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Tag: rum

We join ADI for the Judging of Craft Spirits!

What’s it like to lead a panel at one of the world’s most renowned spirits competitions? Our editor Kristiane Sherry reports back from Tiburon, near San Francisco, after taking part…

What’s it like to lead a panel at one of the world’s most renowned spirits competitions? Our editor Kristiane Sherry reports back from Tiburon, near San Francisco, after taking part in the American Distilling Institute’s 2019 Judging of Craft Spirits.

The skies are always blue in Tiburon. At least it seems that way when the American Distilling Institute (ADI) crew is in town. The cluster of impeccable houses directly across the Bay from San Francisco is peppered with independent restaurants, bars and quirky stores, sandwiched between the water and the dramatic Northern California hills. It’s relaxed, the air is crisp and clean, and it exudes a laid-back elegance. In short, it’s the perfect place to taste spirits.

I was thrilled last June when I received an invitation to join ADI’s Judging of Craft Spirits. The annual event celebrates excellence in distilling, with entries open to those who produce less than 750,000 litres of pure alcohol a year (although in reality, most participants make waaaayyy less than that). Both American and international distillers take part, and the spirits span almost every category you can think of: whiskies, gins, rums, agave spirits, vodkas, liqueurs, brandies, plus ready-to-drink cocktails, fortified wines and more! The result? Hundreds upon hundreds of spirits to be assessed, an army of stewards, a team of organisers and administrators and judges galore. And I was more than happy to lend my palate.

San Francisco Bay

Tiburon. It’s pretty. That’s San Francisco over the Bay looking gorgeous

I arrived at The Lodge at Tiburon on the Sunday afternoon, set for a series of briefings. After the warmest of welcomes from Eric Zandona, ADI’s director of spirits information, and David T Smith, lead steward, we got to grips with a practice flight of vodkas, a palate-aligning exercise, if you like. Everything was poured in a back room, brought through by the amazing stewards and identified only by a code on a label on the stem of a glass. It was 100% blind and tip-top secret. And it immediately became apparent just how rewarding evaluating each sample with my fellow judges would be. Distillers, bar consultants, writers, bartenders and more, from across the US and beyond. The volume of collective expertise in the room was incredible. Roll on the three days of judging!

I can’t disclose exactly what we judged or what panels others were on, but I will say for the first two days I chaired panels with a vast variety of spirits. We tasted literally everything. It was challenging at times – some spirits properly split the panel; cue lively debate, much geekiness and an array of views – but each and every spirit was genuinely assessed on its own merits, before the group discussed each one, gained consensus and awarded medals (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Double Gold) accordingly. But this wasn’t just about assigning awards. Each entrant receives detailed written feedback, so every judge was required to write up their thoughts and provide comment, constructive criticism and encouragement. This wasn’t just about tasting – a significant amount of work went into this evaluation aspect. It’s easy enough to say that you do or don’t think a spirit is at a certain quality level – but you must also give the reason why. And delving into the ‘why’ with so many genuine experts made for a thoroughly rewarding experience!

There’s all sorts of spirits to be assessed

Day Three took on an entirely different flavour. First up, I joined a review panel; here, spirits which had some discrepancy in their scoring (David T Smith and crew use a handy algorithm to see if a panel of judges’ scores were especially variable) were re-tasted to ensure an absolute fair hearing, and other outliers were given a second bite of the cherry. This is where things got really interesting. The discussion got even geekier, and every aroma note, flavour, texture and feeling was unpicked, along with how it got there, and whether or not it should be. By the end my mind and palate were both exhausted – but happily so.

Then it was time for the grand panels! Every spirit awarded a Gold or Double Gold medal was re-tasted to find the best in category. And wow! This was A Treat (capitals intended). Imagine getting to taste the best of the best craft spirits in the world. Yes, it was still serious decision-making, but the smiles on my fellow judges’ faces as we worked our way through the flights said it all. These spirits were GORGEOUS (capitals really intended here). And it was a privilege to get to pick out the very finest.

So, what were the highlights? What were the key learnings? Well, the Judging of Craft Spirits results haven’t been announced yet, so consider these lips sealed. But there was a big difference between judging a competition solely focused on craft spirits compared to other panels I’ve sat on. Why? The level of experimentation was off the chart. So many producers were trying brave and exciting things – sure, the results weren’t always knock-it-out-the-park incredible, but many, many spirits were up there. And it was so exciting to spend time sussing out exactly what’s going on. Then, the overall quality level was a pleasing surprise. In other competitions there might only be one small ‘craft’ sub-category, but here there was wall-to-wall interest and intrigue right across the board. ‘Craft’ has never meant sub-standard or second best, but those myths are now being well and truly busted.

ADI judging whiskeys

Whiskeys!

Finally, the top highlight? Getting to meet and work with so many incredible people from right the way across the industry, from distillers and production consultants to bartenders, brand ambassadors, writers, journalists and more. Thanks to ADI for an ace few days, and cheers to my fellow judges, stewards and everyone involved for making it so brilliant!

Top tips for evaluating spirits

Fancy trying your hand (taste buds?) at judging? Give it a go at home with our super-quick guide!

• Start clean. It sounds super simple, but make sure your palate is clean (water is essential!), you’re not wearing fragrance and you’ve not used especially aromatic soap. ADI gave us fragrance-free soap for the week so the tasting room was as neutral as possible.

• Go slow. Take your time. If you’re assessing a spirit you’ll want to look at its appearance, nose, palate and finish. This can take a good while. Don’t rush, take your time and enjoy!

• Look back. Aromas and flavours in a spirit can be traced back to loads of production factors. Think about how your spirit was made. Raw materials? Processing techniques? Post-distillation finishing? Is what you see, nose or taste consistent with this? Consider these points to help you evaluate your spirit.

• Spit it out. Got loads of spirits to taste? Don’t be afraid to use a spittoon. And sip, don’t gulp (obviously). On a similar point, adding water to a spirit after you’ve first nosed and tasted can make a world of difference when you’re trying to pick out aromas and flavours.

• Write it down. Chances are, if you’re taking the time to fully examine what a product looks like, its aromas, flavours, texture and finish, you’ll want to keep a record of it. Have a notepad or laptop to hand so your hard work isn’t forgotten!

ADI judging

Note-taking = essential!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Zombie

Talk to bartenders about what’s going to be big in the next year and one word keeps coming up: tiki. So, on-trend as ever, this week we’re looking at the…

Talk to bartenders about what’s going to be big in the next year and one word keeps coming up: tiki. So, on-trend as ever, this week we’re looking at the original tiki cocktail, the Zombie!

Tiki is the name of the first man in Polynesian mythology, but tiki bar culture owes more to California than Hawaii. The two godfathers of tiki were Don the Beachcomber (aka Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) who opened an eponymous bar in Hollywood in 1934, and ‘Trader’ Vic Bergstrom whose Oakland bar in northern California became Trader Vic’s. Their bars offered a blend of Polynesian-ish decor, Caribbean-esque cocktails and, for some reason, Chinese food – I suppose anything ‘exotic’ would do. They both proved immensely popular and grew into chains.

Central to the tiki vibe were cocktails such as the Zombie and the Mai Tai, which combine lavish quantities of rum with tropical ingredients like pineapple, lime juice and grenadine. Both Don and Vic claimed to have invented the Mai Tai (the word means ‘good’ in Tahitian), whereas Don is credited as the sole creator of the Zombie.

Don and Vic inspired legions of imitators perhaps because the tiki look is cheap to copy. You just need some tribal masks, bamboo, and grass matts, oh and plenty of rum. Tiki spread across the world in the ‘50s and ‘60s. There can be few cities that didn’t have a tiki bar, there were even whole tiki hotels, and it was common for swinging suburban Americans to have a tiki bar in their basement or garage.

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How Neptune became 2018’s most awarded rum

Neptune Rum was only launched in 2017, yet it already boasts over 40 prestigious global awards. How did the brand do it? We find out. “I actually, physically, dreamt Neptune…

Neptune Rum was only launched in 2017, yet it already boasts over 40 prestigious global awards. How did the brand do it? We find out.

“I actually, physically, dreamt Neptune Rum, which is the most bizarre experiences I’ve ever had. I was walking down a beach in Florida after a hurricane, with large waves crashing and dark clouds. Then a beam of sunlight broke through the clouds and hit something shiny. I picked it up, and it was bottle of Neptune. I then immediately woke up.”

The name of Richard Davies’ rum brand, Neptune, came to him in a dream. The former hot air balloon pilot, bartender and restaurateur had been struggling to find the right name and angle for his new rum. It seemed too good be true, however. Rum has such an obvious association with sailors (not just pirates, people). Neptune is the Roman god of the ocean. Neptune’s trident is on the flag of Barbados. Davies wasn’t optimistic. Surely somebody had already trademarked it?

He was pleasantly surprised when he uncovered, after much Googling and research that began post-dream at 3am, that this was not the case. There were bars. There were cocktails. But there was no Neptune Rum brand. Davies was confident he had stumbled upon something. He consulted with James Molloy, now Neptune’s commercial operations director, who agreed. The two trademarked the name at the end of 2016 and launched Neptune in the UK market in 2017. The Neptune brand was born.

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The Nightcap: 23 November

Oh hi there! You’ve made it to Friday. Well done. Pull up a comfy chair, pour a dram, and give yourself a pat on the back. But before you go…

Oh hi there! You’ve made it to Friday. Well done. Pull up a comfy chair, pour a dram, and give yourself a pat on the back. But before you go into full weekend mode, we have one final thing for you. Yep, The Nightcap is here with the week’s booziest developments in one super handy digestif!

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve has LOADS on this week. MoM Towers has been buzzing. It all kicked off on Monday with #WhiskySanta’s Craigellachie 31 Year Old Super Wish! Then we received news that Brora’s stills have been whisked off for refurbishment ahead of the closed distillery’s reawakening. We kicked off our mega Ardbeg competition on Tuesday (want to visit the distillery? Check out the blog post and you could be away on a jet plane/train/ferry/alternative mode of transport and be Islay-bound!)

That’s not all. Henry got the lowdown on Dandelyan’s final cocktail menu (sob!), Annie caught up with New York Distilling Company’s Allen Katz, and we introduced our delicious Black Friday Deals. Oh, and we launched a tiny little thing called Master of Malt Auctions… Phew.

Enough for now, though. Here are the other need-to-know drinks stories from the week that was!

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Brilliant boozes for Bonfire Night!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November fondly this year with these cracking tipples… Bonfire Night, or as those who own cats and dogs presumably call it, National Scare the Crap…

Remember, remember the Fifth of November fondly this year with these cracking tipples…

Bonfire Night, or as those who own cats and dogs presumably call it, National Scare the Crap out of My Pet(s) Day, has come around again. This is great news because Bonfire Night is brilliant. Countless fireworks lighting up the sky. Heaps of amazing autumnal food. Plus there are the actual bonfires, carrying that fantastic scent and welcome heat through the crisp night air.

For some people, it’s all about the festival atmosphere at parties and displays. For others, it’s all about wrapping up warm and snug at home, enjoying the spectacle from afar. Ultimately, we’re all going to take advantage of another perfectly good excuse to indulge in some spectacular seasonal spirits. Right?

For those nodding enthusiastically in agreement, we’ve decided to round up some of the best Bonfire Night boozes and fireside beverages, each with an appropriately smouldering serve. Enjoy!

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That Boutique-y Rum Company is here!

Exciting news, rum fiends: That Boutique-y Drinks Company has unveiled its latest collection of independently bottled spirits. We hightailed it up to London to check out the nine inaugural expressions…

Exciting news, rum fiends: That Boutique-y Drinks Company has unveiled its latest collection of independently bottled spirits. We hightailed it up to London to check out the nine inaugural expressions from That Boutique-y Rum Company!

At MoM Towers we tend to be fans of small-batch spirits. Single cask whiskies, unusual gins, intriguing Tequilas… Oh yes. So when news reached us that the folks behind That Boutique-y Whisky Company and That Boutique-y Gin Company had snaffled up vats and casks from some of the world’s most thrilling rum producers… Well, frankly, we were beyond excited. And behold: That Boutique-y Rum Company was born!

The world of rum is a big, bold, and diverse one. Where to start? With rum expert Peter Holland, off of The Floating Rum Shack, of course. Holland himself helped to create the range, which spans unusual cask offerings, high-ester pot-still delights, and even an agricole-style bottling from Portugal.

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10 of the best super spooky Halloween spirits!

Whether you’re attending a party full of deadly debauchery or spending a quiet night at home treating yourself, we’ve got the tipples to tickle your festive fancy this Halloween… Halloween…

Whether you’re attending a party full of deadly debauchery or spending a quiet night at home treating yourself, we’ve got the tipples to tickle your festive fancy this Halloween…

Halloween has come around again, promising a day of ghosts and ghouls, spiders and scares and all things frightening and foul. But there is truly nothing more terrifying than the idea of enduring the endless barrage of begging children or the heaving town centres without a decent drink in hand (severed or otherwise)…

So, let us set the scene for spooky celebrations and paranormal partying this year. Spare yourself the tricks and instead treat yourself to these spooktacular offerings. We’ve compiled a list of spine-tingling spirits, each with the scariest of serves, from peculiar punches to creepy cocktails.

So come and join us – if you dare – and cast your eyes upon the most bewitching boozes around. Oh – and be sure to check out our Halloween 2018 page for more ghastly greats… Mwahahaha!

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Warming tipples for autumn evenings!

Join us as well celebrate all things autumn with a round-up of sensational seasonal spirits! Autumn is a season loved by many. It’s all about comfort food and drink. It’s…

Join us as well celebrate all things autumn with a round-up of sensational seasonal spirits!

Autumn is a season loved by many. It’s all about comfort food and drink. It’s a chance to make the most of the produce from the seasonal harvest. It’s the time to attend bonfire nights and Halloween parties. It’s the season when we welcome the darkening nights and browning leaves with a hearty tipple and, let’s face it, heaps of bloody pumpkin spice.

But what makes the perfect autumn drink? Summer refreshers and cocktails are now out of the question. But winter warmers aren’t the required tonic just yet. In autumn, or ‘fall’, for our exceptionally literal friends in the United States, it only seems right to celebrate brown spirits: whisky, Armagnac, Cognac, Calvados and darker or spiced rums, as well as liqueurs and cocktails packed with seasonal fruits and colours.

In this spirit, we’ve produced a list of appropriately autumnal boozes. Each comes with a seasonal serve if you want to get creative. These ought to keep you going until the snow starts to fall.

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Rum, Cocktails and Rugby with Santa Teresa 1796

Santa Teresa 1796 isn’t just one of the world’s classiest rums but the distillery in Venezuela also runs an inspiring program to help gang members give up a life of…

Santa Teresa 1796 isn’t just one of the world’s classiest rums but the distillery in Venezuela also runs an inspiring program to help gang members give up a life of crime. CEO Alberto Vollmer was in London last week talking rum, rehabilitation and rugby.

“Yes, things are as bad as you hear, in some ways they are worse”, Vollmer was candid about the current crisis in Venezuela. The country’s deterioration means that Santa Teresa has had to find new markets for their rum. Their premium label, 1796, is now distributed globally by Bacardi, hence why I was talking to Vollmer in the splendour of the Rosewood Hotel in London. “As a Venezuelan brand to be in this room, in a city like London, is extraordinary”, he said.

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Why rum is for life, not just International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Yes, we all know the pirate tropes. And it is fun to talk like one. But rum is far more than comedy lingo and skull and cross bones. Here’s why…

Yes, we all know the pirate tropes. And it is fun to talk like one. But rum is far more than comedy lingo and skull and cross bones. Here’s why the drink should be on your ‘serious’ imbibing list…

We’ve been chatting like pirates all day here at MoM Towers. And for a good cause. Not just for lolz (although it has been entertaining), but because we come to you with a very important message, and we needed to grab your attention. Here goes: rum is more than just a silly pirate stereotype.

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