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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whisky

Alan Gray, Scotch whisky industry expert – obituary

Today, Ian Buxton pays tribute to one of Scotch whisky’s greats who died recently: Alan Gray, the man behind industry bible the annual Scotch Whisky Industry Review. Here at Master…

Today, Ian Buxton pays tribute to one of Scotch whisky’s greats who died recently: Alan Gray, the man behind industry bible the annual Scotch Whisky Industry Review.

Here at Master of Malt, we were greatly saddened to note the passing of Alan Gray. Alan Gray – ‘who he?’ some of you might ask. 

Alan may not have been well-known outside the industry, and he is unlikely to have been recognised by the whisky drinker, but he was widely respected by industry insiders for his insightful commentary on the Scotch whisky business.

Born in Lanark in December 1939, he trained initially as a chartered accountant, became a financial journalist in London and, on his return to his native Scotland, a stockbroker. Bear in mind that in the 1960s there were still very many more independent whisky companies and thus stocks quoted on the market. But whisky became his great love and, in 1977, he launched the first edition of his Scotch Whisky Industry Review.

As he developed his contacts and networks (which were extensive, for he was a clubbable man), this came to be seen as the most credible independent source of information and commentary on the industry. Each issue went into meticulous depth on production, stock levels, shipments, brand and marketing activity, frequently covering 300 pages or more of closely packed argument.

Alan Gray (photo credit: The Keepers of the Quaich)

His reputation grew with the publication of a monthly newsletter and he was valued for his discretion and his respect for the many ‘off the record’ conversations which added such depth to his commentary.

Alan was recognised as a Keeper (later Master) of the Quaich, an honour which he greatly valued. He was not afraid to challenge some of the industry’s conventions or to debunk the myths and spin that he detected from time to time in marketing. During his long life, Alan recorded the whisky industry moving from the depression of the ‘whisky loch’ to today’s current prosperity and expansion, always with sharp wit and a keen intelligence.

Think of him as a latter-day Alfred Barnard – a chronicler and enthusiast who has left an invaluable and unrivalled record. He had only recently completed work on the latest Scotch Whisky Industry Review 2019, remarkably the 42nd edition (photo in header from this publication). Its 284 pages will be a lasting memory of an impressive lifetime’s achievement.

Alan Gray died on 20th February 2020 and is survived by his wife of 56 years, Margaret, his three sons Barry, Colin and David, his brother Jim and by six grandchildren.

 

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Virtual pub quiz: 27 March

Think you know your booze? Then you should enter our new and improved virtual pub quiz. All entries will get a discount code and one winner a £25 off voucher….

Think you know your booze? Then you should enter our new and improved virtual pub quiz. All entries will get a discount code and one winner a £25 off voucher. All must have prizes!

It’s the return of the Master of Malt pub quiz. We’ve made it slightly easier this week as well as put it in a snazzy format so it’s easier to enter. We do like to make your life easy. For those bamboozled by last week’s quiz, here is a link to the answers. Remember, strict pub quiz rules, no looking at Google.

 

Fancy your chances?! Go to the quiz by hitting ‘click here’!

CLICK HERE

(And remember, no cheating. We might not know, but it is not in the spirit of quizzing!)

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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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The world’s best audiophile bars

Even though we engage all our senses when enjoying a cocktail or sipping a spirit, the one that we rarely (if ever) acknowledge is sound – but thanks to music-mad bar…

Even though we engage all our senses when enjoying a cocktail or sipping a spirit, the one that we rarely (if ever) acknowledge is sound – but thanks to music-mad bar owners across the globe, things are slowly starting to change. Meticulous about quality sound and excellent drinks in equal measure, we’ve picked out five unmissable audiophile bars to add to your bucket list…

They may be a relatively new phenomenon in the west, but in Japan, soundscaped lounges or ‘listening bars’ have been an institution since the 1920s. The oldest of them is Tokyo’s Lion Meikyoku Kissa, a two-story theatre established in 1926. It plays exclusively classical music, and boasts more than 5,000 records, 3-metre high wooden speakers and a strict ‘no talking’ policy.

While today’s cocktail venues might not take such a hardline stance with their own guests, the importance of background sound has never been so well-understood. “Sound, particularly music, plays a key role in creating the right atmosphere in a bar because it’s a medium that everybody can connect with,” explains Adam Castleton, CEO of music technology company Startle. 

Castleton says mood-setting playlists help to set a venue’s tone, a subtle factor that’s crucial in today’s drinks world. “Due to the highly competitive nature of the industry and the growing number of options out there, every little detail needs to be considered to give people a reason to visit a venue,” he adds. “Music absolutely falls into this bracket.”

Whether you’re mad on jazz, can’t get enough guitar, or prefer an uptempo house beat, there’s an eclectic audiophile bar out there for you. We’ve picked out five of the world’s best where you can pull up a pew and get lost in their especially-chosen music selection. Just remember to switch your phone to silent first.

1. In Sheep’s Clothing

Where? 710 East 4th Place, Los Angeles, California

‘To hear more, say less,’ is the mantra at all-day venue In Sheep’s Clothing, and it’s a philosophy that carries throughout the venue, where guests are asked to keep conversation volumes low and refrain from taking pictures. A sanctuary for music lovers, the vinyl-only bar boasts an immensely expensive and carefully created sound system that allows listeners to savour every note. Drinks-wise, expect cocktails, craft beer, wine and plenty of Japanese whisky.

2. Spiritland

Where? Venues across London, England

Split across three distinct London venues – a café-workspace-bar in King’s Cross, a restaurant located on South Bank, and a ‘headphone bar’ in Mayfair – Spiritland boasts an impeccable rosta of guest selectors along with talks, album launches and more. It was born of a desire to “engage with music in the deepest possible way,” the website states, “to hear it as the artist intended, to connect with the emotions within – with food and drink to match.”

3. Bridge

Where? Parkside Kyodo Bldg 10F, 1-25-6 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Being located on the top floor of an office building, Bridge offers unparalleled tenth-floor views of the famous Shibuya crossing, but its impeccable Rey Audio sound system remains the most compelling reason to visit. Serving up a selection of locally-inspired cocktails, the focus here is on electronic music – they call it a ‘DJ’ bar, since the venue regularly has guest sets from Tokyo’s finest DJs – but it’s nothing like your typical nightclub. 

4. Rhinoçéros 

Where? Rhinower Str. 3, 10437 Berlin, Germany

With a focus on jazz, soul and funk, cosy Prenzlauer Berg-based bar Rhinoçéros spins records from its vast collection and occasionally invites guest selectors in, too. Guests are welcome to bring their own records and give them a whirl on the incredible vintage sound system, which dates back to the early Seventies. Drinks-wise, there’s a wine and whisky focus. They have a dedicated Highball cocktail menu and make a mean classic too.

5. Public Records

Where? 233 Butler St, Brooklyn, New York

Listening bars have had a real renaissance in New York, with one of the newest being Brooklyn’s Public Records, located in an historic building on the Gowanus Canal. Essentially a hi-fi vegan cafe, cocktail bar, and ‘sound room’ (a performance space) split across three stories, the venue features custom sound systems that represent the pinnacle of acoustic design. Expect live acts, vinyl DJs and tasty AF drinks.

 

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What the blazes: a history of distillery fires

Making whisky is not without its hazards, distillation can be a dangerous business. Then there’s the challenge of storing thousands of wooden casks of flammable liquid safely while they mature….

Making whisky is not without its hazards, distillation can be a dangerous business. Then there’s the challenge of storing thousands of wooden casks of flammable liquid safely while they mature. Inevitably, things sometimes go wrong. Ian Buxton looks into the explosive history of distillery fires. 

If you’ve ever visited a distillery warehouse of recent construction, you’ll have noticed that it’s festooned with all kinds of safety precautions in the event of fire: smoke sensors; sophisticated monitoring and alarm systems (frequently linked to the local fire station) and substantial fire walls to prevent the flames taking control of the whole building. There’s generally a significant gap between modern buildings, both to prevent the fire spreading and to allow firefighters access to all sides of the structures. Different vintages of production are spread across a number of warehouses to prevent the possibility of the total loss of a specific age of whisky.

Not the aftermath of the Blitz but Watson’s Whisky Bond following a fire

All permanent staff will have had training and there will be fire-fighting equipment on site, though possibly out of sight of the visitors. Health & safety legislation quite properly lays great stress on mitigating risks and training staff in good practice or, if the worst should happen, evacuation procedures. For all the care, though, there are still accidents (and sometimes accidents with a still), such as the recent fire at Masons in Yorkshire. For some reason, the USA has in recent years been particularly prone to significant conflagrations: Heaven Hill (1996), Wild Turkey (2000), Jim Beam (2003 and again in 2019) and, tragically, Silver Trail in Kentucky where in 2015 a young distiller was killed and a colleague severely injured.

Fortunately, fatalities are rare these days and usually only whisky is lost.  Sadly, it has not always been so. Glasgow was the scene of one of Britain’s worst ever peacetime fire services disaster when, on 28 March 1960 the Cheapside Street whisky bond caught fire and collapsed, killing 11 firemen. The blaze took a week to fully extinguish and, at its peak, required 450 firemen, 30 pumping appliances, five turntable ladders, four support vehicles, and a fire boat on the River Clyde. There were six bravery awards, including two awards of the George Medal.

At this time, Glasgow still had a considerable number of operational warehouses in the city itself though. Following the fire, most were relocated (the buildings still presented hazards, though.  Failure to remove security bars from the windows at an old bond in James Watt Street led to the death of 22 employees of an upholstery workshop just eight years later.)

Postcard commemorating the fire at the North of Scotland Distillery in Aberdeen

Clearly earlier lessons had not been learned. Prior to world war one there were disastrous fires in both Aberdeen and Dundee. In September 1904, the North of Scotland Distillery in Aberdeen was totally destroyed by fire and some 700,000 gallons of whisky (around two year’s production) was lost. Though the distillery did reopen it proved hard to recover and it eventually closed in 1913, ironically just as Port Dundas Distillery in Glasgow, which had lain dormant since a fire ten years earlier, was recommissioned. 

A little further down Scotland’s east coast, in Dundee, a devastating fire broke out in July 1906 in the James Watson & Co. bond at the junction of Seagate and the aptly-named Candle Lane. Then one of the largest distillers in the country and a major force in the industry, Watson’s never really recovered from the disruption to their business and the company and remaining stocks were eventually acquired by the DCL (forerunners of today’s Diageo). The neighbouring blending house of John Robertson & Son was also badly affected by the fire as flaming alcohol was seen raining down on surrounding streets and buildings, setting light to a sugar warehouse, jute factory and printers. 

So bad was the inferno that firemen had to be called from Edinburgh to help fight it. The fire, which burned for 12 hours, has been described as the most destructive in the history of Dundee. An eyewitness recorded it sending “rivers of burning whisky” through the city, the spectacle attracting a thousand strong crowd of spectators. According to the Dundee Courier, the glow was visible from Brechin and Montrose (about 30 miles away) and people on Dundee’s outskirts could read newspapers out of doors at midnight.

major fire at Jim Beam

There was a major fire at Jim Beam in 2019

While the six storey bond, several other buildings and around 1,000,000 gallons of spirits were lost, there were mercifully no fatalities recorded – and local postcard company Valentines were quickly on the scene to record the damage in a series of rare and now collectable postcards.

So, next time you visit a distillery and your guide prohibits flash photography try to remember these tragic events in Scotland’s distilling history and confine the mixture of fire and whisky to a Blue Blazer cocktail when you return home!

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks. A former marketing director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

 

 

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Top 10 New York bars to visit

New York bars have a reputation for greatness. We spent some time sipping our way through the city, and behold! Here are our findings. We present 10 great bars to…

New York bars have a reputation for greatness. We spent some time sipping our way through the city, and behold! Here are our findings. We present 10 great bars to check out on your next trip!

Eating, and in this context, drinking, your way around a city can be the best way to get a feel for the heart and soul of a place. And if that place is New York, your palate is in for an absolute treat. We had a few days in the city in between visiting distilleries and taking part in the American Distilling Institute’s annual Judging of Craft Spirits (we know it’s on the west coast, but we made it happen). The best way to kill time? Sampling some of the world’s best bars, which just so happened to be on our doorstep.

We stayed part of the trip in Midtown, making a good few of these names in walking distance (it was a little bit of a stretch on occasion). We then hightailed it over to Greenpoint, taking in two delightful Brooklyn drinking holes en route.

Full disclosure: New York has hundreds of bars on offer, and a chunk of those have become internationally renowned for creative menus, ace hospitality, and simply put, damn good drinks. We could have stayed in the city for a year and not hit them all up. So we narrowed it down to 10 that we loved for various different reasons. 

We know there are LOADS of other excellent bars in NYC. Have you visited? Which were your favourites? Any bars on your New York bucket list we should know about? Let us know in the comments below, or on social!

A Manhattan in Manhattan!

Lot 15

At The Kixby, 45 West 35th Street

A relatively recent addition to the New York scene, this cosy ground-floor Midtown lounge-style haunt is seductively lit and swathed in murals by Fumero, an international graffiti artist inspired by the city’s subway art. The 360-degree bar is the focal point, and we recommend grabbing one of the 12 seats there to chat to the wonderfully engaging bar team (don’t panic if it’s full, there’s loads of table space, too!). The current menu is based around the classics, and can be tricky to navigate if you’re not up to speed on cocktail families. But don’t panic – folks are on-hand to help. We went for a Classic Manhattan (it was our first drink in actual Manhattan; it needed to be done) and it was a fabulously balanced, delightfully robust serve. 

The Private Eye (L) and Dusk Till Dawn

The Modern

At MoMA, 9 West 53rd Street

Whether you’re arted out and in need of refreshment, or just in the area and fancy something literally very fancy, Michelin-starred The Modern, located at The Museum of Modern Art, is a dreamy spot to stop and sip. (And eat. We really recommend the carrot rillettes on the Bar Room menu.) Sit at the bar and you’ll be in good hands; the service is impeccable, and the vibe is actually pretty lively during the afternoon. We tried (and adored) the Dusk Till Dawn, made with pisco and genever, a twist on the Sour that really works, and the Private Eye, a boozy number made with baijiu, rum, cachaça, pineapple and chilli. It’s one of the first baijiu serves we’ve really adored, and it really demonstrates the potential the category has in cocktails.

Much more Chuck Bass than anything in a flute

The Empire Lobby Bar

44 West 63rd Street

XOXO… yes, we headed to The Empire with one iconic (yes, I said it) TV programme in mind: Gossip Girl. This is a hotel made famous by highly flawed character Chuck Bass, a ladies’ man with an off-the-charts ego who loves boozy serves. In honour of the show, we rocked up and swiftly ordered a Chuck Bass cocktail – which arrived in a flute and felt… well, not very Chuck at all. But this was our first and only criticism. The bar was incredibly fun, the team was brilliant, the serves incredibly tasty, and the environment felt really rather sumptuous. Plus, The Empire is only a stone’s throw from Central Park, so an ideal stop after an afternoon of touristing.

The Katana Kitten interior

Katana Kitten

531 Hudson Street

Now this is a fun one. On first appearance, Katana Kitten* genuinely gives off dive bar vibes, albeit with a kitschy spin. It’s a two-level space filled with lights (it looks incredible after dark) and is filled to the brim with stylish types (definitely make a reservation if you are in a group). The Japanese-US hybrid food and drink menu is impressive, but everything remains familiar enough to be easily navigable. Highballs are a speciality – we especially enjoyed the Aki Paloma (Tequila and grapefruit, obvs, with jasmine tea, fig leaf and smoked pomelo salt, too), and the Belle Epoque (heavier, with Irish whiskey, vermouth, miso-sesame orgeat, creme de cacao, lemon, ginger, and absinthe). Oh, and the whole thing is highly Instagrammable, in case that’s important to you.

Good vibes and the Billionaire Cocktail at EO

Employees Only

510 Hudson Street

Almost opposite Katana Kitten (it would be rude not to stop in at both if you’re in the West Village), lies Employees Only. Some say it’s not what it once was. We say it’s a riot of fun with a fabulous classics-heavy menu, and is possibly the best spot to people-watch. The bar space was filled to the brim, mostly with what appeared to be folks on first dates (hence the joy in observation), and despite being incredibly busy, the floor and bar team were happy to have a little chat and provide recommendations. The Ginger Smash was a perfect pick-me up and mega refreshing (muddled ginger root and kumquat, gin, apple liqueur and lemon juice), while the brash and boozier Billionaire Cocktail (bourbon, lemon juice, and homemade grenadine and absinthe bitters) was splendidly potent. Remind you of a Gossip Girl character..?

That view though…

Westlight

At The William Vale, 111 North 12th Street 22nd floor, Brooklyn

Where to go for both an incredible view of Manhattan, and a genuinely exciting drinks programme? Outside Manhattan, it transpires! The trip over to Williamsburg is absolutely worth it for this one. Chef Andrew Carmellini’s NoHo Hospitality Group is the brains behind the 22nd floor rooftop operation, which, while cocktail-focused, also offers some delectable bites (if you don’t adore the butternut squash hummus, we probably can’t be friends). And the drinks are so good, you almost forget about the devastating view. Almost. There’s a mix of classic and signature serves; we adored the Vicious Circle (essentially a Martini with gin, vermouth and Green Chartreuse), and The Battleship (reposado Tequila, sherry, agave, lemon and bitters) was also heavenly. Obviously it’s a popular spot, so making a reservation is highly recommended.

Drink in an actual distillery

The Shanty

79 Richardson St, Brooklyn

Fancy something a little more down to earth, and set in an actual distillery? This unpretentious spot at New York Distilling Company (NYDC) packs a punch with its full-service bar, sizeable cocktail offering and impressive craft beer spread in a cosy, welcoming and relaxed setting. There’s the full complement of NYDC booze, as you’d expect, but the team genuinely wants to nurture a neighbourhood bar vibe, so there is a plethora of other options, too. We had a dram of something very special (whiskey from the first-ever NYDC cask!) and while we can’t guarantee the likes of that, there’s all kinds of tastiness. And complimentary distillery tour options at the weekend, too! Can’t say fairer than that.  

It’s a beauty

The Dead Rabbit

30 Water St

The big one. The one that’s won all the awards. The Irish bar gone superstar from Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon. Downstairs is The Taproom, where we mostly hung out, home of the renowned Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee, hearty food, and a cocktail menu that delights, even if it’s not the main focus (we rocked up in the afternoon so The Parlour, with its celebrated menu, wasn’t open yet). That said, the drinks ROCKED. A word of warning though – Google (and Lyft, for that matter) have The Dead Rabbit pin in the wrong place. Use both with caution to get you to the Lower Manhattan vicinity, then actually walk along Water until you get to number 30. The bar is NOT in the office building with Le Pain Quotidien, however much the apps insist!

The glories of Mace

Mace

505 East 12th St

A minimalist, unassuming brick-lined spot in East Village that offers surprise and delight in huge helpings through its unexpected, spice-based drinks menu. At first, it’s tricky to tell whether you should navigate by cocktail number or spice name. But the team will chat you through, and dietary requirements the cocktails meet are clearly displayed (a huge bonus that many bars could learn from). The eponymous Mace itself is a joyous concoction with its Aperol and aquavit base, and we also liked the Corn Husk, an unusual medley of corn husk-infused mezcal (name makes sense), Campari, sweet vermouth, more corn husk (charred this time) and cayenne. A must-visit if you like your cocktails on the weird and wonderful side. 

Parade of the Fairies!

Pouring Ribbons

225 Avenue B

A joyful spot not all that far from Mace, but with a very different vibe. We were there on a quietish Tuesday; there was a cocktail class taking place in the bar area, groups of friends were chilling, and a couple of people were having a quiet drink on their own. The team were engaging and easygoing, with a sixth sense for when a guest wanted a chit-chat, and when they wanted to be on their own. It’s a breezy space, almost with a sixth-form common room vibe, but for actual grown-ups. And the drinks! The menu came with a handy navigation guide, helping you choose from something refreshing or spirit-led, comforting or adventurous, with a little sliding scale detail under each serve. So easy to understand! Our favourites were the Parade of the Fairies, made with mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Green Chartreuse, Galliano, and a good helping of rosemary, as well as the delicious Gladys Bently, with bourbon, black eyed peas, rum, maple and cacao. Both on the boozier side, and both brilliant.

*Sadly nothing to do with top 90s girl band Atomic Kitten.

 

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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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The Nightcap: 7 February

Valentine’s poetry, Valentine’s dogs, BrewDogs, and more all await you in this week’s edition of The Nightcap. Pour yourself a dram, and get stuck in. The Nightcap is back once…

Valentine’s poetry, Valentine’s dogs, BrewDogs, and more all await you in this week’s edition of The Nightcap. Pour yourself a dram, and get stuck in.

The Nightcap is back once again, like a character in a famous film franchise about quickness and frenzied anger that people just can’t let go of. We’re not making reference to any one film in particular. Nope. Don’t know what you’re insinuating. If we were talking about something specific, we’d say it kind of messes with one of the moments with the most emotional weight to it in that film franchise, but also… You know what, this isn’t the time or the place. But this is the time and the place to find out all about the booze news from the week – it’s The Nightcap!

Before we got to Nightcapping this week we made a sad but important announcement: two delightful Nikka whiskies will be discontinued. Which is heartbreaking, but at least you can console yourself with the February edition of the Dram Club. Meanwhile, Adam enjoyed some delightful agave-based spirits with El Destilado and suggested some suitable spirits to spoil your significant other with on Valentine’s Day as Annie explored her artistic side with BenRiach and the intriguing process of making mezcal with meat. Elsewhere, Henry witnessed the innovation behind some sublime cask-aged gin and blended French brandy before he kept things sophisticated with our Cocktail of the Week with the best-dressed serve in town.

All that boozy goodness, and there’s still more to come. So, what are you waiting for? The Nightcap is here!

The Nightcap

Moonshine. Who knew?

Ole Smoky Distilleries named most visited distillery in the world

If you had to guess, would you have honestly said that the most visited distillery in the world in 2019 was a moonshine distillery? Well, it is, according to on-premise traffic figures which revealed this week that the four Ole Smoky Distilleries, who make the No. 1 selling moonshine brand in the world, welcomed 4.5 million visitors in 2019. That’s not a typo. It was 4.5 million people. In a year. To put that into context, the location of Ole Smoky, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has an estimated population of 4,144. The figures show that people flocked en mass to the company’s four properties in Tennessee, with The Holler in Gatlinburg hosting 2.1 million alone, while The Barrelhouse and The Barn in Pigeon Forge accommodated 1.1 million each and 6th & Peabody in Nashville, which only opened last autumn, welcomed over 200,000 visitors. You might think that adding up the four distilleries is cheating, but let’s give credit where it’s due. Across those four sites, Ole Smoky welcomed more than twice as many guests as all of Scotland’s distilleries combined. Seriously. According to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), Scotland’s 68 whiskey distilleries saw 2 million visitors in 2018, while the Jack Daniel’s website claims to welcome about 280,000 people to its Lynchburg distillery. That means The Holler alone was visited more than every single Scotch whisky distillery combined. Every single one. Combined. Tell me I’m not the only one freaking out at this story? “2019 was a growth year for our brand and our distilleries. We continue to introduce innovative and appetising new products and opened an impressive 30,000 square-foot entertainment complex and distillery in the heart of Music City, Nashville,” said Robert Hall, CEO of Ole Smoky Distillery LLC. “Now with four locations, we provided memorable ‘see it made’ distillery experiences to 4.5 million visitors last year. From the quality and variety of our moonshine and whiskey products to our attractive merchandise and live music, distillery tastings and tours, our visitors experience the full spectrum of our Ole Smoky brand”. You can buy Ole Smoky moonshine here if you want to see what all the fuss is about.

The Nightcap

It’s safe to say this bottle was quite the bargain (photo courtesy of Whisky.Auction)

Man sells £11 bottle of Macallan for £2700

When Michael Amphlett bought a bottle of Macallan single-malt whisky for £11 back in 1978 in Fort William, Scotland, he presumably had no idea what a bargain it would prove to be. But Amphlett was no collector, the bottle was bought as a present for his dad. Amphlett confesses that back then he didn’t know much about whisky, but bought a bottle of Macallan following the shopkeeper’s advice and the 1937 year date on the neck label, which caught his attention as this was the year his father came to work in the Bolton Bros glove factory in Didcot as a 19-year-old. Mr Amphlett’s father was suitably pleased with the gift, but he decided not to drink the whisky until 1987 when it would have been 50 years old. Unfortunately, he would pass away from prostate cancer in 1991 having never had the chance to open the bottle and drink the contents with his son. The bottle was then tucked away in a cupboard in the family home, where it remained until Amphlett’s mother died in 2016. Amphlett, by now a whisky fan, was understandably staggered upon rediscovering the bottle and realising that it was a Macallan from 1937. Unable to bring himself to drink the whisky without his father, Amphlett’s set up his first-ever auction on Whisky.Auction with a reserve of £1,750, which was raised on January 12. By the 18th the bid had climbed to £2,100, then on the 21st the winning bid of £2,700 was placed. The bottle of Macallan was 82-years-old and had been owned by Mr Amphlett for 42 years.  “I had no idea that whiskies of that type could be so expensive. I just happened to be the right age at the right time,” Amphlett said. “I have to say I was both surprised and very pleased, but tinged with a little sadness that my dad didn’t get to taste it with me. But, if he was still here, I do believe he would have had a wry smile on his face.”

The Nightcap

Dry January appears to making its mark

UK adults cut down drinking in January; underage drinking drops 52%

A recent YouGov poll has shown that 27% of UK consumers reduced or abstained from drinking alcohol during January. The findings, conducted on behalf of independent alcohol charity Drinkaware, also showed that 72% of those who said they consumed less or stopped drinking last month plan to continue in the long-term, with 12% saying they plan to stop drinking completely in the long-term. It would appear Dry January is making its mark. “It’s incredible to see that such a large proportion of people who committed to reducing their drinking – or stopping completely – are planning to do so long-term,” Drinkaware’s chief executive Elaine Hindal said. “Reducing how much you drink can absolutely be a resolution that lasts beyond January, so it’s great to see so many people committing to that.” Meanwhile, a report from Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP) found that weekly alcohol consumption among 13- to 16-year-olds in the UK more than halved between 2015 and 2019. The report from CAPs, which aims to reduce alcohol harm caused by underage drinkers, also uncovered a 40% reduction in youth alcohol-related anti-social behaviour, a 90% reduction in the number of residents reporting seeing under 18s drinking in the local area, a 77% reduction in young people hanging around shops and asking adults to buy alcohol for them and observed an 80% improvement in compliance with Challenge 25 initiatives. Derek Lewis, chair of CAP, said: “Underage drinking is associated with school and educational problems, unprotected sex, consumption of illicit drugs, violence and drinking problems in later life. We have been greatly encouraged to see emerging evidence that CAPs are reducing alcohol consumption by underage children.”

The Nightcap

The campaign features five-time Major golf champion Phil Mickelson

Amstel Light launches campaign for male friendships

In 2019, Men’s Health said one-third of men regularly felt lonely. And according to the Campaign Against Living Miserably charity, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. Male friendships – which could literally make the difference between life and death – can be tricky indeed. And now Amstel Light has teamed up with five-time Major Golf Champion Phil Mickelson to shine a light on just that. By taking a humorous spin, the initiative intends to encourage men to forge new friendships in adulthood. At the centre is a video called In the Rough, and people will be able to engage with Mickelson on social and at events. “I am really excited about this partnership and to launch this new campaign as we work together to help adult men create new, long-lasting friendships around our shared love of Amstel Light,” he said. Check out the #FriendswithPhil hashtag on social for more – and if you’re struggling with loneliness, speak out. Campaign Against Living Miserably is just one resource of many. You don’t have to be alone.

The Nightcap

I don’t even have to read this story to know that I’m in. Whatever Coors is doing, it’s a yes.

Coors Light embarks on dog adoption drive this Valentine’s Day

Got the romantic plans ready for 14 February? If so, there’s a good chance you’re not a millennial. According to beer brand Coors Light, 58% of drinking-age millennials reckon Valentine’s Day is overrated. Seen as the pinnacle of ‘Cuffing Season’ (y’know, when you just want to be snuggled up indoors over the winter months), V Day just isn’t for everyone. So Coors Light is encouraging people to adopt a dog instead! It has committed to paying the adoption fees for 1,000 rescue pooches finding their forever home, from 4 February to 11:59 on 21 February. “Cuffing Season is a major cultural trend and poses tension for our younger drinkers, as they navigate the stress of finding someone to spend the cold months with,” said Chelsea Parker, marketing manager at Molson Coors. “With almost half of millennials planning to stay in on Valentine’s Day, we wanted to help empower people to savour the day with Coors Light and a dog by their side.” Of legal drinking age and want in?  Just text Coors Light a snap of you and your new furry BFF! All the T&Cs are here. And remember: a dog is for life, not just for Valentine’s Day (and is most likely an all-round better companion, too).

The Nightcap

Craigellachie took the stage in the first of Milroy’s new monthly Comedy Nights series

Milroy’s of Spitalfields launches Comedy Nights

It turns out that front row seats at stand up comedy gigs are something of a firing line, something at least one of us at MoM Towers discovered this week. So, it was somewhat blindly that we were led to a table at the very front of Milroy’s of Spitalfields on Wednesday evening to enjoy its new monthly Comedy Nights series, held on the first Wednesday of every month. Each month at its new East London site, Milroy’s will partner with a different distillery for the event, and we were lucky enough to pop in on the evening the Craigellachie took the stage! It was great to see that it was packed, though out of everyone in the bar we were in the direct eye line of each comedian, which made for some cracking jokes at our expense. Tickets cost £35, and with that you get the show (obviously) as well as three drams, and three highballs made with those same drams in between each set. We tasted Craigellachie 13 Year Old, served in a highball with biscuit distillate, Craigellachie 17 Year Old paired with strawberry honey in its highball, and finished off with Craigellachie 23 Year Old. The comedy was awesome as well, hosted by Russel Hicks, with sets from Barry Ferns, Kae Kurd and Jeff Innocent. If you missed this one, then 4 March awaits you with an all-female line up for International Women’s Day, with wonderful spirits from Aberfeldy to accompany. A belly full of laughs and whisky on a Wednesday night is a good time that we can’t argue with. We’d totally recommend the front row, though it’s not for the faint-hearted…

The Nightcap

BrewDog is swapping swear words for sustainability

BrewDog grows up with sustainability initiative and new look

Diffident Aberdeen brewer BrewDog has announced a new marketing campaign and visual identity. Rather than the laddy sweariness of old, the focus is on sustainability. Not very punk rock, one might think. It seems, however, that the company is going further than other drinks companies in its environment drive with six concrete plans for how to achieve this (see here for the full information). These include equity in the company in return for 50 empty beer cans, turning imperfect beer into vodka, and a ‘Tomorrow Fund’ in which the company will invest £1 million per year into making the brewing industry more environmentally friendly. James Watt, BrewDog Co-Founder, commented: “It’s been a crazy journey so far. We’ve made it here by shaking up brewing and crafting a community-owned business that is 100% powered by people. This marks a new dawn, welcome to the new BrewDog.” The company has been meteoric, going from a small Scottish craft brewer in 2007 to owning 101 bars, exporting to 60 countries and a new brewery in Ohio that opened in 2017. It sounds like Brewdog is growing up.

The Nightcap

The one with the bespoke cocktails

The one with Palentine’s at All Star Lanes

How well do you think you know Friends? Have you seen every episode? How about ‘The One with the Palentine’s’? Oh sorry, that’s not a real episode, that’s what All Star Lanes is doing this Valentine’s Day! Except it’s Palentine’s Day, with your pals. The bowling alley has even curated a special Friends-themed cocktail menu for the six main pals, so you can pick out your character in drink form (the one you actually are, not the one you want to be, because let’s face it that’s always Rachel). We particularly love that Ross has been designated an Old Fashioned, while Joey is Sex on the Beach, and Phoebe’s cocktail is dubbed Princess Consuela Bananahammock. Let’s just thank the cocktail gods that Mike Hannigan’s alter ego didn’t get a dedicated serve… You’ll find the menu running from 7 until 16 February, though you can really get into the spirit on 13 February, when All Star Brick Lane and Manchester will be putting on a pub quiz all about the cult TV show. Could we be more excited?

The Nightcap

Some neat Bacardi info-graphics, because everyone loves an info-graphic

Bacardi goes ‘Back to the Bar’ to find out what we’ll be drinking

Every year the 7,000 employees of Bacardi, the family-owned drinks behemoth, take part in an initiative called ‘Back to the Bar.’ This is where everyone from Jimmy in the post room to El Queso Grande in the corner office on the 89th floor spends some time working in a bar so that the company stays in touch with the people who are really selling its products, bartenders. “In an era where people are flooded with data, there is no substitute for putting feet on the street and seeing first-hand what’s happening at the bar,” commented Jacob Briars, global advocacy director. “When something excites the bartenders, we know that it is a matter of time before we start to see a shift in the mindset and behaviour of our guests.” From intelligence gathered at last year’s event (alongside some third party research), the company has just produced a report highlighting what the UK market will be drinking in 2020. And that is . . . Moon Juice! Not really, the answers are more humdrum. The usual suspects are there: low-alcohol drinks, the market for these is predicted to grow by 81%; dark rum, 2020 is the year where rum premiumisation finally happens according to 43% of bartenders; sustainability (natch). So nothing too surprising but interesting nonetheless. This year’s ‘Back to the Bar’ has just happened, so we await the 2021 report with interest. Perhaps it will finally be Moon Juice’s moment to shine. 

And finally… Kraken Rum and John Cooper Clarke team up for poetry competition 

We know from our recent Burns Night poetry competition that there are some budding bards among our customers so this one is for you. . . .  This Valentine’s Day, top Manchester punk poet John Cooper Clarke (if you don’t know who he is check out this clip of one of his poems being used on The Sopranos) will be judging a poetry contest in conjunction with Kraken Rum. He’s even written a poem to get you in the mood. To be in with a chance, submit your love-inspired poem on the website. Poems judged to be of sufficient standard will win special limited edition black bottles of Kraken Rum delivered by a scary-looking black battery-powered milk float. Not only scary but also eco-friendly (though it only operates in London and Glasgow). The great man himself commented: “The mighty pen, like the mighty Kraken, can have a huge impact on the heart. You can find love anywhere, from the depths of the sea to the person sat beside you on your commute to work. If you can’t pluck up the courage to tell them how you feel in person or on one of the other 364 days of the year, then grab a pen, think of a line or two, and send it to us. It could change your life – just don’t blame me if it doesn’t work out…” Deadline is Wednesday 12th February with winners receiving their bottles on Valentine’s Day itself. So what are you waiting for?

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