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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: tequila

A spotlight on Storywood Tequila

The brainchild of Scottish chef, whisky lover and bona fide wood expert Michael Ballantyne, Storywood Tequila takes Mexico’s national spirit and treats it to a full maturation in former Speyside…

The brainchild of Scottish chef, whisky lover and bona fide wood expert Michael Ballantyne, Storywood Tequila takes Mexico’s national spirit and treats it to a full maturation in former Speyside Scotch whisky barrels. Here, Ballantyne shares the story behind his creative Tequila range and describes the magic that happens when Speyside meets San Miguel…

Born in Scotland and raised in Texas from the age of eight, Ballantyne – a chef by trade – returned from overseas at 22. “I was trying to get back into the restaurant industry, but being in Aberdeen, there are so many oil companies, I fell into oil and gas,” says Ballantyne. “I started from the bottom, sweeping floors in the workshop and packing boxes, and within six years I was writing up a sales team for oil and gas tools across the world. The problem was, it didn’t really matter how much my salary increased, I just wasn’t happy doing what I was doing.”

He started spending a lot more time over in Mexico, visiting his mum who lives in San Miguel de Allende. Disenchanted with working in the oil and gas industry, Ballantyne resolved to open a whisky bar in San Miguel, and set about planning the venue. His research led him to La Cofradia distillery in Jalisco, which has been producing and bottling Tequila for more than 50 years. There, he met master distiller Luis Trejo.

“We got to speaking about Tequila and whisky production, and what we realised is the process of making Tequila is very much the same as whisky, the only difference is the roles are reversed,” Ballantyne says. “With Tequila, agave is aged in the ground for long periods of time and then aged in barrels for short periods of time. And with whisky, that rule is reversed, so it’s shorter grown, longer aged. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could bring our national spirits together somehow?’.”

Storywood Tequila

Say hello to Storywood Tequila founder Michael Ballantyne!

He bought some bottles from La Cofradia and upon returning to Scotland, shared them with his friends – serving the liquid in some fancy shot glasses he’d procured on his visit. “Everybody was asking me where the salt and lime was,” Ballantyne says, “I was trying to convince them that that wasn’t how you were to drink it. You have to drink it like a malt. It wasn’t until my wife said, ‘you know, if you’re telling people to drink it like a malt, you should put it in a whisky glass’. I did this and gave it to a friend of mine. He said, ‘Wow, that’s a really good whisky. What is that?’.”

This was Ballantyne’s lightbulb moment. “I thought, ‘if I can change somebody’s perception of Tequila by changing the glass, what can I do if I put it in a single malt whisky barrel?’.” This interaction occurred in April 2015, and by September, Ballantyne had handed in his notice to go “all in” on the project. “In October, I found out we were having our first baby,” he laughs. “All this crazy stuff was happening. That’s why our tagline is ‘live free, sip slow’. You have to enjoy what you do, that’s the living free aspect of the brand. And ‘sip slow’ is to communicate that Tequila should be treated with respect, just like any premium spirit.” 

The next step was sourcing spent casks from Speyside distilleries, which was easier said than done. “A lot of them were reluctant to work with me because it was such a different idea,” Ballantyne says. “I think they worry that when they give barrels out to people, they might use the distillery names, so it can be very closed off and confidential.” He started working with Speyside Cooperage in Dufftown, which supplies all the barrels for Storywood Tequila. “I go there and hand-select all the casks that we want to use,” Ballantyne says. “We try to make sure we get the freshest casks that have just been emptied. We’re looking for ones that are a little bit sweeter because the Tequila is made from lowland agave, which is quite earthy.”

Storywood Tequila

The 100% Blue Weber agave Storywood Tequila is made from

The entire Storywood Range is made from 100% Blue Weber agave harvested from the lowland region of Jalisco. The piñas are roasted in traditional brick ovens for 72 hours before being crushed using a corkscrew mill. The juice is fermented using the distillery’s wild yeast strains and then double distilled using copper pot stills. The water used in distillation is sourced from a stream that runs through the distillery, which comes from Volcán de Tequila. The new make goes into the barrel at 55% ABV, which is the maximum strength permitted by Tequila production regulations, says Ballantyne. “By barreling right at the top end of the alcohol percentage, you draw out a lot of flavour from the barrel,” he says.

The liquid is aged for between seven and 14 months, depending on the expression – there are three bottlings in the core range, scroll down for details – and the entire process takes place in Mexico. “We buy the barrels here in Scotland and then we ship them in containers to Mexico,” Ballantyne says. “Everything’s aged and bottled in Mexico.” So… how does spending time in a Scotch whisky cask shape the taste of the Tequila? “As soon as you put the Tequila in those barrels, it really changes the earthiness of the agave,” he says. “It becomes very sweet initially, and starts moving into oakier flavours the longer you leave it.”

Take Speyside 7, Storywood’s first expression. “It has a real sweetness to it, with honey caramel notes,” says Ballantyne. “As soon as you take that liquid and age it twice as long, you get a really different style of liquid. It starts to develop toffee toasted oak-style flavours. Just a little bit more time can totally change the liquid. That’s what I’ve been experimenting with since the beginning – ageing the liquid in different barrels for different lengths of time. Roasting agave longer, roasting it shorter. That’s why it’s taken about five years to get a really diverse style of liquids.”

Storywood Tequila

Every barrel has a story to tell

Compiling the range – which has expanded to include two limited edition oloroso sherry cask-aged Tequilas – hasn’t been easy, but that’s part of the fun, says Ballantyne. “I like the challenge of having to wait and experiment,” he says. “The biggest thing has been having the right people around me. When you go through this journey, you meet so many people, from the guys at the cooperage who put the barrels together, to the people at the distillery who make the Tequila. With Jeremy Hill, the former owner of Hi-Spirits, and James Patterson, who was also working for Hi-Spirits, we’re starting to really build a great team. Especially with Proof Drinks, they’ve got some fantastic brands. We’re lucky to be in such a good portfolio.” 

That Storywood’s journey is ultimately a team effort is reflected in the name, says Ballantyne. “Every barrel has a story to tell, and it has this crazy journey before they even get to us,” he says. “The barrels are American oak, so they’re crafted in America and filled with bourbon. Then those barrels are sent to Scotland, where they’re used for whisky. By the time we get them, they’re second fill barrels – then we fly them to tequila. It’s almost like you’re getting a slice of three different spirits in one bottle: bourbon, single malt and Tequila.”

The Storywood Tequila Range

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Speyside 7 Reposado

Aged for seven months in Scottish Speyside whisky casks. Tasting notes include caramel, oak, vanilla and honey on an earthy agave base. Delicious served neat or mixed with ginger beer or coca-cola in a highball glass with ice and lime wedge.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Speyside 14 Añejo

Aged for over 14 months in Speyside whisky casks. Tasting notes include toasting oak, roasted nuts and treacle toffee. Can be served neat, on ice or in an Old Fashioned Cocktail.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Speyside Cask Strength 7 Reposado

Aged for seven months in Speyside whisky casks with hints of oak, vanilla and honey. Perfect neat, on ice or in a Tequila Sour.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Sherry Cask Strength 7 Reposado

A limited-edition expression aged for seven months in oloroso sherry casks, it’s bold and full-flavoured with sweet cherry and jammy dark fruits. Can be enjoyed neat, on ice or in an Old Fashioned.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Double Oak Cask Strength 14 Añejo

Another limited edition expression aged for 14 months in oloroso sherry casks and single malt Scotch whisky barrels. Tasting notes include honey and caramel with cherry and dark fruit notes.

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Our favourite specialist bars for specific spirits

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new…

Whether you have a certain spirit that you know you love above all others, or you want to jump in at the deep end of flavour discovery of a new tipple, we’ve rounded up a few awesome specialist bars that are pros in specific spirits!

They say variety is the spice of life, but on the flipside, there’s also the conundrum of being the jack of all trades and master of none. Well, these bars are each the master of one chosen spirit. In the words of Wham!, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.

When it’s safe to go back out to all the wonderful places the world has to offer, make sure you have this list to hand to guide you through the glorious world of spirits!

specialist bars

Hacha

What? Agave spirits
Where? London

Tequila and mezcal line the back bar of Hacha over in East London, which is also home to the legendary Mirror Margarita. Trust me, forget about any misgivings you’ve had about Tequila in the past, it’s like no other Margarita you’ve tried before. There’s a selection of 25 spirits behind the bar, and while you may have been expecting that number to be higher, when a bottle is finished a new one takes its place. Now you’ll never get bored of the same old choices! What’s pretty cool about this place is that owner Deano Moncrieffe (who was previously a Diageo Tequila ambassador) pairs different nibbles with the ever-changing selection of agave spirits. Some come with Monster Munch, others come with Toblerone. It’s all-round awesome. 

specialist bars

Smugglers Cove

What? Rum
Where? San Francisco

Opened in 2009, Smugglers Cove is everything you’d expect from a bar that specialises in rum. The three-story tiki bar boasts the largest rum selection in the country (over 550 behind the bar at one time), and it’s a place that really embraces part of rum’s identity with waterfalls, lots of nautical paraphernalia and an entirely wooden interior. Meanwhile, the cocktail list takes into account the centuries of history behind the spirit. You’ll find both classic and more contemporary serves, and one that has made quite the name for itself is the Smuggler’s Rum Barrel, a punch made with 15 different rums and 20 different juices!

(Smugglers Cove isn’t currently open because of COVID, but be sure to take a trip over there when it’s safe!)

specialist bars

Bobby Gin 

What? Gin
Where? Barcelona

Well, the clue is in the name here, and you’ll find Gin Club in the home of the Gin Tonica, Spain! Specifically, Barcelona. At Bobby Gin you’ll find those classic fishbowl glasses, with almost countless numbers of gins, tonics and garnishes to play with. With a sign on the wall stating ‘the perfect Gin & Tonic doesn’t exist’ (well, it actually says ‘el gintonic perfecto no existe’, but I thought I’d save you the trouble of translating), though you  may as well start here to try and find it!

specialist bars

Black Rock 

What? Whisky
Where? London

Now, choosing just one whisky bar was a near impossible mission. But, finally, Black Rock emerged as a winner, boasting both London and Bristol locations! Aside from the truly jaw-dropping selection of whiskies you’re faced with (over 250), the London site even has the city’s first whisky hotel, along with a blending room where you can take home your very own creation. It’s a brilliant place for people who want to explore the spirit more as well as seasoned drinkers, because each bottle is clearly labelled with one of five flavour profiles and its price. If you’re really stuck, the clever chaps behind the bar will certainly be able to help you out. Whisky for all!

specialist bars

Le Syndicat Paris 

What? Cognac
Where? Paris

Le Syndicat only stocks French spirits, so it’s not technically a Cognac bar per se, though you will be greeted with a lot of brandies among a scattering of absinthe and eau de vie. You’ll find DJs on the weekend playing mainly hip-hop (with half of the artists played probably sporting their own Cognac brand), French food and French twists on classic cocktails. If you don’t just want to try out the cocktails, you can treat your taste buds to a Cognac tasting, too!

specialist bars

Spirits Bar Sunface Tokyo

What? For when you’re feeling lucky
Where? Tokyo

Here’s a fun one. Over in Shinjuku, Spirits Bar Sunface doesn’t actually have a drinks menu. They serve brilliant cocktails, make no mistake, but instead of you choosing a drink (how normal that would be), you have a chat with the folks behind the bar and then your drink will be made to suit you. We’ve heard that it sports quite an extensive collection of Tequila, though its back bar spans quite a range of spirits! The place itself is just as unique, with its centrepiece a fabulous tree trunk which serves as the bar. It’s a bit like a tarot card reading, but with cocktails. Let us know what you get!

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Be ready for the Bank Holiday weekend with our boozy sale!

The last Bank Holiday of 2020 until Christmas is less than a week away (Monday 31 August) and we want to help you make the most of it. How? With…

The last Bank Holiday of 2020 until Christmas is less than a week away (Monday 31 August) and we want to help you make the most of it. How? With these epic savings on delicious booze! 

The Summer Bank Holiday is here and people all over England and Wales will be looking to take advantage of the extra day of rest. And of all the sales online. The extra weekend day is the perfect excuse to indulge in some much-needed me-time and treat yourself with some bargain self-care goodies to go alongside it. Whether you want a classic Scotch whisky to toast the extra time off or a deliciously flavoured gin to accentuate those summer vibes, we’ve got just the thing for you. To help you find everything you need with ease, we’ve rounded up some of our best offers below. Enjoy!

Bank Holiday weekend boozy sale

Wolfburn Batch No.375 

Who doesn’t love a small-batch series of delicious Scotch whisky? The Wolfburn Distillery might be a relative newcomer in the industry but it’s already got an impressive core range and a super selection of small-batch expressions including this tasty number. Batch No.375 was matured in a combo of 100-litre first-fill bourbon barrels and second-fill Oloroso sherry hogsheads and packs notes of floral barley, fragrant vanilla, chewy dried fruits and a kick of oaky spices.

What’s the deal?

It was £78.95, now it’s £48.95.

Bank Holiday weekend boozy sale

Tapatio Anejo Tequila

For those who are enlightened and see beyond the nonsense party reputation Tequila has, a quality bottling of Mexico’s national spirit will sound like the perfect way to make the most of the Bank Holiday weekend. Tapatio Anejo Tequila was made from 100% blue agave and was double-distilled to the desired strength and then bottled without the need for any water to be added. Margaritas, anyone?

What’s the deal?

It was £34.95, now it’s £27.45.

Bank Holiday weekend boozy sale

Chivas Regal 18 Year Old

If you need a serious sipper then look no further than this go-to bottling for bartenders and connoisseurs alike. Chivas Regal 18 Year Old, which was created by the legendary Colin Scott, is a serial award-winner for good reason and includes over 20 single malts from around Scotland.

What’s the deal?

It was £59.83, now it’s £49.83.

Bank Holiday weekend boozy sale

The Oxford Artisan Distillery Rye Organic Dry Gin

Those of you who appreciate spirits crafted with a sense of provenance and sustainability will love The Oxford Artisan Distillery. Its Rye Organic Dry Gin, for example, was distilled from local rye grown just 50 miles from the site in handmade, purpose-built stills. With a trio of citrus peels and meadowsweet among the botanicals, expect heaps of juniper, rye spice and citrus in here.

What’s the deal?

It was £38.95, now it’s £28.95.

Bank Holiday weekend boozy sale

Anno Orange and Honey Gin

If you’re on the lookout for a gin but would prefer a flavoured option, then we highly recommend this delight from our neighbours at Anno Distillers. The Kent-based booze makers created this sweet, citrusy gin by infusing orange zest and locally sourced honey alongside ginger and nutmeg. A portion of the profit from each bottle goes to Bee Friendly Trust, so you can support a good cause while you imbibe.

What’s the deal?

It was £38.14, now it’s £33.14.

Bank Holiday weekend boozy sale

Doorly’s 5 Year Old

If rum is more of your thing, then you’ll want the best. That’s why we’ve recommended a bottling from the exceptional Foursquare Distillery. The Bajan rum experts have created a number of great expressions and ranges over the years, including the delightful Doorly’s brand, which is full of balanced and beautiful spirits that are great in cocktails and neat. Doorly’s 5 Year Old is no exception.

What’s the deal?

It was £27.13, now it’s £21.63.

Bank Holiday weekend boozy sale

Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair 

Pronounced ‘Stew-rah-dur’, meaning ‘helmsman’ in Scots Gaelic, Stiùireadair pays homage to the Bunnahabhain helmsman and the sea that surrounds Islay, so naturally, you can expect this one to have some serious seaside vibes. In fact, Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair, which was matured in first and second fill sherry casks, is unpeated so the sweet coastal character of the distillate can shine.

What’s the deal?

It was £59.83, now it’s £49.83.

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The Nightcap: 24 July

Well, another week bites the dust. It’s time to put your feet up, pour yourself a drink and immerse yourself in some fresh booze news. This week, Ardbeg brings you the…

Well, another week bites the dust. It’s time to put your feet up, pour yourself a drink and immerse yourself in some fresh booze news. This week, Ardbeg brings you the thrill of the grill, Glen Moray unveils some single cask expressions, and Jose Cuervo debuts an automatic Tequila button.

Greetings, weary traveller. You have stumbled upon an everlasting tome of knowledge, one that is reborn anew once a week, refreshed, revitalised, brimming with new information. This rejuvenating opus tells tales of people who use the elements to create deliciousness where the once was none. These descriptions sound like myths and legends, but they are in fact true reports. What could this regularly regenerating work be?! Well, weary traveller, it’s The Nightcap!

We kicked off the week with an irresistible competition to win some sustainable booze from our neighbours at Greensand Ridge Distillery. Henry highlighted a rare single grain bottling from the now-demolished Port Dundas in Glasgow, before shaking up some sherry and cassis with Alex Williams from the Great Scotland Yard Hotel for our Cocktail of the Week. On Tuesday, we welcomed a new writer to our blog, Lucy Britner, who looked at pre-mixed cocktails. Welcome Lucy! Annie had a busy week, she spoke to a company looking at distillation from a molecular point of view, and interviewed Ron Welsh master blender and strategic inventory manager for distilleries including Bowmore, Laphroaig and Auchentoshan. Finally, Adam got all excited about cocktail bundles, and who can blame him? That was the week, now on with the news!

Ardbeg and DJ BBQ team up for online grill sessions

This summer you can experience the thrill of the grill online as Ardbeg teams up with diffident TV cook DJ BBQ for the Ardbeg Smoke Sessions. DJ BBQ (aka Christian Stevenson) will be hosting a series of online classes showing whisky lovers how to up their grill game as well as making delicious smoky drinks using Ardbeg 10, An Oa and Wee Beastie. Joining him will be everyone’s favourite head of maturing whisky stocks, Brendan McCarron, aka DJ PPM. Mr BBQ commented: “My smoky barbeque recipes share so many characteristics with the flavours of Ardbeg whisky, and they complement each other perfectly. The laws of wood, heat and smoke are so important to barbecue and single malt alike, and once mastered, you’ll become a barbeque boss! The taste of braided beef fillet alongside an Ardbeg 10 Old Fashioned is just awesome, and a sip of hot Wee Beastie punch with a slow smoked pork shoulder is unrivalled!” The series launched on 21 July on Ardbeg’s social channels (you can watch the first episode here), and there will be a special Instagram Live event on Friday 24 July (tonight!) at 8pm BST. Furthermore, things will be happening in the real world too, as you can order DJ BBQ’s Maple and Bacon Old Fashioned via Mothership on the Drinks At Home platform. Looks smoking!

Lovely wine cask whiskies are just a phone call away

Glen Moray releases three wine cask whiskies

She’s been at it again. Dr Kirstie McCallum has clearly been having a whale of a time in the warehouses of Glen Moray since she joined the distillery as head of whisky creation in 2019. Earlier this year, it was a 2006 Madeira cask, and now there are three new single casks Distillery Editions available: a 2004 Chenin Blanc, a 2003 Chardonnay, and a 2004 Burgundy. All have been fully matured in wine casks and bottled at cask strength. The team at Master of Malt was given a wee taste, and not only did we love these distinctive whiskies, we were impressed with the very reasonable pricing, £85 a bottle. They would normally be available only from the distillery which reopened last week. But if you can’t make it, you might still be able to get your hands on a bottle. Just give them a ring. Visitor centre manager Iain Allan commented: “Buying a bottle of Glen Moray from our annual Distillery Edition is as much about the experience of a visit to the distillery as it is about buying a wonderful new whisky. For the many people who would normally make the trip and take away one of these special bottles, we wanted to find a way to make the range available but avoid making it just a basic transaction over email or the internet. Everyone working at the distillery enjoys nothing more than talking about whisky with fellow enthusiasts, answering questions and sharing behind the scenes stories of how Glen Moray is made.” So dial Glen Moray for a nice blether about whisky. 

Totally fabulous, darling

Harrods opens luxurious basement Baccarat Bar 

News just in: swanky basement bar has just opened in Harrods. Though wouldn’t it be more newsworthy if a dingy pub opened in the Knightsbridge department store instead, offering £2 a pint Wednesdays and wall-to-wall football? Anyway, Harrods went for the more obvious swanky option: the new venue has been created in partnership with Baccarat, the crystal glass maker. It’s called… The Baccarat Bar! With social distancing in place, there’s room for 23 guests only, so it’s pretty exclusive. The totally fabulous interior, a symphony in glass and marble, was created by Fabled Studio and is inspired by Baccarat’s creations. The menu, put together by bar manager Cameron Attfield, is no slouch either, with 16 signature drinks made using state of the art techniques. He commented: “We have approached the drinks in a unique manner, with the design of the bar and its playful yet exquisite elegance and form setting the tone of our menu, but then applying multiple flavour extraction techniques, including fermentation, vacuum distillation, ultrasonic homogenisation and carbonation to make it a reality.” Each drink comes in its own special glass. You can probably guess the manufacturer.

Al fresco drinking will be all the rage this summer

It’s going to be the summer of the garden party, says Bacardi

Top drinks company Bacardi commissioned a survey of Britain’s plans for summer drinking, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it involves being outside… a lot. Out of a survey group of 1,000, 39% said that they will be socialising outdoors more than last year. You’d think, though, that it would be more like 100%. Much of this al fresco frolicking will be taking place at home, with 71% planning on attending or hosting a garden party, and 44% preferring their own gardens to outdoor spaces at venues. So some way to go before Britain’s pub-going returns to normal. But 59% did say that an outdoor space would entice them back to a pub or restaurant with socially-distanced tables (57%), hand sanitiser at the bar (53%), and contactless payments (52%) all cited as important. And what will we be drinking this summer according to the survey? Happily for rum giant Bacardi, the answer seemed to be rum-based cocktails with the most popular being the Mojito and Piña Colada (both picked by 24%). Let’s hope the weather holds up.

Safe and snazzy: Boë Gin’s masks

Boë Gin gives away face masks as coverings become law in the UK

If you’re reading this in the UK you’ll know that as of today, it’s a legal requirement to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces, including shops, banks, and public transport hubs. There are a number of options, from the surgical to the homemade, if you’re one of the craftier among us. But if, like us, you’d rather someone else puts the leg work in, then look no further than Boë Gin! The Scottish producer is giving away snazzy reusable face coverings to bartenders and hospitality workers around the country. The purple masks feature a floral pattern inspired by the brand’s violet gin, and can be washed and reused. “We hope these face masks can help people look great and stay safe at the same time,” said Andrew Richardson, Boë director. “The stylish masks are designed to be worn regardless of the occasion – whether that’s a trip to the shops or working behind a bar making some of our delicious signature cocktails. As always, we encourage everyone to stay safe – even while they are enjoying themselves.” Taken by the masks? Head to the Boë site and to see how you can get your mitts on your own! 

Aberlour is one of four Chivas Brothers distilleries welcoming visitors back

The Glenlivet, Aberlour, Scapa and Strathisla get set to reopen

Wonderful news reaches us! And it will be especially welcome if you’re planning on a spot of Scotch whisky tourism this summer. Chivas Brothers has announced it will reopen four of its Scotch brand homes as lockdown eases in the UK! The Glenlivet, Aberlour and Scapa will throw open their (highly sanitised) doors on 29 July, with Strathisla allowing visitors back in from 7 August. Pre-booking online is essential, your temperature will be zapped on arrival, social distancing measures will be strictly enforced, and you should bring your own face mask (although there will be supplies on-hand if you forget yours. But face coverings are the new normal, people. Get with the times.). “After four challenging months, we’re delighted to be able to reopen the doors to our brand homes to give visitors the chance to safely enjoy our whiskies and the beautiful surroundings in Speyside and Orkney,” said Gordon Buist, Chivas Brothers production director. We have had substantial best-in-class Safe System of Work processes in place across all of our operational sites over the last few months, and we have been working closely with our local Speyside and Orkney communities to enable us to take significant steps in implementing these strict social distancing and sanitation measures in our visitor centres as well, ensuring we’re able to welcome visitors safely, protect our colleagues and neighbours, and support Scottish tourism. Whether a discerning drinker or discovering drams for the first time, the team and I look forward to welcoming visitors safely back to our homes to uncover more about our rich Scotch heritage.” We can’t wait to get back inside a distillery – just no sharing drams, obvs.

Avallen Calvados

Avallen’s on a £250k crowd-funding drive

Calvados brand Avallen kicks off Seedrs crowdfunding drive

Every so often, the chance to own a little bit of a booze brand comes along. If you’ve fancied yourself as the next Cameron Diaz or Post Malone but without the singing, we have news for you. As of this week, Calvados brand Avallen is looking for investors! The sustainability-focused brand launched in spring 2019 and it’s notched up more than 1,000 case sales since launch. The brand’s philosophy is all about creating planet-positive drinks that taste delicious – and now we can be part of it, too. Avallen’s founders are looking to raise £250,000 through crowdfunding platform Seedrs, with the funds put towards hiring sales and marketing directors, and securing carbon-neutral certification. Fancy splashing out? Head over to Seedrs and check it out!

Certainly presses our buttons

And finally… press a button for Jose Cuervo Tequila

The best thing about being rich is being able to press a button and get exactly what you want. Who hasn’t dreamed of being Mr Burns from The Simpsons who, at the touch of a button, can summon a team of top lawyers, a flight of winged monkeys, or drop his enemies down into a bottomless pit? No? Just us? Well, top Tequila brand Jose Cuervo is about to make someone’s button-based dreams come true, though sadly it doesn’t involve bottomless pits or winged monkeys. Just in time for National Tequila Day on Friday 24 July (as in, today!), the company is launching a competition to win a ‘Push for Tequila’ button. One lucky person will win a button and a year’s supply of Tequila (one bottle per month). Simply press the button, and a bottle of Tequila will be sent to you to enjoy with your friends (responsibly, natch). You can enter via Jose Cuervo’s UK Instagram @josecuervouk and Facebook pages. Good luck!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Paloma

This Friday the 22 May is World Paloma Day, when todo el mundo celebrates Mexico’s favourite cocktail. Here’s how to make it the slightly fancy way. Say the words ‘Mexico’…

This Friday the 22 May is World Paloma Day, when todo el mundo celebrates Mexico’s favourite cocktail. Here’s how to make it the slightly fancy way.

Say the words ‘Mexico’ and ‘cocktail’, and most people will reply ‘Margarita’ but in Mexico itself, the Paloma is far more popular. It makes sense, Margaritas tend to be very strong, not ideal for sipping all day in the sunshine without things getting exciting. They also contain Cointreau or Grand Marnier, things that most people don’t have lying around. 

The Paloma in contrast is a long drink made up of Tequila, which most households in Mexico will have,  plus fresh lime juice and grapefruit soda. Oddly enough, over here it’s the grapefruit soda that might not be so easy to find. You could substitute with another citrussy drink like bitter lemon or old-fashioned sparkling lemonade, or you can make your own soda using fresh grapefruit, fizzy water and caster sugar as I’m doing below. 

The word ‘paloma’ means ‘dove’ in Spanish. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of World Paloma Day, it’s a new one, this is only its second year. Soon every drink will have its own place in the calendar: like International Pornstar Martini Day, World Snakebite & Black Day and National Shandy Week.

As with all Tequila cocktails, in fact all cocktails, it’s worth using a decent spirit. Cheap nasty Tequila will make your Paloma taste, well, cheap and nasty. I’m using Vivir Blanco, made from 100% Blue Weber agave. It’s double distilled In Jalisco and blended with local water from a volcanic spring. The result is smooth, delicious and ideal for mixing.

The final touch is entirely optional but it’s quite a fun way of adding character to your drink. At the end pour in a teaspoonful of mezcal, I’m using the quite difficult to pronounce QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan. Feel free to leave it out but it does give the drink a wonderful kick of complexity without overpowering the fruit or Tequila. Consider it a supporting spirit. 

Oh, and finally to salt or not to salt? Salt is counterintuitive as it actually makes the drink taste sweeter so you need less sugar but I find a whole rim coated in a thick layer of salt too, um, salty. So, I just wet the rim of the glass and dip it in a couple of places in crunchy sea salt. 

Pretty in pink, it’s the Paloma!

It’s worth making it up in batches and keeping in the fridge to drink over the course of a summer’s afternoon. Right, here’s the recipe.

60ml Vivir Blanco Tequila
Juice of one ruby grapefruit or approx 100 ml
30ml lime juice
Teaspoon of caster sugar
Sparkling or soda water
Teaspoon of QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan mezcal (optional)

Rub some Tequila round the rim of a tumbler or Highball glass, dip it in sea salt but don’t coat the entire rim. Add the grapefruit juice, lime juice, Tequila and sugar. Stir thoroughly and taste. Add more sugar if it’s too tart for you. Fill with ice, stir and top up with fizzy water. Add a teaspoon of mezcal and garnish with a lime wedge or piece of grapefruit. Or both.

 

 

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Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Casamigos Tequila

Cinco de Mayo (5 May) is a national day in Mexico. Even for non-Mexicans, it’s a great excuse to feast and have fun. And to make your party go with…

Cinco de Mayo (5 May) is a national day in Mexico. Even for non-Mexicans, it’s a great excuse to feast and have fun. And to make your party go with a swing, we have Natasha Iny from Casamigos Tequila showing us how to make some delicious cocktails.

Do you remember when Mexican food meant those taco kits from the supermarket? And Tequila was just a drink to be knocked back in shots? So much has changed since then. Proper Mexican food has at last reached Britain (why did it take so long?) and we have woken up to the joys of quality agave spirits. Leading the charge is Casamigos Tequila, a brand set up by an actor and his friends with some spare time on their hands. 

The two amigos, George Clooney and Rande Gerber

To tell us more we have brand ambassador Natasha Iny. A Londoner, she got into the booze world through a pisco business belonging to her family in Latin America before joining Casamigos’s parent company, Diageo. She’ll be showing us how to make three delicious cocktails (see video below) as well as sharing her legendary salsa recipe.

MoM: And what makes Casamigos Tequila different?

NI: Well, firstly Casamigos is a 100% pure blue weber agave Tequila; it is not a mixto! Mixto is made of 51% blue agave combined with 49% sugar cane spirit and is what I personally think has made a lot of people wary of Tequila. Casamigos is out to change people’s notions of Tequila. It’s created in the Highlands of Jalisco, which is considered the most prestigious region for growing agave. This is where our agaves are grown for a minimum of seven years, and they have to be high in sugar content before they are harvested. After harvest, the agave piñas are roasted in traditional brick ovens for 72 hours, before being cooled for 24 hours, then crushed. That liquid, or mosto, is then slowly fermented for 80 hours (nearly double the industry standard) using Casamigos’ own strain of yeast. The fermented mosto is double-distilled in copper pot stills before being rested for two months to become our vibrant blanco. 

Mom: Tell me about the different expressions and how you would use them…

NI: The blanco (rested for two months) is great in a classic Margarita, Paloma, or even with soda and a squeeze of lime – oh and tonic, too! The blanco is a sure-fire hit for those who like their gin and vodka.

Then our reposado is aged for seven months in American oak barrels, so it really takes on the notes of bourbon from the barrels –think dried fruit, vanilla, caramel and sweet agave. The reposado is actually wonderful on its own over ice with a small squeeze of orange from an orange wedge, or you can top that with soda for a long drink. It is also great in a Tommy’s Margarita, and if you want to get fancy a twist on a French 75 – with the reposado, fresh lime juice, a hint of agave topped with Champagne! The reposado always seems to be a hit with whiskey lovers.

Our añejo is aged for 14 months in the same American oak barrels. I would also recommend having this neat or on the rocks. As a nightcap, it’s great in an Old Fashioned with agave and aromatic bitters. If you like your Manhattans, it’s also a great whiskey substitute twist considering it has the notes of tonka, cinnamon and spice! The añejo is a rum lover’s favourite!

MoM: What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate?

NI: Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, and is celebrated as a holiday in Mexico and the US in honour of a military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III. It’s kind of an excuse to celebrate and indulge in amazing Mexican food and drink, and attend parades and parties. 

MoM: What do Mexicans eat and drink on the day?

NI: Tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and flautas Mexicanas to name but a few dishes. And then, of course, for the drinks, the Margarita comes out on top; then there are Palomas, copitas of mezcal, Batangas, and for the non-drinkers there is delicious Horchata. I have developed a bit of a ritual of putting a couple of spoons of Casamigos into food. I love experimenting, and have accidently made some rather yummy ceviche, chicken and even pasta dishes with a small trickle of Tequila. But the dish I am showing you today is especially for Cinco de Mayo and is my version of a Mexican tomato salsa, that usually is accompanied by lashings of guacamole and tortillas! 

Casa Salsa

240g diced tomato
240g diced red onion
120g coriander
60g cup jalapeño / mild green chilli
2 tablespoons Casamigos Blanco
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons passata
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon agave syrup
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion salt
1/3 teaspoon herb salt 

Combine all ingredients together, serve with tortilla chips.

And now for some fine cocktails:

Tommy’s Margarita

50ml Casamigos Reposado
25ml fresh lime juice
10-15ml (according to taste) agave syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters

Shake and strain over ice into a coupe or tumbler, and garnish with an orange or lime wedge. 

Repo Old Fashioned 

50ml Casamigos Reposado
5ml Agave syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters
2 dashes Fee Brothers chocolate bitters 

Stir down over ice in a tumbler and garnish with an orange twist. 

Casamigos High Ball 

40ml Casamigos Reposado
20ml Kahlua coffee liqueur
Tonic water 

Build in a Highball glass with ice, top up with tonic water, stir gently and garnish with an orange twist.

 

 

 

 

 

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Top 5 drinks songs

The true perfect pairing to a delicious drink? A catchy song about said drink! Here’s our top five boozy tunes. We’ve chosen our top five drinks-related films, books and TV…

The true perfect pairing to a delicious drink? A catchy song about said drink! Here’s our top five boozy tunes.

We’ve chosen our top five drinks-related films, books and TV shows, so it was only a matter of time before we moved on to…. Music! The plethora of songs written about the plethora of boozes means it was a pretty big choice, but we managed to whittle it down to five. Let us know in the comments or on social which ones you would have included. We know one way to beat the quarantine blues; grab a drink, whack on these tracks and have a boogie.

Behold, the quarantunes!

As always, these may not always feature the most responsible booze consumption. Let’s keep it in the songs!

Whiskey in the Jar – Thin Lizzy

An iconic Irish folk song that’s been covered more times than you can shake a stick at, but Thin Lizzy’s version has perhaps been the most influential (bar The Dubliners’ 15 years prior). The Irish rock band took the traditional ballad and added a bit of oomph. Pour yourself your favourite dram and settle down for a good ol’ listening session, tale of an outlaw highwayman from the comforts of your sofa.

Gin & Juice – Snoop Dogg

We’re taking it back to the ‘90s with this one, Snoop D-O-double-G knew what was up before the gin boom in his debut album. Oh, and he’s not just sipping on any old juniper goodness, he even specifies Seagram’s gin and Tanqueray! This song is in no way stuck in the past, in May 2018, Snoop Dogg even set the world record for the largest Gin and Juice at 500 litres! Needless to say, don’t try that at home… 

Red Red Wine – UB40

The ultimate song to sway around your kitchen to with a glass of said red wine in your hand, this is a true classic from UB40, even though the original was recorded by Neil Diamond. Who knew? Well, not even UB40 it turns out. When they recorded the song they thought that the writing credit ‘N Diamond’ was a Jamaican artist called Negus Diamond. That’s enough history, time to sit back, relax and enjoy the grooves. Even if you think that red wine isn’t for you, this is sure to convince you to give it another try!

Tequila – The Champs

Can you believe that this awesome little tune has been around since 1958?! Who doesn’t want to dance when this song comes on? Go on, get your Margarita and have a little quarantine boogie. Maybe even go all out and make a dance routine, it’s that kind of jig (though perhaps put your drink down for that one). Plus, it’s an easy one to learn the lyrics to… Tequila!

While it’s not the best quality, here is an absolutely stellar video of the band playing the song live on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show in May 1958.

Champagne Supernova – Oasis

Anyway, here’s… Champagne Supernova! Love or hate Oasis, whatever you feel about the Gallagher brothers, Champagne Supernova is the anthem of a generation (just behind Wonderwall, obviously). One for when you’re feeling a little fancy, pour yourself a glass of the fizzy stuff (we’re sure Prosecco would do as well) and contemplate whether the brothers will get back together. Or whether they should. Oasis may be gone, but Champagne Supernova is forever.

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The search for perfect snack & spirit pairings

If you’ve ever felt uncertain mixing spirits with snacks, you’re not alone. However, through rigorous and very scientific testing methods, we think we’ve uncovered some perfect pairings… Food and drink….

If you’ve ever felt uncertain mixing spirits with snacks, you’re not alone. However, through rigorous and very scientific testing methods, we think we’ve uncovered some perfect pairings…

Food and drink. The phrase rolls off the tongue in such a way that it makes me believe they should rarely be apart. Breakfast deserves orange juice. Tea demands biscuits. They complement each other so carefully that you can almost imagine every type of drink having an invisible string connecting it to its faithful food friend.

But then spirits enter the picture, and the strings end up getting a bit tangled. You can enjoy an excellent spirit with food, I just don’t think I’ve ever quite found a perfect duo. However, I truly think there’s opportunity for greatness when spirits meet snack foods, and so through my Very Important Research, I set out to uncover some impeccable pairs.

First order of business was to assemble a snack selection. I chose eight snack foods that I believed stood a good chance of complementing a spirit – with some caveats. For starters, I’m a vegetarian, which automatically ruled out some snacks – my apologies, pork scratchings aficionados. I’ve also seen the dangers of introducing cutlery to a casual pub setting first hand, so anything involving knives and forks was also not considered. With this in mind, the final snack list was…

The snack ensemble

Crisps – Specifically cheese and onion flavoured crisps. It’s the best readily available flavour of crisp and I am willing to fight my corner on that.

Peanuts – Specifically salted peanuts. Why wouldn’t I want my legumes to be covered in tiny mineral crystals?

Tortilla chips – Specifically salted tortilla chips. I usually want to avoid having my fingers covered in that bright orange dust found on cheesy tortilla chips.

Plantain chips – Specifically salted plantain chips. OK, this time I was limited by the selection at the shop, but probably what I would have chosen anyway.

Popcorn – Specifically salted popcorn. I refuse to acknowledge sweet popcorn.

Olives – Specifically green olives. You might think olives need cutlery, or at least a toothpick, but I don’t. Does this make me a monster? Maybe.

Pretzels – Specifically salted pretzels. Other jazzy flavours are available, but let’s be real. Let’s be really real. If you’re getting pretzels, you’re getting salted pretzels.

Pickled onions – Specifically… Actually, never mind. They’re pickled onions.

Next, a spirit selection was assembled. For this list, I picked out drinks that wouldn’t raise too much of an eyebrow if you were to see them on the back bar of your local drinking establishment. OK, the genever might be a bit surprising, but I really like genever and wanted to see what if there were any good matches. I’ll admit I was playing favourites. To allow for general applications of the findings I won’t be revealing any of the brands, but I aimed to use good examples of the spirit and style. The final list was peated single malt, sherried single malt, bourbon, dark rum, gin, genever and reposado Tequila.

Snacks chosen. Spirits chosen. The science soon followed. These tastings were done over a series of days, and the routine was to sip Spirit A, eat Snack A, assess, take a good glug of water, eat Snack A, sip Spirit A, assess, take a good glug of water, repeat with Snack B, and so on. Tasting the spirits and snacks both ways around seemed important to me when I started, but it only ever really made a difference a handful of times. If a combination tasted bad one way around, nine times out of ten it tasted bad the other way around too. I did get to eat more pickled onions than I would have done otherwise, though. Silver linings.

Well then. Here’s how it all played out.

Peated single malt

Top Snack: Peanuts

Peat and peanuts!

It appears that peanuts and phenols are good friends, as the salted peanuts were the best partner for peated single malt. It ended up tasting like smoky peanut butter, which absolutely should be a thing. I am willing to lose crunchy peanut butter if it means we can have smoky peanut butter instead. The briny intensity of olives stood up well to peaty whisky, and the tangy brightness of pickled onion was enjoyably refreshing when juxtaposed with the smoky single malt. Popcorn is the enemy of smoky whisky – the combo was astringent and unpleasant.

Sherried single malt

Top Snack: Plantain chips

Plantain chips and sherried whisky makes for a fruit-forward combo

The sweet, subtle fruitiness of plantain chips blended brilliantly with the red berry and chocolate notes in sherried single malt, making it the best partner for this whisky. However, the rest of the snacks didn’t really put up much of a fight for the top spot. The cheesy crisps we’re pretty good (after a few seconds – it starts out a bit too sweet, but gets better), and pickled onion is definitely worth a go, though neither were anywhere near great. Tortilla chips and sherried single malt somehow ended up having the consistency and flavour of spent coffee grounds. As you can imagine, not great.

Bourbon

Top Snack: Pickled Onions

Who didn’t see this one coming?

Pickle juice and bourbon is a strange combination that sounds terrible but is the complete opposite. With that knowledge, I will admit that I approached bourbon and pickled onions with an inkling that this would be a winning pair. Reader, I was right about pickled onions and bourbon. They’re such a great team. Popcorn performed well here, as did the tortilla chips, which I think has something to do with their corn content and the corn content of bourbon. The sweetness of plantain chips did not help its cause, with the combination becoming unappealingly marshmallowy. Sadly, olives are just too funky to pair with bourbon very well at all.

Dark rum

Top Snack: Popcorn

I was a big fan of rum and popcorn

Popcorn was the biggest surprise here. I’d say it “really pops”, but that’s the kind of pathetic pun that makes me want to push chairs over instead of do a polite giggle. Anyway, the heaviness of the dark rum along with its powerful fruit notes pair brilliantly with the lightness of the popcorn, as well as feeding into the classic sweet/savoury dynamic. If you really like peanuts, dark rum is a good match, as it somehow manages to bolster and intensify the peanut’s flavour profile. The subtle estery notes of plantain chips blended well with rum, giving it a tasty, tangy kick, too. A strange, acidic bitterness developed when introducing pickled onions to rum, so that combo is to be avoided, I reckon.

Gin

Top snack: Inconclusive

So here’s the thing. I didn’t find a snack that I could confidently say paired perfectly with gin. That isn’t to say one doesn’t exist. This was only a test of eight snacks, I have of course missed great swaths of snack foods, including ones across the globe that I have never had the chance to try (but really want to – if anyone knows where I can get halva in Ireland, give us a shout). I did taste a few good matches, though. To the surprise of no one, olives work well with gin. The creamy, subtle sweetness of plantain chips helped to balance the herbal bitterness, as did the very light toastiness and saltiness of pretzels. Pickled onions were fine, if a little bit too punchy. The best thing to be said about crisps and gin was that it opened up the chance to write something about “crisps and crisp juniper”, but even then it was kind of hard to fit into a sentence naturally. A missed opportunity.

Genever

Top Snack: Peanuts

Got all artsy with the peanut placements

You might think that genever is too similar to gin to yield any different outcomes, and that my personal love of the spirit might influence the results. However, try genever and peanuts and tell me that combo isn’t awesome. I dare you. Spiciness, creaminess, saltiness, a whiff of earthiness and subtle sweetness – it’s all there, and it’s great. Plantain chips are on a similar wavelength to peanuts when paired with genever, except leaning a bit more on the sweetness. Tortilla chips, crisps and popcorn helped the herbaceous elements of genever come through a little brighter, which was cool. Pretzels and genever ended up being a pretty bland combination, while the pickled onion overwhelmed the genever completely, which is a sin in my book.

Reposado Tequila

Top Snack: Olives

My favourite combo of the lot – Tequila and olives

Only one snack and spirit pairing made me swear out loud, and that was olives and Tequila. It’s such a good combo – instantly bright and juicy on the palate, with savoury, oily notes lasting, plus a little hint of funk popping up later on. But that’s not all – both popcorn and pretzels really impressed me with the Tequila too. The big, crunchy salt crystals on the pretzels supercharge the vegetal earthiness of the spirit, and the softly toasty popcorn created an almost bourbon-esque flavour profile with the Tequila. The oniony notes of the crisps made for an enjoyably tangy experience, while the estery elements of the plantain chips were bolstered wonderfully. Tortilla chips performed pretty well, but did get a bit lost underneath the Tequila, while the opposite was the case for pickled onions, which took over the palate once again. Peanuts started out alright, but after a few chews the combination became surprisingly way too sweet.

I recognise that I have written a lot of words about snacks, all of which sort of amounts to a series of yummy/not yummy verdicts. I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped past them in the hopes of there being a graph or something you can refer to and quickly see what snack you should pick up to pair with a tasty bottle you’ve got on your shelf. If you did do that, you’re in luck. Inspired by a colleague’s deep love of charts and graphs, feast your eyes on this incredibly artistic chart that I made. Enjoy.

Artistic, scientific, and very colourful

What did we learn from this? Well, personally I think I have learnt that Tequila may be my favourite spirit to pair with food. It produced the best combo with the olives, and worked well with almost all of the snacks. While I was very excited to see how pickled onion would fare, I found that it wasn’t actually a great match for most of the spirits on the list. I’m honestly not surprised, but I think it’s good to have that confirmed – I’ll stick to eating them straight from the fridge when I accidentally wake up at 2 a.m. I also decided that further research will need to happen to find a good partner for gin. Even with top tier Martini and Gibson garnishes in the running, nothing made me jump out of my chair. Perhaps sweet snacks are the way to go? Only time will tell. On the topic of more testing, I really would love to do this again with different spirit and different snacks. If you reckon there’s a spirit out there that could use a partner, or snacks that deserve investigation – or if you’ve done your own analysis and found your own perfect match – let me know in the comments!

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Top 5 drinks TV shows

We like drinks, and we also like TV. So, here are our top five TV shows with some rather significant tipples in them. A drink can tell you a lot…

We like drinks, and we also like TV. So, here are our top five TV shows with some rather significant tipples in them.

A drink can tell you a lot about a character, if you know where to look. Plus, TV shows are like a snapshot in time, so it’s rather fun to go through the different ages and see how cocktail culture reflected in our TV shows has changed!

Full disclosure, the characters in these series are not necessarily always drinking responsibly or doing responsible things having had a drink. Remember, sip, don’t gulp. Let’s keep it fictional, people!

Christmas drinks trends

Sex and the City 

Nothing has done as much for the Cosmopolitan as Sex and the City. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to you! A true representation of the rise in colourful cocktail culture, the pink drink is a mixture of vodka (often citrus-flavoured, as was the rage in the 90s), cranberry juice, triple sec or Cointreau, and lime juice, all served up in a Martini glass. Just don’t try ordering one at a McDonald’s like our girl Carrie.

You can find Sex and the City on Amazon Prime.

Better Call Saul

Ring, ring, Better Call Saul is on our list! Seeing as the Breaking Bad prequel is also set in New Mexico, you can imagine where we’re going with this. Oh yes, Tequila. The eagle-eyed of you may have spotted a rather fancy bottle appear throughout the show called Zafiro Añejo, complete with an agave-shaped stopper. While Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman starts his journey drinking Rusty Nails alone, soon he’s conning people into buying him fancy Añejo Tequila… Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s clear. Maybe it was filtered? Oh, and its fifth season came out this year, so what better way to celebrate than with a sip of some non-fictional Tequila?

You can find Better Call Saul on Netflix.

Frasier

‘Sherry’ was probably the most-said word in Frasier. The sitcom, originally a spin-off from Cheers, revolved around Seattle psychiatrists Frasier Crane and his brother Niles, and their sherry decanter. Romantic misadventures, professional disappointments and family feuds, were all ameliorated with a couple of glasses of the very finest sherry (though in some episodes it does look like they are drinking Harvey’s Bristol Cream.) The tension in the show came from the relationship between the snobbish Crane brothers and their beer-drinking ex-cop father Marty, and his equally no-nonsense English carer Daphne (complete with dodgy Manchester accent.) Things got really confusing when Marty starts seeing a woman called Sherry.

You can find Frasier on Amazon Prime.

Mad Men

How could we not include Mad Men on this list? While Don Draper’s whisky consumption may be slightly on the enthusiastic side, we can’t fault his choice of Canadian Club, which he’s regularly seen sipping throughout the seven seasons (though funnily enough, Jack Daniel’s actually sponsored the first season). Like Sex and the City, Mad Men also sparked a cocktail resurgence, though Don Draper has a penchant for classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned, so you know exactly what you should settle in with when you decide to crack this classic show out.

You can find Mad Men on Netflix.

Peaky Blinders

Irish whiskey, represent! The series not only inspired a whole generation to shave of the bottom half of their hair, but also gave wonderful Irish whiskey some proper screentime. Though it’s set in 1920s Birmingham, the Peaky Blinders seem to be rather partial to a dram of Irish whiskey. Plus, there’s even an actual Peaky Blinders whiskey, the ultimate companion to your binge-watching! Even Tommy Shelby’s arch nemesis (played by Tom Hardy, another bonus) is a fan of the stuff, with the (not so) wise words: “Whiskey, now that… that is for business.” 

You can find Peaky Blinders on Netflix or BBC iPlayer.

Whisky is for business | Series 2 Episode 2

We couldn't celebrate #WorldWhiskyDay without this quote from Alfie Solomons could we?

Posted by Peaky Blinders on Saturday, 18 May 2019

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Five minutes with. . . Thea Cumming from Dangerous Don mezcal

Soft, floral and perilously quaffable? It could only be Dangerous Don’s new Joven expression, a dazzling 100% Espadin mezcal lovingly crafted in the depths of the Oaxacan countryside. We caught…

Soft, floral and perilously quaffable? It could only be Dangerous Don’s new Joven expression, a dazzling 100% Espadin mezcal lovingly crafted in the depths of the Oaxacan countryside. We caught up with the brains behind the brand, Thea Cumming, to chat about experimental destilados, the original ‘Don’, and a cowboy called Frank…

You might recognise Cumming’s name. As the co-founder of dedicated agave celebration London Mezcal Week – now in its fourth year – and co-owner of Stoke Newington music and mezcal bar Doña, she’s carved a reputation as a figurehead in the city’s mezcal scene. 

While today Cumming may have her fingers in many enchiladas (figuratively speaking), her spirited journey began on the final leg of an epic US road trip, in the port town of Puerto Escondido, situated on Mexico’s Oaxacan coast. 

“That’s where I drank mezcal for the first time,” says Cumming. “We were staying in a place called Sunset Point and met this cowboy from Colorado called Frank. He was going up into the mountains, buying mezcal and mixing it with coffee, vanilla, sugar and some other things in his kitchen, then bottling it and selling it. And he had some amazing mezcals.” 

Thea Cumming with friend in Oaxaca

A few sundowners later, Cumming was sold. “I remember being sat by the pool and deciding, ‘I’m going to start selling mezcal,” says Cumming. “And I’m going to call it Dangerous Don’. That’s my dad’s nickname – his mates from university called him dangerous Don because he had this elaborate plan to go and smuggle cigars with his best mate, big Andy.”

One large bank loan, a tour of Oaxaca and 12 palenques later, Cumming met the Martinez family in Santiago Matatlan, headed by fourth generation master mezcalero Celso. Taking inspiration from Frank’s DIY kitchen blending, she and Martinez would go on to develop the very first Dangerous Don variant, a ‘mezcal destilado con café’.

It isn’t a liqueur – rather, the coffee is treated as a botanical. Martinez twice-distills his 100% Espadin agave in a copper pot still before adding medium-roasted, coarsely-ground Naom Quie coffee beans to the distillate. He allows the mix to steep for 24 hours before distilling again, resulting in a smooth sweet mezcal. 

“The production process of mezcal is unbelievable, it’s such a labour of love,” says Cumming. “Each producer has such different techniques, from roasting the agave to the fermentation process. It’s the same as being a chef – each chef will produce a different dish when they’re asked to cook the same thing.”

Coffee being prepared for distillation

Terroir is also a massive influence in mezcal, as follow-up bottling Dangerous Don Joven demonstrates beautifully. It’s made by master mezcalero Juan Nacho Diaz Cruz in picturesque Santa María Quiegolani – around seven hours’ drive from Oaxaca – where he roasts, ferments and then twice-distils his 100% Espadin agave. 

“It’s very secluded, there’s nothing around for miles and miles,” says Cumming. “I drove out to meet him and his family last April, they’re growing loads of agave and making these incredible mezcals, all super soft and floral and really approachable.”

While the Joven is just hitting shelves, there’s no slowing down for Cumming, whose next destilado is already in the works. There’s plenty of experimentation within mezcal – master mezcaleros love a botanical or two – and Dangerous Don’s master mezcaleros are no exception.

“We’ve just made a ‘destilado con mandarina’ – mandarin – which is really delicious,” says Cumming. “We distil the mezcal twice, peel [the fruit] and leave them to steep for a day, then distil again. The plan this year is to roll out a few more destilados. It’s a really great way to get people to start exploring [the category].”

While it’s beloved by bartenders and drinks aficionados, mezcal is yet to make waves in the mainstream. This presents a unique opportunity for the tight-knit mezcal community to present their liquid as the artisanal product it genuinely is, free from the ‘slammer’ and ‘shot’ connotations associated with its agave cousin, Tequila. 

El joven esta acqui

So long as the category can retain its ‘craft’ credentials, anyway. Which might prove tricky as multinational spirits companies carve their own slice of the agave action. The problem with bigger players coming in, Cumming warns, is that they’ll drive the price point down. And if this sounds like a good thing, trust us – it isn’t.

“Mezcal is an expensive product because of the process,” she explains. “We’re not talking about a grain or sugarcane – we’re talking about something that takes eight years to grow, and that comes with a price point. Many smaller brands can’t necessarily get their price down, and I don’t know that you would want them to.”

On the bright side? As drinkers, we’re more open and invested in the industry than ever before. “The way we consume has changed a lot,” Cumming says. “We care about the origin of the products we buy now, more so than ever, and with mezcal, that’s really important. If that conscious consuming mentality is applied to the mezcal category, then that’s just the dream.”

While we’d always recommend appreciating any artisan spirit neat – at least to begin with – Dangerous Don is also made for mixing. The range is exquisite with tonic (garnish with an orange or grapefruit wedge). If you’re keen to experiment, the original con café variant makes a cracking Negroni when subbed in for the gin. 

“My favourite drink is a Mezcal Tommy’s Margarita,” says Cumming. “Lime and a bit of agave with Dangerous Don Joven, it works really well. If you want to be slightly more creative, you could do a take on an Espresso Martini with Dangerous Don, cold brew, crème de cacao and a tiny dash of agave syrup and that’s delicious too.”

There’s currently £5 off bottles of Dangerous Don original and Joven at Master of Malt.

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