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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: rum

The Nightcap: 24 January

Need a break from practising your Burns Night speech? Tune into The Nightcap, your weekly source of bite-sized booze news! We sell whisky here at Master of Malt. That shouldn’t…

Need a break from practising your Burns Night speech? Tune into The Nightcap, your weekly source of bite-sized booze news!

We sell whisky here at Master of Malt. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. As such, it also should not be a surprise that we quite enjoy said spirit. A third thing that shouldn’t be a surprise is that Burns Night is happening this weekend – that one shouldn’t be a surprise because we’ve been nattering about it for a little while now, along with everyone else that has an affinity for whisky. If you’re in the same boat and heading to a Burns Night celebration, pack that brain full of booze news in case small talk situations arise between bursts of poetry and toasts.

On the blog this week we turned our attention to all things Burns Night, unsurprisingly, rounding-up some sensational Scotch to enjoy on the night, enjoying a Bobby Burns and reminiscing about the worst Burns Night celebrations ever, all while enjoying your poetic entries to our Burns Night competition… Thank you to all who entered, the competition is now closed and the winner will be announced on Monday!

Elsewhere, we launched a new #BagThisBundle competition, Adam heard Black Lines’ case for why you shouldn’t write off draft cocktails and Henry cast his eye on a baijiu producer that wants to land the spirit in the Western market and a bourbon from the Lone Star state. Annie, meanwhile, checked out the UK’s first sake brewery before going down under to learn about Australian wine and the Archie Rose Distillery.

So, what are you waiting for? There’s boozy news to enjoy!

The Nightcap

Hidden haggis, bingo, London’s first whisky wall and more. It’s must be Burns Night!

Burns Night celebrations in full flow this week

With Burns Night tomorrow, there has been a raft of events this week in celebration, as you can imagine. But plenty are forgoing the tradition to mark the day in all kinds of wacky ways, such as The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), who are planning to hide 18 mini haggises around Glasgow city centre in celebration of their new Members’ Room opening on Bath Street in March 2020. The lucky folk who find them have a chance to win an annual membership to the Society, SMWS bottles or tasting glasses. DrinkUp London, meanwhile, is offering all kinds of deals for its Scotch Whisky Weekend, while still finding time to host BenRiach’s ‘painting by tasting notes’ workshop with landscape artist Ellis O’Connor and master blender Rachel Barrie, in which you can create your own artwork inspired by tasting notes. A night full of bingo shenanigans from Bobby’s Burns Bingo awaits those who go to New York bodega-inspired bar Liquorette, which is celebrating Burns Night with an American twist with Chivas global brand ambassador Rhys Wilson. He will be calling the numbers and handing out the prizes ranging from Chivas 12 and 18 year old bottles, home whisky blending kits, nights out at Liquorette and tickets to Chivas Blend experience. London’s oldest whisky specialist Milroy’s is doing its own more traditional Burns Night in Spitalfields tonight with complimentary drinks thanks to Crabbie Whisky alongside haggis, poetry and music. One event we know for sure was a success was Mac & Wild’s Burns Warm Up Party with Copper Dog last night, which featured live entertainment, masterclasses, London’s first whisky wall, Bone Marrow Whisky Luge experiences and all kinds of tasty Scottish street food. Oh, and Paul Young has been making signature Burns Night chocolate made in collaboration with Glen Moray (we can vouch for its deliciousness), proving that chocolate belongs at every occasion. It’s great to see so many so keen to toast Scotland’s national bard. Slange var!

The Nightcap

This could be yours. For free. No, really.

Silk Road Distillers is giving away free rum

This is not a drill. It’s not a scam. There are no pirates involved in this rum, folks. No, free samples of rum (excluding post and package) can truly be yours thanks to the marketing initiative of a startup rum brand in London. Silk Road Distillers is backing 2020 to be the year of rum (it’s not alone) and the spirit producers are so keen to show off their new creation that they are charging absolutely nothing (excluding post and package) for the pleasure. This isn’t any ordinary rum, no. The sample you’ll receive is full of white spiced rum. A white rum that was infused with six botanicals. It truly is a brave new world. “2020 is going to be all about rum, and we can’t wait to be a part of it”, says George Agate, founder of Silk Road Distillers, “We’re hoping to get loads of samples out for Try-January, and we know once someone tries it, it will be their go-to drink for the year”. Silk Road Distillers also wants you to ditch Rum and Coke for this one and instead try out a Rum and Tonic, which admittedly is an often overlooked serve. Each 50ml is only available until the end of the month, 31st January 2020 from hereNow get ordering!

The Nightcap

A section of bookcase opens to reveal this secret bar, James Bond villain-style.

‘Secret’ bar opens in Great Scotland Yard Hotel

When we turned up, rather late, it has to be said, for the launch of a new bar at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel, we were a little confused as there was nobody to be seen. Maybe, we’d got the wrong day. All became clear, however, when the bartender from the hotel’s other bar, 40 Elephants, pressed discreet button and, James Bond villain-style, a section of bookcase opened to reveal a secret bar. It’s called Sibín, as in an Irish drinking den (sometimes spelt shebeen). The drinks menu takes a turn for the unexpected too with old classics given a tune-up. The Rusty Nail is made with two types of Talisker and Drambuie is left to oxidise for two days to mellow. Bars manager Michal Mariarz adds a little PX to his Smokey Cokey, Lagavulin 16 year old and Coke. Most innovative of all was bartender Alex Williams’ concoction, the Clear Conscience. Based on that old classic the Grasshopper, it’s made with poitin, Branca Menta and all kinds of scientific stuff to make something that smells just like a Matchmaker mint. For the more classically-inclined there are unusual whiskies like a 2005 Caol Ila part-matured in Hermitage red wine casks. The hotel located just off Trafalgar Square and housed in the former HQ of the Metropolitan Police, opened last year and already feels like a classic venue.  

Record number of ‘visitations’ at Buffalo Trace

Whiskey tourism in Kentucky is now a big thing: Buffalo Trace has just released figures that show that 294,996 people visited the distillery last year, 35% up on last year and a massive 466% up on 2010. The press release describes it as a “record-breaking visitation streak” which makes it sound like Kentucky has had an unusual number of divine interventions. All these visitors (divine or otherwise) have come during a $1.2 billion investment scheme. Yes, you read the right. 1.2 billion dollars. This includes a new visitor (or should that be visitation) centre, 22 foot (6.7 metres) cookers that required raising the roof of the mash house, four 92,000 gallon (420,000 litre) fermenters, a new cooling tower and six new warehouses which each hold 58,800 barrels. That’s a lot of bourbon. There’s even a special ‘hard hat’ tour so that you can see the work being done. “The growth we are seeing in all aspects of the distillery is really exciting,” Meredith Moody, director of homeplace development said. “We are eager to show all of our distilling upgrades to new and returning guests on our updated Hard Hat Tour. It’s a whole new experience, whether you are a first time visitor or have toured many times.” Oh, and talking of Buffalo Trace, it’s almost time for our annual parcel of Antique Collection rare bourbons from the distillery to arrive. Watch this space.

The Nightcap

The fantastic Passport menu takes you to all corners of the world

We taste St James Bar new Passport cocktail menu 

It’s around about that point in January that we all start getting a bit of wanderlust around MoM Towers. It’s rainy, it’s cold, and suddenly I’m having to resist the urge to book a holiday somewhere. Our wanderlust dreams were answered when we heard about the new Passport menu at St James Bar, Sofitel St James, so we headed over to try it out. The idea is to take you on a journey, and the menu looks like an actual British passport (for now…) boasting 12 cocktails from 12 different countries. We started, appropriately with a 5 to 7, a beautifully balanced bitter aperitif straight from Italy made with Campari-infused coffee, presented in a cafetière. Where would you like to go next, bar manager Kostas Bardas asked us. America! The Maker’s Mark and sherry-based cocktail, 1st Step, comes in a smoking rocketship. How could we not?! Then, to Thailand, where we tried Megong, a blend of Mekhong Thai Spirit, rum and Earl Grey presented alongside a mini gong. Heaven Howler was a tribute to Iceland’s Prohibition period from 1915 to 1989, a unique marriage of Himbrimi Old Tom, Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength, homemade rhubarb and thyme liqueur, pale ale and beer soda. We certainly wouldn’t mind sipping this refreshing serve in a geothermal spring… Then, on recommendation from quite literally everyone behind the bar, we tried the Victory Martini, inspired by Winston Churchill. Well, we are in London after all. A sophisticated blend of Plymouth Gin, Cognac and a brilliant homemade pine honey and wine leaf cordial made this little number outrageously easy to drink. The brilliantly conceived and engaging Passport menu took us to all corners of the world, though all from the luxurious blue plush interior of the bar. Bon voyage!

The Nightcap

I’ve never been so proud of the Brits before. Well in, guys.

British drinking more beer despite Dry January claims Wowcher

You may have noticed that it has become popular in the last few years to give up alcohol in January, a bit like a Lenten fast but without the Christianity. With all the noise in the media about Dry January, you might think that alcohol sales would be seriously affected but, according to figures just released by Wowcher, the discount voucher people, this is not the case. In fact, there has been a 71% increase in beer sales compared with January 2019. It has to be said, that this is based only on data from Wowcher’s website and app so could hardly be described as definitive. Nevertheless, it does seem to suggest that even with all the newspaper articles, TV segments, advertising and general media hubbub, Dry January is still very much a minority pursuit. Britons, never change. 

The Nightcap

It’s a fine donation to a good cause.

Diageo rolls out the barrel for Scottish Rugby charity 

Diageo has announced that it donated a cask of Scotch whisky to raise money for Doddie Weir’s My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to find a cure for MND. The rugby legend and inspirational Motor Neuron Disease campaigner Doddie Weir visited the brand’s new Scottish headquarters in Edinburgh on Monday 20 January to accept the donation. This is also marked the official opening of the offices and reaffirmed Diageo’s support for Scottish Rugby ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations, which will be the first to feature Johnnie Walker as Scottish Rugby’s official whisky partner. “Doddie Weir is an inspiration to people everywhere with the remarkable bravery of his campaign. It was a privilege to welcome him to our new offices and to share his incredible campaign with our people,” said Ewan Andrew, president of global supply & procurement at Diageo. “We have a powerful connection with rugby through our Guinness Title Partnership of the Six Nations Championship and our Johnnie Walker partnership with Scottish Rugby. What better way to celebrate these partnerships and to mark our move to our new office than by supporting Doddie and his campaign.” Doddie Weir added: “I am delighted to accept the donation of this cask of Glenkinchie single malt whisky for my foundation. The momentum behind the campaign keeps growing and it’s terrific to see companies like Diageo and brands like Johnnie Walker stepping up to show their support and to raise funds.” Diageo will now work with the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation team to select a cask of Glenkinchie single malt and to have it bottled for the charity. We wish all involved the best luck in fighting for this fantastic cause.

The Nightcap

The Big Drop Brewing founders are hoping to raise a pretty penny

Big Drop Brewing Co. launches crowdfunding for major expansion

Launched in London in 2016, Big Drop Brewing Co. is shaking up the alcohol-free beer game as one of the very few totally dedicated alcohol-free brewers. In its portfolio, you’ll find stout, pale ale, IPA, lager and other brews, along with a range of gluten free and vegan beers too. For its brews, Big Drop uses a method which removes the need to extract alcohol after fermentation, which is often what affects the taste and mouthfeel of alcohol-free beer. It’s launching a crowdfunding campaign in February, and investors will become a part of the company as well as receiving a few perks alongside, from brand merch to a day with the master brewer. The perks get better depending on how much more you’re willing to invest, of course. The point of the crowdfund is to help it expand into markets outside the UK, as well as within its home country. “We knew there were a lot of people who felt exactly the same way as we did,” says co-founder Rob Fink. “We realised we could create not just the beer we wanted, but a community of like-minded people too. What if we could do for alcohol-free beer what the craft beer revolution had done for, well, beer?” Well, if you want to find out and want a piece of the action, then head over to the site

The 2020 Tap Takeovers at the Tate will feature the likes of Cloudwater Brew Co., Tiny Rebel and more.

Tap Takeovers at the Tate

Lovers of contemporary art, good beer and alliteration are in for a treat as the latest Tap Takeovers at the Tate have just been announced. These consist of an evening at the Tate Modern in London devoted to a particular brewery. The first event on 30 January features Manchester’s very own Cloudwater Brew Co. with its delicious range of beers including a mighty 8.5% ABV Double IPA. And don’t worry if you don’t like beer or alcohol, as the brewery produces a range of zero ABV sodas. Be warned, though, you can’t just turn up and have access to delicious brews, that would be too easy, you need to book in advance here. Tap Takeovers will be running monthly throughout the year with breweries such as Tiny Rebel, Verdant Brewing and Northern Monk Brew, so there’s sure to be something that tickles your fancy.

The Nightcap

Yep. That’s a haggis lasagne alright.

And finally. . . It’s getting Scot in here! Aldi makes Burns Night lasagne with haggis.

Burns Night is, of course, founded on tradition. And tradition is fun, you know what you’re going to get. But this year, Burns Night 2020 will be known as the year that Aldi, everyone’s favourite discount supermarket, really shook things up because it has given Scotland’s national dish, the haggis, an Italian twist with a recipe for haggis lasagne. Yes, really! Literally lasagne with haggis, it’s the greatest Scots-Italian mash-up since Peter Capaldi. Imagine serving that at a traditional Burns Night. If this kind of culture collision isn’t your thing, then you can just buy the haggis from Aldi and enjoy it in its pure form. But if we could time travel, the only place we’d be going is back to the late 1700s to ask Robert Burns himself what he thinks of this. Salute! No, wait. Slange var!

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Five interesting facts about Archie Rose Distillery

When Archie Rose Distilling Company fired up its stills four years ago, it pledged to honour Australia’s rich spirit-making history and at the same time shape its future. We peered…

When Archie Rose Distilling Company fired up its stills four years ago, it pledged to honour Australia’s rich spirit-making history and at the same time shape its future. We peered behind the scenes at the innovative Rosebery site, Sydney’s first independent distillery since 1853. Here’s what we found… 

With master distiller Dave Withers at the helm, the team has gradually built an eclectic range of sustainably-produced whiskies, gins, vodkas and rums that showcase Australia’s native ingredients – and the country’s unique microclimate – in all their glory. 

Whether they’re crafting Chocolate Rye Malt Whisky (the only whisky of its kind in Australia),  melting huge blocks of ice in a wood-fired oven to create Smoked Gin, or combining Vegemite, freshly churned butter and Sonoma sourdough toast to make an unapologetically Aussie unaged spirit, seemingly nothing is off limits.

When we dropped by over Christmas, Withers kindly showed us around the Rosebery site, soon to become a dedicated research and development distillery as the team moves their main operations to nearby Botany. Trust us, if you think smoked ice is a stroke of genius, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Until then, here’s five reasons to keep Archie Rose on your radar…

It’s Dave Withers!

1. They make spirits with a sense of place

At Archie Rose, indigenous ingredients are key. Australia is one of the largest malting grade barley producers in the world, says Withers, with many varieties being unique to the country – as such, Archie Rose works with an array of NSW farmers to get hold of malts that demonstrate regional terroir, as well as ancient and heirloom varieties. 

It’s not just about barley, of course. A limited run of Virgin Cane Rhum – the first of two cane spirits that were released under the distillery’s experimental ‘Concepts’ label – saw the team distill freshly cut and pressed sugar cane from Condong, northern NSW as a nod to Australia’s distilling heritage. 

The same homegrown ethos applies to the team’s extensive botanical selection. Their Distiller’s Strength Gin, for example, combines sixteen individually distilled botanicals, including fresh pears from Orange in NSW, rose petals, elderflower, juniper and honey from local beehives.

Unsurprisingly, this approach is extended to the ageing process, too. The country’s history of winemaking grants the distillery access to a vast array of wine casks, including ex-Apera (essentially Australian sherry) within which they age their whiskies. 

Archie Rose

The unique still set-up at Archie Rose

2. Quality over quantity is paramount

The recipe for their single malt whisky is a prime example. While most single malts typically feature one or two malt mash bills, Archie Rose’s new make is made from six distinct malts: pale, amber, caramel, aromatic roasted, chocolate and peated.

“Each of these malts offer a distinct flavour, the combination of which provides complexity and a depth of character rarely seen,” Withers explains. “Many of these malts are incredibly inefficient, some offering up to ten times less alcohol per tonne that a traditional malt, but it is important for us to put the flavour of the final product ahead of yield and efficiency.”

The team is always looking at ways to maximise flavour, Withers adds. “Our whiskies are the result of countless trials and hours of research and development,” he says. “They are boldly different in flavour as well as in philosophy to the majority of more traditional Australian whiskies.”

3. They’re big on transparency

Want to find out exactly where the barley in your bottle came from, and the grain treatment? Perhaps you’d like to know the type of cask was used, or get technical about the distillation process? Archie Rose has made it super easy for spirits geeks (ourselves very much included) to dig into the fine details.

“We love to show you everything that went into the creation of your bottle,” says Withers. “That is why we started the ‘Spirits Data’ section of our website. In essence, it is a tool for whisky drinkers to learn more about the bottle in their hand. Drinkers can use their batch code to explore all of the details of their bottle all the way down to the variety and origin of the malt that went into their whisky.”

Archie Rose

These babies mature fast in Sydney’s humid climate

4. They work with Australia’s distinct weather

Safe to say, the climate in Sydney is pretty unique. Being situated on the coast, Archie Rose enjoys year-round high humidity and temperatures, Withers says. As such, the climate is an important ingredient in Archie Rose’s aged spirits.

“In Sydney, we have some fairly warm stretches of the year which means that the casks work hard,” he explains. “It also means that the liquid should not stay in cask for an extended period or it may be prone to becoming over-oaked. We have specifically sought to ensure that the new make spirit enters the cask with enormous amounts of flavour while still being clean and refined. It does not have, nor need, decades to develop flavour or remove impurities. As soon as it hits that oak, the environmental and regional clock is ticking.” 

5. A hands-on approach from the very beginning

When building the distillery, Archie Rose founder Will Edwards enlisted Peter Bailly – then Australia’s only still maker – to handcraft three copper pot stills, all steam heated by a gas-powered steam boiler. 

“Our equipment is not akin to what you would find in many of the well known distilleries of Scotland; it’s a hands-on process of producing,” explains Withers. “Our current still was made in Tasmania and refurbished in New South Wales. It now sports a chiller jacket which increases the copper contact and reflux, providing us with the ability to control and accentuate the unique flavour compounds we are looking for.” 

 

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New Year, New Boozes!

A new year, a new decade, in fact, means there’s more new delicious booze for us to enjoy and so we’ve rounded up a few of the finest to make…

A new year, a new decade, in fact, means there’s more new delicious booze for us to enjoy and so we’ve rounded up a few of the finest to make life easier for you.

There are few things more joyful then the rewarding feeling you get when you take a chance on something you haven’t tried before and find a new favourite. It could be a film you’ll spend the rest of your life watching, a meal you’ll forever be tempted to order or a drink you’ll always have room for on your shelf. 

The beginning of a new year is the ideal time to try something different, particularly as there’s plenty of great events on the horizon that are perfect for a little boozy indulgence, from Burns Night to Chinese New Year. The following drinks are ideal for those who want to kick-off the new year by broadening their horizons and enjoying some of the finest new arrivals at MoM Towers.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Chinese New Year Tasting Set

As we touched on in the intro, Chinese New Year is on the horizon (25th Jan, meaning it’s sharing some celebration space with Burns Night). That Boutique-y Whisky Company has decided to mark the occasion the best way it knows how: with delicious whisky! You’ll find five different 30ml wax-sealed sample drams from the indie whisky bottler’s stunning range in this set, the packaging of which was modelled on the red envelopes gifted during Chinese New Year festivities. There’s also an expanded 12 Dram Gift Set for those who want to really see in the Chinese New Year in style.

Chinese New Year Red Envelope Whisky Tasting Set Contents:

Macduff 10 Year Old; Glengoyne 9 Year Old; Cameronbridge 27 Year Old; Teaninich 11 year Old and Linkwood 10 Year Old.

Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Bourbon

Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Bourbon is a blend of three whiskeys which were finished in hand-toasted, new American oak barrels from the Louisville-based Kelvin Cooperage. Wait, I haven’t mentioned yet that Heaven’s Door was co-founded by Bob Dylan. That’s right. It’s a Bob Dylan whiskey, folks. 

What does it taste like?:

Honey on rye toast, apricot, liquorice, apple, peach, lemon, pepper, grilled pineapple, burnt brown sugar and a hint of strawberry. 

The Wrecking Coast Kea Plum Rum Liqueur

Rum is said to be the go-to spirit of 2020, which is good news for tasty rum liqueurs like this beauty from The Wrecking Coast. It’s a modern twist on the Rum Shrub, a traditional Cornish drink that dates back to the 17th century made from mixing fruit with rum. In this example, Kea plums, which are only found in a single valley in Cornwall, were foraged and then rested in white rum for around two months with orange and ginger too.

What does it taste like?:

Sharp plum notes, with warming ginger, sweeter orange peel, and a tart, jammy finish.

Peerless 3 Year Old Single Barrel – Modjeska

Given that this booze was bottled for the British Bourbon Society, you’d be forgiven for thinking Peerless 3 Year Old Single Barrel – Modjeska is a tasty bourbon. But you’d be wrong. Instead, this is a particularly delightful and young rye whiskey that got its name after a type of confectionery first created in Louisville, Kentucky that’s made by dipping marshmallow in caramel. Which sounds awesome. Much like this whiskey. 

What does it taste like?:

White grape skin, clove spice, fresh cream, prickly pepper heat, crème brûlée, toasted marshmallow, white chocolate, buttery vanilla pod and butterscotch.

Teeling 18 Year Old Renaissance Series

The Renaissance Series celebrates the ongoing Renaissance of Irish whiskey, Dublin whiskey and Teeling themselves, which we’re happy to raise a glass to! The 18 Year Old single malt is the first expression from the series and was matured first in ex-bourbon barrels before enjoying a finishing period in ex-Madeira casks.

What does it taste like?:

Ripe red fruits, figs, cinnamon, clove spice, toffee apple, dried fruits, maraschino cherry and rosewater.

Colombo Navy Strength Gin

A Navy Strength gin from Sri Lanka concludes our round-up, one from the fine folks at Colombo! Made from a similar botanical recipe as the original Colombo London Dry, which includes juniper, angelica, coriander seed, liquorice root, Sri Lankan cinnamon bark, ginger root and curry leaves. In the Navy Strength, which was bottled at 57% ABV, there’s an extra helping of curry leaves to add an aromatic, spicy kick.

What does it taste like?:

A kick of candied ginger, with refreshing menthol, aromatic curry leaf and peppery coriander.

 

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Cognac maverick: Alexandre Gabriel from Maison Ferrand

Alexandre Gabriel isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed in Cognac. So much so that one product launched last year had to be labelled as…

Alexandre Gabriel isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed in Cognac. So much so that one product launched last year had to be labelled as an eau-de-vie. But, he tells us, everything he does is informed by a profound knowledge of the history of the region. We join Gabriel for a glass to learn more. . . .

Alexandre Gabriel has his fingers in many boozy pies (see earlier interview for more details) but his first love is Cognac. So when an old failing firm, Pierre Ferrand, came on the market, he jumped at the chance to acquire it. The house had been in family hands since it was founded in 1631 by Elijah Ferrand. The last of the family was an old lady simply known as ‘Mademoiselle’; there were no more heirs.

Alexandre Gabriel

Alexandre Gabriel in the cellars of Maison Ferrand

Gabriel is a historian as much as drinks producer and businessman, and he was in his element going through the centuries of archives at Maison Ferrand. “We discovered fascinating things about the way Cognac was made,” he told us. “Invoices for chestnut barrels. The acreage, and how it was planted, and which type of grapes. We wrote a book about it called An Enlightened Farmer.” This isn’t just historical curiosity, however, he is using what he discovered to expand what can be done in Cognac.

The result was the Renegade #1 which was aged in ex-Sauternes barrels. Cognac is usually only aged in new French oak or refill Cognac barrels so it caused quite a stir. Gabriel, however, had history on his side: “I was able to show from old documents that it is still legal to age Cognac in a wine barrel”, he said. “A lot of people thought that was not allowed anymore but there was a law from 1923 that was never overturned.”

He didn’t just stop there. The Reserve Ferrand is aged for two to three years in ex-Banyuls casks. Banyuls is a French Port-style wine that is often made in an oxidative style that produces ‘rancio’ flavours of dried apricot, pineapple and nuts (the word literally means rancid in Catalan, nice) the same flavours you get in sherried whiskies and Cognac. So it’s a good fit. Then there’s Ten Generations, inspired by the long history of the Ferrand family, which is 20% aged in Sauternes barrels giving it a sweet honeyed note not unlike a Glenmorangie. 

Ferrand Ten Generations, gorgeous Cognac, gorgeous label

As a rum and gin producer, Gabriel’s horizons are broader than most in Cognac. “I am influenced by every spirit,” he told us. To learn about cask finishes, he went to Springbank. “I went with Gordon Wright, at the time Gordon ran the distillery, before his uncle took it over, and I remember going there and trying to learn about wine barrels. Which is crazy the French guy who grew up in the wine region is going to Scotland! But the finishing and the use of wine barrels, we had lost the tradition in Cognac. So, in a very humble way, I went there and was like ‘teach me’”, he said. Gabriel often swaps casks with other producers such as Teeling in Dublin, Kilchoman on Islay and the Isle of Arran Distillery.

Ferrand isn’t the only Cognac house doing experimental things with wood: Bache Gabrielsen launched an American oak-aged spirit in 2016. Tastings like a cross between a bourbon and brandy, it’s startlingly different to the Cognac norm but, according to Gabriel, there is a historical precedent: “The law says ‘Cognac is a spirit aged in an oak barrel’. The second part of the law is, ‘typically Cognac is aged in Limousin type or Tronçais type oak’. But it doesn’t say that it’s limited to that, it’s typically.” Gabriel told me that in the 19th century, France, unlike now, had been almost completely deforested to provide wood for fuel and battleships: “if you wanted to try to beat the English at sea which we never were able to be doing! you needed to buy battleships”, he quipped. So in the past Cognac producers would have used imported wood including American oak. 

Bache-Gabrielsen was allowed to call its spirit Cognac, unlike Martell when it released Blue Swift in 2018. It’s aged in ex-bourbon casks and the company had to call it an eau-de-vie. It’s a similar story with Ferrand’s Renegade #2 which is aged in chestnut barrels. Apparently since 1945, they have not been legal. But Gabriel has found documentation showing that chestnut was traditionally used. According to Gabriel the cellars of Cognac are full of rogue wood: “I’m part of a very old group of master blenders and the old guys would tell you: ‘I have a barrel of Cognac, it’s 40 years old, it’s in acacia’ and they are like kids talking about smoking a joint!”, he said.

Gabriel has the financial clout and the chutzpah to challenge the rules, and when things don’t go his way, to go outside the Cognac appellation. But, he thinks that change is afoot: “I think Cognac is going through that revolution”, he said. The BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac) is currently looking at revising the rules for different wood finishes: “There is something really serious happening in Cognac and I hope the region is thinking about possibly reopening the different wood varieties. I don’t know what is going to be decided, I have no input”, he told us. 

Alexandre Ricard, Maison Ferrand

Alexandre Gabriel next to a portrait of a spectacularly bearded member of the Ferrand family

People are not only experimenting with wood but with grapes. Most Cognac is made from Ugni Blanc but Gabriel said: “we’re planting a lot of Colombard, we have our own vineyard, and it’s magical. The problem with Colombard, it is why I have circles under my eyes, is that it starts a little early in the season. So when you have a season like this, with frosts, you are not so relaxed.” It is, however, worth the stress: “It’s delicious because it makes these very floral notes,” he said. The Ambre Ferrand release is made with 10% Colombard.

Gabriel think his cliente is changing too: “There is a revolution happening, I think, in Europe,” he said, “part of it is probably wishful thinking. But I see us increasing our sales substantially in markets that were considered depressed for Cognac: France, the UK is starting to sizzle, Germany and Denmark. When we do a show about spirits in France, the guys who come to the Cognac booth are like 25 years old. It used to be their grandpa’s drink.”

Part of getting in the younger crowd is through cocktails. Earlier this year, Maison Ferrand came top in a blind tasting put on by bartenders including  Salvatore Calabrese and Ago Perrone in a blind tasting. Again this is all informed by Gabriel’s sense of history, before rye or bourbon, Cognac was the original cocktail ingredient. He works with drink historian David Wondrich (author of Punch) to recreate old recipes. “The cocktail is an American version of the old British punch,” he said. “It’s really a British invention, And Americans made a single portion of it which is a cocktail.”

There’s never a dull moment when Alexandre Gabriel is around. “I can say this month is my 30th anniversary doing this job,” he said. “I had no clue what I was doing when I started, I’m not sure I have any clue right now but I’m just still working at it, and it’s been an incredible journey.” 

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The Nightcap: 13 December

In a week with an election (think we can all agree the true winners were the pooches at the polls), the world of booze still managed to churn out plenty…

In a week with an election (think we can all agree the true winners were the pooches at the polls), the world of booze still managed to churn out plenty of news. And it’s all in the Nightcap!

With Christmas on the horizon, you’d think the world of booze news might slow down, that schedules get filled up with gravy tastings, awkward extended family small talk planning meetings and scheduled downtime to watch gift wrapping tutorial videos on YouTube. Nope. The news keeps happening, and we keep on compiling it every week in The Nightcap. Here’s another edition of it. Please, enjoy. 

Before we talk about all the amazing goings-on in blog land, just a quick reminder that there’s still time to enter our fantastic Starward competition, where you’ll visit the actual distillery in actual Australia! Hope you’ve been working on your knifey-spoony game…

Now, back to the fabulous features, you might have missed this week what with that election thing happening. #WhiskySanta announced what this week’s SuperWish would be (it’s another absolute corker, folks), but, not to be outdone, the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar also gave us some great whisky over the course of the week. Check out days #7, #8, #9, #10, #11 and #12 if you don’t believe us. Elsewhere, plenty of our pals stopped by to revel in the festivities. Diageo brand ambassadors TJ Littlejohn and Colin Dunn tasted their way through the 2019 Diageo Special Releases, Black Rock co-founder Matthew Hastings talked whisky with Annie and Edrington-Beam Suntory’s David Miles caught up with Adam to predict this season’s Christmas trends. Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison (or Noel and Jeal, to their friends) even popped by to talk all about their latest book with Henry, who also enjoyed some exceptional rum and his very first Snowball cocktail

Now, let’s get stuck into the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

The collection is made up of 3,900 bottles worth £8 million. Yes, you read that right,

World’s largest private whisky collection to go to auction unveiled

Earlier this week, the largest private collection of whisky ever to go to auction was revealed! What quantifies the largest, we hear you ask? Well, this particular collection is the most significant by both value and volume, having been dubbed ‘The Perfect Collection’. The impressive array of whisky is courtesy of Mr Richard Gooding, with over 3,900 bottles, primarily consisting of Scotch, estimated to be collectively worth around £8 million. Whisky Auctioneer will be selling the collection next year. You can be sure there are a few iconic names among the thousands of bottles, with The Macallan, Bowmore and Springbank making appearances, as well as some lost distilleries such as Stromness and Dallas Dhu. Some individual bottles are valued at over £1 million! Would you believe it, until recently this magnificent collection was just sitting in the Gooding’s house in Colorado? “It was clear to us as a family that collecting Scotch was one of Richard’s greatest passions,” said Nancy Gooding, wife of the late Mr Gooding. “He was always so pleased to acquire the bottles that he was searching for over the years – his mission was to collect a bottle that represented every single distillery, but his favourite was always Bowmore.” The Perfect Collection by Mr Richard Gooding will go live on Whisky Auctioneer in two separate auctions, from 7 to 17 February and 10 to 20 April 2020, so collectors, get it in your diaries! 

The Nightcap

Lovers of Scotch will wince at the latest development

US threatens to increase Scotch tariffs

In a continuation of a story determined to prove that we can’t have nice things, the US has been talking tariffs in regard to Scotch whisky again. Following the imposition of a 25% import tariff on EU products, including single malt Scotch whisky, single malt Irish whiskey and liqueurs on 18 October, the US is now considering increasing tariffs again in response to an ongoing feud regarding aircraft subsidies (we’ve covered this dispute in greater detail here and here). In early December, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) said a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance panel rejected the EU’s claims that it complied with WTO rules by making adjustments to Airbus subsidies, adding that the WTO recently valued the “harm caused by these subsidies at US$7.5 billion”. As a result, the existing tariff rates are being assessed and additional EU products could be targeted, with tariff hikes focused on imports from France, Germany, Spain and the UK – “the four countries responsible for the illegal subsidies,” according to the USTR. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has reiterated the importance of removing tariffs for Scotch, which it previously warned could result in a 20% decline in exports to the US. “We have been clear that the removal of the tariffs on both Scotch and American whiskies should be the highest priority for governments on both sides of the Atlantic,” said a spokesperson for the SWA. “We continue to urge all parties to get round the table and agree to de-escalate these trade disputes, which are damaging unrelated sectors.” I think I speak for all of us on this issue when I say: Booooooooooooooo!

The Nightcap

It’s another winner from Last Drop Distillers

Last Drop Distillers releases ghost grain whisky from Dumbarton

Specialists in rare spirits Last Drop Distillers has announced another gem. This 17th release from the company is a 1977 single grain from the lost Dumbarton distillery on the banks of the Clyde. The distillery was opened by Canadian firm Hiram Walker in 1938 to produce a maize spirit for its Ballantine’s blends. After changing hands a number of times, it was closed in 2002 and its famous tower was finally demolished in 2017 to make way for houses. A sad day for Scotch whisky. But Last Drop Distillers has managed to get hold of a few lost casks from Dumbarton. One of these yielded just 150 bottles to go into this 1977 releases which will sell for £2,500 ($3,000).  Managing director Rebecca Jago (this week’s Nightcap is quite Jago heavy) commented: “1977 is an extraordinary year in our collective memory, as it is the year that our founders James Espey and my late father, Tom Jago, first met. The two became life-long colleagues and trusted advisors to each other, moving between industry roles, largely in tandem. Our 1977 Dumbarton Single Grain seems a fitting tribute to such an unusually rare and special friendship and will be remembered as a truly rare and covetable gem.” But you don’t have to take her word for it, Jim Murray (for it is he) gave it 97 points and made it his Single Grain of the Year in his 2020 Whisky Bible. So there you go. 

The Nightcap

Which was your favourite? Let us know in the comments below

Shortlist announced for André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards

It’s a bit like the Oscars only much more glamorous; yes, it’s the annual André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards, and the shortlist has just been announced. On the drinks side, we are pleased to see a couple of our favourites chosen: A Brief History of Lager by Mark Dredge and The World Atlas of Wine by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson. Joining them are: Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine (4th edition) by Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan MW, Drinkology by Alexis Willett, Tales of the Tea Trade by Michelle and Rob Comins, Wines of the French Alps by Wink Lorch, Wine Simple by Aldo Sohm with Christine Muhlke. There are also some food books but we’re not quite so interested. The judging of the drink books was presided over by former Berry Bros. & Rudd CEO Dan Jago who knows a thing or two about drinks. Johnson and Robinson have to be the favourites but Lorch has form at Simons so might worth having a flutter at Ladbrokes. The winners will be announced on Monday 20 January at the Goring Hotel in London. Time to start planning your outfit. 

The Nightcap

That’s a Copper Gnome Shaker Gift Box, inspired by the gnomes (or ‘tomtar’) featured in traditional Swedish folklore

Absolut Elyx launches pop-up boutique and cocktail bar in Copenhagen’s Magasin du Nord

If you’re in Copenhagen between December 9th – 22nd, then be sure to pop-in to high-end department store Magasin Du Nord to enjoy an exclusive pop-up from Absolut Elyx! Visitors to The Absolut Elyx Pop-up Boutique and Cocktail bar can purchase items from the boutique’s winter 2019/2020 holiday collection, check out the new Absolut Elyx bottle design for the first time and frequent a beautifully decorated copper Absolut Elyx bar, which will serve signature Elyx Martinis and the tropical, coffee-infused Horsepower cocktail, between 4pm-8pm on December 12th-14th and December 19th-21st. The popup boutique’s collection includes industry-standard bartender essentials kits and bespoke glasses, including the Copper Owl Drinking Cup inspired by wildlife found in the forests of Sweden. Because whose life wouldn’t be improved by the addition of a copper owl drinking cup?

The Nightcap

Look at the bloody size of it!

Largest ever bottle of whisky goes to auction

It looks like it’s been a week of fun-filled auction news this week! This large auction is a rather large one, though it’s just one bottle of 14 Year Old Tomintoul. Here’s the best bit: it’s 105.3 litres! That means the bottle itself is around 1.5 metres tall and would fill 5,250 drams. Even the cork is 20cm long! Why does a bottle so large exist, you’ll be wondering? It was commissioned by four Tomintoul residents “who wanted to create something iconic to promote the village and the distillery on a global stage”. Well, that’s certainly been achieved. The bottle was filled at the Speyside distillery on 29 August 2009 and took a team of 14 people led by distillery director Robert Fleming. “Every now and then the opportunity to purchase a truly unique bottle of whisky occurs – this is one of those times,” said Graham Crane, director and co-founder of Just Whisky. Bids for the whisky are open until 8pm on Sunday 15 December at auctioneer Just Whisky’s Christmas auction. Whoever leaves the auction victorious with the bottle will have a fun time getting it home, with it weighing more than 180 kilograms! 

The Nightcap

Good luck to all taking part!

Talisker Atlantic rowing challenge sets off

And they’re off! Competitors in the Talisker Atlantic Whisky Challenge, the world’s toughest rowing race, set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands today. Their destination Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua, 3,000 miles away. It’s the biggest edition of the event yet with over 100 people taking part and 35 teams. Competitors include a team made up of American veterans called, natch, Fight Oar Die, a group of four German women inspired by the Four Women On a Boat documentary and the only man who could play both Doctor Who and Prince Phillip, Matt Smith. The day before the start, Talisker created an island wilderness accessible only by sea with wild cocktails from Giorgio Lupi, winner of Talisker’s Wild Spirit Bartender competition, accompanied by foraged food cooked on a FireTable which was created by Guy Ritchie. Yes, that Guy Ritchie, truly he is a man of many talents. Natalia Montigny, head of global marketing for Talisker commented: “For the sixth year, Talisker is proud to be the title sponsor of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challengeone of the world’s most challenging and exhilarating adventures. Our founders, the MacAskill brothers, rowed from Eigg to Skye to found the Talisker Distillery in Scotland almost 200 years ago and so as a brand we share the same sense of passion and adventure as the participants. It’s been incredible to hear the rowers’ stories first hand this week and share special moments with them and our tribe of wild spirited adventurers who joined us at the Talisker Wilderness Bar experience and other events this week. We wish all rowers success as they undertake this incredible journey.” The fastest teams are likely to take around 40 days to make the crossing subsisting entirely on powdered food. You’ll really want a dram after that. 

The Nightcap

These syrups will revamp your Hot Toddy

Aberfeldy teams up with World of Zing to launch Hot Toddy Syrups

There are few things as enjoyable as a good Hot Toddy in the winter months, an opinion Highland Scotch whisky brand Aberfedly and pre-batched cocktail specialist World of Zing clearly shares if its recent collaboration is anything to go by. The duo has created three new interpretations of this traditional cocktail with a range of syrups that, rather pleasingly, are made with a base of British honey to support local beekeepers. The first expression is the Classic, a traditional hot-toddy with seasonal spices, including allspice, star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and Earl Grey  tea which, when mixed with Aberfeldy 12 Year Old, creates an aromatic and warming profile with “crisp apple notes and a smooth honeyed finish”. There’s also Chilli Mocha, a syrup blend that builds on the Classic with the addition of coffee, cacao and smoky chipotle chillies. When mixed, you can expect notes of “rich, robust dried fruit with a gentle chilli warmth and a smooth honeyed finish.” Finally, there’s the fabulously festive Gingerbread expression, again which builds on the Classic with the seasonal favourite flavours of gingerbread using ginger and galangal root. Pair it with the same whisky again and expect a character that is “aromatic and bright with gentle ginger warmth and a smooth honeyed finish.” Part of the appeal of the syrups will be how easy they are to use. Just add 15ml of each syrup into 35ml of Aberfeldy 12 Year Old and top up with hot water and you’re set. Georgie Bell, global malts ambassador for Aberfeldy, commented: “The Hot Toddy is such an iconic whisky serve, it really is a great winter warmer. Each syrup blend we’ve created with World of Zing melds harmoniously with Aberfeldy 12’s honeyed flavour profile to give three different variations on this traditional and sometimes forgotten serve.”

What should you do with waste banana peel? Infuse it into a lip-smacking rum, of course!

Discarded creates rum infused with waste banana peel

Are you tired of leaving rogue banana peels out for your enemies to slip on? Do you think you could be doing something more sustainable with those slippery yellow scoundrels? Enter Discarded, the very same folks who made vermouth from the waste flesh of the fruit from coffee berries, have now created a Banana Peel Rum! The banana peel comes from a flavour house that uses the fruit but throws away the skins. Well, no longer! Now the peel is snatched up by the Discarded folks, dried out, fermented and then steeped in alcohol for two weeks. Then, the rum and banana peel extracts are left for another two days and matured in whisky casks before it’s bottled. Described as ‘liquid banana bread’ by Tom Stannard, global marketing manager, innovation at William Grant & Sons (a catchy title), you can expect notes of toffee, spice and of course, banana sweetness. Daiquiris at the ready, people!

The Nightcap

At last, what we’ve all been waiting for, a gadget that stops ice hitting your teeth when sipping a G&T.

And finally. . .  new gadget prevents ice from touching your teeth

Don’t you just hate it when you’re swigging a drink and the ice hits your teeth? No, you don’t? Well, we can assure you that some people at MoM get quite irate when this happens and they’re very excited about a new gadget called IceBloc designed to prevent this from happening. It’s the creation of Adrian Potter of Hampshire who became irritated with ice preventing him from taking a good swig from his G&T. His invention consists of a bit of plant-based material rather like a bib that holds ice in the glass while letting the boozy goodness out. It turns your glass into a kind of sippy cup for grown-ups and unlike a drinking straw, it’s reusable. Potter commented: “Whilst I wanted to come up with a practical and useful design, the environmental element was also key to me. The IceBloc is made of plants and is completely re-usable, however, I still wanted to contribute more.” All yours for £4.99 for six. We expect to see it next year sitting in G&Ts at the smartest venues in the land.

Correction: 8/1/2020: We originally reported wrongly that the Icebloc was made of plastic. This has now been updated accurately to ‘plant-based material’. We apologise for the error.

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New Arrival of the Week: Chairman’s Reserve 2005

This week we’re celebrating 20 years of the Chairman’s Reserve from Saint Lucia Distillers with the firm’s very first vintage bottling.  Chairman’s Reserve was created in 1999 by the late…

This week we’re celebrating 20 years of the Chairman’s Reserve from Saint Lucia Distillers with the firm’s very first vintage bottling. 

Chairman’s Reserve was created in 1999 by the late Laurie Barnard, the chairman and head distiller at Saint Lucia Distillers. It’s a blend of pot and column-distilled spirits, aged longer to produce a richer, smoother and distinctly upmarket drop to be enjoyed by chairmen, chairwomen or just anyone who enjoys sitting behind a big desk with their feet up. Barnard died in 2012, ending the association of the Barnard family with rum on the island that dated back to the 1930s. The family had been there even longer, growing sugar cane since the 1820s. But by the 1970s, it was no longer profitable to grow sugar on Saint Lucia since the lucrative European market had switched to its own protected sugar beet crops. 

With sugar cane growing on the island in crisis, the two surviving distilleries on the island, Dennery on the Barnard family plantation, and the distillery near Roseau Bay owned by Geest, a Dutch company, merged in 1972 to form the Saint Lucia Distillery. All the equipment from Dennery moved to Roseau, now the only distillery on the island. It’s been an interesting journey since then with first Geest and then the Barnard family selling out and the company changing hands. Even more dramatically, in 2007 the distillery was partly burned by a fire started by arsonists. It was only fully rebuilt in 2009. Thankfully no rum was harmed though records dating back years were destroyed. Through these challenging times,  the quality of the rum never dipped no doubt helped by the steady hand of Laurie Barnard at the helm. 

Saint Lucia Distillers

The Roseau valley home of Saint Lucia Distillers

Laurie Barnard was succeeded as managing director by Margaret Monplaisir who used to work with him. The company was then bought in 2016 by Groupe Bernard Hayot, a Martinique-based group which has big plans. Speaking to the Spirits Business not long after the acquisition, Monplaisir commented: “Having recognised the quality of our rum, Groupe Bernard Hayot purchased the company with every intention to invest and take our rums global.”

With a mixture of three pot stills and a continuous still, the Saint Lucia Distillery makes everything from Bounty rums at the cheaper end to the seriously fancy Admiral Rodney range at the top. All the sugar can now comes from Guyana, though the company has begun planting sugar cane experimentally on the island but it has not reached commercial rum production. There are no age statements so the blender free to blend in young rums for vibrancy with older ones for richness.

This latest Chairman’s Reserve (available to buy here) then, is something of a departure. It’s a blend of two rums from a single year, 2005, one from a John Dore pot still and one from a Coffey still. The spirits were aged separately for four years before they were vatted together and aged for another 10 years. Only 340 bottles have been produced. A rare rum like this is unlikely to hand about long. We were excited to learn, however, that this 2005 vintage is just the start; Michael Speakman, sales and marketing director at Saint Lucia Distillers, told us: “We can certainly pledge that this is the first of many single vintages and rare releases to come in the future under the Chairman’s Reserve label”. What this space!

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Spiced plum, dried apricot, rum and raisin ice cream supported by lots of baking spice, tobacco and dark treacle.

 

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A spotlight on… Ron Izalco

Founder and CEO of Phenomenal Spirits Karthik Sudhir talks to us about his brand, Ron Izalco, why Central American rum deserves your attention and why the future is bright for…

Founder and CEO of Phenomenal Spirits Karthik Sudhir talks to us about his brand, Ron Izalco, why Central American rum deserves your attention and why the future is bright for the category…

Former Indian track and field athlete Karthik Sudhir is a passionate man. He’s excited when he’s explaining how he founded his company, Phenomenal Spirits, in June of 2017 after leaving behind a software career in the US. He’s excited when discussing the potential of Central American rum. He’s especially excited when we talk about Ron Izalco, the first brand he has created. 

He has good reason to be. His first release, Ron Izalco 10 Year Old, has already become a darling of trade shows and has been showered in awards. From gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Festival to double-gold in the International Spirits Challenge and even Masters awards at the Rum & Cachaça Masters World Masters and The Rum Masters (The Spirits Business) competition, Ron Izalco 10 Year Old has already made waves. It was only launched in April 2018. 

“Every whisky maker, every Tequila maker, every rum maker is going to say ‘my booze is the best booze’. I know Ron Izalco is great, but I also wanted that industry validation,” says Sudhir. “I am beyond overwhelmed with the response that we have received. At the 2018 Paris Rhum Festival all we got was great feedback. For three days in a row, at four o’clock in the evening, we had big lines of people. The smallest booth in the entire Paris Rhum Festival had the biggest line. The response has been really, really positive.”

Ron Izalco

Say hello to Karthik Sudhir!

Ron Izalco 10 Year Old is a blend of Central American rum matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 43% ABV. “It’s designed to be a full-bodied, complex rum for sipping rum, although it does work in a craft cocktail like an Old Fashioned,” says Sudhir. “The whole idea of Ron was to challenge the status quo. We didn’t want to make a pirate-looking rum. We didn’t want to create a rum that’s very syrupy and sugary. We wanted to make a rum with balance, something complex with a long finish. 

But what makes the early promise of Ron Izalco 10 Year Old particularly intriguing is that it’s casting a spotlight on Central American rum, which Sudhir believes is often overlooked. “Our blend consists of multiple countries from Central America, which we believe is a very underdeveloped market. It hasn’t got the prominence of Caribbean rum, for example. The Caribbean has done a phenomenal job of marketing themselves and they have some exceptionally good products. But Central America has got some really good products too.”

Sudhir hadn’t actually set out to create a Central American rum initially. In the year he and his blending team worked on the recipe, they imported and sampled rums from multiple countries. Through a blind tasting, they decided on a Central American rum to be the foundation of the blend. Every rum that was subsequently chosen for the blend also happened to be Central American. “It wasn’t by design. They were just the best rums we tried,” says Sudhir. “I subsequently started visiting multiple countries and studied the volcanic soil, the sugarcane, the high angel share and the use of ex-bourbon barrels and then I was able to understand why it was so special”.

Ron Izalco

The Izalco volcano in El Salvador, which you can see on the Ron Izalco bottle’s label

Inspired by the new-found Central American identity of his rum, Sudhir looked to the same region to form the basis of his brand. The name he chose references the 6,447 feet stratovolcano in El Salvador. Izalco erupted almost continuously from 1770 (when it formed) to 1958, earning it the nickname of ‘Lighthouse of the Pacific’ was its fire was said to have guided adventurous explorers to safe harbours. But its impact goes beyond its spectacular fireworks, however. Combined with the tropical climate of Central America, its lava has helped create mineral-rich black soil which produces fruitful and succulent sugarcane fields. “Izalco is a true story and a story that’s relevant to the rum. I had to be honest. My great-grandfather’s not a bootlegger. I’m not going to make a story up for my rum, I want to be authentic,” explains Sudhir. 

Throughout the course of our conversation, Sudhir makes a point of prioritising authenticity. He makes it very clear there is no Ron Izalco distillery, nor will there be: “We are not distillers, we do not have a distillery. We are master blenders.” He also ensured that before he blended a drop of rum he had formal education in spirits. He attended Moonshine University in Kentucky to get his distillation degree and then studied blending, ageing and other techniques with the American Distillers Association. It was here that the team behind Ron Izalco began to take shape. “One of the teachers there specialised in rum and happened to be a master blender. That’s was the beginning of how we formed a team together,” Sudhir says. “Our blenders have a multitude of backgrounds and hold multiple jobs. They are veterans in the industry.”

The rum is blended in California, where his team and Phenomenal Spirits is based. Sudhir can’t reveal which distilleries or producers the blends are sourced from, simply because he has non-disclosure agreements with them that he wants to respect. What Sudhir does tell me, however, is some of the countries included and what profile each brings to the blend. “Nicaraguan rum is phenomenal as a base because of its structure. Panama has got this beautiful caramel element and creates a long finish. Then you have Guatemala which has got this molasses, brown sugar and toasted oak notes.” Sudhir pours us a glass each as he describes Ron Izalco 10 Year Old and hand’s one to me with the widest of smiles. In my professional opinion, it’s bloody delicious. 

Ron Izalco

There’s more to come from Sudhir and Ron Izalco

Sudhir has no intention of resting on his laurels, however. There’s more to come from Phenomenal Spirits. Sudhir explains that there are two things which he absolutely loves: rum and rye whisky, the latter of which he is in the process of adding to the Phenomenal Spirits portfolio. But more pressingly, Ron Izalco is preparing to launch a 15-year-old bottling of rum, which will eventually be followed by a 21-year-old expression.

The upcoming 15-year-old is a blend of five rums from five different Central American countries aged for 15 years in their own respective distilleries in ex-bourbon barrels. It will be bottled at cask strength, 55.3% ABV, and according to Sudhir, “It has zero additional ingredients, no sugar, no caramel, nothing”. 

Once again, Sudhir gleefully pours us a glass each. It’s exceptional, and pleasantly it’s also a real departure from the 10 Year Old. “This is a completely different beast from the 10 Year Old. That was intentional,” says Sudhir. “It was designed to create a completely different taste profile with the purist in mind. It’s for people who like Agricole-style rum or cask strength or high-ester Caribbean rum. I don’t think anything of that nature exists from Central America, so that’s what we wanted to create. It’s earthy, it’s a little drier, there’s tobacco but it’s very fruity too”.

Ron Izalco

Sudhir created Ron Izalco 10 Year Old to be a ‘premium rum’

As we talk and sample rum, one thing that stands out is that Sudhir is consistent in his description of Ron Izalco as a premium rum brand. “I don’t believe rum has ever been through premiumisation as a category,” says Sudhir. “Rum is the next big market. It’s already happened for vodka, it’s already happened for gin. Tequila has been done, as has bourbon, rye, Scotch and Cognac.” But it’s clear he thinks that’s all about to change. 

“Spirits enthusiasts and rum lovers are curious and eager to move on to the next level. We are seeing early stages of rum premiumisation in Europe and we are predicting this trend will cross over to North America in the coming year,” he explains. “They want to try something less sweet and more full-bodied, with complex fruity notes that are evenly balanced with a long finish. This is exactly what Ron Izalco 10 has to offer to rum lovers.”

It has been a long time coming. People have predicted the ‘year of rum’ for seemingly every year in this last decade, but after it broke through the £1bn sales barrier in 2018 and became second to gin as the UK’s most popular spirit (according to those lovely folks over at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association), there is renewed optimism. There is four times the number of rum brands in the UK now than there were in 2006, with 200 of them now competing on the market. “It’s going to explode. We’ve only scratched the surface. It’s a matter of time,” says Sudhir. “From Diageo to Pernod Ricard and Bacardi to Havana Club, everybody is investing in super-premium brands, everybody is innovating, investing in packaging, coming up with higher age statements, or newer products, The message is becoming more and more clear,” he says. 

Ron Izalco

Sudhir believes that the future of rum is bright

He attributes this move a couple of factors. The first is the impact of bartenders. “The mixologist is driving this expansion. They’re tired of providing sugary drinks. That tiki bar market will always be there and it’s great. I love the daiquiris, I love the piña coladas, I love all the fizz. But these mixologists are coming up with creative ideas and because there are some really good rums available, not just some deep sugary rums people are willing to explore.”

Sudhir also believes that consumers are much more knowledgeable and that modern drinkers are ready for a change. “That’s why our market strategy is ‘Ron Izalco is the new ritual’. What is ‘the new ritual’? The new ritual means that you don’t have to only drink whisky or Tequila. Sipping rum has arrived! That’s the new ritual.” Tasting Ron Izalco, you can see why Sudhir is so optimistic.

 

Ron Izalco

Ron Izalco 10 Year Old

Ron Izalco 10 Year Old Tasting Notes:

Nose: Lovely balance with sweet vanilla, milk chocolate and brown sugar, then some stoned fruits such as dark cherries and dried apricots. Zesty notes of oak and juicy oranges emerge among syrupy dried fruit. It ends with wafts of toffee and caramel.

Palate: Initially it’s quite woody with a lot of spicy oak and some real zesty notes of marmalade. With time comes wonderful complexity of it, subtle sweetness of rum-soaked raisins, dried prunes, dark caramels and rich vanilla. The mid-palate has a slightly herbal feel to it. 

Finish: The finish is long, rich and pretty spicy with a fruity kick to the end. There’s a satisfying note of oak throughout and plenty of nuances to keep things interesting.

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Adventure bottled: Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum…

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum than British expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Allow us to regale you with the tale of his daring Great British Rum – rather than age the liquid in a barrel, the barrel is put in the still… 

As CVs go, Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ one is pretty damn impressive. Named the world’s greatest living explorer by the Guinness Book of Records, the author, poet, former military man and endurance record holder is the first person to have visited both the North and South Poles travelling only on the surface, crossing the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans. 

In 2009, aged 65, Fiennes climbed the summit of Mount Everest; the oldest Brit to achieve this feat. In fact, he’s climbed the highest mountain on three of the world’s continents, and aims to do so on the remaining four, too. In 2003, he ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents (despite a heart attack that left him in a coma for three days and double heart bypass operation four months prior). And now, he has his very own rum.

Sir Ranulph with Dr John Waters

The idea for Great British Rum has its roots in the late seventies during the Transglobe Expedition, which saw a team, led by Fiennes, circumnavigate the world on its polar axis using only surface transport back in the late Seventies. The trip took seven years to plan and saw the hardy crew cover some 52,000 miles in three years – so huge was the undertaking, no one has repeated the route since. 

To keep spirits high, crew mate Oliver Shepherd devised a plan inspired by the ‘happy hour’ commonplace in military messes. Every day at 17.30, everyone on the ship would congregate in his room and toast the expedition with something tasty – more often than not, rum. In January this year, as a nod to this special memory, Fiennes partnered with the folks at English Spirit distillery to tread new ground in rum. And the resulting liquid is as pioneering as the adventure it stems from.

“It’s bringing back, into this format, memories of an expeditionary type from 50 years plus,” says Fiennes. “The Brits have been at the forefront, not just because of colonialism, of exploring remote areas and getting there first, and to me there’s 50 years of doing just that. Going beyond the limits, that’s really what it’s all about, Some of my moments of joy at completing sometimes 10 years of work – getting to the ship, living instead of dying – have been celebrated with rum.” 

Lovely colour, John

Instead of ageing Great British Rum in a barrel, master distiller Dr John Walters has put the barrel in the still, having sourced wood from the locations of Fiennes’ favourite adventures – Sequoia from Canada, Pine from Norway and Date Palm from Oman – to add during distillation. First, though, the process starts with 100% pure sugar cane molasses from Venezuela, which are fermented with a bespoke yeast for 10 to 14 days. 

The wash is distilled three times in a 200-litre copper pot still, with the three bespoke woods introduced during the final run. Those woods will have their own amount in the recipe, their own time in the still, their own unique shape and their own level of bespoke charring, Dr Walters explains. Then, the rum goes through a micro-oxygenation step that involves cascading distillate through the wood, which gives the rum its golden colour. 

“Ten years ago we bought a variety of different barrels from different places and the first thing we did was break them up to understand how they’re put together – their chemistry, their charring, the rate at which they can bind alcohol, the rate at which they would allow oxygen to migrate through them and other bits and bobs,” he says. “We got a vague understanding – the chemistry is very complicated – about pairing woods with spirits, and so we were able to buy certain woods looking for different chemical subsets to help provide the characteristics we wanted to embellish our rum with.”

Great British Rum

That’s a Great British Rum

The result? Given tasting notes of orange, caramel and spiced Christmas cake on the nose, a hint of tobacco and vanilla on the palate, followed by a mix of milk and dark chocolate and golden liquorice. Very British flavours indeed. If there was just one thing about your rum that you could share with everyone, I ask Fiennes, what would it be? The memories associated with the specific types of wood, he says, pointing to an experience in British Columbia back in 1971. 

“We did the first ever water journey from their northern border, 2,000 miles through the Rockies along nine interlocking rough rivers as part of the country’s centenary,” he explains. “At one point, I ended up by myself in mosquito-laden woods and started smelling burning wood. Now, if you’re in the middle of a forest with no way out and you smell burning wood you’re in trouble. I remember the smell of that wood was delicious, but frightening. And when you taste the wood from those same pines in the rum, you’ll bring amazing memories back to us.”

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Could too much alcohol cause spontaneous human combustion?

Some readers may have done things they regret after a bit too much to drink but in the 18th and 19th centuries, a surfeit of alcohol was thought to cause…

Some readers may have done things they regret after a bit too much to drink but in the 18th and 19th centuries, a surfeit of alcohol was thought to cause spontaneous combustion! Ian Buxton investigates this curious phenomenon.

Do you sometimes wonder if you’re drinking too much? Despite the health warnings, I know that I do. The risks are well-known and widely publicised, and yet we carry on tippling regardless (at least, I know that I do). But have you considered – and, ladies, I’m looking particularly at you – the horrific risk of spontaneous human combustion?  Yes, the all too dreadful prospect that after a few drinks too many you might burst into flames and be consumed by fire?

Consider the case of Mary Clues. Following the death of her husband the unfortunate widow was, understandably perhaps, “much addicted to intoxication” and for the next year reputed to consume at least half a pint of rum or aniseed water (presumably something resembling today’s pastis) each day.  Struck down by jaundice she was “incapable of much action and not in a condition to work, [but] still continued her old habit of drinking every day”.

Late on Saturday 1 March 1773, she was helped to bed and left to sleep. At 5:30 the following morning, smoke was seen pouring through the window of her humble lodging. Neighbours broke down her door and rushed in. Mary’s body—or what was left of it—was found between her bed and fireplace. “The skin, muscles, and viscera were destroyed,” it was reported and “the bones of the cranium, breast, spine, and upper extremities were calcined and covered with a whitish efflorescence.” Only one leg and one thigh remained intact of the poor woman.

Does your room look like this after a night out? Then you may have been the victim of spontaneous combustion

Now if she had been paying attention, she might have been warned by the fate of Grace Pitt, an Ipswich fishmonger’s wife. On the 9th of April 1744, overjoyed by the news that one of her daughters had returned safely from a trip to Gibraltar, she celebrated not wisely but well with “a large quantity of spirituous liquors”. The next morning another daughter found her burnt remains in the kitchen, “having the appearance of a log of wood, consumed by a fire without apparent flame”. Pouring water on Grace resulted in a “foetid odour and smoke which exhaled from the body” almost suffocating some neighbours who had come to help.  “The trunk…..resembled a heap of coals covered in white ash” and her head, arms, legs and thighs were also burnt. There was little or no damage to other items in the room.

These are several similarly chilling accounts to be found in scientific and popular literature of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Even novelists took up the idea. In Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1852-53) the rag and bottle merchant Krook, “an eccentric individual of intemperate habits, far advanced in life” is discovered to have been completely destroyed, leaving only “a smouldering suffocating vapour in the room, and a dark greasy coating on the walls and ceiling.”

Further similar accounts pop up from time to time.  Curiously, they were quite frequent in pre-Prohibition America but still appear, most recently in September 2017 in Tottenham, north London when a 70-year-old, John Nolan from County Mayo in Ireland, appeared to spontaneously burst into flames while walking in the street. The coroner later concluded that the luckless pensioner had accidentally set fire to himself while lighting a cigarette proving, we might conclude that smoking holds even greater hazards than excessive drinking.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton at Glenfiddich, happily not about to burst into flames

But most of the earlier cases have something in common: they occur in temperance and prohibitionist literature. I’ve selected the instances of Mary Clues and Grace Pitt from a number that may be found in Robert Macnish’s The Anatomy of Drunkenness, a highly-influential work from the 1830s which enjoyed multiple reprints (my current bedtime reading, if you must know). “In speaking of drunkenness,” he writes, “it is impossible not to be struck with the physical and moral degradation which it has spread over the world”.

To be completely fair, Macnish does quietly admit to some scepticism about the whole idea of spontaneous human combustion but included a lengthy chapter on the subject just to be sure.  And many of the cases have something else in common: they involve women, generally of lower social class. Drinking to excess is bad enough seems to be the moral here, but especially wicked when working class women are involved!  Ladies, you’ve been warned: best to abjure the demon drink altogether and embrace a life of abstinence and Christian virtue.

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Five things to look for in rum in 2020

Will 2020 really be rum’s time to shine? We’ve got a hunch it just might be – and so does Lucy Cottrell, brand manager for Dead Man’s Fingers. Here’s her…

Will 2020 really be rum’s time to shine? We’ve got a hunch it just might be – and so does Lucy Cottrell, brand manager for Dead Man’s Fingers. Here’s her hot takes for the year to come in rum.

It’s official: rum is on the up. It’s a sprawling category, defined, perhaps more than anything else, by its immense flavour and aroma spectrum. From fun, lively, often sweet, spiced and flavoured bottlings, to seriously delicious, highly luxurious, oak-aged sippers that challenge the status of even the fanciest of Scotch whiskies, there literally is a rum for everyone. And it seems we’re collectively waking up to the tastiness: volume sales here at MoM Towers have soared by a whopping 55% year-on-year. 

Someone else looking to harness our collective hankering for the wonder that is rum is Lucy Cottrell, the brand manager for Dead Man’s Fingers. The Halewood-owned brand has had a stellar year itself, not only launching its latest flavour expression, Hemp Rum, but opening a brand new distillery, too. The Bath & Bristol Distillery will predominantly focus on rum, giving rum geeks and bartenders alike the kind of experience you’d usually have to travel to the Caribbean for. 

“It’s not just looking ahead to 2020; 2019 already is a huge milestone for the growth of the rum category,” Cottrell told me over the phone shortly after the distillery opened its doors in October. With that in mind, and after years and years of being told now is rum’s time, has the category really stepped forward? Here are her top five reasons we’ll all be looking to rum in 2020.

It’s Lucy Cottrell

Rum in 2020: It’s no longer about just white rum

Mojitos, Daiquiris, Punches, or simply with cola, white rum has, in recent history at least, owned the mixed drink space. Gold and dark styles just… didn’t quite work. Maybe we were just all used to clear spirits in drinks after vodka’s 90s heyday. But things are changing – and there’s been a collective realisation that there’s more to rum. “In terms of the on-trade, after gin, rum is the fastest growing category at 7% growth,” Cottrell outlines. “Then in the off-trade, flavoured and spiced rums are up 8% in volume and value, and are now bigger than white rum in the off-trade. What we’ve seen over the last few years is this real evolution of consumer perception, from rum being just white rum to now being much more diverse. I really think it’s a big milestone in a category that flavoured and spiced rum has now overtaken the value of white rum.”

More than just Mojitos: rum cocktails of all sorts are coming to the fore

Rum cocktails are stirring up interest

Cottrell reckons that cocktails in general have a lot to answer for when it comes to this new-wave rum boom. “If you look at the top 10 mainstream cocktails in the on-trade, four of them contain rum, and only two contain gin [CGA data],” she says. “We hear non-stop about gin, and obviously it’s huge, but when you go back to the bare bones of cocktails, rum is inherent. It’s been there for a long time, it’s arguably the most versatile spirit of all, and as the brand manager on a rum, I was super happy to read that [data]. It’s very much a staple ingredient.” Forget rum in 2020, it’s here already!

Sweet and bitter drinks will lead the way

Our palates are shifting in two seemingly incompatible directions, Cottrell says, and rum can bridge the gap between both. “We’re almost seeing a polarisation in terms of trends within drinks,” she muses. “We’re seeing the success of very sweet drinks; the number one cocktail in the UK is the Porn Star Martini, and look at the number of sweeter profile gins. But then we’re also seeing the rise of more bitter serves, so Aperol, Campari, and even in soft drinks you’ve got vitamin shots, kombucha. They’re very different, but equally both are really growing.” She adds that rum’s established reputation is for slightly sweet serves, and sweetness levels can be dialled up even further. But some flavoured rums, like Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum, can help in the other direction, too. “We have something with a slightly more bitter profile, a bit more complex.” Can we expect rum in 2020 to follow a similar pattern?

At the Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum launch

Expect more flavoured and spiced expressions

The short answer to that question is yes! “We’re seeing statistics that show from a consumer point of view, a quarter of rum drinkers are disappointed with the lack of choice, and that’s actually the highest out of all spirits categories,” Cottrell continues. “There’s evidently a gap in the market.” She says it’s clear from the gin boom, and flavoured vodka before that, that we’re an experimental bunch and happy to try different flavour combinations. “So why aren’t dark spirits categories doing that to attract new and slightly younger consumers?” It’s not just in booze that we’re seeing the demand for new flavours. “Ten years ago, you could only get three or four cuisines from a supermarket. Now you can get such a variety,” she says. “Consumers’ palates are changing as well as their expectations, so there’s a wider confidence piece – they want to explore and try new things.” For rum in 2020, expect a lot more in this space. 

Inside the Bath & Bristol Distillery

Get set for a host of rum experiences

It’s not just flavour experiences: we want hands-on, drinks adventures, too! In the same way that pop-ups, blend-your-own workshops, schools and distillery visits for gin have hit the mainstream, 2020 should see rum come to the fore IRL, too. This is something Halewood definitely has its eye on. “As a business we understand the importance of white spirits, but also that trends come and go, and that we need to start investing in dark spirits,” Cottrell states. “You’ll be aware that we’re building a whisky distillery in Leith, for Crabbie Whisky, we’re building a distillery in North Wales at Aber Falls, and The Bath & Bristol Distillery is kind of the third prong to that in terms of investing in dark spirits. Because of the geographical challenge with rum mostly being made in the Caribbean, you can’t just pop over and make your own rum like you can with gin. This is a bit of a hybrid solution for us that gives us the opportunity to educate people about how rum is made, and also get them involved and become almost advocates for it as well, because rum is still very much misunderstood.” A distillery to visit that will result in an army of rum ambassadors? Sign us up!

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