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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: vodka

Top 5 drink books (and a jigsaw)

A good drink has transporting qualities. One sip of Lagavulin and your senses will tell you that you’re on the storm-battered coast of Islay, a chilled glass of Santorini wine…

A good drink has transporting qualities. One sip of Lagavulin and your senses will tell you that you’re on the storm-battered coast of Islay, a chilled glass of Santorini wine is almost as good as a trip to the island itself, and shut your eyes while sipping a good strong Martini and you could be in New York City. The magic is even stronger if you add a good book into the mix which is why we’ve picked five of our favourite drink books in stock at Master of Malt. So, you can explore the world, drink in hand, while maintaining social distancing. If there are any that we have missed, do let us know in the comments or on social. Oh, and we’ve stuck a jigsaw in at the end because you can never have too many whisky-based games. 

 

The Home Bar Henry Jeffreys

If you can’t go out to the bar then why not bring the bar to you? That’s the premise of The Home Bar written by MoM’s very own features editor. It features tips on how to get the right look from an old fashioned pub bar to turning your room into a tiki wonderland, the basic kit you need, and cocktail recipes from the top bartenders. You might never need to leave the house again.

 

Whisky: The Manual Dave Broom

As experienced drinkers you probably think that you don’t need a whisky manual. It’s not a piece of flatpack furniture, just open the bottle and pour. Well, put your scepticism aside because this book from one of the country’s best loved and most majestically bearded whisky writers will take your appreciation of whisky to the next level. 

 

Distilled Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

The dynamic duo of Harrison and Ridley have written quite a few books but we like this one because it distills (pun fully intended) what the duo do best: insatiable curiosity about drinks, and an amusing style that belies a deep knowledge and understanding of the wide world of booze. Taking in whisky, Calvados, baijiu, Armagnac, gin and more, it’s all here. There’s even a tasting set to go alongside it.

 

 

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020

Love him or loathe him, there’s no doubt that Murray has mastered the art of setting the whisky agenda. When Murray made a Japanese whisky, a Yamazaki sherry cask, his whisky of the year in 2014, it made the front page of the papers around the world. Most whisky writers would sell their grannies for that kind of clout. So find out who’s up and who’s down in Murray’s view in this year’s guide, just don’t take it all too seriously.

 

The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace Tristan Stephenson

If you’re serious about cocktails, then you need to read Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender. He’s been in the industry since his early twenties, won all kinds of awards and he’s a great writer. You almost want to dislike him. We stock a few of his books and they’re all brilliant but we’ve highlighted this one as we know how much our customers love gin.

 

And finally. . .  The Whiskies of Scotland Jigsaw Puzzle 

Here’s the perfect thing for when you can’t go outside, a whisky jigsaw! Produced by the cleverly-named Bamboozled, it’s a map of Scotland market with famous distilleries. It’s the brainchild of Rebecca Gibb, an actual Master of Wine (she knows a thing or two about whisky as well), so you should learn something while you puzzle. 

 

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We have two bundles of awesome spirits from The Lakes Distillery to be won!

It’s no secret that we love a bundle. What do we love more than a bundle? Two bundles! That’s right, we’ve got two bundles full of wonderful spirits from The…

It’s no secret that we love a bundle. What do we love more than a bundle? Two bundles! That’s right, we’ve got two bundles full of wonderful spirits from The Lakes Distillery to give away.

We’re big fans of The Lakes Distillery, what with all the awesome spirits the beautiful distillery over in Cumbria has graced our palates with since it opened. Now, you could be in with the chance to win five bottles of its delicious liquid in a lip-smacking bundle. Oh, and did we mention there’s two bundles to be won? We know, we are good to you.

So, what’s in this wonderful bundle?

Lakes Distillery Bundle

All this could be yours!

You’ll find a bottle of The Lakes Vodka, as well as a bottle of The Lakes Classic Gin, a super classic, juniper forward tipple. Then you’ll find a bottle each of The Lakes Salted Caramel Vodka Liqueur, The Lakes Elderflower Gin Liqueur and The Lakes Rhubarb and Rosehip Gin Liqueur, all three of which are brand new!

Now that we’ve got your mouths watering, we’re sure you’ll want to know how to enter…

  1. Follow @masterofmalt Instagram account.
  2. Follow @lakesdistillery Instagram account.
  3. Like the competition post⁠.
  4. Tag a friend you’d share your bottles with.

And it’s that simple! Complete those four steps by 22 March and you’re in it to (possibly) win it. Plus, now your chances of winning have doubled! Best of luck to everyone.

MoM Competition 2020 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 16 March to 22 March 2020. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. See full T&Cs for details.

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Five minutes with… Miranda Dickson from Absolut Elyx

As the global brand director of Absolut Elyx, Miranda Dickson is the creative brain behind the luxury vodka expression. You might not know it, but she’s the reason we’re all…

As the global brand director of Absolut Elyx, Miranda Dickson is the creative brain behind the luxury vodka expression. You might not know it, but she’s the reason we’re all obsessed with sipping drinks from its copper pineapples (or is that just us?) Ahead of International Women’s Day, Sunday 8 March, we talk about female empowerment in the drinks industry… 

Not many people could be regarded as a vodka expert on an international level, but Miranda Dickson is unquestionably one of them. Beginning her career with one of Europe’s leading vodka bar groups,she was enamoured with the category from day one. All those hours spent researching the spirit and running educational programmes for her staff at Revolution vodka bar in Manchester that Dickson earned a unique job title, ‘Vodka Princess’, which eventually led her to join the Pernod Ricard group in 2005 as Wyborowa’s global brand ambassador. Dickson was quickly promoted to head of global education and joined the Absolut family in 2010, where she went on to establish the Elyx Boutique, developing super-Instagrammable drinking vessels, barware and apparel made from the brand’s striking signature copper. We took five with the industry legend, below, to talk bartenders in gorilla suits, tiny Martinis, and female empowerment…

Miranda Dixon with Mark Ronson

Master of Malt: Great to speak with you, Miranda! First of all, when and where did your love of all things vodka begin?

Miranda Dickson: Vodka was always my spirit of choice, and in the mid-nineties, everything cool was Absolut. I was introduced to Paul Newman, the Absolut guy in the north west of England. He bought us the coolest Martini glasses to use in the bar I worked in, and we started serving lots of fruity, lurid-coloured Martinis, as was the craze. In 1997, I moved to manage the Revolution vodka bar in Manchester and from there my love grew. We had over 100 different vodkas behind the bar and I took it upon myself to find out the backstory of the brands – a journey that took me to Poland, Finland, Russia, Iceland, the US and, of course, Sweden. Before I knew it, I’d been crowned ‘vodka princess’ by my boss and my role expanded. I curated all the cocktail programming, menu designs, vodka purchasing and educated staff for 38 busy cocktail bars in the UK. I also wrote three books about vodka. 

MoM: What do you love the most about your role as global brand director?

MD: It’s such a privilege to work on Absolut Elyx. The vodka itself is just delicious, it speaks for itself and I’m not just saying that – it really is exquisite. To be part of the house of Absolut, which has such a rich heritage and history in popular culture, and so many really great stories and incredible creative collaborations, is such a pleasure. I have real creative empowerment and freedom with Elyx and have been allowed to explore and test new strategies and ideas with my team which is something I am very grateful for.

MoM: If there was such a thing as a ‘typical’ day at work, what might it look like?

MD: There is never a typical day! My life is sometimes super-glamorous and I travel a lot. Part of my role is to be present in the trade and sample delicious Elyx cocktails, so I spend lots of time on planes. But most of the time my mornings start at 5.30am on video calls with my team, who are based all over the world but mainly in Sweden. The afternoons are spent meeting people and catching up on projects. When I’m not travelling, I try to be in bed by 9pm with chamomile tea and Netflix! 

Absolut Elyx copper pineapple. Snazzy

MoM: When it comes to gender equality, where is the drinks industry excelling?

MD: We are starting to see a real emergence of female empowerment in our industry now. Gone are the days when girls were barmaids and waitresses. Today there are so many incredible female bartenders. Monica Berg – a dear friend, and really a superstar pioneer in our business – has pretty much cleaned up this year at drink industry awards all over the world. The industry is increasingly more observant and open-minded now too, and more supportive around female challenges in the workplace in general.  

MoM: On the flipside, where is there room for improvement?

MD: I think women in general should treat each other better. I don’t think it’s confined to any specific industry, but what I do see is a lot of women who like hanging with the ‘guys’ and aren’t supportive of each other, and that’s a shame. If we stuck together – and I mean really stuck together – we’d be unstoppable.

MoM: What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?

MD: The second year of the ‘Garden of Elyx’ at Tales of The Cocktail in 2015. We were previewing cocktails in copper pineapples, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale took guests through a curated drinks experience dressed as gorillas… and the general mayhem of Tales. Three people – considered luminaries of the drinks business – said ‘Wow Miranda, what you guys are doing with Elyx is just amazing, I never thought anyone could make vodka relevant again and get people interested. Look what’s going on here – everyone just loves Elyx, you guys are really shifting things up a notch’. It was then I knew our approach to the trade was the right one, and that was a great feeling.

MoM: Tell us about any campaigns or projects you’re working on at the moment?

MD: I’m actually working on Tales of the Cocktail now – in my role I’m also responsible for all the trade and advocacy programming for Absolut Vodka, so [Tales planning] is across both brands. I’m also working on a global ‘On The Road’ education programme for the brands, as well as a new approach to how we host people in Sweden. Then, of course, curating new items for Elyx Boutique and also getting ready to launch the Elyx partnership with [summer lifestyle brand] Sunnylife.

Tiny, tiny Martinis!

MoM: What new cocktail trends have caught your eye right now?

MD: Tiny tini Martinis. The Martini is the undisputed king of cocktails, and we believe one of the most delicious cocktails to enjoy the true character, taste and sublime texture of Elyx. Enjoying them in smaller 85ml serves ensures they stay icy cold and truly delicious throughout.  

MoM: Do you have a favourite bar, and if so, what’s your order?

MD: My favorite place to sip Martinis, soak up the atmosphere and watch the crowd has to be the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. It’s the greatest place to start or end an evening – or spend a whole night! My order has to be an ice-cold Elyx Martini: 50/50 with Absolut Elyx and Lillet Blanc, and a generous lemon twist. 

MoM: What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the industry?

MD: Keep the passion. It is tough, especially if you’re a woman in this industry, but isn’t it tough in many professions? For me, that passion gets me up in the morning and gives me energy. Stay true to what you think, rise above the noise, and most of all, have fun and enjoy it. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Highball Gimlet

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

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

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

Team Clumsies

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

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

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

View from the Madison in London. Very nice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The French Martini

Today we’re rolling up the sleeves of our suit jacket à la Hall & Oates to make a cocktail that’s not particularly French and not really a Martini. It’s the…

Today we’re rolling up the sleeves of our suit jacket à la Hall & Oates to make a cocktail that’s not particularly French and not really a Martini. It’s the French Martini!

Often the word French is appended to things to make them seem more sophisticated or sexy than they really are. French fries are actually Belgian, French kisses were invented in Dunstable (fact!) and have you ever seen French toast (or eggy bread as we used to call it when I was growing up) in France? Which brings us on to this week’s cocktail, the French Martini. It is, like most cocktails, an American creation. It was invented or at least popularised in New York City by a man with possibly the least French name ever, Keith McNally.

McNally was a big noise in ‘80s and ‘90s New York (and still is). Such a big noise that The New York Times described him as: “The Restaurateur Who Invented Downtown.” Just as the French Martini isn’t very French, McNally isn’t American. He was born and raised in Bethnal Green. After a stint as a child actor in London, McNally came to New York in 1975 and opened a series of French-inspired restaurants such as Pastis, Cherche Midi and Augustine. His most famous venue, however, was Balthazar which became the hippest joint in town when it opened in 1997 and the French Martini was the trademark cocktail. It quickly crossed the Atlantic and found a home among the Cool Britannia crowd at the Met Bar in London. Balthazar itself arrived in 2013 with a branch in Covent Garden.

You don’t get more 90s than the French Martini, or rather, could it be any more ‘90s? It’s not only made with vodka but pineapple juice too. It’s part of the wave of so-called Martinis that were all the range back then like the Pineapple Martini, the Appletini, the Espresso Martini etc. etc. The French part comes from the addition of Chambord, a French raspberry liqueur with packaging so elaborate that it looks like a medieval incense burner, or, for Monty Python fans, the holy hand grenade of Antioch.

It’s a smoky French Martini (sung to the tune of Funky Cold Medina by Tone Loc)

A squeeze of lemon helps temper the sweetness but still it might be a bit sugary for some so this week we’re using a fiery peaty whisky instead of vodka, Laphroaig 10 Year Old. According to Simon Difford, this variation is actually known as a Le Frog. See what they did there? Vodka or whisky, however you make it, make sure you’re dressed appropriately. We’re thinking baggy grey Armani suit like Richard Gere in his prime, and don’t be afraid to roll the sleeves up a little. Nice. Right, that’s enough preamble. Let’s make a smoky French Martini:

25ml Laphroaig 10 Year Old
25ml Chambord
10ml pineapple juice
A squeeze of lemon juice

Pour all of the ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake hard for eight seconds. Strain into a chilled coupette, garnish with a blackberry or raspberry and serve.

 

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Island spirit: a visit to Mermaid Gin

Last year on a beautiful clear August day, we visited the Isle of Wight to meet the team behind Mermaid Gin, film at the distillery and learn the secrets of…

Last year on a beautiful clear August day, we visited the Isle of Wight to meet the team behind Mermaid Gin, film at the distillery and learn the secrets of its deliciousness. Some, sadly, we’re not allowed to divulge. 

Xavier Baker from the Isle of Wight Distillery asked us not to reveal the location of his best foraging patch for rock samphire, an important botanical in Mermaid Gin. We’d got up early to follow him on an expedition down to the beach. The island sparkled in the August sunlight with the palm trees making this corner of southern England feel like the south of France. While Baker hopped from rock to rock with the agility of a mountain goat, I lumbered after him more like a rhinoceros occasionally grazing my hands and knees in a desperate attempt not to fall. As we foraged, Baker explained a little about what we were looking for: rock samphire grows above the waterline; it’s a completely different species to marsh samphire, which grows in water; rock is related to the carrot whereas marsh is related to asparagus. Top trivia to impress your waiter with next time you see samphire on a menu.

Samphire used to be big business on the Isle of Wight with barrels of the stuff going to London every day. Today, Baker is one of the few harvesting it commercially though that he sometimes runs into local Michelin-starred chef Robert Thompson on his forays. The Isle of Wight distillery needs 75 kilos of the stuff every year, so Baker is keen to keep his best patches a secret. It provides a unique flavour to Mermaid gin, Baker describes it as “ocean breeze in a glass.” Raw it tastes sweet and slightly nutty with a dusting of salt. Other botanicals in Mermaid Gin include locally-grown hops as well as juniper, coriander seeds, fresh lemon zest, grains of paradise, angelica, liquorice, orris and elderflower.

With its unique taste and stylish blue bottle, Mermaid Gin is now one of the most recognised and popular gin brands in the country. The company was founded in 2014 by Xavier Baker, and local wine-maker, the impressively monikered Conrad Gauntlett (which makes him sound like a 1930s media magnate). Baker is a brewer by training, “I’ve been brewing since before I could legally drink”, he told us. He’s done stints at giants like Molson Coors and tiny outfits like Dingle brewery in Ireland. After quite a bit of wangling with HMRC, the pair began distilling in 2015. The distillery is housed in a slightly-rough round the edges converted pub near Ryde. Its functional charms make a nice change from cost-no-object City money set-ups one sometimes finds at new distilleries. Cleverly, they have kept the pub side going. While we were there a constant stream of visitors arriving to have a drink, see round the distillery and almost all of them left clutching a bottle of gin. 

Is it a mermaid washed up on the shore? No, it’s Xavier Baker from the Isle of Wight Distillery

Originally though, gin was not part of the plan. “We wanted to be a whisky distillery but gin sort of  took over”, Baker said. They filled a few barrels with new make before stopping to concentrate on gin. It’s a column malt made with Isle of Wight barley. Baker said, “the wash came from Goddards brewery down the road, we did a long slow fermentation.” It’s currently sitting in custom casks, American oak white wine barrels with heavily-charred English oak heads. That initial whisky is now nearly four years old. According to Baker, “there was so much interest when it came of age”, but there’s no immediate plans to sell it yet. Baker gave me a little to try. It’s a deep colour and intensely-flavoured with a nose like rum: chocolate, creme brulee and toffee. In the mouth, there are quite noticeable oak tannins but overall it’s very smooth with a lovely walnut finish. 

They have just finished a refurbishment of the distillation equipment with a new 1,000 litre copper pot still that can be used for gin and whisky plus a column still and condenser. According to Baker it’s a very adaptable set-up. With this increased capacity, Baker told us that he intends to start distilling more whisky soon. 

On sale alongside the Mermaid Gin and its pink sister, there’s a vodka and HMS Victory Navy Rum. This came about when, following a successful navy-strength gin, the Isle of White Distillery was approached by the National Museum for the Royal Navy with making a navy rum. They looked at distilling molasses in England but ended up sourcing rum from Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, just like the Royal Navy used to do. It is then aged in a cask that contains some wood from Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory (yes, really). It sounds a bit gimmicky but it’s a superb drop, punchy and packed full of flavour, but dangerously smooth and drinkable.

But it’s not just about making high quality spirits. For Baker having the least possible environmental impact is very important. “We’re completely plastic-free right down to the cork, we use the highest quality natural cork,” Baker said. The cap is wrapped in biodegradable cellulose. The distillery is very involved in beach clean projects. “We want to protect the environment in which Mermaids live,” said Baker. The Isle of Wight business model seems very sustainable too. The distillery is a model for how a small outfit can do something a bit different in the crowded gin market and build a national following from a strong regional base. And that’s just Mermaid Gin. The maturing whisky points at the huge potential in the Isle of Wight Distillery. If only we could persuade them to bottle some.

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Cocktails in cans are not to be sniffed at

From canned G&Ts to bottled Negronis, It’s never been easier to buy a portable bar-quality drink on the hop. We explore how pre-mixed cocktails turned premium – and share a selection…

From canned G&Ts to bottled Negronis, It’s never been easier to buy a portable bar-quality drink on the hop. We explore how pre-mixed cocktails turned premium – and share a selection of our favourite ready-to-go tipples…

Whether they’re released by established distilleries, bottled by entrepreneurial bartenders, or engineered by savvy start-ups, today’s ready-to-drink (RTD) serves tend to favour high quality, often ‘natural’ ingredients, all wrapped up in slick, Instagrammable packaging. All being said, we’ve come a long way since the likes of WKD Blue and Smirnoff Ice reigned supreme.

Historically, the pre-mixed arena has been “dominated by big spirit brands, for whom it made sense to produce cheap ‘spirit and mixer’-type RTD’s to ensure their product could be consumed more easily on the go,” explains Harry Farnham, co-founder of Bloody Drinks. This meant convenience was important, but quality less so, he says, which created a race to the bottom in terms of price.

“This is now changing, and for lots of reasons,” Farnham continues. “One of the most obvious is the knock-on effect of the explosion of ultra-premium craft beer in cans. With their craft credentials, complex taste and striking designs, they’ve proved that discerning consumers will spend a lot of money on a canned drink.”

Ready to drink Negroni Sbagliato? Don’t mind if do

While today’s RTDs may be a far cry from the sickly-sweet, E number-addled alcopops of the 2000s, there’s an element of nostalgia behind our penchant for portable tipples, says Steph DiCamillo, global advocacy manager at Atom Brands“The age bracket of people who are driving the growth grew up with RTDs seen as a teenager’s drink – overly sweet and immature,” she says. “The new RTDs are quite different in terms of complexity, aesthetic and sugar content. Yet, they give just enough nostalgia to the drinkers to get them intrigued in the first place.”

Thankfully, the artificial colours and fake flavours once associated with RTD’s – particularly those of the bottled variety – have been left in the past, driven by demand for craft cocktails beyond the traditional bar setting. We may not be drinking them in a bar, but we want the same experience, says Deano Moncrieffe, co-owner of east London bar Hacha“Consumers want a cocktail that is familiar in name but uniquely hand-crafted with a point of difference, much like our bottled Mirror Margarita,” he explains. It’s crystal clear, he explains, but tastes like a classic Margarita – “with all the flavours you would normally associate with that cocktail”. 

The RTD market also presents an opportunity for distillers to present their signature serve as they envisage it. With canned serves increasingly dominating shelf space in the RTD sphere, distilleries across the country are going all-out to capture the essence of their signature serve and double down on the latest drinks trends. As such, nailing the flavour profile has wider implications. 

It’s a Margarita but colourless, how is that possible?

“We have the ability to include more natural ingredients and interesting flavours,” says Victoria Miller, on-trade and prestige sales manager at Scotland’s Eden Mill, which is currently developing and expanding its RTD range – the latest addition being non-alcoholic Eden Nil. “The correct, or ‘perfect’ serve is important, particularly in a new category such as this,” Miller adds.

Pre-mixed can also be hive for experimentation, with a shift towards more innovative flavours and profiles, says James Law, co-owner of Longflint Drinks Company. But it has its limits. “The G&T rules the roost for good reason; unlike many cocktails it’s a straight spirits and mixer offering and that makes it perfect for the format,” he continues. “It’s really hard to capture the magic of an Espresso Martini or Mojito in a can.”

So, what do we want from our pre-mixed cocktails? First of all, complexity, says DiCamillo. “It isn’t enough to have just a peach flavoured RTD – it’s white peach with a hint of basil. There is demand for a name recognised spirit, but it seems to be the flavour cues on the label people are initially intrigued by.” We’re also keen on lower sugar, drier-style drinks more akin to a beer. “People want to be able to sip all afternoon, not have just one,” she continues. “This also speaks to the ABV, with a trend towards slightly lower 4-5%, so they can be sessionable.” 

Design-wise, many labels are “bright, loud, and graphic”, inspired by the craft beer market, says DiCamillo, though she forecasts “increasingly sleek minimalist styles emerging in the next few years”. Finally, there’s the price. “The RTD has to be competitive with craft beer. Once you creep into the price of a cocktail in a bar, it is hard to justify the value,” she says. “One exception to this would be the use of high-end ingredients like truffle and extra aged spirits.”

That Boutique-y Gin Company, funky packaging

The biggest challenge for any canned drinks brand, says Farnham, is demonstrating that canned does not equal compromise – and “with a product as complex as a Bloody Mary, that’s all the more important. The dream for people is to crack open a can, pour over ice and for it to match what you would be served in a bar,” he says. “In reality, it’s only by canning our blend of premium ingredients that this becomes possible, while keeping it fresh enough to be enjoyed instantly, anytime you want it,” he says.

The convenience factor associated with the burgeoning RTD category – “meeting the demand for people wanting faster ‘speed of serve’ when it comes to drinking” says Joe Sanders, UK director at bottled cocktail company ELY – has echoed across the industry. “Kegged cocktails are becoming really popular with bars wanting to serve the likes of Espresso Martinis as fast as possible without compromising on quality,” he says. “We have developed our own Nitro system which delivers a quality consistency – foamed top of the cocktail – every time.” 

Looking ahead, Law predicts the next RTD trend will be “all about sugar – or lack of it,” he says. “The hard seltzer category has exploded in the US, but will it work this side of the pond? I think it will, but with a slightly different approach – I’m not sure you can just shoehorn in the language, design and flavour styles and expect it to work off the bat. It’s an unusual category but one that’s looking more and more important.”

And DiCamillo agrees. “I think healthy-no and low beverages will tie into the RTD cocktails,” she says. “Terms like low-sugar, low ABV, and natural flavourings will pop up – they’re already being littered across cocktail bars. I expect ‘CBD-infused’, ‘vitamin-enriched’, and similar ideas will start to be incorporated into RTDs in the near future. “

Below, we’ve picked out four pre-mixed drinks for your perusing pleasure. For more options, check out the entire selection here.

That Boutique-y Gin Company Yuzu Gin Collins
Starward Old Fashioned
Sipsmith Gin & Tonic
Tinkture Negroni Classico 

 

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Meet the man making baijiu. . . in Britain

When MoM caught wind that third generation farmer and fruit grower Pete Thompson had started producing China’s national drink, baijiu, right here in the UK – using 100% British-grown sorghum,…

When MoM caught wind that third generation farmer and fruit grower Pete Thompson had started producing China’s national drink, baijiu, right here in the UK – using 100% British-grown sorghum, no less – our ears pricked up. Here, we talk crispy seaweed, closed-loop farming, and his partnership with the experimental English Spirit Distillery….

The adage ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ applies in a very literal sense to Essex-based farmer and fruit grower Pete Thompson. After he lost an apricot crop to frost, leaving him with a very small amount of the fruit come harvest time, he did what any one of us would do in such a situation: make apricot-infused gin. Reliquum Spirits was born. From there – in collaboration with the English Spirit Distillery – Thompson went on to release a small range of fruit-soaked boozes, from a London Dry gin infused with calamondin tree fruit grown on his farm to an Opal apple brandy aged in red wine barrels made from French Trombais oak. His latest project? Baijiu. 

Looks like an orange but it’s actually a calamondin aka Philippine lime

“We’ve been supplying and working with the UK’s Chinese wholesale food service sector for donkey’s years,” Thompson explains. “We supply 90 plus per cent of the UK’s crispy seaweed* to Chinese restaurants – all grown here, all year round.” Even so, when Dr John Walters, master distiller at the English Spirit Distillery, suggested Thompson create a baijiu, his initial response was a resounding ‘no’. “I’ve been through various long dinners with my Chinese customers where I’ve been force fed baijiu at the end, and if I do have memories, they’re not very good ones,” he explains. “But John said, ‘No, wait! We can make something beautiful here.”

They went away separately to do research – Thompson on the farm, Dr Walters in the distillery – and find out more about producing the Chinese spirit. For those new to baijiu, it has a pretty unique production process compared to vodka, whisky, Tequila and so on. Steamed sorghum grains and water are mixed with a fermentation agent called jiuqu or ‘qu’ – “I say it’s like a sourdough starter,” Thompson explains – and aged in an underground pit or buried jar for anywhere between one month and 30 years. First, the team looked into the raw ingredients.

“Lots of farmers, ourselves included, have wildflower mixes around the farm for birds, and sorghum is quite a popular one in them,” says Thompson. “So we knew it could grow here. Then we looked at how it’s made in China, in the earth pits. The fermentation process is complicated and potentially dangerous because of the chemicals you can produce.”

Thompson's baijiu

Thompson’s baijiu in Chinatown

There are different types of qu for different styles of baijiu – ‘big qu’ might be made from wheat, whereas ‘small qu’ is typically made from rice. Thompson and the English Distillery team took an altogether different approach, mimicking the traditional processes used in baijiu production through laboratory conditions. “We analysed qu to find out which enzymes are in it,” Thompson continues. “We used chemical analysis to find out which enzymes are in qu, and then developed the enzymes that we needed. I can’t give you too much detail on the qu itself, and I won’t reveal which enzymes they are, but we’re essentially mirroring the traditional process in UK laboratory conditions to meet with food hygiene and food safety standards.”

After the fermentation period, the mix is distilled in small batches and bottled at 50% ABV. With such a diverse flavour profile to pick from, how does Thompson’s Baijiu – the name of the bottling – taste? “It has that umami, almost savoury note that you’d expect from a good baijiu, along with earthy, smoky notes,” he says. When people try it, they compare it to mezcal or Islay whisky. We never set out to create another Maotai – we wanted something uniquely British.”

When it comes to pouring, Thompson’s baijiu is intended to be as versatile (and accessible) as possible. “It works as a traditional shot, knocking it down as you would after a dinner in China,” Thompson explains. “It’s smooth and doesn’t burn the back of the throat, so you can also sip it like you would a very good mezcal or malt. But it’s also really interesting as a long drink and as a cocktail mixer as well.”

With baijiu under his belt, what’s next in Thompson’s spirited endeavours? “I think everyone will shoot me if I decide to do something else,” he laughs. “Though somebody did recently ask me about South American flavours in our innovation work. We do have some interesting South American herbs, so you never know, we might go to South America after Asia.”

* It’s actually a special type of cabbage.

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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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Five minutes with… Fabiano Latham from Reyka Vodka

We grabbed five minutes with Fabiano Latham, UK Brand Ambassador for Reyka Vodka, and learnt about the wild side of the ambassador lifestyle! The first time I met Fabiano Latham…

We grabbed five minutes with Fabiano Latham, UK Brand Ambassador for Reyka Vodka, and learnt about the wild side of the ambassador lifestyle!

The first time I met Fabiano Latham was at William Grant & Sons Brand Ambassador UK tour, ‘Unwrapped, The Other Side of Bartending’. What was set to be a (somewhat) regular day of fun-filled bartending talks turned into, thanks to Latham (and the wonderful Reyka team), an escapade across London, whizzing around in a speedboat on the Thames, all in the name of adventure. That seems like a pretty fitting introduction, but don’t take my word for it. We managed to grab a chat with the man himself to talk us through all things Reyka, glacier bars and puffins!

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Fabiano Latham enjoying a Reyka vodka on a glacier… as you do.

Master of Malt: Chat us through what makes Reyka Vodka so special?

Fabiano Latham: Well, first of all its super tasty which is always a plus. But it’s our Icelandic roots which make us stand out. Our production allows us to say that we’re truly made of Iceland and not just in Iceland. Geothermal energy powers our distillery, glacial water from a local spring brings Reyka Vodka down to 40% after being distilled in a unique Carter Head still, which has locally-found lava rocks sitting in botanical baskets which filter our spirit during distillation. It’s also said that the tiny village of Borgarnes where we’re made is full of mischievous mythological hidden folk…

MoM: Have you always been a vodka lover?

FL: Hailing from Amazonian roots, my spirit interests were always focused on things like pisco and cachaça but I interacted with Reyka throughout my bartending career and always had a soft spot for the brand. Also I puffin love Iceland having visited a friend there many moons ago.

MoM: And have you always been an outdoors lover?

FL: Yes! My mum always dragged me on holidays to the middle of nowhere in the British countryside – (and still does!) – from wandering in Suffolk, to hiking up mountains in Wales, to cycling to Paris and spending weeks in the Outer Hebrides. From a young age I’ve been frequently immersed in nature and developed a keen interest in wildlife, but I only started really appreciating it once thrust into the rigours of hospitality. I discovered its unique rejuvenating powers against the nocturnal lifestyle of bartending and now I can’t get enough.

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Running low on ice? You know what to do.

MoM: How did you come to be the brand ambassador for Reyka?

FL: I harnessed my innermost Icelandic fan girl dweeb and went hell for leather once the job became available! Having won the 24 hour Reyka cocktail competition a few years back and being lucky enough to visit Iceland twice, I felt like I had some good credentials to go at it like a heathen Viking beast. I didn’t always want to be an ambassador at all, it was always something that other people did and I never thought I’d get the job but I really identified with the whole Icelandic adventure thing!

MoM: You created a word, which is pretty awesome. Explain the idea of Adventurivity for us!

FL: Adventurivity = adventure + creativity. It’s a mashup. Just like a moody puffin might be a muffin or a cheeky elf might be a … chelf. Essentially it’s the word I’ve given to a mindset which is all about immersing oneself in nature and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in really fun ways like climbing mountains or cycling long distances or even just spending some time with yourself in the morning on a stroll through a park. The reason behind this is to help balance and rejuvenate the stresses of hospitality, but also to build confidence in order to help frame and smash personal ambitions and goals. We all know that spending time outdoors is beneficial but this concept goes into the scientific detail of our evolution in nature and how it can benefit us today. I believe that by giving it a little structure, we can increase the gains because we simply understand more.

Remember, enjoy your tipple after your adventuring.

MoM: How do you link drinking and adventuring? Some people might say they’re not a natural pairing!

FL: Aha such a valid question! The idea of Adventurivity is geared towards bartenders and it’s designed to be used as a tool for the trade to help balance out their hectic lifestyles. We never drink whilst on the adventures, it’s only ever after that we might share a Reyka cocktail and share our experiences of the day. We always state: never drink and adventure! Adventure within nature is also about building confidence and positivity – attributes which can help boost creativity which can be used to develop concepts and recipes and that’s the key link.

MoM: We’re sure there are a few, but what’s the most memorable spot you’ve ever enjoyed a drink?

FL: Tough one that! I guess the most memorable spot has to be the Glacier Bar in October 2019. The sun was high and the views across the glacier were incredible. The silence was unreal. Our guests were an hour away, barrelling over the other-worldly terrain in a super jeep and it was just the ideal time to rustle up a Reyka Martini. We found a small hole on the glacier that had filled up with water and frozen overnight so we cracked the top layer and used a small chunk of the ice to stir down a bone-dry Martini. Yum!

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Behold, the Glacier Bar!

MoM: How did the idea for the Glacier Bar come about?

FL: Far, far away (in an office) one day someone said…. What if we made a bar…. And put it… on a glacier. Luckily all of us who work on Reyka share the same feverish excitement when it comes to epic activations and so it was just a case of blasting through the bible of logistics that comes with such an undertaking. Our epic brand manager Caitlin spearheaded the expedition and pulled off a magnificent feat of organisation. Our audience shares a keen interest in adventure and the outdoors, yet don’t often manifest these wishes into actual adventurous experiences as it’s tough to break the daily grind, so the idea is that we wanted to give them an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity!

MoM: What’s your favourite Reyka serve?

FL: A Puffin Collins was one I used for my interview three years ago – Reyka, pink grapefruit, elderflower, fresh cherry tomato and soda. It takes inspiration from the geothermally grown tomatoes in Iceland but also my love for puffins… It’s a bit ridiculous really… from a multitude of puffin paraphernalia to a taxidermy puffin called SugarPuff McStuffin and even a puffin tattoo… (pattoo).

MoM: Can we expect anything new from Reyka in the (near) future?  

FL: Yes! We’ll be starting up a Reyka running club in London at the end of January. Something epic will happen again next year just like the glacier bar…. but not the glacier bar. I’ll be hosting numerous adventures around the UK, the biggest being the Reyka Expedition cocktail competition in June. Keep a-puffin-breast of what’s going on by following me @fabsting (shameless self-promo…. Not even sorry).

Thanks a-puffin, Fabs! 

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