

INGREDIENTS: 

6 free-range egg yolks, 200g sugar, 450g mascarpone, 350ml cream, 1tsp vanilla extract, 100ml Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur, 1 packet of Savoiardi sponge fingers, orange zest to garnish

METHOD:

1) First, you’ll need to make your sabayon layer. Combine the egg yolks with 130g of the sugar. Put the bowl over a pot of boiling water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the sabayon has increased in volume. 

2) Next, make the mascarpone layer – for this, whisk the mascarpone, cream and 70g of sugar in a bowl. 

3) Now quickly dip the Savoiardi biscuits into a shallow bowl of Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur (don’t let it soak too much). 

4) All you have to do now is assemble into glasses in layers. First, the soaked Savoirdi biscuits, then the sabayon, then the mascarpone layer, and repeat. 

5) Sprinkle with cocoa and let it set for six hours in the fridge. Garnish with a grating of fresh orange zest.

3. Gingerbread Trifle

Recipe Benjamina Ebuehi of Great British Bake Off fame for Baileys Original Irish Cream.

INGREDIENTS:

250g unsalted butter, 200g light brown muscovado sugar, 50g black treacle, 100g golden syrup, 3 eggs, 400ml milk, 300g plain flour, ½ bicarbonate of soda, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp ground ginger, 1 tsp mixed spice, ¼ tsp ground cloves, 900ml double cream, 2 tsp vanilla bean paste, 6 egg yolks, 2½  tbsp cornflour, 65g caster sugar, 2 tbsp biscuit spread, 80ml Baileys Original Irish Cream, 100ml strong brewed coffee, 2 crushed gingernut biscuits, grated milk chocolate, edible glitter

METHOD:

1) Start by making the ginger cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 9 x 13 inch cake tin. Gently heat the unsalted butter, golden syrup and treacle in a small saucepan until the butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before stirring in the sugar. In a small jug, whisk together the 3 eggs and 100ml milk and set aside.

2) In a large bowl, sift together the plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the syrup mixture, milk and eggs. Mix the batter until smooth and pour into the tin. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely.

3) To make the custard, whisk the 6 egg yolks, caster sugar and cornflour in a large bowl until smooth and pale. Set aside. Heat 300ml milk, 600ml double cream and vanilla bean paste in a saucepan over medium heat until just before boiling. Pour a quarter of the hot milk onto the eggs and whisk thoroughly. Add the rest of milk a bit at a time, whisking well after each addition. 

4) Pour the mixture back into the pan over a medium heat and stir continuously until the custard is nicely thickened. Remove from the heat and spilt the custard evenly into two bowls. Stir the biscuit spread into one of the bowls until fully combined. Cover both sets of custard with a layer of cling film directly touching the surface. Let it cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge. 

5) Then, mix the Baileys Original Irish Cream with 300ml double cream in a large bowl and whip until you have soft peaks. 

6) To assemble the trifle, cut up the ginger cake into small squares and place them in your trifle dish. Spoon the coffee onto the cake layer followed by a layer of vanilla custard and biscuit-flavoured custard. Sprinkle on a layer of crushed gingernut biscuits and then spoon the Baileys Original Irish Cream layer on top. Decorate with more gingernut crumbs, grated milk chocolate, a sprinkle of edible glitter and drizzle with extra golden syrup if you’d like.

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23 distillers share their Christmas wish lists

The production teams at our favourite distilleries have bestowed the gift of delicious booze upon us all year long. But what are they wishing for this Christmas? We asked 23…

The production teams at our favourite distilleries have bestowed the gift of delicious booze upon us all year long. But what are they wishing for this Christmas? We asked 23 distillers across the globe to share their festive wish lists. Here’s what they told us…

Hands up if you’d love to work in a distillery? The idea of playing mad scientist with spirits all day certainly sounds like fun to us. And while we can’t speak for their day-to-day reality, from the outside looking in, the folks behind our top tipples are living the dream. Which begs the question: in the season of gift-giving, what could they possibly want for Christmas?

Rather than ponder aimlessly, we put the question to distillers of all disciplines. Whether it’s crystal wine glasses, a special bottle of booze, three days off over new year, a homemade custard tart, or peace to all mankind, we probed spirits-makers from across the globe for their deepest festive desires and recorded their revelations. 

1. Ms. Lesley Gracie, master distiller, Hendrick’s Gin

“As always my Christmas list has pets on it – my husband is always a definite ‘no’, but my daughter has bought me hamsters in the past. A few years ago I asked for a pet rat but husband was not to be swayed and even said that it was either a rat or him – he could at least have made it a tough decision! As for this year’s Christmas wish list… It’s any pet I can persuade him to let me have!”

2. David Stewart MBE, malt master, The Balvenie

“I’d like the Monopoly Ayr Edition which has my football team, Ayr United, featured on one of the squares and where I was born.”

3. Christopher Hayman, master distiller, Hayman’s Gin

“This Christmas I’ll be asking for two things: an aeroplane ticket because I’m desperate to be able to travel again, and a life with more real people and less Zoom calls!”

4. Simon Hewitt, distiller, Nc’nean Distillery

“On my wish list this year is Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Flavour. I am inspired by him as a chef – in my opinion he is one of the best in the world. I’ve visited his restaurants in London and they are the best I’ve ever been to. He is also an amazing human – he has a degree in philosophy and when you hear him speak on topics other than food he is very inspiring.”

5. Elizabeth McCall, assistant master distiller, Woodford Reserve

“This Christmas I am asking for a set of large rocks glasses. We have some nice rocks glasses at home which are pretty and get the job done but they are on the smaller side. What I would like is a set of large rocks glasses with a thick glass bottom for a nice weight and giving me plenty of room for my ice and bourbon. One of my favourite ‘cocktails’, which isn’t really a cocktail is the ‘evolving cocktail’, Woodford Reserve on ice. As the ice melts different flavour notes are highlighted – it’s the perfect way to sip and savour a long drink of Woodford Reserve.” 

6. Tom Hills, head distiller, East London Liquor Company

“I’ve asked Father Christmas for a new head torch to aid in the search deep in our cluttered cellar for a long-lost bottle of expensive white burgundy that my housemates swear they didn’t drink whilst drunk, although suspicions remain. Beyond that I’d like a new woolly hat which is a more cost-effective option than ever actually turning our heating on, and a comprehensive support package for the incredible UK hospitality industry from the government, who so far seem hellbent on inflicting irreparable damage on the sector and fail to realise the unparalleled importance of our irreplaceable venues and the teams running them.” 

7. Chris Garden, head distiller, Hepple Spirits Company

“I’m very much looking forward to my traditional Christmas Eve glass of Blossa, a Swedish mulled wine, in front of the fire with my wife while we wrap the kids presents.”

8. Gregg Glass, whisky maker, Whyte & Mackay

“As with many people this year, the greatest gift more than ever is about spending time with family and friends, whether in person or virtually. The one thing that’s on my Santa list this year is a particular book on forestry – I can’t wait to enjoy a spot of festive reading with a special dram. At this time of the year, I usually treat myself to opening a nice bottle of Port and this year will be a lovely Graham’s Quinta Dos Malvedos. I’ll also be mixing things up with Whisky Amaro created by Edinburgh-based Sweetdrams, a truly unique flavour experience – festive mince pies and cocktail creation, here I come!”

9. Mike Melrose, distiller, Dà Mhìle

“After this busy time of year, the ideal Christmas gift for me would be the entirety of January to spend working on R&D. Turning my dreams into tasty reality, at my own relaxing pace with my headphones in. If there was a way I could do it in my slippers too, it’d be perfect.”

10. Chris Molyneaux, master distiller, Daffy’s Gin 

“It’s been a hugely busy and exciting winter for us here at Daffy’s HQ and a couple of weeks off over the Christmas hols will be pure bliss. We are so lucky that our distillery is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful mountains of Scotland, and with the snow now having arrived, we’ve all been dying to get into the hills and ski. So that’s the gift I want the most this Christmas – a massive dump of snow to get out there and make lots of first tracks in!”

11. Michael Henry, master blender, Loch Lomond Whiskies

“I am asking for a bottle of Blue Spot Irish Whiskey. I always have a whisky with my dad when I’m home, with coronavirus restrictions this year I won’t make it back to Northern Ireland from Scotland for Christmas. It will have to wait a while for me to open it as I’ll be keeping it for the next time I can go home to see my parents.”

12. Conor Hyde, master blender, Hyde Irish Whiskey

“I would like a fancy Oji Japanese style cold coffee dripper! Without hurting the integrity of the original whiskey, this dripper creates amazing whiskey coffee infusions. You cold brew the coffee in the cold-dripper using Irish whiskey instead of water. The whiskey slowly filters through the coffee filter over six to nine hours, trapping the coffee flavour and aromatic compounds, to make a mind blowing Irish coffee base.”

13. Ben Weetman, head distiller, 58 Gin

“This year, top of my Christmas list is a new pair of glasses and a really nice fresh hot shave – COVID-safe of course! 2020 has been the distillery’s busiest year yet and the constant cleaning of stills and being ‘in the thick’ of it has taken its toll on my specs. So that’s the practical present and the real ‘treat’ gift would be the hot shave for a bit of Ben time!”

14. David Fitt, head distiller, The English Whisky Company

“My wife Sarah and I always give money to charity at this time of year so I would like (for my peace of mind as a human being) to know a child somewhere in the world benefited from us giving some money. We usually give to UNICEF. We are privileged to live in a society that can provide – a lot can’t. I am looking forward to a couple of days off after a very busy, strange year, spending time with my wife, daughters and maybe other family members and enjoying a drink over the festive period.”

Ewan George, Warehouse Manager, BenRiach Distillery, Aberdeenshire

15. Ewan George, spirits logistics and warehouse manager, The GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh and Benriach distilleries

“Don’t know if Santa will be able to deliver, but from the letter I posted… one, health and happiness for my family, also the workers and families of the company over the festive period. Two, not having to wake up on Christmas Day before sunrise. Three, a bottle from all three of our Scotch brands so I can choose what goes on the table at Christmas – albeit I’ll be the only one enjoying it! – four, snow on Christmas Day with someone else walking the dog! And five, a fresh start to 2021 with a brighter year ahead for all!” 

16. Paul ‘Archie’ Archard, co-founder, Black Cow Vodka

“This Christmas I’m wishing for a set of Sophie Conran Champagne coupes. Perfect for serving our Black Cow Christmas Spirit Champagne cocktail with a twist of orange zest – yum! I’d also love one of our gold-plated cocktail shakers, made by Yukiwa in Japan. Christmas is a time for indulgence, so I want to serve my cocktails in style.”

17. Michael Duncan, stillhouse operator, The GlenAllachie Distillery

“On my Christmas list this year will be some homemade Scottish tablet from the Visitor Centre team who do their best to keep us sweet!”

Stauning whisky

18. Alex Munch, co-founder, Stauning Whisky

“A Spanish Chair made by Danish designer Børge Mogensen is the perfect place for sipping a glass of Stauning Rye, and what I would put at the top of my wish list. Along with the perfect cocktail bar set to make a delicious Manhattan cocktail – with Stauning Rye, of course!”

19. Alex Thomas, master blender, The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey

“I have two passions in life that I just can’t resist: whiskey and shoes. I will definitely be hoping that Santa drops both into my Christmas stocking this year. I promise I will share the whiskey with my friends and family if I am lucky enough to receive any. After all, that’s what whiskey is for – making memories with our friends and family and toasting the year that is ending and welcoming the one that is just beginning.”

20. Aare Ormus, distiller, Junimperium Distillery

“The best Christmas gift ever is to have all children and grandchildren back at home and spend the holiday-time together. I hope that we can enjoy our lovely traditional Christmas family dinner together this year despite all the problems and worries of the world.  It is also nice to get some little liquid gifts that can be consumed at Christmas time. For this Christmas I wish for friends and partners to keep their promises and have peace of mind. Merry Christmas to you all, and good health!”

21. Simon Rucker, co-founder, Nine Elms

“I would love to receive something delicious to nibble with Nine Elms No.18 over Christmas: a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, a leg of Iberico ham or a selection of paul.a.young fine chocolates – the 75% Papua New Guinea dark chocolate bar is a firm favourite! But the present I’d love most is to see the hospitality trade – particularly my favourite neighbourhood restaurants, The Canton Arms and Maremma [in south London] – making it through this difficult period and coming out fighting in the New Year.”

22. Iain McAlister, distillery manager and master distiller, Glen Scotia

“On the first day of Christmas Glen Scotia sent to me… a bottle of Sherry Double Cask – also available in a shop near to thee!”

23. Nelson Hernandez, maestro ronero at Diplomático 

“2020 has been a complicated and challenging year on many levels which has given me the opportunity to reflect deeply on what was really important in life. For this reason, my true wish this year is for all of us to be in good health and in the company of our families and loved ones.”

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Inside the English Spirit Distillery

Nestled inside an 18th century barn located in the depths of the Essex countryside you’ll find English Spirit Distillery, which produces the UK’s widest variety of spirits and liqueurs all…

Nestled inside an 18th century barn located in the depths of the Essex countryside you’ll find English Spirit Distillery, which produces the UK’s widest variety of spirits and liqueurs all under one roof, and totally from scratch. With the distillers’ 10th birthday around the corner, and construction on its shiny second distillery in Cornwall taking shape, all signs point to an action-packed 2021. MoM paid the team a socially-distanced visit…

The English Spirit story begins in Cambridgeshire at the former home of Oxford biochemist and ardent cook, Dr John Walters. Inspired by a Radio 4 feature about eau-de-vie made from wild fruits in the east of France, he set about immersing himself in distilling literature; picking grapes from the side of his house and distilling his first spirit on a four-litre still a short while after. According to Walters, it was as smooth, layered and complex as the £140 bottle of Cognac on his drinks trolley. Galvanised by his creation, Dr Walters found a site locally and established the county’s first distillery in 2011 with little more than a single 200-litre alembic still and a reflux column.

Vodka came next, then gin, liqueurs and barrel-aged spirits, all produced with a new make-first philosophy that carries through to this day. “He found that if you really pay attention to the distillation process, it then doesn’t become about the botanicals, the spices, the barrel ageing – you really don’t have to age spirits for years and years,” says general manager James Lawrence. Fast-forward 10 years, and you’ll find an even wider array of spirits and liqueurs at the distillery in Great Yeldham, Essex, where English Spirit has operated for the last six years.

Dr John with one of his little stills

The majority is made from a base of East Anglian sugar beet, which is processed at British Sugar’s factory in Bury Saint Edmunds and arrives at the distillery as a mash. Seax Vodka is the purest expression of the base spirit; single distilled in a 3.9-metre column still and bottled unfiltered. Dr J’s Gin, a London Dry, is pot distilled with juniper, coriander, macadamia nut and citrus zests in 200-litre batches. Coffee Liqueur, one of six liqueurs that make up the core range, sees five Arabica coffee bean varieties partly distilled with the sugar beet base and partly infused using a sous vide.

The distillery’s Single Malt Spirit, meanwhile, is made from malted barley wort sourced from a local brewery (before maturing in English oak barrels). And when it’s time to make one of three rum bottlings – Old Salt Rum, English Spiced Rum, and St Piran’s Cornish Rum – the team source sugar cane molasses from around the globe. Ingredient-wise, nothing is off the cards: English Spirit is the only distillery in the UK to distil sambuca, which is made with elderflower eau-de-vie, and even made the country’s first baijiu from 100% British sorghum grains in collaboration with farmer Pete Thompson.

While the distillery team seeks to celebrate Britain’s agricultural heritage and seasonality, they are by no means bound by it. Peer closely at the labels and you’ll find English strawberries, rhubarb, Victoria plums, cucumbers and red cherries alongside Sicilian lemons and even exotic wood species – Canadian sequoia, Norwegian pine and Omani date palm – which were distilled with sugar cane molasses to make Great British Rum, a recent collaboration with intrepid explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. 

You can see the bones of the 18th century Essex barn that houses the distillery

Compared to the historic barn at Great Yeldham Hall – a Grade II Listed building that dates back 200 years – the new distillery, located at Treguddick Manor in Cornwall “is like being blasted into the 21st century,” says Lawrence. Where the Essex site is home to 20 gas-fired customised copper pot alembics from Portugal, collectively nicknamed ‘Fanny’, the new build will house a vast electric-powered still – around 1,500 litres in capacity – designed by a German engineering firm to English Spirit Distillery’s precise specifications. 

“We use small stills to make an exact cut between heads, hearts and tails,” Lawrence explains. “Sometimes we might want to grab just a fraction of the heads or a few esters off the tails to make a particular flavour profile. The art of distillation is knowing when to make that cut, and choosing how much of those elements to take. Anything over 200 litres in size, you traditionally start to lose the ability to have that precision. You might be at 90%, but you won’t be at 100% accuracy. But John has found a still that can do that in one giant electric-powered self-contained unit.”

The super-still isn’t the only standout aspect of the new site, which will feature a giant waterfall, a restaurant, and five geodesic domes within which the team will grow botanicals and base spirit ingredients, from wheat and sugarcane to Mediterreanean herbs. “Imagine the Eden Project, but smaller, and with more booze,” says Lawrence. The ingredients will also feature in dishes in the kitchen. “We really want to start showing people how you can bring food and spirits together,” he says. “Bespoke drink pairings, cooking with spirits – using them as novel ingredients to get amazing new flavours out of dishes.”

To mark a decade of distilling, English Spirit will return to its roots with the release of an aged brandy made with English wine – fitting, given eau-de-vie started it all. As construction works rumble on at the Cornwall site – “at the minute we’re in deep electrics and plumbing phase,” says Lawrence, with the new still set to be fitted in February – 2021 is shaping up to be a corker for the team. “We’re flying along, it’s amazing,” he says of the project. “I couldn’t be more proud.”

Tasting notes:
Dr. J’s London Dry Gin

The ingredients for Dr J’s London Dry? Single-distilled sugar beet new make, juniper berries, coriander seeds, citrus zests (orange and lemon), macadamia nut, and water. That’s it.

Nose: Clean and herbal at first, a second whiff reveals a gentle sweetness underpinning those initial bright grassy notes.

Palate: Creamy menthol, with a hit of juniper and coriander. A pepperiness with vibrant, fresh lemon zest. 

Finish: Dry, lingering lemon, warmth and a kick of macadamia nuttiness. Supremely fresh. 

St Piran’s Cornish Rum 

Named after the patron saint of Cornwall, St Piran’s is made exclusively from sugar cane molasses and blended with Cornish water drawn from a borehole at Treguddick Manor.

Nose: Grassy and vegetal, with a touch of salt, honey, and soft white pepper warmth.

Palate: Dry on the entry with tart citrus and coconut cream. Evolves into raisin and caramel.

Finish: Medium length with vanilla custard, a hint of agave and a menthol note at the very end.

English Spiced Rum 

Made by macerating the distillery’s Old Salt Rum with cherries, hibiscus, citrus, ginger and a few secret ingredients – referred to by Dr John as ‘pixie dust’ – overnight.

Nose: A huge waft of ginger, wrapped up in brown sugar. Hibiscus follows, with hints of sweet vanilla

Palate: Thick and syrupy with toffee apples, glazed cherries, sweet spices, gingerbread, rich raisin and caramel notes.

Finish: A short finish, with bitter orange, cinnamon and a touch of charred oak.

English Spirit Coffee Liqueur 

The team has taken five different varieties of arabica coffee beans and combined them with a base spirit made from East Anglian sugar beet. Some beans are redistilled with the spirit, others undergo a sous vide process. The two are combined and bottled as a liqueur at 25% ABV.

Nose: Milk chocolate, roasted coffee beans. Rich, earthy and complex with a leathery, almost tobacco element and hints of dates and cherry.

Palate: Freshly ground coffee with demerara sugar, vanilla. Transforms into delicious mouth-coating bitter espresso.

Finish: Long, with lashings of gooey caramel and a lingering coffee cake note.

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